Pegboy is a throwback to the golden age of Chicago’s punk scene, and with good reason. Founding guitarist John Haggerty was a key member of Naked Raygun, whose brawny, brainy sound defined the city’s underground for the better part of the 1980s. Like Raygun, Pegboy has little patience for anything but terse, crunchy melodies that surge into big, singalong choruses, and Haggerty’s economical guitar style is perfectly suited to this no-frills approach, underpinned by the walloping drumming of brother Joe Haggerty and the nothing-fancy bass playing of Steve Saylors. If there’s a weak link, it’s the gruff but colorless vocals of Larry Damore, like Saylors, a former member of Chicago hardcorites Bhopal Stiffs.
The quartet comes out blistering on Three Chord Monte with four alienation anthems that ruminate on missed opportunities, including “My Youth,” which acknowledges the group’s pushing-30 status more honestly than many of its peers. The towering lead cut, “Through My Fingers,” stands as Pegboy’s finest moment on record. Strong Reaction lives up to the EP’s promise without really expanding upon it. Quibbles about the occasionally melodramatic lyrics, in which the passage into adulthood dissolves into tragedy, are obliterated by the ferocious attack.
Steve Albini joined the band briefly as bassist after Saylors’ departure, and is heard on Fore. While retaining Pegboy’s melodic songwriting, the rivet-gun noise-rock of “Never a Question” and the metal foreplay and treated vocals of “Jesus Christ,” which quotes a certain rock opera, suggest a willingness to tinker with the formula.
Earwig is respectable if hardly revelatory, with another Raygun alumni, Pierre Kezdy, joining on bass. Again, the pleasure comes in hearing the Haggerty brothers interact; John sounds like he’s trying to drill holes in the wall of the percussion Joe throws up on “Gordo.” And in “Sinner Inside” and “Sideshow,” Damore and the band take their downcast anthems to a new level of introspection.