Chain And the Gang
Manchester Deaf Institute
May 17th 2011
We don’t demand much here.
But we demand your attention for Chain And The Gang.
At the moment they are a best kept secret but soon, if there is any justice, they will be staples.
A group this great should be all over what we like to call ”Ëalternative radio’, pushing their way onto XFM past their diet of Coldplay and Coldplay. They should be on Later with Jools Holland now. Those who decide such things and who are reading this (and we know you do) check out Chain And The Gang now.
Here is a band that is going to thrill a lot of people.
This is pure genius.
Onstage the band is hitting a killer groove. A mash of girl group pop, gospel yeah yeah!, Garage rock, punk rock and sixties pop. It’s invigorating, thrilling and brilliantly put together. The songs are catchy. with brilliant dynamics- there are slashes of wheezing keyboard, clipped guitar and a rolling tight rhythm section. The singer is flailing all over the place, transfixed by the firebrand power of the music, he is a preacher man caught in the high octane rush of the electric. He has transfixed the audience with his belief. It’s a divine moment and a sermon in the power of rock n roll.
The singer is Ian Svenonius and this is his new band Chain And The Gang. Long-term Svenonius watchers are thrilled. He has been off the scene for a few years- busy making those great interviews for Vice magazine but band wise it’s been too quiet.
The fact that he has returned with his best band yet is testament to his vision and that’s saying something. In the mid nineties he burst onto the scene with Nation Of Ulysses- the besuited brat pack Washington DC guerrilla rock n roll unit who took the entrails of hardcore and twisted them with garage rock and this insanely brilliant manifesto to create the 13-point plan to destroy America. They planned to do this with these short, sharp shocks of DC hardcore spliced with free jazz and insanely genius rhetoric and super sharp suits. They were briefly the coolest band in the world.
The band played a handful of dates in the UK, including legendary shows in Manchester and Liverpool which the handful of people attending still talk about in awed whispers. I was there and it looked like they were on their way. Unfortunately their wild energy and sharp looks may not have romped into the mainstream but their influence has been huge with International Noise Conspiracy and the Hives being just two of the bands who took a direct influence from them.
But it’s the whole raft of bands who waltzed into their space that makes this a much bigger story. It’s arguable but probably true that indie rock was massively altered by the band and groups like the Strokes could not exist without Nation Of Ulysses who taught the indie scene about how to make your band look like an angular gang and how to be sassy in a see of plodders. It’s testament to the mundanity of the music scene that the Strokes took the crown and Svenonius various projects were left at the side but maybe that’s the way he wanted it being a child of punk rock underground torn between the mainstream and the fringes. But that angular, sassy take on indie rock was what they pioneered and hundreds of other bands took their cue.
Svenonius follow up band the Make Up were a further exploration adding funk and garage rock to the mix and nearly made it. Whether Svenonius is frustrated by this or not is irrelevant. He is so lost in the moment, so consumed by the GREAT IDEA, that everything else simply has no relevance.
His new band Chain And The Gang is yet another twist of genius. I guess they started off in his superbly bouffanted head as some sort of call and response blues, slave prison songs twisted into a political tirade against capitalism and the state machine done with humour and a fierce intelligence- somehow that has morphed into something else.
The band dress in the prison stripes of a chain gang and Svenonius dressed in a sharp bright orange suit becomes Chainy on stage. He is one part preacherman, one past screwball evangelist, one part night club comedian, on part James Brown, one part sharp commentator; his between song banter is hilarious and his feral energy is still in place as he dances like a Mick Jagger with an agenda.
With James Canty back on board there is a brilliant musically to the band which is underlined by the male/female vocal interplay between Ian’s yelping and crooning and the indie diva vocals which are the perfect foil to Svenonius yelps and lyrical skree.
The band play for nearly ninety minutes and it never dips once- the songs from both albums are all great. They hit a garage groove and are insanely danceable and feature many moments of pure ad libbed genius from Svenonius. Especially the long ‘Deathbed Confession’ for the encore where he details meeting three people who, when they are dying, tell him dark political secrets- that song on its own is worth checking the band out for.
Chain And The Gang are stunning. Chain And The Gang are coming.