Middle Class Rut Rocks the House of Blues
By Alyce Hayes
April 18th, the day before Good Friday, the Chicago House of Blues was packed with the most eclectic crowd I had seen in years. They ranged from 17 to mid-life crisis and were an assortment of hipsters, nine-to-fivers, and metalheads. But it was clear that we all agreed on one thing: there was no better way to kick off a three-day weekend than going to a rock show. While the headliner for the night was Chevelle (and stay tuned, I’ll be filling you in on that killer performance soon, too!), it was Middle Class Rut that I just had to check out.
Not familiar with Middle Class Rut? MCR, based out of Sacremento, is a two man rock machine with an unexpectedly big sound. It’s reminiscent of the late grunge era with raw chunky guitars, Jane’s Addiction-style vocals, and driving, uncomplicated drums. The recipe for their music is simple and proves the validity of the old adage “Less is more.”
Those wise words seemed to have been a running theme for that night. The opener, Nothing More, kicked the evening off with a bang. The San Antonio quartet sounded like Chevelle meets early Incubus ~ you know, back when they had those funky breakdowns. The lead singer had a great voice and wowed the audience when he started playing hand drums. He was kind enough to be shirtless too, as he usually is onstage, but that didn’t detract (or distract) from his obvious talent. Much. But the highlight of Nothing More’s time on stage was towards the end of their set: they placed a bass guitar on an elevated stand and two band members started playing it together. Yeah, you read that right. Two guys. One bass. Not porn (although that would make an interesting porn flick concept…). If you want to learn how to leave a lasting impression, take notes from this band.
Believe it or not, Nothing More’s showmanship was the perfect introduction for Middle Class Rut. When the two first walked out onstage, you could feel the apprehension from the audience, wondering if they would be able to follow such an impressive act. There were no touring musicians accompanying them, just Zack Lopez picking up his guitar and Sean Stockham sitting behind his kit with a pair of large red headphones. Then suddenly, like when you turn on the car forgetting your stereo volume was maxed out, the duo exploded into the hard-hitting song “Sad to Know.” Zack jumped around on the stage as he strummed with flawless abandon, no doubt defying the laws of momentum. The audience (myself included) visibly flinched on the first kick drum of “Born Too Late,” which only proved that the sound quality was top notch and that these guys know how to bring their music to life.
One of the cool things about watching only two musicians on the stage is that it’s easy to see the chemistry between them. They hardly interacted with each other, but were wholly connected throughout the set. I’m sure their communication was just on some level of telepathy I couldn’t comprehend. Now there’s an enviable ability many bands would kill for: rhythmic ESP.
What threw me off, however, was the audience. I don’t know, maybe I’ve been to too many metal shows, but this crowd was eerily tame for a good long while considering the atmosphere created by MC Rut’s music. The most I saw was some head nodding and maybe a finger snap (and who does that anymore anyway?) here and there. Perhaps it was because of a substantial number of people trying to seem…Cool? Above it all? I have no clue, but guys, it’s a rock show. Have fun. I sure as hell did. Only one man showed the enthusiasm I expected. He looked like he’d headed out to a Slipknot show, gotten lost, and just decided to make the most of his situation. From eight o’clock to midnight, he was headbanging with horns proudly in the air. But therein lies the beauty of Middle Class Rut; they have an appeal that crosses generations and genres.
MCR ended the set with “USA,” an unbridled, punk-inspired song that makes you want to jump around and shin kick everyone. The audience was finally getting into it by then, abandoning their poser coolness and [almost] letting on that they were having (shhh) a great time. But in spite of the night’s needed-a-kick-in-the-ass-get-over-yourselves crowd, Middle Class Rut kept the energy of their music and performance turned up to 11 until the last note, doing justice to yet another old adage: “Always leave ‘em wanting more.” And I, for one, certainly wanted more.
This duo has a knack for creating a raw and hugely satisfying sound, free of the bells and whistles relied upon by many artists from Generation Y ~ and even more impressive because it’s generated by just two guys, not a four or five member band. I may have walked in a casual listener, but I most certainly walked out a fan. Get yourself a copy of their latest album, Pick up Your Head (2013), and see them live when they come to a venue near you.
All photos by and courtesy of Julie Williams unless otherwise noted