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The Lawrence Arms: A Cult Tribute
After taking several days to, well, take it easy (hey, a writer has to refuel to you know!), I’ve decided we’re going to knock out some Cult Tributes today. Yes, there will be more than one; what can I say, I love you guys! So what do we have on tap first? How about some more punk rock talk? Those who read me know how much I enjoy the genre, and I think it’s about time we give another overlooked group some due. So with that, grab your Pizza Pringles, a Pepsi and get ready to take a look at one of the best bands to come out of the Chicago punk scene. This is a Cult Tribute to The Lawrence Arms.
What You Already Know
The Lawrence Arms is a punk rock band from Chicago, Illinois, formed in 1999 by bassist/vocalist Brendan Kelly, guitarist/vocalist Chris McCaughan and drummer Neil Hennessey. They’ve released 6 LPs, 5 EPs and one compilation record over their sixteen year run, with their most recent album, Metropole, being released last year. In my opinion, they’re a cult Chicago institution, right there with their friends Alkaline Trio and former professional wrestler turned arch nemesis of the internet CM Punk. There’s by the way a 99% chance Punk loves this band or thinks of them the same way Pauline Kael did Stanley Kubrick films. Yup, we just went from punk rock to wrestling to Kubrick. I’ll be here all week.
What You Didn’t Know
Let’s start with how the band got their name, because hey, who doesn’t love to hear about that? I kid, but it’s actually kind of interesting. As it turns out, McCaughan and Kelly had been friends long before the band had formed, and had even worked together in another band prior to Lawrence Arms’ formation. Prior to forming The Lawrence Arms, the two were living together in a Chicago apartment complex, one which they would be evicted from in the middle of the night. The name of that complex; Lawrence Arms Apartments. There’s your band name! I’m not sure what amazes me more; that they took the name from an apartment complex, or that there’s apartment complexes out there actually named Lawrence Arms. Where the hell did they come up with that name? Is there some dude out there who was actually named Lawrence Arms? Poor bastard. I probably had more fun in school than he did.
Now for those who have listened to Lawrence Arms, it’s easy to see how polished and together the group is, almost as if they’ve been playing music for forever. That’s because they have. Even before The Lawrence Arms was formed, all three members were big in the Chicago punk scene. Kelly and McCaughan both played in The Broadways prior to forming Lawrence Arms, while Hennessy played drums for Baxter, an art punk outfit most notable for their lead singer, Rise Against leader Tim McIlrath. The biggest pre LA project however was Kelly’s stint as lead singer in the ska punk band Slapstick. Also consisting of Honor System singer Dan Hanaway and Alkaline Trio bassist/singer Dan Andriano, Slapstick might just be one of the best bands you’ve never heard of, as fun and fast as you’d want a ska punk band to be. Expect a Cult Tribute for them somewhere down the road. The members of Lawrence Arms haven’t stopped working on side projects by any stretch, with all three members contributing to bands like The Falcon, Smoking Popes, Sundowner and numerous others. Check them all out; you’ll be impressed.
Finally, perhaps the most respectable fun fact about The Lawrence Arms is that they hate the Warped Tour. Yes, most self respecting music fans do these days anyway, but Kelly, McCaughan and Hennessy’s disdain for it grew out of personal experience. Those who attended any of the 2004 Warped Tour dates (back when the tour was actually decent) will recall Lawrence Arms playing for a short run, before being kicked off for, as Kelly describes it, describing the tour’s flaws while performing on stage. The band has been even more critical in interviews as time has gone on, and has even released a song criticizing Warped Tour as a hidden track off their album Oh! Calcutta!, called “Warped Summer Extravaganza (Major Excellent).” As Brian from Family Guy would say, “BUH ZING!”. Can you blame them? Not only has there been countless numbers of issues at the Warped Tour over the years, but it’s not even a punk rock show any more! You have a better chance of seeing Ke$ha make love to a moose head than you do a Bad Religion song being played. Look at me, now I’m upset. That’s what the Warped Tour will do to you kids.
So tough! So, unbelievably, tough! As a huge fan of the band’s fourth album, The Greatest Story Ever Told, it would be easy to pick a song off of that, like “The Raw and Searing Flesh”, “Drunken Mouth Kitchen Smile”, “On With the Show”, “Ramblin’ Boys of Pleasure” or the absolutely wonderful “The Revisionist”. Alas, as much as I love all those songs and others like “Turnstiles”, I have to go with a tune off of the band’s second album Ghost Stories, called “Asa Phelps is Dead.” Taken from the name of an obscure Simpsons character, “Asa Phelps is Dead” is one of those classic Brendan Kelly songs; blistering, fast paced, angst filled and energetic as all hell. What sets it apart for me though is the spoken word section that takes place in the climax of the song. It’s as exhilarating a thirty or so seconds that you can find on music, a sort of poetic trance caught up in the melodic growl that has become the band’s signature. “Asa Phelps is Dead” is a really good song without that passage. With it, it’s my favorite the band has ever done. Take a listen, and open yourself up to the gentle indifference of the world.
The Lawrence Arms is mind kind of punk rock group. Everything I love about groups like Alkaline Trio, Lagwagon, Bad Religion, Rise Against and others can be found in this Chicago trio, the sort of intelligent, pop culture savvy punk that’s missing from the scene (and music in general) in this day and age. Pretty much, you’re going to be hard pressed to find as excellent a group as The Lawrence Arms. Even after sixteen years together, this trio shows no signs of slowing down creatively. I think what’s proven to work well for them is the amount of side projects the trio is working on. By keeping themselves busy in other fronts, it’s allowed them to not get burned out working together, thus preserving their unity in a way that other seminal punk bands like Jawbreaker weren’t able to. What more can I say? The Lawrence Arms rule, and you should check them out as soon as humanly possible. The music world could use a little bit more like them today. Well, frankly, the music world could use anything but what they’re doing right now, but that’s a whole other can of worms I’ll open up some other time.
That’ll do it for this go around guys. Hope you enjoyed! I’ll be back later today with a very, VERY special Cult Tribute. In fact, for those out there who have read me since my LOP days, this will perhaps be one of the most popular/controversial of my works in the new digs. In short, DON’T MISS IT! Till then, something something DUCHOVNY, something something X-Files. You know the drill!