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all words: Andy Hess
all photos: here and here

After all the hype surrounding Chicago’s Smith Westerns, it’s not hard to fall victim of the backlash that’s guaranteed if you’re a new band with a lot of blog coverage. I was a hater. Sure they had some great songs (“Girl In Love” and “Be My Girl” especially), but the album did nothing for me. The Smith Westerns sound like your dad’s record collection if the milk crates are filled with only T. Rex and late-60s David Bowie.

When they took the stage Thursday night at The Black Cat, I forgot about how young they were. Kicking their set off with the sock hop ballad of “Girl In Love” before playing the majority of their 2009 self-titled release. The ridiculous amounts of touring has lead the band to become pretty tight when playing together even if their sound has a ramshackle feel to it. They also took a few songs to road test some new material that sounded like it needed to be fleshed out before it was put to tape. Regardless of their age the Smith Westerns deserve the hype that has been lumped on them. I only expect great things from them.

Openers So Cow and The Cheniers were more of the same. I recently discovered Ireland’s So Cow and his self-titled LP. It’s filled with brisk, spastic, refreshing pop-punk anthems. The live setting takes those endearing qualities from the record and plays them with even more energy. Starting with “Moon Guen Young” and ending with “Casablanca”, So Cow’s set was breathless and unfortunately brief. A few songs lacked the punch of the album including standout “So Cow vs. the Future”. The song suffered without the keyboard warble that fills in the holes left with just drums, bass and guitar. But that’s a minor complaint. I could see these guys every night and it wouldn’t get old.

Alexandria’s Arlington’s The Cheniers were the most surprising act of the bill. It always takes me a few shows to warm up to local bands. I have some prejudices for most local scenes because I’ve grown up going to local shows that were just plain terrible. I can say for a fact that The Cheniers are not terrible. They’re quite good actually. With a sound that lands somewhere between C-86 bands and New Zealand’s The Clean, the Virginia trio played a thrilling and loose set. They caught my attention from the beginning. Now only if they would play more shows because it’s good stuff that’s worth hearing.