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CHEAP GRILLS BRINGS MIDWEST PUNK TO MEDFORD

By : Georgia Moore

8 min read



In the era of algorithm-devised music curation, it’s rare to find something so entirely out of your sonic comfort zone. I discovered Sincere Engineer by chance, combing through multiple layers of friends’ of friends’ playlist (contemporary crate digging, I imagine), and found tracks so nostalgically familiar I couldn’t be sure if they weren’t a greatest hits compilation. The soothing rhyme of the group’s name draws a shocking contrast to the breakneck pace and searing vocals of front-woman Deanna Belos, and pretty soon I was hooked. Described by Norm MacDonald as “raw, lonely punk” with a penchant for corn dog motifs, the Chicago band’s arrival in Medford, MA on their Cheap Grills tour felt a little like coming home in the ambiance of Deep Cuts, where the smell of the venue’s iconic sandwiches always hangs slightly in the air.


The Cheap Grills trifecta also includes Cliffdiver out of Tusla, OK, and fellow Chicago punk group Canadian Rifle. The latter started out the show with a tight set of straight up punk rock and roll. The theme of the night was gratitude, as Canadian Rifle and the other groups all shouted out the dedication of sweaty, flailing fans who never stopped singing along to every word. Tracks like “Peaceful Death” set the tone for the show with uncompromising lyrics that are evenly matched by the roar of the steadily growing crowd.



Next up was Cliffdiver, somehow bringing the energy even higher with a collective of seven members, each giving their all to guitar, drums, sax, and vocals—sometimes more than one. Co-lead vocalist Briana Wright is a standout, but each member puts their own flair on the performance, at any moment jumping off the stage, circling up for a mosh pit, or directing the room in two halves for a wall of death. Songs erupt into screamo interludes or reggae dance breaks with ease, coming back to the band’s unflinchingly optimistic punk ethos. “Who Let the Hawgz Out” and “Super Saiyan Al Pacino” are highlights, with these and other tracks dealing with the various struggles of addiction and overcoming low self-esteem. Co-vocalist Joey Duffy shouts out the crowd for supporting the group as a band of working 30-something touring musicians, met with thunderous applause. Cliffdiver is not just a band that makes the audience feel good, but feel good about themselves, sharing their message of self-acceptance and the ability to build meaning out of life and art.


Headliner Sincere Engineer closes the show, settling right in with banter so natural you’d think it was a group of hometown heroes returning after a sprawling quest. By the time they took the stage any remaining floor space had been filled out, which lead vocalist and guitarist Belos made a note of, sharing that Deep Cuts was the first sold-out show for the band outside of Chicago. “Any questions?” She asked earnestly between songs. Sometimes there were, though typically the yelling-back-and-forth conversation style of performer and audience devolved into some old timers sharing facts about the band’s radio play or debates on the designation of Medford as “Boston” using their Midwestern equivalents.




But Sincere Engineer doesn’t just succeed in putting the room at ease, they also deliver a hell of a show. Starting off strong with the “Corn Dog Sonnet #7,” once the music starts the crowd never stops moving, carried by the inertia of good, clean punk-emo. “Anemia,” “California King,” and “Shattering” are all personal favorites, and fans respond in turn to the full-bodied scream of Belos’ vocals. Ripping riffs sound off of the brick in Deep Cuts, making the still-new venue feel as warm and worn-in as the classical evocations of the band’s spin on the genre. Though “emo” doesn’t exactly bring to mind a hopeful outlook, it’s undeniable from the energy of the room that Sincere Engineer is feel-good music. There’s never a moment where there isn’t a smile on the faces of the band, or their companions, or the surrounding mass of diehard fans throwing elbows with abandon. Cheap Grills is a tour I’m glad I caught on to when I did, but Sincere Engineer, Cliffdiver, and Canadian Rifle will be coming back around in no time.


—Georgia Moore





Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #163 November 2023

 

Check out all the art and columns of November's Boston Compass at www.issuu.com/bostoncccompass



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