Live: Urge Overkill Kickstart Their Reunion At Mercury Lounge
Better Than: Most other 15-year reunions
Of all the song titles shouted at the stage this evening, no one offers "Sister Havana" or "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," and nobody plays them. Verily, Chicago's Urge Overkill -- somewhat hyperbolically introduced by a 101.9 RXP DJ as "one of the most influential and important bands of the past few decades" -- are reuniting after a decade and a half, but not the Pulp Fiction soundtrack/minor MTV stardom version so much as the scrappy, surly garage-rock iteration that came before and probably was a lot more fun for everyone involved. "Give me back my fantasy/Give me back my better days," goes the introductory "Vacation in Tokyo," and for 80 minutes or so, they had 'em.
UO play simple dueling-guitar power pop with a winsome strut and a bemused undercurrent of delusions-of-grandeur rock-star attitude; their idea of a double entendre is a chorus of "She's my ride," their idea of a power ballad the yearning California-girl lament "Heaven 90210." Singer-guitarists Nash Kato and Eddie "King" Roeser trade off songs, the former wispy and skeletal, the latter red-faced and jovially ferocious, both capable of casually anthemia -- "How about one everybody knows?" Kato muses, launching into a crunching singalong version of "Positive Bleeding," from 1993's minor-MTV-stardom-heralding Saturation. But Roeser's "Effigy," their first new song in 15 years or so, is nearly as warmly received -- the new stuff has the same amiable PG-13 sleaze but isn't trying so hard to sneak onto a radio playlist between Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins, and thank goodness.
That Saturation's follow-up, Exit the Dragon, is available for 88 cents on Amazon gives you a sufficient sense of this band's previous arc, so it's fitting that a track therein, "Last Night/Tomorrow," is our triumphant highlight tonight, two songs slightly awkwardly mashed together but slowly attaining a Cheap Trick sort of hedonistic transcendence, a fine way to transition from the past to the future, serenading a room full of women who were probably girls at the time and the boys who still love them. As far as '90s reunions goes, it's far from four straight nights in Central Park, but for as long as that song lasts, anyway, it feels no less triumphant.
Critical Bias: Saturation was a major record for me in high school, particularly "Dropout," but I don't think the guy who sang that one is in the band anymore.
Overheard: [After "Monopoly"] "That was 15 years ago. Holy shit."
Random Notebook Dump: A woman in the front row was wearing an American IdiotT-shirt, but I couldn't tell if it was for the record or the musical. The distinction struck me as important.
Vacation in Tokyo
Somebody Else's Body
Back on Me
Step by Step**
She's My Ride**
Woman 2 Woman
*new song, title approximate