The teens of High Street know how to rock a crowd

Members of a blues-rock quintet from Chicago’s North Shore aim to make the city all theirs—by age 15.

The tacky floor of Subterranean isn’t accustomed to the pricey pumps currently adhering to it. But on this Thursday night in August, the Wicker Park rock venue is chockablock with eager North Shore parents and teens. Playing its first Chicago club date is High Street, a rock outfit comprised mostly of high-school sophomores and instrumentally fronted by an eighth-grader.

If this sounds merely like an exercise in supportive parenting, think again. Even buried in a murky mix from the Subterranean soundboard, lead guitarist Erik Findling’s scalding fretwork on High Street original “Nocturnal” makes it difficult to remember he’s not old enough to have driven himself here from Winnetka.

The Findling home, or more specifically its attic, is the center of High Street’s genesis. “I wanted [Erik’s older brother] Kurt to be more than an athlete, so I put him behind a drum kit at seven years old,” father and band manager David Findling tells us by phone. “Within a few months, Erik asked ‘Well, what am I going to play?’ ”

After the brothers studied music for three years, friends began showing up for jam sessions in the family’s attic, but they initially lacked a key ingredient. “Once Jenny Thompson showed up and started singing, it was like, ‘Now you guys can actually have a band!’ ” Findling recalls.

Still, it’s not High Street’s musical chops but its chosen genre that sets the band apart. While classmates had the saccharine strains of Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers pumping through their headphones, these kids immersed themselves in Led Zeppelin, Guns N’ Roses and Rush. With two EPs of original material in the can, 2011’s Out of the Attic and 2012’s Nocturnal, High Street makes no apologies for its blues and rock evangelism.

“If we all listened to only pop and rap music, High Street might not be together because that’s not where our talents are,” Erik says of the group, rounded out by rhythm guitarist Billy Hennessy and bassist Jimmy Friedman. “When I’m playing guitar, I try to copy my idols. Mainly Slash.”

Kenilworth resident Thompson explains that rock’s storytelling aspect is a magnetic draw. “With rock music, it hits me more [than Top 40 pop],” she says. “I feel like I get inside the song, rather than just listening to it.”

High Street’s collaborative songwriting process leans heavily on autobiography. With lyrics like “The lighthouse sends her signal bright / And Buddy’s blues start late tonight / Division is my starting line,” songs like “City’s All Mine” earnestly collect downtown escapades, breakups and cautionary tales of wasted youth atop muscular grooves and downright killer guitar riffs.

Having appeared at Soldier Field for a 2010 Autism Speaks event and at the 2011 Muskegon Summer Celebration festival (ahead of ’80s hair band Cinderella), High Street’s career is accelerating. A video for “City’s All Mine”—shot at Water Tower Place during the apocalyptic downpour that evacuated Lollapalooza in August—was released September 1, the day after the band played a Friday-night gig at Six Flags Great America.

Back at Subterranean, High Street brings its set to a close with one of the group’s favorite covers, GnR’s “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” Erik has traded his Van Halen Strat for Slash’s ax of choice, a sunburst Gibson Les Paul. With eyes shut and head bowed, Erik unleashes the ubiquitous solo on the hollering fans.

The band still has room to improve, of course (we could do without the literal-to-lyrics hand gestures). What remains clear is that High Street has no shortage of potential. They know how to rock a crowd. These promising teens are ones to watch.

High Street plays November 1 at Hard Rock Café’s After Dark series. See Calendar or visit highstreetrocks.com.

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