Bailiff Chicago music

Bailiff at Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival

Thursday, July 03, 2014 Rob Samuelson

There are many things rock musicians do that I cannot. They can play instruments. They can sing. They look cool doing things. I'm jealous most of the time, but I can usually channel that in healthy ways. But what really gets my goat about hometown heroes Bailiff boils down to one thing: chicken.

Photo by Perry Fish.


I'm allergic to most things, but especially to birds, flightless or otherwise. “It tastes like chicken,” you can say to describe seemingly any flavor, and I have no idea what you mean. I haven't had it since I was seven years old. My itchy and swollen lips, tongue, and throat are the perfect barometers to determine if a meat product does, in fact, contain trace amounts of poultry. McDonald's nuggets, despite what some may claim, do indeed have plenty of real chicken in them. “Chicken broth” soup companies may have some false advertising lawsuits on their hands, though. And the guys in Bailiff, singer-guitarist Josh Siegel, drummer Ren Mathew, and bassist Owen O'Malley, cruelly, viciously, unknowingly – how dare they, the jerks! – rubbed my face in their chicken eating ways.

When asked how they spent their tour, which included a sweltering outdoor show at the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival Sunday evening, Siegel said they began a competition of sorts.

On this last trip, we definitely tried every type of chicken tender and French fry,” he said.

They experimented with every variation of battered and fried chicken known to American road trippers. In the end, they were left with some thoughts on the matter. Bassist O'Malley – who, if a lifetime of watching movies and TV has taught me anything, is the band's resident scientist because of his eyeglasses – recounted their findings for me.

Photo by Perry Fish.
“It's probably not surprising, but KFC has the best chicken nuggets, which would be embarrassing if they didn't. Number two was probably Arby's. They had pretty good chicken tenders, shockingly. McDonald's basically just looks like chicken.  Burger King is slightly better than McDonald's.”

After fueling up on the nutritious offerings of America's finest roadside establishments, Bailiff was in fighting form for their show at twilight on Sunday. Their sound, which covers ground from OK Computer-era Radiohead to sludgy blues and funk, with pinches of Gang of Four-style post-punk thrown in, is a curious concoction that worked wonders on an audience that would best be described as eccentric. There were scooter-riding children bobbing their heads to the chugga-chugga rhythms of Mathew and O'Malley while deftly dodging limbs and free hanging beers that could have caused a messy calamity with any wrong turns. Up front, a dreadlocked man in a shamanic trance danced in a way that made it seem like his torso was standing still while his legs and arms wiggled like wet spaghetti mated with an inflatable car lot mascot. Beside me was a smiling woman who must have been in her 70s who could dance better than most people I know and shouted “Woo!” at appropriate times during a call-and-response section to a song.

Photo by Perry Fish.


They and others pulsed with the beat, which is where much of Bailiff's power comes from. Siegel has a strong, soulful voice, but it wouldn't get anywhere without the thumping, propulsive players behind him. There's both a sense of purpose and an openness to spontaneity to their rhythms, especially live, that confound attempts to describe them definitively. Their new single, “Shake My Heart Awake,” struck me as a modern, groovier take on post-punk, furthering what Editors or The Futureheads did before them. But live, there's a fuzziness, and they round off the edges of that angular sound and incorporate things like raga and power pop hooks.

It stands to reason they would have a stylistic blend, as Siegel said they don't tend to have a game plan when recording. They take from the musical grab bag and see what sticks.

It certainly resulted from the three of us coming together and bringing our personal influences to the table and just experimenting until we find something that we're all nodding our heads to,” he said.

It's a mysterious process,” he said. “In some ways, you have an idea of what the record's going to sound like but also when it's done you get to sit back and listen to it and wonder where it came from.”

That everything goes mentality stems partially from the Chicago music scene that spawned them. Whereas I had grown up listening to the Chicago punk bands like The Lawrence Arms and The Smoking Popes thinking that was my city's primary contribution to music since the early blues days, O'Malley said in reality there's a burgeoning, multi-styled music world in Chicago.

[The Chicago music scene] doesn't feel aesthetically homogenous at all,” he said. “There's a lot of really good players who do lots of different things with different bands, too. The scene is interesting for lots of different kinds of music.”

It makes sense that three guys in the middle of the country would take a little bit from all around them to build something new.


Bailiff is on a summer tour now and will be back in Chicago for Lobster Fest at Navy Pier on August 17. Their latest record, the EP Remise, is available now.
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