Howardian: Bedroom Music by a Garage Band

The veteran rocker Ian Vanek places a small drum kit at the front of the stage: bass drum, snare, ride cymbal, floor tom, and another tom. Though a minimal kit, he prepares for maximum energy and sweat. He rubs his drumsticks and asks “how does this one go,” giving the performance a sense of improvisation and intrigue. But it’s all part of the bombastic performance that Howardian pulls off so well.

Howardian, along with locals Retirement Club and Post Child, filled the Subterranean with noise last weekend. But while Vanek called this project more mellow than his previous group, Japanther, it’s still music to bang your head to. The band has been touring for their last album, A Smurf at Land’s End, that they released in late February.

The band’s sound is tinged by layering sine-wavy synthesizers, angular guitar lines, and Vanek’s throaty vocals. Howardian sounds like recorded pop music in an apartment bedroom written for a live band in a garage.

And they can bang it out hard. Vanek would drum along so intensely that he was a blur.


As a live ensemble, they stuck to the recordings well, but Vanek added a dimension of freshness, amusement, and spontaneity throughout the night by ad-libbing lyrics. After launching the set, Vanek started saying “If you’re not crazy, I don’t want to be friends with you.” He paused, continued to drum then said matter-of-factly, “if you are too normal, you’re crazy to me.”

While it’s hard to characterize Howardian’s sound, this captures the spirit of the band in a sentence. They seem to be bursting with creative energy. Vanek’s sincerity and spontaneity give off the air of the boy in elementary school who would run around with paint, making anything he touched his art — even though he might make a mess.

Howardian puts on their show by removing the barrier between performer and audience. It almost felt like the audience’s reactions and their feedback or quips would feed into the set. The Howardian might seem silly at first, but they’re serious in their delivery and conviction.

Colin S. Smith
Colin S. Smith

Colin Smith thinks that Chicago right now is the place to be for music. He works for Illinois Humanities, is a freelance writer, and plays psychedelic-pop songs with his band.

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