Smith Westerns tone it down 

click to enlarge Chicago's Smith Westerns — from left, Max Kakacek, Cameron Omori and Cullen Omori — have matured from their bratty punk rocking days. The group plays Friday afternoon at Outside Lands. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Chicago's Smith Westerns — from left, Max Kakacek, Cameron Omori and Cullen Omori — have matured from their bratty punk rocking days. The group plays Friday afternoon at Outside Lands.

Although their kind has been around for as long as rock itself, there still is something charming about punky kids performing raucous songs heavy on earnestness but light on craftsmanship.

With their highly received 2009 debut — a lo-fi album that borrowed heavily from garage and glam bands like T-Rex — the Smith Westerns entered that pantheon of precocious punkers.

But the Chicago trio, appearing at the Brick and Mortar Music Hall Thursday and Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival Friday, realized the shambolic music that inspired the bandmates as teens didn't quite have the same effect on them as they entered into their 20s.

"Soft Will," the band's latest offering, continues on the trajectory started on the second album "Dye It Blonde," which emphasized skills and production more than its fuzz-laden predecessor.

On "Soft Will," lush compositions by guitarist Max Kakacek are accompanied by self-effacing lyrics from vocalist Cullen Omori. The bratty enthusiasm of their debut replaced by a more sober, fully-realized, sonic landscape.

"There were a number of things that led to our sound changing," Kakacek says. "We've picked up some influences from some of these great bands that we've toured with, and we've definitely improved when it comes to playing our instruments. And I think we've probably moved past some of the real garage-y, youthful music we grew up listening to at high school parties."

Despite the more mature sound, the kids in Smith Westerns — Omori's brother Cameron is the group's bassist — aren't exactly graybeards, so there are still up-tempo tracks on "Soft Will." Yet the album is strongest when it's more dialed-back, evidenced by bookending songs, "3 A.M. Spiritual" and "Varsity."

Kakacek says the album's mellower feel was the result of an eight-month layover following the band's grueling touring schedule to promote "Dye It Blonde."

The band went back to Chicago, where Kakacek and Cullen Omori lived in an apartment on their own for the first time, and had ample time to prepare for a new album and evaluate their lives as full-time musicians.

"It's a little cliched, but we were definitely living a fast-paced life with touring," Kakacek says. "Having some time on our hands made us take the recording process more seriously, and getting back to Chicago helped us put a lot of things in perspective."

While they may never return to the bare-bones approach of their debut, Kakacek says the group's embrace of song structure and production values doesn't mean that Smith Westerns have completely abandoned their roots.

"I can't see us ever recording in our friend's basement again, but that doesn't mean we don't appreciate that aesthetic," Kakacek says. "The main goal of the band is to make an album that sounds different than the previous one."

IF YOU GO

Smith Westerns

Where: Brick and Mortar Music Hall, 1710 Mission St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: $20

Contact: (415) 371-1631, www.brickandmortarmusic.com,

Note: The band plays at 12:50 p.m. Friday at the Lands End Stage at Outside Lands.

About The Author

Will Reisman

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