Material: Chicago-based band, Ratboys, appeals to the indie and college rock crowd with a slightly different twist. In a genre that is heavily saturated with male vocalists, Steiner’s sweet, angelic vocals help set the band apart. The lyrics are poetic and open to a variety of interpretations. The music is a mix of folk, alternative rock and noise, and while it has a sound that is typical of most college rock, it does have its moments of uniqueness and popular appeal.
Musicianship: Ratboys added a trumpet player for this show. Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, who plays for such acts as the Para-Medics, Itto, Pisces at the Animal Fair and Monobody, filled in for their regular drummer, Parel, but regardless, the band was very tight and played well together.
Steiner has a cute, appealing voice with a high register and she leads her troops well, marching from song to song. Lange is a solid bass player, and Sagan adds an edginess with his noisy, alterna-rock guitar leads. Overall, the musicianship is adept, and the individual talents work together as a unit.
Performance: The band started off strong with “AOID,” a simple, melodic tune with a pretty lead vocal line and single guitar, leading directly (both musically and lyrically) into the high-energy indie rocker, “Tixis.” They held the crowd’s attention with two more pop-oriented songs, “Space Blows” and “Collected,” then added variety by following with a slower ballad, “Have a Heart.” Ratboys performed a new song, “Charles Bernstein,” off their upcoming album, which had interesting rhythm changes and showcased a mature progression in songwriting from their earlier material.
As the set progressed, however, the band withdrew into itself and seemed to forget they were on stage. They did not play to the audience as much, but rather to each other—at times with their backs turned to the audience. It seemed as if they were practicing in a garage. Fortunately, the band snapped out of it for the last song, “And,” which was noisy and loud, and a fantastic closer to their set.
Summary: Ratboys are strong songwriters and musicians. Their particular brand of indie rock is lyrically introspective and musically interesting. While their stage presence could use a little work, the band is entertaining and their new material shows promise of good things to come.
The Players: Julia Steiner, guitar, vocals; Dave Sagan, guitar; Will Lange, bass; Jordan Parel (filled in by Nnamdi Ogbonnaya), drums; Cody Owens, trumpet.