Words & Photos by Scott Murry
Nearly exactly two years ago, The Lawrence Arms band members came together in their home city of hot dog heaven—Chicago. They celebrated and denigrated the holidays, then went on to record one of the world’s finest albums in the early months of the new year, 2020’s Skeleton Coast via Epitaph Records. Then everyone took a lengthy year plus-long nap and didn’t go to any live concerts, can’t be sure why? Dammit, Covid! With a healthy, hearty bunch of fans getting their vaccinations, this year was a return to form for live music with The Lawrence Arms. Returning to the Chop Shop in the Wicker Park neighborhood for three nights, they resumed their War on Christmas set of shows. I dropped in for the second night, as more fans also filled into the venue with full hearts to rejoice in a menagerie of cuts from the band’s catalog. Bass player/singer Brendan Kelly joked a couple of times that they were playing songs from the “athletic” part of their catalog. “Like a Record Player” certainly fell into this category of speedy, beloved classics.
This was the first time many people were also hearing new material from Skeleton Coast, though it came out over a year ago. The anticipation to hear these tracks was huge, personally. So I was thrilled when they opened up with the first track from the album, “Quiet Storm.” Though written and recorded just before everything went to shit with the pandemic, the lyrics felt increasingly fitting when I had first heard them. Guitarist/singer Chris McCaughan begins the song with, “There is no past. There is no future. Now I’m free to live, at last.” With so many hours of the pandemic spreading a sense of uncertainty and languishing, those lyrics consistently feel like reason to live in the present. Don’t worry about what has happened, don’t fret on what is to come—just enjoy what is at hand. Paired with some Bad Religion-esque harmonies and the dynamic gallop of drummer Neil Hennessy rhythms, it’s a powerful opener for the times.
The band later also played “Pigeons and Spies,” another personal favorite from the new album. This is all fans heard of the new album on night two—on all nights actually. Checking out setlists, there was only a taste of Skeleton Coast each night with two new tracks being played. Hopefully there will be more 2022 tour dates in the books for us to catch more of the gravel, harmonies, and excellent lyrics. As a friend and I rode a blue line train to the venue, I was expressing how some bands I grew up on are leaning into tired tropes and faux feelings as new material comes out. The Arms are a refreshing anomaly from this path, with songs that continually evolve as they do. Singing along to “Metropole” felt incredibly refreshing. Is your intrepid author sharing some tender emotion here? You bet your record player I am. Live music from favorite musicians is something that has been sorely missed. And while we’re not 100% out of the woods yet, it is a present moment worth living for.
Sadly we only caught the last few tracks of Oregon’s grand Broadway Calls. Unfortunately this means, we also missed Philadelphia’s Catbite, whose infectious ska tracks are quite good. With Broadway Calls having released their new album Sad in the City with Red Scare Industries in 2020, it was another set in which fans were able to catch some of their new tracks as well for the first time. Damn you, Covid!