Leroy Bach, Edward Burch and John Stirrat at the Hideout

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Leroy Bach, Edward Burch and John Stirrat at the Hideout. March 5, 2001

Everyone has that bar that just fits. Maybe it’s only for the summer or your junior year in college, but it is exactly where you want to be on any given night. The Hideout in Chicago is that bar for me right now. The hideout has a long reputation for being a great place to see country-ish music and it is still a premier venue for club-sized concerts. But what makes the Hideout MY Place is the genuine neighborhood feel you get when you walk in the door.

A group of us made our way to the Hideout last night to see Wilco’s John Sirrat and Leroy Bach play with other local fave Edward Burch. Since Wilco is a Grammy nominated college chart fave and the patron saints of folk rock here in Chicago, I expected a smoky, packed bar and annoying frat guys, the likes of which we had at Jeff Tweedy’s final performances in the now closed and sorely missed Lounge Ax. Instead, what we got was a completely un-miced acoustic performance similar to those taking place in countless rec-rooms, college dorms and back porches across America.

As soon as we walked in we were welcomed by Bach who told us to get a beer and have a seat. It was standing room only, but just by the Hideout’s front room standards. There were maybe 30 people in attendance and the seating arrangement was quickly fixed when the affable bartender told us to go get some more stools out of the back room. We stumbled clumsily past Bach and Burch to find our seats and drag them back to the front. They waited patiently until we were comfortable before starting in on another of their old timey folk tunes from the Carter Family or Louvin Brothers. Their voices blended nicely in loose harmonies. Occasionally we’d miss some words over the chiming of Burch’s 12-string guitar, but the mood was right and I was ready for some Pabst.

PBR $1.50 bottles. “I’ll take two and save myself a trip.”

Soon, Wilco bassist John Stirrat, ambled up to the front and played a few selections from his recently released little record, “The Green Hour” from his side project The Autumn Defense. The songs were pretty with a definite 70s AM radio, singer/songwriter influence. Stirrat’s voice was a little shaky, but that was understandable given his un-miced performance and the increasing din of the patrons enjoying Pabst.

Come midnight the dread of another Tuesday at work was weighing heavy and after Burch and Bach’s second set I meandered out to my car and drove home happy to have spent another night living in Chicago.

Studio Perspective: Trends and How They Kill Themselves

First official posting by junior member J Franky:

Studio Perspective: Trends and How They Kill Themselves

Hi there. As some of you may know I actually get out of bed every morning and go to a Day Job, specifically at a recording studio in Chicago. I would like from time to time to share the little observations I pick up on while watching other bands, listening to random mixes and cleaning up other people’s vomit. Let me know after this article if this is anything that you gentlemen are interested in knowing more about, and if there are specific questions that I need to get to the bottom of in the studio. I can be reaaaaaaallly sneaky if properly medicated.

Anyways, I wanted to further expand on the ever-present cycle of popular/radio music, as exhibited in the Chicago scene (which I like to think is representative of the midwest in general). My studio has a fairly large variety of acts coming through the doors, but for the most part it’s blues and rock, and sometimes rockin’ blues. We have had a lot of Irish music, and there was a guy who played the sitar really well, but again, it’s primarily a Rock studio. It’s not the Most professional/expensive studio in the city, but it does get some fairly big names and tends to attract smaller bands who have saved up and want to make a really good demo to shop around. Those bands, the younger ones, never cease to impress me with their playing ability, their energy, and most impressively their total belief that every song they record will be a huge hit.

Why this poses a problem is because these bands are all writing the same song. I can’t tell you the Exact number of bands that have come through the doors sounding like Blink-182 or Papa Roach, but it’s mind boggling. Almost every young band that comes in is trying to sound exactly like one of those two, perhaps with a bit of a ska edge thrown in. And they’re not shy about it; they ask (or the engineer even asks them) to sound like an existing record. I know that the latest Rage Against The Machine disc has been sitting next to the mixing board for two months now. The engineer will pop it in and the tweak the knobs to get it to sound as much like the disc as possible. And this is what the bands want. Now granted this is not my exact cup of tea, but most of these bands sound like they could be on the radio to my ears. They all insist that they are bringing in lots of people to their shows and will easily sell these discs right off the bat.

All of us are extremely aware of the trends in the music industry, but it’s very interesting to see it on the ground-level where all of these bands are coming in sounding exactly the same as each other, but each one fairly talented, each one feeling that they have some little hook that will make them noticed over the others. The response from the labels around here has been exactly what you would think: sign a few, make some bucks off them, get out quick. It’s already on to the next thing, and these bands are still coming in by the boat-load. What happens when they realize that this trend is nearing completion and that they’re the ones who are driving it to it’s end? Will they morph into the Next Big Thing? Or do they give it up and are never heard from again? When speaking to the Elders of the Studio the conventional wisdom is that this is how music life goes. These bands will put out one album and break up and most will give up music entirely by the time they are 25. And it never stops. Hundreds upon hundreds of young bands will come in thinking they are riding the current wave, not having the perspective of sitting back and seeing that there are hundreds of bands doing it. Wouldn’t you think that modeling your sound off of something that was on the radio last year is a sure-fire way of dating yourself into instant obscurity? I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I get to see it first-hand now. And I’m trying hard to remember whether I felt that way before when I was a wee lad, if I wanted to sound exactly like the radio. I think I did, but I’m not sure anymore. Do you guys remember?

News flash from www.wilcoworld.net

News flash from www.wilcoworld.net:

First News of the New Album; lineup change

The next Wilco record is currently scheduled for release on July 10. The working title is “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and it will be on Reprise Records. The band will begin mixing the 20 or so recorded songs in April at which point they’ll begin the process of editing it down to the 12-15 that will likely end up on the record. As many of you have no doubt heard, Wilco also have a new drummer. His name is Glenn Kotche — he’s a Chicago guy who’s recorded and/or toured with the likes of Jim O’Rourke, Paul K. & the Weathermen, Edith Frost, and many others. He’s performed with Jeff a couple of times in the past — most recently at the Abbey Pub. He also worked with Tweedy on the soundtrack to the forthcoming film “Chelsea Walls”. The departure of Ken Coomer’s was quite sad for us all but everybody in the Wilco camp is now really excited about the way the band and the record are sounding with Kotche. More about all of this soon.

I wonder how much we’ll miss Ken Coomer. He was a great drummer and really contributed to the Wilco sound. Drummers are fussy though, right?

Quasar Wut Wut Breaks My Heart

When it was over, Jeff turned to Jolie and asked her how long that song had lasted. Jolie said about four and a half minutes. I was shocked. I would have set down my beer and put my hand on the Bible and sworn that Quasar Wut Wut had just played a twenty-five minute extended jam on the Rolling Stones’ “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker).” Apparently, the band has figured out a way to distort Time, which is good because even after twenty-five minutes of it I still could have used more.

When you’re friends with the guys in a band, you don’t want to compliment them too heartily about their cover songs for fear that they’ll interpret that to mean you don’t like their originals. With the Quasars this is not the case. Their own songs are great: weird without being obnoxious, and original without being pretentious. And if some of their compositions veer a little too close to the carnival or near some eastern european festival, then the next one will be a straight up rocker. They mix it up. And that’s good.

But they seem to cut loose a little more with their covers, as if they’re giving themselves the chance to rock out without worrying about being flashy. Guitarist Matt Schwarz never got as crazy on his originals as he went on “Heartbreaker.” And I mean Eddie Hazel crazy. He was amazing. For a moment there, he was a guitar god. For me right then, he was the best guitar player in the world. Why doesn’t he do that on his own songs? Is he afraid he’ll sound like Ace Frehley? Is that a bad thing? I don’t know.

Everything came together on “Heartbreaker.” Brent Sulek’s singing was right on and soulful. He must have been channeling Otis Redding at Monterrey (you know what I’m talking about: shake!). Jordan Frank and Matt Schwarz’s Doo Doo Doo Doo Doos sounded perfect and creepy, just like they should. The drummer had the Quasars playing twice as fast as the Stones, which made everything even better. Jolie tells me there was a moment when they all turned to each other in the middle of the song, acknowledging that they too realized that they were making some magic.

I’ve been questioning my feelings from the moment they stopped playing. Can’t tell the guys how truly great they were or else I’ll sound like just another dumb kiss-ass fan. Is it even possible that they were as great as I thought, or was I just out of my head? I honestly don’t know the answers. But I do know that in a crummy little bar in Detroit, those four guys shook the earth for either 25 minutes or four and a half minutes.

Either way, when I left the bar I had to wonder for a moment whether all the burned-out buildings surrounding me were actually caused by the earthquake that had just taken place in my head.

The kids are alright…right?

Michael Goldberg’s Insider One March 2 opening article talks about media marketing and the manipulation of youth culture. Am I being optimistic or naïve, or are the kids smarter than that? Actually, isn’t the piece really just talking bout the zombies of the teenage population who are no more programmable than their Gen X and now Gen Y counterparts? Surely he doesn’t mean all teens.

The piece is a fictional account of how Viacom honcho, Sumner Redstone, pays consultants to observe “typical” teenagers and then makes programming recommendations based on their behavior. Goldberg cites MTV’s Jackass as a prime example of this kind of research’s output. He also mentions groups like Backtsreet Boys and Incubus as examples of “product” that can be marketed to different demographics within the teenage ranks: BSB for the mall-walking, cutie pies and Incubus for the aggressive, angst-ridden tough guys. But this is no different than the type of marketing directed at older age groups. I mean, since when is it OK for 30-year-old men to wear orange cords and ride scooters? Since Gen-Xers hit the wall, Old Navy opened up and the Razor scooter became the dotcom-preferred mode of transportation in the city. Believe me, it’s all about the marketing.

But, are the kids really more susceptible to marketing ploys than anyone else? Can their opinions be that easily molded? Last fall I was outside the Metro in Chicago as an all-ages early show let out. Hundreds of youngsters streamed into the street. As I was there to hand fliers for a friend’s band, I ended up talking to some of the kids and asked them who it was they were there to see. Surely it was one of the groups I’ve seen on MTV. Judging by the staple punk wardrobe (docs, safety pins, plaid, pants cut off just below the knees, etc.) I knew it wasn’t J-Lo or any of the other unlistenable “R&B” groups that dominate the 3:00 to 7:00pm slots on MTV. The place was devoid of neon or high-soled platform shoes, so it was a good bet that Carson Daley and his ilk were not to be found. Who were they there to see? It must have been one of the ultra-marketed major label touring acts that pitch for Burger King or Sprite? Right? It was the Get Up Kids, a melodic EMO band who’s signed to Indie stalwart Vagrant Records. As far as I can tell, the only exposure this group has had is the occasional mention in SPIN and a one-time appearance on MTV’s never-watched (anymore) 120 Minutes.

Now, the Get Up Kids have a substantial following and certainly have the pop sensibilities to become MTV darlings, but they’re not yet. And the kids love ’em. Why? Perhaps it’s because the tunes are catchy and the energy from their live shows will sweep up the coolest of punks into a bona fide ass shakin’.

So, it seems the kids aren’t as dopey as Sumner and Goldberg think. Maybe they actually just like the music they like and that’s that. Maybe it’s all about good music getting to kids and shaking them to their scuffed docs. Maybe I’m just remembering how much my dad hated NWA and I want to stand up for the kids as not being so easily manipulated by marketing. But then again, NWA was marketed to the suburbs and white kids and there are even allegations that the heated disputes on wax and in the videos between NWA members was all a ruse to drum up sales for solo products (See the Feb. 28th posting by Jake Brown regarding NWA). After all, four top 10 albums are better than one and I started drinking malt liquor because I wanted to be like Cube. It doesn’t matter. I’m going to pop in my copy of Straight Outta Compton and run down to the Gap to get some baggy Khakis.

You can see the Get Up Kids touring with Weezer now. Check out their website www.thegetupkids.net.

Call Me Mr Blackwell

Just Call Me Mr Blackwell: THE FASHION UNDERGROUND at Transit, 3/01/01

Transit is the kind of shadowy, bleeding-edge club where you have a nice time dancing one night, only to discover it’s a meatpacking plant the next. Pillars of smoke-filled light lead you through a dark hallway into a circular main room that looks like a crack-laced Thunderdome taking place inside the parlor at Monticello. I kept waiting for blood to come out of the sprinkler system.

On Thursdays, Transit is taken over by FORM – Fashion Or Music. A short runway extends into the club’s main dancefloor, and resident DJ Jernell Geronimo spins fashion-centric house and triphop. For last night’s Fashion Underground event, Geronimo’s selections ranged from Daft Punk’s latest to a nice remix of Sneaker Pimps’ “Spin Spin Sugar” from a few years ago that sounded great. Of course, when the club features a 25,000-watt sound system and state-of-the-art lighting reminiscent of space ships with expensive production design, my left shoe would sound good on the turntable.

After about an hour of carousing, dancing, and the downing of prohibitively expensive cocktails, Transit got the show on the road. A troupe of male and female models trotted out collections from five different Chicago fashion collectives, including Jesus Rodriguez, Supreme Parlor of Funk 2000, and Narcisse Designs. It wasn’t exactly Land’s End Outlet material.

In such a proto-urban space as Transit, with its shady location under the EL tracks and uncomfortable, haughty furniture, it was no surprise that the fashion wasn’t any different. The first collection on display was like a third grader’s Betsy Johnson paper mache project gone horribly 80s. Unkempt strips of multi-colored fabric formed rag-tag hoop dresses underneath black vinyl bustiers that would make Rosanna Arquette’s character in “Crash” shudder violently. In fact, the majority of the night’s clothing had a decidedly post-modern feel – post-modern retrofitted to 1986. Looking like rejects from Scandal’s video for “The Warrior,” models traipsed up and down the runway in get-ups that would not look out of place in a “Steel Dawn” road show. Post-apocalyptic? Maybe. But only if Gordon Gartrell is the leader of the New States of America in a bizarro new-wave future imagined by David Cronenberg and George Miller. In Narcisse Designs’ urban chic beta test, voluminous amounts of eye shadow and fetishistic, insect-inspired fashion somehow suggest what we’ll all look like in 2020. I hope I die before I get old.

As an overall music/culture experience, Transit’s FORM Thursdays aren’t a bad idea. Despite their inherent pretension, it’s still kind of cool to cock your head to one side and say “yeah, I went to a fashion show last night.” Unfortunately, I’m never going to understand the whole concept. Call me crazy, but I don’t think the swirling, flesh-colored bondage nightmares I witnessed on last night’s runway are going to trickle down to the local Greatland Target. When a designer’s line reminds me of a textile Pontiac Aztec, is that a good thing?

JTL

I love the Lucksmiths

I love the Lucksmiths and you should too.

I’m not sure if I can explain it because I don’t really like a lot of pretty sounding stuff. I used to. I used to be all into British pop and Paul was even my favorite Beatle at one time. But not anymore. Now I like dirty, noisy, passionate stuff that was played by a bunch of delinquent teenagers. Or stuff that sounds like that. I barely ever break out those Smiths albums that I worshipped in high school.

So it’s odd that I would fall for the Lucksmiths. Maybe it’s because I saw them live before I heard their albums. So I had a chance to see them do what they do before I got a chance to scoff at their pretty melodies and clever lyrics (far, far too clever to be considered hip, by my definition). But to see a three-piece playing in a coffee house so quietly that I had to strain to hear them was truly a refreshing concert experience after having my ear drums blown out by dozens of garage bands in smoky, obnoxious bars.

Their set up is unique, and I’m a sucker for that. The lead singer stands in front of a microphone and a snare drum with a tambourine duct taped to a hi hat, and plays with brushes. The other two play unaffected bass and guitar. Softly. Simple as that.

And they blew me away. Somehow, the clever lyrics didn’t seem too clever; they’re young and Australian after all. The songs were so nicely written and well-crafted that I had to set aside my cynicism and just listen (for once in my life). Lines such as, “She’s the opposite of coffee/ the last thing I need first thing in the morning,” jumped out and stuck with me for weeks.

While musically they could hardly be more dissimilar, they remind me of the young Who for some reason. It might just be because the guitar player has a big honker and writes all of the songs. And that the lead singer has those freaky, penetrating eyes. But they’ve got a kind of serious but self-deprecating attitude that wins you over. Call it Maximum Lullaby.

And now they’ve got a new album out called Why Doesn’t That Surprise Me, and it’s as pretty and soft and clever as ever. They do some interesting things with instrumentation this time around with songs that include strings, melodica, banjo, electric piano, horns, etc. It sometimes sounds lush but not overproduced or cheesy. It’s good and it’s worth hearing, but I’ve got a personal fixation with Happy Secret which I think everyone should own. You can download a song from an ep called “T-Shirt Weather” from their label’s website. It’s fairly representative of what the Lucksmiths are all about. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Paris is a millionaire stock broker

Just picked up the March issue of The Source. Damn niggaz, why did I stop reading this rag after being a subscriber back in the day? Oh, that’s right, because rap started to, and continues to, suck. But The Source doesn’t. Yeah, you get more typos than your average Corporate BS Magazine, but fuck that. It’s all about Communication, which ain’t about spelling and grammar, but about Voice and Opinion. The Source has both. Plus, they seem pretty down with the idea that rap has changed and not for the better. Seems like the editorial slant is to get back what made rap vital in the first place: Voice and Opinion.

Anyway, this is a good issue, but with a very uncool piece about Detroit. Rehashed shit, this is, with nothing new under the Cold Grey Motor City Sky. Knowing what I know about the ‘zine biz, I can tell you that this piece sat on someone’s desk for a while before some advertiser pulled out and they needed to fill some pages quick.

But there is a pretty great Where Are They Now piece on Paris. Yeah, dude is a millionaire stock broker. No shit. They play it all off like he’s no sell out, but it’s weird. Read the damn thing and see how you feel yourself. Can you go from Armed Insurrection to MSNBC-junkie and still be down with a 10 Point System? To judge Paris “Guilty ‘fore proven innocent” is wrong, but I still feel betrayed by a brother who promised to put a cap in my ass just because I’m White.

Are There Any More Real Revolutionaries?

Sarah Vowell should be banned from radio

I am ready to open this can of worms. It’s an ugly can with a torn label. When I open this can it won’t open cleanly. The lid will still be attached and the jagged edges will surely cut the shit out of hand and the worms will twist in their muck and my blood, but here it goes.

Sarah Vowell should be banned from radio.

I know, she’s is a great writer and a great interviewer and all around cool chick, but radio is a medium of sound and the sound of her voice is killing me. Radio personalities should have a smooth voice. Listen to any classic rock DJ, they are the best voices in radio. The soundwaves that flow from their mouths are smooth and long and rounded with deep, deep valleys of bass. Sarah Vowell’s are sharp, jagged and harsh like a bent up cheese grater. The insides of my ears actually get chapped if I listen to her with headphones.

Now, I acknowledge her talent and don’t wish her ill will, I just want her off the airwaves. She is a witty and insightful writer and should certainly pursue that medium for her excellent music reporting. But please, don’t give her a microphone. Just as the old joke goes—That lady has a face made for radio—Sarah Vowell has a voice made for magazines.

Discuss…

Phil

GOING TO THE LOCKSMITH

I went to get a key made and it was nothing like it should have been. Ain’t that a bitch?

In my head, locksmiths occupy the same category as cobblers and blacksmiths: old-timey professions that, while still relevant, conjure vibrant mental imagery of their vocational heyday. A cobbler will always work by hand, at night, and have an elfin beard. A blacksmith will be a mountain of man with a hearty laugh, and know why an anvil has that curious shape. And a locksmith? Well…

As I walked to the hardware store with my key in hand, I entertained sun-dappled, soft-focus visions of a friendly, crotchety old locksmith – the kind with a screwed down eye, bands on the arms of his crisp, high-collared white shirt, and silver-rimmed round glasses. He would very carefully pull them out of his pocket, wrap the stems around his ears, and say, “now young man, what can we do for you?” Then he’d offer me some homemade licorice.

The hardware was just off a busy corner where three streets met. As I walked up to the door, I thought it was probably a pretty good location for business. I commended my fantasy locksmith for keeping his business running all these years since 1945, what with all the changes to the neighborhood. 1945 was, of course, when he started the shop with his partner, a Polish-Catholic from Chicago’s south side who everyone called “Ponzi.” The two had met, naturally, while my main man the locksmith was in the Merchant Marine during the war. I pushed my way inside the shop.

Luckily, the merciless electronic door buzzer was set to stun. But instead of a friendly hello from Dot, the locksmith’s corn-fed wife of fifty years (his high school sweetheart!) who worked the front desk, I received wary, surly looks from two sullen young women leaning on the modern cash register counter. I thought to ask these Hustler “Beaver Hunt” candidates where the key-making counter was, but one look at their shifty eyes and I decided to trust my wits. I swear, the blonde had a shiv. Besides, they seemed rather put out that I had interrupted their conversation about which member of Slipknot was the hottest (don’t they wear masks? Oh, well…). As I left the girls behind, I silently wished them luck in their porn careers.

The store had that same lived-in, sad appearance that you see behind Middle-Eastern hostages when they broadcast their kidnappers’ ransom demands. Burnished tin tile had been (badly) painted over, and the walls had been given a coating of drywall, probably at the same time the new shelving units were bolted in. By this time, my image of the friendly old locksmith was clouding over. I pictured him in a scene out of a John Mellencamp song, signing over his beloved shop to The Man, because without Ponzi’s help (he’d passed away earlier that year), the locksmith would never be able to stay afloat. Ugh. I found the key counter, but it was unmanned. The plastic sign said, “Counter closed. See front counter for assistance.” I figured the Slipknot debate had probably moved on to the topic of Wes Borland’s cool black contact lenses, and instead banked on finding someone roving the aisles, perhaps even my elusive old-timey locksmith.

After a minute, I discovered an older man gingerly placing florescent tubes on a shelf towards the rear of the store. From the down the aisle, he could have passed for my locksmith hero, with his white hair, glasses, and blue hardware vest, with its pockets chock full o’ pens, nails, and various bric-a-brac. I smiled and continued toward him. As I began a hearty greeting, he emitted a great “FUCK! Shit Damn!” He had dropped one of the florescents, and there was glass and white dust all over the floor. He didn’t realize it, but with that shattered lighting tube had gone the last visage of the patient, friendly locksmith I had been hoping for. That locksmith’s image in my head had gone from idyllic, to worried, to its presently degenerated state, which had the locksmith being shackled in his own locks by a band of thieves in the back room. Watch out for the broomstick. Despite all of this, I did still need a duplicate key, so I took my chances with the light dropper.

“Excuse me, sir?”

His head snapped up – I think I heard his neck crack. “What do you need?” He went back to sweeping the light fragments into a pile after a one-second appraisal of me.

“I need this key duplicated.”

“Ah, one of the girls at the front can help you.” Irritated.

I took my chances. “Actually, the girl up there has a line, and I’m sort of in a-”

“All right hold on a second. I’ll be right there.” More irritated.

So after a few minutes, in which I had figured out how to use the key machine by looking at it, he showed up, stepped behind the counter, and asked in an oddly cordial tone what he could help me with. Which was an interesting question, given that I had already told him, and the fact that we were standing at a key duplication counter. But I gave him the key, and he ran it through the machine. In a minute, my new key and I were heading up front to pay, after a gruff thank you from my man. I figured he probably had to get back to pistol-whipping the real locksmith in the back.

Next time I get a key made, I won’t be so naïve. And I’ll bring a camera to get those Beaver Hunt shots.

JTL