Monday evening just screams rock and roll, doesn’t it?
You see, the thing about Chicago, the rock and roll crowd doesn’t have “school nights” here. It’s been that way for decades. Being into the local scene and going to all the Chicago clubs in the 1980’s, it didn’t matter what day of the week it was. People came out in support of the music they loved. Being at the Concord Music Hall in Chicago on this Monday night was proof that this city hasn’t changed one bit over the years. People were packed wall-to-wall in this great-sounding, beautifully kept venue in the heart of Chicago’s Bucktown-Logan Square neighborhood.
As I approached the door upon my super early arrival at the venue, I saw my buddy Coleton and his lovely girlfriend Hope, waiting for doors to open. Coleton is a 22-year old Wisconsin kid that loves music and isn’t afraid to travel and support it (even on a Monday). He was first in line, which I fully expected, and he told me that the band had come out to chat with the most loyal of fans while they waited in line hours before doors open. (I fully expected that kind of respect for fans from the Dirty Honey guys, too.)
Once doors opened, the large general admission floor inside the Concord started to disappear as fans dotted every inch of real estate. That’s another thing with Chicago fans, they come out for all the opening bands, too. By the time supporting act Austin Meade took the stage, he had the attention of a packed house, and he didn’t waste it. With outstanding stage presence and a talented and energetic supporting cast around him, Meade impressed from the first notes of his hard-hitting set opener, “Violation Delight.” The Texas guitarist would deliver a number of memorable hard-hitting honkytonk jams, as he continued to offer the spotlight to his talented guitarist David Willie. Willie made these songs breathe fire with wicked soloing throughout. Meade’s rhythm guitar finesse and Willie’s blazing leads set the course for a rocking set. Like a stick to your ribs, tummy-pleasing lyrical pasta, Meade spit out lines like “I wish that you would fuck me like you gave a damn” (“Cave In”), and the guttural “Wake up, bitch!” during his latest single “Blackout,” which really came down as memorable (in a primal, degenerate way). This was high energy good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll, and I liked it.
AUSTIN MEADE is:
Austin Meade – vocals, guitar
David Willie – guitar, backing vocals
Jordan Pena – bass, backing vocals
Aaron Hernandez – drums
1.) Violation Delight
2.) Dopamine Drop
3.) Happier Alone
4.) Cave In
5.) Freak Show
7.) Take a Trip
8.) Darker Shade of Blue
9.) Deja Vu
Now, as I looked out over the crowd anticipating the arrival of Dirty Honey to the stage, I noticed a pretty amazing thing. There was a variety of people that are rarely seen at concerts in this day and age. I usually go to shows that are for “an older crowd” or “for this generation.” I rarely see a show that brings those two together. It works the same with gender, with many shows drawing a predominantly male crowd or a predominantly female crowd. It’s rare to see a nice mix. Dirty Honey fans come out in all ages, races, and genders. From young girls to middle-aged women, to twentysomething dudes like my buddy Coleton to aged rockers like myself. They were all here in the mix. African-American, white, Asian, young, old, male, female – all ready to throw down with one of the hottest bands in the land.
As AC/DC’s “Rock ‘N’ Roll Damnation” put a hard rockin’ groove in the air, the stage filled with a haze worthy of a five-alarm fire. Bassist Justin Smolian’s silhouette, complete with his thick helmet of long curls took his position on the stage. Drummer Jaydon Bean and guitarist John Notto followed close behind. Just as Bean finished mounting the throne behind his small but powerful kit, singer Marc LaBelle snaked and swirled his way through the smoke soup to find a Chicago crowd of mixed nuts screaming for him and his band. Opening with the fast-paced title track from their latest album, Can’t Find The Brakes, it was clear that Dirty Honey was a colossal juggernaut in the live setting. With spectacular lighting consisting of cloud-cutting spotlights, color panels, and strobes, the band came across as vibrant and fresh as they provided their unique brand of funky, rhythm-based rock and roll.
As I watched the band go from the Rage Against The Machine heaviness of “Scars” to the funky Aerosmith-like swagger of “Tied Up,” it quickly became evident that I was watching a passing of the torch. In 25 years, we’re going to be bragging about seeing this band in its infancy. It’s not unlike seeing an early Zeppelin or Aerosmith concert. You really get the feeling that you are watching an important historical event. The talent in this band and the way they play off of each other is something special, too. The taught precision of the filthy, funky rock and roll stuff is where it shows the most. Stuff like “Don’t Put Out The Fire” and the two set closers “Won’t Take Me Alive” and “Rollin’ 7s” are the times where the band has a direct connection to your spine. Every gritty note seems to make the fists twitch and the hips shake.
I think there needs to be a special note here for singer Marc LaBelle. His sound on the records is stellar, of course. From his high-pitched roar and squeal to his saucy swagger, the guy puts his passion on a plate and hands us a fork. But… hearing this stuff cut through the air in the live setting is what sets Dirty Honey in the upper echelon of rock bands. I enjoy listening to the latest single “Coming Home (Ballad Of The Shire)” on the Can’t Find The Brakes record, but when LaBelle offered up that first verse for this crowd you could literally see everyone gasp as if their doctor told them to take a deep breath. It was stunning. A complete rock icon in his conch-riddled fedora and his Outlaw Josey Wales poncho, LaBelle’s power and passion remained intact until the final note, and not one note was dodged or tuned down. LaBelle would also make his way off the stage and into the front row at one point. As he was enveloped by his loyal and loving fans, he sang “Another Last Time” with all of these newfound friends. It was a great moment that was enjoyed by both fans and band alike.
And perhaps the most noteworthy thing about this live set from Dirty Honey is the comradery between the band’s members. With the addition of drummer Jaydon Bean at the beginning of the year, Dirty Honey seems to have come full circle and has a very “alive” vibe. They smile at each other when they play. They get playful and silly. They clearly enjoy each other on every level. That’s what every audience wants to see.
There was a moment in this set when each member was given an opportunity to strut their stuff. As singer Marc LaBelle called out bassist Justin Smolian, Smolian stepped up and dished out some wicked bass licks for us. LaBelle then called out drummer Jaydon Bean, and guitarist John Notto oddly seemed to be the one taking his solo time. As LaBelle is doubled over in laughter he emphatically announces Bean once again, and Bean then takes his time to solo. Apparently, LaBelle had forgotten the order in which they did their solos, and he said “That’s the hardest I’ve laughed all week!” It was a mistake, and one that was a whole lotta fun to watch. That’s the kind of comfortable, loving charm I like to see from a group of rock and roll brothers.
As Dirty Honey makes their way around the U.S. and the rest of the world, I know that seeing them at this point in their history is a privilege. I have no doubt in my mind that this is something that will continue to grow, and is the stuff that legends are made of. I can hear Coleton telling his children, “I remember seeing Dirty Honey way back in 2023, it was awesome!” As he will be met with “No way, Dad! I wish I could’ve been alive to see that,” I would urge everyone alive to not miss your chance to see this band.
DIRTY HONEY is:
Marc LaBelle – vocals
John Notto -guitar
Justin Smolian – bass
Jaydon Bean – drums
1.) Can’t Find the Brakes
2.) California Dreamin’
5.) Dirty Mind
6.) Tied Up
7.) Coming Home (Ballad of the Shire) (Acoustic)
8.) Honky Tonk Women (The Rolling Stones cover) (Acoustic)
9.) Don’t Put Out the Fire
10.) Let’s Go Crazy (Prince cover)
11.) The Wire
12.) Another Last Time
13.) When I’m Gone
14.) Won’t Take Me Alive
15.) Rolling 7s
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Hello everyone! My name is Scott Itter, but some know me as Dr. Music. I am a music journalist and photographer out of the Chicagoland area, and I have been in practice for over 20 years. I grew up in the 70’s with two big brothers that showed me all kinds of rock and roll. As I grew older I ventured out into different genres like jazz, funk, folk, and whatever else I could wrap my ears around. As I read every liner note and every Circus and Hit Parader like they were the Old and New Testament, I came to realize that I just love sound and appreciate all the people that create it.
I later became a stay-at-home dad and started honing my writing and photography skills to keep my mind from turning into mashed peas. My kids are now adults, my mind is only slightly mushy, and I am thrilled to have the honor of presenting my work to you!