Watchers: The Punk-Funk Gospel

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While New Yorkers boast about the excess of talented bands coming from their metropolis, it wasn't that long ago that Chicago represented the heliocentric center of the indie rock universe. And even though labels like Touch & Go, Thrill Jockey and Kranky are still releasing urgent and challenging music, ironically it's New Jersey label Gern Blandsten that's home to Watchers, one of Chicago's most compelling and genre-killing quintets.

Formed in Chicago in the fall of 2000 by lead singer/keyboardist Michael Guarrine and guitarist Ethan D'Ercole, Watchers expands the borders of danceable, funk-informed rock. Their propulsive, intellectual angularity recalls Talking Heads, The Minutemen and perhaps most directly Trenchmouth, an influential yet largely unknown Chicago quartet that included Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live) and Damon Locks and Wayne Montana of The Eternals. "We all love to listen to music," says Guarrine of their influences, "[and] we're always trying to freak each other out by finding a 'new' amazing band and bringing it to practice for everyone to hear. It's a lot of fun."

On 2003's full-length To The Rooftops (Gern Blandsten) and this year's "Dunes Phase" EP, Watchers successfully merge an entire dusty crate of styles–rock, dub, soul, Afrobeat, funk, disco and punk–into a successful and sometimes unexpectedly minimal creation. In the hands of a lesser band, a balancing act like this would certainly explode in overzealous cacophony.

It's probably no coincidence that a visible superhero theme seems to be developing parallel to the four-piece's growing audience admiration. From their LP title–which suggests a superhuman mode of urban locomotion–to The Hideout, one of their favorite places to play in Chicago, Watchers are about to undertake one of their most perilous and unlikely assignments yet: swinging the rock spotlight away from the East Coast and back onto the Windy City. "Being from Chicago is about being an underdog," quips D'Ercole. "A lot of our friends that are making music are all over the map. There is no Chicago sound, just really tasteful people doing really tasteful things...and being supportive of your endeavors as well."