Cealed Kasket, Modern Day Savage, Awesome Car Funmaker, Central Standard, Politicians
WHEN Sat 6/30, 9 PM
WHERE Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee
INFO 773-489-3160 or 312-559-1212
Tortoise, Make Believe, David Daniell
WHEN Sun 7/1, 8 PM
WHERE Metro, 3730 N. Clark
INFO 773-549-0203 or 312-559-1212
The great thing about beating Cealed Kasket to an interview at an upscale sports bar is that you get to see the looks on the staff's faces when they realize that the dudes crossing the street dressed like Ren Faire rejects and undead metal roadies are in fact heading for their front door. Our hostess at the Grand Central seems cool but seats us quickly--very quickly--in a booth way in the back.
"Usually we have a booth that's five feet taller than all of the other ones," says lead singer Mortal Death, aka Josh Shenk, who's wearing a long black wig, crude corpse makeup, a denim vest over a fishnet shirt, platform combat boots, fingerless gloves, and sunglasses. "They have panini," exclaims drummer Scott Jackson, who's in a pageboy wig and an overcoat-robe thing that's part priest and part 19th-century Russian soldier. "I love panini."
Everyone in the band speaks in a dubious British accent. The Brown Knight Jormungand--not a member of Cealed Kasket proper but part of their elaborate stage show--has an especially shaky one, which may explain why he doesn't say much. And the accents aren't the only thing to be skeptical of. Maurice Pearlman, aka Mike Davidov, who plays what he calls the "large guitar" (that is, the bass), says he's about to release a perfume called Rendezvous, FDA approval be damned, and hints that it contains psychoactive ingredients. Guitarist Sir Sarsicus, aka Rollin Weary, claims to be a 500-year-old wizard, but his long gray beard looks like something you might find hanging out of an old couch cushion. Jackson (also an alias--his real name's Nic Nepomiach) tells me he's a professional race-car driver on the side. He and the Brown Knight pound their pints of Guinness while the waitress is still delivering drinks to the rest of the table and order more before she leaves. They're making her visibly uncomfortable and clearly enjoying it. Nobody breaks character, or even tells me his real name, till they all change out of their costumes to go see Nepomiach's Ween cover band, the Pod, at the Tonic Room.
Depending on who you ask, Cealed Kasket formed either 40 years ago, when Sarsicus appeared to an eight-year-old Mortal Death at his parents' home in Bristol, England, or in 1996, when a bunch of suburban high school kids entered a battle of the bands. (The present lineup has been together around four years.) When I ask them about their biggest influences, Jackson says meth. "Working out," says Pearlman. "When we work out a lot we tend to sound better than when we don't work out." Mortal Death adds, "Norwegian pop. Gunther. Aqua. Y'know, 'Barbie Girl.'"
Judging from the MP3s they've been sending me and their full-length debut, Penetration--which they're releasing themselves and celebrating with a Double Door show on Saturday--I'd say they're trying for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal sound. The drums are big, the riffs are shreddy, and the lyrics are preposterous. The words to "Riot Party" are little more than a string of insults and incitements to violence: "Hey you with that sword / Stick it in someone / Not just some someone / Kill someone you love," for instance, or "Hey you fucking old man / You're gonna die / 'Cause you can't eat salt / Or you're gonna die."
But for a band sending up metal's most overblown practitioners, Cealed Kasket don't seem too concerned with being all that metal themselves. They throw around a lot of NWOBHM signifiers, but on Penetration--and even more so at their booze-drenched concerts--they come off more like NWOBHM's close cousin, 70s blooze rock.
Cealed Kasket's fans--the most devoted call themselves "Kasketeers"--aren't hard-core for the metal either. I'm guessing most are in it for the spectacle. The band's concerts are part musical theater and part performance art, with audience-participation rituals that combine the pageantry of a Medieval Times floor show with the irresponsible enthusiasm of backyard wrestling. At the door you get a card-stock Burger King crown, repainted brown, gold, or red to let you know which of the three knights slugging it out during the songs you're supposed to root for. "It's a collection of terrible people fighting and getting drunk," says Mortal Death. "We just take their money at the end of the night."
It'd be easy to write Cealed Kasket off, especially since the joke they're pushing--heavy metal musicians as greedy, drug-addled man-children--is older than Spinal Tap. But they make me laugh, which is all you can really ask of a joke band, not to mention something everybody needs from time to time. Most music is mediocre, and some of it--the solo records from alumni of High School Musical, the new Enrique Iglesias album--is so vastly uninteresting it actually hurts your soul. A song like "Death Train" is a powerful antidote to that kind of crap, a massive dose of on-purpose retardedness that cuts right through the stultifying mental buildup left behind by all the musicians out there who are deadly serious about their stupid music. Plus, as the gentlemen of Cealed Kasket understand, sometimes you want the kind of excitement out of a rock show that a bunch of guys dressed like regular dudes just can't generate.
That's not to say I have anything against a band that just straight-up plays songs. Neither do Cealed Kasket--they're even willing to help the regular dudes of rock take their image up a notch. "I think they should try some of the clothes that I'm going to be unleashing in my new line in the fall," says Pearlman, "and maybe a spritz of Rendezvous. It might help."
Make Believe Loses a Kinsella
Next-level post-posthardcore outfit Make Believe--or, as I like to call them, the Best Punk Band in the World--have traveled a pretty bumpy road these past four years. Drummer Nate Kinsella had some trouble with the law after removing his sweaty underpants and wringing them out on the all-ages audience at a Christian punk venue in Oklahoma, forcing the band to juggle tour dates and court dates. And of course they released a pair of stunningly brilliant albums a couple decades before the listening public was ready to give them the rapturous reception they deserved.
Now front man Tim Kinsella--who assembled the band as a touring version of his Joan of Arc project--has decided to quit so he can spend more time working on art projects and enjoying married life. "I really like my wife a lot," he wrote on the Joan of Arc Web site. "And puttering about the house making weird stuff all day means everything to me. And I feel a strong sense of community at home that means a lot to me and though I know I have been very lucky to have had the opportunities to travel, I really enjoy leaving Chicago less and less all the time."
The band's last show with Tim will be this Sunday at Metro, opening for Tortoise. He plans to continue making music under the Joan of Arc name. The other members of Make Believe plan to replace him with another singer and continue writing material for a follow-up to last year's Of Course. No disrespect to whoever ends up filling Tim's shoes, but this final blast of original flavor Make Believe is highly, highly recommended.
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 by Sandro.