Words & Photos: Alex Wood
When I first saw Troubled Hubble live more than 11 years ago, they possessed all of the energy that a rock ‘n roll band could ever have, quickly coming to represent the role that ‘fun’ can have in rock music.
I remember like yesterday the band jumping around on a stage covered with Christmas lights, throwing a bag full of beach balls into the crowd, wearing presidential masks for a song and forming a conga line with the entire audience during an encore.
After breaking up ten years ago, Troubled Hubble reunited for a handful of tour dates, debuting at the Subterranean on Saturday.
The question was inevitable: Could the band still pack the same punch?
An anxious air existed throughout the sold-out audience, everyone in the crowded space seeming to wonder the same thing. Local openers Truman & His Trophy and Inspector Owl were both heavily influenced by Troubled Hubble, and hyped the band throughout their sets, adding suspense to the eventual reunion.
Troubled Hubble took the stage to a roaring applause, their drums and amplifiers strung with Christmas lights, as always.
The band got off to a worrisome, shaky start with “14,000 Things To Be Happy About,” the sound slightly off and band seeming to adjust nervously to their first public performance. By the end of the song, all issues were fixed, the sound more balanced and the band locked in with one another, visibly enjoying performing together as the crowd jumped up and down with their bouncy indie-pop.
It was clear by the track’s climactic instrumental ending that Troubled Hubble’s return would live up to their reputation, something that was only confirmed as the band followed-up with the punk-inflicted “Bees.”
The formula was flawless.
Singer Chris Otepka delivered vocals at a rapid pace, his rhythm guitar keeping the time by the eighth notes. The drums kept the energy high, jumping between cymbals with a spastic, splashy sound as the bassist jumped around on stage, picking vigorously. The guitarist’s solos are sharp, angular and catchy, like the icing on the energetic cake.
Of course, the band’s sound is hardly that simple.
As demonstrated in “Airplanes,” there’s a spacey, almost psychedelic side to the band, its members switching from loud, distorted sections to mellow, drawn out instrumentals, using heavy echo and reverb on the guitars to provide a trippy tone.
This sound separates the energetic and often straightforward pop-rock songs from the more musically ambitious jams, offering a necessary variance that separates Troubled Hubble from their peers and gives them their distinct sound.
“What’s everyone been doing for the last ten years?” Otepka jokingly asked the audience after the song, then inexplicably passing a growler of a Goose Island beer through the audience.
The band packed their fastest, most vigorous songs into the second half of the set. Penturbia songs “Understanding Traffic” and “Nancy” received enormous reactions from the audience, its members jumping, dancing, pushing and shoving, screaming the lyrics back at the singer at high volume.
“Ear Nose & Throat” and “I’m Pretty Sure I Can See Molecules” followed, proving that the same energy pervaded their final studio release, Making Beds In A Burning House.
Prior to “The Pincher,” Otepka asked the audience to time the short punk song on their phones. When nobody had a definitive answer after the song’s conclusion, the band performed it again, their notorious sense of humor clearly not having changed over the years.
“We could do this more often,” the singer stated after the song, trailing off awkwardly as though to make no promises.
The set concluded with “Dulcinea Duct Tape,” the abrasive song mirroring early indie recordings by bands like Built To Spill, fast, intentionally sloppy and surprisingly complex.
The audience was still cheering when the band returned to stage minutes later to perform the relatively serious “Safe & Sound” backed with the goofy “Shooting Guns & Eating Ice Cream,” the energy rising consistently throughout and the audience still packed in, dancing and jumping and trying to keep up with Otepka’s rapid vocals.
The band predictably closed with “I Love My Canoe,” the song welcomed by any longtime fan, its drawn out live performance practically a representation of what brought Troubled Hubble its dedicated fan base.
The song consists primarily of two chords and silly lyrics that literally revolve around canoeing, yet the band transforms it into a jam of epic proportions by playing with such conviction, energy and imagination.
Beginning with dissonant noise, the band begins the bouncy guitar line in unison, the entire audience soon dancing and moshing along with it, screaming the chorus’s call-and-response vocals back at the band. By the end of the song, an audience member had even made it on stage to sing a chorus with Otepka.
Despite its simple structure, the song slips in and out of ambitious passages, changing dynamics and tempo throughout, keeping the listener guessing as to where the band may take it next.
It’s a silly song, but undeniably impossible not to love. Perhaps the same can be said for Troubled Hubble, too.
1. 14,000 Things To Be Happy About
4. To Be Alive And Alone
5. The Do The Build The House
6. Even Marathon Runners Need To Nap
8. Understanding Traffic
10. Ear Nose & Throat
11. I'm Pretty Sure I Can See Molecules
12. The Pincher
13. The Pincher (repeated)
14. Dulcinea Duct Tape
15. Safe & Sound
16. Shooting Guns & Eating Ice Cream
17. I Love My Canoe