Alkaline Trio at the Empty Bottle | Photos and review
“I've never punched a woman in the face who didn't deserve it,” said opening act Brendan Kelly between songs. “I've never punched a woman in the face who did deserve it, either.” Kelly’s set was laden with such trademark, off-color, drunken remarks. And while most of the crowd was there to see the Trio, Chicago’s resident court jester and Reader-award-winning blogger kept a good if drunken handle on the Empty Bottle for half an hour. He split his time pretty evenly between Lawrence Arms and newer Wandering Birds material, appeasing his spectrum of fans without alienating anxious Trio-heads.
Without one of his many backing bands onstage, the punk veteran’s acoustic set consisted of wordy hooks tied together by whoa-oahs, but with a level of self-awareness that not only made his tunes digestible, but astute. He is the bard of a certain Chicago sect, fueled by nostalgia and PBRs. He not only acknowledges his arguable washed-upedness, but implements it as a platform for his own self-aware brand of new modern dad rock. He's lame and out of touch, but totally cognizant of that irrelevance.
Alkaline Trio is often disregarded as something of a sellout group, a band that garnered attention by narrowing its focus into cartoonishly morbid lyrical themes and Heather Gabel’s signature red-and-black artwork. This aesthetic fit snugly with the emo-pop, Hot Topic teen craze of the mid-aughts. Matt Skiba seemed the only member of the Trio concerned with that notion of fame. Dressed like Marcel Marceau in black lipstick, eyeliner and a floppy beret, Skiba pulled diva duty like a seasoned full-time rocker. During “’97,” a drunk fan knocked Derek Grant’s kick drum out of place, throwing only Skiba off his game. Neither Grant nor Dan Andriano missed a beat, but Skiba took the opportunity to stop playing and banter with the crowd, defending the stage-rusher and informing us all that Chicago was “way sketchballs” in the ‘80s.
Andriano, recently back from a European tour with none other than Brendan Kelly, was on his no-bullshit game all night. He wasted no time with jokes, nor flashy guitar tricks, just a good, long set of excellent bass work and spot-on vocals. Aside from a good-sized list of terrific drummers, he’s always been the group’s unsung hero. Tonight, Andriano threw down with a level of humble professionalism and sheer mastery that will have me spinning “Another Innocent Girl” religiously for weeks.