Arts & Entertainment, Features

REVIEW: The Orwells bring scandalous songs, audacious attitudes to The Sinclair

The Orwells performed at The Sinclair in Cambridge on Monday. PHOTO BY BETSEY GOLDWASSER/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
The Orwells performed at The Sinclair in Cambridge on Monday. PHOTO BY BETSEY GOLDWASSER/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The last time I saw The Orwells, its members were playing to a small crowd at Allston’s Great Scott in March 2014. Singer Mario Cuomo hurled his microphone stand into the crowd during the band’s final song, a cover of The Stooges’ 1969 classic “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. It hit me square in the forehead. I walked out of the show with a bloody gash and an ugly bruise, but also a great story and significantly more punk rock street cred than I had when I entered.

This is the kind of experience one might expect when going to see Chicago-based band, which unleashed its fuzzy garage punk and bratty delinquency onto the willing crowd at The Sinclair in Cambridge Monday. The sold-out show was one of eight the band will play across the United States as part of the Converse-sponsored free concert series “Converse Rubber Tracks Live”.

Cuomo walked onto the stage with two drinks in hand, followed by bassist Grant Brinner, guitarists Dominic Corso and Matt O’Keefe and drummer Henry Brinner. Sonny & Cher’s ironically wholesome “I Got You Babe” played in the background.

The band opened with sleazy lead track “Southern Comfort” off of their 2014 album “Disgraceland,” which had Cuomo spouting lyrical gems such as, “Give me a smile and then take off your pants,” and, “Life is better with a handful of ass,” while busting into intensely sporadic dance moves.

More exciting was The Orwells’ aggressive take on the Massachusetts band The Modern Lovers’ song “Modern World”.

“I’m in love with the USA now / And I’m in love with the modern world now,” Cuomo sang over Corso’s jagged guitar and Brinner’s simple, driving beat. Then, the instruments dropped away.

“Put down the cigarette / and drop out of BU,” Cuomo yelled, pulling his long, pale blond hair and shooting the crowd a crazy-eyed stare.

The band mostly stuck to songs from “Disgraceland,” but their rendition of the groovy, bass-heavy “In My Bed” was an appreciated return to their 2012 debut album “Remember When”.

“I tried, I tried / She lied, she lied / It’s too late, too late / Goodbye, goodbye,” Cuomo sang, the crowd shouting back every other lyric.

Cuomo kneeled with his head down at the front of the stage and those in the pit affectionately touched his unruly hair. Then, with perfect timing, Cuomo uttered the “goodbye” of the final verse and dove off of a speaker, falling straight as a board into the crowd.

It was one of at least three times he would stage-dive during the night.

Later in the performance, Cuomo addressed the audience by introducing for the first time an unreleased track that kept with the band’s lyrical theme of shocking, gory violence.

“This song is about those fucking white people going on vacation to Mexico and they end up getting their f—ing heads chopped off,” Cuomo said. “What are you going to do? You’re going to write a song about it.”

The crowd was surprisingly restrained until The Orwells plunged into beloved “Remember When” cut “Mallrats (La La La).” Cuomo seemed to rush through the vacuous verses about a hot girl at the mall just to get to the blissfully simplistic “la la la” chorus.

At the drop of the first chorus, the pit turned into a mess of sweaty, colliding bodies propelled by Corso’s fuzzy guitar and those irresistibly hyper “la la la’s.” Near the end of the song, Cuomo’s “la la la’s” devolved to pained screams as he jumped up and down with the crowd.

The mosh fever continued with “Who Needs You,” a blistering indictment of American nationalism and pro-war sentiment.

“You better save the country / You better pass the flask / You better join the army / I said no thank you / Dear old Uncle Sam,” Cuomo yelled. The crowd joined him and emphasized his words with fist pumps.

The big pedal drumbeat and Corso’s guitar hook took over and Cuomo simply head-banged as hard as he possibly could. Then, he disappeared from the stage, finishing the song as a disembodied voice.

“Thanks guys and f—ing Converse, I guess, whatever,” O’Keefe said once the song was over, signaling that the end of the show was near. Laughing, he then added, “I think Mario forgot we have one more song. I think he’s behind the curtain and waiting for us to play the f—ing song.”

Cuomo returned, but didn’t acknowledge his intermediate absence. Before walking off the stage near the end of the song, he launched his microphone into the crowd and it just missed my friend’s face. We were both more than a little disappointed.

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