The members of the band Modern English
Modern English Credit: Courtesy Paradise Artists

Update on Tue 8/24: This show has been canceled.

I was nine years old when I ordered Modern English’s second album, 1982’s After the Snow, from Columbia House. I bought it for “I Melt With You” and discovered that the rest of the songs sounded nothing like that hit single—the record quickly submerged me in the band’s netherworld of ominous postpunk, undoubtedly the same way Joy Division’s smooth smash “Love Will Tear Us Apart” led many FM listeners deeper into their anguished sonic landscapes. Modern English began mining dark postpunk territory on their 1981 debut full-length, Mesh & Lace (4AD), which has loads of sonic effects and a mesmerizing, edgy, subterranean vibe that’s miles from the anthemic new wave they’re associated with today. I’ve been a fan of the band for most of my life, but despite my enduring love, I was in no way prepared for what I’d witness at Modern English’s Empty Bottle show in 2016 (part of their first major U.S. tour in decades). I committed to it at the last minute (“OK, I guess I’ll go”), and to make a long story short they blew me the fuck away by flawlessly and faithfully playing material off all their albums with an urgency rarely seen from legacy-act reunions. I was especially in awe of ax wizard Gary McDowell (and his psychedelic face tattoos), who didn’t play a straight note the entire time, instead going for textural, atonal scrawls of sound—and the rest of the group kept up, maintaining an energy level that even emerging bands would be lucky to match. 

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Speaking of emerging bands: local post-postpunkers Ganser, who open this show, shared a bill with Modern English in October 2017. That makes this SPACE gig a “reunion of sorts,” according to lead vocalist and bassist Alicia Gaines. The four-piece will play material off their latest LP, Just Look at That Sky, whose release last summer in the heart of the pandemic has meant they’ve had few opportunities to rip into the tunes live. Gaines says the record is “about feeling perpetually bewildered by life, so it seems as fitting as ever.” Against all odds, Modern English and Ganser will be using their music to tackle the darker aspects of existence together again. I can’t wait to be in the front row—most likely dressed in black, with a matching mask.

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This show has been canceled. Modern English, Ganser, Wed 9/1, 8 PM, SPACE, 1245 Chicago, Evanston, $30, $28 in advance, all-ages