Chicago – The Saturday evening of Thanksgiving weekend, together PANGEA, White Reaper, and the Flesh Panthers packed an all-ages sold-out show at Subterranean with excited fans from all over the Midwest, as well as friends from the Chicago music scene, including Twin Peaks’ Clay Frankel and The Orwells’ Henry Brinner and Mario Cuomo. Though more impressively, they had fans rocking so hard, shaking Subterranean more than I’ve ever felt it. Sure, the old, checkered linoleum tiled ground floor trembles on the regular, especially when punk bands play, but the vibrations spread to the balcony, swaying people up above, holding on the railings, as if the New Madrid fault line began to split.
Chicago band Flesh Panthers started the night out with their mix of punk and 60s and 70s inspired garage rock. I first saw these guys play a small show at the Beat Kitchen, where they thrashed and jumped around stage, pouring beer all over each other. They have mellowed out since then, and so has their sound. Perhaps a sign the guys have matured as a band? Well musically anyway. Regardless their sound was wonderful and had the kids up front moving, with songs off their debut album NGC 2632.
Next up was White Reaper (above). I had heard from so many people, “Man, you have to see White Reaper!” Well, I finally did and (insert bad words here)! Wow, wow, wow! This Kentucky foursome was on fire from start to finish. The Louisville based band is comprised of singer and guitarist Anthony Esposito, keyboardist Ryan Hater, and identical twins Nick and Sam Wilkerson, who play drums and bass, respectively. This summer the twenty-somethings released their critically acclaimed debut LP White Reaper Does It Again (Polyvinyl Records). The album mixes punk with influences of 60s garage rock, slight hints of 70s classic rock ‘n roll, and just enough pop to have you bopping back and forth, while getting songs, like “Sheila,” stuck in your head. NPR said it best: “You’ll be combing [White Reaper Does It Again] out of your hair for weeks.” Combine this amazing album with an energetic live show and a room full of young adults, and well, you’ve got pure, unadulterated chaos. A White Reaper show is brilliant pandemonium.
Hater bounced back and forth between his keys and the front of the stage, egging on crowd surfers, giving high-fives, and he even dropped down kneeling into the crowd, with his keyboard in hand, going at it like a keytar. (Perhaps an idea for a new musical addition gentlemen?) He also planted a wet one on Sam Wilkerson, gently kissing his cheek while Wilkerson strummed his bass furiously. Wilkerson and Esposito jumped around stage, too. Wilkerson shot off the neck of his bass like a shotgun, while Esposito raised his guitar toward the ceiling, whipping out his tongue, and shaking his head wildly. All the while, fans moshed and crowd surfed, climbing on stage and leaping into the turbulent sea of hands. White Reaper played pretty much every song off their debut, including “Pills,” “Friday the 13th,” and “B.T.K.” They did play two oldies from their self-titled EP: “Cool” and “Half Bad,” the latter ending their set with Esposito’s guitar being tossed into the crowd for a nice little strumming surf session. A deafening applause burst from the ground floor and through the balcony when White Reaper walked off stage, and all I could think was, “When can I see these guys again?”
Headliners together PANGEA (above) also put on a captivating performance. The California punk rockers brought their sunny, grungy, stoner rock from 2014’s Badillac (Harvest Records) and their fast paced surf rock from the more recent EP The Phage, plus some of the good old punk rock they became known for as a part of the Burger Records scene. Guitarist and lead singer William Keegan let out his emotions, moving between singing and screaming in “If You’re Scared” and “Sick Shit,” while bassist Danny Bengston jumped around, looking liked a pimped out Indiana Jones in his brown fedora, flashing his golden grillz with a wry smirk.
Fans on the ground floor went crazy for “Badillac” and “Snakedog.” The room shook. People jumped up and down with arms in the air. My personal favorite was “Offer,” which offers a more toned down, mature sound, complete with some lyrical reflection. Though, it’s safe to say the winner of the night was the oldie “Too Drunk to Cum,” off Living Dummy. Tony Esposito of White Reaper joined the band on stage, singing, “I find you in my bed / I had a few too many / Well ha ha ha ha,” while Ryan Hater and Nick Wilkerson came running onto the stage, jumping into the crowd, surfing over fans. Esposito also took a dive into the crowd before hopping off stage. It sure was a sight to see.
together PANGEA is touring the U.S. through December and then will travel to Europe in 2016. A list of dates is available on the band’s website. Both Badillac and The Phage can be purchased on iTunes.
Photos by Sarah Hess for Best New Bands
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.