Sunday, September 27, 2015

Lardo calls it quits in thrilling Cactus Club Debut

Back in my college days, my friend Josh stumbled across a random, inconspicuous slice of vinyl buried in the library of WRST in Oshkosh, the college radio station where we were tag teaming an overnight freeform shift and looking for random odd finds in the back room to take a gamble on at 3:30 in the morning. On this night, Josh found a humble, beat-up sleeve labeled “The Cardboards: Greatest Hits Volume Two,” and the back cover photo of four awkward looking nerds futzing with a bunch of cables somehow convinced him to throw it on. What we had discovered was a lost, nearly forgotten DEVO-esque new wave punk group from Pittsburgh that managed to get this five-song EP released before falling apart and disappearing into obscurity. The discovery of something so randomly awesome and unheralded hit us over the head with way more force than anything the labels and magazines were trying to jam into our earholes at the time, and it could be argued that the Cardboards had as much or more an impact on our first bands as Sonic Youth or any of the other Alternative Nation poster children of the time. Of course, now that we're a couple decades deep into the Internet Era, a cursory Google search will pull up plenty of information about the Cardboards, but without that one eye-catching flip through the record sleeves buried deep in a college radio library, we wouldn't have known to even search their name.

But even today, in the era of blogs and PR firms spamming our eyes and ears with the latest career-minded trend-hoppers looking to get their Kickstarter funded, it can be those short-lived, hot-burning obscurities that still pack the biggest punch and excite music lovers the most. It's almost cliché at this point to say that there are more bands out there than ever, and for every Hep New Thing that catches fire through some combination of luck and timing, there are a hundred bands that are just as good or better that flame out before anyone cares to notice the self-released, unsold stacks of vinyl collecting mold on their merch tables.

Which bring us to Chicago's Lardo. A part-time concern formed in 2013 by serial band-starter Brian Pennington (Radiant Republic, MegaMaul) and Nick Minor, Lardo is a thrillingly virtuosic no-wave informed post-punk trio layering bit-crushed, synthesized guitar heroics over a bare-bones rhythm section straight out of 1990s Touch & Go Records. Their recently-released debut, Gunmetal Eyes, is a minimalist mindfuck of dark, scary noise-rock as creepy as it is exciting, as sparse as it is heavy. It's an incredibly unique and messed-up work that deserves loads of attention. It would be a phenomenal opening statement in what you'd normally think would be a future full of possibility, but Lardo played what may well be their last show ever at the Cactus Club on Saturday in front of a room full of stoked and swaying attendees.

The band ran through Gunmetal Eyes in its entirety during their runaway train of a set, barely pausing for a breath as they ran nearly every one of the record's ten tracks together. Minor, standing stone-still, stoically delivered cynically snarky vocals (“Everyday's the same/Things are gonna change/I can play this game/'Cuz things are gonna change” from “Another Day in the Life”) while Pennington violently flailed all over stage left, repeatedly slamming his body into the wall while laying down dizzyingly bendy guitar lines in between fixing the pedals he kept accidentally unplugging. It was an exhilarating juxtaposition, although it probably wouldn't be lying to say that all the attention in the room was focused on the shredder with the synthetic-sounding licks. That undivided attention came from a fairly full room full of excited, flailing headbangers, many of whom came up from Chicago to see their local heroes call it quits (come back soon, everyone!).

So now does Lardo fade into memory? As is the case in so many bands that die before their time, real life is butting in, as Pennington is moving to North Carolina for the usual work/family reasons. But he hasn't closed the door on Lardo, reminding a few of us at Cactus that there's no telling the future. After all, the internet has made long-distance practice and file-sharing more rule than exception for some. In the meantime, who knows, maybe a copy of Gunmetal Eyes ends up in some kid's hands in a discount bin or college radio library somewhere in a few years, completely unheralded, and that kid gets their mind blown into next week and immediately starts a band so they can get their guitar to sound as fucked up as Lardo's. I bet the Cardboards would approve, wherever they are.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the bill, three other bands stepped up to the plate to deliver excellent sets along with Lardo—most notably Chicago's The Terrible News, a brand new noise-rock outfit playing their second show. Their brand of bluesy Steve-Albini-and-The-Bad-Seeds skronk absolutely leveled the Cactus faithful, including a downright punishing version of Cher's “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” that was equal parts beautiful and downright ugly. The show was bookended by local favorite Heavy Hand, playing a few new tracks including a new singalong winner about malfunctioning Big Muff pedals (“This Big Muff is fucked up/And all our shit is broken!”), and Gauss, who brought an interesting Elephant 6 take to their brand of noise (although maybe that was just the trumpet). Hopefully every one of these bands gets the time to develop a full discography before one of their members gets dragged to Missoula for work or some shit.