Though bands such as Big Black, Naked Raygun, Pegboy and the Effigies all pursued radically distinctive paths during the indie heyday of the mid-'80s, to the extent that there ever was a "Chicago punk sound," its common denominators were relentless rhythms, churning, in-your-face guitars and a ferocity that always was leavened by a hefty heap of sing-along melodies. This formula never grows old or seems derivative in the right hands, and after likeminded locals Shot Baker, Anxiety High is its most promising purveyor on the current scene.
Though the quintet only came together in 2008, its members bear the pedigrees of several familiar groups: Guitarists Knife Jones and "Fish" Vogel were members of White City Black, and drummer Ken Wallin and bassist Aaron Cleall were the rhythm section of Land of the El Caminos (recently reactivated after a long hiatus). Looming largest of all, however, is Jim Nagrant, abandoning the drums he hammered with Phistine Verona to distinguish himself as the burliest, most unlikely but ultimately most endearing front man this side of Pegboy's Larry Damore.
The group's buzz has been building since a head-turning appearance at last year's Riot Fest, and songs such as "Sober," "The Mechanic" and "Fight" illustrate why as they roar via streaming audio from the band's Web site (http://www.myspace.com/anxietyhigh). But Anxiety High is best appreciated live, and after a bout of touring in the South (smart move, leaving winter behind), it next takes the stage at home on March 4 at the Rockbox, 2624 N. Lincoln.