Stranger Waves, Catfish Haven and Man Made Blast at Mike ‘n’ Molly’s

The strikes against this show were steadily mounting: rain, check; Tuesday night, check; middle of the summer, check. But despite the evening’s handicaps, more than 40 locals made it out to Mike ‘n’ Molly’s for what can easily be called a blatant display of potential from some of Illinois’s stronger musical visionaries.
Unfortunately, you (probably) weren’t there.
The evening began with Man Made Blast, a three-piece out of Cisco, IL, a small village 30 miles from CU that has fewer interesting facts about it than I have eyes. This being the band’s third official show, they obviously have a few things to work on, i.e. stage banter and the sonic odyssey they launched into less than five minutes into the set. (For information on how a proper noise odyssey works, please refer to Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive.”)
Nonetheless, Man Made Blast fills the void of slightly-smarter-than-average heavy bands that no one has stepped up to fill in the CU scene for some time. In the musical vein of the Melvins and Sleep, Man Made Blast provides the louder than necessary, string-breaking, feedback noise element lacking in an otherwise indie town. And until something better comes along, they will continue to be the only voice from that corner.
Chicago’s Catfish Haven kept things going with their unique blend of southern vocals and dance sensibilities. Moreover, they proved true the time honored idiom that if it looks like Skynyrd and it walks like Skynrd, it must sound like … the Strokes? Although their appearance would lead you to believe these guys might have been second-hand roadies for Grand Funk Railroad circa 1970, their pop-friendly tendencies and C.C.R.-meets-the-Black-Keys sound immediately conjure the soul of the Midwest.
Among the highlights of Catfish Haven’s set was a rousing cover of the Greg Kihn Band’s “Break Up Song.” Also known for their cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” which is perhaps more in their neighborhood, the band proves that live music can still be as dangerous, sweaty and hairy even when the sound of danger isn’t quite there. Catfish Haven are on the brink of a new rock ‘n’ roll hybrid stuck somewhere between the dirtiness of old Memphis blues and the hot pinks of Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand. Whatever you want to call it, it is going to be big.
But by far, the highlight of the evening was the middle act, Chicago’s Stranger Waves. The band is fresh out of high school, so there is no way they could have studied Marc Bolan’s swagger firsthand or eavesdropped on Phil Spector as he arranged vocal melodies in the ‘60s, yet somehow each of these elements is present in Stranger Waves’ music. More akin to the contemporary sounds of the Black Lips or Mark Sultan, Stranger Waves played with a tightness and energy unrivaled for anyone their age or beyond — not to mention they’re the only band to successfully pull off the no-bass/two-guitar sound since the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
To top it off, Stranger Waves’ song-writing ability is leagues above their contemporaries. With vocal arrangements that would make Brian Wilson jealous, Stranger Waves funnel the best elements of pop music through the freshness of mind that comes from being young and enthusiastic in a time when there is little to be enthusiastic about. Songs like “62s & 65s” and “Ride the Lion,” (both available on their self-released EP and MySpace page) convey a sense of retreat perhaps wiser than their years.
Unfortunately, Stranger Waves are too well dressed and too good looking, and are therefore susceptible to being categorized by appearance over content once they make it big. And trust me, they will make it big. In the meantime, these high school grads are splitting ways for college in the fall but promise to continue playing together. Don’t miss your chance to catch them on tour with Catfish Haven now as the future isn’t so certain.

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