January 4th, 2009

A review of the January 3rd, 2009 BAC Chi-Town Kids Show
BY Mike Barry

Last night I joined my wife's family at the Beverly Arts Center in Chicago. For about 30 years, the Arts Center has done an admirable job of bringing cultural and other educational programs to the Beverly-Morgan Park area. Although certainly worth the comment, this review is not about the deserving Southside institution.

On stage last night were two bands as different as night and day - or more appropriately, as Northside and Southside. The first band, more to my taste, was a jazz trio with five members. Although this commentary was meant more for the headliners, this night it was impressive to see five aspiring jazz artists bend the wills and minds of their young audience (who was more interested in seeing them exit the building). And though their performance was certainly worth the accolades of this Southside jazz listener, the night belonged to the Chi-Town Kids.

Three friends, Ryan O'Malley, Chris Walsh and Mark Wlodarski, who first met and bonded at kindergarten, formed their first band the Endorphins about 10 years ago. They became popular on the airwaves last year with their hit "Cicadas," a song profiling a child's observations of this less than welcome, once in 17 year visitor. Their music is a combination of hip hop and rap but with a mixture of a melodic, almost anthem beat.

Although they are all talented in their own right, this is not about the music but more about the message. These part time performers are dutiful participants on their daily 9 to 5 jobs and seem more concerned with getting the music to their fans than receiving dollars from them. Most of their music is available from the group's website via free download. The music's subject matter ranges from all things Southside to all things experienced. It is more cultural than political and oddly enough, more inspiring than irreverent. The subject matter twists over layers of children and adolescent experiences of grammar school, creepy crawly things, neighborhoods, girlfriends, grandmothers and to all things Chicago and the Southside. The message is somewhat universal and at the same time it has given the Southside Chicago culture a voice.

What I found most interesting was the enthusiasm of their young audience. They were charged by the lyrics and mutual experiences that were coming from the stage. This was not about singing the chorus or refrain to a song and humming our way through the music, this was about the message of growing up on any urban Southside neighborhood and the humor about all things that bond us.

The music brings some clarity to rap, showing that there exists a small gap between a rock concert and a revival hall meeting. Both promise a message and both vary on their ability to deliver said message. The rock concert's message may be lost in the music or the mastering of the lyrics, but rap dares you to listen and offers a beat and an effort to keep the message in tune with the music. What I saw last night was an audience having fun and at the same time embracing who they were - or at least who the three guys on stage were.

I would offer you not a challenge, but an invitation to experience the Chi-Town Kids. But if you sit in the front row, bring goggles, not an umbrella because those pennies aren't raining down from heaven…