Two venerable Chicago rock institutions celebrated significant anniversaries together this past weekend. The Hideout, a local favorite venue among musicians and fans alike, played host to their 10th Annual Block Party with a little help from their friends at Touch & Go Records, who were celebrating their 25 years of excellence in independent music. Reunions were abundant - both on-stage and among the crowd. Old friends and former band mates alike huddled in the damp, cool industrial zone for a recapitulation of 25 years of Corey Rusk and company's dedication to forward-thinking music and non-commercial ethos.
Representing the strong Chicago-Louisville math-rock pipeline Friday evening was the Shipping News. I skipped lunch and split from work early to ensure I wouldn't miss their pulsing dirge, startling musicianship and near-spoken vocals. They were the one of the few acts of the weekend that were graced by sunlight, and their new songs shone brightly in the early evening glow. Supersystem followed with their thumping synth-bass disco-derelicte. And so the reunions began as Girls Against Boys jumped into "In Like Flynn." GVSB drew heavily from their 1993 T&G release, Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby. Just off of stage left was Corey Rusk, beaming like a proud father.
John Haggerty slung his black Strat at his belt with his typical swagger and displayed the same skill and tone that every punk kid in the Chicago area still apes today.
Ted Leo + Pharmacists barreled through their set with their typical gusto. Leo succeeds where many punk songwriters fail. His songs are able to synthesize calypso rhythms, tempo changes and Motown melodies without coming off as pastiche. Lyrically, Leo is also able to address social and political issues poetically without the pedantry typical of the punk genre. And all of that aside, with his crack band of Dave Lerner on bass and Chris Wilson on drums, he puts on one helluva show.
!!! rounded out the night, gettin' the party on. I was a little tuckered, so I made my walk home, chomping at the bit for Saturday, the crown jewel of the weekend.
My ex-bandmate Ricky picked me up mid-day Saturday with our Baltimore posse in tow. We mowed through breakfast to catch Uzeda, but ended up at the Hideout halfway through hometown heroes, Pegboy. John Haggerty slung his black Strat at his belt with his typical swagger and displayed the same skill and tone that every punk kid in the Chicago area still apes today.
Tim & Andy (of Silkworm) changed the pace in their mini-set, playing a spacious guitar tribute to their recently deceased drummer, Michael Dahlquist. Shortly following on the same stage was Dutch noise-rock legends, the Ex. Chunky, dueling guitar laid a horizon under which vocalist G.W. Sok rapped repetitive incantations. Looped licks on a Bass6 opened into a deluge of feedback. Drummer Katherina regulated the flow between order and chaos, reining in interludes and opening spaces for guitarists to expand and extrapolate. Fingers were bloodied and the crowd left screaming by set's end.
Killdozer inducted the crowd into the no-holds-barred rock portion of the program, banging through a set of their tunes punctuated by blues classic, "LaGrange."
The Didjits followed with their brand of unapologetic machismo rock. "Killboy Powerhead" had their crowd in a full-on sing-a-long, fists and fingers a-flying. But proving that age does soften even the baddest-of-asses, singer Rick Sims could be seen carrying his young daughter on his shoulders throughout the weekend.
Though every act paid tribute to Corey Rusk, none was as touching as [Scratch Acid's David] Yow grabbing him by the shirt collar and dragging him against the security barriers. Rusk bit Yow lovingly in the hand, thus ending the traditional fisticuffs of respect.
Negative Approach was blistering, sending the crowd into circle-pit fervor. No one seemed to remember the controversy of not including the brothers McCulloch in the reunion as John Brannon screamed through the seminal hardcore band's set. Their intensity set the stage for one of the most anticipated reunions of the weekend, Scratch Acid. David Yow leapt into action as guitarist Brett Bradford did the splits while ripping through psychedelic-damaged punk riffs. Though every act paid tribute to Corey Rusk, none was as touching as Yow grabbing him by the shirt collar and dragging him against the security barriers. Rusk bit Yow lovingly in the hand, thus ending the traditional fisticuffs of respect.
It was during Scratch Acid's mind-scrambling set that I decided to "free up memory" on my camera, and in one false move, deleted the day's photos. They were great. Pulitzer-worthy. Trust me on this one.
Man or Astro-man? surfed their way back into our lives, but I was still a little out of sorts from my memory card debacle, so I decided to watch Big Black ready their reunion. The crowd chanted for Roland as they set up their gear, but I'm fairly certain that drum machines don't take to heckling. Steve Albini christened the reunion by scaring the piss out of those of us in the photo pit by lighting a pack of Black Cats as he, Jeff Pezzati and Professor Santiago Durango crunched into and through their oldest material, eschewing the hits. "I know what you're all thinking," Albini quipped, "what's the big deal?" And though it was thrilling to bear witness to the reunion, it was Shellac that truly shined.
Shellac railed into the hits from the beginning, playing a set that included "My Black Ass" and "In A Minute" from the 1994 T&G release, At Action Park, "Canada" and "Copper" from 1998's Terraform, and "Prayer to God" from 2000's 1000 Hurts. The crowd was rapt and still throughout, riveted by the gawky bloused precision of Todd Trainer, Bob Weston's booming bass bottoming Steve Albini's signature trebly guitar foil. They previewed new material from their upcoming release Excellent Italian Greyhound, "coming out on Geffen," joked Weston. One new song begins as Weston plays at tuning, Albini asking, "is this thing on?" and Trainer drumming sporadically and intermittently. It's not apparent that it is a song until well into it, when Trainer and Weston fall into lockstep. It is deconstructivist rock music that wouldn't be digestible if it wasn't for the running room Shellac has opened up for itself.
The Black Heart Procession sailed through their catalog of full, lush arrangements. They did a cover of Tom Petty's 'You Got Lucky,' dedicated to Rusk, where Jenkins ad-libbed 'A good love is hard to find / A good label is hard to find.' The weekend's prevailing sentiment codified into one line.
Sunday morning was cold and rainy and Saturday left me tired. I awoke as Quasi was going on and didn't make it until Three Mile Pilot, one of my picks for the weekend. The melancholy progenitors of Black Heart Procession and Pinback matched the soggy afternoon's chilly mood aptly, playing songs such as "Wave Of The Ocean" and "I'll Play The Devil" to a drowsy, swaying audience. Tara Jane O'Neill and Seam maintained the sleepy mood, playing in succession, lulling the crowd. Todd Trainer played solo as Brick Layer Cake, strummed and rhymed his way through lyrics about the dubious aspects of the music biz, bisexual orgies, heroin and hair dye. "This is Bill Graber's guitar," Trainer deadpanned as he raised the Telecaster before leaving the stage. "It is fucking legendary. The next thing I'm going to do is learn how to play it."
The crowd was buzzing with anticipation as Black Heart Procession took the stage and they promptly delivered the goods. Featuring multiple multi-instrumentalist virtuosos and the inimitable voice of Pall Jenkins, the Procession sailed through their catalog of full, lush arrangements. They did a cover of Tom Petty's "You Got Lucky," dedicated to Rusk, where Jenkins ad-libbed "A good love is hard to find / A good label is hard to find." The weekend's prevailing sentiment codified into one line.
Stylistically, CoCoRosie was a vast departure from the bulk of the weekend's performers, but as Tim from the Hideout suggested in his introduction, their mood suited the day perfectly. Their stage plot resembled friends setting up camp in a living room, but their set was far from a jam session. Operatic vocals, illusionistic beatboxing, toy instruments and microphones, and harp all co-mingled, creating an otherworldly space for the hip-hop and reggae beats to bump and collide.
Pinback played energetically to a crowd happy to hear their offerings and gave a shout-out to Calexico as they prepared to play. Calexico was a breath of fresh air in the cool Sunday night. Their Mexican-American hybrid of roots music lifted the tired, weary festival-goers to dance and clap along. The horns beckoned a group of us into an impromptu dance circle. We'd stuck it out through a long weekend celebration, and though we were tired and cold, Calexico energized and warmed us into the night.
The weekend as a whole was a reminder of what is possible when individuals ignore the "industry standard" and develop a community based on their ideals, principles and taste, rather than sales indexes and percentage-points. The Hideout nurtures and cares for local talent, providing a home and developing relationships with acts from early on in their careers. Corey Rusk and everyone at Touch & Go Records built a reputation and successful label without business-as-usual. Talk about a breath of fresh air.
by Tom Smith (Office)