FRIDAY NIGHT

It was a gorgeous night for a Chicago street festival. The Guinness Oyster Fest kiosks were well managed and there was a sense of purpose in the air. The foodies were lined up, animatedly discussing the virtues of Blue Points and whether these somewhat slimy mollusks could really get washed down well by a Guinness – keep in mind that Midwesterners are cynical beings - the artisans were browsing the jewellery and the music fans were wisely focused on getting a good standing position amongst the still small, but building crowd.

Alien Ant Farm was the headliner on Friday night of the two-night celebration. The Riverside, California group, which formed in the late 1990s, reworked Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ – MJ’s seventh single from 1987 album, ‘Bad’.

The funky, sinister song appeared on their first, indie record and major release, ‘ANThology’, and was Grammy nominated for Best Hard Rock Song -they are known for covering other bands such as the Police and Sade, but AAF’s version, which was created with Michael’s blessings, and juiced up via a vigorous bass line and male backing vocals, launched an entirely new audience.

When lead vocalist Dryden sings: “As he came into the window it was the sound of a crescendo/He came into her apartment – he left the bloodstains on her window” the uncanny choppiness of the poetic, yet violent lyrics inspires a blissful sense of creepiness.

Clearly, when a band performs a cover by such a well-known artist, sparks will fly.
But, I much prefer their fierce version to the stylized, whispered rendition that Jackson originated. Also, Tye Zamora’s killer bass line gives the song the urgency it demands.

Alien Ant Farm has found a substantial gaming audience; ‘Wish’ and ‘Courage’ have been used in video games, but, tonight, many of their mostly young fans are anxious to hear them live. Dryden begins with the latter song.

Because of the ambiguity of the lyrics, such as: “Contrary to the matter, who you are, you are not” to “I never said you were – you got it all wrong”, ‘Courage’ is a good starting point for the set. ‘Courage’ has an air of mystery to it. Dryden’s voice rises eerily above the throbbing bass and unrelenting drum.

‘Yellow Pages’ has a sort of Oriental beginning that underlies Dryden Mitchell’s loose-lipped, word salad delivery. The rhythmic words break up the steady drone.

‘1000 Days’ has a theme that is more contemplative, but unless you’re already familiar with the words, you won’t decipher them, of course, now. A few more high-energy tunes and then Zamora’s hand bounces atop his ever-moving bass in ‘Godlike.’

‘Glow’ is more of a mood-stabilizing, erogenous, pop ballad. “I’ll be the switch she turns on – I’ll be the fuse that she blows,” Dryden incants, ending his description with the tag line, “We’ll glow”

‘Wish’ is very Led Zep-like and features Dryden’s most powerful, vocal buildup. The singsong symmetry of ‘Sticks and Stones’ offers an almost comic relief to that tension.
The choppy phrases allow the band members to solo and posture.

Towards the end of the set comes one of the most melodic renderings. Dryden emotes stunningly with the one word hook, ‘Simpatico.’ The title assumes the authority of an almost tribal chant – Dryden brings the audience in, full-tilt – they are more than happy to oblige – young, and even a few old, gobble down the bait.

In between songs, we get to know the band members well. Charismatic Dryden has closely-cropped hair and piercing brown eyes. He confides that he’s going through a tough divorce. He hints that he needs our support tonight more than ever. The band plays an electrifying, non-stop performance, do the expected encore and then hang around for a signing.

The woman standing near me agrees that we need to support Dryden tonight. Her best friend’s ten-year-old daughter had received Zamora’s pick during the show. Her eyes were still aglow as she revealed that was her “first rock concert.” The woman shows me the area on her shirt that she hopes will get signed. “Here. On my boob,” she says, pointing.

An attractive couple unfurls a small, Mexican flag. Today is Mexican Independence Day and the woman can’t wait for Dryden to sign it. They are proud of what the band has accomplished for the Mexican-American community.

Alien Ant Farm has played hits from ‘TruANT’ tonight, too, which was released in 2003. By the time, ‘Up in the Attic’ was out, in 2006, they had shifted gears. Guitarist Terry Corso and bassist Tye Zamora have left and come home again. Drummer Mike Cosgrove has a fantastic ear for alternative metal/rock. Corso has a great ear, too, and, of course, Zamora, who makes exaggerated facial gestures throughout the night, serves, as the much loved, class comic. It was a great performance by an unappreciated band. But, their ANTicipation tour, throughout 21 US states, may change all of that.


SATURDAY NIGHT

The headliner for the Guinness Oyster Fest, Saturday evening, was Sheffield, England’s The Human League. ‘Credo’, their tenth album, which has been ten years in the making, is out and the UK trio looked as glam as ever. 1981’s ‘Dare’was the synth-pop, star making album that “bought them their houses” and included pop single, ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ The band revamped songs from ‘Hysteria’, ‘Travelogue’, ‘Crash’, ‘Dare’ and, of course, ‘Credo’.

Lead vocalist Phil Oakey, blonde Joanne Catherall and brunette Susan Ann Sulley were once called “ the future of pop music” by icon David Bowie. Their influence has been felt in later bands such as the Pet Shop Boys and the Ministry of Sound

Oakey entered the stage, cloaked in blacks and greys, head to toe, his baldhead hidden for the first, few numbers. In contrast, Sulley sparkled; she wore a sequined hair covering and vintage heels. Catherall sported a flashy, sleeveless vest.

They launched into ‘Never Let Me Go’ and immediately, afterwards, early 1980s innocent hit ‘Open Your Heart.’

The stormy, frenetic ‘Sound of the Crowd’ pushed the energy onstage up several notches, but then ‘Heart Like a Wheel’ the most melodic and ballady of the ballads lent its own charms, allowing Oakey to show off his androgynous pipes. ‘Lebanon’ was the most expansive character study of the night: “She dreams of 1969,” the tale begins.

The trio changed their wardrobes several times before the night ended. Perhaps they were just allowing us to feast our eyes before their later launch into the so seductive ‘Night People’ from ‘Credo’. ‘Egomaniac’ is another cut from “Credo” and, maybe because of the suggestive nature of the line, “diamond in the sun”, the stage textures brightened even more radiantly.

‘Night People’ was sandwiched between ‘Empire State Human’ and ‘Human’ – a good choice because the other more industrial backings left room for the trendsetting ‘Night People’ banter.

It was Susan’s turn to shine now. Silver, stylish heels cut into the floor and matching earrings stood aglow. Both ‘Human’ and ‘Empire State Human’ – with its billowing chorus; “I wanna be tall, tall, tall, as big as the world, world, world…” brought forth blips and bleeps and rivalling key riffs.

Oakey still carries the stage; his long-sleeved, crisp white shirt catching shadows. From ‘Love Action’ to ‘Tell Me When’ his constant movement continued.

The dashing and dramatically tall vocalist also confided that, back in the day, many “people hated synthesizers”, but then offered no further apologies for proclaiming The Human League a “synth band.” The lead keytarist who knelt down at Oakey’s boots, riffing madly on his shiny, black and white electric didn’t seem to notice the mincing of the words, either.

The line up was impressive. From the sway of the keytars to the rapid-fire, stage criss-crossings by the trio, most senses were addressed. Though, despite all those shiny fabrics, and, even though, I had managed to squeeze into the first row, I would, sadly, leave the stage area without scrunching gold lame.

There was lots of interaction between the trio. Oakey, in interviews, has expressed surprise that he ever received acclaim as a singer. He was sought after, initially, because of his look. But, it’s hard to imagine the Human League without his luminous smile, and entertainingly deep, deadpan delivery.

‘Mirror Man’ is a whole different scene. The carnival-type, word play and swooning vocals rival Motown’s finest. Of course, the fans expected to hear flashy ‘Fascination’ and they got it.

THL know, of course, that they could never leave the stage without ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ Only a corpse could have ignored the infectious hook. They even snuck a tune co-written by Giorgio Moroder and Oakey, ‘Good-Bye Bad Times’ in towards the end. They finished off the set with ‘Being Boiled’ and ‘Electric Dreams.’

A trail of fans stood faithfully by the entrance of the tour bus for about half and hour and got albums and set lists signed. They even got an abbreviated glimpse of the three and a few sporadic hugs. The Human League really gave their all tonight, garnered some new fans and left no trace of audience regret.

















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