I had never been inside the Ultra Lounge before this show and wasn’t sure what to expect. What it offered up was a modestly sized bar with a backroom of about the same size. I’d say it could probably fit about a hundred people, maybe a handful more – a great place for smaller shows if they have to be at a bar. I had been assured the show would start close to on time, so I showed up with time to spare. The early show at Ultra Lounge was just finishing up and the final band’s smoke machine was going full steam ahead. I’ll let that sink in a moment. Whatever band was playing deemed it appropriate to use a fog machine at their show for less than a hundred people. I don’t know whether to be impressed by their dedication or appalled by their unnecessary grandeur and egoism. I will say this though: smoke machines do not smell good.
Luckily, the smelly smog had dissipated by the time Chicago’s own Broken Prayer took to the stage. I was pleasantly surprised by how solid the sound was at Ultra Lounge, something you can never be quite sure of when it comes to rock clubs. The levels were pretty well managed and I could hear every piece of the band. That was a plus because Broken Prayer is a band that is an absolute sum of its parts and those parts are all excellent. Sardonic lyrics alternately shouted and monotonously sung could be well heard over the cacophony of punk genius the band churned out. Their songs are fast paced, sometimes dancey, sometimes unabashedly aggressive, and always noisy and catchy. The keyboard and bass drive a lot of the songs while the guitar is often creating thick layers of sound underneath. Super tight, well thought out drumming holds everything together and propels the songs forward to near a breaking point, but never past. Someone tried to heckle this band between their songs with such original commentary as “you suck.” Clearly, this person was unsuccessful and also need his or her ears checked.
Next up was Pillage, a newer Chicago band. Though new, this band is made up of veteran members of Los Crudos, Charles Bronson, MK Ultra, Loser Life, and tons more. If you know your hardcore, you know that’s quite a pedigree. Pillage takes some parts of their sound from all of those bands, but are something new in sum. They play 90’s influenced powerviolence-tinged hardcore that goes from breakneck speeds to slow, churning aggression quickly and seamlessly. The vocals aren’t the typical growled or throaty shout that this type of music typically accompanies, but more of a straight forward, fierce shouting that lends the songs a bit more of a straight forward punk feel. They blazed through their set in probably less than twelve minutes. Keep an eye out for these guys.
Finally, the band much of the crowd was there to see, Iron Lung, set up. This two-piece hardcore punk outfit knows how to use gear. Their one guitar and one drum set managed to sound louder and heavier than many five piece bands I’ve seen in my time. This is not only a testament to the amount of gear that they use, but the way it’s finely tuned and tweaked to get the perfect sound. And then there are the songs themselves. Sometimes long, sometimes short, always 100% pure, unfiltered aggression and anger. Iron Lung largely invented the style of hardcore they play, which switches from blazing fast to stop-on-a-dime slow parts. The incredible range in dynamics is flawlessly executed. This band is tight and plays hard. I couldn’t believe how powerfully their drummer hit while also handling the bulk of the vocal duties for the group. They blazed through a set of a solid mixture of new and old material that left the crowd wanting more. Oh yeah, the icing on the cake was their stage banter. Some really top notch stuff. If you ever get a chance to witness the mighty Iron Lung in person, it is not an opportunity you should pass up.