Greg Webber is going to die on stage. He’s going to be up there drenched in sweat, veins bulging from his neck, singing his guts out, when something is going to pop. He’s going to do it for you, and for rock and roll, and for all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into performing. Seeing Kill Chicago live is like watching an act of self immolation.
For everything they put forward in the moment of their performances: that 110%, and the sense of an almost raw, even angry, energy forged with a contextually poetic fusion of blues, rock and punk, there’s a level of showmanship you don’t expect from a fledgling band. At their heart they’re still angry young men with a message, but it’s been tempered and focused through skillful articulation. It might be punk music filtered through blues rock, but they’re accomplishing what Neil Young has failed to accomplish since 1972 no matter how many drums he’s beaten.
A year ago you might not have recognised the Fredericton based band. When Kill Chicago played the 2014 Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival as Rising Star semi-finalists it was still only their third show as a full band. The competing bands had been nominated and voted in by fan support, and they were facing off against New Brunswick darlings The Waking Night, Tomato/Tomato and Earthbound Trio (who ultimately won). Given the democratic nature of the contest, that’s a lot of ground gained in a short period of time.
“It’s not a fast response if you took into account the amount of hours that all of us have logged with other bands,” says Greg Webber, Kill Chicago’s frontman. “It’s just like relationships. When you’re 35, and you get divorced, you can find someone pretty quick and know that you’re going to marry them or not. And if you do marry them? You move really fast at that point. When you log the hours ahead of time, they don’t disappear, they transfer, I think.”
Prior to returning to his hometown, Greg toured the moniker as far west as Vancouver and as long as a decade ago. The band has seen itself reincarnated as a solo act, and a jazzy folkabilly ensemble, before settling on its current line-up and sound, finding its stride with long-time friends and Northside compatriots Matt Bowie (bass), Zach Atkinson (drums), and Dillon Anthony (pedal steel, organ, everything else…).
“The band isn’t necessarily reinventing the wheel, but it is taking a couple of wheels from several different cars and trying to force them to be on the same car. So the alignment is never good. You’re always correcting the steering.”
Inevitably, the name Kill Chicago opens up a lot of conversations and questions. Without even having to ask, it’s the first thing out of Greg’s mouth. It’s not about the city, or the band. Not exactly. It’s not personal, but it is a coincidence that ties everything nicely together, and the answer is found somehow mysteriously linked to Greg’s stint as an automation electrician.
“When I would get an idea I would write it down on a little post-it note, and shove it in a drawer. When I finally quit that job, I had to clean out my tool box and give it back to the people that paid for all the tools. I go to this drawer and I opened it up and it was just over-flowing with post-it notes. I sat there for about an hour, making a pile of ‘keep ’em’ and ‘I don’t fucking understand what the this is’. The pile of ‘I don’t understand what this is’ was this big, and the ‘keep ’em’ pile was literally two post-it notes. One of the post-it notes was ‘The Don’t Care Bears’, and the other post-it note just said in all capital letters ‘KILL CHICAGO’, and I have zero recollection of why I wrote that down. All I said was I’m going to keep that post-it note because it sounds cool. I don’t know if I heard some Peter Cetera on the radio; I like some earlier Chicago stuff, but a lot of it is pretty fucking terrible when they started doing the Glass Piano ’80’s stuff.”
But again, it’s not about a band.
Greg would later pass through Chicago, the city not the band, while touring with another group, and a wild night turned a post-in note into a theme.
“We got so drunk that night and our bass player wanted to fight Ashley Simpson’s boyfriend who was there. Afterwards I think I remembered the post-it note, because I was like, ‘I guess this is the night we try to Kill Chicago,’ as in, getting so drunk in Chicago that we’re going to fight the whole city.”
But again, it’s not about the city. It does raise some interesting points though, and that chance theme of a inexplicable post-it note has come to represent everything the band sonically and stylistically embodies.
“Chicago is the first place that blues became electrified. To kill Chicago is almost killing the blues; we’re doing something with blues instrumentation that no one tends to do. Even the Black Keys, as new as they are, still tend to hold onto a pretty solid blues format. When we take those instruments and try to do the punk rock thing to it, and punk is aggressive, to add that pissed off energy to the blues that is gone when white people sing it. We don’t have as much to bitch about. Blues has been sad and kind of testimonial until now. You can be angry about something, and if you’re from the Maritimes, especially New Brunswick, we have a lot to be unimpressed by.”
“Everything in New Brunswick tends to be a bit of a compromise, because we love living here so much, but we also find it very difficult to live here. Any young person knows it’s easier to live somewhere else, but you have to come back because your hearts here.”
For being a bunch of young angry men, their message is one of maturation. Their upcoming album, The Gray, is a series of stories about that middle ground between right and wrong, when sometimes a compromise is just a matter of being an adult, and getting by.
“When I was younger, and I listened to lot of punk rock music, it seemed like why are adults such idiots? This is the right way to do something, and this is the wrong way to do something. So do it the right way all the time. Everything is black and white. I think that my realisation is like you cannot keep living and get older without compromising. There’s a bunch of shit that there’s not a right or wrong answer, or a right or wrong way to be, it’s just various shades of gray.
As soon as you have to pay for milk and get a job, life stops being perfect. Once you realise you need to do something to make money, you’re going to end up doing something that is slightly against how you feel at the moment. The one thing I think goes all the way through the record is what’s a compromise and what’s selling yourself out? That’s something that I personally always struggle with. The Gray talks about the greener grass.”
Get out there and see them give their all before something serious happens to what might be the hardest working performers in the Maritimes.
“I think I’m an undiagnosed ADD. I think there’s a benefit to that, which is you just start pulling from a million different places, and if we all steal from enough different people, hopefully it’s not placeable too much. We’re like a musical ponzy scheme. You’ll get your investment back, just wait. As long as no one else asks for the money at the same time, you’re fine.”