|Bad Sports: Orville Neeley and Daniel Fried (Gregory Rutherford obscured)|
DOWN AT THE ROCK & ROLL CLUB—A good night of rock and roll at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. I came out to see Bad Sports, a Denton, Texas band whose albums Kings of the Weekend and Bras I've really liked. A trio that plays riffy, super-charged songs, earnest but wound-up, Bad Sports were all about the tunes: guitarist and vocalist Orville Neeley, bass player and vocalist Daniel Fried, and drummer Gregory Rutherford said literally nothing between songs. My buddy Dave, with whom I met up at the show, told me that at a gig at Gonerfest in Memphis, the guys had been mouthy and boastful. Not last night: the only thing Neeley uttered was a terse but genuine "Thank you" after the last song. Then he grabbed the mic and stuck it in his back pocket.
But they were welcome, and didn't need stage patter to galvanize the crowd. Mod-ish and sharp, Bad Sports sprinted through a set of tight, desperate rock and roll muscled up by Neeley's thick-sounding Gibson and snarling, Phil Lynott-styled vocals and Fried's eighth-note riffing, spiky with hooks; Rutherford seemed impatient between songs, tapping at his hi-hat, raring to get things going again. The band played a lot of tunes from a new self-titled mini-LP—"Living With Secrets" and "Anymore" were stirringly good—and a handful of older songs, all of which give the impression of well-crafted bombs lined up in a row, vibrating with intention. Like all great rock and roll, the best songs threatened to fall apart at each measure, but Neeley, in his black fitted-tee and Johnny Ramone sneakers, and Fried, in his polo shirt and sharp shoes, were stylishly in charge. The floor felt as if it was shifting beneath me during the best songs. It's the reason I go out to shows.
During the headlining set by Radioactivity, Rutherford stayed behind his kit while Neeley and Friend swapped instruments to back guitarist and vocalist Jeff Burke, whose tightly-wound songs were propulsive and intense, but samey. I refrained myself from yelling "More changes!" But that's me. The crowd was euphoric, with dozens singing along. My favorite moment of the night might've been during Dumpster Babies' set, when bass player John Gorman seemed startled and then pleased to see a few fans singing along to the chorus of his song, always a warming victory for the opening band playing before a scant crowd.