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The Sweaty Feel-Good Funk of !!!

After two decades, the New York City band will still make your body move

I always thought Florida was the most humid place I’d ever find myself until I went to a !!! show.

This was back in the mid-2000s, when “dancepunk” was still a thing, and “blog-house” was becoming a thing, and bands still had MySpace pages. If you listened to indie music at the time, it probably meant listening to a lot of music with disco hi-hats, cowbells and remixes by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. Disco, at least in the underground, had returned, following a brief but ceremonious period in which New York City had become a critical focal point in rock music. Once the rock revival ran its course, at least in terms of people’s short attention spans, disco naturally came next: Radio 4, The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem and !!! (pronounced “chkchkchk” or any preferred triplet of monosyllabic exclamations), and seemingly all of them had a song about how much of a bummer it was that New York’s then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani had chosen to enforce an antiquated cabaret law that was still on the books.

ChkChkChk, which was actually founded in the ‘90s in Sacramento, wrote what might be the defining anthem on New York City’s Footloose saga, in addition to having one of the best song titles of the ‘00s: “Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story)”. As it so happened, writing a 10-minute disco-punk jam about puritanical policies about dancing ironically tends to make people want to dance. And when I saw the band at The Casbah in late 2005 (at least I think that’s when it was?), that’s exactly what happened. For a solid hour and change, people didn’t stop moving, because !!! didn’t give them the opportunity. Even when the drummer took several minutes to give a soliloquy about Don Henley, the band kept the groove going. It was sticky, sweaty euphoria, even if it was kind of gross seeing the mirrors on The Casbah’s walls entirely covered in condensation. I just hope they kept the doors open for a while after the show was over.

That was longer ago than it seemed, but !!! are still going, still grooving, still making anthems for people to sweat out all of their bad vibes. And as luck would have it, Giuliani is still on TV saying absurd things for that matter. In two decades of making music, !!! have evolved and incorporated other elements into their sound, but they still conjure up a similar kind of snarky feel-good jam session on their latest album Wallop. True to its title, it boasts beat-heavy dance tracks that leave an impact, full of deep basslines and booming synths and dramatic, moody guitar licks. To use the modern vernacular, it slaps.

With summer now behind us, the temptation is high to abandon dance and pop songs in favor of more introspective and subtler records played with acoustic guitars and string sections. But maybe we shouldn’t call it fall just yet, not until spending one last night in !!!’s joyously sweaty disco swamp.


September 26

Belly Up Tavern

Other Recommended Shows This Week:

CRSSD (Waterfront Park, September 27-29): I only seldom make the effort to hit up a proper music festival, though the lineup for CRSSD this year is too impressive not to merit mentioning. Among the highlights are innovative Canadian beatmaker Kaytranada, UK synth-pop outfit Hot Chip and Texas-based synthwave outfit S U R V I V E, whose Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein created the theme music for Netflix’s Stranger Things.

Mercury Rev and Beth Orton (October 1, Soda Bar): This is apparently a good week for seeing two artists on stage at the same time. And in this case, it’s two artists playing someone else’s music. Psych-pop group Mercury Rev and UK singer/songwriter Beth Orton recently covered The Delta Sweetie, a 1968 album by country artist Bobbie Gentry, in its entirety, and they’ll be playing those songs in San Diego, likely with some other surprises. Two great artists taking on the music of a legend (whom younger generations should absolutely check out)—what’s not to like?

Calexico and Iron and Wine (October 4, Humphreys Concerts by the Bay): I wouldn’t say this is the opposite of a !!! show, but it’s indeed very different. Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam makes gently beautiful indie folk, while Calexico’s made a name for themselves through an alt-country sound that incorporates elements of mariachi and Duane Eddy-style surf twang. And when combined, the two artists end up creating a breezy, natural-sounding collaboration that feels like a reunion with an old friend.

The sweaty feel-good funk of !!!


By Jeff Terich

Jeff Terich is the music critic behind the blog The Setlist. His writing has been published in Stereogum, Bandcamp Daily, American Songwriter, Fodor's and Vinyl Me Please.

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