When I happened to hear about this three-day music festival, my interest grew as the bands kept getting added and the line-up became more and more enticing. Once Big Black came on board (if only for a few tunes) that sealed the deal. I got the Friday off from work, booked a ticket, and called up some accommodating family members for free lodging. What follows is what I saw and heard over those three days. It is by no means a comprehensive journal of the proceedings. If you want that, please head out into the wild and wooly blog-o-sphere. But I did catch close to 90% of the bands playing. For twenty-five bands in three days that’s pretty impressive. Probably only Corey Rusk saw more. But without further hullabaloo, here is a rough and tumble journal of my stay in Chicago for this special event.
I had to take an early morning flight for a cheaper fare; not that I really needed to be in Chicago super early for the first day. The gates did not open until 4 PM and the first band did start until 5 PM. Plus, I had gone out to a show in DC the night before—Retisonic and Riddle Of Steel at The Red and The Black. Cool show and it was exciting to see 3/4ths of Swiz hang together for a chat after it was all over. But hanging out at a show until 2 AM does not make a 7 AM flight enjoyable. Black coffee couldn’t even save the day for this one. I slept like a dead man and got to Chi-town a little before 9 AM. I decided to take the train into the city. I made it to the Lincoln Park area of the city a little after 10 AM. I walked into a great guest room action, courtesy of my cousin Lauren. Since I had already been here twice, seeing the sights wasn’t on the agenda for this trip. I decided my time would be better spent taking another nap. I did shake from my slumber long enough to get a burrito at Tres Amigos: a great burrito and over all cheap eats. Then the afternoon rolled on and I had to hop a cab to get to The Hideout. The Hideout turned out to be a small but hip bar in a fairly industrial part of town. But it was an easy ride.
I met up with ace photographer and music expert Brad from Boston. Check out http://www.bradleysalmanac.com/ for the latest and greatest in the indie music scene. He had mentioned that Shipping News was a band that he was interested in checking out. I tagged along even though I was not familiar with their music. Good move on my part. They were great. I dug pretty much all their tunes and they had a laid back, relaxed stage presence; definitely stoked to check out their catalog of material. Next up was Super System. I had already seen El Guapo in DC a couple years back. Didn’t like ‘em then, and the same goes for now. They had decent crowd but it’s just not my bag. We decided to roam about for a bit. Basically, the set-up consisted of a blocked-off road where The Hideout bar was, tents outside with food, drinks, information and, of course, CDs! The bands played in a fenced-off parking lot. Two stages, so as soon one band finished, the other band pretty much went on after the last chord faded away. No excessive waits and phony build-up between acts. Good call.
So I grabbed a bratwurst and checked out the Reckless Records tent. They had all the Touch & Go discography at special rates. I grabbed a few and was back over to the far stage. Girls Against Boys were up and getting ready to roll. I had heard a few songs by this band before, but had never seen them live. I picked a good time to start. They played the entire Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby from front to back. Very cool. Their set was tight and I thought that I had really missed the boat on this band. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see them again. Next up was Ted Leo & The Pharmacists. They were great, as always. I also got to meet Ted briefly afterwards, thanks to Brad who knows him. That kept me in a good mood, even when I had to sit through !!!. They were god awful. They remind me of what the Polyphonic Spree would sound like live, if I was ever forced at gunpoint to watch them, too. Lame as shit, so I trudged off for more beers at The Hideout. That’s when I happened to run into Pat from the great Chicago band The Matics. Check them out on myspace if you have not already. They rock. It was cool to finally meet him and the other Matics dudes. We drank a couple beers and Pat and his wife were kind enough to give me a lift home so I could save on cab fare. I was in bed by midnight after I demolished half a Gino’s East deep dish. Tasty. I knew tomorrow would be a big day for music and brews, so I visited The Sandman early.
Day 2-Saturday 9/10/06
Single day tickets for today were sold out. I heard later that about 7,000 people came in and out. It felt like it—the way we were getting crunched like a Nestle bar trying to get in and out—and another great reason to start drinking early. In addition to hanging with Brad, I was also joined by Karl and Aimee (ex-Factory Incident, currently with Technostress) who flew in from DC. From Chicago came Lew (music guru and Daghouse kingpin) and Mike (who runs www.punkvinyl.com), and Tom (cool music dude, also from Daghouse). Pat from The Matics was also in attendance on this day too. It became harder to keep this large of a group together on such a jam-packed day, so people floated in and out of the picture. But everyone seemed to be pulling out all the stops for this day.
First up was The New Year. Brad is a big fan; they were only marginally interesting to me. Just not something that instantly grabbed me; all great musicians nonetheless. After The New Year came Uzeda. The only reason I knew anything about this band was I happened to catch them in DC at The Black Cat about two weeks back. They had opened for Shellac. They have almost a metallic, grinding sound. It grows on you like a mercury spill. Seeing them twice, I really can’t say enough about this band, except go see them live and buy their records. They come from Italy and airfare ain’t cheap, man! They mix stirring political anthems with guitar playing that will pummel you like a jackhammer. Uzeda finished up their set and I ducked into The Hideout to grab a brew with Lew and Pat, not wanting to miss Pegboy.
I think for a lot of people there, this was one band everyone wanted to see. They’ve played Chicago every once and awhile over the last few years. They probably have not toured extensively since 1998, so I was pretty pumped. Larry Damore gave it his all. His Roger Daltrey style mic swinging coupled with a big fat gut hanging out was highly entertaining. And he only fell over onstage once! (Larry, I kid because I care. Honest!). John Haggerty still rips on guitar. Pierre Kezdy was rock solid on bass. Joe Haggerty laid down a steady beat on the trap. I was impressed with how good they still sounded. I’m no Pegboy expert, having only seen them twice in the ‘90s, but I was thoroughly entertained. It would have been nice to hear their version of “Treason,” but let’s not split hairs. They were one of the highlights so far. I didn’t see any of the band members walking around after. They probably went straight to The Exit, a joint the Haggerty brothers own down the street. I would implore the band, if they are not going to record a new studio record, how about throwing some live shows out to the masses? We got this thing called the internet now; it’s really caught on since Cha Cha Damore came out. Give it some thought, boys! Long live Pegboy!
Due up next was Tim & Andy. I opted to skip this performance and instead went to grab some cold ones with Karl and Aimee. The next band I caught was The Ex. I knew of their reputation from a documentary I had seen on them a few years back. They were energetic, but their set seemed to lose momentum from time to time. Their outfits were pretty bad, but this isn’t a Madonna concert, so who cares? I bagged out early to catch Killdozer.
Pluses: a giant inflatable penis came out while they were playing and got manhandled by the crowd. Minuses: no “American Pie” cover. It was great to finally hear this band live and an excellent ZZ Top cover of “Tush.”
Jon & Kat came up next, who I also bagged on. Lew, Mike, and I went for more grub and beverages. I heard we didn’t miss much. I also heard that Jeff Tweedy and Elijah Wood were in the crowd. I didn’t see them.
Didjits were up next to rock the house. Although I was not as close as I would have liked for them, I still thought they kicked ass. Cool look, nice duds, great music; another band who I will be digging into their back catalog soon enough. The singer was pretty funny. I think he said “Hello St. Louis” to start off their set.
After Didjits, came P.W. Long. I bailed on this to make a run for the Jiffy John’s. They were completely nasty by that time of the day. I bet the people in the VIP sections were pristine. Oh well.
Next on the docket: Negative Approach; half of them, anyway. I had just seen the singer and guitarist last week with Easy Action in DC at The Black Cat. They opened for legends Radio Birdman. A wild pit did get started, but I hung back from the mayhem. Wild set, but since I wasn’t too familiar with their songs—probably not as exciting for me and some of the other punters—but still a tight set.
Sally Timms came up after, which was my cue to get more beers. As darkness descended upon the scene, on came Scratch Acid: David Yow and a rhythm section that I only knew from Rapeman. They were intense, sweaty, and loud. Pretty impressive if you ask me.
Man or Astro Man? were next. Pat had told me they were pretty cool, but I wanted to get a good spot for Big Black so I decided to just wait it out on the stage they would be playing on with Brad. After a long wait, and some more inane comments from Tim (The Hideout owner who was introducing every band), Steve Albini set off some firecrackers and they roared to life. It was the classic lineup of Steve, Jeff Pezzati on bass, Santiago Durango on guitar, and Roland on drums. The songs were: “Racer X,” “Dead Billy,” “Cables,” and “Pigeon Kill.” Roland seemed to be the only that really still had all his chops together, but the other guys were okay too. I wish Santiago had then pulled Pierre Kezdy up for a few Arsenal tunes, but no dice. We knew it was going to be a short set for Big Black, but it was still fucking awesome.
After a short break, Shellac came on. Bob Weston had been pulling double duty, handling sound for all the other bands. I had just seen Shellac a couple weeks back for the first time at The Black Cat in DC (yes, I live there!). So the set list was similar, but they still rocked. Supposedly, there will be a new Shellac record before 2010. That’s what I learned in the band’s Q and A session. Shellac was excellent, and then some of the roadies had to pull Tim from The Hideout off the stage because he kept talking after they were done. People would not leave because they thought maybe a surprise band was coming on. Tim is a blowhard.
I took off but had to wait forever to get a cab back to Lincoln Park. I thought I may be sleeping outside of Home Depot at one point. I met up with my hostess with the mostest, Lauren, and my other cousins Jenny and Rachel, and their dudes Butch and Will. Many late night cocktails were consumed. On Tom’s advice, we went to Delilah’s in Lincoln Park. Karl and Aimee also joined us for a few drinks. Delilah’s is a great punk bar with NY Dolls on DVD and MC5 on the jukebox and was a great way to cap off the Saturday night.
Not as crowded as Saturday, the band lineup was a little bit more mellow, but I still hit on some unexpected gems that I was excited about when it was all said and done. First up was Arcwelder. It was raining when they started, but there was still a decent crowd to check them out, even though they were on first. Arcwelder was tight. Brad had mentioned they were one of his favorite trios ever, and I could see why. Great set including ending with the crowd-pleasing instrumental “Cranberry Sauce.” Can’t wait to crank some of their CDs I picked up at the Reckless tent.
Then came Quasi. They sounded a little too much like Ben Folds Five for my tastes, but some songs grabbed me more than others. Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney, and now apparently in The Jicks, was on drums. Not horrible, but not in my Top 5 for the festival.
The Monorchid from DC were next on stage. Karl and Aimee really wanted to see them, so they got a little closer than I was. They were rocking, although their bassist was struggling with some technical difficulties. The amp issues were so bad that the singer stated that the stage manager sucked and that this would not have happened during Shellac’s set! But they muddled through to the end and the crowd was appreciative for their efforts.
Enon was next and they reminded me a little too much like Shonen Knife. I grew more and more disinterested as they played.
Three Mile Pilot, although I tried to get into them since I knew they featured members of Pinback and The Black Heart Procession, just did not do it for me either. Tara Jane O’Neil did however. Brad was dead on on this pick. She was great and make sure you get her new record In Circles, pronto. Chris Brokaw from The New Year accompanied her on guitar, but she was great all by her own too. Two thumbs up on O’Neil.
Seam was next. I knew zippo about this group but walked away mesmerized. Their fans acted like this was the Second Coming. One fan screamed out, “make another record.” I don’t think the singer even cracked a smile. But Seam was the highlight of the day. They rocked with reckless abandon, which is always good to see.
I then had the unfortunate distinction of getting to see Brick Layer Cake. Todd Trainer—drummer from Shellac’s first project on Touch & Go—was on guitar, with lame, unfunny lyrics and even more bland guitar playing. Mercifully, it was only fifteen minutes. Stick to drums, Todd.
The Black Heart Procession was next. They played a pretty entertaining set, even though I wasn’t totally blown away by it. They did cover a Tom Petty song at the end of their set, too.
Coco Rosie was next. Brick Layer Cake sounds like the best music in the world compared to this group of misfits. Two female singers. One looked like a refugee from Luscious Jackson. The other one seriously reminded me of Yoko Ono. Long flowing robes, high falsetto vocals, and a harp. Harps should not be at a rock show, period. They were joined by some kind of dancehall type rapper and one other person, who I can’t recall what they played, possibly bass. They were unbearable. I can’t believe they actually had records out. Coco Rosie left a bad taste in my mouth.
Pinback was up next. They had a pretty, textured sound, sometimes with two keyboard players. The singer had some witty asides on stage. He said he sent off for a Big Black cassette when he was a teenager and he never got it. He told Corey (who was up front, watching their set) that he wanted his money back. They were pretty entertaining.
The last band was Calexico. I only stayed for a few songs, but they weren’t really my thing. They kind of reminded me of what Herb Alpert would sound like if he jammed with Los Lobos, so I bolted and headed back to my cousin’s. Then it was a 6 AM redeye out of Chi-town Monday morning to get back to work. Brutal, but I was still living off the highs of the three day blowout that was the Touch & Go 25th Anniversary Party. What an awesome time.
Thanks again to my cousins, Lauren, Rachel, and Jenny; and Karl, Aimee, Lew, Mike, Brad, Pat, and Tom for hanging at the festival. Had a blast. A special thanks to my wife Kat for helping with Junior while I was drinking cold ones and rocking out in The Windy City. Cheers and go buy the new Blight CD. Tesco Vee will thank you!