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Mannequin Men and Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yelstin

Chicago, IL December 15th

Image - Mannequin Men
Colleen Catania
Mannequin Men

Blood dripped from the mouth of Mannequin Men lead singer Ethan D’Ercole as he pushed the final chords of their set through the amp. He kneeled on the stage, eyes rolled back, his band nervously following his lead as he presented his offering to both the galvanized who had gathered and crammed in to the Double Door and to the punk rock gods he was summoning.

The show’s underlying holiday punk spirit was best summed up by D’Ercole’s missile-launching “by the people and for the people” statement aimed at those few he felt where too busy talking to enjoy the rock: “Hey, you, listen up, and why don’t you muthafuckers stop talking and listen to something that will set you free!”

The Chicago quartet wasted no chords blending classic punk rebellion with a few “songs about girls” from their 2006 debut album Showbiz Witch. The energy from the group was one thing, but what really makes these guys flourish live, beyond the blistering sonics, is the beautiful contrast in stage presence. D’Ercole shouts, jerks around (and bites blood capsules), channeling several frontmen from the punk rock canon, while deft bassist Rick Berger stoically stands by, grinning because he knows the M-Men rhythm section is the buried treasure amidst the electrifying stage show.

Grabbing the mic and lyrically christening all acts— like he usually does at local indie shows— was Chicago poet Thax Douglas. Shortened here is his Office-based inspiration: “Plants clap their leaves so they act as new lungs- the clap-breathing wheezes such a powerful new atmosphere that worms…”

Image - Scott Masson
Colleen Catania
Scott Masson

It’s hard to follow poetry like that but Office had no problems showing how they rose to become a top Chicago band. Leading the way was singer/multi-instrumentalist Scott Masson. A visual artist and former office manager, Masson took his songs about his office experiences and assembled the quintet circa 2001, culminating in their self-released 2006 debut Q&A.

Office pulls from the best of what inspires them— Talking Heads, Cars, and new wave— and creates a sound that is unique and centered around Masson’s intricate songwriting and gives a voice to the like-minded, brimming with cubical-angst in “Busy With Other Things,” and looking for a happy ending or at least an escape in “Wound Up.” Wanting to spread holiday cheer around and also do a little community protesting, Masson grabbed his guitar and invited the Mannequin Men and opening band Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin back onstage for a rousing cover of John Lennon’s “Merry Christmas (War is Over).” It was a great moment that ended the set. But the crowd then seemed like they had just gotten a pink bunny suit from their aunt instead of a Red Rider BB gun.

Office came back onstage for a couple more. Still though, some grumbled about the short set and commented about wanting their ten bucks back.

Even though Office’s set, for a headliner, was abrupt, it had the unique and appreciated feel of a band that’s sharpened their live performance by touring and figuring out how to make things short and sweet, clearly with the intention of pushing the hype and their fans (however cruel or counterproductive it might be) to the limit.

Adding to the fan torture was the inability to purchase an Office CD after the show. Some fans have tried to grab it off iTunes but the boss man has said, “No!” According to Office’s website you can’t get the album or any Office recordings anymore until the proposed early 2007 label release because of “legal constraints during the current recording process.”

Image - Office
Colleen Catania

Q&A received rave reviews for already noted reasons and playing Lollapalooza this summer created even more buzz, causing somewhat of an ironic problem with their fans and recent show converts. Their label— New Line/Scratchie Records, which is owned by Smashing Pumpkin’s guitarist James Iha, also in attendance that night— is walking a thin line of building up the anticipation and pissing off the faithful and in the process somewhat resembles the corporate monster Masson escaped from and now parodies.

In the meantime fans will have to find some way to hold the hunger over until the boss man says, “Yes!” They should start with M-Men, whose disc was available and commited the perfect crime of upstaging.