“Happy 312 Day:” Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day with Metz, Melkbelly, Negative Scanner

By: K. Jackson Hamrick

There was no line creeping into the alley at Lincoln Hall. My friend Josh and I assumed we were late arriving at 8:30 pm as it said doors were at 8. With there being two openers, we figured this meant that Negative Scanner would hit right at 8. But no. Music- as it said on the website- began at 9. Amateur hour. Happy 312 Day, Chicago! 

We got beverages (not Goose Island), and went into the main room and claimed a spot in front of down stage left. An impressive collection of amps were wired up on stage. The music equipment snob in me always judges the gear choices of bands before they start, and judging by the arsenal on stage, Negative Scanner was going to be rad. 

Negative Scanner went on right at nine and played a twenty-five-minute set that had remnants of Riot Grrrl, Surf Rock, and Post Punk. Their music reminded me of Le Tigre- aggressive, melodic, angular. Their singer, Rebecca Valeriano-Flores, was mellow, and casual with the crowd in between songs, while singing and playing her guitar with a passionate fury. The band: Tom Cassling (Drums), Nick Beaudoin (Bass), and Matt Revers (Guitar) were tight- providing a motorik, power pop base for these songs to completely win over not just the admiration but emotional heed of the crowd. They played music from their previous releases with some new tracks. I will forever love bands that make music like Negative Scanner- aware of the pastiche and making punk music for the people. I hope to see them sharing more bills with other post-punk staples when they aren’t busy headlining a venue in the city. Give them a listen. 

After some strange bout of embarrassment where I was for some reason too nervous to ask Rebecca of Negative Scanner for her setlist, and me sending Josh to ask her for it- Melkbelly took the stage. Melkbelly, clearly after extensive touring and DIY shows, still manages to appear to totally enjoy playing live with one another: laughing through improvised sections and at times seeming genuinely surprised to have grabbed the right fret. The Chicago quartet played tracks from their 2020 record PITH and 2017 debut Nothing Valley that blend aggressive elements of punk, with an improvisational and atmospheric quality of experimental jazz. Singer, and guitar player Miranda Winters- who had the vibe of a cool middle school art teacher- sings with a mix of staccato declarations and melodic bursts. The band jammed on these epic outros for each of their songs soaked in fuzz and wah sweeps. This band was exciting to watch and you should check them out. 

And finally, Metz. The loud night got louder. The Toronto-based band, consisting of guitar player and vocalist Alex Edkins, bassist Chris Slorach, and maybe one of the most animal-like drummers I’ve ever seen play: Hayden Menzies, went on at eleven and played an hour-long set of tracks from their entire discography. When they line-checked after Melkbelly I observed how normal they all appeared to be. Edkins looks like he might run IT at Miranda Winters’ middle school; Slorach like Robert Pattinson playing Bruce Wayne. I suppose heavily tatted Menzies did look like a punk drummer? Not to start off commenting on their appearances, but this was an important realization to me about the literal and figurative beauty of punk rock. It reminds me of Batman- anyone is capable of having the energy and anger needed to perform this kind of music. Usually, the person you don’t expect. 

There was much head bobbing at this show from the get go when they opened with the song “Pulse”- the opener from their 2020 record Atlas Vending. The volume of their live show added a physical component that’s a part of these songs. Seeing Metz is what I imagine a Husker Du show would’ve been like: piercingly loud; aggressive yet deeply emotional. To only listen to their records would be to miss out on how not only abrasive this music is. Every strum and snare hit had the weight of these guys’ entire existence in it. They were channeling something more than anger- something that didn’t make the crowd just want to mosh, but to feel with all of the volume in the world what it means to be suffering. A popular criticism of music like this is that it all sounds the same, but hearing the riffs of tracks like “The Mirror”, “The Ceiling”, and “Acetate” immediately catch your ear.  You realize that this music that may on the surface seem loose, again like jazz,  is still playing to a form that these guys keep reinventing. 

Metz ended on a ten minute jam that once they left the stage with their amps feeding back with a sharp tremolo made the audience need a second before returning to their normalcy. Each of these acts is continuing to maintain the principles of a DIY music culture, where the bands that want to work and put in the time to make great art- not out of a need to commodify but to express and earn the respect of their crowds- find whatever success looks like in punk rock. These bands are deserving of your attention because they do what they do out of a compulsion to communicate to people who listen and you should be one of them. 

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