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Assassins Live!

| August 30, 2006 | 0 Comments

Schubas, Chicago
Saturday, August 26, 2006

While Assassins have played here and there over the past three years, Saturday’s two sets at Schubas was part of a new concept to them– performing in support of an album available for public consumption.

In March 2003, I wrote a cover story for Illinois Entertainer called “Making A Scene,” which chronicled the aspirations of five upcoming bands in the nu-new wave scene: Interpol, Longwave, Stellastarr*, The Realistics, and Assassins. The lone Chicago representative, Assassins were riding a healthy buzz from the prior summer’s MobFest showcase, eventually landing a deal under Sony/BMG subsidiary, Arista Records.

While at first it seemed the band were taking too long to craft their debut, other forces would conspire to shake up label management — also postponing the introduction of Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco — and make Assassins a low priority. They were so low, in fact, Arista buried the album. So the band had to spend a good chunk of their prime fighting to get masters back from the label and put the album in stores.

The feat was accomplished, somewhat, this summer, on their own Chemical Kills imprint. Comprising material that was conceived three or more years ago — a lifetime in music — You Are Changed Us is quirky, ’80s-inflected pop a la The Killers, The Faint, or Bis. It’s dated but at least it has an excuse. The album conundrum solved, seeing them live was a chance to see what their time away has yielded and find out where a band goes in a musical landscape that has changed.

They’ve obviously had time to practice: having gained local popularity so soon after forming, Assassins were always lacking in the live department and they’ve since acquired technical proficiency to match their enthusiasm. They also showed, at the first of two shows Saturday night, an emerging ferocity. “Guilty” and “Bulletproof Vest” emerged with an ominous, pseudo-industrial edge as vocalist/guitarist Joe Cassiday and counterpart Merrit Lear attacked their four-string guitars with precision (Cassidy has the bottom four strings, Lear the top).

Neither is a particularly commanding vocalist in the Assassins’ setting, putting imbalanced stress on their melodic tendencies, which aren’t fully assured at this point. “Keep Your Head Down” built steadily to a climax, but its chorus is a fury of all-things-go, while Lear’s “Addicted” washed away in a relentless current of reverb. On “Modern Age,” Cassidy sang of “a future we can love,” a fitting line now that the past is where it should be. How they enter the future remains critical — and all too unknown.

— Steve Forstneger

Category: Live Reviews, Weekly

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