Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ruminations on Why the Touch and Go 25th Anniversary/10th Hideout Block Party was Crap

Last weekend the, ahem, finest from the city of Chicago came out to see the, ahem, finest from the Touch and Go label in what turned out to be, at least from the perspective of this chief Chicago Outdoor Indie Rock Festival Correspondent, a pathetic weekend with few (albeit beautiful) highlights. Surprise, surprise, the number one reason why the festival was a drag was the crowd, which made about every moment I wasn’t savoring music quite uncomfortable. Perpetrator numero uno? Cool People. I am not cool for a number of reasons. Firstly, I make a point to not get drunk when I go to shows when I actually intend on listening to the music. I do not try to be loud and obnoxious in an attempt to impress my friends and any potential lays. This rule would apply to every show I attend. Drunk people are annoying, especially when you are not drunk. I think everyone at The Hideout Block Party was drunk, except for me and my friends who sipped water and apple cider. Secondly, I don’t smoke cigarettes. I am not cool enough. When I was in high school, I wasn’t cool, so my friends were too busy doing math homework to try to convince me that I should smoke, because it’s the cool thing to do. Cigarette smoke is stinky, it gives you cancer, and it makes me sneezy and coughy. I am thirdly not cool because I don’t wear tight pants. I am fourthly not cool because I don’t wear hats. I am fifthly not cool because I don’t wear sunglasses at night. Ok, so perhaps I am just ranting. So what. I think the majority of music fans out there have these same complaints about shows. Cool people are annoying, frightening, and rude. When you’re trying to involve yourself with a performance, cool people only distract your attention, no? Because they make themselves seen and heard, no matter where they go. It is a matter of their survival. Cool music fans are not music fans at all. They are cool people. They are society and trend fans. Perpetrator numero duo: old people. Yes, as a modern rock fan, I have a right to dis old people. If the Who could do it back in sixty-five, then I can do it now. By old people I don’t mean people over thirty. By old people I mean people who are over thirty who act like they are nineteen. Old people annoy me. These are people who were cool people twenty years ago. They spent so much time being cool twenty years ago that they have nothing better to do now than to grow beer bellies, graying soul patches, and garish attitudes. Like cool people, old people are rude. An aging punk rocker in the crowd behind me decided that he was going to whip out his aging penis and fill up three beer cups with his urine, and then dump them beside my shoes. Old people also frighten me. And they bring their children to parking lots where there are drunk cool people, dense crowds, and loud music that will destroy their ears. Most horrible H/O//T/G moment of the weekend? A man in front of me had his daughter (maybe 18 months old) on his shoulders. He was rocking to the music, having a good ole time. Well, he lost his grip, and the girl fell five feet to the pavement, landing on her head. Oh, how I felt like rocking out after that happened. Now let us get to the real reason this anniversary party was thrown together: the bands. Touch and Go isn’t a huge label. They’ve had maybe 100 bands signed to them over the past 25 years. How many of these bands are functional and relevant to the modern underground music scene? Maybe 25. I’m not discrediting the merit most, if not all, of these bands had in their own heyday. Nor am I discrediting the profound influence they had on a lot of modern musicians. But the fact is that this was not a block party celebrating and promoting modern music; this was a tribute, and therefore the emphasis was on reunions and reflections. There is of course nothing wrong with a festival devoted to paying tribute to Touch and Go; indeed, Corey Rusk deserves much praise, and it was a nice opportunity to see amassed in one place the effect the label has had on the city; nay, the world. But for an underground rock fan, born in the same year as Touch and Go, it didn’t make for a spectacular event. First, let us take a look at who was not at the festival: Blonde Redhead, TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs – three of the most powerful indie rock bands to come around in the past decade. Now let’s look at who was there: Arcwelder, Didjits, The Monorchid. Yeah, I don’t know who they are either. Personally, the biggest musical disappointment of the weekend was Black Heart Procession, whose dark pop rock has been nursing my depression for several years now. I’ve never had the opportunity to see them before, so they were one of the acts I was most looking forward to. Well, they blew it. They blew it big time. Vocalist Pall Jenkins had as much charisma as my elbows. On second thought, my elbows are rather soft and cute. So never mind. Pall Jenkins was boring. He didn’t smile, he didn’t wince; he sang lifelessly, but not in the way that makes Black Heart Procession’s albums so delectably dreary. He sang with no tragic romanticism. He looked bored and awkward. During “The Spell” he didn’t even have a guitar to hide behind. He reminded me of a nine-year-old kid who sings solo in a grade school talent show. He looked nervous and impassive. A few songs into the set they brought in a backing female vocalist and struck the opening samba riff for “Tropics of Love,” and I thought, hey! Here we go. Some spice. But no. No spice. The female vocalist sang off key, and the band shuffled along laboriously. They even played a cover of Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky.” Yeah. Good times. Now let us discuss for a bit who can make even great performances suck: sound guys. The sound for many of the performances was not so good. Vocals were overpowering, guitars were soft for a few songs, then suddenly loud. Quieter instruments were completely drowned out. Even by the end of Sunday the sound guys had not gotten the hang of it, so that Pinback sounded pseudo-punk metal instead of indie pop. So jeers to the Block Party sound guys. Finally, the Block Party was crap because it was in a parking lot on Wabansia. A tiny parking lot. There was no escaping the cool people. I felt like I was in a prison yard. A dirty prison yard. The garbage cans were few and far between, and there was a litter of squashed plastic cups covering the ground that made horrendous noises as people scuffled along the pavement. There were no patches of grass on which to rest my lazy, spoiled ass. So yeah, the Touch and Go 25th Anniversary/10th Hideout Block Party was crap. For the most part. It was two single-spaced pages worth of crap. But I hate to be such a downer, so I will not let the good parts go unmentioned, as the good parts were rather exciting. So stay tuned for ruminations on why the Touch and Go 25th Anniversary/10th Hideout Block Party wasn’t a total loss.


Blogger jswede said...

you know, I couldn't make it, but most of us had a pretty good idea who these bands were, and that they celebrated TWENTY FIVE YEARS (read: not all current artists) of Touch and Go. Some serious Chicago punk history was revisited here. Not sure how young you are, but a lot of these bands are/were important to a lot of people and a huge portion of their lives. Those people likely attended the show. As far as you only wanting to hang out with people just like yourself, well, I won't touch that - I'll just ask: why in the hell did you go?

Keep up the otherwise good work.

9/12/2006 04:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Fitz said...

I'm going to disagree. I only went Sunday, but the people who attended were by and large the same people going to your average indie rock show at the Metro, Schuba's, wherever. Sure, some of them are stupid and obnoxious, but that happens at EVERY show. I also thought that sound guys did a pretty decent job, and so did the BHP. Not to mention that the line-up touched on legendary hardcore bands, tons of one-off reunions of them, as well as some of the most important bands in indie rock today. I think T&G did a good job.

9/12/2006 04:29:00 PM  
Blogger Nonogirl said...

as someone who came from the very "cool" city of san francisco full of hipsters galore, i gotta say that i was totally impressed by how nice every one was at the fesival. when i was in line for the clean portapotties, a guy let me go before him. folks were very chatty and friendly. and although blonde redhead wsan't there, it was great that all those bands re-formed in order to support the festival! i had a great time despite the rain on sunday.

9/12/2006 05:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

If you were looking to see Blonde Redhead or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, why did you even bother to go to the festival? The list of bands was posted a month ago and it was clear that they weren't gonna be on it.

I flew in from out of town to see this festival. I was happy that some bands re-formed to play this show and that I got a chance to see a few others that don't play often. I was impressed at how tight the schedule ran, how concessions weren't outrageously priced, and how nice everyone was in general.

Hope the festival raised a ton of money for the elementary school!

9/12/2006 05:51:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

First, let us take a look at who was not at the festival: Blonde Redhead, TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs – three of the most powerful indie rock bands to come around in the past decade.

And they're currently signed to: 4AD/Interscope/Interscope. Why is T&G important? Because of its past and present catalog, sure, but also because of its unique operating model. For whatever reasons, the artists you cite no longer find value in that model. To expect active bands not currently signed to a label to play (or even be able to play, probably) that label's tribute show is just silly.

As for the block party itself, I don't think any organizers expected it would be the international event it was. The venue did become too small rather quickly. The attendees I met up with there are looking forward to a laid-back, "normal" Hideout block party next year.

9/12/2006 06:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Kirstie said...

okay first on a positive note-of course you're cool enough Robyn. ;)

Second, I completely and utterly disagree with you on just about every point. I met a ton of people I just loved talking to all weekend long so my perspective was that the crowd was actually great. I really didn't enjoy saturday as much because it just isn't my type of music but I certainly appreciate the history of it. Sunday, I thought was amazing. I'm really big into old Tom Petty so I got a big kick out of that Black Heart Procession cover. CocoRosie was fantastic...I never thought you could make those songs danceable and Calexico for the most part played a very engaging set.

Also, it was clear to me that The Hideout and Touch and Go had spent alot of time on this and the bands' love for Cory showed through. I thought it meant something that they were willing to play for free to support a charity.

Also, I really love Tim Tuten. I mean, he makes me look like an optimist. Anyone who can do that amazes me.

If you want negativity though, I'll rant about photos and how they randomly kicked some people out and let some stay if they didn't have passes for no seemable reason. And even though I had called Miranda Lang and she had told me SLRs would be allowed, I was literally harassed by the same security guard on Sunday three times. At one point, he actually stood right in front of me during Black Heart Procession. Like, thanks buddy I guess I'm really going to get some nice shots of your head.

9/12/2006 07:32:00 PM  
Anonymous cinchel said...

i was/am one of the ones looking forward to a much more laid back block party next year. i appreciate what t&g did for the indie rock these past 25 years and by allowing the fest to be a hideout block party thus getting tim and the gang a butt load of money for their charities. but i will agree with the observation of dumb 30-something parents that brought kids and didnt bring them ear-plugs/ear-muffs..i maybe only saw one child with ear-muffs (those heavy duty airport type ones) all weekend. the negative approach seemed to draw a lot of jerks on saturday too. these leather clad punks picked on a friend of mine becuase they didnt like her outfit. come on..what is this high school.

i guess we are just to young or actually have taste, but i dont get the novality or excitment of some guy (not many women on t&g altough the ones that are are pretty cool..ie sally timms, kat from the ex, 2/3rd's of quasi). as far as those "classic" "influencal" hardcore bands go by the end of saturday i thought they sounded all the same. but by the end of sunday i started to think that maybe cory is getting mellower in his old age.

9/12/2006 07:49:00 PM  
Blogger FiveTone said...

I agree, this fest sucked nard. I got so tired of people dressed like garage mechanics blowing smoke in my face that I took shelter at the perimeter of the prison yard. And the music, legendary, I hardly think so.

9/12/2006 08:26:00 PM  
Blogger Brad K said...

Some great discussions going on here, but can we please refrain from the "if you didn't like it, why did you go then" silliness? Clearly Robyn has respect for the label and wanted to check it out this historical event for herself. Just because she didn't like the entire thing and wishes a couple of other acts had appeared on the bill in place of a few others she didn't enjoy doesn't mean she should've stayed home. Saying something like that because a critic dissed your band or label is just plain asinine.

Touch & Go is a legendary institution, but it sure as hell isn't infallible or above criticism. With so many bands reuniting after long idle periods, common sense would dictate that more than a couple of these performances would turn out flat. With Robyn not hindered by drunken nostalgic bias, it's not surprising that not every last "legendary" band lived up to expectations.

9/12/2006 10:26:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Perpetrator numero duo: old people. Yes, as a modern rock fan, I have a right to dis old people. If the Who could do it back in sixty-five, then I can do it now.

Dissing old people at A 25TH ANNIVERSARY SHOW is like going to an Ashlee Simpson concert and bitching about all the 12-year-olds.

9/12/2006 11:25:00 PM  
Blogger 1000yregg said...

reading robyn's post is rather frustrating for a few reasons.
she begins her so-called critique of the festival by complaining about the types of people who are at the show. then, with full advance knowledge of the lineup, she queries why bands she knew from the label failed to come. this is then followed by ignorance to some of the acts that had large underground followings in their time (monorchid, didjits).

if she had respect for the label, she ought to have at least heard more than a handful of their several hundred releases before going to the show and dismissing it as a merely nice tribute to an old time label. i'm sorry, but you are no underground rock fan.

as a rebuttal to several commenters:

1. the label has several bands with women: quasi, cocorosie, tara jane o'neill, nina nastasia, uzeda, YYY, blonde redhead, enon, mekons, the ex (about the same percentage as a, say a label like dischord)

2. the music may not seem legendary to some, but it's influences have had effects on little bands like Nirvana, PJ Harvey, and the Pixies, it preceded the Chicago industrial music scene (ministry) that preceded techno's rise, an effect on the music from Seattle in the early 90's (butch vig's production).

3. i had no drunken bias at this concert, and i enjoyed a large number of the bands playing. i think a lot of people were upset (see her apneic blog and the reaction on brooklyn vegan) because her critique , without a knowledge of the music, is comparable to a country music fan criticizing all hip hop sounding the same and not really being moved by it. had she been a true music fan, she should have approached this festival with an open mind to these bands instead of admitting a bias at her disappointment prior to the shows even starting.

9/13/2006 12:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Brad K - It would be one thing to say that she thought the festival was lacking because certain T&G bands weren't on the bill. But to list it as the first reason for dismissing the festival as "crap" seems irresponsible. Nobody said those bands were going to play, so why make it a point of complaint? Do people go to a vegetarian restaurant and say that it sucks because they don't serve steak?

Anyway, it does sound like there are some "good" things about the festival coming in a future post. Looking forward to reading it.

9/13/2006 12:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Mike B. said...

Brad K. wrote:

Just because she didn't like the entire thing and wishes a couple of other acts had appeared on the bill in place of a few others she didn't enjoy doesn't mean she should've stayed home. Saying something like that because a critic dissed your band or label is just plain asinine. Touch & Go is a legendary institution, but it sure as hell isn't infallible or above criticism. With so many bands reuniting after long idle periods, common sense would dictate that more than a couple of these performances would turn out flat.

This point would be valid if certain artists were taken to task for giving poor performances. Instead, they were criticized for not being the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or Blonde Redhead, without any evaluation of their merits. From reading the post, it appears possible, if not probable, that Robyn did not see Monorchid, Didjits or Arcwelder.

I agree that 'if you don't like, don't go' (a kind of 'America -- love or leave it' argument) is not fair. A great deal of the post complains about the crowd, the crowding and the lack of places to sit. There is no doubt that there were limitations with the available space that made this more cramped than the festivals in Union Park. Trust me, it could have been worse -- the Hideout was cleared to sell 8,800 tickets and sold less than 7,000. Still, it was pretty tight. The complaint is valid, though it was just going to be that way.

In that respect, it reminds me of the lauded Lounge Ax. For all of the accolades thrown its way for all the great acts who played there, it should be noted it was an uncomfortable place to see a show. Narrow and cramped, and hotter than the blazes during the summer. A terrible space for live music. As time goes on, I think more people will remember the great music they heard at the fest, and forget the crowds.

9/13/2006 01:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Bill V said...

Shit, I'd say more, but most of it has been said. Old people are cool, and yes I expected to see some older folks since it was a 25th anniversary party (duh!). Chances are you will be old one day, you'll look back and love and hate some of the music from this time in your life. 25 year old moms and dads bring plenty of kids to block parties and festivals. I didn't see the big deal with the kids at this one from the parents that are a bit older. My main problem with the post is that the older artists at the block party are not much different than a lot of stuff we listen today. Sure the music sounds different, but will I need to explain why I like Tapes 'n Tapes, Hold Steady and TV on the Radio 25 years from now? I hope not.

One other point, I will agree that there were plenty of acts that bored me. I was hoping to dig more of them but in the end really only enjoyed about half.

9/13/2006 02:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Judge said...

Boy, did you miss the point.

The crowd had all types in it, like every crowd does. But overall this crowd was well-behaved, most people WEREN'T drunk (who at age 40 can tolerate a 12 hour bender anyway) and it's not the crowd's fault that most of them (including me) are ugly. That's what happens when punks get old.

Where were you 25 years ago? For that matter, where were you 15 years ago? I'm not going to claim age superiority over you...but I'll gladly state that the legacy of Big Black alone merits Touch and Go's existence. Throw in The Didjits (that was like going back 16 years in a time machine) and Scratch Acid (for me it was closure to finally see this band live) and that alone would have been plenty to justify the entire block party.

The block party was also extremely well run: port-a-potties everywhere (even with hand sanitizer and sinks!), cheap water ($2 a bottle is hard to beat) and food...cheap merch ($10 CDs!); plenty of exits and room to move; no mud...I call that a success.

I was also bored with some of the bands. I didn't need to see Negative Approach...Pegboy was kinda embarassing...but it was painfully obvious that many fans were into those acts. And what's wrong with that?

So I won't say "why did you go?" But I WILL say that your critique sounds pretty damn closed-minded.

9/14/2006 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger jswede said...

it's completely justified to say "why the hell did you go?" when the reviewer spends half the space complaining about a line-up that was made public a good month beforehand. So she's never heard of Arcwelder - she's probably 22, that's fine - but to bitch about that as though it was a surprise they were playing and not YYY... well, I think the question deserved to be asked.

9/14/2006 01:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you don't know who Arcwelder or the Didjits are, then you have no business writing about the midwestern music scene. None. That implies a level of cluelessness (and an unwillingness to look things up on, say, Wikipedia) that boggles the mind. Go buy the Didjits "Hey Judester" and you will be glad you did. Or, go buy anything by Arcwelder. You will be glad you did. Touch & Go put out a lot of significant music in the '80s and '90s. Go check it out.

9/15/2006 07:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seeing the age difference at the show made me realize that something really important had to be going on in order to bring all of these old rockers out to have a good time and celebrate music. Everyone there loved music. Some more than others. A very unique event.

10/18/2006 02:09:00 PM  

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