The Brokedowns Are Still Revving Their Engines
The antiheroes of the midwest.
When Blink-182 and Green Day were still learning to strum a pretty tune that would capture the hearts of everyone in the bandstands, there were other, harder-edged groups writing for a different audience. No anthems about graduating and being excited for the future, a vision of backbreaking blue collar life and drinking problems away. The Midwest was the birthplace, and bands like The Brokedowns have provided a true, local antihero in comparison to the popular sleek aesthetic, sitting behind the proverbial bleachers, smoking through a crushed soda can and flipping off the cheerleaders.
Pop punk was still the term used, until the big boys at Interscope or whomever decided on a name that fit to their industry-made cash grab: Bubblegum Punk. The words, chord progressions, style, and theme of all the bands in that world came out of someone else's mouth before they came out of the actual singer. Chew, chew, chew, America.
The Brokedowns are anathema to the bourgeois scene, which has of late leaned towards a pretty-boy metal aesthetic. The four veterans of the Chicagoland punk scene were but young fish at their outset, dirt lip staches and wispy mutton chops included. Years ago I was taken aback, blown away by one of their early hits, “Who Stabbed Sean Spencer?”. It hits hard from the get-go, a delightfully fast counterpoint to my third memory of them, a gripping performance of their mystical jam, knowing it then only as the song about the red pills. My second memory of them? Guitarist Eric Grossmann proudly lifting his shirt between songs to show off a new scar from surgery on his gut.
They were visceral in song and playful in speech, effortless in their lack of ambition for cool, which made them all the more so. I was too broke to afford their album that night, and so subsisted on songs of theirs I could find on the internet. Longtime fans know that the Brokedowns’ internet presence was for a long time quite…spartan. Their homepage once looked like a call back to the Angelfire/message board days, when the only places on the internet that had the info about your favorite bands were also very hard to find.
New Brains for Everyone, the Brokedowns debut full-length, features both aforementioned songs as well as a banger that ebbs and flows in intensity, “Coke Mule Blues.” The following release Species Bender (2010) showed them in their element. Having signed to Red Scare Records, joining bands like The Copyrights, Sundowner, and The Falcon, our boys in the Brokedowns got more experimental in their sound while maintaining a healthy balance of bass leads and guitar riffs.
Though the crunchy guitars were unchanged, the beginning of their 2014 release Life is a Breeze sounds and feels distinctly more mature. There's even a whoa-oh gang vocal in the back, and harmonies throughout. Their songs, previously forlorn, hold some feelings of that hope for a better future that felt millions of miles away in their earliest release. Maybe it was watching their kids grow that pushed them in a more purposeful direction, though there isn't necessarily evidence to support that in their current onstage banter.
During a recent set at Catapult Records and Toys in Crystal Lake, a patron cried out from the audience, “Hey, watch the language!” “There are kids here,” someone else grunted halfheartedly. Already nearing uproarious laughter, Eric turned to attempt to re-win the crowd. His six stringed compatriot Kris Megyery quickly interrupted and addressed Eric’s kids directly, holding on to the microphone stand so as not to lose his balance during the giggle fits that punctuated outbursts like “Your dad's a dick, buddy. He's a real piece of shit,” carousing and radiating false empathy to the crowd.
They're a pack of characters, easy to locate by the groups of friends that grab them as they traverse the crowd at shows. Behind the drum kit presides Mustafa"Moose" Daka, high wizard priest of rhythm. His arms are everywhere at once, moving at an imperceptible pace. Jon Balun, lead singer and bassist, is tall enough to stand out in most crowds inside the city, though it gets a little harder in the burbs, where they grow the majority of their men tall and broad-shouldered. His voice, wild and throaty onstage, is hushed and clipped in conversation. Outside Reckless Records at their release show for their latest album Sick of Space on Red Scare Industries, we had a friendly disagreement about the merits of celery salt on a Chicago dog. Though Kris was amazingly krisp onstage at Reckless, we all missed Eric, at home ailing from the stomach flu. Feel better, champ!
Sick of Space promises to be a new return to the galloping bass driven, guitar-riffin’ satirical punk we know and love, based on the first lyric videos they've released for “Pardon the Light” and “Led Zepplin III”. I'm ready for rowdy political dissent in musical form, with a hint of twang. If you haven't already clicked the player above in this article, I'm sorry for the moments of your life that did not yet have this album in it. Or just crank some ELO. It's what Kris would want.