Many New Yorkers live their whole lives in one of the five boroughs and never visit the Statue of Liberty. Many Parisians never visit the Eiffel Tower. Similarly, I have spent many years in Chicago without, until a few weeks ago, setting foot in the legendary Fireside Bowl. (and here and here). One of my coworkers, a regular, described the Fireside as “the last of the great punk dives.” It really is a bowling alley, with the lanes roped off, and a stage at one end of the back wall. It’s truly amazing claim to fame is that it has exclusively all-ages shows. (The bar is a cordoned off area, which you need ID to get into). Perhaps even more amazing is its survival in the face of the City of Chicago’s quiet but clear determination to make it go away. A gentrifying neighborhood may ultimately finish it off. But there it stands, for now. My visit occurred fortuitously. I was looking for Christmas presents on the cool Interpunk site, and I stumbled across the inventors and still champion practitioners of “Nerd Rock”: Nerf Herder. It turned out that Nerf Herder are pretty darn good, they have a bunch of catchy songs (“Vivian” is my wife’s favorite), a great pop/punk rock sound, and some funny videos. (Click on the guys in Star Trek shirts for the video of “Mr. Spock”). The downside is that they have painted themselves into a corner with the lonely-guy-as-pervert business, sometimes pushing it way too far into the “not funny anymore” category. But, that is a big part of their shtick and I guess they are stuck with it. (They reminded of the Simpletones, who had similar dorky lonely guy themes and singing.) (Moreover, Nerf Herder’s singer, Parry, mentioned in an interview that “we are big fans of The Muffs” — so I like them a little extra for that, too.) Best of all, I noted that Nerf Herder were going to be playing in Chicago in just a few days! So, the wife and I, instant fans, decided to get a babysitter and go. It was a very good show, and the Fireside, far from being a “dump” was run-down but cozy. It is like a neighborhood pub, almost. I had a good chat with various strangers at the bar, describing now defunct punk dives of a bygone era 15 or so years ago. And, get this, the bathroom was clean. That is always the sign of someone actually caring about the place. Everyone was there because they were into the music. Nerf Herder put on a solid, well-rehearsed show. Parry, the singer, is a great showman. (The guys from Nerf Herder are from California, and they looked COLD in Chicago. The guitar player was selling cds and stuff before the show and he said he’d never owned a pair of gloves before this tour.) This site has a bunch of good photos of Nerf Herder, including a bunch from the Fireside show, here, and here. Half the place was singing along with much of Nerf Herder’s set. My wife and I were about the oldest people in the place, with lots of teenagers and other people who were in diapers when we were in bands. Some people were dressed like ordinary yuppies, like me, some totally in punk attire, and everybody was cool. Finally, the truly awesome Eyeliners are coming to the Fireside in March. These gals are doing a substantial tour. Check their site for the night they are playing in your home town – and put on your eye makeup and go.