Emo music is alive in Chicago. Pet Symmetry, a pop-punk, alt rock, self described “emo” band released their second full-length album Vision at Schubas on Friday, May 27th. Kicking off their tour with fellow Chicago-based band, Ratboys, the Friday night show felt like a really light-hearted, exuberant celebration. Light-hearted and exuberant might be atypical adjectives for the range of emotion associated with emo music, but they’re quintessential to Pet Symmetry’s aesthetic.
I tend to associate emo music with a poppy drum beat and bass, coupled with bleak and often cynical lyrics revealing an inner vulnerability. Pet Symmetry’s lyrics are much more earnest, but they lead to that same vulnerability. The goofy earnest feel was all over their set on Friday, from their matching white tee shirts poking fun at their homogenous skinny-brown-haired-white-guys-in-glasses appearance, to their encore performance of the Ramones’ “Pet Sematary” with Julia Steiner from Ratboys bopping around on stage in a varsity jacket shouting the lyrics.
Pet Symmetry sandwiched their set with two of their most popular and crowd-pleasing songs, opening with “My Exhausted Month (of May)” from their debut album Pets Hounds as they audience sang along, and closing the show with “A Detailed and Poetic Physical Threat to the Person Who Intentionally Vandalized My 1994 Dodge Intrepid Behind Kate’s Apartment” from their first EP. They dove into the first few songs without a break for banter between. Evan Weiss’s vocals remained fairly crisp and clear despite Schubas often muddled sound quality. “You & Me & Mt. Hood” is a stand out tune off their new album Vision. The repeated chorus “So take me out and show me around” feels like an evocative lyric from that post-punk, emo, alt rock scene that dominated the early 2000s. It confesses this sense of being lost/feeling empty. The song’s primary image, coasting in a car down a mountain and hoping to make it to a gas station before getting stuck is an evocative metaphor for that feeling –apathy and emptiness.
Evan Weiss (Into it. Over it.) has an athletic and fresh voice that reminds me of Frank Turner, the sometimes mawkish British folk, acoustic punk guy, but Weiss sounds smarter, more nuanced, and more subtle.
Guitarist and vocalist Erik Czaja (Dowsing) and drummer Marcus Nuccio (What Gives!) are a bit more playful on stage. They temper Weiss and round out the band’s vibe delivering their overall emo-light aesthetic.
Ratboys, another three person Chicago-based outfit, seems like a great choice in tourmate. They play a unique blend of folk and indie rock, and sampled several songs from their upcoming album GN which they’ll also release at Schubas on June 30, following their tour with Pet Symmetry. The new songs they performed on Friday portend great things for the new album. Steiner seems to be hitting her stride ‒ writing with a greater intimacy. Watch the music video and hear the single for Elvis in the Freezer, a tune about about losing a beloved pet here. They also played the first track from GN, a song about Steiner’s younger sister Molly. Steiner’s impish voice calling out the chorus “I just want to love my family…and lie in the cemetery” over and over sounds almost like a Deb Talan lullaby. Steiner introduced another new tune called “Peter the Wild Boy” about a feral child once a famous spectacle in Georgian Britain, but it’s perhaps more indirectly about mental illness and the shame and stigma associated with it. Ratboys also shared “You Changed” a melodic new country song.
There’s a really playful, fancy-free vibe to Ratboys’ music. Most of their songs are simple and sweet, and make you want to move around (and maybe even dance!). In contrast, Pacemaker, the solo project of Matthew Frank, Evan Weiss’s former bandmate in Their/They’re/There, played a darker opening set on Friday. Turner released a solo EP a few months which he pulled songs from with Evan Weiss accompanying on bass. He did a memorable cover of the Gin Blossoms’ “Hey Jealousy” which was a nice preview for the night’s goofy tone.
If you can see Pet Symmetry and Ratboys while on tour, you should. It was such a fun show, and maybe because I was listening to emo and I was at an all ages show at Schubas, but I felt like I was 17 again: footloose and fancy-free! Get tickets to Ratboys CD release concert here.