Monday, July 26, 2010

Filligar - The Nerve

Lot of shows coming up in the next month, but I wanted to take a moment to highlight one that’s got me especially in a bother. Filligar, a rock band from Chicago, is playing two shows in NOLA next month—one at Checkpoint Charlie's on Thursday, 8/12 and then Friday, 8/13 at Circle Bar with Sun Hotel.

And yes, I did just call Filligar a “rock” band. I know that term gets thrown around now in an almost demeaning way (when you think “rock” music, you
have to think of Creed, Nickleback, etc. Without the prefix “indie”, it’s tough to take a band seriously.) But it’s hard to call Filligar anything else. Let me explain.

I’ve been following Filligar for about 5 years now. I took a music class with the bassist, Teddy Mathias, in college and he dropped a CD of their stuff on me. Teddy was 18 years old at the time, as was his twin brother, Pete (drums) and their keyboardist, Casey Gibson. The Mathias’ younger brother, Johnny, who provided lead vocals for the band, was sixteen years old.

Four albums later, I’ve had the chance to watch and listen to Filligar move from a bunch
of goofy high schoolers with a hell of a talented keyboardist (Gibson is classically trained) to a full-on, ass-kicking rock band. And, yes, again I use “rock.”

And I never would have used “rock” to describe Filligar until their latest album, The Nerve, which just came out this summer. On their earlier albums, Filligar were a good (at times, great) indie rock band from the Midwest. They were good musicians, and they knew how to write a hook. They wore their influences on their sleeve (a friend of mine heard an earlier album and dubbed them “Baby Wilco”) but their songs had such a pure joy that it was tough not to get hooked to them. Johnny was especially effective with his lyrics—my favorite Filligar song to this day is “Slow Motion Records,” an ode to the schoolyard with such pitch-perfect detail it’ll bring you back to the blacktop. But yes, they were a good indie rock band, they sounded a bit like Wilco, and every album they were going to drop three or four songs you would listen to 4,000 times before you would get sick of them.

And then, well, they dropped The Nerve. To say this is a seismic shift for Filligar is an understatement. To get technical with it, the band abandoned their recording techniques from earlier albums, instead moving to a full-band approach (everyone playing their instruments together while recording, not linking up with a metronome later, etc.) that immediately lends a different, fuller sound to the album. Also, the three Mathias brothers have gone and mastered their instruments in a way their fans haven’t seen before. (The rhythm section especially—Pete and Teddy have gone from able performers to stars in their own right.) All that is interesting, yes. But what really strikes this album differently is where the guys have started pulling their musical influences. In essence, they went back in time. And it garners huge results.

No more pulling from the loves of the modern Midwest—Sufjan, Oberst, Wilco, etc.—instead, Filligar reached back in time and set their sights on the big boys. The Band, CSNY, the fucking Beatles, are all evoked as the boys from Chicago lay it out there. The album opener, “Robbery (Shocking Love)” starts with some Hendrix feedback before launching into a riff Neil Young wouldn’t blush at. From there the tracks keep coming—on “Health”, Gibson sets his keyboard to Revolver setting and the boys launch into a track that feels like the coda to “Back in the USSR.” “Resurrection Song” hits us with a Stevie Ray Vaughan lick before settling into a Band-style sing-a-long. Listening to the album is akin to flipping through the AM radio of the 70s, an album to blast as you drive on some skinny highway through our nation’s heartland.

So yeah, this isn’t an indie album. It’s a rock album. It's an American rock album. It’s ambitious (14 tracks, hour-run-time), it’s bombastic, and it’s shooting for the big dogs. This could have been a triumphant flop. Instead, Filligar has gone ahead and recorded their finest album to date.

The entire album is streaming now at their website. (