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Wednesday, June 25, 2008 05:45 pm

Playing in a Pool of Frogs

Chicago band with strange name plays Marly’s on Friday

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Pool of Frogs opens for NIL8 Friday, June 27, at Marly’s Pub.

No, I’m not morphing into a nature columnist. I just want to tell you about a band known as Pool of Frogs.
The name, the band says, is an allusion to The Frogs, a fourth-century Greek play written by Aristophanes in which the original party god, Dionysus, takes a little trip to Hades while masquerading as the ever-popular Hercules. The chorus, a standard narrative tool in Greek theater, is a pool of frogs — and our band wants you to see them as a modern chorus speaking to the public of contemporary woes. The guys in Pool of Frogs first got together as a unit about a year-and-a-half ago in Greenview, Ill., but had been messing around together a while before that in Chicago, according to Brent Engel, the band’s bassist and a local organic gardener and landscaper. The other members live in Chicago, and so did Engel for a time, but his heart is not in the big-city life and so he commutes once a week by Amtrak to make rehearsal. “Chad [Fess] is from Macomb; Will [Duncan] and Blake [Sloane], I think, are originally from Washington, D.C. — but we all met in Chicago,” says Engel. “Then we got together in Greenview that first time and then gradually decided to become a band.”
In February 2007 the human band with the amphibian name recorded several songs in a Chicago studio and combined them with some others from a previous recording adventure for an 11-song CD. The album is a refreshing dose of realism, given the computer-driven pop currently running rampant, in which anybody can sound like anything with a flip of a switch and the turn of a knob. The songs were recorded live, and they sound like it, thank goodness. The lyrics — written and sung by chief songwriter Fess — are by turn biting, humorous, satirical, silly, and downright in-your-face honest. He possesses a sincere growl that borders on obsessive but manages to hover at edgy, which quite nicely describes the music as well. “Chad writes and they start out as folk songs, then we inject the rock into them,” Engel says. “Lately we’ve been using more material by Blake and getting that Lennon-McCartney thing going.”
The members of the group describe their music as “river punk.” Asked for clarification, Engel says, “It’s a perfect blend between classic rock, punk, and pop, and some of us are from the country and others from the city.”
The band’s big claim to fame is its live show: The promotional materials state, “First and foremost Pool of Frogs is a live band.” Most of their press blurbs focus on aspects of a very active stage performance. If they do half of what is claimed — and there’s no reason to believe that they don’t do that and more — it’s quite a show. “A big part of our sound is the Fender Rhodes [a older-model electric piano] that Blake runs through a guitar gear setup,” Engel says. “Chad runs his acoustic guitar through effects, and that, with the Rhodes, creates our sound.”
Bandmates and friends, they agree on the DIY way of band promotion and politics, from the design and manufacture of their T-shirts, CD covers, Web site, and MySpace page to the planning of tours and recording projects. “We’re looking for a diesel engine bus or van we can convert to run on vegetable oil and started making plans for a three-week tour this fall,” says Engel. “By then we’ll be into our next recording. It’ll be tracked and layered — the anti-first album.”
Aristophanes would be proud of how far these Frogs have come.

Pool of Frogs makes a splash at Marly’s Pub (9 W. Old State Capitol Plaza, 217-522-2280), opening for NIL8 at 10 p.m. Friday, June 27.
Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.
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