Listening to Chicago chiptune band I Fight Dragons feels like being part of a special club.
One where childlike wonder is still sparking and hasn’t been stripped away by grown-up cynicism. A club where the rock music feels like it was written by someone who grew up as a backyard Goonie and dove headfirst into video games and maybe pursued a dragon or two around the block on a dirt bike.
And while the playful songs don’t necessarily reference imaginary quests or the eponymous mythical beasts, that dreamy escapism runs deep through them.
For the guys in the band — Brian Mazzaferri, Packy Lundholm, Bill Prokopow, Hari Rao and Chad Van Dahm — life is an adventure and we’re all invited to play along.
“A lot of the songs have come over the years from a sense of epic possibility,” primary songwriter Mazzaferri explained. “There’s always something over the next hill or around the bend that you can’t see yet, but it’s out there and it’s exciting.”
With careers and families and two members now living across the country, I Fight Dragons doesn’t tour much, but this year they headed out west for a week in November playing the “Brought To You By Science Tour.” Now they’re back and prepped to take over Lincoln Hall this weekend, an annual preholiday tradition.
“It’s a not-too-cool-for-anything zone,” Glenview native Mazzaferri said.
The guys in I Fight Dragons might not think they play the cool rock band on stage, but they sure pack a show with nostalgic charm. They’re relatable as they tap into the feelings, fears and triumphs of our younger years. And many of the band’s alt-poppy tunes come punctuated with computerized 8-bit chiptune instrumentals and bright, snappy vocals, all nods to the band’s development over the last decade.
“I feel like you end up seeing a lot of our early influences in our current stage show, with multipart harmonies, all overly theatrical,” Mazzaferri said, laughing. (The band’s last appearance at Lincoln Hall in 2019 saw the five come out on stage in bright superhero T-shirts and color-coded warm-up jackets.) “Nothing remotely resembling a ‘cool’ band. I say that happily and proudly. It’s just not what we got.”
The Glenbrook South grad said he grew up playing guitar with some childhood friends, but the lure of the performing arts took hold in high school when he warmed up to vocals in choir and a cappella groups, lead by now-retired director Marty Sirvatka.
“He was just an amazing guy and an inspiration on lots of folks from that era when I was in school,” he said.
After studying musical theater at University of Michigan, Mazzaferri returned to the Chicago area, eventually connecting with the other band members, including Glenbrook North grads Lundholm and Prokopow.
“Stumbling across the chiptune world and the idea that you could make new music on old video game sound cards — the idea of the band itself kind of coalesced around those vibes,” he explained. “Like the inspiration of that feeling you get when — I guess it’s folks of a certain vintage at this point, right? I’m in my mid-late 30s and I remember the feeling of sitting down to start a new role-playing game on the Super Nintendo, and the amount of story and adventure and innovation that was packed into a lot of those games. The technology was super limited … But at the same time the story is in the content itself, and it could take you to this awesome place of quests, of epic possibility and adventure. So that became the basis of what we have tried to make in the band over the past decade plus.”
Saturday’s show offers fans the chance to hear some new Dragons music from the “Side Quest: B-Sides and Rarities” double-LP, out that day. For sale digitally, on CD and vinyl, the 24-song collection features music previously available only to the band’s Patreon members, as well as four tracks freshly rerecorded during the pandemic. One of the new versions, “Taste for Glory,” even features fan-submitted singalong tracks alongside the band.
“There’s like 150 tracks of four-part harmony all submitted by fans,” Mazzaferri said. “It was super fun to put that together. It takes a lot of time, but it’s also really fun and really meaningful. Everyone’s voices are on this from literally around the world, important from a time when no one could see each other.”
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I Fight Dragons with Schaffer the Darklord, Fantastic Mammals
When: 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18
Where: Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, lh-st.com
Tickets: $16 ($18 at the door)