Back in 1979, radio’s soundscapes were a desolate place. “It sounded like Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumors’ playing over and over again,” laments John Kezdy, singer of Chicago punk progenitors the Effigies.
The Effigies set out to change that. Picking up on what they could find out from zines circulated among friends and the few bars that played punk from the various coasts, they put together one of Chicago’s first punk bands. The tone was heavier and grittier than the snarky fashion-punk emanating from England, New York and Los Angeles, and would soon become identified as the Chicago hardcore/punk sound. Like partner-in-crime Steve Albini, they incorporated chugging, distorted guitars and low, throaty vocals that gave their music a darker, Midwestern tinge. “Punk rock is about looking reality in the eye and facing it,” Kezdy says. “It’s about dealing with the harsher side of life, and some of these kids [nowadays] just don’t get that.”
This brutal realism earned the Effigies a place in the annals of Chicago punk lore and a modicum of fame: by 1986, Jane’s Addiction and the Flaming Lips had opened for the band on tours, and Metallica invited the outfit to be openers on its European tour (and were rejected). However, that spelled the beginning of the end. With some members wanting to stay true to their roots and others wanting to move towards post-punk, internal tensions finally tore the band apart in what Kezdy calls a “very nasty breakup.” In 2004, three of the four original members reunited with a new guitarist on the condition that it would not be a nostalgia act: they pledged to play only new material. Since then, the band has toured extensively and released a new LP, “Reside,” on Criminal IQ Records. Another album is in the works, as are plans to re-release all the old Effigies records.
There are no foreseeable plans to wind down: “Gigs are like getting shot out of a barrel for ninety minutes straight,” Kezdy says. “Until this stops being fun in a profound sense, we’ll keep going…if Mick Jagger can do it pushing 70, we can do it for a little while longer.” Kezdy may have to confine his barrel-jumping to the weekends, between his demanding job as an Illinois state prosecutor and taking care of two young children. “I bought my daughter an iPod for Christmas, and I predicted that she would lose it within thirty days,” complains Kezdy. “It was gone by day 35. By that time, it was completely full of…who’s that daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus?…Hannah Montana.” (Katie Buitrago)
The Effigies play April 26 at Reggies Rock Club, 2109 South State, (312)949-0121, at 9pm.