The Orwells

Two days of garage-rock chaos in America’s Deep South with the Chicago band

Jenn Five/NME
Photo: Jenn Five/NME
  • Record Label National Anthem
10 / 10
“Where are your fucking parents?” yells a strip-club bouncer in the direction of an oblivious Mario Cuomo as The Orwells’ frontman staggers down New Orleans’ boulevard of broken dreams and damaged livers, Bourbon Street. “They shouldn’t let you out if you can’t dress!” The swerving singer is wearing a too-tight, belly-flashing ladies’ blouse – a new addition to his wardrobe that he’s just traded with a flirtatious fan for the baggy Blackhawks jersey he wore onstage earlier at One Eyed Jacks. Suburban Chicago band The Orwells have played the bordello-like burlesque club situated bang in the middle of the picturesque French Quarter before. They’re big fans of the venue, mainly because they turn a blind eye to the fact that none of the band can legally drink in the US.

At 20, Mario is the oldest, with the other four averaging between 18 and 19. The legal drinking age in the States might be 21, but today they’ve been guzzling lager since 3pm. When we meet in the sweaty mirrored room behind the stage, Mario sinks a cheap beer and grins at his reflection. “If you drink in front of a mirror, you’re never drinking alone,” he reasons. Currently supporting fellow fans of budget booze, LA skate-rats Fidlar, The Orwells are currently two and a half weeks into a six-week, 27-show stint on the road. The best new live band in America are in sticky Louisiana to make the Dirty South even dirtier.

“Good evening, we are The Orwells from Cleveland, Ohio,” lies guitarist Matt O’Keefe, a sardonic foil to the wayward Mario. The frontman tosses his mane of dirty blond curls and then spends the next 45 minutes straddling the line between satanic and cherubic, howling the goodtime garage of ‘Other Voices’ into the smoky venue. A squirmy pit breaks out down the front, and Mario pulls a Jekyll-and-Hyde move for ‘In My Bed’, calling and responding to his own lyrics in two voices, the first gruff, the second even gruffer. He works a classic juxtaposition of bratty punk and 1950s drive-in doo-wop, as finessed by the Ramones, and instead of singing about taking girls to the homecoming dance, Mario barks about choking on his vomit and taking off his pants. The set finishes with a cover of The Stooges’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ that’s even meaner than the original.

The following day the hungover band pile into the tour van for a drive northwest to
Baton Rogue. Guitarist Dominic Corso calls shotgun and blasts out Beatles rarities. “I have the German version of ‘She Loves You’,” he says. “Dude, ain’t nobody wants to hear the German version of ‘She Loves You’. You’re putting me in a Beatles coma right now!” argues Mario as the band make a Walmart stop-off so their tour manager can pick up a case of beer, just in case the underage gang can’t wangle any from the venue that night. A weed pipe is passed around.

Baton Rogue’s Spanish Moon is the kind of swampy backwoods bar Tom Waits writes songs about. The evening’s crowd turnout is low – not that The Orwells give a shit. In fact they use it as an excuse to go even more haywire than usual. “We are The Orwells, and we are from Ontario, Canada,” opens Matt, to roughly 17 local punk kids. Soon enough Mario is twerking against Matt’s face and straddling bassist Grant Brinner. He then opts to sing the entirety of their best song, the outrageously catchy ‘Dirty Sheets’, with his face and body pressed up against the wall, his hands groping the bricks. “We’ll be fucking every single one of you in the parking lot after,” finishes Matt. Before such debauchery can take place, Mario takes care of himself, falling to his back and plunging his hand down his trousers and having a sensual rummage. Throwing caution to the Louisiana wind, they add a couple of choruses of ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ as Dom tops up his cup from a hip flask. Other ragged covers of their favourite tracks materialise, including The Replacements’ ‘If Only You Were Lonely’, led by superfan Matt.

Mario has only just begun his Iggy Pop-worthy display. He pulls the waistband of his jeans forward and pours an entire bottle of water into his pants. He then moons the crowd and jumps offstage, bare-arsed, swaggering away with his Chicago Bulls vest only just covering what’s left of his modesty. It’s not the last we’ve seen of The Orwells.

During Fidlar’s headline set, frontman Zac Carper gives the band – who are all dancing – a shoutout. “Its been really fun touring with these kids,” he smiles. “Kids?!” yells an affronted Dominic. “Yeah, man, you’re 18!” laughs Zac, before Fidlar bassist Brandon Schwartzel looks over to the bartender and fibs a cautionary: “They’re all 21!” Dominic then gets up to sing the finale of ‘Wake Bake Skate’. Whacking the mic against Fidlar’s cymbal, he’s joined by Grant and drummer Henry Brinner, who jumps on his brother’s back, starting a huge double-band bundle. It’s total fucking chaos.

Leonie Cooper

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