By Mark Guarino
If you see Scott Lucas moving slowly today, it’s for good reason: Starting last Wednesday he performed every hit, every near-hit, every cover, every b-side, and every outtake he recorded as the frontman behind Local H over 13 years. In a seven-night, sold-out residency at the Beat Kitchen that ended Tuesday with the new album “12 Angry Months” (Shout! Factory), Lucas made it clear why he remains an essential component to Chicago’s rock tradition: commitment and passion.
With Billy Corgan and Jeff Tweedy regaled as auteurs for their conceptual turns and twists, Lucas is Chicago’s bare-knuckled rocker, slugging it out on stages from small bars to large clubs to outdoor festivals and releasing a steady run of albums that stand up against fickle pop trends. The week of shows forced a new look at a band that can often be undervalued here but whose music is consistently packed with depth, craft and true grit.
Despite playing a different album per night, the shows did not pause for reflection, especially since a significant segment of the audience looked like they didn’t have their driver’s license at the time of the band’s 1995 debut. Opening slots provided a survey of Chicago punk past and present, including Smoking Popes frontman Josh Caterer and reunions of old school punks Pegboy and power-pop contenders Figdish.
On the first night, early songs like “Manipulator” and “Grrrlfriend” capitalized on power chords, pop hooks and loud/soft momentum. But on later nights, Lucas demonstrated his range, showing how two people can make a massive sound. Drummer Brian St. Clair, who replaced original drummer Joe Daniels in 1999, proved a perfect foil, hammering out polyrhythms but also, through immediate turnabouts, firing songs to new heights.
The new songs played Tuesday showed how much of a craftsman Lucas has become since that first album. The only night featuring additional players such as a keyboardist, bassist, guitarist and extra drummers to flesh out songs that left no room to breathe. From power pop (“24-Hour Break-Up Session”) to a psychedelic epic (“Hand to Mouth”), the songs were tightly compressed and scorched with vitriol and heartbreak.
His true colors were shown when even the leftovers and b-sides (“for hard-core losers,” Lucas admitted) stood on their own to make up a night that rivaled all the others. That included his unusual cover choices, from Prince’s “Purple Rain” to the Godfathers punk anthem “Birth School Work Death” to an irony-free version of “Toxic” by Britney Spears.
Lucas excelled at shrieking to accelerate songs that frequently shifted from foreboding to full-bloodied rage. Yet for all the chaotic moods, he and St. Clair kept a masterful grip on the music. “I’m very proud of all of you,” he told the crowd at the end of the seventh night. Then he played “All the Kids Are Right,” the 1998 single, which became, this time appropriately, a campfire singalong.