Dec 062008

In the early ’90s, in Vancouver, a friend dragged me to a show by a band from Chicago called Urge Overkill. Good show, good band, nothing earth shattering. Then a couple years later he sat me down and put on a record called Saturation. We played that thing into the ground. This was a record that was simply not of the times. Urge Overkill didn’t look or sound the same as anyone else. They were inspirational. And they rocked hard.

Now, if you remember Urge Overkill you may be one of those people who had a problem with their image: they rode around in a convertible wearing smoking jackets and drinking martinis. They lived in an old bank with their massive record collection. It rubbed some people the wrong way. But not me. I had seen enough flannel for one lifetime.

The most important thing is this: the songs stood up and they still do today. Pretty much everything on Saturation is a knockout. Supersonic Storybook before it was top notch. Their swan song, the dark, stripped down Exit the Dragon? We didn’t like it at the time, none of us. But guess what? I threw it on the other day and it had aged, to me, like fine wine. Check out “The Break” and “Jaywalking.” It’s time for an Urge revival.


  32 Responses to “Urge Overkill revival. It’s time.”

  1. Mr. Moderator

    It’s personal memory lane day! Sammymaudlin and I went to Northwestern at the same time as Nathan Katruud and, I believe, King Roeser. I’m pretty sure Katruud was a year or two older than me. I was gone from NU by the spring of 1983, and I’m pretty sure U/O had already released its first, independently pressed ep by that time. Do you recall, Sammy? Wikipedia has them meeting at NU in 1985. Anyhow, I came across that guy a few times at parties. He was a friend of a friend of mine. The same friend was also friends with Steve Albini, who was also there, a couple of years ahead of me. Albini was amazing – he already had his schtick down pat, and it was really entertaining. He was also nice enough, if you said Hi to him or wanted to compliment him on his latest radio show or column for the school paper. Katruud was very early in his development (and I was even earlier in my own development as well, to be fair). He sported a bad, ’80s Bowie Look back then. Maybe he did not yet have his band. I know Albini put out his first ep when I was out there. Regardless, I didn’t like Katruud back then. Another friend, who’s a complete asshole, when he wants to be, used to cut up on him. I would stand by and laugh in approval, so I’m not that nice either. Anyhow, I was shocked when they showed up to record in Philly and then surfaced as this successful, rockin’ power pop band in ’70s clothes. Shocked and jealous! Some of my friends and I had been doing the ’70s Look for years. Their Look was a blast. Their sound was pretty good. More power to them! I am surprised to see that they’re back together in some form. Hope they’re enjoying their time back together.

  2. trolleyvox

    Pretty much everything on Saturation is a knockout.

    That record never did a thing for me. UO are a band that has only one good song, but no one can agree on what song that is. For me, that song is off their earlier ep Stull, the tune “(Now That’s The) Barclords. Great vocal snarl, cool riffs, great production, crazed Jody Stephens-esque almost-falling- apart-but-not-quite drumming, fantastic outtro.

  3. I’ll go with the obvious: Sister Havana. That’s got everything I need in a rock song. I don’t think any of the rest of that album came close to SH. A roommate of mine had the previous album but apparently I didn’t spend enough time with it because nothing stands out.

    I think that Enter the Dragon was recorded in Conshohocken, by the way.

    Indisputably cool look and excellent logo.

  4. The last song on the record, “Heaven 90210” is my favorite.

  5. sammymaudlin

    I’ve got a personal beef with Katruud that prevents me from objectivity.

    He was at a party at my frat at NU (Mod was probably there. Awful all-white reggae band played called Skanking Lizard). Anyhoo…my girlfriend (now best friend and spouse) was up for the weekend and Mr. Katruud was putting the munch on her big time. He asked her to dance while she was dancing with me.

    Then, after she turned him down, he sidles up to her at the bar and starts chatting away while I’m right next to her.

    Well, I wasn’t going to take that! No way. I did what any man (of my stature) would do. I asked my biggest and craziest friend there to give him shit.

    I’ll call him “Scott” because that was his name. Scott walks up to him, sees that he’s smoking, and asks for a cigarette. When Katruud reaches for his pack, Scott points to the one his mouth and says “I want that one.”

    He hands it over and quickly shuffles out the door.

    I’m not sure who comes off worst in the story, him or me.

    Although, I did get the girl!

  6. I second “Heaven 90210” northvancoveman!

    I still own “Saturation” and “Exit the Dragon” and still love them.

    They toured here just recently. Not of their heyday, but still damm fine.

    I reckon these albums will be the lost classic of tomorrow. Albums that the kids will unearth and think of as cool thirty plus years after their release.


  7. saturnismine

    what is this, early 90s day on rth?

    i did their sound almost every time they played the khyber in the early 90s. and with each return to the venue, they became bigger snots. so i’m not a fair listener either.

    but my reaction was always “meh” except for supersonic storybook.

    their cover of emmaline was magical. and the originals almost sounded as good (“vacation in tokyo” and “the candidate” were the most pleasurable of the lot for me).

  8. This is unreal. In any other social situation I would have to preface an introduction of Urge Overkill with an explanation of where they were from, when they were around, how they were different, why they were great and hope that the person I was talking to knew their Neil Diamond cover in Pulp Fiction.

    But not Rock Town Hall. So far we have two guys that went to college with them, a guy whose wife got hit on by the lead singer, and a guy who did sound for their shows. RTH is the home of informed Rock opinions!

  9. Wasn’t there a point when UO was being sold as The New Cheap Trick? I listened to Saturation a few times back then and saw the comparison without thinking that the band was either an imitation Cheap Trick or, unfortunately, anywhere near as good. But that was quite a few years back now.

  10. 2000 Man

    I think I’m with cdm. Sister Havana may be the obvious one, but that’s a swell song.

    Everything else I ever heard by them more than pales in comparison. It’s funny that apparently those of us that don’t know U/O are in the minority here.

    I really like Sister Havana, though. That’s a super kickass song.

  11. Third on “Heaven 90210.” I should see if that’s Little Hits-eligible, now that I think of it.

  12. saturnismine

    watching this video reminds me of my reaction to it when it came out:

    this is when they began to pose like rock stars with less and less irony.

    i also felt like this video so effectively encapsulated all of the things they had been building into their image — the martini glasses, the smoking jackets, the *lifestyle* — over the course of three minutes, that there was nothing left for them.

  13. make that 3 of us who went to school with that tool, nate katruud. on sidewalks all over campus he would spray paint a stencil with the word ‘urge,’ below which was a line, below which was the word ‘kill’ (get it?).

    in the mid-80s mod & sammy’s frat hosted shows by meat puppets, roger miller of mission of burma, game theory (scott miller), die kreuzen, and nixon’s head (mod), and nate came to my room to lobby for an urge overkill show – i sent him packing. in 20+ years of booking shows, he’s the only guy i’ve ever had come back to retrieve his demo tape.

    c’mon, guys. urge overkill was/is a godawful band!

  14. Mr. Moderator

    Oh man, that stencil sounds familiar! Bruinskip – we’ll have to catch up. I don’t think I know your offlist identity. Did we know each other way back when?

  15. Mr. Moderator

    Bruinskip, is that “Bruin” the UCLA type? Were you the only person at school I ever met who owned a Gold Record, if memory serves?

  16. sure, we knew each other. brothers in the bonds and all that…

    we saw my bosox beat your world champion phils at citizens bank this past june.

  17. Mr. Moderator

    I’ve got you now, Bruinskip. Duh! I started to overthink this, remembering another NU guy named Skippy, who was from LA and was a nephew or something to Terry Melcher. He had a gold record in his dorm room for some Byrds album his uncle had worked on.

    I’ve got to go back in the archives and remember if I ever posted your ? and the Mysterions video. I know I saved it, but now I can’t remember if I built a post around it.

    I waiting for Katruud to chime in on this thread:)

  18. So we have pretty much settled it that Nathan is/was an upwardly mobile asshole. Has anyone met Eddie “King” Roeser? I like his stuff at least as much as Nash’s.

  19. Count me in as not impressed. Living in Chicagoland from 90-98, I heard more than enough UO. They were all look and little substance. They were a cartoon, just like another Chicago band from the same period, The Cocktails – who had a great graphic identidy like a legendary philly band The Fad

  20. yeah, nate seems like the kind of guy who googles his own name twice a day to see if anyone remembers him.

    i had a king roeser sighting a few years ago near the matchbox in chicago. he was getting into the same early model car i was driving at the time (’91 integra), and i thought, ‘boy, someone didn’t invest their rock riches very wisely.’

    my favorite memory of u/o was ‘the stalker,’ a ’90s hate zine dedicated to mocking the band. the girls behind the zine used to go to urge shows and bars they frequented just to openly ridicule them. one would even wear a horse costume to call attention to nate’s equine face. good times.

  21. I liked a few tracks off each album, but their attempt to go grunge on Saturation was a really bad idea.

    The murky production on the earlier records gave the impression that there was more than I was hearing; Saturation proved once and for all that was not the case. And “Sister Havana” really got on my nerves–it was a tuneless piece of crap.

  22. the coctails (no ‘k’) were a great chicago band, unlike urge. sure, they were both big on packaging, but the coctails had plenty of musical substance to back up their shtick. from raymond scott covers to klezmer, avant jazz, and garage rock originals, the coctails were sonic adventurers. plus they passed out free popcorn in silk-screened ‘coctails popcorn’ boxes (later bags) before every show.

    though they broke up in 1995, they’ve performed a handful of reunion shows since, most recently at the hideout this past september to celebrate the 16th birthday of carrot top records.

  23. Hey Great 48, what is “Little Hits”?

  24. UO – my memory is hazy but when we recorded our last studio album at Sigma and then mastered it at the version of Studio 4 up in Conshohoken, they were recording up there in Studio 4 with one of the “Butcher Brothers” producing. I remember being in the makeshift mastering room and Nash or someone coming in and rounding up everyone in the building for some “gang” vocals or handclaps or something…so I think Joe and I are on some record somewhere. This would be 1995-ish. I think earlier in our touring life we played a fest out in SF with them on the bill. I was never too impressed with them…

  25. Northvancoveman: look over to the left column, about halfway through the blogroll under RTH Approved Links. Little Hits is an mp3 blog that I guest edit, although it still belongs to its largely-absent owner. Tvox does the occasional Little Hits post as well.

  26. BigSteve

    Wait, are you guys trying to tell me that the Urge guys were ambitious to the point of being pushy and obnoxious? Next thing you’ll be telling me that ironically embracing rock star excess can come back to bite you in the ass and leave your personal life and professional career in tatters.

    I went back and listened this past weekend to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. I liked UO’s records. I probably discovered those videos on 120 Minutes, and even now I find about half of Saturation sharp and motorvating. The conventional hipster wisdom back then was that their indie label records were better, but I don’t hear it. They sound to me like they hadn’t quite figured out what they were doing yet, and I appreciated the more professional sound on Saturation.

    I remember being one of the few people that liked Exit the Dragon. Listening to it yesterday, I found it a little messy, but not in a bad way. Whatever drug and personal problems may have happened then, I think they were victims of unrealistic expectations, and maybe not just from Geffen. They were hardly alone in this during the post-Nevermind era. I always ignored the image stuff. I just like the records.

    I even bought that later Nash Kato solo album. It was fine, but lacked a certain spark. I read that the two UO principals were back together again, but that ‘Blackie Onassis’ thought better of returning to the old ways, which is too bad, because I thought he was an excellent drummer.

    I never heard them live, but I’m not surprised they did not impress as a trio. Or did they tour with an Oliver?

  27. Mr. Moderator

    Little Hits is well worth checking out, Townspeople, if you haven’t done so! Like The Great 48 said, it can be linked to from here.

  28. saturnismine

    BigSteve wrote: “The conventional hipster wisdom back then was that their indie label records were better, but I don’t hear it. They sound to me like they hadn’t quite figured out what they were doing yet, and I appreciated the more professional sound on Saturation.”

    I prefer Supersonic Storybook because in its writing, production, and execution, it bridges the early and the late periods pretty well. it maintains some of sense of invention, looseness, and excitement in the former, while approaching the competence of the latter.

    In general, to my ears, the later stuff may be more professional sounding, but it’s also less interesting as a result. With the writing, I know where it’s going. Sonically, nothing jumps out at me. It bores me.

    The early stuff is a relatively adventurous listen.

    This is an old RTH debate, though, where you and I fall on opposite sides of the raw vs. polished line.

    And I’d rather not hash it out again over a band whose material from ANY phase doesn’t thrill me all that much.

  29. BigSteve

    Do I really always come down for polished instead of raw? I had no idea.

  30. Mr. Moderator

    Yeah, when you were in Philly a couple of years ago, BigSteve, you were the only Townsperson to order white rice. Everyone else ate brown except for Dr. John: he ordered barley.

  31. saturnismine

    I remember that, mod. I was all like, “man…Steve is so *polished* he’s ordering white rice!!”

    seriously, though, I was thinking of our discussion of vinyl vs. cd’s, and old fi vs. new fi. i may be recalling it incorrectly, but you seemed rather in favor of things sounding pristine and clean. i heard echos of that tendency in your preference for UO’s late period stuff.

    i’m probably getting this all wrong. after all, that fogerty stuff you just posted is pret-ty danged raw.

    just go back to your white rice, wouldja?

    i’m trying to grade BAD STUDENT WRITING over here.

  32. BigSteve

    Actually when it comes to rice, I’m a brown rice guy all the way. But I admit I don’t like it raw.

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