For regular readers of my work here (both of you?), you'll know I'm no stranger to discussing the phenomenon of the Hometown Show. From Sincere Engineer and Local H to Disturbed and Chevelle, I've had the chance to review quite a few acts hailing from the Windy City performing in front of their home crowds and how that can elevate the experience for both the audience and band alike. And if it's a hometown reunion show? Forget it. There's no way to manufacture or replicate that kind of energy outside of those conditions.
Or is it?
What happens when the hometown reunion show goes on the road?
That's exactly what singer/songwriter/producer/pop music genius Butch Walker was going to get to the bottom of. Announcing a run of three actual hometown shows in Atlanta re-forming Walker's band Marvelous 3 after nothing but a handful of appearances since calling it quits in 2001, there were also two somewhat surprising Chicago shows added for the following week. That's right - Chicago is the city so rad that even bands that aren't from here want to include us in their homecoming parties.
With a new album in 2023 (the band's first since 2000) and Chicago's own Footballhead in support for the first of two nights at Chicago's House of Blues, the stage was set to see if the hometown energy of Atlanta could make the 750 mile trip.
If the name Footballhead sounds familiar, it's probably because you're one of the (checks analytics dashboard) tens of thousands (trust me!) of people that read my coverage of Kennyhoopla last month where lead singer/guitarist Ryan Nolen's band rocked the Metro as the opening act. With the recent announcement that their debut album Overthinking Everything will be getting a release on March 1, 2024 building on the hype the band has already put together over the last few years, they decided to change things up to kick of the evening. While their Metro set of a month ago was a straight-injection of late-90's radio pop rock with all the distorted riffs and thunderous drums you'd expect to come with it, the band stripped things down, literally and figuratively, for their opening set. Trading in their electric guitars for acoustics (the ol' 'Reverse Dylan' as they say) (NOTE: no one says this) and dropping down from their usual five-piece down to just three, Nolen was joined by bandmates Snow Ellet and Liam Burns, each supplied with nothing but a chair, a microphone, and a guitar.
Over the course of their seven song set, the band showed that the buzz they've been building is absolutely justified. While Footballhead is absolutely capable of cranking things to 11 and absolutely rocking out, the fact that they could not only pivot to such a simplified and barebones version of their songs, but that each of them held up beautifully is a true testament to how good both their songs and performance really are. There's no triple-stacked power chord crunch for weak lyrics to hide behind. There's no jumping around the stage to distract from any weak lyrics or poor song structure. Quieter acoustic performances almost demand too much of an audience's attention, and under that kind of scrutiny, every aspect of their music held up. Not every song in the world translates to acoustic and not every band can pull them off even when they do. Despite Nolen's claims that their set that night was the band's first time ever performing their songs acoustically, the translation, both in sound and performance, was almost too seamless for that to have been the truth.
Also, none of them actually has a football for a head (European or American), so how much can you really trust anything they say?
You know that you've got a case of writer's block when 'comparing Butch Walker to Beyonce' is actually a place you realistically debate starting a paragraph. Sounds crazy, but in a very lazy way it might be a comparison that hangs juuuuuust enough to be relatable. If Butch is Beyonce, that would make Marvelous 3 his Destiny's Child. And just like Destiny's Child, Marvelous 3 (Walker, along with bassist Jayce Fincher and drummer Doug Mitchell) broke out and saw their commercial peak in 1999-2001. But where Destiny's Child was selling records in the millions, Marvelous 3 were selling in the thousands, and the band eventually disbanded. Walker then went on to fulfill his role as Beyonce and became an absolute music legend. The list of artists he's produced for over the last two decades is as long as it is impressive. I hate to throw around the term 'musical genius', but between songs he's produced, written, and/or recorded as a solo artist, Walker has a knack for crafting songs that sound like songs you want to hear. I know that sounds generic and simple, but if 'writing great song after great song that are satisfying to your brain in a way only the best and catchiest pop songs are' was an easy thing to do, everyone would do it all the time and every album would be the greatest album ever written and society would collapse under our collective inability to stop consuming music. The man just knows how to write a great goddamn song.
But just like Beyonce went back to Destiny's Child, Walker has flirted with Marvelous 3 a handful of times since their 2001 dissolution, usually with Fincher and Mitchell joining Walker onstage for an encore while playing a hometown show(!!!) on tour. But that wasn't enough for the trio, and 2023 saw them release a new album (IV, their first since 2000's ReadySexGo) and throw together three shows in Atlanta and two in Chicago to celebrate both the new record and the 25th anniversary of the band's breakthrough album celebrating 25 years of the band's breakthrough sophomore effort Hey! Album.
Nostalgia was already running high before the band even hit the stage, with Marvelous 3 not only playing their first Chicago show in over two decades, but also being a band who touches quite frequently on memories and good times of the past as lyrical content. Knowing exactly how to play up on that feeling to kick off the show, the band took the stage backed by three video screens showing photos and video clips of the band as young men in their 20's before transitioning forward a few decades in seconds as the band kicked off their set.
Billed as a celebration of 25 years of Hey! Album, Walker and the band kicked things off with 'You're So Yesterday', the lead track off that album. But they didn't go the common route of playing through an anniversary album front to back like many touring acts these days are. While they did end up playing a whopping nine of the twelve songs off the album throughout the evening, they were spread out pretty evenly throughout the night's nineteen song set, with ReadySexGo placing almost as many songs in the setlist. And despite the source material being old enough to legally drink in most countries, every song sounded absolutely fresh and vital, with the majority of that coming straight from Walker's live performance. That's no slight to the stage presence and technical abilities of Fincher and Mitchell (joined onstage by Fincher's son on guitar as a Marvelous 4th), but Walker is an absolute supernova of a frontman, whose roots in hair metal show themselves in all aspects of his performance. Jumping off of everything that isn't bolted down and dazzling the crowd with an array of guitar pick tossing maneuvers, Walker somehow fit in dancing and singing in between while making sure to engage the capacity crowd in singing along to songs some of them had been waiting a good part of their lives to hear live.
The ultimate whiplash between 'then and now' was when Walker and the band teased a bit of 'Tainted Angel' (a song by SouthGang, the trio's former hair metal band during the late 80's and early 90's) before immediately diving into two songs off their new album. If you're worried that the band's first music in more than two decades strays too far from their established path, fear not. In songs like 'My Old School Metal Heart' (yet another nod to the band's head banging, teased-hair past), Walker still plays the part of the well-meaning rock and roll soul who can totally let you see his apartment if you just give him five minutes to straighten up, singing 'Not drinking any more / drinking any less / I cleaned up myself...I guess'.
Every band that comes into town panders to the crowd some amount. But the really good ones make it feel like they aren't. They really want you to believe that, despite being half the size of the hometown crowds they had just played to in Atlanta, you're just as loud. They want you to believe that they totally remember the list of 3-4 dive bars they name check from playing there three decades ago were right there at the top of their mind. When donning Blackhawks jerseys and dropping red and white balloons on the crowd during their encore (their breakout single 'Freak of the Week' and a blistering cover of Burt Bacharach's 'Always Something There To Remind Me').
But then...they didn't have to schedule shows in Chicago. They did their hometown shows and Chicago and nowhere else. That has to mean something, right? Chicago? In NOVEMBER? Maybe it's true. Maybe we do treat every single act that comes through just that much better than every other city.
(And no, their song 'Grant Park' is not about Chicago's Grant Park. There's a Grant Park in Atlanta too.)
As far as the 'hometown show on the road' experiment goes, I have to believe that there's a good chance Walker and the band would have gotten as warm of a welcome as they received in Chicago anywhere else they popped up for shows. When you write songs as well as they do and have been gone for as long as they have, people miss you, and they get equally excited when you come back. Fortunately for the people of Chicago, there's always night 2 tonight to further research this phenomenon.
And then? No more shows. Sorry. Maybe live somewhere better next time.
Marvelous 3 Setlist - House of Blues, Chicago 11.2.23
You're So Yesterday
Write It on Your Hand
Vampires in Love
Let Me Go
Over Your Head
Cold as Hell
My Old School Metal Heart
If We're On Fire (Let It Burn)
Cigarette Lighter Love Song
Freak of the Week
(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me