Thursday, June 23, 2011

45 RPM Memories - “Empty Room”

Bohemia helped forge Chicago’s punk scene back in the late 1970s, but even within the rebellious atmosphere of that genre, the band never felt obliged to follow all the rules. “Empty Room,” a single taken from Bohemia’s 1981 full-length debut, Deviations, is a good example of that. Written by bass player/artist Zirbel, the slow-moving song has an instrumental intro that creeps along like a spider descending down a wall. Fast Frank’s saxophone playing adds a nocturnal jazz flavor throughout. Like most of Bohemia’s music, “Empty Room” has a sinister quality, with theatrical lyrics that are well-suited to the arrangement.

Nothing is stated explicitly, as lead vocalist-keyboards player Carla Evonne sings of being trapped within the titular space. Claustrophobia quickly sinks in, with lines like, “Looking back, you see the wall behind you start to move a little closer toward you.” There's a hint of vintage Blondie in the haunting melody, and as the song progresses, things get spookier. “And then a hand, this hand, this hand, or are you just imagining?”

The pace is considerably faster on the 45’s B-Side “I Wanna Cigarette,” a funny take on nicotine addiction that was recorded live at the On Broadway club as part of the WXRT Unconcert series. The song’s urgent request is delivered through Carla Evonne’s raw vocals and the attacking guitars of Lee D’Buddah and Fast Frank, while Zirbel’s bass playing provides a powerful undertow. There’s a video on YouTube of Bohemia performing this song at a reunion show at The Cubby Bear in 1991. The visual quality isn’t very good, but you can see the enthusiastic crowd tossing cigs onstage every time Carla Evonne sings the song’s title. I was at that show, but didn’t have any cigarettes to throw.

Sadly, the last I heard, none of Bohemia’s music has ever made it to CD.

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