Are The Orwells rock's next big thing?

Elmhurst band's new music, Letterman performance getting notice

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A day in the life of The Orwells -- from hometown Elmhurst, Ill., to their old-out show at Lincoln Hall on Chicago's North Side on April 8, 2014. The band is on the cusp of superstardom. (John J. Kim, Chicago Tribune)

On an April Tuesday afternoon, a big black van rolled through the streets of Elmhurst.

It might have been rented for a prom by a group of friends. It might have contained a baseball team headed to a game.

Then it stopped at Dominic Corso's home and Corso got in, a scruffy 19-year-old in a gray hoodie and baseball cap. 

Corso said he had just heard "Who Needs You" on Chicago's 101 WKQX. This wasn't just musical chatter: The back of the van contained the guitar he'd used to help play that song in an electrifying national TV appearance in January.

The van also stopped at the house of Mario Cuomo, Corso's cousin and lead singer in their band and the only one who, at 20, is not still a teenager; at guitarist Matt O'Keefe's, in whose basement they all used to practice; and at the home of the twins, bassist and drummer Grant and Henry Brinner.

Henry came out and presented a bag of Easter egg candy to the band's driver and tour manager, Drew Potenza, also an Elmhurst native and friends with O'Keefe's older brother, Eddie. 

"My mom," Henry said sheepishly. 

Meet The Orwells, five pretty ordinary-seeming kids from Elmhurst who just might be rock's next big thing. 

That national TV performance, on the "Late Show with David Letterman," went viral. It ended with Paul Shaffer, Letterman's 64-year-old musical director, flopping on the TV-studio floor in imitation of Cuomo. 

You could say the "Late Show" triumph put them on the national radar, but The Orwells have been on a steep upward trajectory for years. 

They've got their major-label debut, "Disgraceland," coming out in June; its cover, shot by Eddie O'Keefe, depicts a cookie-cutter post-war Elmhurst house. They'll be back on Letterman's show June 10. 

And the touring, already happening at breakneck pace, will only increase. The Orwells are playing festivals in Japan and America this summer. Already this year, they've visited the U.K. twice, rolled through mid-level U.S. clubs and even spent a week on The Weezer Cruise.

The people on the ship "were all such big Weezer fans," said Cuomo. "They felt obliged to say, 'Now, don't get me wrong. You're no Weezer. But you guys are great.'"

WXRT-FM 93.1 and WKQX-FM 101.1, two stations without a lot of overlap, are already playing The Orwells' music, and they ought to be. Critics always talk about Cuomo's on-stage antics — including not just stage-flopping but occasional bouts of pantslessness. But the band is making rock-and-roll with two-guitar muscle, driven by the Brinners' pounding rhythms, topped by absurdly catchy melodies and Cuomo's fragmentary, shout-along lyrics about teenage anxiety and disaffection. 

Think Arctic Monkeys — for whom they've opened — merged with Green Day, minus the latter's fake British accents. "Filtering the Strokes through the granite bedrock of Led Zeppelin," a reviewer for The Guardian said of "Who Needs You."

It's a bright spotlight. Expectations are high enough that the band members have won their parents' blessing to forgo college — for now.

"I realize this is insane," Matt O'Keefe said. "I remember walking home from York High School to my house and I'd put my headphones on, listening to Velvet Underground and Nico, and I'd be like, 'This is what I want so bad.'"

The day's destination was Lincoln Hall for a sold-out show that would be The Orwells' first in the city since a pre-Lollapalooza gig last year. Parents would be there. Grandparents. Friends who were organized enough to ask for tickets before the guest list filled up. Their out-of-town managers, punk-scene veterans who signed them after being blown away at the South by Southwest festival last year. And the head of the record company that signed them, Canvasback, a subsidiary of Atlantic.

So yes, it is a big show, but as the Orwells describe the blear of touring, it is also, inevitably, another show in a string of them. Being all-ages on a weeknight, it's also an early show.

"8:30 show?" Cuomo said. "We've got to pace ourselves."

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