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He's a Contender

By Lizz Kannenberg in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 6, 2007 2:41PM

Chicagoist is not easily star struck. We’ve done our fair share of entertainment-biz mingling, and the last time we remember getting that knot-in-stomach, sweaty-palm, motor-mouth anxiety about meeting a “star” was when a third-string catcher for the Milwaukee Brewers visited our 5th grade class to talk about staying off drugs and saying our “pleases” and “thank yous.” Imagine our surprise last March when the old nerves started to jangle at the prospect of meeting Rocky Votolato after his show at Schubas. The soft-spoken Seattle native played only solo electric guitar, occasionally backed by a drummer who barely tickled the kit with brushes while Votolato weaved his way through a different brand of balladry. On 2003’s Suicide Medicine and on 2006’s Makers, he addresses the less familiar by-products of love and life: what happens when "perfection" isn’t what you want and finding happiness only makes you feel emptier.


We were first introduced to Rocky at the end of 2003, when a friend with historically stellar taste included “Every Red Cent” on a year-end compilation. We’ll admit, there’s a certain stigma attached to the one-dude’s-name act — all the worst of the sappy, contrived, watered-down singer-songwriter genre — but the desperation in Votolato’s almost delicate howl instantly set him apart, and the song’s story of psychological anguish, despondency, revenge, and murder made it obvious that this guy was going to make us feel things we didn’t necessarily want to feel.

Suicide Medicine is still one of the most important albums of Chicagoist’s adult life, so it’s really no surprise that we were so nervous to meet the man behind the punkish poetry. Nevertheless, we went for the genuine “thank you” as Votolato stood behind a table selling his own merch after the set, and he accepted our mush with an easy handshake and soft eyes. One gets the impression that as much as the show was for the audience, it’s a cathartic release of real, intense, and painful energy that Votolato needs to survive amidst his own stories.

Rocky Votolato plays at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Abbey Pub. Drag the River opens, and Owen headlines.