Poster Children at Café du Nord, by Patric Carver

Poster Children (photo: Patric Carver)

Of all the scenes in The Exorcist, the one that strikes me the most is arguably the least flashy. There’s no contortionism, no projectile vomit. I’m talking about the scene when Satan, through human puppet Reagan, starts scolding Father Damien with the voice of his late mother by repeating, “Why you do this to me, Dimi?

The reason it grips me is because its so telling of the full level of possession that is taking place. The intrusion isn’t just into the mind of the fully possessed, poor nightgown-clad Reagan, but also in the mind of the audience, a literally doomed Father Damien.

So, what does a film from nearly half a century ago have to do with rock and roll? It’s important to recall this little scene because when I tell you Poster Children play like a band possessed, I want you to understand exactly what I mean by possessed. The band members are enchanted, but it is a hexing so intoxicating that it bedevils the audience as well.

I haven’t seen moves like Rose Marshack tussling with her bass since my younger brother’s obsession with Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage used to dominate our television on Sunday mornings. She plays the bass like she’s mad at it, but with perhaps a theatrical flair. The difference being that it’s not all show, and Marshack’s deep cuts really do wound. Her low end is pummeling. Along with drummer Matt Friscia, the rhythm section was properly vertebrate-realigning, just the way great rock and roll should be.

Brothers Rick and Jim Valentin tag team the sound with these drilling guitars that are the reason that Poster Children are the powerhouse of the Illinois rock scene. With the precision and informed influences of math rock but the grind-your-molars desperation and bravado of punk rock, the brothers Valentin are a guitar force in the most combative and beautiful since.

The lion’s share of the set list came from their new album, Grand Bargain! The title track song was one of my favorites of the evening. Rick is a maniac on stage and this politics-fueled, shaking fist set to music is the perfect display for that mania. Like the panicky stream-of-consciousness anthems of punk bands like Dead Kennedys and fellow Illinoisans Naked Raygun, “Grand Bargain!” sprays out existential consternation for a nation on fire like an overeager fourth grader hands out valentines. There’s a panic to it, but that panic has purpose. There’s some love and concern at the heart of this verbal assault.

There were some jokes from the band about their supposedly advancing age — discussing the need for a tuning pedal with bigger lights akin to the Jitterbug phones with larger number pads for seniors (“elder tuner” was the suggested name) and joking that fans who remember their earlier songs would be identifiable by the walkers they’d be dependent upon. However, I couldn’t hear any degeneration in their spirit. Two songs from earlier in Poster Children’s career, “6x6” and “If You See Kay” seemed more powerful than when I heard them live a year ago. There’s a kick-you-in-the-teeth nature that no amount of Centrum Silver will conjure up, a youthful mindset is the only concoction that will bring that about. In that way, Poster Children have figured out a way to be forever young.

It’s an informed youth, though. They are one of the smartest bands out there — both in terms of their lyrics and playing proficiency. However, the smartest thing about them is something that can’t be taught. They’ve figured out a way to, despite all the traps over the years that they could have fallen into, remain uniquely Poster Children. While Rick and Rose were harmonizing on stage through the simply lovely “He’s My Star,” my own heart and mind were captivated. The garbage of this modern world was wiped from my consciousness, and I was in the moment with their music. What’s special about Poster Children I’ll never be able to put into words, but I won’t stop trying because this is a band truly worth talking about.

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