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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Electric Frankenstein w/ Chief and Black Actress @ Frank's Power Plant

May 31, 2012

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For more than 20 years now, New Jersey punk stalwarts Electric Frankenstein have been tenaciously plying their trade, persevering through shifting trends, personnel shake-ups and label changes. They have remained resolutely underground and have no qualms about reminding you of that, but they're also a far cry from their mid-'90s heyday. Back then they sold out the 2,600-seat Fillmore in San Francisco; Thursday night they failed to fill Frank's Power Plant, capacity 100. Why “the world's greatest high-energy punk rock & roll band,” as their website describes them, should have trouble packing a South Side dive bar is a bit hard to wrap your head around.

They were supported in part by another superlative-slinging outfit, Chief, whose Myspace page (presumably cheekily) proclaims them to be “the greatest rock band in the world.” The Milwaukee trio comes off more like some neighborhood dads rocking out in the garage than the greatest anything in the world, but at least they appear to be having fun with it, mixing up punk with a bit of Iron Maiden-style wailing and draping the results in epically over-the-top lyrics.

Also opening was Chicago's Black Actress, a rather conventional swaggering and hip-shaking rock 'n' roll group. There's nothing particularly special about these guys—they're decent enough, I suppose, but while their formula is somewhat effective, it's also easy, so they don't really earn any points for pulling it off. I adore so many rock bands with simple, uncomplicated sounds, but there's a difference between playing it straight and being one-dimensional, and Black Actress spends way too much time on the wrong side of that divide.

As for Electric Frankenstein themselves, they're rather shambolic for a band with decades under their belt, but that's in keeping with their unassuming, everyman aesthetic. They've got the songs, but they don't really seem that concerned with making them sound tight, which is a shame. To be fair, Frank's acoustics are less than ideal, and a borrowed bass amp buzzed horribly throughout their entire set, but those circumstances only forgave part of what was ultimately an underwhelming performance. They trotted out a surprising number of covers for a band with a sprawling discography, and the choices, Blondie's “One Way or Another,” Reagan Youth's “Degenerated” and Black Sabbath's “Never Say Die,” paint a picture of some fun-loving dudes who just really dig good rock 'n' roll, whether it's new wave, hardcore or heavy metal, which was endearing, but not enough. Much of the rest of the set list was determined by singer/guitarist Steve Miller eliciting requests from the audience, which was small enough for him to hear them and oblige.

By my count, there were roughly 25 people in attendance for the majority of the show, subtracting club employees and members of the bands. That's pretty shabby for a band with Electric Frankenstein's history, but here's the kicker: That number actually went down during their set, bottoming out at about 15. Mosh pits are kind of stupid to begin with, but one with four people in it? That's just embarrassing. I can't claim to know exactly how Electric Frankenstein went from being a beloved and influential punk institution to whatever they are now, but the change is disconcerting. Their album art is still pretty cool, though.
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