Pegboy/Local H - Live in Chicago [Drive-in] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Pegboy / Local H

Live in Chicago [Drive-in] (2020)

live show

Prior to this, the last punk show I had been to was local Grand Rapids heroes Mustard Plug and The Lippies on December 27th, 2019. January and February were slow punk show months, even by miserable Michigan winter standards. We all know what happened in March, just as some killer tours were set to kick off. As someone who has been going to shows for more than 30 years, I struggled with the abrupt change in lifestyle. I guess that’s why I was willing to try a show in a parking lot. Plus, it seemed like the definitive 2020 experience.

The gig was the Pegboy 30th anniversary show on October 17th in Bridgeview, IL, just outside of Chicago. It was at a makeshift drive-in movie theater, in the parking lot of the now vacant Seat Geek soccer stadium. The lineup was solid - Pegboy, Local H, Jake Burns and The Bollweevils. Still, we wrestled with the very idea of it right up until the last minute. Free tickets from a Chicago record store sealed the deal.

The truth is, we were looking for a reason to hang out/get away, and this seemed like a good excuse. The show was the centerpiece of a weekend of drinking and record shopping in Chicago. The crew was myself, an old friend who I’ve been going to shows with for three decades, and my podcasting partner Liverpool Neil. (If you’re not listening to the Punk Till I Die podcast, you should get on it!) Neil lives in the Chicago area, and the Windy City is finally opening back up enough to be worth a visit.

When we were looking at tickets, we were leaning toward the VIP section, which was in the first five rows. As it turns out, that wasn’t really necessary. We didn’t know how long it would take us to get down there, so we showed up early and ended up in the 6th row. We were still a couple hundred feet from the portable stage, but they also projected the action on the movie screen next to it. (The movie screen was several shipping containers stacked lengthwise with a giant white tarp tacked to the front.) Riot Fest had a hand in the production, so the sound and lights were top notch. Pegboy was soundchecking when we got there, and they sounded great.

There were a lot of cars there. I would guess there were more people than a typical Pegboy club show would draw, but we were so spread out that it was impossible to be sure. You could stay in your car, or sit in chairs near it. We brought chairs, but never set them up. Pierre Kezdy loomed large over the show. The former Naked Raygun/Pegboy bassist had died only a week before. At times, the show became an impromptu memorial service and an extremely loud wake. There were tributes as well as a raffle and other opportunities to help his family financially.

It was dusk when The Bollweevils hit the stage at 6. Singer Dr. Daryl Wilson talked a bit about how the pandemic has affected punk shows, and dedicated the band's set to Pierre. Then they did what they always do - played a kick ass 35 minute punk show. Despite poking fun at his own age, Wilson is one of the most physical frontmen you’ll ever see. He did his best to carry on business as usual. (Minus the stage diving, of course.) The Bollweevils are a Chicago institution, in the same league as Pegboy or Raygun.

We had no idea what to expect from Jake Burns. While he’s lived in Chicago for years, the rest of Stiff Little Fingers ( I think) is overseas. Our question was answered when Burns sat down with his acoustic guitar at 7 sharp. He spoke to the crowd for a moment before opening with the SLF classic “Gotta Get Away”. Most of his set came from early in Stiff Little Fingers catalogue, but there were a couple of curveballs too, like the 1976 Rory Gallagher song “Barley and Grape Rag”.

The banter between the songs was actually my favorite part of Burns’ set. From pissing off Pete Townsend and losing a tour opening for The Who, to having one one of SLF’s most beloved songs rejected by an Irish fanzine, he had us captivated with his storytelling. His musical performance could be hit or miss, but his passion overcame his occasional sloppiness. This was my favorite set of the night. Stiff Little Fingers are great live, but this was something I probably won’t get another chance to see.

Jake Burns setlist:

Gotta Get Away

Nobody’s Hero

Wasted Life

Barley and Grape Rag

My Dark Places

Suspect Device

Drinkin’ Again

Silver Lining

Alternative Ulster

Local H came on at 8, and started off well enough. I only know them from their massive 1996 radio hit “Bound for the Floor”. The two piece from nearby Zion, IL is quite a bit more aggressive live than on their lone hit. We mostly enjoyed the first 30 minutes of their grungy rumbling. About a half hour in, they invited Pegboy guitarist John Haggerty to join them for a cover of the Motörhead classic “(We Are) The Road Crew”. The problem? They were playing in two different keys. After a re-tuning and a second start, they got through it just fine.

After that, it seemed like there was only one thing to do - play your hit and leave on a high note, right? Wrong. Instead, they played a noisy, rambling 15 minute song that irritated the hell out of everyone who wasn’t there specifically to see them. By contrast, it must be noted that the music between bands was great. There were songs from Devo, Television, Operation Ivy, Fear, Gang of Four, Wire and even Patti Smith.

At 9, it was time for the main attraction. Pegboy singer Larry Damore started with an emotional tribute to Pierre, and tearfully placed his bass on stage with them. It was actually kind of difficult to watch, but undeniably sincere. He also confessed that he doesn’t drink much these days, but had been on this night. The Pegboy playing at 9 didn’t bear much resemblance to the one we had heard four hours earlier. The sound was not very good, and the band was not particularly tight. Honestly, that’s pretty forgivable considering the circumstances surrounding the show.

When Pegboy started playing, a bunch of people, myself and my buddy included, headed down front. (Neil was hungover and stayed in the car.) Things almost felt normal for a few minutes. People were still spread out and wearing masks, but at least we weren’t sitting in our cars. After the second or third song, you could hear talking on the stage, and it didn’t appear to be coming from the band. I’m pretty sure someone from the soundboard was talking to the band through the monitors. At that point, Damore told everyone they had to go back to their cars.

It was clear that he didn’t want to do it, but it still took the wind out of our sails. We went back and watched for another half hour or so before beating the traffic out of there. I enjoyed singing along to “Superstar”, “Field of Darkness” and other great songs from Strong Reaction, but the joy was muted. I know we missed the final Pierre tribute, and Pegboy playing “Vanilla Blue”, but we were just done.

While it was good to hang out and mingle a little with like-minded strangers, this is not the way punk is supposed to be experienced. It might work for mellower music, but punk needs to be felt as much as heard. The big difference between a punk show and an arena show comes down to intimacy. There’s no intimacy in a parking lot, just as there isn’t any for 95% of the crowd at the big festivals. Jake Burns was the only one who was able to make that personal connection.

This one’s hard to score on a numerical scale. There are just so many variables. Ultimately, I guess I’m glad we went. It was better than a livestream or pre-recorded show, and it’s always better to know than not to know. What I know is that this is not going to work for me. I’m glad people are trying to figure out new ways to have live shows, but they’d better keep trying. If this is the future, you can count me out.