People expecting one of those cliched ‘intimate’ gigs get more intimacy than they bargained for at Whelan’s as !!! (Chk Chk Chk) frontman Nic Offer drags his hip-shaking sweaty self into the moshpit like a rabid Tony Manero. And on a school night too – he’s got the Wednesday Night Fever all right. “It’s not such a tough job to dance with a bunch of pretty girls,” he says, stripping down to a wife-beater vest. What a charmer.
Chk Chk Chk are bringing their infectious jittery disco jam to Europe to road-test new material. A one-time gang of eight, the six on stage tonight launch into three new tracks that follow on from 2007’s album Myth Takes – sub-frequency disco bass, shards of high-fret guitar funk and clattering percussion, and the crowd is pogoing straight away.
It takes balls to kick off a club gig with a few new songs, but Chk Chk Chk are in good company in Whelan’s. The New York/California group have converted many a hipster Irish indie-head in the last few years with incendiary gigs in the Roisin Dubh, the Village and their 2007 Electric Picnic dance-off.
!!! are often lumped in with the so-called dance-punk movement, but the ‘punk’ tag is a bit of a red herring. Bass man Tyler Pope does manage to channel that underwater Jah Wobble pulse sometimes, and ‘Pardon My Freedom’ overdoses on the snot-nosed expletives – but they’re as hard to pin down as their grammatically garbled moniker. Their three albums are a warehouse party worth of chugging riffs, disco horns and handclaps, with a generous sprinkle of electro bleeps and spacey dub breakdowns. Nic Offer used to front hardcore punks the Yah Mos – a far cry from the slurred half-spoken delivery and Studio 54 gyrations on display here.
But what a showman – Offer once admitted he makes up his own dance moves, even giving them names like ‘Running On Ecstasy’ and ‘The Prance’. It looks like The Prance is unleashed during the stomping underground hit -Must Be the Moon’ and Offer struts like a livewire. He pulls off a move that should be called ‘The Mick Jagger’ – and there must be a name for that pelvis-grind thing he’s doing.
“What happened? We’ve been demoted to a smaller room this time,” says Offer, referring to their gig at the bigger Village next door in 2007. He’s right, we could do with a bit more space to dance. There’s a fair few stony-faces at the back, taking that trespassers-will-be-elbowed position. I’ve never understood guarding your -spot’ like a gig sentinel- most personal-space invaders are just squeezing past to go for a pint or a piss. The epic ‘Me and Giuliani Down By the Schoolyard’ would’ve played a blinder here, Chk Chk Chk’s very own protest song about Mayor Rudi’s puritanical ban on dancing in New York clubs: “People always ask me, -What’s so fucking great about dancing?’/ Y’all could learn a lesson, by losing inhibitions…”
Thankfully there’s enough room at the sides and the front for leaping about, and by the crowd’s reaction to the new stuff it looks like their fourth album will be another fan favourite when it drops later this year. The numbers from Myth Takes cause the biggest freak-out though, like the eight-minute ‘Bend Over Beethoven’ sidewinding around Mario Andreoni’s shimmery guitar and bleepy echo chamber effects. Skuzzy house floor-filler ‘Heart of Hearts’ has all fists in the air as Offer throws out the microphone to the crowd and batters the kit with a spare drumstick for the finale. After roars for an encore Chk Chk Chk sign off with ‘All My Heroes Are Weirdos’, and it’s another gig that seals their reputation as one of the most thrilling, most hyperactive live bands you’ll see anywhere. Those three exclamation marks really make sense.