Gym Class Heroes

Gym Class Heroes

k-os, P.O.S., RX Bandits

Chicago, IL • March 15

Cell phones glowed and traded text messages as anxious adolescent chatter filled up the House of Blues. With the opening acts come and gone, finally, the curtains were drawn revealing a massive Gym Class Heroes tour banner and several small-scale jumbo-tron screens flashing electric stars and stripes.

After the over-the-top Rocky theme finished blasting from the speakers, ringleader/emcee Travis McCoy swaggered on-stage to a blizzard of roaring teenagers and segued into a predictable intro with hit single “Papercuts.” From there McCoy led his Heroes into their hip-hop tribute to emo bands with “Taxi Driver.” With the crowd primed, the ubiquitous Billboard top-10 hit and Supertramp chorus-anchored “Cupid’s Chokehold” was unleashed and then devoured.

McCoy and GCH have a creative knack for expressing the day-to-day struggles of growing up in the estranging culture of suburban adolescence via their mix of rock and hip hop. But unfortunately, the lyrical and sonic creativeness you hear on Paper Cut Chronicles (2005) and As Cruel as School Children (2006) is almost non-existent live. All McCoy does is sell his fans short by throwing a raucous and entertaining house party with stale beats and flat lyrical punchlines. It’s hard to watch as McCoy pitfalls into the Achilles heel of youth, which is wanting to be superficially accepted by your peers — and in McCoy’s case, his peers are his fans. Songs like “Papercuts” and the humorous MySpace culture-questioning “New Friend Request” could be amazing live if only McCoy and company took their role seriously and realized those songs and several others have the potential to be transcendent. I’m not sure if that’s artistic license choice or if McCoy is being instructed to do this.

Whatever the case, it was hard to watch the young fans swallow whole GCH’s nasty dose of rock-‘n’-roll cliché, which included, among others, a continuous mid-song riff from Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Maybe they thought if hip-hop legend Nas could do it on his new album, it might be OK for GCH live. Hip-hop was born on recreating the music of others and evolving the beat into a revolutionary new genre — and rock ‘n’ roll is full of borrowed chords, with some artist even making careers out of stealing — but GCH, regardless, are guilty of artistic regression on all counts, which makes you wonder just how packaged the whole thing really is.

Before GCH came SoCal ska/reggae quintet RX-Bandits, who were at their best when they rhythmically meandered into the galvanizing percussion of the dual drum kits and let the rush of building emotion pour into the crowd and take the song into a place beyond mere Sublime emulation.

Now, on a bill like tonight, Canadian emcee K-OS stands out and almost doesn’t belong. His live band brought much more swing, hip-hop and soulfulness to the live mix than all the following acts combined. And if he’s a new name to you, his latest CD, 2007 Atlantis: Hymns For Disco, is a good place to start.

Backed by a DJ and a three piece band, Minnesota-native emcee P.O.S. delivered an incendiary melding of punk, rap and spoken word that shot right to the heart, cutting out all the fluff and nearly started a HOB youth uprising.

Heading out to the car, I overheard a young female fan exclaim into her pink cell phone how she had “just seen the best show ever!” I then remembered a moment towards the end of GCH’s set when McCoy passionately explained the personal impact of James Brown’s music on his own. I then hoped this young fan would also eventually run across the music of the Hardest Working Man In Show Business.

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