#17, NOVEMBER 2004



by Larry "I write up-to-the-minute reviews of shows that happened almost a year ago" Dolman

Gays 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 a month.
      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 same style.
      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!


GAYS IN THE MILITARY: Cuter band alert.

Khanate, 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 look.
      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.

Don't 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!

Hair Police, Prurient, Kites, Bloodyminded @ First Base / April 3, 2004.
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 definitely BYO.
      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 with them.
       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."

Four 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.

The 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 this article on the band, and now it all makes sense. Gotta love the city of Chicago.

FLATLANDERS: (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)

Prurient, 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 else.
       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, too!)

To Live And Shave In L.A., Yakuza, Inshi / September 13, 2004 / Empty Bottle.
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 the past.
      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.

Maximum 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 universe.

ARIZONA DRAINS: That's John, who's also in the Cherry Blossoms. A dude who knows how to party!

The 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!

And 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: