Monday, October 05, 2009

There were other bands in C-U during the early 80s, you know

Being in C-U this weekend to see the 'Brats jogged a few memories of a pile of really good bands. The Vertebrats were certainly in the vortex of the scene, but they weren't the whole scene. Consider this: really good national touring bands (smaller than Springsteen, who'd played the Assembly Hall when The River came out, but bigger than just some combo that came over from Bloomington) did not say to themselves, "Gee, we have to stop in Champaign because that's where the Vertebrats are." No, they stopped in Champaign because there really was a pretty damn good scene there, full of people who were into (whatever we were calling "alternative" back then) punk, nuwave, power pop, garage, experimental music. (It probably didn't hurt that Champaign was right between Indy or St Louis and Chicago, and was worth a stop to pee in, so you might as well play.

How else to explain why I saw so much great stuff without having to find somebody with a car to go to Chicago to see? A lot of it I saw in Mabel's alone: Iggy Pop, the Cramps, the Waitresses, George Thorogood, The Violent Femmes, Jason and the Scorchers, John Cale (John Fucking Cale played MABELS!), Jonathan Richman, The dBs (oh, ask me someday about the time we made the dBs dinner),Bow Wow Wow, John Otway, Tom Verlaine, Black Flag (oh, trust me, there was a terrific story behind that), .... and that was just Mabel's. David Johansen, Joan Jett, the Talking Heads, r.e.m., (back before Michael Stipe shaved his head and got full of himself), the Psychedelic Furs, The Fleshtones,Todd Rundgren and even an up and coming U2made it a point to put CU on their tour itineraries.

But I'm pretty darn sure a lot of tour managers wouldn't have bothered if we didn't have a scene. How else to explain why all these acts didn't hit Bloomington, less than an hour away, instead? We had (if I do say so myself) a darn good underground and student media nurturing the scene -- both the Daily Illini and a fanzine called The Psychedelic Boneyard covered local, regional, national and some international acts fairly deeply. WPGU crammed in plenty of good tunes -- on a typical afternoon Jon Kamerman would be mixing Iggy's "Lust for Life" right after some Zep tune (and had to follow it up with NightRanger simply because it was on the playlist.) The later at night it got, the freeer we could get with our choices (that's why I was perfectly happy with a midnight-to-3 DJ spot...). WEFT-FM was just starting up as well, and they didn't have a playlist. I seem to remember a pirate station or two would hit the air every now and then.

So here's a small sample of those other bands I remember. If you were there, remind me who else you went to see a lot and feel free to disagree with my comments. In no particular order:

  • The Outnumbered Before Jon Ginoli moved to SanFran and announced via his band Pansy Division "Hey everybody, I'm GAY" he was quite the C-U rancouteur. He was a PGU DJ, a contributor to the Psychedelic Boneyard (hey CUers, remember that scathing article he wrote in the first issue), and quite the critic overall. He was the first guy I'd come across (and this has influenced my writing) to say "If a band sucks, I'm not going to say they were any good just because they're local under this whole 'support your local music' thing." He was right. Not always tactful, but right. Anyway, he put his money where his mouth was and formed his first band, the Outnumbered, who were a good blend of power pop. "Boy on a Roof" was the "hit" but I preferred the psychedelic grunge (before that was a marketing term) of "Cover Me With Flowers."

  • MilktoastThis was one of those bands that formed because all three guys were friends, had a musical sensibility in common, and played for the sheer fun of it. They never took themselves seriously, and that was their charm. As such, they were not milquetoast at all. For Milwaukeeans, I would say that the songwriting reminded me of the Voot Warnings sensibilities: songs like my favorite, "I Dig You" nailed that almost casually trashy vibe I would come to love here in Milwaukee.

  • Combo Audio OK, I wasn't a big fan of Combo Audio, but they played Mabels about as often as the Vertebrats did, so they need to be mentioned. They were a genuine NuWave band. I saw them once and they didn't suck, but they were a bit underwhelming. However, they had a very contemporary sound for their time, they wore stripy shirts and skinney ties, and they were CUs New Wave band. I don't remember them having any synthesizers, but they had a synthy sound. Nobody seems to know (or care) whatever happened to them. But they did have their fans and following.

  • The B Lovers These guys eventually morphed into Turning Curious, but they started out as a good jangle pop band that attracted the crowd that would eventually become r.e.m.'s crowd. And I liked them a lot -- that had more of an edge than most jangle pop bands (and that was definitely the Vertebrats's garage influence). "Waste Some Time" was my memorable song from them. As Turning Curious, they put out a Mitch Easter-recorded EP that should have gone a lot further than it did (Easter's name alone meant as much then as, say, Butch Vig or Steve Albini's....)

  • The First Things These guys were kind of on the edge of the crowd, a band full of guys who worshipped the Who and wore it on their sleeves, but had a lot of british blues influence that made for some great guitar-licked shows. And their songwriting was punk snotty. They were too competent to be punks, but regular readers know I'll take that sensibility in any form. Thus, songs like "You're Not In LA Anymore" could have been done by any bluesman, and "Bodies in the Backyard" could have been put out by the early English Beat. I still listen to their EP. Wonder whatever happened to guitarist Pete Govert -- that guy had some chops.

  • The RayGuns What would a early 80s scene be without a pile of black clad, angry punk chicks who covered X-Ray Spex (the sax part of "O Bondage Up Yours", if memory serves me correctly, was done with a clarinet!) and belted out 3 chord pre-riotgrrl anthems? You either loved them or hated them. I never did admit to Jon Ginoli that I loved them.

  • Crucial Crucial took some getting used to. Lots of us had never seen anything like them. They had an artsy funky thing going on, a lead singer whose stage presence and fashion sense made up for the fact that he wasn't exactly eye candy, and a voice that while not smooth or pleasant was compelling. I think his real name was Ken Hochman, but everybody called him "Kenny Crucial". They were like the Talking Heads in the respect that you had to hear them two or three times and then POW. It kicked in and you realized that this was one of the coolest things you ever heard. They were both dancable and provoking, you didn't know whether to dance or just study them. I wish they'd recorded their songs. (If anybody knows of recordings, I'd appreciate a tip...). Standout songs for me included "My Vacation Was Not a Holiday" and "Why Do You Do The Things That You Do"

  • Big Daddy Sun and the Outer Planets The "Sun" of course being a nod to Sun Records, and their one record sounds like it just as well had been recorded right at 706 Union Avenue in 1958. They had that combination of hillbilly, americana, rotguy whiskey, rock and roll that came out of Memphis, in both look, sound, songwriting and attitude. Gone Gone Gone, they were all about sweating it out and gettin' real gone. Their lament was that they were too traditional for the punks and too gone for people who claimed they were rockabilly fans. But they were true blue American rockabilly and I wonder if any of them are still rocking it out. (I've heard that Urban Djin -- whose pompadour would have put to shame the coifs of all the Teddy Boys I saw in London -- is still out there, working Chicago I believe). To this day, I can't listen to the Clash's "Brand New Cadillac" without thinking of Big Daddy's (superior) take on it.

  • Captain Rat and the Blind Rivets were our oldies cover band. They played every Friday afternoon for happy hour (it was called Afternoon Madness) and it was as much of a heralding of the weekend for me then as Buzz's Garage on WMSE is for me today. Frontman Tim Vear didn't just play the hits from the 60s like any old acid casualty. He lived them, dressed up in costumes for either the songs or whatever occasion it was. (e.g,, for Thanksgiving he'd turn "Wild Thing" into "Wild Turkey" and shots of that stuff would be on special during the song.) I'd like to get him up to Milwaukee for Trash Fest sometime. He approached the music itself reverently, but the delivery and attitude was delightfully irrelevant. They were perfect for exhaling out your week, putting down some beers, and having a good time. Particularly memorable was the time everybody was talking about how sad it was that Champaign didn't have a White Castle, so Vear charted a plane to fly to Chicagoland, buy several hundred sliders, and fly them down to Champaign for an afternoon madness.

There were more, and I wish I could remember them all. Help me out, kids.....

10 comments:

todd said...

What about Nix 86? Before they were a cover band, of course.

Stephanie said...

Screams
Nix 86
The Invaders
Last Gentlemen
Mystery Dots
The Rave

the sandwich life said...

Weird Summer

The Martyrs

Stephanie said...

Bowery Boys
Farm Boys
Ack Ack

Kirsten said...

Mixed Company
Ack Ack

Beth Jones said...

And, uh, The Elvis Brothers, Champaign, Coa l Kitchen, Rathskellar and the Mudhens... and more

Beth Jones said...

Appaloosa, Carla and the Untouchable, Uncle Jon's Band, Duke Tomatoe and the All-Star Frogs

Beth Jones said...

George Faber!

skip mahone said...

My band -Red Hot & Blue

skip mahone said...

My band - Red Hot & Blue