If the three brothers who comprise three-fourths of the Chicago’s Filligar have any sisters-by-marriage, they’ve wisely kept them out of the group. For Johnny (guitar and lead vocals), Teddy (bass), and Pete (drums) Mathias and their keyboard-playin’ buddy Casey Gibson, music is less about sunshine days and more about bringing the rock to people who want and need it.
Formed in 2000 when everyone in the band were teenagers (they still look young—you’d card any of them if they tried to buy beer from you), Filligar has recorded eight albums and garnered a good bit of regional and national press for their efforts. Their latest, last year’s The Nerve, is a solid record, full of personal concerns set to anthemic music, the kind of stuff that would’ve made them stars in 1994 and may yet do the trick for them in the here and now.
The gents certainly wear their influences proudly. The southern, harmonious, musically companionable strum ‘n’ stomp of “Guilty Good Intentions” is good, garagy Crowes; if Johnny Matthias had a Georgia accent, you’da thunk this was an Amorica outtake. Also has a great line: “There’s a little bit of truth in every false alarm.” True dat.
There’s also the Beatlesque “Health,” with its loopy keyboard opening and ba-doompa-boom bass drum and the exquisite crescendo to which it builds about three-quarters into the song. If you dig a Stonesy strut, cue up “Mumbling Girl,” the tale of a man who hangs onto every word of a woman he can barely hear—a cutesy sentiment set to some nasty, slicing riffage.
Such lyrical/musical dichotomy doesn’t always work. The gorgeous “Early Riser” is six minutes of intensely beautiful melody, employed to the purpose of a song about … getting up early. The album-closing “Slow Night at the Red Sea” plays loping, “Get Back” drums against some cool guitar effects, but it’s puzzling lines like “The dive bar’s mood strikes me right / It’s got an Ethiopian vibe under a Minnesota sky” that stand out, pushing past the quite effective music for the listener’s attention, to the detriment of the song.
The band is better served by the dynamic “Resurrection Song,” where they employ that time-tested soft-to-loud-to-soft-again thing as well as I’ve heard recently, with the added bonus of silky-smooth harmony vocals throughout. My favorite, though, is “Not Gonna Settle,” which puts those harmonies to a bouncy groove, and features Johnny’s overdriven guitars locked in with Gibson’s liquid electric piano in a manner that almost sounds conversational.
The interplay there is a tribute to the Filligar’s longevity, and, while 11 years is an impressive length of time to hold a band together, there is still room for growth. A healthy musical curiosity and a continued focus on songwriting will keep that growth happening, giving Filligar a strong chance to take their solid rock to even larger audiences.
Thanks to Casey Gibson, for sharing his band’s music with me. Next time, I’ll be covering an HBO producer who moonlights as a singer/songwriter … or maybe vice versa.