I love a good Point Break
reference and Chicago’s glam rock upstarts Smith Westerns make it all the easier. Frontman Cullen Omori is the personification of the 1991 film, equal parts Keanu Reeves in appearance and Patrick Swayze (RIP) in shear infectious recklessness. For a band that’s comprised of kids, the quintet is truly impressive, incorporating sides of Bowie, The Kinks and—probably most accurately, given their tender age - MGMT. To echo Matthew Singer: “Please stop making me feel old, though, guys.”
Smith Westerns was as crisp as a ripe Granny Smith on Tuesday, tricking us all into thinking this was a band on its 12th or 13th year of touring. Max Kakacek, mimicking Albert Hammond Jr. with his spandex-tight jeans and gun-wielding approach to handling his guitar, may end up just as prominent as his favorite Stroke. Nearly every song from the band’s buzz-worthy full length Dye It Blonde
showcases his impulsive yet even-tempered riffing. A run through “Only One” proved that Kakacek’s handy work is not always dished up in even doses. Here, it’s served from start to finish, following a “House of the Rising Sun” sort of power and permanence.
Much of the band’s early work (you know, relatively) was written in Max’s studio and its no wonder he still plays gracious host while on stage.
With a limited catalogue, Smith Westerns stuck primarily to the new record. Omori bounced around with a nervous energy, adding “After this song, you can go home and...and fuck your girlfriend,” before playing “Imagination Pt. 3.” The song could serve as a bonus track on Bowie’s Station To Station
, ripe with blown-out guitar, circusy keys and a vocal freedom that the rest of the song playfully chases throughout. Here, Omori’s ability to lead shines as he sings with a free-verse wispiness popularized by Dan Bejar (though perhaps not quite as poetic).
The dreamy “Smile,” the polished and vintage “Weekend” and the beaming “All Die Young” filled out a tight set. All five members took to the fore, stacking a wall of sound out of roughly cut, fuzzy bundles of classic rock and glitter.
Outstanding openers Unknown Mortal Orchestra - the new project headed by the Mint Chicks' Ruban Nielson—demanded a big followup and Omori’s gang let nobody down. As for UMO, we can only hope for more of its anxious noise-rock to hit local stages in the future (an album, as WW reported here
, is expected shortly). The Portland trio’s debut local outing was a memorable one, built of scrappy, frenetic, even cathartic, song structures.
Meanwhile, the only thing stopping Smith Westerns from a flourishing career is a round of MIPs. And while they’ve been kicked out of clubs for peeing on garbage cans (allegedly), I believe they’re focusing the bulk of their youthful zest on a greater good—one that many bands double their age would literally kill for.
If you didn’t catch them Tuesday night at Doug Fir, you can see Smith Westerns at Sasquatch in May.