Everyone in the room looks in Ultimate Fakebook’s Direction
Ultimate Fakebook, a Manhattan, Kansas power trio, wants nothing more than to rock it PG-13. Performing on an all-ages bill at Chicago’s Metro this past Saturday, UFB employed a series of outstretched #1s, leg kicks, and drum riser poses in a big-hearted attempt at the rock Valhalla inhabited by Cheap Trick. With a little help from a smoke machine and timed light rigs, they largely succeeded.
I’ve never been a 70s teenage dope queen, but if I was, the LP cover of Cheap Trick’s “Heaven Tonight” would be perched over my bed, accompanied by a shot of Wonder Woman in roller skates. On the cover, two long-haired, smirking guys illustrate the yin and yang of rock star attraction. Elfin-featured Robin Zander smiles wanly with the knowledge that he can take any girl at the show back to the hotel room. Tom Peterson’s shit-eating grin tells you that he just did.
Side one detonates with “Surrender,” a genre-defining track that aimed to make every kid who heard it hate his hipster parents and start smoking just for spite. Bubbly lyrics, window-rattling guitar heroics – it’s all here, compressed into 4 minutes and 14 seconds of midwestern music that put the Rock back in Rockford. Like “Appetite For Destruction” in the 80s, “Heaven Tonight” promised the gutter heaven of Rock and Roll to awkward suburban kids everywhere. Its melodies and vibe – not to mention the distinct pander of Zander, Peterson, Rick Nielson, and Bun E. Carlos – made kids want to rock.
On Saturday night in Chicago, Ultimate Fakebook did the same.
UFB’s tunes don’t range across as many genres as the Trick’s. Like their compatriots in the Get Up Kids, they channel the earnest fistpumposity of Superchunk, before Mac and Co. joined the PTA and bought bedroom sets. But UFB brings an ear for the Matthew Sweet harmony to their 3 on the floor tunes, with vocalist/guitarist Bill McShane belting out melodies in an unabashedly high, musical wail that no doubt got him whitewashed on the playground at school. And songs like “Inside Me, Inside You” from their latest, Open Up and Say Awesome (Initial), keeps, er, the flame of Cheap Trick alive with the right mix of riff, rock, and head-nodding pop hooks. UFB’s Chicago turn found them imploring the crowd to jump up and down with bassist Nick Colby, to make the video being filmed that much more frenetic. But McShane’s cries of “You guys are rad!” and “Let’s rock!” – while seemingly stolen from an Up With People record – were at least as engaging as his charming, geeky attempts at sick stage moves. And when he periodically jumped on a lighting rig that illuminated his solo’ing self from below, wreathed in smoke, the fresh-faced crowd of burgeoning rock fans didn’t need any more encouragement to scream and flash the goat’s head Rock Lock.
If Ultimate Fakebook’s tightly-wound power pop didn’t back their rock cliché stage moves up, you’d almost think they were kidding. But they did, and they weren’t. And somehow that makes onstage pose-striking okay. I’m not sure how. It’s a mystery, lost in the dark art of Rock and Roll, that one band can get away with something while another can’t. There’s nothing in Ultimate Fakebook’s broadfaced mixture of pop metal frescoe and power pop hooks that hasn’t been done before. In fact, hundreds of other bands are doing it right now. (And can you really say “Rad!” 15 times in a 45 minute set?) But inside the circuitry, down beneath the melody and running alongside the lyrics, is something that makes their version of Cheap Trick rock heaven better than some others. It’s the same mysterious attraction that made teenage girls in satin shorts put “Heaven Tonight” under their pillow. UFB will never be as naughty as their Rockford, IL heroes. But for a few minutes on Saturday night, as McShane bent notes on his Strat up on that lighting rig, Metro looked like Budokan.