Model rockers

Sheila Burt

If you ask fans of Mannequin Men what the Chicago punk quartet sounds like, they may tell you it’s like hearing your girlfriend screw them in your parents’ bed. At least that’s what one fan told the band after a show. The description has stuck so much that it is now posted on the band’s MySpace.com profile.

“That was a little bit of a joke,” lead singer Kevin Richard says, laughing. “The people that like us are kind of funny. We had to put it up there to honor that young man.”

Formed two years ago, Mannequin Men (named after two different songs by bands Wire and Channel 3) follow in the tradition of several post-punk bands, fusing stripped down, high-energy song structures with snarling lyrics. It looks to bands such as Wire, the Wipers and Television Personalities for inspiration.

After being Chicago-scene regulars, the band is throwing a release party in honor of their first LP, Showbiz Witch (Swamp Angel), tonight at the Dark Room, 2210 Chicago W. Ave., with Watchers.

The quartet features vocalist/guitarist Richard, 23; guitarist Ethan D’Ercole, 30; bassist and vocalist Rick Berger (affectionally called “Booger” by the band), 25; and drummer Seth Bohn, 24.

Bohn and Richard started playing as a duo when they both lived in Lincoln Square, and then added D’Ercole and Berger to the lineup.

“We had reached point where we were listening to our stuff and digging into it more, which was weirder and kind of nice,” Richard says. “We didn’t have to feel like a total loser and out of the loop. Somehow, we found two other people who were into the same other thing.”

The band used a DIY approach by recording its first album in Bohn’s loft and employing a friend as an engineer. While recording in the loft, Richard says the band was inspired to convey its natural sound and vigor.

“We recorded the whole thing live,which was kind of cool so there’s no overdubs on record,” he says. “It’s got a cool room sound to it. The room definitely dictated the record to us rather than the other way around.”

He says some of the live energy Mannequin Men wants to convey is also a reaction to some industry pressures that say “bands can’t play as bands anymore. They can operate as an identity but can’t go out.”

The band also transfers this energy – and its sense of humor – to its live shows.

At a recent Halloween show, the band dressed up as the Velvet Underground and played only covers. Mannequin Men also used to be regulars at the music club Subterranean, 2011 W. North St., until the band was thrown out for playing too long after “a few too many drinks,” Richard jokes.

“We’re fun,” Richard says. “I miss going to (shows) when I was a kid and seeing a band totally just be like fight or flight. They’d go for it.”

To pay the bills, Richard continues to work as a store manager at the Lincoln Park locaion of Hi Fi Records, 2568 Clark St., where D’Ercole also works. But like many aspiring artists, he says he’s hoping to make Mannequin Men his full-time gig. The group is planning a late winter or early spring tour across the west and east coasts.

“I think (Mannequin Men is) just different because it’s not calculated, it’s a way more natural kind of thing,” Richard says of the band’s chemistry. “I don’t have to push as hard. No one pushes or pulls in the band and we just move along with one another. I’m not saying it’s genre-binding, but everyone is on the same wavelength.”

Mannequin Men’s release party begins at 10 p.m. Tickets are available at the door and cost $5, or as Richard says, “cheap, so we can sell the record.”4

Medill senior Sheila Burt is a PLAY writer. She can be reached at [email protected]