New Venue, New Album, Same Old Underwear: The Orwells at Brighton Music Hall

By Nick Stalford

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On October 15th The Orwells, a punk-rock band from suburb of Chicago, played Brighton Music Hall. I’ve been a fan of the band for two years now, and this was my third time seeing them play, and yet each show has been an entirely unique experience. But after attending three shows, I have picked up on some notable changes in the band’s performance, for better or for worse.

The first time I saw them was in October of 2013 at The Sinclair, and they were opening up for another punk-rock band, FIDLAR. I had briefly listened to The Orwells a few days before the show, but to my surprise, I ended up enjoying them as much as I did FIDLAR. Their music was harsh and distorted, and the lyrics juvenile and simplistic, however, the performance was impressive and considerably enhanced by their raw and aggressive enthusiasm.

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My second time seeing them was this past March at Great Scott. I was excited to again experience the highly engaging performance I so vividly remembered, and the band did not disappoint. Front man and singer Mario Cuomo cranked up the band’s aura of ferocity by choking himself with his belt, spitting beer into the crowd, and performing in his underwear (tighty-whities with American Flag print), among other wild antics. Yet, despite the band’s success in both gaining a stronger following and intensifying the show’s atmosphere, they managed to slightly disappoint in other aspects of their performance, foreshadowing the future of the band. In addition to being late on stage, they were noticeably drunk (despite the black Sharpied “X”s on their hands), leading to a reduced quality of music, particularly Cuomo’s slurred vocals.

In June of this past summer, The Orwells dropped their new album Disgraceland, and announced a new tour including the show at Brighton Music Hall. The band quickly found itself rising within the music industry as they were invited to play The Late Show with David Letterman not once but twice that summer, and played at various festivals including Life Is Beautiful in Las Vegas and Reading in England. The band was becoming recognized very quickly, and this sudden change to the lives of the 20-something-year-old punk rockers was beginning to further leave its mark.

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Their performance at Brighton Music Hall followed the trend I had begun to pick up on over the past two years, as they yet again embodied the punk-rock spirit through a hot-blooded performance but the quality of their playing was even further deteriorated. Coming on stage fashionably late, the band quickly led the rioting crowd through an extremely off-key set of fourteen songs. Cuomo wore a ski mask and a fur coat (as well as his stars-and-stripes underwear, which had lost their cool-factor and come across more as just dirty and possibly his only pair) for the first quarter of the performance, which he eventually discarded to nearly avoid suffering from a heat stroke. To cool off, Cuomo laid down on stage and picked a girl from the stage to hold on to, make out with, and help provide lead vocals for a few songs.

Cuomo managed to stand up and bellow out lyrics for the final few songs of the set, but the act ended very suddenly and without an encore as Cuomo spewed several gallons worth of his stomach contents onto the stage to the relief of his swollen liver. His band mates dropped their instruments and vanished behind the stage like specters, with the exception of guitarist Matt O’Keefe who proceeded to jump up onto the rafters and what I can only describe as “monkeybar” his way over the heads of the crowd in the fully packed venue to the exit door.

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The rapid growth of the band’s popularity seems to be an unexpected turn for the young musicians, that they are not yet prepared for or capable of dealing with. The crowds are getting bigger and better versed in the band’s lyrics, but the live playing is getting progressively worse. The Orwells are beginning to fall into the classic trend that so many musicians, particularly rock groups, have struggled with for decades: turning to excessive substance abusive and playing sub-par shows in order to deal with the pressure of extensive touring and performing.

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