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European rock groups visits Chicago

Lauren Wendel | Wednesday, December 8, 2004

As throngs of alt-rock fans filed into Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom Sunday night, tension and anticipation filled the spacious venue. Three of today’s hottest rising bands, Snow Patrol, The Hives and Franz Ferdinand, took the stage and gave the audience its fill of thrashing guitar riffs and stage kicks. It was the final day of a three day concert spree featuring nine bands produced by Chicago’s alternative rock radio station Q101. Snow Patrol, a mid-tempo rock group from Belfast, took the stage promptly at 6 p.m. As a still widely unknown U.K. group, the crowd was slow to warm to its quiet vocals and raw pop anthems that are also displayed on its third album “Final Straw” (Universal 2004). At times, this quintet sounded symphonic with its intrinsically layered productions such as “Run,” but could switch tempos and create intimate portraits of love with “Wow” and “Chocolate.” Their most well known song, “Spitting Games” garnered the largest crowd response of the set.Front man Gary Lightbody did not let this apathetic response dampen his energy level. He jumped around onstage for the vast majority of Snow Patrol’s half hour set, always teetering on the brink of crashing to the floor. Despite some vocal problems, he was able to deliver each song clearly and with emotion. At times he even made quirky hand movements as though he was attempting to force power into his guitar. Bassist Mark McClelland added to the band’s energy level as well by singing along with the few members in the crowd who knew their lyrics. Overall Snow Patrol’s songs are somewhat underdeveloped, always leaving one wanting something more. However, the band’s lyrics are noteworthy, as it dwells on common themes using more subtle lines that evoke raw emotions. Popularity and musical talent aside, these five musicians displayed a love of their music unfound in many current artists. The energy spark of Snow Patrol only grew into a raging inferno as the next band claimed the stage. The Hives, a quintet from Sweden, are widely known for their highly energetic live performances and arrogant proclamations such as “Hello Chicago, we are The Hives and we are your new favorite band” and “America loves The Hives.” With names such as Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, Dr. Matt Destruction and Chris Dangerous, one must expect such antics from this talented and fun band.With his dapper black shirt and white suit, lead singer Almqvist strutted, jumped and kicked around onstage like the lost twin of Mick Jagger, all while screeching lyrics about everything from politics to death to girls. The aggressive and bombastic guitar playing of Nicholaus Arson, along with his chaotic eyebrow movements and darting stares, added not only intensity but also spontaneity to the set. The showmanship exhibited by The Hives exceeds that of every band presently together. “Main Offender,” with its high octave endnote and driving guitar riffs, proved to be a set highlight. Some of the band’s newer singles from their third album “Tyrannosaurus Hives” (2004) such as “Walk, Idiot, Walk” and “Two Timing Touch and Broken Bones” were also noteworthy. The lighting fit the show, chaotic and flashing, but with crisp white accents that helped highlight their freshly bleached white blazers. Along with its plastic, pageant queen waves, these outfits projected the band to a state of rock royalty not many recent bands have been able to successfully capture.Taking a cue from the Hives most recognizable single “Hate to Say I Told You So” (Veni Vidi Vicious 2000), many left thinking that indeed the hype is true. The Hives are the best live band, possibly ever, and should become “everyone’s new favorite band.”After witnessing a Hive’s set, it is difficult to appreciate the lower energy and more complex lyrics of a band such as Franz Ferdinand. The majority of the young audience wisely decided to wait for Franz’s set, but seemed to lose momentum as the predictable set progressed. If Snow Patrol were the appetizer of the mini-festival, The Hives the complete full course, Franz Ferdinand would be the sweet dessert you don’t know if you have enough room for. This foursome from Glasgow, Scotland has been pegged as a future force of contemporary rock, but have yet to prove their talents aside from a debut album. Their single “Take Me Out,” in rotation for months around the country, had the largest crowd response. Yet, the three unreleased songs that were also performed squashed any momentum picked up from this widely known single. There was an unspoken tension among group members onstage, probably attributed to a full touring schedule of radio Christmas shows and the recent release of bassist Bob Hardy from hospital where he was treated for a severe stomach ailment. The band appeared somewhat uncomfortable onstage, and rarely moved aside from slight dance moves and an occasional thumbs-up sign from lead Alex Kapranos. Overall its songs were fun to dance along to, a self-proclaimed goal of the group, but overall Franz Ferdinand lacked surprises and energy at times. The best song of its set, “This Fire,” was the last to be played in a three-song encore, allowing the audience to get one last burst of energy out before the drive home. The concert would have been more consistent if Franz Ferdinand played the second slot, helping to build up even more energy in the crowd for The Hives. All three bands added a different flavor of rock for the crowd to sample, leaving one to believe that these three bands may just become your new favorite bands.