Boris the Sprinkler - Live in Chicago (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Boris the Sprinkler

Live in Chicago (2021)

live show

Boris the Sprinkler and their frontman Rev. Norb were ubiquitous in punk circles in the ‘90s. In the band’s first decade or so, they released a combination of about 30 LPs, EPs and singles. Rev. Norb’s familiar voice was featured in spoken word rants on some of your favorite records. He also wrote a popular column in the once respectable and highly influential Maximum Rocknroll. Despite nearly 30 years of fandom, I had somehow never seen BtS live. To atone for this grievous oversight, I decided to catch both nights of Boris the Sprinkler’s massive two date midwestern tour! Live performances have been sporadic in recent years, and the last 18 months have taught me not to waste an opportunity.

We left the Grand Rapids area at about 9AM on Friday October 8th for the five hour drive. We wanted to make sure that we would have plenty of time to take in at least a few of the wonders of Milwaukee before show number one. After some record shopping and beer drinking, we drank some more beer and watched the Brewers playoff game with some old and new friends. Eventually we made our way over to one of my favorite bars anywhere, the X-Ray Arcade in nearby Cudahy. The Covid protocols made the line getting in a bit slower than usual, but once inside, things felt pretty normal. The cool thing about the X-Ray is that there’s an outdoor area to spread out between bands.

We were a little late and completely missed the first band, the Malones. Sorry guys. Blame the beer and the Brewers. The other two openers seemed very eclectic, but I later learned that all three bands had personal connections to BtS. We caught Indonesian Junk doing a pretty respectable take on New York Dolls style glam punk. I definitely enjoyed their catchy songs and scary/androgynous look. Holy Shit played a chaotic type of harcore or powerviolence that reminded me a bit of Spazz. They kept their set short, and most people seemed to dig it. Hold tight, and we’ll double back to Boris.

On Saturday October 9th, we headed an hour and a half south for more beer drinking and record shopping in the Windy City. We got to the Beat Kitchen in time to grab a booth in front. The show was sold out, and it was nice to have a place to sit between bands. (It also became the spot where BtS guitarist Paul #1 would hang out when he needed a spot to chill.) The Mons are made up of former members of Apocalypse Hoboken, The Arrivals, The Mashers and Lynyrd’s Innards. They opened the show with a great set of angry, angular, bitter and sarcastic old man punk.

The Grand Marquis are not someone who was on my radar at all, but they drew a huge, curious crowd. Apparently they were a’90s pop punk band from Addison, IL. More importantly, they featured a young Screeching Weasel loving guitarist named Kyle Kinane. Kinane has since gone on to have a respectable career as a stand up comedian and actor. The music wasn’t really my thing, but I must admit, Kinane was funny as hell between songs.

I was very interested to see The Mitochondriacs’ debut performance. The band is basically Chicago’s The Kobanes with former Screeching Weasel co-founder John “Jughead” Pierson on guitar and lead vocals. Jughead comes across as a pretty mellow guy, but these songs were anything but. They were short, angry and profane. He even tried to curse out the audience, but couldn’t really keep a straight face. Jughead did a good job in his first attempt at being a frontman. They padded their set with three SW songs. Guitarist Marky Kobane sang lead on “I Hate Led Zeppelin”, The Mons’ singer came back up for “I Wanna Be Naked, and bassist Maria Surfinbird handled “I Wanna Be With You Tonight”. I must admit, I was slightly disappointed when the keyboard on stage wasn’t used for “Cool Kids”. But still, The Mitochondriacs were a lot of fun for this Weasel superfan.

Seeing a band two nights or more in a row provides insight that a single show doesn’t. Both of the Boris the Sprinkler performances were great, but there were some differences. For example, Rev. Norb had two different but both completely ridiculous outfits. Friday featured a pink or orange bodysuit with feathery neon green codpiece and legwarmers. Every time Norb did one of his impressively high but effortless kicks, a few bright green feathers flew. He completed the ensemble with matching green plastic Elvis hair. Saturday was slightly more subdued, with a black and white striped bodysuit and his traditional antlered “geek” helmet. The black and white outfit could have used a codpiece too. The bulge that inspired Bulge Records was right at eye level for those of us up front.

Norb is famous for his crowd banter, and I was glad to see that it appeared to be spontaneous. It was custom suited to each audience and situation, and not some canned bullshit. It was funny too. Any attempt by me to duplicate it will fall flat. Needless to say, there were ample references to food, sports and pop culture. At 70 minutes, the Friday night show was a little longer and felt a little looser. They seemed to add a couple songs at the spur of the moment. On Saturday they were limited to an hour, so the set was tighter. The band was probably a bit tighter too. Both nights they played a handful of songs from their excellent 2019 comeback album Vespa to Venus, as well as plenty of golden oldies.

Boris the Sprinkler setlist 10-9-21 at the Beat Kitchen: I Tell Ya! Tonight! Tonight!, Weird Lookin’ Woman, Sidewalk Sidewalk Yeah Yeah Yeah, Drugs and Masterbation, The Way It Is, Sheena’s Got a Microwave, (She Got Da) Wonk Shicky-Shicky Wonk Wonk!, Dirty Candy, I Wanna Get to Third Base With You, Scratch My Yahtzee, Rock & Roll Tangerine, My Radio Is Telling Me to Kill (the Guys on My Radio), U.F.O., West of the East, Do You Wanna (Grilled Cheese), Screamin’ Demon Martians Riding Go-Karts in My Head, (She Digs My) New Wave Records, (She Must Not Suspect) I DIg Her, Gimme Gimme Grape Juice, Goddamn Rollerbladers

Norb moves around the stage like he hasn’t aged a bit. Ditto bassist Ric Six, Norb’s straight man. Guitarist Paul #1’s riffs propel the Boris machine, while Paul #2’s steady drumming holds it all together. They played remarkably well for a band that’s spread out geographically and is only able to practice right before a show. I guess it’s like riding a bike for these guys. As good as the music was, and as fun as the show was, it was somehow better than the sum of its parts. I’m struggling to do the weekend justice. What can I say? Go see the same band two or more nights in a row! Go see Boris the Sprinkler! Go drink beer with your friends!

Confessions of a merch whore: I spent way too much earlier in the day on Friday at Rush Mor Records, and Bucket O Blood Records on Saturday. I still bought both of Norb’s books, Fear of a Norb Planet and The Annotated Boris, and a CD copy of the Gay album. It was the only Boris full length I was lacking. I also bought some ridiculously cheap Boris 7-inches, that I already had, for a friend.