T.S.O.L./The Bollweevils - Live in Chicago (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

T.S.O.L. / The Bollweevils

Live in Chicago (2019)

live show

Last year I went to Camp Punk in Drublic in the middle of nowhere Ohio. (This year it’s been rebranded Camp Anarchy, but it’s the same thing.) While there were things about it that I liked (camaraderie, music, panel discussions), there were at least as many things that I disliked (camping, corporateness, high prices). The lineup of bands was once again pretty impressive, and there was certainly a temptation to return. Ultimately, sleeping on the ground was a deal breaker and I didn’t go back this year. The cool thing about the midwest punk festivals, is that it gets a bunch of bands touring through the area.

Instead of living in a tent and pooping in an outhouse, we decided to stay in a hotel and check out a few bands over two nights in Chicago. Three of the four main bands we saw (The Damned, TSOL and X) were heading to Camp Anarchy. Three of the four (The Bollweevils, The Damned and TSOL) had also played Punk Rock Bowling the weekend before. (It kind of reminds you how insular the punk festival circuit really is.) The headliners also shared a certain kinship. TSOL’s best known album, Dance With Me (1981), was heavily influenced by The Damned’s proto goth.

Night two was TSOL, The Bollweevils, The Mons and The Kreutzer Sonata on Friday, May 31st at the friendly confines of Reggies on the south edge of Downtown Chicago. There was a metal festival going on in the rock club, so this sold out show was in the much smaller bar side of the venue. The official capacity is something like 110, but I would guess there were closer to 200 people there. It was packed and hot and sweaty, the way a proper punk show is supposed to be.

Opener The Kreutzer Sonata reminded me a bit of The Casualties, and didn’t really do much for me. Despite what I thought, they did have a handful of very vocal fans right up front. The Mons were more up my alley. The quintet of older guys from some fairly well known Chicago punk bands was jerky, spastic, angry and funny. And talk about political, they even had a song about Dick Cheney! Their first LP and 7 inch both had artwork by Raymond Pettibon. I was going to buy something, but at the end of the show they had already packed up.

I never buy records toward the beginning of the show. I want to drink beer and not be responsible until it’s time to stumble home. (Home in this case being a dumpy hotel in Chinatown.) I bought a vinyl copy of Dance with Me as soon as I got there, because I was afraid they would run out. I ran it ‘home’, and was sweating profusely by the time I got back. A beer on the upstairs deck helped me cool down.

The Bollweevils are always a treat. Every time I see them I wonder why they never got bigger. Few bands can match their energy and intensity. Full time medical doctor and part time punk frontman Daryl Wilson is usually either leaping around the stage or down mixing it up in the crowd. They played a couple of new songs, and one of them told me after the show that they had six new ones ready to go. This is really good news. Hopefully we get some new recorded music from The Bollweevils in the not too distant future.

As for TSOL, well, they were TSOL. They stuck mainly to material from the first EP and first LP, but they threw in some surprises too. I’ve seen the band two or three times since they released their last album, The Trigger Complex (2017), and this was the first time they played anything from it. That album was a poppy, keyboard heavy affair in the vein of their Beneath the Shadows (1982) LP. They don’t have a keyboard player touring with them, so the songs become more guitar driven. There were four newer songs in total. “Satellite” and “I Wanted to See You” didn’t really feel out of place with songs like “Abolish Government” or “I’m Tired”.

TSOL is still 75% of its original lineup with singer Jack Grisham, guitarist Ron Emory and bassist Mike Roche. (Drummer Todd Barnes died in 1999, and now they seem to have a different one every time I see them.) Emory and Roche look a bit like aging mechanics, but never seem to miss a note. Grisham stalks the stage like hungry wolf, usually with a smile plastered on his face. He bounces around in his size 50 something sportcoat with skulls and crossbones on the lapels and immaculate shoes. He’s usually good for a story or two that would make most folks blush.

Some of my favorite things about Camp Punk in Drublic last year were the campfire chats after the bands had finished. It was essentially a bunch of old punks sitting around, answering questions and shooting the bull. Grisham was the moderator, but was also plenty entertaining in his own right. (He also led daily AA meetings. My hungover ass did not attend.) The panels were great fun but not particularly well attended. I saw no mention of them returning this year. It’s a shame. I really enjoyed the insights from Grisham, Jello Biafra, Keith Morris and more.

The appreciative crowd sang and danced to favorites like “Fuck You Tough Guy”, “Sounds of Laughter”, “Dance With Me” and of course, the all time greatest punk song about necrophilia, “Code Blue”. The TSOL show was radically different than The Damned show the night before, but nearly as compelling. I certainly prefer the dingier dive that is Reggies to to the much more corporate House of Blues. I’m sure both bands were better in the dark. With toilets that flush.