United Sons of Toil/Dick the Bruiser @ Mickey’s Tavern October 10, 2009
The United Sons of Toil are headed out on their first-ever tour, or as they refer to it, “an extended re-education campaign.” Tonight’s show with pals Dick the Bruiser was the kickoff to eleven dates beginning in Minneapolis on Thursday and ending in DeKalb a week and a half later. It’s hard to tell what kind of reception their “noisy Midwestern math rock delivered by populist theoreticians” will receive in venues as far west as Omaha and as far south as Louisville, but they certainly got a lot of love tonight.
I resisted seeing them for a long time, convinced I would hate them, but there’s only so many times a friend can promise to go to something “unless the Toil is playing,” before I had to check them out for myself. Believe me, no one is more surprised than me that I like this band, except maybe the band members themselves. It’s loud, and the lyrics are for the most part indecipherable (though I strongly suspect they are smarter than me), but it’s also extremely powerful and strangely addictive. Lead screamer/guitarist Russell Hall, of Pound WI and P’elvis (bands I remember not ever seeing), propels the Toil through the changing time signatures and starts and stops with near-obsessive precision. Drummer Jason Jensen always appears to be having the time of his life, his smile too big for music this angry. Bill Borowski, of too many bands to name and unquestionably nothing but trouble, is an absolute force on the bass. My favorite part is when he and Hall sing—er, scream—together. During one of those songs tonight they overheated the PA, leaving their vocals unamplified for the last song.
In addition to their regular power-to-the-people set of crunching noise, tonight they gave us a taste of what they will be dressing up as for Halloween. With Chris Vance on vocals they will become Leaders of Men, a Joy Division cover band. Since I only know that band’s atypical hit “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (which they won’t be doing, so “suck it” says Hall), it seemed a strange choice, but according to others it does make sense. What I do know is that what I heard tonight makes choosing what to do that night a lot more complicated.
It isn’t near as surprising that I adore openers Dick the Bruiser. After all, what isn’t there to like about a drums/bass/Theremin duo named after an old-school professional wrestler? Bassist Kevin Wade usually “plays” the Theremin with the neck of his guitar, though given the close quarters tonight a few folks who ventured too close inadvertently took a solo. Their lyrics I can understand, though sometimes all that reverb, and the fact that they don’t always make sense, can make it tricky. “I could be your valentine, I could be the sun, I could melt your heart like a marshmallow, eat it just for fun,” claims “Wannabe,” while new song “Death Leopards” rhymes Wonder bread with Motorhead. Sweet. As I’ve said before, this is sexy, hip-shaking music—don’t think too hard about it, just enjoy the ride.