Steeled nerves and empty bowels are recommended when attending a Fake Limbs show, where confrontational frontman Stephen Sowley can easily scare the shit out of the unwitting. In-your-face aggression is the Chicago foursome’s stock in trade, and that’s never more evident than when the imposing singer—a black ski mask pulled over his head—charges into the crowd and obliterates that comfy boundary between the audience and performer known as “personal space.”
Uncomfortable as it may sound, it’s all spectacle. Sowley’s over-the-top ferocity and warpath vocals are really a sly wink at masculine bluster, which the band does its best to mock on Man Feelings, its debut for local label BLVD Records. The LP is a case study in how to make relatively tame subject matter sound menacing as Sowley rages about the indecency of Internet trolls, frat guy machismo and workplace gripes, all without sounding whiny.
The influence of the Jesus Lizard looms large over Fake Limbs, and Sowley’s unhinged yelps and deep-seated David Yow–isms often seem like outright tribute, but the foursome owes nearly as much to tongue-in-cheek pummelers like Rye Coalition. Guitarist Bryan Gleason breaks glammy, blues-rock riffs into angular shards, while bassist Mat Biscan and drummer Nick Smalkowski, the former rhythm section for Builder/Destroyer, heave back and forth between lumbering ’70s hard-rock grooves and jagged noise-punk. It’s mostly, if not all, bravado, but in that sense the band is simply carrying the pigfuck tradition forward.