By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
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By Emily Weiss
It's early Saturday afternoon at the Triple Rock, but things are already getting out of hand. Despite the fact that the four members of Chariots are so hungover from their show here the previous night they look like they've been punched in the eyes, they order another round of Budweisers as conversation turns from favorite bands to adult acne and adults who accidentally crap in their pants. Nearby, a snookered woman tumbles out of her chair and onto the cement floor as our server curses up a storm at an inanimate object. To be sure, no one in the room is exercising any sort of restraint, save for affable Chariots bassist Arthur Gandy, who plays Steven Wright to singer Travis Bos's Robin Williams. "I was ready to move away until this band came together," he mutters into the table as Joy Division emanates from the bar's speakers at top volume.
Gandy, a carpenter by day, is the good-natured handyman of the bunch who has been known to retrieve tongue rings from sinks in exchange for a place to crash on tour. But he's far from mild-mannered on the band's raucous debut album, Congratulations. On the opener, "Bored Housewife Syndrome," his bass bongs like telephone wires being plucked by the hands of a giant, while guitarist Eric Odness chimes in with sinister, Pantera-era metal guitar; drummer Matt Kepler keeps the frenetic pace of an ADD-afflicted prep cook on coke; and Bos wails like a banshee in heat.
The song hardly intersects with the lives of the now-famous Botox-obsessed bored housewives on Wisteria Lane, other than the fact that it attacks nerve endings and kicks you in the gut like a severe bout of botulism. The group's music might not cause partial facial paralysis, but it's been known to draw blood. In fact, it's not uncommon for the band members to suffer ear bleeds after a show, a sign that Chariots are doing something right--even if they won't be able to hear a thing at Thanksgiving dinner 2036 ("Cranberry sauce, Dad, not Man Cherry Floss!"). "Arthur's bass is so damn loud," Kepler says proudly. "I put my finger in my ear the other night and it was caked with blood."
Odness says if the album were a soundtrack, it certainly wouldn't be for the banal show Desperate Housewives, but to an imagined film called The Passion of the Heist. "It's a movie about one man's love of burglary that takes a left turn into an underwater extravaganza." Underwater, he says, because Bos's oceanic screams on the epic "GrpStx" sounds like he's gargling whiskey, or maybe it's just the blood that's drained from his ears and gathered in the back of his throat.
And maybe it's less about one man's love of burglary and more about group love for the Twin Cities, as totally geeked-out and un-punk as that might sound. All of the band members grew up in surrounding towns, obsessed with the AmRep and Spanish Fly bands that were emerging from the Minneapolis scene in the mid-'90s. "I would drive four or five hours to see a four- or five-hour show and then drive back again," says Gandy, referring to the time he was a lonely lover of punk rock in a small Wisconsin town just east of Duluth.
"Minneapolis was the great hope," says Bos. "I would always come up here from Sioux City to try to get into the Entry and First Avenue when I was a teenager."
Congratulations is definitely AmRep-influenced; a heavy, unabashed freak-out that pays homage to Minneapolis sludge rock. But with staccato rhythms, ghostly organs, and psychotic vocal delays, there's an added element of dancey prog and math rock that makes it fit somewhere in the Encyclopedia of Celebrated Schizoid Rock between Jesus Lizard, Jawbox, and Deep Purple.
"I wanted to be in a band that had so many freakin' parts in it and was so incoherent that it was just insane," Bos says. "But then after a while it was not satisfying anymore. It's not because you're giving up on anything. It's finding out what you can do with how you were influenced," he says. Apparently, exercising a wee bit of restraint can be a good thing.