The Bad Dudes and The Bizarros at Jilly’s Music Room
by Kyle Cochrun
I’ve always thought of Jilly’s Music Room as Akron’s small-scale music venue for the older crowd. “Older,” to a 24-year-old like myself, meaning middle-aged. So I wasn’t surprised when I walked in the other night and was the youngest patron in the room. Plus, I had come to hear The Bizarros, a punk band that was among the foremost representatives of the “Akron Sound” scene in the late 1970’s.
They aren’t the spunky young brats from up the street who just stole their very first amplifiers and turned to writing punk songs to channel a deluge of teenage angst into art. These cats have been around the block, and though maturity is not a quality often celebrated in punk rock, the Bizarros’ live act isn’t one I imagine many new-gen punk bands around Akron can beat.
To me, the idea of a punk rock show at Jilly’s seems strange. Everyone sat in glossy wooden chairs at glossy wooden dinner tables lit by battery-powered candles. The room smelled of baby powder instead of spilt beer. The walls are a dark grape shade of purple set off by dim lights that give off a cocktail lounge atmosphere. Nobody sported shredded t-shirts à la Richard Hell. Nonetheless, Jilly’s loves to book good ol’ rock n roll!
First up were Bad Dudes, who meld punk with the kind of 70’s classic rock you hear day after day on 98.5 WNCX and 97.5 WONE. My favorite part of the set may have been their rollicking cover of Bob Dylan’s “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” turning Dylan’s thin, keyboard-laden tune into a beefy guitar workout.
They followed with a cover of the Supersuckers’ crass anthem “Pretty F***ed Up,” a song about a woman who “used to be pretty, but now is “pretty f***ed up.” The contrast was wonderful, seeing how “Absolutely Sweet Marie” is a song about a foolish man helplessly in love with a woman who could care less about his struggles for her, whereas the Supersuckers song throws poetics and subtlety out the window, coming off like Dylan’s older and now jaded narrator. Maybe it doesn’t completely line up, but in concert these song choices formed a sort of chronology.
When The Bizarros took the stage, it was clear that Nick Nicholis, the band’s lead singer, now middle-aged, is the same dude who posed at the head of the group in black and white photos from the 70s. When not singing, he rocked back and forth, staring at the ground as if he was thinking of something else while the band churned out tight, short, stripped-down punk songs that managed to pack a lot of melody.
Nicholis’ style is to deliver lines as if he’s speaking at you in accentuated leaps with flashes of melody punched in. He always sounds just a touch out of tune, and it seems to be a style choice that works well with the band’s proto-punk sound (they’re way more Stooges than Sex Pistols). He apologized for “the bad singing” because he, like so many people around Akron, was getting over the flu, but his vocals were fine, albeit too low in the mix, which was a problem for Bad Dudes as well.
I’ve heard none of the band’s output since the 70’s — and you should really listen to “Lady Doubonette” and “Young Girls at Market”; both are little-known punk classics — but some of their best performances of the night came from material off their newest record, which I believe will be released this spring. The band sounded is if they’d been playing newbies like “Siren Song” in the basement for years.
By the time they came to the muscle-punk number “67-77”, Nicholis’ vocals had been turned up, and he started yelping into the mic for the first time that night, getting the crowd to bop in ways they hadn’t before.
The sound was so sharp. The bass playing was somewhere between dirty and sexy. It sounded like 1977, and even though I was sipping craft beer in a room full of couples kicking back in comfortable chairs, this was probably the closest I’d ever come to feeling what it might have been like to have been there when this music was first exploding, when it was the hot new thing. Which is to say it didn’t sound dated, but fresh.
You young punks out there should get to a Bizarros show, ‘cause once these guys got warmed up, I couldn’t think of another punk show I’ve been to in this city that sounded quite this good.
(Photo of Bad Dudes courtesy of Bad Dudes.)
(Photo of The Bizarros courtesy of The Bizarros.)
Kyle Cochrun is a writer from Akron, Ohio who is currently hooked on Pavement’s Wowee Zowee. Like that is almost all he listens to right now. It is starting to worry him.