Real Live Action

Chain & the Gang

with The Hive Dwellers & Rose Melberg, May 30 @ Little Mountain Studios

Review By Duncan McHugh and Saelan Twerdy

This was the show that nearly didn’t happen. It had been scheduled for the Sweatshop (shut down), the Peanut Gallery (shut down) and a community center (presumably still open), before ending up at Little Mountain. But then, a few weeks before the show, Little Mountain had their own noise complaint woes and it looked like the show might not happen there, either. The show did go on, but the raucous Chain & the Gang were moved to the middle of the bill, putting the mostly acoustic Hive Dwellers on last.

Rose Melberg started things off with her sometimes bandmate Larissa Lovya, performing pretty pop songs with minimal guitar accompaniment. She has a new album coming out on K in the fall and she previewed a number of those songs.

As for Chain & the Gang’s Ian Svenonius, he’s a consummate live performer, shimmying, screaming and cracking wise with the audience. Best known for fronting the Make-Up and Nation of Ulysses (Sassiest Boy in America ’91, yo!) and more recently, Weird War and the Scene Creamers, Svenonius is also the author of  The Psychic Soviet, a slender-but-essential volume of rock philosophy. He hasn’t been here in years and we were very keen to see what he would do with his new band. We’re happy to report that he and his Gang brought it and brought it hard. With his players laying down a sick, stripped-down groove reminiscent of Dr. John’s psychedelic soul, Svenonius—in a white suit with a mop of black hair—pranced about stage pontificating about everything from reparations to the true nature of the dollar (“An internationally traded increment of work!”).

The Hive Dwellers had a bit of a tough job, following up Chain & the Gang’s high-energy set with something more low-key in a room already foggy with hot perspiration, but former Beat Happening frontman and K records boss Calvin Johnson kept the crowd’s attention with his inimitable stage presence. Backed by the same band as Svenonius—Bret Lyman (Bad Thoughts), Brian Weber (Dub Narcotic Sound System), and Fred Thomas (Saturday Looks Good to Me, City Center)—Johnson crooned twee love ballads in his distinctly cadaverous baritone and improvised deliberately wooden dance moves on the small stage with the endearing awkwardness of a limp-wristed Frankenstein. It was a rare kind of show indeed, and Svenonius is unlikely to return any time soon, so it’s safe to say that the small but faithful crowd went home satisfied.