Words & Photos by Scott Murry
Getting together with family at the holidays is an obligatory act for many people as the holidays roll around. If you did some research and pulled out a bunch of elaborate bar charts, there might be a median of 52% of the population that look forward to this. Don’t get me wrong, family is lovely – but sometimes the bonds formed through some beers and cheers hold more weight. I believe this is what The Lawrence Arms are celebrating in Chicago when they reunite for their annual “War on Christmas.”
The three band mates grew up together in Chicago and have penned numerous love letters to their city across 2+ decades in a deep stack of bands. With the band slightly spread across the states now, calling different cities home, these home for the holiday shows are a chance to get together again. So the Malört flows and friendships are celebrated—our found families.
In their third iteration of this regal affair, we caught their second night, caustically themed “Midnight Mass” with guests Teenage Bottlerocket, and Chicago’s Blood People. Bass/co-vocalist/wordsmith Brendan Kelly declared, “Christmas is in grave danger!” Something about Starbucks saying Happy Holidays was mentioned, and then, “But we must destroy Christmas once and for all! That came out much more biblical than intended.” The sentiment was a bit vague, but led into the band playing “Are You There Margaret? It’s Me, God.”
Throughout the night, the crowd chanted in unison “Hen-nes-sy” to get the band’s drummer Neil Hennessy smiling with a “you crazy kids, you” expression. The good vibes were apparent, as Kelly would lean into guitarist/co-vocalist Chris McCaughan like a loving brother. Kelly aimed to spread this mood, “Pull up a chair, take a little acid, and use a little lotion,” he said. While I didn’t witness any of these acts actually happen in the crowd, people were stoked to have the band back on stage again. As they have families and varied careers, it’s a blissful occasion.
The audience was a mix of locals and folks traveling from far and wide. With literary lyrics and existential musings, The Lawrence Arms connect with their fans in a way that lasts beyond musical fad. Everyone pumped their fists high and sang along with nearly every word during the sold out show. The set on this night spanned across their career, but leaned most heavily on their 2014 release Metropole.
They ended their second night with “Seventeener,” a song with dreams of dying young, beautiful, and perfect—but getting older, and seeing ideals fade away. Fitting for an audience past their spring chicken days—but damn it’s pretty dark. That’s what draws fans to the band however, confronting shortcomings and great expectations that turn out just okay—and making it incredibly melodic. Hearing the love bounce back on stage, Kelly choked up a bit said, “It isn’t lost on us that this is a very special thing. You guys are our own very special war on Christmas.”
Teenage Bottlerocket took the stage just before them. The Wyoming based punkers stoically took the stage with Slayer’s “Angel of Death” playing. They walked out with purpose in their eyes. Their mission was soon evident: to bring a party that will get people hoppin’. With a friend dancing stage side dressed as a bear costume during “Why The Big Pause,” it felt even more like an old Ramones show.
Fellow Chicago grunge punks Blood People kicked off the night with their own blend of grimy riffs. AlyJados’ razor-cut vocals guided the way with an alluring strain. She shows Joan Jett leanings, right down to the leather jacket. Their loud-soft rhythms were a bombastic start to the night.