Local H is a Chicago rock and roll institution. They’ve been making music steadily for more than two decades now, with eight full lengths and a handful of EPs under the name. And that’s not even counting side projects. It’s the sort of work ethic many would call authentically Midwestern, built on the back of strength and perseverance. I call it aspirational. Most bands would kill to have well-respected careers that last half as long. It seems only right that Local H be celebrated for all of their accomplishments so far, with a continued eye on where they’re headed next.
While 2015 marked the band’s 25th anniversary of existence, 2016 marks yet another important milestone – the 20th anniversary of their big breakout record As Good As Dead. You know, the one with classics like “Bound For The Floor,” “High-Fiving MF” and “Eddie Vedder“. It’s remarkable how vital that album continues to sound today, to the point where it fits in nicely with other grunge-era notables like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots. What’s so impressive (and unique) about Local H is how Scott Lucas and Joe Daniels were able to capture all the noise, fury and hooks of their peers with just a single electric guitar and a set of drums. The ability to do more with less has been a trademark of this band since the beginning, and it continues to this very day.
In honor of As Good As Dead turning 20, Local H have turned the tables a little and decided more is more for once by embarking on a three month U.S. tour where they’ll play that classic album along with other catalog-spanning cuts. Things officially kicked off this past weekend, with a pair of sold out shows at Chicago’s legendary Metro surrounding the record’s actual release date of April 16th. I was lucky enough to attend Friday’s show (Night 1), which wound up being the perfect showcase for why this band is so special.
Unlike most bands these days choosing to perform one of their records from start to finish, Local H went out of their way to extend beyond that simple concept to do something a bit more unique. Billed as “An Evening With Local H,” there were no opening acts. Instead, fans were treated to two full sets from the band complete with special guests. The first set featured Lucas and current drummer Ryan Harding ripping through a mixture of songs from the band’s more recent releases. That meant a majority of those initial tracks came from the new album Hey, Killer, with a few other favorites thrown in for good seasoning. “Buffalo Trace” was a bold choice to start the evening, as its 10+ minute psychedelic stomp is a largely instrumental showcase of Lucas’ ability to generate riffs on par with Jimmy Page. It was equal parts astounding and invigorating. It also marked the first of many extended sonic sojourns for the evening, a grand reminder that you don’t survive in the music industry for 26 years without being immensely talented.
The newer stuff sounded good, and blended it nicely with the few neo-classic blowouts like “The One With ‘Kid'” and “California Songs”. For the latter, there’s always something immensely satisfying about the collective middle fingers raised to the sky as everyone screams, “And fuck New York too.” Closing the first set was the high octane “John the Baptist Blues,” which was six minutes of sonic slaughter manifested physically with a massive mosh pit complete with body surfers. Everybody needed a break after that one, not just the band.
After a 20 minute respite Lucas returned to the stage to perform the As Good As Dead record in full, and was joined on drums by Daniels who originally left the band in 1999. Daniels chose to return for this anniversary tour, and in all honesty the songs just wouldn’t sound the same without him. The man’s an absolute beast behind the kit, his muscular frame often pounding with such force there’s reason to worry a tom or hi-hat might break at any moment. Of course it doesn’t, but there’s a certain degree of thrill and delight watching him try. Daniels, too, seemed to be having a blast. The crowd went absolutely nuts when he stepped out on stage, and he gave a quick round of high fives to everyone at the front of the stage before taking his place behind the kit. They were happy to see him, and he had a huge grin on his face the entire time.
As for the set, it was great to hear a lot of those old songs again. Some of the deeper cuts like “Freeze Dried (F)lies” and “O.K.” haven’t been performed in at least a handful of years. Granted, they also don’t quite have the same impact as “Bound For The Floor” or “High-Fiving MF,” both of which got the wildest and most enthusiastic responses of the night. That’s to be expected, and also why they’ve been mandatory to nearly every Local H set list for the last 20 years. For me, the biggest highlight of the entire night was getting to hear “I Saw What You Did and I Know Who You Are,” which is one of the most underrated Local H songs of all time (in my opinion). It was also nice that they chose to play the album out of order, at the very least providing some level of mystery as to what would be coming next.
That second set came to a close with the actual final song on As Good As Dead, “Manifest Destiny, Part 2”. Ryan Harding returned to the stage to play bass, and the three of them then transformed the track into an experimental jam session, complete with Lucas manipulating various pedals to make high-pitched squeals and drones for a few minutes. As much as I love artists taking liberties and making noise for the sake of noise, there were moments when I was forced to cover my ears because it had become so abrasive. So it wasn’t perfect, but at the very least I appreciated the effort.
The encore once again featured the trio of Lucas, Daniels and Harding, though they all changed shirts to reflect the symbolic relationship between them. Leading up to the show, Lucas had been saying in interviews and on social media that he felt like a dick, flanked by two balls. As such, both Daniels and Harding wore black shirts with a smiling ball on each one, while Lucas had the shaft of a penis on his. It was good for a laugh, though I wonder how many people understood it in context. Harding and Daniels played the encore on separate drum sets across the stage from one another. They worked in unison like a well-oiled machine, cruising through four raucous versions of Pack Up the Cats classics. It was great to hear that album get some love to close out the night, with “All-Right (Oh, Yeah)” and “All the Kids Are Right” being the major highlights.
After many, many thank you’s and even a crowd-sung version of “Happy Birthday” for one of the Metro bartenders, Local H closed out the night with “Cool Magnet”. At the very end, Lucas took off his guitar, dove straight into the crowd and body surfed all the way back to the sound booth. He then stood up on the ledge and with a little strength managed to launch himself high enough to grab onto some outstretched arms from the balcony above (see below). He was pulled up into the balcony and then vanished from sight. Never seen anybody pull that off before. It was an impressive topper on an already impressive evening, two and a half hours of pure Local H greatness. I’ve seen the band perform probably a dozen or so times over the years, but this was by far the best and most entertaining of the bunch. For a band that proclaimed they were “As Good As Dead” twenty years ago, they somehow managed to feel more alive than ever.
City of Knives
Keep Your Girlfriend
I Am a Salt Mine
The One With “Kid”
Leon and the Game of Skin
John the Baptist Blues
Manifest Destiny, Part 1
Bound For The Floor
I Saw What You Did and I Know Who You Are
Back in the Day
Manifest Destiny, Part 2
All-Right (Oh, Yeah)
“Cha!” Said the Kitty
All the Kids Are Right