Thursday, September 21, 2006

My Review of My Vacation to Chicago for Touch And Go's 25th Anniversary

Last week, my girlfriend, Lisa, and I visited Chicago to attend Touch And Go’s 25th Anniversary Party. You can read an article I wrote about the label here. Steve Albini and David Yow had some pretty interesting things to say in it, and it was partially from David Yow’s insistence that I come that decided to make the trek. He told me I’d regret it if I missed it and he was totally right. (Incidentally he also told me how excited he was that Kory Grow was interviewing him, not because he’d read anything I’ve written, but because he wanted to know if I would name my son Scotty, because of that old ’60s song “Watching Scotty Grow.” He even sent me the lyrics. That’s my boy…) I can happily say that Lisa and I saw all 25 of the bands in 2.5 days. Below are some pictures and highlights from my trip.

First off, it seems like every guy in Chicago has sideburns. I don’t know what’s up with that, but that was the impetus behind the title for this blog. Also, most of the Chicago girls don’t seem to have hair past their shoulders. Interesting… Maybe I’m just a dumb New Yorker.

Obviously seeing Big Black’s mini-set was pretty impressive, they played: “Cables,” “Dead Billy,” “Kill Pigeon” and “Racer X.” Albini joked about how everyone wondering about it should know that it was a lot cooler in the ’80s. I disagree. Albini, Santiago Durango, Jeff Pezzati and, ahem, Roland, which Albini had to reprogram, all sounded awesome. Also, Shellac were incredible. The set was identical to the one we saw in New York the week before, but still fun. They still did their Q&A session and they pulled people out of the audience to bang on the drums with them when the show was done. Albini, Weston and Trainer really owned the event.

Scratch Acid were amazing. David Yow was as animated as ever and all in all their set was a lot of fun. They remain one of music’s most overlooked trailblazers, even in the wake of the Jesus Lizard.

Killdozer played “King of Sex” and all their other “hits.” Someone even through around an huge inflatable penis during their set. Brilliant!

Tim and Andy from Silkworm did an acoustic with very haunting lyrics in dedication to their drummer, Michael Dahlquist. I don’t really remember what song it was other than it was quite moving. If anyone knows what it is, please do tell.

Ted Leo played mostly new songs. They’re really catchy and kind of more immediate than his previous albums (even more of a mix between Elvis Costello and the Jam than previously). His new album will be stellar.

Featuring the inimitable Johnny Temple, who runs Akashic books, Girls Against Boys played their entire Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby album in its entirety. They said it was the first time they’d ever done that. It took them a little bit to warm up, but they were easily the highlight of Friday night, save !!! campily egging the audience on.

When Sally Timms performed she kept on cleverly saying “Men and woman of punk rock,” which I thought was absolutely brilliant since she just followed Negative Approach’s memorable, fist-pumping hardcore set. Jon Langford came out and did a Mekons song with her, which almost made up for the fact that the Mekons reunite for the show in some form or another. Ms. Timms also kept saying something like, “Oh you’re just waiting to see David Yow’s penis. He has it in a jar backstage, he’ll put it on before he comes out.” Scratch Acid played after her. Earlier in the day, Langford played with Kat from the Ex, whose own set was worth the price of travel alone.

Lisa seemed to really enjoy The New Year as they reminded her of Death Cab For Cutie or the Postal Service in a distant way, which I can hear, too. Makes sense, since Gibbard is probably a huge Bedhead fan.

We got there early enough to see Quasi in the rain on Sunday, and their songs are still going through my head. It’s a shame that Sleater-Kinney broke up, but I’m glad there’s still Quasi.

The Black Heart Procession played a special version of Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky” as part of their set, but changed the chorus to, “A good label’s hard to find.” It was totally cheesy and endearing at the same time. Not sure which element was stronger though.

And the last musical highlight of the event was Calexico’s closing set. They played their cover of Love’s “Alone Again, Or,” but surprisingly didn’t dedicate it to the just-passed Arthur Lee. It was a pleasant way to end the festival, and it left us wanting more music on Monday.

I do have two complaints, though. One, there weren’t any surprises in the lineup. No, “Oh my god, it’s Slint/Necros/Die Kreuzen!” moments. The other was that label owner Corey Rusk never got onstage to speak. As notoriously shy as he is, you’d think he’d have something to say, but who can fault someone for just wanting to sit back and enjoy what he started. And it was most certainly an event to be proud of.

In addition to seeing the people I know at Touch And Go, we saw Paul from Merge and hung out with Laurent and from Pelican and his wife during Girls Against Boys set. It was nice seeing them, and kind of a surprise. Later in the week, we stopped by Touch And Go’s office, and it is a huge, three-floor converted loft. Everyone was friendly. Jamie Proctor from Thrill Jockey was kindly enough to put us up during the event, so I want to thank him here, next to the picture of us posing outside “Shit Fountain” which is a block away from his house.

Onto the second part of this blog. After staying in Jamie’s fair abode for three days, we made our way to possibly the worst hotel in all of Chicago. Without becoming slanderous and calling it out by name (ask and I'll tell you which one it is), it’s right across the street from the Rock And Roll McDonald’s (of Wesley Willis fame) and they promised us a no-smoking room, which was basically a smoking room with a small little sign inside that they placed there that said “no smoking.” The place absolutely reeked. Also, we saw a guy with a gun trolling around the R&R McDonald’s and someone followed us back to our motel. We didn’t feel safe. Luckily, we only needed to be there to sleep, but it was the only game in town that wasn’t $500/night.

On Monday, we got brunch at Milk And Honey, and I had an amazing huevos rancheros casserole. After that, we did a little shopping on Milwaukee and I stopped by Reckless Records, picking up original versions of both Sonic Youth’s and Spoon’s respective debuts, and also found a record of Nachtmystium’s early demos. We also ate at Lou Malnati’s pizza, which was absolutely delicious. That night we went to the Midwestern premiere of Neil Labute’s Fat Pig play. The actors did a wonderful job, and the play is—in typical Labute fashion—both heartwarming and stomach churning. I recommend seeing it, if you can. That night we found an absolutely amazing bar in Bucktown called Danny’s, which is kind of like somebody’s house that they converted into a bar. There was a lot of smoke, but it had a vibe few New York bars still have: they had live DJs spinning rocky R&B, blues and soul and everyone was dancing. Did I mention the walls were plaid?! It was so much fun. This was one of the major highlights of the trip.

The next day, we went to the Art Institute and were upset to see that their modern and contemporary art wings were closed. Nonetheless we saw some great paintings, before going up to Touch And Go’s office. When we got back downtown, we went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, which had a lot of cool stuff, including some original Henry Darger illustrations. Plus Tuesday is free night there, so it was that much more fun. We found a great Italian restaurant on the magnificent mile got a little drunk and went back to our scary hotel room.

Wednesday, we did a little shopping and Lisa got some nice new boot-shoe hybrids. We bounced around on their subway—and if you’re planning on going to Chicago without a car, I recommend you pick your unlimited card up at the airport before you get into town as they’re very hard to find in the city—before we eventually headed to the airport.

Some other general thoughts about Chicago include the fact that it’s so incredibly expansive you either need to drive or ride a bike. Even with their “El” subway, the distance between blocks are much larger than those in New York, and it takes a lot longer to get where you’re planning on going. I also found it strange that almost anyone goes to any bar. One night when we were hanging out with Jamie we went to a club that would be more suited for guidos in New York, but it was dudes in band T-shirts sipping cocktails. It was very bizarre, but fun.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but if I didn’t live in New York, I’d want to live in Chicago. Everyone is very friendly, and in many cases hipper than the people who live in New York, at this point. It feels very conducive to creative types and it’s also cheaper to live there. I can’t wait to go back.

Blogger bonus:

For my Touch And Go story in CMJ I made a list of the 25 Most Important Records Touch And Go ever released. We unfotunately only printed images of each release, but here's the motive: Unlike other "Best Of" lists I've seen, this one contains only artists that Touch And Go either discovered or really "made" their career. That rules out Silkworm who made their name on Matador, Bedhead and Pinback, so no bitchin'! I hope you enjoy.

  1. T&G04 - V/A - Process Of Elimination E.P.
  2. TGLP01 - The Meatmen - We’re The Meatmen And You Suck
  3. TG06 - Killdozer - Snakeboy
  4. TG07 - Die Kreuzen - October File
  5. TG24 - Big Black - Songs About Fucking
  6. TG29 – Butthole Surfers – Hairway To Steven
  7. TG36 - Rapeman - Two Nuns And A Pack Mule
  8. TG51 - Didjits - Hornet Pinata
  9. TG64 - Slint – Spiderland
  10. TG76 - Scratch Acid - The Greatest Gift
  11. TG78 - Negative Approach - Total Recall
  12. TG86 - Urge Overkill – Stull EP
  13. TG100 - The Jesus Lizard – Liar
  14. TG117 - Girls Against Boys - Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby
  15. TG141 - Shellac – At Action Park
  16. TG143 - Don Caballero - Don Caballero 2
  17. TG189 - Man Or Astro-Man? – Eeviac
  18. TG216 - Blonde Redhead – Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons
  19. TG223 - Dirty Three - Whatever You Love, You Are
  20. TG232 – Black Heart Procession – Amore Del Tropico
  21. TG234 - !!! - Louden Up Now
  22. TG238 - Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  23. TG252 - TV On The Radio - Young Liars
  24. QS52 - Calexico - The Black Light
  25. QS54 - June Of 44 - Four Great Points

1 comment:

Record Exchange said...

the drummer in eLDopamine was playing me a video of SLKWM from back in '96. I was staggered by Mike Dahlquists intensity, once again. I was just getting over the loss.
Thank you for the travelogue. I'm glad you were there.