Paper Airplane Pilots at Schubas
Chicago, August 20, 2004
It’s been a bit chilly here in Chicago as of late. We broke a 101 year old record for coldest day in August not long ago. You’d think Chicagoans would be used to the cold, but summer is a different deal altogether. It gets hot in the summer; God awful hot. And when we get cold snaps in the summer, we turn to our friends and look for a place to drink and listen to music and have a good time. That’s what friends are for.
Last Friday some friends got together to kick out some of the tightest power pop to come out of this area since Rick Nielsen donned a five-neck, checkerboard guitar and Robin Zander begged you to beg him. Chicago’s Paper Airplane Pilots brought home the trophy and we all drank from the cup as 45 minutes of pop washed over a crowd bored with a dull summer and aching to get hot.
The Pilots’ last album, The History of Flying, is a quick glimpse of most of what makes great pop. It has witty lyrics, gigantic hooks, and more guitars than our boy Rick could dangle about his neck. But like most power pop, it falls slightly short of the energy and rush of the Pilots’ live set. Live, this is a band where you’re singing along to the chorus of a song you’ve never heard before they hit the last verse. It is audience participation without the cheesy calls for the crowd to sing along. No, my friend, you can’t help but sing along.
Singer/songwriter Jeremiah Wallis and guitarist Ryan Duffy have played together for years. It says so right in their bio but the proof is in their syncopation on stage. They’re one of those duos that seems to have been born of the same mind. Duffy’s subtle guitar trills and harmonies support the rolling melodies of Wallis’ songs instead of overpowering, which is a trap into which too many power pop guitarists fall. But again, this is a band of tightly knit friends and they’re all working toward the same end: constructing the perfect pop song.
And like all great pop, the Paper Airplane Pilots are grounded in a great rhythm section. The bass and drums must be tight, and loud, and play off each other or you end up with Herman’s Hermits instead of the Undertones. A fraternal, psychic connection must exist to make it work. Astonishingly, the Pilots pulled this off last Friday with a friend sitting in on drums for their regular full-time stickman Tom Collier. The substitute this week was Jonny Basofin of Chicago’s latest Big Thing, the Changes.
Anyone who has seen the Changes live knows Jonny is the shit. Well, you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen him filling in on songs he’s only recently learned. He is exactly what makes great rock and pop drummers great. The interplay between him and bassist Jim Kompare brought the back of the room forward and left the crowd giddy with sweat and stomp.
The band has matured a bit since the debut of History of Flying, but that’s not to say they’ve gone all mopey. No, they’ve just expanded their web of influences beyond the standard bearers of Chilton, Zander, and Dando. The newer songs in the set still maintained the hooks and melody of great pop, but there was also a sense of a world outside of “The Ballad of El Goodo.”
Paper Airplane Pilots is a band that attracts friends. Crowd members are often seen arm-in-arm singing along to “Sweet Annie” (mp3) or shouting out the near perfect refrains of “She’s Magnetic” (mp3). When the chips are down and the wind blows cold in mid-August Chicago, the Pilots supply just the remedy for a city steeped in blues…and they’re a lot easier to dance to.