DIY Ballin’: Geffika and The Drum

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ball hall chicago

Maybe Chicago isn’t New York (or should I just say Brooklyn). It’s not the case that every night you’ll have to choose between three great shows featuring artists that are making headlines. Nevertheless, if you know where to look, it’s pretty easy to never spend a quiet night on the couch.

Just last Friday I was on the verge of calling the night, cracking a beer and queueing up Netflix, when I got a call to meet up with one of my friends at Ball Hall. If you read this blog for any length, you’ll probably end up seeing a pretty tight cluster of venue names popping up, such is the insular nature of our Midcoast scene. Some of them, like the Empty Bottle, are the above ground (read: legal) outlets for the underground scene; others, like Ball Hall, are DIY, generally residential set-ups that make little or no money yet run the total risk of liability and hence operate sub rosa. So don’t expect me to provide directions.

What I can tell you about Ball Hall is that it is generally in the neighborhood of Humboldt Park, a low-rent Puerto Rican neighborhood which has been attractive to artists and students for at least a decade now. It’s a third story loft space that seems to be impregnated with smoke. For years now its been passed down as a legacy from one collective of creative people to another, and functions intermittently as a show-space and gallery.

I got to Ball Hall perhaps a little more than fashionably late with only two acts yet to play. The Hall was already thick with smoke (hell on earth for a newly reformed puffer like myself) and the avante hairstyles and gauche sweaters which could only mean one thing – hipsters.

All LATFH bait aside, people seemed to be enjoying themselves. Cases of PBR, Old Style and more PBR were laying out open on tables or the floor, surrounded by groups of people just glad to be out of their own snowed-in domiciles.

I managed to snake my way to the front of the crowd just in time for Geffika to start. The outfit is the duo of Jessica Calvanico on guitar and lead vocals and Geoff Thais on drums and backing vocals. I’m tempted to describe them as being some weird mutant version of Matt and Kim just because that’s my knee-jerk reflex anytime I see a guy-girl duo that look like they should be sleeping with each other.

The truth is so much better though. Geffika lay down doom-laden, metal noise-play interspersed with Calvanico’s banshee-like vocal histrionics and Thais’s cymbal-heavy, crush drumming. If bands’ sounds were wild animals, Geffika’s sound would murder Matt and Kim’s sound for fun and then use the bones to sharpen its teeth. The finishing touch were the duo’s choice of attire – mustard cardigan over button-up for him, burgundy dress under antique-y neck hardware for her – a throwback to the straight-laced fifties at desperate odds with their homicidal sonic aura.

Friday also saw the live debut of Jeremy Chrome’s new beat-making project, The Drum, which also features the talent of Brandon Boom. Chrome is known locally for his other acts, Valis and Clique Talk, which release on his own Psychic Violence label.

The Drum seems to mark a new direction for Chrome. Whereas his other work hews more closely to colder side of new wave glitz, The Drum delivers drugged out rap and R&B production, or as Chrome himself told me, “codeine music.” The lobotomized vocal loops and fast beats on muted toms points to a connection with Chicago-grown juke music. Chrome admits to being influenced by juke’s own “trak genius,” DJ Nate.

The Drum brought the party and it wasn’t long before every one was exercising their right to swagger. In a tidal heave the crowd pushed in tight and managed to dislodge power to the monitors, twice. In spite of these speed bumps, The Drum was a hit (sorry, I’ve got pun Tourette’s), scoring a crew of new fans to wait breathlessly for their first micro-distribution release (will it be on vinyl or cassette?). Look out Jack Donaghue, Chicago might have found a new dark prince of the underground in Jeremy Chrome.