By Tom Lynch
Many bands, at some point, become embarrassed by their older material, the first couple records they made before they were all jaded by the music industry, lost lovers or whatever. Some bands, even the biggest in the world—like Radiohead or U2—won’t dive into the back catalogue in concert. It makes a bit of sense from the artists’ point of view; everyone wants to progress, to think about the future rather than the past, to not dwell on accomplishments from more than a decade ago. We get it. But, sometimes we want to hear the old stuff, too.
All Tomorrow’s Parties’ “Don’t Look Back” series has, since 2005, reminded some of why they first fell in love with certain artists, as it has invited several acts in the rock and hip-hop worlds to perform past works in whole. In 2005, the highlights were Melvins’ performance of “Houdini” and The Stooges doing “Funhouse.” The next year saw Teenage Fanclub playing “Bandwagonesque” in full and Tortoise plowing through “Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” Last year, in conjunction with the Pitchfork Music Festival, Sonic Youth exhumed “Daydream Nation.” In 2008, at the Pitchfork fest, Public Enemy will perform “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” and Sebadoh will scrape through “Bubble and Scrape,” while at the excellently billed lineup at the ATP fest in New York come September, Built to Spill is set to explore “Perfect from Now On.” The need to progress is always present, but one must not forget from where he came.
Veteran Chicago rock duo Local H, Scott Lucas and drummer Brian St. Clair (behind the kit since 1999, when he replaced Joe Daniels), in celebration of its new, perfectly titled “12 Angry Months” (Shout Factory), jumpstarts a weeklong residency at Beat Kitchen in which, leading up until the evening when the record’s released, the two will play one of the band’s albums in entirety (with one night saved for rarities, covers, b-sides, etc.). A daring endeavor for any band, Local H will begin with 2005’s meaty “Ham Fisted,” move on to 1996’s breakthrough “As Good As Dead” (which featured radio hits “Bound for the Floor” and “Eddie Vedder”) and then on to “Pack Up the Cats,” the band’s outstanding, under-appreciated grunge-fest from 1998. (“Here Comes the Zoo” and “Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles” follow the next two nights.) In one week, we get to see what Local H has achieved over the last thirteen years, as well as indulge in a live performance of “12 Angry Months,” which is nothing to complain about. Sometimes we want to hear the new stuff, too.
“The idea came pretty much before any of the songs—we wanted to make a breakup record. We wanted a nasty, fucked-up breakup record,” Lucas says of the album. The twelve tracks on the record follow the twelve months of the year and, as tough breakups go, the step-by-step process of getting through them alive—the anger, the guilt, the resentment, the melancholy, the regret, the acceptance (and, yes, the jealous they-are-seeing-someone-else stage as well). Like with “Pack Up the Cats,” the songs seem to seamlessly blend in to one another (well, with “Cats,” they literally did), and Lucas notes his love of Pink Floyd as probable inspiration.
“I think that’s probably what it is,” he says. “I was a huge Floyd fan growing up…I’ve always been attracted to records like that. It also kind of makes the record—I like records that are records, where the songs have relationships to each other. It’s sort of that art of making a record that stands as a whole.”
However, don’t be fooled that that’s all Lucas is after. It’s all just pop music, and everyone loves a hook (“12 Angry Months” should stand on track seven, “24-Hour Break-Up Session”). “You know,” Lucas says, “I’m always a cake-and-eat-it-too kind of guy. Let’s make a concept record, but let’s make songs that are catchy and could stand on their own.”
This album’s subject matter, while, of course, popular in contemporary music, is still sensitive in nature, and he’s happy the writing’s finished. “It was kind of weird, and I’m glad it’s done,” he says. “It really started feeling like an albatross, you’re trying to get songs done, and just with the nature of the subject matter, you start to almost feel like you can’t carry on another relationship. If you do, that person will think you’re carrying on some sort of torch. You’re just like, ‘No, no, these songs are done.’”
Lucas says the main pressure he felt while writing “12 Angry Months” was to make it stand up to the band’s past records, but he also acknowledges that you can’t make everyone happy. “I remember after our first record,” he says, “you know you’ve always got the kids who lie and say they [prefer] the old record. Why is the first record the best? Because no one heard it? Because it was unlistenable? I don’t need it… You listen to that first record, it’s pretty gritty.”
How does he prepare for the band’s trek through the old material? “You dump everything you’ve ever recorded since you were 20 on your iPod, and listen to it from when you wake up, even if you don’t want to,” he says. “It’s kind of like homework. It’s also kind of interesting. You see there is growth, but even that’s debatable to someone who doesn’t like the new records. Who knows? For me I can see what’s going on, how things have changed, and that’s kind of cool. It’s something we’ll probably do before every new record comes out.”
Local H begins its weeklong residency May 7 at Beat Kitchen, 2100 West Belmont, (773)281-4444.