“If you don’t know by now... ask somebody else!” frontman Scott Masson exultantly sings to a home-team crowd. The line seems like a rallying chorus for his band, Office, and rightly so. For well over a year now the talented and peppy rock outfit was the worst-kept secret in Chicago. A group that, apparently, was only a mystery to A&R types.
Apologies for the lame cell-phone camera pics. Hey. They're better than nothing.
Yeah, everyone at The Double Door on this mild Friday in December knew by now -- including James Iha, Smashing Pumpkins' guitarist and Office’s new best friend. The bash thrown at the Wicker Park club Ohm after the set was heralded as a label-signing party, as Iha nabbed Office for his own Scratchie record label. (The signing itself is old news as Office’s website let word slip in October.)
Thank god the show was fabulous. Pre-show, the night was looking pretty dismal for me. Our plan to stake out the paradoxical "hi-concept dive" Empire Liquors failed when they were having a private party. Instead, our group set up camp at Debonair Social Club just down the street. The place was vacant -- a hollow space which I immediately realized was the former (and equally uncrowded) Tre Via.
From what I read, I liked the concept behind Debonair, but the high ceilings and non-intimate setting made the place feel more like a cavernous gallery than an enjoyable social setting. That said, my impression might not be a solid one as we were there at 8ish --well before the W.P. crowd started filtering in.
But there was definitely one dude that stood out from the crowd. Prettymuch looking like Fat Joe (give or take some bling) he decided to stand up on one of the booth seats near us and take a biiiiiiiig stretch. Those of us with ADHD who’d been watching film projections of balloons and androgynous twenty-somethings were instead distracted by this guy's ill-fitting hoodie creeping up his torso to reveal his weird, pale, PBR-belly. I tried not to think much of it and considered him merely an effective confrontational installation piece.
So, yeah, post-tubby’s striptease we hightailed it to the Double Door, missing Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, and walking in just as Mannequin Men took the stage and efficiently rocked the place. I concurred with my two pals that they were not too shabby, but the set was more spot-the-influence than we’d hoped -- not that MC5, Jet-like AC/DC, 60s Mod, and New Wave are bad influences to work with. All-in-all, a good band to check out, but it was clear the crowd was there to see the other hometown group on the bill.
The collective venue had high expectations, and Office delivered, projecting the kind of confidence and enthusiasm that creates a magnetic live experience. With sharp guitars and punchy delivery, the fivesome keys off each other’s energy -- all seemed so excited to be on stage they could probably make a desolate rehearsal space the most exciting place to be in the city.
Regaled in a Santa cap and a god-awful sweater, Scott Masson delivered snide commentary and sing-along choruses, while guitarist Tom Smith switched between jerky Cars-like chords and playful Guitar Hero posturing. Meanwhile bassist Alissa Noonan battled illness to pump out bouncy basslines and bop around shoeless. Team cheerleader and universal rock-crush Jessica Gonyea switched from keyboard to tambourine to cowbell and played most of the show jumping up and down to the beat played solidly and exuberantly by drummer Erica Corniel.
Office called Mannequin Men and SSLYBY back on stage for a joyously amateur rendition of John Lennon’s Happy Christmas before crowds emptied out onto North Ave. The night for me ended with some cheap drinks at Estelle's (a fairly unremarkable bar which manages to get LINES outside it), and a half-serious razzing at Western & Armitage’s Green Eye for rocking a tie on a Friday night. Pshaw.