Blastitude 9
issue 12   february/march/april 2002
page 14




I didn't go to see Zbigniew Karkowski at Chicago's 6ODUM venue a couple months ago, but I did find a review of the show on the brutalsfx message board interesting. The author was one Sepulveda Disaster, and it went like this:
       'in 3 words, loud digital noise. i went looking to get my sternum shaken by quad bass--the volume of which courtesy dictates one doesn't play in their own dwelling on their stereo--and I got it, for the most part. but 45 min. of more or less "expected" stuff--"dramatic" gaps of silence, bursts jumping around the room and off the walls, high pitch whistles to test the mettle of those in the room--just wasn't that riveting; the range of sound was kinda static. apparently he only wanted to play for 20 min but the presenting org. was like "these kids paid $10, go give'em an hour." hm.'

       Hm, indeed. Maybe that's why the piece Alan Licht played at ODUM seemed to go on and on and did a piece by Mirror I saw at ODUM a few months before that. Maybe the presenting org. was the same for all three, and in each case said "These kids paid $10, go give 'em an hour." I realize this is Chicago, where $10 seems more and more to be the required cover charge, but how about, instead of dictating an overlong set, getting an opening act? How about two or three opening acts? That might actually be a show worth $10. Maybe Karkowski didn't tell them he was only going to play 20 minutes. If not, he should've, but promoters should always have opening acts, just in case someone on the bill only wants to play 20 minutes. Single-artist bills are for museums and Las Vegas. Set length should always be negotiated when a band plays at a club; if the artist doesn't volunteer it to the promoter, then the promoter should ask.
        A post on the same message board about Karkowski's set in Detroit the next night said that he only played 20 minutes and it was perfect. (I bet the show was cheaper too...but it's already Detroit vs. Chicago.) In other words, Karkowski only plays 20 minutes for a reason. His "loud digital noise" is a strong flavor; as with hot salsa or hard liquor, one doesn't need a large quantity of it in order to get a taste. In cooking it's called "seasoning," in live music it's called "show business."

I saw Royal Trux play in Lawrence, Kansas two or three years ago on their Accelerator tour. I was way into the album, but there was something odd about the show. I got the feeling that the Trux knew people were going to be showing up to hear those bombastic wall-of-overdubs Accelerator arrangements, and they really don't seem to be into fulfilling expectations at all, so they basically just did power trio boogie-rock versions of the songs instead. It ended up being pretty good, but still quite odd, and it didn't give me any idea what to expect from Neil Michael Hagerty solo at the Abbey Pub last March. Well, the strategy was the same, as the band was again a hard-rock power trio -- but this time, what a power trio! Tim Barnes was on drums and that's a guy who could make any power trio sound good, and none other than Dan Brown ("the Jaco Pastorious of Drag City") was on bass.
        As for Hagerty, he wore a fringe jacket and played some of the most unbelievable extended heavy molten harmolodic acid-blues guitar I've heard in my life. (I'm not exaggerating.) Each song seemed to be just a few lyrics and at most four chords, one excuse after another for a six-minute guitar solo, and the crazy thing was the excuse worked every single time. (The most obvious and most entertaining excuse is the song "Gratitude," with the lyrics "thanks a lot...thanks a lot....thanks a lot....thanks a whole whole lot...for everything you've got...thanks a lot....oh thanks a lot....thanks a lot..." and so on. A non-hipster girl with a nice booty was dancing to this song about ten feet in front of me so that improved its entertainment rating quite a bit. Her and her friends didn't seem to have any idea who the incredible burnout guitar player in the fringe jacket was, but they were having a good time anyway.)
       No really, how can I do justice to this guitar-solo thing....people, he literally did not play one bad note. I think the only musicians I've seen come close in the last 15 years are the guy from Mainliner and Eddie Van Halen, and Hagerty's rhythm section was just as good as both of those.
       Opening act Suntanama was...interesting. Newly signed to Drag City, they feature a couple members of the No Neck Blues Band, and if you were wondering where the "blues" in No Neck was, I think it's mostly in Suntanama (along with plenty of peach-eatin' boogie and growling southern rock vocals). Steve Krakow said they sounded like Black Oak Arkansas, and he was right...I knew they were gonna sound a little like Black Oak, but they ended up getting a lot closer than anyone would have imagined. This is almost literally the most unhip music that any indie-connected person could be playing right now, and I love how Drag City is right there for it. They're still my favorite Chicago label.

The Bardo Pond/Fursaxa tour came to the Bottle in early March. Nowadays, with so many rockers droning and so many droners rocking (not to even mention the worst of all, roners drocking) it was refreshing to see Ms. Fursaxa come out and just stand at a cheap organ all by herself and play scary operatic church music. I mean, it just came from somewhere else completely. You could compare it to Nico and her harmonium, but Tara Burke's voice is so different -- higher pitched, with a strange operatic trill.
      The Empty Bottle was, is, and always will be a rock club at heart, and some of the more eldritch aspects of her set suffered a bit in a rock club. Like, at the beginning of the set she had this ominous loop going and walked around the stage shaking this weird giant home-made rattle/stick/
thing. In retrospect, it was kinda cool, because she was like marking territory, christening the stage as a temporary chapel for the devotional songs that were to come (G.G. Allin used to do it by taking a shit). Thing was, while she was shaking the rattle the crowd was jabbering away and I don't think everyone there had even realized the set had started.
      The guy from Bardo Pond came out and played with her on a couple songs, but I didn't know he was from Bardo Pond because I didn't really know what they all looked like yet. He was rocking that Philly shlep, with the baggy jeans and some untucked T-shirt and long shlep hair 'n' glasses. He reminded me of my Dad's birdwatching colleagues. All of Bardo's kinda got the Philly schlep goin', even Isobel. Despite being one of the more beautiful women I've ever seen on a rock stage, she's all casual with her blue jeans and her hippie hair-twirl. The bass player's got your basic indie-rock look going, with tight pocket T's and non-denim work pants. That other guitar player with the long hair -- he's alright, he looks like a rocker, and they do rock. The drummer's like a cool nerd type, with glasses and I don't know, maybe some more birdwatcher vibes. He's a pretty soulful musician. Actually, the band sounded great. I rarely see a band and think 'they got this way by playing together for years and years,' but I really felt that with Bardo (even though the drummer isn't the original one). Basically, they know how to set their guitars and amps and play them together so that the sound will be huge, and that's what they do.

For a report on how New York's LIARS can tear shit up on stage, go to the previous page's account of their recent show in Lincoln, Nebraska. I saw 'em tear shit up at the Empty Bottle, opening up a sold out show for And You Will Know Us By The Trail of the Dead. Maybe it was because of the way the Liars distinctly scorched the atmosphere in the room for the rest of the night, but the highly acclaimed Trail of Dead sounded quite a bit like Bryan Adams to me, except the pop/rock chords are disguised by Daydream Nation arpeggios, and the bar-band shuffle rhythms have been replaced with Fugazi locksteps. They add one, or at most two, strategically placed 'noise breakdowns' in there, but no more than that in fear of alienating all the people in the audience who grew up listening to Richard Marx. I'd say they're gettin' by strictly on a cool memorable name, even as they don't live up to it. One wag backstage pegged 'em pretty well: "Disguised emo."

Like LIARS but for completely different reasons, Chicago's Strawberry is one of the best live bands in rock today. I've been complaining a lot about how expensive your basic indie/underground shows are in Chicago...$6 shows are $8, and $8 shows are $10 or even $12...but Strawberry is a band that actually puts on a $15 show. They care so much about perfection, they don't even sing live, they lip-sync to perfect pre-recorded tracks. They play like twice a year, and they never play at hipster underground rock clubs like the Bottle and the Fireside, they play at teenybopper rock clubs like the Double Door and the Metro, where I saw 'em last week. (April 26th.) That way they can have two-hour soundchecks, a backstage lounge for costume changing, and their name printed on tickets. I have it on good authority that the singer spent six hours the day of the show getting his hair done so that it would look as much as possible like Cyberpunk-era Billy Idol or grunge-era Vanilla Ice. That alone made the show totally worthwhile, not to mention his ability to pirouette with a guitar synthesizer, and his trademark song introduction, with a vaguely British accent: "This one's on the album." After the third or fourth song, he said "Actually this next one's not on the album," and someone behind me shouted out "What album?" Exactly, dude! There is actually a Strawberry album, but you're starting to get the joke! In fact, when you're talking about the whole "this-is-not-a-fucking-joke" school of modern-day comedy rock, these guys are right up there with Andrew W.K.
The Laundryroom Squelchers just rolled into town last week or so, playing a rather slow Monday night at the Bottle. Xela Said and Plutonium Pie were in the entourage and played on the bill, but I unfortunately missed them. I did make it in time to see the Squelchers. Their set lasted all of five minutes or so, and it was kinda wild, if not nearly as "total" of a "fucking destruction" as Weasel Walter would tell you it was. WW was in the ensemble for the piece, in which a few guys and gals freaked out on guitars and fell down accidentally on purpose. Rat Bastard's opening solo guitar salvo was absolutely Orcutt-riffic, and the ensemble playing was thick, but it felt a little truncated, like something was missing. The atmosphere just wasn't quite right. I did get a CD-R they were selling, documenting each 5-minute set they played on their Phi-Phenomena on Wheels Tour last September, and it packs a wallop. One track particularly moved me, with some soul-scouring screaming coming from one of the ladies in the group. I got up to check when and where that performance went down, and it was Chicago....on the night of September 11th.
       No Doctors played after the Squelchers, and I think my jaw is still scraping the ground a little bit when I walk around. I already thought the Doctors were getting better with every show (despite their proclivity for playing overlong sets), and sure enough, I've never seen 'em better than this night. They played a beautifully concise 35 or so minutes, and somehow gave the illusion that everyone in the band was playing intense free-for-all one-note solos on their instruments all night long. They're good at creating illusions, though, for they were indeed playing songs -- I actually recognized a few of them, but the closing 15-minute-or-so leveller seemed to be some totally new shit. They also had a trumpeteer in the ranks who added a lot, and once again the devastating guitar skills of Elvis DeMorrow must not go un-noted. These guys are playing a Battle of the Bands in Evanston, IL, at Nevin's Pub...I believe on May 15th. If you read this in time, go watch them square off against a bunch of yuppie jam bands.


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