I first saw Bleach five years ago at The Firebird in St. Louis, when I was eighteen. I believe the youngest member of the band was only fourteen at the time; I had just graduated high school and was achieving a long-awaited dream of following some bands on tour to celebrate entering adulthood. I knew they were different than other high-school bands I had seen; young as they were, that night at The Firebird was one of the best shows I saw that summer, largely due to Bleach, though they were just the opening set. Much of the crowd were Bleach’s fans, sporting matching homemade T-shirts to announce their team. It felt like they outnumbered the crowd the headliner drew, and it was the excitement from their initial set that made the headlining show feel special. This band– composed of vocalist Lance, guitarist Jackson, and drummer Kaleb– was going places.
Thus, I wasn’t really surprised when, years later, my Spotify algorithm mixed their newly-matured sound in with bands like PUP, Blood Red Shoes, and Skeggs. I reached out for an interview, which they gracefully obliged (Check it out here!) and made plans to see their next set. This set proved to be months later in the summer, in a nearly abandoned mall outside of St. Louis. I covered this event for Scrunchie, but I hadn’t really wanted to tell the whole story because I was afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or getting them in trouble with their mom (Check out that post here).
I was definitely one of the oldest people at the show, and maybe a little past it all, but it was everything I had dreamed of being a part of as a young teenager, reading descriptions of sweaty, early Fall Out Boy or FIDLAR shows being shut down by cops. The stacked event was put on by a skate-surf shop in a corner of a nearly-abandoned mall, complete with food trucks.
The show proved to be packed, filled with teenagers that had spent the latter half of their high-school years cooped up inside and robbed of prom night, ready to unleash it all in this sweaty concrete cavern on one hot Fourth of July weekend night. It felt like almost no one had a shirt on and it smelled like a high school gymnasium. Whale tails, animal-print push-up bras, and vape smoke was everywhere. People were grinding like a high school dance with no chaperones. The more dangerous areas of the mall, with collapsing, mildewed ceilings lit only by eerie red EXIT signs, rotting carpet, stopped escalators, horror-movie dark dressing rooms, and bars over the entryways, were filling with the braver kids.
I had access to the VIP section, but it hardly mattered; in minutes the crowd had invaded the roped-off section to get closer to the stage, and there are no bouncers or security in mostly defunct malls. I looked like any other passionate teenager trying to get closer to the band. I understood the feeling—really. I’d been young and feral with lust and on the cusp of the next big thing once, ready to gouge the eyes out of the next person between me and the band. The stage was not enough to hold back the girls either—I say girls, because it was mostly girls pushing up onto the stage, which is how you know a band is good—swanlike and glittering in Euphoria-inspired makeup, heels, and silk scarves tied into tube tops. One of them in a tie-dyed dress even started twerking, and another began to pour White Claw into the mouths of the audience. One mad-eyed girl even grabbed my camera and shoved me back as I tried to snap a photo of someone else in a bodycon dress pouring a can into the mouth of the shirtless drummer lying onstage.
It was exactly the kind of thing I would’ve killed to be a part of as a teenager, the kind of show I dreamed of going to. I had gone to local shows when I was younger, but none of them were quite as colorful as this. It felt like the beginning of something special.
Shortly after we covered this show, Scrunchie got an email from a teenage girl going to school in Pakistan, asking for an interview. After we obliged, she very excitedly asked to know how we knew Bleach, as she was a huge fan of this unsigned teenage band over seven thousand miles away. This is another quality that’s set Bleach apart from any other up-and-coming band we’ve interviewed.
Thus, we were stoked when we saw the announcement that Bleach were playing at the Subterranean, a legendary Chicago hole-in-the-wall that’s been graced with the likes of Fall Out Boy and I Don’t Know How But They Found Me. This show did not disappoint either, drawing a crowd that rendered the tiny venue decidedly packed despite the dreary, icy Chicago rain.
Unfortunately, my night job caused me to miss the first opener, Authentic Pines, but I managed to make it in time for the second opener, Ax and the Hatchetmen. That band was composed of a couple of kids that looked like they walked out of a 1960s Beach Boys concert, with long hair, oversized clothes, and shell earrings, clearly stoked to be playing with a band as renowned throughout the Midwest as Bleach.
The vibe of Bleach’s set tonight was far different than the two other Bleach shows I’d experienced, with dark, moody red lighting and a setlist that ranged from dark to melancholy, featuring many of their yet-unreleased tracks. Though they played familiar hits like “Pull A Little Closer” and “The Ah Song,” their setlist missed old favorites like “Elizabeth” and “Spit,” instead teasing new ones like “Reign Down,” “Death’s Coming,” “Across the Sea,” and “Mockingbird.”
At the end of the show, the audience begged for the band to perform an encore, though their wishes were not granted. Specifically, the audience wanted Bleach to play their hit “Elizabeth,” or– perhaps mistakenly tantalized by the presence of a song called “Across the Sea” on the setlist– cover Weezer. The eager fans in the crowd were, however, rewarded that night with a promised front flip from guitarist Jackson as the show drew to a close.
After the set, we ended up in the green room with Lance. He would tell us he was in high school when the band wrote “Elizabeth,” and wants to perform their newer work: “We were like, fucking sixteen years old when we wrote that.” Though he understands that may be selfish, as being in a band “isn’t about him, it’s about the audience”–something many up-and-coming bands fail to understand, spelling doom for their future.
In between discussions about how Gen-Z is going to finally change the world and the influence of musical legends like John Lennon and Kanye West, Lance tells us Bleach still independent because they’re waiting for the right time, showing exceptional foresight and dedication to the long game. Rock legends like My Chemical Romance only got where they were because they knew to wait for the right moment instead of rushing into anything headfirst without thinking it through.
With a vocalist that croons lines like “Hey-hey mama, I’m not so nice,” in a bluesy, raspy, sexy swagger reminiscent of 70s hard rock artists like Aerosmith or Alice Cooper, or more modern superstars like Maneskin, alongside the cacophony of drums and guitar, have earned Bleach’s “Pull A Little Closer” a spot on Spotify’s Alternative Noise playlist. Plus, the band certainly has the anemic indie dreamboat look down, reminiscent of Timothee Chalamet in Lady Bird. I know we’re going to be hearing a lot more of Bleach in the future, and there are big things on the horizon for this band– I think we’re all looking forward to that.