Death and Memphis, out of Joliet, IL, with support from The Linden Method, and Fire Cat! both of Chicago, headlined at Burlington Bar for a diverting night of music on April 21, 2023 on the Second City’s north side.
Recently, I’ve documented several shows at Burlington Bar. It’s always a terrific experience. Burlington Bar is a cozy spot tucked along a well-known street on the north side of Chicago. With the actual bar up front and the music room in the back, separated by two doors, there is a warm and welcoming ambiance to the place. Whilst every show I have been to at the venue thus far has featured highly energetic bands, said shows have also been quite mellow. It may sound contrary but it’s not. Burlington Bar is a cool little joint working hard to provide its customers with good times. The Burlington’s vibe, set by the staff, and its physical appearance, is just relaxing and laidback sans pretension. We could use a few more of these types of places nearby.
Death and Memphis takes inspiration for its name from the song “Alex Chilton,” by the Replacements. Its music is a potent mix, frequently of sorrow and longing. Singer and guitar player Paul Garcia’s voice grittily conveys both sadness and hope. If the music was ever added to a soundtrack, surely the film would about a fighter (literal or metaphoric — either will work) who has been knocked down, but the full count has yet been given. In “Exhausted,” the title track from the band’s 2019 release is a prime example:
I’m sick of feelin’
(My feet are broken
My knees are broken
My back is broken
But my spirit’s holdin’ fast)…”
Steev Custer, razor thin and leaning sharply forward, appears almost elastic while swinging his guitar loose and low. However, his tight shredding adds an integral jolt of intensity into the music.
The group is rounded out by the very strong backline of Devin Morris on bass (also on vocals), and newest member, Dave Spearman, on drums. Working in conjunction, Morris and Spearman, contribute a rhythmic gravitas and growl suited to the lyrical content and howling guitars. In addition to “Exhausted,” the band also tore through “Way Back Home,” “Maybe It’s The Way,” “Change,” and “Satisfied.” In the end the members may have been exhausted themselves, as they appear to put everything they had into the performance.
The twin heartbeats of Death and Memphis are Steev Custer and Paul Garcia. Friends since their teens the two have played together in numerous precursors to Death and Memphis. It’s the type of friendship and musical partnership in which they seem to share their own language. An often-mournful language with a slight inflection of twang. But rather than merely being two copies of one thing, Custer and Garcia, complement each other with their individual playing styles. Days after the show, I asked the two men about their relationship. Garcia responded,
“To answer your question, Steev and I are almost always on the same page. We can read each other. We’ve been doing this together for so long we developed a sense, similar to a married couple. We all as individuals as well as a whole have a passion for making music so we put in 100% right outta the gate. We are a family. Though we’ve been through other members Steev and I try to make everyone feel comfortable and an integral part of what is happening.”
Custer describes their relationship this way,
“Paul and I have been in bands together for 35 years now. He’s the only person I’ve ever met whose drive and passion for music is a match for mine. I’m certain there is no other way.“
But lest you think Death and Memphis is all melancholy, I assure you it is not. The band brings a rollicking good time as well. Garcia, Custer, Morris, and Spearman can be counted amongst some of the more positive people you’re bound to meet in the Chicago area punk scene.
Death and Memphis has a new EP coming out in the near future, to be released by Bypolar Records. Until then, members are keeping busy in various ways. For Steev Custer,
“Right now I’m focusing on the upcoming Death and Memphis release, playing in Space Age Zeros and teaching music which is a full-time job in itself.” Custer’s teaching takes place mostly at Fine Tunes Center For the Arts, a business he founded, owns and of which he is the director. He also added,
“The new EP should be out within the next couple of months. There’s a couple of other projects that go along with it, so there are several announcements coming.”
At the same time, Custer reflected on this evening,
“I thought the show was a blast. All the bands were awesome and it was great to see everyone having a good time.“
Chicago skate punk crew, The Linden Method (TLM), used this night to showcase its latest album “Grief.” The band, comprised of singer/guitar player Alex Wight, Xack Brame on bass, and Jake Fritzler, drove through “November,” “Reverent,” “Original Sin,” and “Is This Thing Even On?”
TLM also performed “Monsters Inside,” a searing portrait of mistakes made and redemption being sought:
“It’s past the past-time
‘Cuz I’m trying to be better than the prick you knew from the suburbs
And I’m not running from memories
Not passive or patient
I’m trying and failing
And still not prevailing and clinically struggling.”
Robby Di Domenico, TLM bassist for several years, joined the band on secondary vocals for “Better Off Dead.” Di Domenico played on the recording of the tune from the group’s EP “Falling Short.”
Echoing the sentiments of Death and Memphis’ Steev Custer, Wight was ecstatic with how the evening went. A day or two later I touched base with him to get his feelings on it,
“I thought the show was a perfect intimate punk show at a great venue. We all had an absolute blast and are thankful that Death and Memphis and Fire Cat! had us out for the evening.“
The night’s bill also marked the first show of 2023 for Chicago’s Fire Cat! The band is in the planning stages for more events this year per singer/guitarist Tim Robaczewski. Fire Cat!, which also includes Lou Pontillo on bass, guitar player/backing vocalist Justin Saunders, and drummer/backing vocalist Liam O’Brien lit up its set with “Sleepless in Chicago,” “Big Business,” Wide Awake,” and “Eastland.” The band seems to address the idea of last stands in the face of futility in “Battlecry!,” the title track from its 2018 EP, which they played as well.
“All differences aside, this is goodbye, I try to accept
But I can’t help but sympathize
I see them all running like it’s the end
Like they have something to live for
Hum their battle cry: next time I’ll try.”
Fire Cat! may sing of trying “next time,” but this time it succeeded kicking off the show in a very lively way. Hoping the band finds itself quite busy during the remainder of the year.
Please see below for more images from the show!