The success of a rock show can be measured by the amount of rebelliousness the audience feels as they exit the show, and watching the mostly underage crowd scrap their way out of The Eagle Rock Center for The Arts – heedlessly smoking cigarettes behind their parents backs and heatedly recalling the performance they’d just witnessed – following last night’s set from The Orwells, it was clear that the band had provoked a sense of defiance in their crowd: mission accomplished.
The Orwells make the sort of truly irreverent rock music that can only be produced by a youthful band. The members, who have been family friends for years, graduated high school together earlier this year to pursue music full time. As their peers enter the comparably organized world of university education, the five friends are setting out on tour, releasing EP’s, and getting invited to perform at major indie festivals (Lollapalooza, FYF). The boys are turning away from the tabulated rigors of high-school while others around them are moving towards a more standardized existence, and it’s clear they are having unadulterated fun as they do. To be 19 and male is exhilarating. To be 19, male, and playing cross-country in an up-and-coming rock band with four of your friends must be nearly unfathomable. Thankfully, The Orwells recognize the moment and meet, if not exceed, the amount of energy you would expect from a troupe of recent high-school graduates ascending the rock ranks.
Pinpointing the source of vigor within the band is about simple as identifying the leader of the 90’s era Chicago Bulls (Since the band is from Elmhurst, a suburb of Chicago, and members are known to wear #23 jerseys on stage, a Jordan comparison seemed fitting). They are a classic five-piece – drummer, bassist, two guitarists, lead singer – and front man, Mario Cuomo runs the show. He has big, bleach blonde hair a la Sean Penn in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, and moves about the stage like a young Iggy Pop. He forces the songs on you. For Sunday’s show, he waited for the rest of the band to gather on stage and start playing so he could enter dramatically from the crowd and climb up to reveal his outfit (or lack thereof).
In addition to not wearing pants, Cuomo was wearing tight patriotic briefs, blue and red colored with white stars to decorate. As the crowd cheered and took a moment to check out his skivvies, The Orwells broke out into their single, “Who Needs You”. For those familiar with the song, which features faux patriotic lyrics, and the music video, which shows the band performing with a huge American flag backdrop, the underwear started to make sense thematically (it was also starting to make sense stylistically, I’ll be the first to admit, as Cuomo danced around and shook his bum, seducing the crowd in an intersexual glam rock sort of way). After the chorus, he took a second to face the crowd, making sure he had everyone’s attention and belted:
You better pledge allegiance; you’re not the only one. Listen up forefathers; I’m not your son. You better save the country, you better pass the flask, you better join the army, I said no thank you dear old Uncle Sam.
Afterwards, the crowd was his. The mosh grew continuously as Cuomo and co. jarred more and more kids into action, while older attendees (myself included), who likely came because NPR’s Bob Boilen called “Who Needs You” his summer anthem on “All Songs Considered” , kept their safe distance. I took stock of the audience towards the end of the set, about eight songs in, and there really wasn’t a head in the house not jumping along. The Orwells had roused us all. As we exited, sweaty and energized, an older gentleman turned to me and said “man”, then paused dramatically, “that did not suck”.