Vicarious at Congress Theater / by Doyle Armbrust

If Andrew Bird is the porcelain teacup of violin playing, Chuck Bontrager is the pewter beer stein. With a devilish bifurcated beard, the Humboldt Park metalhead shreds Tool guitar solos on his Viper, a V-shaped, fretted seven-string fiddle. On Saturday 20, New Millennium Orchestra’s Bontrager and his side band, Vicarious, perform one of their highest-profile gigs to date, the eclectic Ripple Effect festival, a sort of Burning Man circus.

The term “cover band” is often a pejorative, but Vicarious is no gaggle of Maynard Keenan wanna-bes. Fronted by vocalist Constance Schoepflin-Volk, better known for her formidable flute chops in new-music ensemble dal niente, the Tool tribute band primarily comprises classical musicians whose technique strays far beyond the traditional. The foursome was conceived out of mutual admiration for prog-metal giant Tool’s song structure and production perfectionism, but also to explore sonic territory often untread by classical musicians.

“There is plenty of heavy [metal] out there now, but very little beyond Tool that I would classify as beautiful,” the 39-year-old Bontrager tells us. Rather than replicate the Tool oeuvre, Vicarious presents classical-metal’s version of the remix: a downtempo “Sober,” an acoustic “Parabola” and, our favorite, a flamenco “Stinkfist.”

Vicarious matches its ear-gasm with eye-gasm: lighting specialist Eric Merkaba, belly dancer Jolie Roberson, plate-steel-bikini grinder CandyXXX, aerialist Jill Heyser and Hula-Hoop artist Dizzy Lizzy. Bontrager recalls the comments of a skeptical, now converted fan: “He said, ‘Y’know, when I first saw you, I thought, Oh, this is the kind of band that has a violin in it. But you guys are really good!’”

- Doyle Armbrust

published in Time Out Chicago on November 17th, 2010