U.S. Maple’s sonic hysteria

Cara Spoto

According to a mysterious quote on their website, U.S. Maple began when the four band members met on a street corner in Chicago,”to discuss a way in which to erase Rock and Roll entirely from (their) collective minds.”
An intriguing statement to say the least, and when I discovered that they were on Chicago’s Drag City label, which hosts such revolutionary artists as Will Oldham, Stereo Lab and Smog I was eager to sample their wares. What I found out though is that U.S. Maple is more revolutionary than I could have ever imagined.
The City Pages billing them as the “greatest live band to come out of Chicago in years,” is really what did it for me. So, with promising expectations in toe, I headed out to the shadowy depths of the 7th St. Entry.
I was able to catch the second of the two openers The FireShow, also of Chicago, who played a type of noise rock that if it could be defined, I would call Fugazi-like languid punk, if the lead singer’s voice wasn’t so damn good and if their sound wasn’t so visceral. They had all the body rocking antics and somonolent flailings you expect from loud rockers, but more than that — they had a rich unique feel I couldn’t put my finger on.
By the time The FireShow dismounted the stage the Entry was virtually packed. From every corner you could hear, “Have you seen these guys…”
The buzz in the air was intense so the 25 minute wait went virtually unnoticed.
Then, instantly, they began. The guitar hysteria of the first song was engulfing, resembling the whir of a mutated vacuum cleaner. Then the lead singer appeared from the shadows, gripped the mic stand with intense fingertips and opened his mouth.
What came out can only be described as a non-sensical sound storm. He seemed to be biting and chewing words and then breathing them back out at the audience. It was completely disonant, but the audience loved it.
After the opening number, which I suppose you could call a song, someone from the audience yelled, “Gordon Lightfoot!” Everyone erupted in laughter. I felt like I was in the presence of some new cult. A tribe who sees melody, pattern, and rhythm as the greatest cliches of modern music. And who relish what to most just sounds wrong.
The rest of the hour-long show continued in a kamakazi vein. The monstrous facial expressions and muppet-like writhings of the lead singer, dressed in a black, red viper bedazzled, cut-off t-shirt, were met with off-stage howls. The drummer would assault his kit with random blows, every so often hooking into beats and then quickly abandoning them. The guitarists, which one played lead I will never know, pinched and twisted the strings of their guitars causing them to thunder and cry out at random.
One could get the feeling that a U.S. Maple show has more to do with theatrics and effect than it has to do with music.
But the crowd, man did they love it. During a particularly hardcore moment a fan emphatically shouted, “raw power man I can feel it!” There wasn’t a lot of moving, but there was a zealous appreciation going on that was almost zealous.
The show left me feeling utterly confused. How can Drag City be home to such melodic musicians as Will OLdham and yet host the likes of U.S. Maple? — a band I can only describe as music nihilists.
U.S. Maple ended up rocking my brain more than my soul. Did I like them? No, I didn’t. Did I want to? A little bit, cause maybe I don’t get it. After all they opened for Pavement.
I may not get it, but if you get the chance to see them — do it. If anything their really different and that’s something that most bands boast — but few really deliver.
Cara Spoto urges you to comment at [email protected]