Concert preview: The Orwells bring an element of danger back to rock ’n’ roll

  • Photo credit: FredPinet
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From the October 24, 2013 edition

It’s been quite a year for The Orwells.

The rowdy Chicago punks were hand-picked by Metallica to perform at Detroit’s Orion Music + More Festival in June, then savaged their hometown during August’s Lollapalooza with a riotous afternoon set that culminated in frontman Mario Cuomo rolling around onstage like a younger, blonder Iggy Pop as his mates bashed through a primal version of The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”

Additionally, the band laid down a pair of new tracks with celebrated producer/TV on the Radio guitarist Dave Sitek, got invited to join the 2014 Weezer Cruise by another Cuomo (Weezer singer Rivers Cuomo, no relation) and earned the admiration of a number of their musical idols, including the Black Lips, who caught one of the group’s show in Atlanta, and Nathan Williams of Wavves who watched from the wings at Lollapalooza and later told me meeting The Orwells singer made him feel like a decrepit old man even though he’s only 27 himself.

At this point it’s probably worth noting Cuomo is only 20-years-old, and his bandmates all fall in a similar age range. Though young, the singer already looks the part. He’s tall and wiry with long blond locks, and he radiates an I-don’t-give-a-flip confidence. The other band members, however, could have passed for contestants in a high school battle-of-the-bands when they first stepped on the Lolla stage — an image that washed away at the sound of that first snarling riff.

There’s an element of danger to The Orwells’ live show, as though a massive riot could break out at any second, which, it turns out, is precisely how the band likes it.

“Danger is good,” said Cuomo, who joins the band for a concert at the Basement on Wednesday, Oct. 30, in a recent interview. “If it’s dangerous you know it’s not boring. Something could go wrong, but that’s fine. It keeps people interested and keeps their eyes on you.”

Early on, Cuomo had a far tamer stage presence modeled after emotionally detached Strokes singer Julian Casablanca, whom he grew up imitating.

“I did the whole thing where you’re just standing there with the microphone stand and trying to look too cool,” he said. “But it felt lame to just stand there, so over time I … started moving and really feeling the music.”

The frontman’s livewire, slightly unhinged presence comes with its own set of consequences. Following a show at Iowa’s Grinnell College, for one, the student newspaper referred to the band’s “destructive” antics (Cuomo admitted some ceiling tiles were damaged during the performance) and use of “profane language,” which, duh.

“That shit has to happen once in a while or I feel like you’re not doing things right,” Cuomo said. “You can’t have a whole tour where something fucked up happens at every show, but if it happens once in a while and you end up losing some cash that’s really just a part of this whole thing.”