Cap’n Jazz Reunion Show at the Bottom Lounge
Saturday brought together two Chicago 90’s legends, Gauge and Cap’n Jazz to Chicago’s Bottom Lounge, drawing a disarmingly youthful crowd, reminding both the bands and themselves just how young the musicians onstage had been at the height of their careers.
Cap’n Jazz, formed in 1989 [disbanded 1995], boasted teenagers Tim Kinsella, his brother Mike, Sam Zurick, Victor Villareal and Davey von Bohlen [later leader of Milwaukee’s Promise Ring and Maritime]. The band, known for T. Kinsella’s raw and scream-y vocals, was a juxtaposition of punk, jazz and complex lyricism, which gave the band an avid following for their sheer twitchy complexity. Gauge, formed in 1991, followed likeminded measures as Cap’n Jazz’s counterparts (Gauge’s guitarist Kevin J. Frank even lent his voice to a couple Cap’n Jazz recordings and both bands played regularly on bills together).
Gauge took the stage to lots of cheers, Frank diving into vocals for the first song, letting main guitarist/vocalist Scott Conway hang out for a bit before he dug into an energetic performance that included “Thermos” and “Lambchop Dynamite” off of Fire Tongue Burning Stomach. Their recent performance in Milwaukee last March at the Bay View Brewhaus was more on the intense side, but the band still gave the audience an all-out tight performance. Ryan Rapsys, one of my favorite drummers of all time, kept the frenetic guitar-work and vocals of his band mates in check with his smooth transitions.
After Gauge left the stage, anticipation was at a visible high for the audience, the mood upbeat and antsy. The boy standing in front of me turned around and with wide eyes and a smirk said, “You don’t look old enough to be a fan of Cap’n Jazz” (Hey, Chicago!). Smartass. Although I was older than him, the guy did have a point. A good portion of the crowd seemed to be in their early twenties, etc., with another chunk comfortably into their thirties, which was right on the dot for the current ages of all the musicians in both bands. It hit home that fifteen years ago wasn’t really all that long ago and when the band took the stage, in atypical reunion style, they appeared nothing like ‘dinosaurs’.
T. Kinsella, moreso looked like a prep-school convict in a dress shirt and shoulder-length, greasy-ish hair. Exuding his trademark awkward energy, jumped into “Basil’s Kite”, after a drawn-out guitar intro from von Bohlen, stuttering perfectly on the line “You strut like a stutter”. He hoisted a french horn above his head in a conch shell/Lord of the Flies manner and the crowd jumped in turn, teenagers again until the end of the set. Immediately after their first song, Kinsella turned around to look at his brother Mike and said sheepishly and a little out of breath, “We broke up fifteen years ago this week and we’ve already broken a snare on the first song…now this is exactly how I remember it,” he laughed. A new snare was borrowed and the band continued into a set of “In the Clear”, “Little League”, “Oh Messy Life”, “Que Suerte!”, “The Sands Have Turned Purple”, “Tokyo”, “Puddle Splashers” and “Yes, I Am Talking to You”.
T. Kinsella broke in between songs with his awkward banter, confessing that he’d recently had a string of horrible dreams where he would ‘pull a Kramer’ onstage, and would start saying horribly embarrassing and random things. Von Bohlen pulled from the opposite direction, poking fun at Kinsella and lightened up what could’ve turned into a session of oddball apologies and rambling memories compliments of Kinsella. Various funny-versus-awkward moments continued from this point onward between songs, and as luck would not have it, I managed to drop my pen on the darkened floor of the Bottom Lounge, making it impossible to catch any of the banter on paper.
On the plus side, I was at the show, period, and this was by far the most genuinely energetic Chicago crowd I’ve seen at any live performance: people throwing up their hands, fist-pumping, pogo-ing, synchronized lyric singing at the top of their lungs. Kinsella and co. played it up, even tacking on one of their popular covers, Aha’s “Take On Me” (even though the piano solo was missing, it was one of the highlights of the show). Through this all, the band, after years of playing in various other projects, seemed to be living up their performances, pumping in added energy and finesse that years of experience as musicians had given them.
A friend had joked when I told him I was going to the show. “Wow. Maybe by this point they’ll be able to actually play their instruments,” he’d remarked. I had wryly smiled, knowing that more than half of the charm of Cap’n Jazz had been their messy playing, their youthful exuberance weighing over their precision and their relatability to all the kids who were well-read and had a hyperactive sense of creativity. I had liked their sloppiness and the fact that they were able to, fifteen years later, still retain this sense, but add the showmanship that they’d gained as still-performing musicians, made their reunion show perfectly nostalgic. After the show, when I read a Gozamos.com interview with von Bohlen, that feeling was affirmed. Von Bohlen spoke of connecting to the songs now after so many years, “…it’s not like ‘I’ve played this song 500 times, and playing it once now will only remind of those 500 times’. Most of these songs we played maybe five times and most of those songs we wrote after the record and they were later released as live versions. So, a lot of them still feel brand new but it’s interesting…to interact with your former self”.