Boogie-Woogie Rumble With The Safes

Recently I had the pleasure of seeing The Safes in concert and let me tell you, they put on an insane show. There were all of 15 people in the club but it didn’t matter. They played with more energy than many bands I’ve seen playing larger full houses. If they come to a town near you…run, don’t walk, to the club and check em’ out.

The Safes are the O’Malley brothers from Chicago, IL. Namely Frankie O’Malley on drums/guitars/vox, Michael O’Malley on bass/vox and Patrick O’Malley on drums/guitars/vox. Kinda like the Ramones except they are really brothers.

Photo Credit – Marzena Abrahamik

So the brothers O’Malley really tear shit up on stage. Patrick and Frankie take turns manning the sticks. Now, flashy guitar pyrotechnics usually rub me the wrong way but Frankie is one hot-shit guitarist let me tell ya. No doubt.

Frankie wrote all of the songs on the first Safes Album Family Jewels. The album is more nuanced than the live experience. Musically, it covers a petty wide area from the Brian Jonestown Massacre-ish “Do You Apply” to the beat jazz of “F.D.J.” to the 1950′s style crooning of “Memory Lane”. It’s an amazingly good first album

The next release is Boogie Woogie Rumble, a 5 Song EP on St Louis’ own Pro-Vell Records. It was recorded at Jim Diamond’s Ghetto Recorders in Detroit and definitely is the most “punk rock” release by The Safes. It also sounds the most like the live experience with each song just hammering you, one after the other. All the songs were written by Michael and Frankie on this one, and Michael handles most of the vocals.

The latest release by The Safes is Well Well Well from 2006 and it is another winner. It sees them sort of polishing everything they have done up to this point. Hooks galore. It was produced by Patrick who I believe wrote a lot of the tracks as well. It’s on this album where I finally hear the oft-mentioned Cheap Trick comparison. Like Cheap Trick, The Safes are from Chicago. They both balance BIG power-pop hooks with punk drive. They both do it with a relatively effortless polish.

The Cheap Trick comparison downplays the Irish element of the band, though. As another Midwestern kid that grew up in an Irish-American family, I can tell you that you can hear it in these guys. The earnest need to hammer you with hooks. Fuck, just listen to one of the Bloodstains Across Ireland comps and then listen to The Safes, and tell me you don’t hear a similarity.

So yeah…I have read a lot of different reviews of The Safes and one band that I haven’t seen mentioned yet that they do remind me of is The Undertones. There are definite similarities between the two full length Safes albums and the amazing second Undertones album, Hypnotised. In both instances, you get the impression that these respective bands are about to burst out of the limits of punk rock. Unfortunately, in The Undertones case this meant embracing Feargal’s neo-soul pretensions. A tragic end to one of my all-time favourite bands.

So it begs the question, what are the Safes gonna do next? I look forward to finding out.

This entry was posted in Midwest, Punk Rock, Saint Louis, indie, power pop. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Boogie-Woogie Rumble With The Safes

  1. buy levitra says:

    Hey Matt! — I have indeed heard Get What You Need and I think its excellent. I was unable to post a St Pats podcast this year as intended. For the terrible details, see here:

    http://www.lastdaysofmanonearth.com/blog/?p=107

    Anyhoo, I closed out this aborted podcast with my all-time favorite single EVER which is Jimmy Jimmy / Mars Bar. The combination of the Ramones style riffage with Feargal’s Irish tenor is about as perfect as it gets. I’m a big fan.

    I have yet to see them live since they reformed but I did get a chance to see The Story of the Undertones at the Irish Film Festival in Boston and was perfectly happy with Feargal’s replacement Paul McLoone. I look forward to hopefully seeing them soon.

    I think you are right that I made a generalization about thier last two albums The neo-soul stuff didn’t really start developing until Sin of Pride. You’re right that Positive Touch is a good album and it has some great tunes on it like It’s Going To Happen. It certainly is more of a 60′s type album…a road they started on with I believe with the Wednesday Week 7inch.

    I still do believe that Feargal was the member of the band with commercial pop/soul pretensions though. After the band broke up the O’Neil Brothers formed Petrol Emotion which was a rockin’ little group. Feargal released his first (bad) solo album. There is clearly a creative tension within the band in
    The Story of the Undertones climaxing in the great scene at the end with an agitated Feargal trying to croon while John O’Neil does some guitar skronk.

    So..I think the first two albums constitute the work of a band while the latter work maybe is more dominated by Feargall’s increasingly commercial pretensions.

    Anyway, all of this is personal opinion. Taste is inherently subjective. Its good to know another Undertones fan. My favorite album is Hypnotised largely becasue I spent the first 25 years of my life burning out the first album.

  2. buy levitra says:

    I agree with vast majority of your comments, Joe. Likewise, it’s also nice to hear from another Undertones fan. In fact, I just listened to Hypnotised a few times last week and boy is it great. In general, I think their catalog has held up really, really well. I also agree that the ’60s-ish direction of Positive Touch started with “Wednesday Week” (also the name of a great Elvis Costello song), which incidentally is the first Undertones song that the O’Neills’ mom liked, IIRC. “It’s Going to Happen” reminds me a lot of Squeeze. And again, you’re right that there was musical as well as personal tension in the band during the last few albums. That’s why they generally dislike those albums and play very little from Positive Touch (and nothing from The Sin of Pride) in their setlist today. Also, I think the stuff from the 1st 2 albums works better live as it’s higher energy, more singalongs, etc.

    Anyway, if you ever get a chance to see them play, go! During their last few U.S. tours, they’ve only played a few select cities on both coasts, so it’s unlikely that they’ll hit Louisville (esp. since most of them can only tour for a few weeks at a time since they have jobs, kids, spouses, etc.), but you never know. I was fortunate in that I was living in the New York City area during their last few tours. Now I live in Philadelphia. I hope they’ll play here, but I’m OK with travelling to either New York or DC if they don’t.

  3. buy levitra says:

    Yeah, The Safes are great– here’s another YouTube video of them to check out– a high-quality live video of them as a four-piece, from “Lo Fi Saint Louis”– which gives a pretty good idea of what they’re like live…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjsfBB_WM54

  4. buy levitra says:

    Funny…that you are referring me to a Lo-Fi Saint Louis link. I shoulda known it would be on there!

  5. matthew says:

    As a huge Undertones fan, I have to take issue with your statement that they declined due to Feargal’s neo-soul pretensions. In the last few years of the band’s initial run, there was unmistakable tension (both personal and musical) between Feargal and the rest of the band, but I can tell you, for instance, that John O’Neill was quoted as saying that Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? was one of his favorite albums before the release of The Sin of Pride (their stab at neo-soul and IMO a damn good one though I know many fans disagree). Furthermore, “Soul Seven” (on that same maligned final album) is Billy Doherty’s favorite Undertones song and they almost ended up playing it on their last U.S. tour as a result.

    Furthermore, it would take them a few years between Hypnotised (a great album indeed) and their last album to record anything resembling “neo-soul”. Positive Touch, in addition to being my favorite Undertones album, has way more in common with mid to late ’60s Stones and U.S. west coast stuff like Love, etc. than it does with soul, neo or otherwise.

    Out of curiousity, have you ever heard their comeback album Get What You Need? It’s absolutely fabulous and recalls their 1st 2 albums much more than their last couple. If you avoided it because they have a new singer, give it a chance. They have a new one coming out soon, too. Some demos are up on their MySpace page.

  6. Mark says:

    I always told them they reminded me of Paul Collins Beat.

    They are also some of the nicest guys you will ever meet. They put me up for Thanksgiving a couple of years ago when I happened to be in Chicago.

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