The O Jeez – Double Door (Chicago, IL)
“I know what! This time you play guitar and I’ll play drums! He can play the trumpet!”
There’s a bit of the O Jeez that puts you in mind of the Hardy Boys or Li’l Rascals movies: Somebody has this really fun idea to put on a play in the back yard. It would be a worthwhile endeavor for no other reason than to share with the world what a fetching way Jessy Greene has with a power chord. Unfortunately, so far there’s little else this band offers to anyone not already avid fans of its members’ other incarnations.
The O Jeez comprises a sort of subset of the supergroup Golden Smog and its extended family. Full-fledged Smogster Kraig Johnson (originally of Run Westy Run and now in the Jayhawks) plays bass in the O Jeez; sometime Smogster Dave Pirner (you may know him from Soul Asylum) plays drums and trumpet; and the aforementioned Greene (ex-Geraldine Fibber now frequently playing with the Jayhawks) takes the lead on guitar and vocals, only occasionally lifting her fiddle.
The result is fruit basket upset. Not for nothing is Dave Pirner best known for fronting Soul Asylum. Try as he might to hide in the dark at the back of the stage behind all those piles of skins and cymbals (he even began the set with his hair tucked under a baseball cap, presumably to obscure his role further), his is clearly the most compelling presence in the O Jeez. If you had no idea who he was, you would follow that voice anywhere, never mind the trumpet.
One of the intriguing aspects of the O Jeez, and the thing that must make it the most fun for its members, is that they take turns in the lead, performing songs any one of them may have written. The songs are mostly undistinguished power-pop, fraught here and there with cliches you might hear in any new band, but some are genuinely catchy. The trio play instruments none of them have mastered and they occasionally drift into free jazz, which, like abstract art, must look easy and fun to anyone who doesn’t know how it’s done.
Johnson is interesting in the spotlight. In the Jayhawks and Run Westy Run, he has largely played the role of guitar-playing sidekick. Occasionally he has the opportunity to step out front with Golden Smog, but the O Jeez shows even more clearly that he can sing, and can dominate the stage as well as the next guy.
But how about the next girl? The real news here is the engrossing persona of Greene, who, in her other endeavors, has tended to adorn a stage in the same supplemental way her violin interpretations add vibrancy to a song. The O Jeez, however, turn her loose to prowl, surge and thrash with all her might on guitar. Her attack is savage; musicianship takes the hindmost. She sweats, her neck muscles strain, and when she sings, she flirts, growls, yelps and shows every last one of her teeth. Those not already thoroughly smitten will be helpless.