Essential New Music: Dangerous Chairs’ “Introducing Dangerous Chairs”

In 2005, with Guided By Voices freshly defunct, a group of Chicago musicians began playing shows as the Textbook Committee, a GBV tribute band. The TBC saw it as its heroic duty—not really, but go with it—to fill the void for grieving fanboys.

“We didn’t want to live in a world where GBV songs weren’t being played live,” says frontman Little Dave Merriman, “so we decided to be the change we wanted to see.”

TBC shows were raucously fun, drenched in reverence to the legend responsible for the material. But by 2014, with Bob Pollard having reunited GBV two years prior—and with Merriman, guitarists Andy Cline and Jim Mertz, drummer Brian Fee and bassist Christopher “The Kid” Landefeld, who joined in 2008, already working on originals—the TBC essentially closed up shop and briefly became Big Baby before settling on the name Dangerous Chairs.

“We still did the occasional TBC gig, usually at parties and events, and we still might in the future,” says Cline. “It’s just that TBC is more like five friends having fun playing Guided By Voices covers, whereas Dangerous Chairs is a real project we’re in together.”

It took a while (“No huge drama,” says Cline, “just standard adult life issues”), but the band’s debut, appropriately titled Introducing Dangerous Chairs, has finally arrived. Worth the wait, it’s start-to-finish excellent without a single flusher, powerfully rocking and self-assured from the opening strains of the tense, snarling Mission Of Burma-esque “Jeweler’s Lens” through closing feminist equal-pay anthem “Jeannie Fought Back”: “No one’s gonna work for free/She should make as much as me/Jeannie didn’t crack, now we’re burning down the factory.” A particular highlight is “Slow Bleed,” a raise-your-glass weeper reminiscent of—you knew this was coming—Pollard in sadly triumphant GBV mode.

“The Limit,” with its irresistibly jangly Church-like intro, is an intoxicating combination of angst and optimism: “We’ve been pushed to the limit/We don’t have to take what they’re giving/We will be just fine.” It should come with a “Caution: Will Rattle Around In Your Head 24/7” warning label. “Plenty Of Room” follows, and its sunny refrain, “There is plenty room,” almost seems tailored to what precedes it. At least that’s what one overthinking doofus postulated; it turns out the two songs aren’t connected.

“The Limit,” for instance, underwent changes lyrically from what Merriman calls its “much darker and cynical” beginnings: “‘We will be just fine’ was dismissive—like, ‘We will be just fine without you. And the line, ‘It ain’t a long ways away,’ was originally, ‘And it’s a long ways away.’”

As far as “Plenty Of Room,” though its positivity is intentional—“We meant it to be uplifting because we knew the rest of the songs were pretty bleak,” Merriman says—its place on the record was preordained since Cline heard it as the penultimate song. The tune came together after Mertz played the band a demo, and only the chorus remained intact.

“The verses didn’t jump out at me, but I thought the chorus was beautiful,” says Cline. “I always felt that simple line was a nice counter to the polarization we see in the world today. There’s quite literally plenty of room for all of us, so let’s stop fighting about dumb shit.”

“I guess the thing that the songs do have in common,” says Merriman, “is they were both softened up to sweeten the bitter coffee we were pouring.”

Matt Hickey