by Luis Mejía Ahrens
It’s a sunny day in the middle of the summer. You and your friends have gathered in your backyard to spend time drinking, relaxing and taking the days for granted in the sun. Your best friends pick up some instruments and are providing the gathering with what will become the soundtrack of your summer.
Life is good, and the livin’ is easy.
When Cheekface took the stage at Schubas Tavern on Feb. 13, the crowd was transported to that idyllic summer night. The LA-based trio brought with them a fun, fresh and welcoming atmosphere turning a cold February evening concert into a backyard party. At the same time, their assertive stage presence and lyrical delivery kept the audience engaged in their music, never becoming mere background noise.
It is a combination of surf rock and spoken word styles that gives Cheekface their appeal. With only a bass, an electric guitar and a set of drums, the band’s songs never get too complex. But bold lyrics and dry delivery by vocalist Greg Katz is what makes Cheekface stand out.
The band actively chooses to stray from common songwriting structures in favor of a more in-your-face approach where a clear rhyme pattern does not exist, opting instead for talk-singing. Their style has drawn comparisons to Sacramento band Cake – but somehow Cheekface places even more emphasis on substance over style.
At times, their lyrics would more appropriately belong in a slam poetry performance than at an alternative rock concert. But, somehow, it works.
“I was bored in a crossfire hurricane
I was walking around in a trash bag
Then i look up in the sky, and there it is:
A formation of clouds that spells out, ‘Abolish ICE’”
And thus began Cheekface’s set, with their shortest song, “Eternity Leave.” Beginning their show with their most upbeat song gave passionate fans an opportunity to begin singing along, and new fans a preview of what was to follow.
The show moved quickly with a steady pace of song after song after song. “Once a Day” was followed by “Sexy National Anthem,” continuing the pattern of near-revolutionary lyrics set to cheerful up-tempo melodies.
Halfway through their set, Cheekface took a detour by playing one of their first hits, “House Shoes.” This track deviates from the band’s pattern of witty lyricism by showing that two words, “house shoes,” set to three chords can be just as impactful as clever stanzas.
It was after this mid-show break that Cheekface began to bridge the gap between band and audience. During “Still Life,” Katz said he needed audience participation. He invited everyone up on the stage, crowding Schubas’ small stage was with more than 20 people dancing to the music.
Two songs after the crowd retreated back to the dance floor, Katz began to poll the audience with questions such as, “What do you prefer, Taco Bell or Bernie Sanders?” The only way for the audience to vote was to migrate to either side of the floor for their respective answers.
The shuffling came to an end at the same time the last song began. “I Only Say I’m Sorry When I’m Wrong Now” saw Katz asking the crowd to assist in singing the chorus, once more bridging the gap between audience and band.
Cheekface’s set came to an end with a reprise of “Eternity Leave,” effectively book-ending a show that belonged in a mid-nineties coming-of-age TV series.