Chain & The Gang Inaugurate Northern’s New Home
By Blaine Ewig
It was the Northern: Olympia All-Ages Project’s first night back at the Midnight Sun after moving from its Legion Way location. The night started late, but no one in the audience was phased by the lack of punctuality. The place was full of Olympia scene veterans greeting old friends and in the dead of winter, the Midnight Sun felt like summer camp.
Vexx played on the stage, with frontwoman Maryjane Dunphe performing on the floor in front of the stage in her usual, erratic manner, which surely could not be contained on the stage the rest of the band played on. Dunphe’s stage presence seemed to be some kind of reversal of performed femininity as most people understand it. Her mannerisms became more pronounced, confrontational, and aggressive throughout Vexx’s set, and by the end of the show, her once polished appearance had devolved into an unbuttoned, sweaty, disheveled disarray. The experience of watching this was only made better by the rest of the band’s impeccable cohesiveness.
The Midnight Sun is a long and narrow space, with a tiny stage in the back left corner. The venue is painted pitch-black, so even with all the lights on, you have to squint to make out the faces of anyone in the room. The usual performer/audience dynamic is debased by the structure of the Midnight Sun. What’s strange about the venue is the black wooden risers that wrap themselves around the space, which the audience stands on, positioning themselves above the performers. It’s a great set-up for those who like to watch bands perform, but it doesn’t lend itself well to any kind of dancing, moshing, or otherwise physical or gestural movements that you might feel inclined to participate in as a result of your enjoyment of music. Following Vexx, Госкино (pronounced rock-no), and Chain and the Gang performed their sets on the ground, leaving the stage to be occupied by audience members.
Госкино are camp, drag, and a parody of communist imagery that sometimes appears to contradict itself. Госкино’s glam rock style and superfluous use of glitter and lamé hotpants is in contrast to its Soviet Union schtick, making it hard to discern how sincere they really are. The group seems to be more about having a good time above all else. The band’s name translates to the abbreviated name for the USSR’s State Committee for Cinematography, which produced and distributed Soviet propaganda films and played a role in the Union’s censorship policies. As the band played against the backdrop of films likely made by the committee which their name references, their vocalist danced in a provocative manner, gyrating on the mic stand and delivering some pretty impressive high-kicks. By the end of the set, he disrobed his Russian-style floor-length trench coat to reveal an outfit of a black and white striped t-shirt paired with some too-tight gold shorts, complete with a hammer and sickle sewn onto the rear. The crowd nodded their heads in enjoyment to Госкино’s display of lively absurdity as the set drew to a close.
Chain and the Gang, all the way from D.C., closed the night out. Ian Svenonius performs as frontman Chain, and presents himself as car salesman-turned-preacher while his backing band oozes a mellow attitude. You might be familiar with Svenonius; he’s an icon of sorts. In ‘88 he joined punk band Nation of Ulysses, in ‘90 he was deemed Sassiest Boy in America by the now defunct Sassy magazine, has embarked on several other musical endeavours, and has even penned a few books. Svenonius is widely known for his leftist politics. With repeated catch-phrases like “devitalize the city,” “down with liberty, up with chains,” and “censorship now,” Chain and the Gang’s performance is seemingly the antithesis of all that is progressive, as well as in stark contrast to what Svenonius himself stands for. During the band’s theme song, frontman Chain explained the band’s neoliberal values, listing organizations such as the CIA, Monsanto, and Exxon Mobil as purveyors of freedom.“I see progress in paint peeling,” Chain said.
Though clearly a performative, sarcastic gesture, the band points out the absurdity of the world we live in. The group’s sound is best summed up by the name of their most recent album; Minimum Rock N Roll. Their songs hang mostly on simple-but-masterful bass lines and standard rock beats, which exist as a sturdy support for Chain’s lyrics. Chain and the Gang’s song are all Svenonius’ critiques-as-examples of everything, from capitalism to our inability to acknowledge the permanence of waste which is no longer visible to us, and even to rock ‘n’ roll itself.
The band’s live performance is undoubtedly better than their recordings, even in the endearingly awkward setting of the Midnight Sun. Chain and the Gang’s charm resides mostly in Chain’s absurdity and the rest of the group’s indisputable cool—an aura that can’t quite be conveyed by sound alone. But that’s not to say their recorded work isn’t worth listening to; it’s just a different, more relaxed experience.
Aside from the change of location and a reduction in frequency, events put on by the Northern will see little change. If the show was any foreshadowing of things to come as a result of the Northern’s move, the future of the all-ages project is sound.