“For those of you in the back, this motherfucker’s got one arm!” guitarist Andy Mosiman shouted to the packed house at Empty Bottle for his band The Hecks’ record release show. He was referring to bandmate Zach Hebert, sporting a bulky white cast and drumming one-handed but hardly missing a beat. It was past eleven on a Monday night, and the local Chicago group’s sophomore LP My Star (Trouble In Mind Records) was days shy of its official premiere on October 11. The room was buzzing (with a little help from $2 PBR drafts) as the foursome coasted through single after single, cranking out crowd favorite “Flash” early on, a funky, dancy ‘80s-tinged rocker with an intoxicating pulse. Their music is bright but leans into a darker underside with minor melodies and off-kilter clinks—at first unexpected, but after a few spins fall just right. After a three-year wait, the new record is a rush of experimental art rock laced with plenty of warm synth.
Earlier this decade, The Hecks formed as a two-piece with Mosiman and Hebert at the reins and in 2012 were lovingly dubbed “Best New Rock Duo” by Chicago Reader. A 2012 EP was followed by their debut self-titled album in 2016. A year later, they recorded the first draft of My Star but soon took in keyboardist Jeff Graupner for gigs and to help reinvent the songs as they sound today. Guitarist/recording engineer Dave Vettraino also joined the band in 2017.
It was tough to take your eyes off Hebert, killing the percussion with one functional arm. The drum lines were simple but powerful, driving each song methodically. Turns out this was very intentional, since this is the first band Hebert has ever drummed for, and he chose to keep the parts pretty straightforward.
Arguably the biggest surprise of the evening came from Milwaukee: the second opening act, Juiceboxxx, fronted by a slight-framed 30-something, shirt neatly tucked in, whose stage presence was as much of a mystery as his real name is. From leaping into the crowd mid-song, expertly lassoing the microphone, karate kicking mid-air and draping himself onto guitarist Willy Dintenfass—all while rap-singing about being a spaz and Dunkin’ Donuts (“I Wanna Die In A Dunkin’”) and delivering bursts of wandering monologues about mental health and playing his iPod in Chicago—it was a feast of crazy amped-up wonder. Juiceboxx has been making his unique blend of punk, pop, rock and rap (and vlogs for State of the Thunder Zone, a nod to his record label/energy drink Thunder Zone) for nearly two decades, including tours to Australia, Europe, Japan and Canada with Public Enemy, and is even the subject of The Next Next Level, a book by former Slate reporter Leon Neyfakh (with Lena Dunham’s stamp of approval, no doubt). A 2016 article in The Verge sums Juiceboxxx up best when he’s quoted saying, “I relate to a kind of pure positive energy in music but also I can’t help but be drawn to the more destructive end of noise and punk.” The dude is a must-see lunatic exuding positivity and endless energy.
“Transfemme non-binary human” Angel Marcloid, a.k.a. Fire-Toolz, kicked the night off with glitchy layers of gaming noise juxtaposed with playful animated projections ranging from goldfish to spinning succulents, strawberries, eyeballs, AOL nostalgia and a glowing red soccer ball orbiting in the clouds, resembling Mars.
All photos by Juan Montano