Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ruminations on Why the Touch and Go 25th Anniversary/10th Hideout Block Party Wasn't a Total Loss

So it’s Saturday evening and I’m in the lot across from the Hideout, getting pee spilled on me and watching babies crack their heads open on concrete, and I’m seeing a bunch of punks and listening to music that doesn’t particularly interest me, and I’m feeling out-of-place and self-consciously testosterone-deficient, and I’m thinking, why the hell am I here? I’m thinking, why am I not sitting on my couch, sipping hot cocoa and working on my great American novel? Then this nerdy little guy and a few of his old friends appear before the crowd, and there’s an undercurrent of electricity among us all, and we shut up and listen. He says in summation that when people talk about the history of music, they tend to jump from the Sex Pistols to Nirvana, but some important music was made in between those two eras, and it’s about gosh-darned time we paid tribute to it, and it’s about gosh-darned time Corey Rusk got his due. Then the nerdy little guy and his old friends start playing some noisy punk rock and I start banging my head, and the people around me start banging their heads, and I’m surprised we don’t knock each other out, and I’m surprised our bodies don’t collapse into piles of boneless goop due to the intensity of the atmosphere. Steve Albini alone is a reason why the Touch and Go 25th Anniversary/10th Hideout Block Party was not a complete waste of time; however, his mantra of respect and appreciation, which was reflected by all of the participating bands and made apparent by the large (and greatly international) crowd, was the true reason for such a festival and made a young whippersnapper like me feel as if this was some sort of private party I was mistakenly invited to. So the number one reason why the TGHOBP shindig wasn’t a total loss? Well, the label probably deserved tribute and attention ten or so years ago, when some of the bands in attendance were more relevant, and when some of the bands relevant now were making the first rumbles of their musical innovation. Touch and Go is a part of Chicago’s musical history, and of punk rock’s musical history, but it is also a testament to Corey Rusk that he has worked to diversify the label over the years so that it remains fresh and influential. Indeed, when the weekend lacked in musical and ambient brilliance, it worked to rectify itself with the sense of community these bands felt, and their appreciation for a man who undoubtedly changed their lives. Now, to specifics. For every few performances that were less than inspiring, there was one that was pretty special. The Big Black reunion was awesome (even though the band obviously didn’t want to do it), and word on the street is that I missed a fun set by Man…Or Astroman? because I was claiming my spot in the crowd for aforementioned reunion, and I’ve also been told that missing Girls Against Boys on Friday night was my big loss. But as everyone expected, at the forefront of the festival’s highlights was Shellac, who capped off the time-capsule of a line-up on Saturday with a set that was raw and powerful. Albini had a somewhat uptight stage presence and a dry sense of humor that made his vigorous guitar strokes seem all the more explosive. Todd Trainer sounded and looked maniacal on drums, and with his cache of flowers and stage-sauntering added a wonderful sense of bizarre zaniness to the performance. For his final act, he selected a few lucky ladies from the crowd to join the band in what was my first (and most likely last) witnessing of a cymbal quintet. The set climaxed with the profound “Billiard Player Song,” which left the crowd half-stunned. Albini sang poignantly about the criminalization of a “crazy” woman, and whether or not she is to blame for her own fall from grace: "He promised her anything/ He never had to deliver/ He promised her everything/ Ask yourself if you could do better.” The tune was haunting and moving and compelled one fan to shout aloud what we all were thinking: “Beautiful.” CocoRosie is about as mismatched with Touch and Go as I am, but their melodious and gorgeous set provided a nice contrast to all of the weekend’s guitar rock and made them one of the standout performances of the Block Party. Sierra and Bianca’s blend of pop, folk, and hip hop was unleashed grandly in the massive setting, casting a delicate luster on us all. Sierra’s instrumentals on acoustic guitar and harp, and her operatic vocals meshed with Bianca’s trinket-playing and smoothly percussive voice to create a stirring and sexy performance in the chilly twilight. They ended the set with “Japan,” which had the band romping around the stage singing “Everybody, just hold hands!” Their quirky, subtly perverse music and strong femininity was truly inspiring.

Another highlight for me was Friday night’s closers !!!, who worked hard to get the somewhat aloof crowd dancing. Front man Nic Offer was his usual psychotic disco self, and seemed to take it personal if he saw people who weren’t shaking their asses. At one point he jumped into the crowd and was body surfed around then thrown back onstage. Afterwards he shouted, “You fucking punk rockers! I was coming out to dance with you, and you thought I was crowd surfing!”

(photo by Marcia Detterline) Pinback was perhaps not up to their usual topnotch form; however, it was apparent that Rob Crow was a bundle of nerves as he kept filling up the band’s onstage downtime with rambling nerdspeak and awkward interactions with the crowd. He admitted being self-conscious, playing for so many people and mingling with some of his personal music heroes. It was endearing to see him acting so bashfully, but all of his energy was released in their closer “Summer in Abaddon,” during which Crow’s voice cracked through his screaming, and he tossed his guitar around like a teenaged demon punkster. So yeah, it was sucky times, it was good times. My schizophrenic experience perhaps coincides with Touch and Go’s own recent tendency towards bi-polarity. The bulk of the label’s roster I find rather uninteresting; however, I’m sure a lot of the punks who claim I’m a jackass because I’m not into hardcore wouldn’t have been caught dead jumpin’ and jivin’ to !!! or swaying sensually to CocoRosie. Such is the difficulty with a label having a sundry playlist: you can’t please all the people all the time. Conversely, this diversity is also Touch and Go’s strength. It could easily have become a stagnant label. It could easily have only brought out one type of person last weekend. Instead Corey Rusk chose to grow, and I chose to risk my own comfort for the chance to celebrate a part of underground music’s history and future.


Anonymous cinchel said...

A very nice response. The 2 peices work very well together. I agree that the BIg Black reunion alone sums up the immense gratitude that all the bands on T&G have for Corey. It will be curious if the present crop of bands have as much impact on the future of indie music as the old bands had. While watching the newer bands I couldnt help but think that I was seeing something special. The beginning of a new era so to speak. I wonder what we will think of in ten years we will look back at the ability to see !!! or calexico or coco rosie in a parking lot in the once industrial wasteland of the north side.

9/14/2006 02:46:00 PM  

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