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Monday, Nov. 15, 2010

Smith Westerns @ Club Garibaldi

Nov. 12, 2010

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Smith Westerns’ 2009 self-titled debut album introduced a teenage band with a deep love of T. Rex-styled glam rock but without the chops or the budget to pull off that style. Instead, the group settled for a lo-fi facsimile, banging out cheap, distorted garage-pop. It wasn’t a novel sound, but the group’s hooks were strong and their sentiments endearing, and Smith Westerns quickly won the confidence of tastemakers. Just a year later, the young Chicago band is now pulling off the kind of slick, hi-fi glam-rock that once seemed beyond their grasp. The group’s latest single, “Weekend,” is all bright, clean guitars and ambrosial glitter, deftly mirroring the grandiose production of David Bowie’s ’70s records with Tony Visconti.

Smith Westerns earned a reputation for insolence early on—not all that unexpected for a teenage rock band that’s achieved a measure of critical acclaim. The band has often bragged of being kicked out of clubs (usually for underage drinking), and when they played a Milwaukee club show last year, they unapologetically arrived without amps or even the requisite drum set. The band’s return gig this weekend at Club Garibaldi, though, suggested that the group’s newfound polish might have coincided with an increased professionalism.

The same band that once played broken instruments was deeply concerned with how they sounded Friday night. Unfortunately for them, however, their set was plagued by sound problems. Singer Cullen Omori made unrequited, increasingly curt pleas to have his monitor turned up after every song, while guitarist Max Kakacek battled a microphone that issued cautionary cracks of feedback whenever he moved in to sing backup. When the problem hadn’t been remedied several songs into the set, Kakacek pointedly lowered the mic stand and pushed it away. Ticked off as they were, the band directed their frustration toward the sound man without taking it out on the crowd, to who they offered repeated apologies. The apologies weren’t necessary. Even with the erratic mix, the band’s songs sounded full and snappy, and the occasional feedback did little to detract from their inherent sweetness. These are songs that can stand up to a little bit of a noise, even if that noise is no longer deliberate.
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