CHICAGO SHOW REPORT
"I write up-to-the-minute reviews of shows that happened
almost a year ago" Dolman
in the Military, Volcano, Bullet Train to Vegas @ Fireside
Bowl / February 10, 2004; Flying Lutten-
bachers, The Coughs, No Doctors, Flaccid Trip
@ Fireside Bowl / February 28, 2004.
I've been meaning to sit down and write up a review of this
No Doctors/Luttenbachers show I just went to, but when I practice
the story in my head it's all about my baby, my 10-month-old,
my pride and joy, my sweet sweet son, "babe-o",
you know. What's up with that? Is this column for Blastitude
or is it for Chicago
Parent? Well, brothers and sisters, from now on it's ALL
about being a (Chicago) parent. Like some cheeseball said
on TV the other night, "You drive to that hospital leading
one life, and you drive home from the hospital leading a completely
different one." Sometimes cheeseballs speak the truth.
Oh, and now I remember who this particular cheeseball was:
Chicago's own Gery
Chico, running in the Illinois senate democratic primary.
It was the debate among the candidates, televised by WTTW.
It was a nice debate -- laid-back, friendly, and positive,
in that distinctive no-bullshit/all-bullshit Chicago way.
One of the other candidates was Barack Obama, the "rising
star" who might be our first black president as early
as 2012. Oh, sorry about that, I keep forgetting that in 2012
we won't even bother to have fake presidential elections anymore
-- if you think American democracy is a joke now, wait 'til
you see it when the U.S. government is completely bankrupt
and gasoline costs over fifteen bucks a gallon!
But yeah: having a kid.
People ask "what's it like?" and I say it cuts out
a lot of fat, sometimes literally. I make him dinner at night
-- usually pureed vegetables -- with enough left over for
me to have a few bites, and then he and I snack until bedtime.
Lately, my evening diet has been primarily unsalted peanuts
and red grapes. It's a recipe I call "Grape Nuts":
pop a handful of peanuts, chew 'em up, and right when it's
kinda dry, pop two or three grapes in there to juice up the
bite. Repeat all night, periodically washing it down with
cool, clear water. To me it tastes like pistachio pudding.
Or ice cream, even, if the grapes are cold (or frozen!). And
I can feed the baby at the same time by sharing the grapes.
He's not ready for nuts yet, but he eats all kinds of fruit
if you cut it up into small bites for him, and he drinks lots
of water and breastmilk. I figure if we're gonna snack, it
might as well be some really healthy shit. I eat raw spinach
leaves like they were potato chips, then chop up a pear into
little bites for the baby, and eat the pear skins myself --
another great potato chip substitute. And always, washed down
with more cool, clear water. And a beer or two maybe twice
Used to be I could easily
drink three or four beers a night, every night, and go out
to a bar as often as once a week, usually to see a show, spending
at least $20 on cover charge and drinks. Add to that smoking
a cigarette or four. Now I go to about four (six?) shows a
year. Hey, of COURSE I miss those days when I could go to
any show I wanted, but even then I missed tons of good ones
because you just can't go to two or three shows every week,
even if you can afford it, which I couldn't. Oh yeah, and
that other reason: most shows suck. Even the good ones can
be a lousy time marked by lousy oxygen, lousy drink prices,
and lousy 'artist' and/or 'rocker' attitudes. But now that
I only go to four shows a year, I tend to really enjoy 'em
no matter what the scene is like. What can I say, the lousy
attitudes have become blowsy blastitudes.
For example, not too long
ago my wife and I got a babysitter and ended up seeing Gays
In The Military at the Fireside Bowl. We had gone
out for a couple microbrews at Danny's (1951 W. Dickens, best
bar in Chicago), and on our way home realized we could drop
by the venue just in time for Gays' show-closing 11PM set.
It was my first time there in months, and it was my first
time there with my WIFE in well over a year, and we had so
much fun it was like we were on our first date all over again!
The fact that the Fireside Bowl is one of the biggest dumps
in the country and will surely self-collapse within two years
maximum of this writing was a novelty all over again, like
it had been the first few times I went there. And to have
my WIFE there really took it out of the guy-alone dead-zone.
She hadn't been to a show forever, and we arrived buzzed on
the perfect amount of beer (two heavy pints each) knowing
we only had to be there for one band. (I don't like long shows
and she'll straight-up leave.)
It was a blast -- hell, it
was like being on DRUGS. I found myself marvelling at the
ceiling tiles above the stage, comparing and contrasting the
various states of decay and degradation each one had gone
through. Like snowflakes, no two were exactly alike. In the
adjoining bar, affectionately known as the Hammertime Lounge,
I noticed the curtains on the windows for what I swear was
the first time. They were so dingy, and in the half-light,
the dinge glowed as if the curtains were preserved in holy
amber. "Look at those curtains!," I practically
shouted at my wife, my visionary faculties stoked only by
a shared bottle of Budweiser. "I can't believe they exist!"
And as for the music . . .
the Gays were great! I mean, just when you thought sleaze
rock and smut punk were over, along come these nerds to make
it crazy again. They won't get laid as much as the Coachwhips,
but they are a better band! In between every song Sir Lord Brian
was doing these raps straight from The World's Greatest
Sinner which Sienko would sometimes chime in on. Hilarious,
and on "Chocolate Strokin'" I realized that the
first words of every line are "I hate cigarettes!"
That's fucked up. (I have also since realized that it's a
quote from the movie Cruising -- hell, it's almost
been a year.) Everybody has gotten better at their instruments
-- Sienko especially plays like a man possessed on the keys.
Really, the only problem with this quartet is that the three
men in the band wear less clothing than the one woman does!
Just a couple weeks later
I returned to the Fireside, and the novelty of its decay had
already substantially worn off. But it was a good lineup that
night. First up was Flaccid Trip, from Iowa
City, who I'd actually never heard of. I talked to one audience
member who had seen them, and he said, "They actually
sound exactly like their name." And you know -- he was
right! And I don't know what to add that assessment -- how
about, um, fairly hard electronics with guitar and drums,
in an unassuming sci-fi noise-pop style? Took a while to really
hit, but late in the set they did a few chant-rockers that
had potential. They were indeed somehow both trippy and flaccid,
and at least somewhat better than overrated Dischord band
El Guapo, whom I saw a year or so ago playing in much the
Next up was No Doctors.
I used to see these guys on what seemed like a weekly basis
but due to fatherhood it had been months and months. And my
how they'd grown! Seriously, they've all noticeably improved
on their instruments (in other words, they're catching up
with Elvis D skills-wise, and the snare drum no longer sits
on a milk crate). This makes for more adventurous arrangements
of their material, and I couldn't believe some of the ways
these songs coiled and uncoiled, like when a heavy blues riff
shout would suddenly give way to an expansive one-chord groove
rave-up that would last almost forever but suddenly collapse
into a Zeppelin breakdown and then speed up again into some
other crazy shit. They started with a rousing "Campaign
Special" which went into an even more rousing "O
Say Can You See," which saw hockey-jerseyed CansaFis
riding on the crowd shouting into the mic in one hand while
palming his alto sax in the other! Yep, the crowd was pretty
riled up, myself included. Very spirited set -- oh, and in
the 'wild card' role this night, they had a guy who looked
just like Tony Rettman playing trombone through shitloads
of heavy effects.
Next was The Coughs.
Over a year ago I was at this festival down in Hyde Park where
like 20 noise/hardcore/etc. bands played, and The Coughs came
on and blew my mind. They had all these accoutrements that
often spell trouble -- percussionists who play on empty oil
drums in front of film projections, to name just two -- but
about 5 seconds after they started they had blown any misgivings
away by being incredibly intense and brutal, with a singer
who dressed like Mary Poppins but sang like the guy in Khanate.
Well, it took me over a year to catch 'em for a second time,
at this show, and they had a different guitarist and bassist,
and maybe it was more due to the Fireside mix, but it wasn't
quite the same. Not as flatteningly wall-of-sound brutal,
and in fact the singer's unhinged screaming was kind of all
I could hear or focus on. Still good, and they got quite a
good pit going in front with all these Art Institute mismatched-shoe
types. Andy Ortmann was body-surfing!
Then came the headliners, the
Flying Luttenbachers. This was the first
time they'd played in Chicago since Weasel Walter moved to
San Fran, and apparently absence makes the heart grow fonder,
because this was the most people I'd ever seen at a Luttenbachers
show. And the band didn't disappoint. The new lineup is guitar,
bass, and drums, and I don't want to sound like a guitar store
employee, but the tone is better than ever. Super-crispy,
in your face, loud without being distorted, with top-notch
chops (that's right, c-h-o-p-s). Ed Rodriguez (Iceburn, Collosamite,
Gorge Trio) on guitar and a guy named Mike something (Burmese)
on bass. It seemed like a lot of long interludes, that would
finally give way to a hyper multimath riff in which the music
seemed to actually be strobing, then quickly back to another
subversion in the form of a long weird broken ambient interlude,
and then back to a sudden dime-tight mega-fracture-riff breaking
into 2-against-1 riff/improv structures and so on. There seemed
to be no attempt to play music from their (then) most recent
LP, Systems Emerge From Complete Disorder (which
makes sense because that was Weasel solo). It was loud and
really making me think, but I had to leave before the set
was over, because the show was running late and my babysitter
was expecting to go home!
FLYING LUTTENBACHERS: Cute band alert.
GAYS IN THE MILITARY: Cuter band alert.
White/Light, Kevin Drumm @ Empty Bottle / March 24, 2004
This show brought a variety of people to the Empty Bottle. There
were psychedelic people, noise/no wave people, indie people,
and lots of long-hairs in metal T-shirts, which made me nostalgic
for the days when I would go to metal concerts in Omaha, like
Metallica and Iron Maiden, and I could see what everyone was
listening to just by checking out T-shirts. At the Bottle two
memorable ones were a guy in a Sabbat T-shirt (the Satanasword
album is killer!) and a guy in a Goatwhore hoodie.
Kevin Drumm opened
up, a good choice. His set started with the clarion call of
a smoke machine spraying its noxious mist into the audience.
It seemed to be acting of its own accord, as no one even knew
he was up there, until some really loud tones started grinding
out of the speakers. One was low and rumbling and another was
mid-range, sharp, and broken. The mid-range broken one would
hit in quick, stabbing patterns that alternated between two,
three, and four, which set up a rhythm, sort of like a groove,
that made the other low and rumbling tone sound like a bass
line. The smoke machine would periodically shroud the room in
fog, while a strobe light onstage followed the movement of the
music and intermittently illuminated Drumm hiding behind the
headliner's drum kit, doing his work like the blacksmith in
the forge. So, visually it was quite a bit better than the average
one-man 'sound' performance, and sonically . . . . jeez. It
was amazing. Did I say it was loud? It was REALLY loud, and
the stabbing pattern steadily grew in intensity, and the light-show
picked up with it, and I started to get scared like maybe shit
was going to start exploding and all the epileptics in the audience
were going to suddenly reveal themselves.
After, I don't know, 20
minutes or so, Drumm dropped to just the low rumbling tone,
which sounded pretty awesome, and it rumbled on as these two
clean-cut looking short-hair guys took the stage and strapped
on a guitar and a bass respectively. The bass guy used an e-bow
and the guitar guy used his hands and about 19 different effects
pedals to play low-end death drone over Drumm's foundation.
These two fellas were a Chicago group called White/Light,
very Chicago in that on one hand, they were merely the regional
SunnO))) and/or Earth franchise, while on the other hand, they
were extremely good at it, creating very heavy and deep psychedelic
drone. I was a bit surprised to hear that one or both of the
guys were in Joan of Arc, though it did explain their non-metal
Next was the much-anticipated
Khanate. The first annoying rock critic phrase
to pop into my head during their set was "The Melvins meet
Morton Feldman. With lead vocals by, um, a Hieronymous Bosch
demon. Or no -- here we go -- a thinking man's Bon Scott.
Or no, this is it, Bon Scott on Lithium." Which
is to say, Khanate takes the same low-end doom-tones from "Hung
Bunny/Roman Dog Bird" (the Melvins track that has turned
out to be about as influential as "Sister Ray") and
plays it just as loud, but introduces more silence by letting
the tones slowly decompose into silence a la Feldman. Then,
when they finally hit another tone, they do it with Feldman's
sudden precision. Thing is, their attack is so methodical, so
restrained, I didn't really appreciate it while it was happening.
Other than the volume (which wasn't as oppressive as legend
had prepared me to expect), the crowd wasn't physically engaged
at all; only a few scattered people would bang their head or
pound a fist on the very rare occasions when crash cymbals,
kick drum, snare, guitar, and bass all struck a note simultaneously.
It was good -- for example, the vocals were frighteningly loud,
sung just as viciously as on the records, through killer FX
-- but it was so methodical.
So . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . slow. So intentionally
lifeless that it was almost (but not quite) formless. During
their set a lot of the expectant energy that had been in the
room leaked away until the air reached almost total stasis.
Many people left early, including me, after about 35-40 minutes.
Only now, a couple days later, am I really appreciating what
I got from the music. Khanate use extreme patience, focus, and
asceticism to play music that is intentionally lifeless. This
might not make for a wild show but it does remain a powerful
one because, where most death metal is the sound of the violence
and torture and struggle that leads to a death, or the violence
and torture that comes after a death when the sinner has gone
to hell, Khanate just play the sound of . . . . . a corpse.
No monsters, no demons, no mutilation, no struggle, no hell
below . . . . . just a perfectly still corpse, slowly rotting,
with its conscience leaving the body and stopping only to scream
in your ear a few strange words about the horrors of living.
KHANATE: I don't know, that neighborhood looks
kind of run down . . . aren't they worried about their safety?
KEVIN DRUMM: Total metalhead.
miss ideologic.org, the
home page of Khanate and SunnO))) member Stephen O'Malley.
Click on "archived news," which is basically a huge
blog of imagery etc. that O'Malley digs. You'll dig it too,
but be very patient if you don't have high-speed internet!
Police, Prurient, Kites, Bloodyminded @ First Base / April 3,
One of the big tours of the spring, teaming up two big names
in Providence, RI noise, Prurient and Kites, with Lexington,
Kentucky's most legendary, the Hair Police. In Chicago they
found themselves playing at the esteemed Texas Ballroom, which
stands like a real tall secret on a lonely closes-at-5PM type
street in the south central part of the city. To make it even
more like a secret, the show was at "First Base,"
the basement of the ballroom, a suitably unglamorous spot that
made it feel like you were in somebody's house and in between
bands you could go upstairs to the kitchen and kick it by the
beer keg. You couldn't, but it was a lotta fun anyway, and most
First up were Bloodyminded,
extreme power electronics from Chicago's South Side. Seeing
this band live really made the power electronics genre click
for me: it's all about just a few specific things, which are
showmanship, screaming/shouting, appropriate subject matter,
and really brutal high-pitched tones. All four band members
wore matching leather pants and stalked the stage and crowd,
one guy smoking cigs while brandishing/droning his l'il keyboard
with his other hand. They played tons of songs, most of them
really short torture/scream-fests. When the show was over, they
all walked off stage together, a tried-and-true performance
trick that so many acts seem to have forgotten these days. It
wasn't even a stage, it was the fucking floor of a basement,
and they still made it work. And one of my favorite parts of
all was the between-song banter: "Maybe you read the
blog!!" "This one is also on Gift Givers!!"
"Thank you, that was the only one of our songs -- and perhaps
the only song ever -- to be about the subject of laxatives!!"
"This one is also on Gift Givers!!" "Thank
you, next is the only one of our songs to feature the word 'love'.
This is 'The Love-Haters Versus The Hate-Lovers'!!"
"This one is also on Gift Givers!!" "This
one is also on Gift Givers!!" And more! It was
a great show.
Next, a tower of amps was
raised in the middle of everybody, suggesting that Prurient
might be up next with his one-man-against-the-monolith presentation.
But it was Kites who took the floor and plugged
in, wearing a noise-blowing mouth & face contraption that
looked like what might have resulted if Cronenberg's Dead
Ringers was about rival twin orthodonists instead of, well,
you know . . . . This look bolstered my thesis that noise is
the new blues because this contraption was kind of like a harmonica
on one of those Bob Dylan holders, and Mr. Kites used it to
blow some serious devastated wreck for about 16 minutes or so.
I really don't remember exactly what it sounded like, because
Prurient was next and the guy just killed it.
He used the same stack of amps, took off his shirt, bowed down
real serious like, ignored Andy Ortmann [his second appearance
this column!] walking right up to him while the room was real
quiet and saying "Hey, you're a pussy!", and got down
to creating the best live noise performance I have ever seen.
Intense focus, truly piercing tones, jaw-dropping silences,
beautiful hell-rumbles, and perfectly timed spasms of horror/ecstasy
leading up to a climactic tortured catharsis. The crowd loved
it, with people bursting into spontaneous praise like "That
was really fucking good!" as soon as he finished. I agreed
Now, the Hair Police.
Waiting for 5 months to finish this review has given me the
opportunity to use hindsight to understand their set. I think
the audience, myself included, expected at least some of the
halcyon days of "shirts vs. skins" and body-surfing
and mosh-pits and prayer revivals and "every day is New
Year's Eve," but the dudes have moved on. They played on
the floor with the lights almost completely out and ran epic
versions of their songs together into one deathly stew that
went on for an uninterrupted 30 minutes or so. People moshed
and lurched and tried to take Mike Connelly's guitar away from
him while he was playing it because that was what they thought
they were supposed to do, but it was a strangely disconnected
action/reaction. It was like everyone was moshing in slow motion
at the bottom of a pit of black tar with strobelights going
off somewhere above. Having read their recent interview
in Dusted Magazine, I now know what was going on: they had
fully moved into "psychedelic doom mode," a turning
point documented on the Mortuary Servants 7-inch and
the monstrous Obedience Cuts LP and shows like this
one. "No more kid shit. Focus, guts, and sound. That's
all there is."
Tet, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Kate Simko @ Empty Bottle /
April 13, 2004.
Yeah yeah, cover of the Wire, but I'd been hearing about Sunburned
Hand of the Man for at least 2 or 3 years before that,
through the Eclipse
psych CDR grapevine, and when I finally actually heard 'em,
on the LP Headdress, after all that anticipation, I
was like, "Maaaann . . . . . this is nothing new."
Then in the review I wrote "Santana + AMM = big deal."
But still, I'd heard SO MUCH about 'em and so many I people
I trusted dug 'em that I wasn't about to make my judgment on
one hasty LP, and I vowed to see 'em if they ever came to Chicago.
And they did, and I went, and, well, they were fuckin' great.
They still had to
earn it, though. I had walked in late (a very ridiculous story
where I couldn't find my bike lock so I had to borrow my babysitter's
car!), and they had already started what seemed to be their
first number. My immediate impression was that my doubts had
been justified, as the jam onstage was not yet that great. There
were all these people sitting on the floor staring at sundry
electronics whose sum total sound was an onrunning holding pattern.
Another guy stood in the middle, rapping on a cowbell with a
drumstick, while another guy sat behind a drum kit playing circular
free-funk. The groove wasn't really happening, the cowbell and
drums not synced up, not really trying to be, in warm-up mode,
and I wasn't gonna be into it just because it was 'free rock'
and they were all stoned and had cool hats on. Another guy in
a hat stood back by the drums playing keyboard, whom I deduced
was John Moloney because he was screaming and growling into
a microphone here and there just like he did on the album.
After a few minutes
of these ingredients I still wasn't swayed, but then shit started
to happen. The guy in the middle put down the cowbell and became
a free man, raising his hands and closing his eyes and commencing
to spin slowly in place as the noise/concrete underlay that
had been going on the whole time started to rise and I realized
there weren't just two or three others sitting on the floor,
there were like SEVEN others sitting on the floor, in absolute
concentration, making this little psych concrete mass slowly
levitate from the floor all the way to the ceiling while the
guy in the middle continued his slow devotional spinning. Something
was happening alright, some sort of different-level attainment,
which suddenly morphed into a more playful direction when Moloney
placed a soft kick drum case on top of the slow spinner's head.
The spinner kept spinning and walking despite the impediment,
eventually removing it and, in one motion, strapping on a bass
with a bird feather sticking out of the headstock. Things were
heating up, yet more levels of imagery and performance swagger
revealing themselves. Moloney moved over to the drumkit and
into a stuttering ultra-funky slow going-for-and-past-the-one
backbeat. (For anyone who only knows the band from The Wire
article and might be understandably skeptical: Moloney can walk
it as well he can talk it.) The slow spinner, who I later learn
is named Rob Thomas, takes his headdressed bass and adds a stoopid
slow Miles at Fillmore bass line. The Empty Bottle
soundsystem makes it sound deep. A few people were dancing!
And then, the bass player started rapping! Unlike with Moloney,
I could understand words and even entire lines, such as this
inspiring stanza, addressed directly to the Empty Bottle audience:
"It don't really matter / Who you came to see / All that
really matters baby / Is who you came to be." In between
songs his rap continued, about how "I think it was a Tuesday
when it all turned bad", referring to Tuesday, September
11, 2001, and, perhaps even worse, Tuesday, November 7, 2000,
and, significantly better but on a much smaller scale, the very
night we were all sharing at the Empty Bottle, Tuesday, April
13th, 2004, and how "the book of lies is getting bigger
and wider." He's more of a frontman than Moloney, whose
role is more Flavor Flav as he bops around stage changing instruments
yelling back at Thomas and others, at one point hobbling around
on his own ghetto cane. Anyway, they did I think four long jams
and then called it a set because the headlining act was up,
someone named Four Tet. I didn't stay because
I had to get back to the babysitter but I guess he's a one-man
laptop folk act. Laptronica? Folktronica? Shoot me now? No,
just kidding, I hear he's good.
SUNBURNED HAND OF THE MAN: The trickle down
theory of lord knows what.
Flatlanders @ Chicago Country Music Festival, Grant Park; Hypnotic
@ the corner of Michigan & Jackson / June 26, 2004
Ah yes, it's festival season again in "Chicago's front
yard," a/k/a wonderful Grant Park. Every summer Chi-town
has all these free shows where you've actually heard of the
people playing. I once saw the Go-Go's for free in Grant Park!
And today, almost 3 years later, I took the baby down to see
the Flatlanders because it was a really nice Saturday afternoon,
and I figured I should take the opportunity to see Jimmie Dale
Gilmore in person and confirm that he actually looks like that
-- not to mention sings like that. I've only heard their 1972
album once or twice and though that "Dallas" song
is truly one of the greats, most of it just slips right past
me. And most of this set did too, except when Jimmie Dale sang
-- the guy is a truly lovely alien. Nothing like that voice
on earth, and yes, he really does look like that. But if they
played "Dallas," I didn't hear it, probably because
my kid was 100 yards away chasing pigeons or something, and
I was chasing him.
On the way to the Flatlanders
I saw the best band of the night, some dudes from somewhere
on the South (or North or West) Side called Hypnotic. They were
an actual seven-piece brass band, set up and blazing on the
sidewalk right there at Michigan and Jackson, a guy on the trap-set
driving along a front line of trumpets, a trombone, and a tuba.
I saw 'em do two songs, and I don't mean to sound like a cigar-chomping
entertainment mogul, but right away I knew these guys HAD IT.
(You know, a certain something.) Decked out in caps and baggy
jeans and braided hair, they looked like rappers, but here they
were playing horns in a classic bluesy funk style. And with
a tuba! A tuba ripping it up, no less -- I've only
seen a couple tubas being played in a lifetime of going to jazz
shows, and then always in the service of plink-plonk plonk-prov
free jazz. This guy, on the other hand, was playing in-the-pocket
funk basslines that, as the song went on, evolved in syncopation
and melody in the same spirit as prime Bootsy Collins! My favorite
part of all was, towards the end of the first song, I noticed
one of the trumpeters playing his instrument with only one hand,
because he was looking at something in his other hand: his cell-phone,
flipped open and apparently ringing. He hit the final notes
of the song, and in the same motion put the phone to his ear
and began talking as the gathered passers-by applauded. I stayed
for another song, and it was even better: a slow-but-mean heartfelt
funk ballad that had heads nodding slowly all over the sidewalk,
with special thanks to the drummer's rock-simple groove.
On the way back from the Flatlanders,
Hypnotic were still rocking it, and in fact, most of the members
were gathered around the drum kit, all pounding away while the
tubaist kept the tune going via bad-ass bass-line. As they jammed
away, a policeman told them to move further down the Michigan
Avenue sidewalk because the gathering crowd was congesting the
Jackson Avenue sidewalk. They complied without stopping the
groove in the slightest, taking turns moving the drum kit piece
by piece. Two guys in the back of the gathering were rapping
their own lyrics, and doing pretty damn good before interrupting
themselves to hit on some fly honeys. It was an absolutely lovely
warm evening in June. Now, I'm on the web, and I come across
article on the band, and now it all makes sense. Gotta love
the city of Chicago.
(L-R) Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Joe Ely. (Cute band
alert, part 3!!!)
HYPNOTIC: Photo by Jim
Newberry, used without permission.
(please e-mail me, larry at blastitude period com, if I need
to take it down)
Crank Sturgeon, Emil Beaulieau, Panicsville, Vertonen / August
30, 2004 @ Empty Bottle.
Since the noise scene always gets called a "boys club,"
I wanted to begin this review by pointing out that there were
tons of women at this show. There was some speculation in a
between-set all-dude conversation I was in as to why this might
be, and one dude said, "Two words: Wolf Eyes." True,
I did once read someone actually compare Nate Young to Ashton
Kutcher, but I don't know what the hell that person was talking
about, I think he looks more like Greg Ginn. So I responded,
"Two more words: free show." Because sometimes on
Monday nights the Bottle doesn't charge at the door, and this
incredible noise lineup was one of those nights. So there were
a lot of PEOPLE there, period, and therefore a lot of women.
After the show, Mr. Emil Beaulieau was saying
"I couldn't BELIEVE how many people were here," to
which someone rightfully commented, "And I couldn't believe
how many FLY HONEYS were here," to which Beaulieau rightfully
responded, "Well, noise is a very sexual kind of music....."
Or something like that -- I just know he used the word "sexual,"
and he has a right to say anything about noise he wants, because
he truly is The Greatest Living Noise Artist, as he proved without
a doubt about 30 seconds into his set. Anyway, his shows are
legend, not only because the noise he produces is an extremely
satisfying tsunami of crushed sizzle, but also because he's
a guy who truly understands show business, and he's a hell of
a dancer to boot.
But he wasn't the first
act of the night, though. That was Vertonen,
a Chicago dude named Blake Edwards who runs the C.I.P.
label and just generally does a lot of excellent work for the
"scene". I have never seen a single bad show by Vertonen,
and this was one of the best. I walked in after he had started,
and before I even made it into the room I could hear the loud-ass
crush-wall he was building, and I was like "Damn, Blake's
kickin' ass again tonight." Dunno how to describe Vertonen,
how about . . . . excellent trancey-but-not-necessarily-rhythmic
wall-of-basalt blister gabber. One man alone, no performance
pandering, you don't have to watch, but you WILL listen.
Second up was Panicsville,
who I've now probably seen over ten times. I think the records
are always excellent (especially the Perverse CD!),
as are the live sounds, but I never really like the live set.
I really don't know why it is, either, but I always prefer to
listen from the next room. This one started out cool, with Ortmann
joined onstage by M.V. Carbon (of Metalux). He laid down electronics
and she sang in her distinctive new-wave-death CB-radio stylee,
and the result was a song. No costumes. Then she left the stage
and Ortmann carried on alone, no costume, flipping out the noise
and loops and quease, almost like a bizarro DJ set, again good
sounds but I spent most of it in the next room.
Then came the Beaulieau
set, which we've already talked about. He really did bring the
house down, and everyone loved it, the sexy new-comers and ugly
old-schoolers as well as the ugly new-comers and sexy old-schoolers,
because Beaulieau is an undeniable force of nature. Watching
him, I thought to myself, "If his equipment suddenly broke
down completely, it wouldn't even matter, he'd just keep going
for another 20 minutes of unplugged nuttiness and the crowd
would love it." Later I found out that this very thing
has indeed happened.
While Beaulieau was
playing, this older long-hair beach-bum looking dude in shorts
and flip-flops and an Hawaiian shirt was videotaping. I was
like "Who's that dude who's friends with Beaulieau? I've
never seen him around town," but when Beaulieau got done,
the beach-bum dude started setting up and sound-checking and
I realized that the dude was none other than the next act up,
Crank Sturgeon. I was excited to see his set,
as he's a long-running name in noise, and he lives in the remote
climes of Maine and puts out tapes that really don't sound like
anyone else, and boy, he lived up to the anticipation and then
some. First of all, the costume . . . . . . . . wow. He was
completely naked, except for a tube attached to his [you know
what] that extended down between his legs and then up his back,
growing in color and design like an exoskeleton and ending in
some sort of undersea wizard's hat that sat on his head. At
least that's how I remember it -- anybody got pictures? Musically
it was even more intense -- he stood at a table of gewgaws and
pedals and noisemakers but, as is often the case with Crank,
there were LOTS of vocals and actual spoken words. He started
the set very quietly, and in fact aggressively shushed the crowd,
and when they finally started to play along he began addressing
them with some completely weird whispered shit, of which all
I specifically remember is the repetition of the word "MAAAA-GIC
. . . . MAAAAA-GIC . . . . . MAAAA-GIC . . . ." The
set got louder and louder until he was playing heavy nail-file
drone and howling along with it at top volume, and then it got
quiet and there was applause but Mr. Sturgeon portentously said
something to the effect of "I'm not done yet!"
and played for another 10 minutes or so. It was an epic set
by noise standards -- well over 20 minutes long! The sorority
girl in front of me with a baseball cap and Phish T-shirt on
kept smiling quizzically at her boyfriend, but she was very
generous in her applause when it was finally over, as was everyone
Last up was Prurient,
who just a few months before in Chicago gave the best noise
performance I had ever seen (see review above). It was now the
second best noise performance I had ever seen, thanks to Emil
Beaulieau, but 2nd place ain't bad at all. However, the set
he put on this night, while certainly intense, was more like
3rd place. It was the exact same set-up, feedback from two microphones
running through a tower of amps and pedals, but, perhaps because
he was the headlining act, the set went on a little longer this
time, and this wasn't necessarily to an advantage, as instead
of slowly and surely advancing towards a perfect unholy end,
he seemed to make a couple misteps that forced him to loop back
and repeat himself a little bit. I mean, don't get me wrong,
it was still more than unholy, and still one of the best noise
sets you're gonna see out there. I'm just being a nitpicking
asshole critic, here, okay? And who am I to complain about any
aspect of a truly top-notch evening of noise performance! Thanks
for coming out, everyone! (Best merch table I've ever seen,
Live And Shave In L.A., Yakuza, Inshi / September 13, 2004 /
Well, I have to start by saying that the opening bands were
horrible. They were the most life-draining stoned-metal bands
I have ever suffered through, and the way they wanked indiscriminately
on dropped-D guitar and 'eclectic' saxophone, they were not
only nü-metal, they were NOODLE-metal. Just atrocious.
A lot of heads and old-schoolers were there, all of us excited
about seeing To Live and Shave in L.A., but
as the nöödle-metal droned on we were all forced into
the pool/merch room, where we had to stand around and talk each
other's ears off, trying to stay amped. It was almost like having
to wait outside, except the music was worse.
By the time the Shave
were finally able to throw down, all liveliness had
been snuffed out of the crowd, and the band's unveiling of a
new direction -- building slowly from silence into a hard-drive
grooving wall-of-thunder while Tom Smith brandished the mic,
club-danced, and lugubriously drawled out luridly repetetive
chants -- was too much for the already zombified audience, who
merely stood back respectfully trying to process it. Sometimes
audiences heckle bands, but after only one song this band was
already heckling the crowd instead. "Man, you guys must
not've gotten anything for Christmas!" chided Mr. Smith,
met with almost total non-response. He also suggested we needed
to take more echinacea. Hey Tom, welcome to the Empty Bottle.
It's often like this here, especially when everyone is just
waking up after a long brain-dead Monday-night nu-metal nightmare.
Suffice to say, there wasn't much energy besides what was onstage,
and a sweaty and rather defeated Shave stopped playing after
just 4 numbers or so. (Long numbers, I should add -- it was
still a substantial set.)
The Chicago audience
may be a notoriously tough (arm-folding and chin-stroking) nut
to crack, but I've seen plenty of Chicago audiences, all-ages
and old-ages, freak out when the atmosphere is right. So what
was the deal? Again, I really do put 95% of the blame on the
opening bands. As for the other 5%, well, the Shave undeniably
played their collective ass off and sounded huge, but this was
a new lineup that barely had time to rehearse, and you could
tell -- it was a powerhouse sound but it seemed like it was
just coming together and that some kind of change, something
more specific, was perpetually about to come thundering around
the corner. (Of course this might be perfectly intentional --
Mr. Smith has said that he wants this new lineup to embody "tension
without release.") The classic trio of Rat Bastard, Ben
Wolcott, and Smith were all present, but Bastard was on some
sort of electronic gewgaw table instead of his death-defying
bass guitar. Wolcott was superb as always, making me fully realize
what a freaked-out combination this bass/oscillator/vocals trio
was, and how sorry I was that I had missed it as a live act.
On electric guitars were old guy Don Fleming (I was looking
at him the whole time and thinking, "That guy has worked
with Alice Cooper") and young guy Mark Morgan from Sightings,
and they were a constant source of sick and inventive "where
the hell's that coming from?" sounds. And on drums, other
young guy Andrew W.K. played surprisingly low-key trance-rhythms,
which almost single-handedly drove the band into the new territory
they stomped in. Another surprise were the vocals, which sounded
more like repeated mantras ("Row houses are already dead!")
than the dizzyingly endless Shakespeare-standard librettos of
Completely danceable, this new
group sound was more like To Live and Shave in Lagos than L.A.,
and after the show Mr. Smith indeed confirmed that the inspiration
of Mssrs. Fela Kuti and Tonny Allen had a lot to do with it.
Only problem was, I felt like the band was somewhat imprisoned
by the trance-beats. The guitars of Fleming and Morgan (now
there's a law firm) wailed and thundered and shuddered right
along with the Bastard and Wolcott (ditto) electronics, erecting
an imposing sonic blast wall, but no longer was it free-falling
1000 MPH into your mind and spine as was always the case with
the original trio lineup. Instead, the drums, while they added
a new drive and propulsion, also created a cage that held all
the world-class tigers at a safe remove, just as the Empty Bottle
stage played its customary role as a cage that trapped the band,
however unhinged, into an entertainment spectacle role for the
nearly immobile audience.
Anyway, the band was
put off by the crowd and thought it was a bad night and I guess
I found it hard to completely disagree. Of course, the crowd
was indeed feeling it much more than they were showing (Sir Lord Brian
had seen the Melvins a couple nights earlier and thought
Shave were better!), but something wasn't right. Tom was genuinely
disappointed but also apologetic -- "Sorry we couldn't
vibe with you, Chicago. I thank you all for coming, there's
a lot of beautiful people here tonight, and a LOT of beautiful
women here." He went on to concur that these were depressing
times, referring to Bush's somehow completely plausible re-election
chances, and a collective defeated sigh seemed to rise from
everyone in the room, the most significant audience reaction
of the night. Afterwards, Tom took the blame, stating succintly
that "we failed." They didn't fail to play their songs
-- again, they played their ass off -- but they failed to move
the crowd. Was it the band's fault or was it ours in the audience?
How about neither -- it was the fault of the evening. It was
Yakuza's fault. It was Bush's fault. Or something. Who cares,
listen to the band's live
set on WFMU radio, recorded just a week later, and see whatcha
think. All through the week I thought about the show a lot --
always a good sign -- and by the time the 'FMU broadcast came
around I was ready to hear the approach again. And you know,
it sounded great, surely because of another week's worth of
shows under their belt . . . or maybe because I was the one
who needed to come around, not the band, and despite their very
best effort I just wasn't quite able to do it on a nu-metal
Monday in cold and restrained Chi-town.
Corpse, Pengo, The SB, Aaron Rosenblum, Arizona Drains @ The
Rudyard Kipling, Louisville, KY / October 9, 2004.
Sometimes you just gotta get out of town, hence this special
Louisville, KY installment of the Chicago Show Report. This
sleepy meandering mid-south river town is a mere 5 hour drive
from the Windy City, so when some friends and notables were
converging upon the reknowned L-town underground rock venue
known as the Rudyard Kipling, I figured "What the hell?"
Especially when I heard that before the show there was gonna
an afternoon BBQ slash music monsterjam in a park . . . .
. but that's really a whole different story, I'll just talk
about the show at the Rudyard Kipling.
First up were the Cherry
Blossoms, except it wasn't the Cherry Blossoms, it was the
Arizona Drains, which is 3/4th of the Cherry
Blossoms, or sometimes 5/8th, or something like that. If you
haven't heard of the Cherry Blossoms, they're a long-running
legend from the city of Nashville, who may or may not share
in some of the current new folk hype that's been going 'round.
It would be good for all of us if they did, but while you're
waiting, all the hype you need (plus lots of recommended mp3s!)
can be found here.
As for the Arizona Drains, jeez, they might be better than
the Blossoms! It was a trio, featuring one John Allingham
on vocals and 'rhythm guitar', some long-haired guy on 'lead
guitar', and Criznok (who used to be in the New Faggot Cunts!)
on drums. And man it was good. They played old-timey rockabilly/C&W
songs that may or may not have been covers, with this formula:
John strummed and picked the chord changes on his guitar with
a casual I'm-trying-to-remember-how-it-goes-oh-yeah-here-it-is
air while the other guitarist inscrutably chimed in with reverbed
leads that were barely there but definitely there (if you
know what I mean). And the
kicker was the drums by Criznok. A song would start with just
the guitars going around the main riff a few times, and then
Criznok would launch into his kit with a calmly crazy flurry
where he seemed to be trying to get to as many drums as he
could all at once while still staying on rhythm, an excited
pitter-patter of multidirectional motion. The sum result was
something like old-time rockabilly being played inside a very
small and active hen house -- creaky and wildly flapping,
with lots of random squawks. They played like 5 songs but
should've played at least 15.
Next up was Aaron
Rosenblum, from Western Mass and a member of such
outfits as Son
of Earth/Flesh On Bone. He announced his set by saying
that it wasn't going to be as good as the Cherry Blossoms,
referring to the previous set by Cherry Blossoms alter ego
Arizona Drains (as well as just the Cherry Blossoms in general),
and he was right, it wasn't as good, but then neither was
that set that just happened in Scotland by that Jandek guy.
It was still a fine set, Rosenblum playing mostly a steel
guitar very ably, old-time fingerpicking and roots chording
done in a low-key style that blended nicely into the calm
wood of the venue, with a couple guests from Louisville sitting
in here and there and keeping it loose.
Next up was touring act
The SB, from NYC, with something like eight
people onstage. Everytime I hear the SB it's like one part
of the same long song, which is the sound of a deep bathyspheric
dark-cloud that never quite unleashes a storm, it just moves
past very slowly and quietly freaks everybody out. I almost
fell asleep. John from Arizona Drains actually did. We both
really liked it.
Up next and definitely
waking everybody up was Pengo, on tour from
Rochester, NY. (See elsewhere in this
issue for an interview with Pengo.) Man, they tore it up!
A trio this time, of Finkbeiner, Schoen, and Nuuja. Finkbeiner
seemed to be leading the way with his guitar playing -- has
anyone ever pointed out that this guy is a monster on the
six-string?! Super-loud, sheets of sound, metallic raga, non-stop.
He was the leader. Schoen followed, supplying inscrutable
psychedelic glue by switching around from synth to sax and
maybe more, while Nuuja did his best to destroy the other
two with a mangled static tone that he would loop indiscriminately
and destructively to gloriously numbing effect. The sum total
was a continuous 30+ minutes of music that was totally on
fire. Best crowd response of the night, understandably.
After this, the
place was buzzing, as more people had showed up and a 'bar
scene' was going on. A bunch of freaks with saxophones started
getting onstage, which meant that Maximum Corpse
was setting up, the only local band of the night. There were
also freaks setting up turntables, and a full drum kit, and
a huge bass rig. Couple afros, a mega-beard, an art babe,
coke bottle glasses, and more. And they were a riot of sound,
too! They did a lot of standard noise jazz screaming, but
the leader played a baritone saxophone and he used it to bring
most of the proceedings down into the slow surging walls of
the bassist's feedback. When the bassist wasn't doing that
superbly, he was playing some goofy fast fusion punk riff
with the powerful drummer. Completely instrumental, like a
really good Painkiller album getting the rug pulled out from
under it and plummeting down into the Brotzmann/SunnO))) collaboration
that now no longer needs to happen. They might not be the
most original punk jazz band in history but they still confirm
without a doubt that Louisville swims in its own parallel
DRAINS: That's John, who's also in the Cherry Blossoms. A
dude who knows how to party!
killer background image -- one of my favorite of all
pictures of Chicago I've seen -- is from those flyboys
over at www.qth.com/sos/dayton01.
Quite an adventure they had! Don't miss the part where
the gang goes to Hooters!
hey, this is the last page of Blastitude #17! Thanks
for comin' out tonight! If you'd like to start over
with page 1, click this weird arrow-type thing: