Are The Orwells rock's next big thing?

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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)

"Yes," responded Potenza, a skinny guy in his 20s whose role ranges from big brother to father to gopher to settler of accounts at the end of the night. "Please don't make it a (mess) tonight."

(Later, backstage at Lincoln Hall, when a band member suggested doing shots beforehand, Potenza said, "The venue knows you're all under 21, so let's not even try any (stuff) with your fake IDs.")

As the van rolled through the boys' hometown and then the West Side of Chicago, the talk was typical: Hamburger Heaven, the vintage, charming-looking drive-in on North Avenue has gone downhill. A couple at the skate park proved their love by sharing Flamin' Hot Cheetos. 

But music and the music business always worked their way back into the conversation. Band members wondered whether they'd be getting their $25-per-day tour per diem (yes). Potenza explained the laundry trick he had used to get diesel fuel out of a batch of "Who the (Expletive) Are the Orwells?" T-shirts (Dawn and Coca-Cola) so they could be sold at the merchandise table.

"We should have just sold them as 'diesel shirts,'" Cuomo said.

O'Keefe mused about making a next album with acoustic guitar and bass: "When has anybody ever done, like, a throwback to the Violent Femmes?"

Other bands that came up: Nirvana, Wesley Willis, John Lennon, The Strokes, Robert Plant.


O'Keefe pointed out that a friend tweeted, teasingly, that "Let It Burn," the first song released from the Orwells' forthcoming album, "is about having the Clap."

"What's the Clap?" someone asked. "Chlamydia?"

"The Clap is gonorrhea," O'Keefe said.

Potenza announced that, at the Chicago hotel where they'd stay before a very early-morning drive to Minneapolis, "everyone has their own room tonight. So, you know, gather for Bible study and discussion of Eastern European socioeconomic policy. Just a typical Tuesday."

As he stopped at the hotel, the Indigo in the Gold Coast, to check the band in before soundcheck at Lincoln Hall, some of the band members stepped outside the van for a smoke.

Corso decided it was time to bust Grant Brinner about his outfit: skinny jeans, an "Aztec Baseball" sweatshirt, Nike running shoes and a backward Adidas cap.

"You are not in this band. That's not what we are at all," Corso said. "If there was ever a day to stop and look at yourself in the mirror, this is the day." He snapped a cellphone picture, just to be able to make the point again later.

Added Cuomo, "You look like a mom going for a jog." 

Grant later would laugh about it, pointing out that Corso, in his estimation, was dressed "like a grandfather."

The band has been together more than four years, since the four younger guys started high school, ended their middle school band and recruited Cuomo to sing. 

This was no sure thing, they said, because while the younger foursome were pretty nondescript students, keeping mostly to themselves and out of trouble, Cuomo was known throughout York High School.

"He was always the kid who always started (stuff)," said his cousin, Corso. "He was pretty consistent with his provocations. It seems like it would be hard to live with, but it's part of the band. It is a dynamic part of the band."

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