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Rousing Rabble

Rabble Rabble's invigorating mix of stomping garage, tense punk, and acid-fried psychedelia



Rabble Rabble used to be one of those bands that seem to turn up on every third bill in town. By their own estimate, in 2009 they played more than 80 times in Chicago. And this year they had 35 shows between January and early July, when they left for almost a month on a tour of the south and east coast.

Singer and guitarist Ralph Darski, who founded Rabble Rabble about four years ago with fellow singer-guitarist Todd McCafrey, knows that local gigs often provide diminishing returns. Playing a lot can get your band in front of a lot of people, but it also tends to burn out your regular fans. "January of this year we played seven shows in the city. Which is insane to think about. . . . I mean, why the fuck would you do that? It was kind of stupid in terms of the business end of being a band," he says. "But I mean, we love playing shows and having a good time. So we'd play a bunch of DIY shows and Cole's." Not at all by coincidence, Cole's is where Darski and bassist Matt Ciarleglio have arranged to meet me—the Logan Square dive is one of their regular neighborhood bars.

Constant gigging not only whipped the band into shape—they're now an enviably tight rock machine—but also colored the content of their lyrics. "A lot of the songs are just about that," Darski says. "Just kind of playing shows. And having a good time. And being with your friends and your community."

Bands that play out as often as Rabble Rabble has don't usually keep it up forever. A lot of them simply wear themselves out and break up—it can be pretty tough on morale to work so hard if your crowds aren't getting any bigger. Luckier bands get popular enough to move up to better slots on bills at larger venues, where it's even more important to have a good draw—meaning the economics of the business discourage playing every week.

This looks to be the direction Rabble Rabble are heading. Over the past few months they've gone from being the band whose name you see on every flyer in town to the band you see talked about on every music blog in town—including popular outlets like Loud Loop Press and Consequence of Sound. They've also hit several of the other milestones you tend to see these days in the bios of up-and-coming Chicago indie-rock bands, like releasing a cassette version of their 2009 EP Jailbait on Plustapes last November, being filmed in their practice space for a Giant System video in July 2009, and racking up spins on CHIRP Radio.

In August Rabble Rabble released their debut LP, Bangover, on Commune Records, a label they run with the bands Great Society Mind Destroyers and Dark Fog. (It was the first vinyl LP for Commune, which started as a CD-R label in March 2009.) Since then the band has attracted even more attention, and the album's ten songs are good enough that I can only imagine bigger things on the way.

The four members of Rabble Rabble have distinctly different musical tastes. Darski is a huge fan of psych rockers like the 13th Floor Elevators and the Black Angels. McCafrey's the "pop Beatles guy" of the group. Ciarleglio is into punk and garage, and loves the Stooges and early Stones. And drummer Kaylee Preston has a singular combination of favorites: hip-hop and psychobilly. Thankfully Bangover—the name comes from the particular kind of neck pain you get the day after a night of head banging—doesn't simply careen from one style to the next. (Just thinking about a psychobilly song segueing into a power-pop cut makes my ears hurt.) Rather they've agreed upon a common ground at the nexus of stomping garage, tense punk, and acid-fried psychedelia. The Stooges comparisons they've earned in reviews—like the one CHIRP posted alongside an interview on the station's blog—aren't just hyperbole.

Rabble Rabble are pretty committed to the do-it-yourself ethos, and their label isn't the only thing they help run. Darksi was part of the crew that opened the Logan Square coffee shop Cafe Mustache over the summer, and Ciarleglio does sound for DIY shows at places like the Crown Tap Room, which hosts a sporadic schedule of garage rock. (Their ventures occasionally overlap—Commune recently released a compilation CD of music curated by Cafe Mustache.) The band recorded Bangover on their own, working in their Humboldt Park practice space with extremely modest gear.

"It was really ghetto," says Ciarleglio. "I mean we have a pretty small space. It's maybe like 15 by 10. And we just brought in mattresses and blankets and just sectioned off all the instruments and totally ghetto rigged everything."

"We couldn't even see each other because there was a mattress in the middle of the room," Darski adds.

"It was literally like we were playing in some, like, childhood insane asylum," Ciarleglio says. "It was kind of cool. Maybe you can hear a little of that."

I definitely get some couch-fort anarchy from the record—its fidelity is low, but it crackles with energy. "The album is about us playing live," says Darski. "And we wanted to give that experience as much as possible."

One of Bangover's highlights is a song called "$300 Hoodie." It's got maniacal dueling lead guitars, a chorus that sounds even more like the Stooges than usual, and one of my favorite song titles in forever. At first I thought it was about the superexpensive hoodies you can find at places like Barneys, but it turns out the story behind it is funnier than that. "Todd, he basically bought this hoodie from American Apparel, I believe," Darski says. "And he thought he had enough money in his bank account to cover this hoodie. He was like, 'Oh, I think I'm going have a dollar left in my bank account after I buy this.' And he ended up getting some fucking charges on his bank account and it cost him like three hundred dollars. He was like, 'I'm so pissed off because I owe this bank account like a hundred dollars for buying this hoodie.' And so he came into practice and he just started playing this riff and we made a song that night."

In the spring the band plans to release a seven-inch recorded on this summer's tour with former Ministry drummer Stephen George, who has a studio in a refurbished barn in upstate New York—it's coming out on his label, Gimme That Sound. They've got some shows booked as well, including a December 18 Beats and Blogs concert organized by a coalition of 18 Chicago music blogs, at least five of which—CHIRP, Giant System, Loud Loop Press, Coach House Sounds, and the Deli—have recently featured Rabble Rabble. They're also playing on New Year's Eve, though they're keeping the location under wraps for now.

In 2011 it's going to be a bit harder to catch them out. They're finally starting to dial back the frequency of their local performances, saying no to almost all of the five or six show offers Darski says they get in an average week. Since returning from tour in August they've played a relatively sane seven times in town. They need to avoid spreading their crowd too thin and pissing off venues—and it's just as important to look after their own mental health.

"Sometimes it's fun to meet these bands and people at shows," Darski says. "It ends up being a nice connection. But that's far and far between. I mean, if you play three shows a week, the chances that all three shows are going to be great are very slim."    v

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