Cheekface at the Sonia, 10/10

Self-described as “America’s local band,” the Los Angeles-based threesome Cheekface continued their headlining tour this past Sunday at Cambridge Massachusetts’ Sonia. Touring in support of their acclaimed 2021 record Emphatically No., the band and their signature mix of acerbic wit and playful riffs found themselves all the way out on the East Coast.

Opening act Oceanator started things off with a bang, mostly playing tunes from her most recent album Things I Never Said. The project’s lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Elise Okusami did an excellent job, flexing her guitar and songwriting chops clad in a salmon-colored jumpsuit. Highlights of her set included the rousing performances of “Goodbye, Goodnight,” and “A Crack In The World.” The most unexpected performance of the set, however, came from the audience—after an audience member wished Elise a happy birthday, her bandmates led the audience in a rendition of “Happy Birthday”. Overall, Oceanator’s energetic presence made me extremely excited for whatever they release next.

Around 9pm, Cheekface made their way to the stage. Lead singer and guitarist Greg Katz, donning a yellow jumpsuit in solidarity with Okusami, made his way to the stage with bandmates Amanda “Mandy” Tannen on bass and Mark “Echo” Edwards on drums. Though their musical setup is pretty no-nonsense, Cheekface as a band is full of jokes and one-liners. Looking at the setlist, this is made clear, the group playing songs called “Sexy National Anthem” and “S.T.O.P. B.E.L.I.E.V.I.E.I.N.G.” The latter song contains a verse in which Katz deadpans “Waiting in line at the juice bar when it occurred to me/I may be too fat to be Spider-Man/But not to be Body Positive Spider-Man!/All day I dream about self-improvement, capitalism, deregulation and eating a bagel.” 

All of these lines are talk-sung by Katz himself. Seeing him do his thing live, I was thoroughly impressed with his delivery. Though not showcasing the most range, Katz’ breath control was pretty mesmerizing. Considering how frantic his line delivery can get, I was expecting him to gasp for air after spitting out syncopated, multisyllabic punchlines about not getting hit by cars and the annoying genius of Lena Dunham (re: the straightforwardly titled “Don’t Get Hit By a Car’s “And of course I relate to Lena Dunham, I relate to every annoying genius/Don’t get hit by a car!”). Co-written with bandmate Mandy, Cheekface’s lyricism is their main selling point. I’ve yet to find a band with songs as consistently funny and infectious as theirs. 

Highlights of the evening included the band’s performance of one of their biggest hits, “‘Listen to your heart.’ ‘No.’” The call and response nature of the chorus was just made to be performed live. Screaming no in response to Katz’s “Pay your parking tickets! (No!)” was absolutely cathartic. Katz was also an expert at working the room, asking first-day-of-class-esque icebreakers such as “Do you prefer music, or movies?” and having folks move to the according side of the room. The band also had a blast mixing their single “Don’t Get Hit By a Car” with “Sweet Jane” and “Jack and Diane,” poking fun at its simplistic chord progression and having different sections of the room sing lines from the various songs. 

Don’t make the mistake of letting Cheekface’s silliness obfuscate their musicianship. All of Katz’s guitar leads are as immediately catchy and infectious as they are intricate. Mandy Tannen’s basslines especially popped in the live setting. Echo’s drumming also came alive, especially as the crowd joined in with their chants and claps. Don’t turn the other cheek to this group—be sure to check out their new record Emphatically No. and watch out for their next tour.

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