SSM, CoCoComa, Screaming Yellow Zonkers
WHEN Fri 3/23, 10 PM
WHERE Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western
INFO 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401
Chicago is deservedly recognized for its history of producing bands that defy genre and convention to craft soundscapes that reward repeated listening by revealing deeper and deeper levels of intricacy. Luckily for our city's Pabst-besotted citizens and their short attention spans, we also have a good number of groups that just like to play fast, trashy rock 'n' roll.
CoCoComa are garage punk in the best sense of both words. They excel at garage's three-chord bomp, sweetening it with a hint of pop, but they tear through their songs at punk's immoderate speeds. In the past year they've put out four singles, two of them splits, on four different labels, including Chicago upstart Shit Sandwich and Memphis trash-rock mainstay Goner Records, and sometime in 2007 Goner plans to release the full-length they just finished. The Empty Bottle, by no means the easiest place to get a foot in the door, has been unusually supportive of the band. Over the past ten months CoCoComa has landed a string of plum opening slots on shows the club has booked--for the Oblivians at the final Horizontal Action Blackout, for the Black Lips at the Logan Square Auditorium, for the Reigning Sound at the Bottle--and they've got another one next Friday, opening for SSM. But they aren't about to let their success so far tempt them onto the rock-star treadmill. If they have anything like a motto, it's "Fuck it."
Guitarist Lisa Roe and her husband, Bill, who plays drums and sings, met at the Bottle during one of Bill's shows with his old band Stag Party and eventually got married there. They were still newlyweds when they started CoCoComa, inspired by a set by the King Khan & BBQ Show at the inaugural Goner Fest in January 2005. (In that two-man outfit, BBQ drums, sings, and plays guitar.) Bill had some reservations about jumping into a band with his new wife, but he came around to an attitude he sums up as "Ah, fuck it. We can do this." They practiced a couple times, then decided to play out that spring as a duo--or, as Bill puts it, "Fuck it, let's just play a show."
They became a trio soon afterward with the addition of keyboardist Mike Fitzpatrick, one of Lisa's bandmates in Headache City. That band is definitely their main gig--Mike's the front man and Lisa plays drums--but the quantity and quality of CoCoComa's vinyl output has done a lot to convince people that they're more than a side project. "For a while the reviews would compare us to Headache City," Lisa says, "but I don't feel like there's a reason to compare them. I don't think that it's crazy to think that you'd be into different types of music."
To be clear, CoCoComa and Headache City both play garage rock--"different" hardly means they're worlds apart. But there are some distinctions to be made: Bill says he sees an element of craft in Headache City, for instance. This gets a laugh from Mike and Lisa, but he insists he's serious. CoCoComa, he explains, is "more like the Back From the Grave aesthetic, where you just go for it. Pick a couple of chords, write some stupid lyrics, and just go for it. Play for two minutes and then be done with it." Next to Headache City's prickly, uptight punk, CoCoComa's songs sound rowdy and loose--the band's reckless, infectious enthusiasm makes them feel like they could run off the rails at any time, even on a recording. Fitzpatrick's Farfisa holds the rhythm and melody together, taking the anchor spot usually filled by a bass. And Lisa's double-time strumming often erupts into a truly burning solo--she's not only the best female guitar player in town but one of the most exciting of any gender.
Bill has the unenviable task of fronting this high-energy group from behind a trap kit, an arrangement that arose out of necessity during the duo days. "It was basically default, because Lisa's not going to sing. It was a strain to get her to even sing backups," he says. "Does that put me in the grand tradition of singing drummers? Your Collinses, your Henleys, your dude in the Romantics? Levon Helm? My biggest influences, all of them." Bill loads his high-speed drumming with hyperactive fills and sings in a throat-shredding howl, which makes a typical set a pretty serious workout: "If I play for more than half an hour," he says, "I feel like I'm going to die."
Aside from weekend trips around the midwest, CoCoComa has hit the road only twice so far, both times piggybacking on Headache City tours--one in early 2006 that included a stop at South by Southwest and another last fall to the east coast and Canada. They intend to head out again later this year to promote the Goner LP, due late this summer, but after next Friday's show they're taking a break--Fitzpatrick and his wife have a baby on the way. "That one's dropping April 20," Lisa says.
For all three members of CoCoComa, priority one is having fun being in a band, a philosophy that prevails in the local garage-rock scene--in Chicago there aren't nearly so many of the image-obsessed, ladder-climbing wannabes who've spoiled, say, the Detroit scene. "It's not a competition," says Lisa. "At least the people that we know," Bill adds. "Maybe it's a competition elsewhere, but maybe I didn't get the memo."
One result has been the proliferation of a wide range of takes on the genre's sonic hedonism--Headache City and CoCoComa are just two points on that spectrum. "It's great because it's not a cookie-cutter 60s garage sound," Bill says. "I can't speak for anyone in Detroit, but it seems like a lot of the garage bands from Detroit sort of take that and ape it or mimic it. It's more of a pure sound, whereas I think a lot of bands in Chicago take that and filter it through the other things that they listen to. I think it's a really refreshing attitude, especially towards that kind of music, because it can get so stale and boring." There's not much point in taking all of this too seriously, anyway. "We're not trying to change the world."
For more on music, see our blogs Crickets and Post No Bills at chicagoreader.com.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jason Creps.