Friday, July 26, 2013

Staycation, Part I: Local garage


I was on vacation this week. I plan stuff for a living, so I didn’t plan anything for my staycation. I just decided that I would wake up when I felt like it, and just do whatever came to mind. That ended up being driving to various state parks and riding my bike there. Yes, I did that in the sweltering heat, and it felt great, in fact, exhilarating. Still, by Friday, I had a nice ride to Wilson Park, swam a couple of laps in the cheap, oldschool public pool, and when a text from Ted Jorin came that said, “There’s rock and roll at Frank’s Power Plant tonight”

I believed him and on the spur of the moment I went. I’d hoped I’d be able to catch a set from the Northside Creeps, (bass player Ted knows I’m a fan, hence the text message) but I was too late. Apparently they’d only played a short set, that was cut even shorter by technical difficulties. Or something like that. Nobody wanted to get detailed about this, since they are all Sixthstation readers and knew I’d write about it. Ted tried to convince me to stay for the next band anyway, but he didn’t need to – It’s been too long since I’ve seen new bands, and besides I paid cover already. I’m gonna hear some music, dammit. The band, the 57s – was wonderfully worth the $5 I paid. At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of them. Lead guitar player has a plaid amp front cover. Not flowery, like Paul “Fly” Lawson’s. Plaid.The Lead singer has the build, hair and demeanor that reminded me of Wanda Chrome’s Cliff Ulsberger, and that was a good sign. Drummer looks like he could be Paul Wall’s little brother. Yes, I’m referencing Milwaukee legendary garage elderstatesmen to describe how these guys looked, because they turned out to sound like legendary garage rockers. They had that matured angst, tight playing, trashy Americana sound: three minute trashy, poppy, punky anthems that have that Great Lakes rust belt stamp all over them.

It took forever (or so it seemed) for the next band, Dead on TV, out of Chicago, to get on the stage. I expected more garagy, and that meant it should have been a matter of set up, plug in and play already. I admit to laughing when they asked for a sound check. (Poor out of towners, they didn’t
 know better.) And the lead singer’s shorts were too long to be shorts, and he was a guy, so I couldn’t call them capris. Too fucking hipster for me. I was starting to really hate them, but decided for five bucks, I should see more than one band.


Dead on TV
bending over backwards

Originally uploaded by V'ron.
 Fifteen seconds in, they won me over. Lead singer’s shirt comes off, and suddenly, he’s transformed into a guy who wants to be Iggy Pop so bad we can all taste his sweat. I mean this as a compliment. He’s literally bending over backwards for the six of us who were there (only four of whom paid cover), cavorting all over the stage, while their drummer holds down a hard beat. These guys were definitely on the glam edge of the garage continuum, so cocky they didn’t need a bass player, instead a snarky guy on keyboards. Tempo changes, dynamics changes, and tight songwriting. Definitely glad I stayed. I felt bad for them, that they drove up from Chicago and didn’t even make gas money, so I picked up their CD (with the four of them all bloodied on the cover) and listened to it the next day on the way to the Vans WarpedTour in Tinley Park. (I know I should say Chicago, but I grew up a mile away from Tinley Park, so I’m going to be specific about this.) Still, Ted Jorin was right: there was rock and roll at Frank’s Power Plant last Friday night, and it was good.

Staycation Part II: Warped National Hardcore and Feeling Old

So, Saturday morning, I woke up, checked to see that the weather would not be as oppressively hot as it had the previous couple of days, and told Stella, “OK. We’re going.” The night before, at Frank’s, I was looking over the lineup for the Vans Warped Tour and realized that perhaps this old punk mom is indeed getting old, for I did not know anything about a single band that was on the bill. Wait, I’ve heard of Reel Big Fish. But that’s about it. We packed up some (sealed, therefore acceptable to bring in) bottled water and I didn’t even need directions to Tinley Park. We picked up her friend Steven and hit the road, a little early for my tastes but late for Stella’s.

I'll tell ya, if I wasn’t already feeling this way (I had my doubts that I'd last all day at this festival), it seemed this was a show that wanted to drive home to anybody over 23 that You.Are.Old. My first (pleasant) manifestation of that was the fact that since I was a parent to Stella and her friend, I got in free, more as an escort to my children and I was there to keep them safe. Well, that was true, but I still was interested in the music. After all, this was originally a punk/hardcore festival and I love punk/hardcore. But management assumed that, at 52, I had absolutely no interest in partaking of any of this music, that I will have written off all of it, and was probably grumbling about the heinous $45 ticket for bands I supposedly had no interest in seeing. But, I’m not just a mom here, kiddos. I’m a elderstateswoman and you just don’t know it. And I’m kind of sad that I can drop names/situations like “I interviewed John Doe and Exene back in ‘82” and “I photographed Henry Rollins back when he only had four tattoos” and “ I had dinner with Jello Biafra” -- and as Stella pointed out, “Mom, most of these people don’t know who they are.”

So, I played along, acted like I was bored while they inspected my ID to see that I was indeed older than the target demographic and was accompanied by two obvious teenagers, got my “escort” wristband, and sailed through the entry gate without paying a damn dime. Now that, motherfuckers, is punk.

It’s a good thing we left when we did, because the band Stella really wanted to see, Chiodos, was about to take the stage. “Go on,” I told her and Steven, who left their backpacks with me as they headed for the mosh pit. Oh, I’m your fucking valet now? When the hell did I agree to this? Well, I’ll check out this band, and search for the “Reverse Daycare” tent that, as a wristbanded parent, I had access to.

Oh, Bender, you punk rebel, you.  
This was a place where parents could sit down for a bit, with AC, cold water, and a TV showing movies from our supposed youth. (“The Breakfast Club” was a little after my time. I was hoping for “Repo Man” myself – c’mon, Emilio’s in that too! But to really give away my age, I wasn’t really an Emilio girl. I was more about his dad…. But I digress.). I got some fresh cold water, which I knew the kids would need after the mosh pit for Chiodos (and otherwise would've had to wait in long lines at a drinking fountain to get), and went back to the meeting spot we’d agreed upon.

 OK, Chiodos. Named for the special effects team of brothers who, among other things, directed Killer Klowns from Outer Space. I'm already liking the obscure reference. They (like half the bands on the bill) were termed “post-hardcore” which basically means hardcore punk, but not limited to always being fast and loud. Like many of the bands of this subgenre, they mess with time signatures, some of their vocalists actually sing sometimes (as opposed to always being screamo), and can often get anthemic. But they do inspire serious moshpit action, which means the demographic this festival is aimed at has a chance to just get all their pent up stuff out. It’s acceptable to push, scream, yell, and be part of a crowd. Chiodos understands this, and encourages this, oh, and they’re good at it. And also, like a lot of the bands here, they’re kind of rockstar about this, which actually, I liked. “HEY CHICAGO! WE’RE SO FUCKING GLAD TO BE HERE AGAIN! IF THIS IS YOUR FIRST WARPED TOUR, LEMME SEE YOUR YOUR HANDS!” They’re not too hipper-than-thou for this, and a big crowd appreciates it. Musically, they’re tight, fast, varied, and lead singer Craig Owens can actually sing, as he proved further in the “acoustic” tent. They signed merch and other stuff at an autograph tent later. We moved onto another post hardcore band, The Amity Affliction who, while not as popular/well known by this crowd, were just as good. I probably enjoyed them more because they had that American punk ethos of also being fun and sometimes funny. I even almost got pulled into the mosh pit, but declined to go through because a) I was wearing glasses and I know better than to do such a thing and b) once again, I was holding the kids’ backpacks like I was their damn valet. I needed to get out of this.

Stella meets a hardcore singer
Meantime, this was quite an active mosh pit, and once some girls were getting the guts to go crowd surfing, I was keeping an eye on Stella. In this crowd, there were two guys giving the girls a boost to fly across the crowd and land near the bouncers, who would safely bring them back to the ground – but it was too thin of a crowd to truly risk it – and Stella didn’t do it. “Yeah,” I told her later, “if you’re gonna crowd surf, you probably want to have a thicker crowd of padding to fall into.” So while Sleeping With Sirens was playing (another band I’d vaguely heard of, and they were more of the same), Steven went to see them, and Stella herself went to the acoustic tent to hear this Craig Ownes guy do his “acoustic” set. Here, “acoustic” means quieter songs on a piano, concentrating more on melody and lyrics to make a point – and if he hadn't won me over by then, he did in the picture taking session that Stella waited in line 45 minutes for. Here’s a guy who does a hardcore set at 2 in the afternoon of a brutal hot sunny day, takes a short break, does a half hour acoustic set, and then meet ‘n’ greets a hundred fans and is fresh and charismatic for every.single.one. Seriously, Stella was near the end of the line and he gave no indication of “how many more of these do I gotta do” as he smiled for every picture with every fan. I gotta respect that.

Alvarez Kings looking for their subjects
In fact, I had/have a lot of respect for the general hustle that a lot of these bands put forth. I saw no major label presence there, which meant there were dozens of indie label tents all over the place, hawking their goods and in many cases, giving out free samples to push their bands. I came across one band that had a sign saying “Did you miss us? Come have a listen...” and they were happy to pop some headphones on me and play their music on a connected Ipad so I could get a sample of their work. They were called the Alvarez Kings and they described themselves as pop-prog. Um, I have a different definition of prog: no, these guys did NOT sound like Yes or ELP. I’d go with Simple Minds, and I told them, “a little more rough edge and I’d swear you grew up listening to the Buzzcocks.” Big smiles from them. I smiled back: Ha! You know who the Buzzcocks were! And further, they took it as a compliment. Hell, if somebody compared my band to the Buzzcocks I’d be floating on air, too. Craig Owens wasn't the only one hustling and working this crowd, I'll tell you that. Seriously, I was happy to see the kind of hustle and DIY self-promotion that abounded here. Indie labels and bands are catching on to what it really takes to make a living off this, and they’re cultivating the audience and the business to work with the technology they have available to them. That's what it's going to take to keep good indie music going instead of that hipper-than-thou-we're-so-above-this crap that regular Sixthstation readers know I hate.

 Another dip into the parents’ tent for some fresh water and we met back up, and Stella and friend swam into a huge crowd for the end of Sleeping With Sirens. The next band on the stage right next to them were a pop punk band called Billy Talent, and I really liked them, too. They were out of Toronto, kind of reminded me of Green Day: pop punk, snotty, crowd-pleasing, and songs that each had their own thing going. I decided after this point to take in some of the other stages, now that I trusted the kids to not be stupid. Saw a band called Lionz of Zion that were too funky/fast to be true reggae, but not quite frenetic enough to be ska. I liked them-- they infused a level of funk that was worthy of being on a bill with George Clinton. Saw a truly oldschool hardcore band called  No Bragging Rights that reminded me of Kenosha’s Pistofficer: passionate, political, and massively hardcore. I finally decided to get out of the sun and head to the amphitheater, where the large state was divided into two stages, so that there would be not a long wait between bands. Neither offering stood out for me (so I won’t name names), but it was nice to sit down in a real chair out of the sun, and hit my smartphone to see who else I might like to check out.

My answer came in the form of Frank Bang and his Secret Stash: his bio looked interesting enough. Chicago-based, sounded like he was a rocking bluesman. After the kids were done with another post hardcore outfit called Bring Me The Horizon (who ended their set with a middle finger salute) , I pulled them over to the stage where Bang was playing. They were ready to hit the road (hungry and probably a little sun-exhausted) but I wanted to check this out. Bang seemed almost out of place at this fest: first off, as I commented to the others with me near the stage, “Shit, these guys look like they’re my age!"  But I was reminded of something Ted Jorin said the night before when I told him I was taking Stella to this, and that she enjoyed hardcore and punk: “That’s wonderful. The great thing about being into punk is that it doesn’t stop you from being into lots of other kinds of music,” and watching Bang and the Secret Stash drove this point home. Bang hits the stage with a rack of four guitars – the first of which is a lap steel and proceeds to squeeze some ferocious Chicago-style blues out of it, accompanied by his voice that sounds like an aging punk who listening to a lot of Tom Waits. He’s got that Waits-like phrasing, minus the gravely voice. And his band (well, rhythm section) was obviously a couple of pro-level vets who still loved to get down and dirty with some punk blues. He switches to another lap guitar tuned in a different key before standing up and picking up a beautiful Les Paul gold top to finish his set. The only bummer was the eight -- count ‘em eight-- bouncers in front of the stage (including the tallest guy for the middle, jesus h christ) who were there to protect the band from the couple of dozen of us who were tired, drained, and probably gentle enough not to smash a fly. And they’re all talking to each other, which was really distracting. Oh, for Pete’s sake. This wasn’t Chiodos or even The Amity Affliction. It was some 50 year old bluesman banging away on a six string lap -- et the hell out of the way for cryin’ out loud.

Anyway, I let the kids admit to being beat first, but I concurred. It had been a long day. We trudged out toward the exit, at which I witnessed the saddest part of the day:
That's right. The top picture is a damn DJ, playing some stale ol' beat to the cheers of a packed screaming crowd. The bottom picture-- taken not fifty feet away-- is a live, local band (they were either The Indecent or the Hollywood Kills, not sure, and I'm sorry about that) who can actually play instruments, sing, and is delivering the goods despite the fact that there's less than a dozen kids (half of whom I'll bet are friends of the band) watching them. That really depressed me after a full day of otherwise kickass, passionate music. Still, here's the list of bands that played on this stage. They probably didn't get paid much, and they probably played in front of similarly sized "crowds". Go see them sometime and support live music played by real musicians. That's my little lecture for today.

Still, we were tired but we were in the South Burbs, so we went to our (free!) parking place, cranked on the air conditioner, and went straight to my childhood pizza joint, Aurelio’s, who I’m glad to say still lives up to wonderful childhood/teenage memories of being some of the best damn pizza on the planet. Like damn good punk, a good pizza (made in an independent restaurant) always satisfies. I know Aurelio's is a chain, but the location we went to was the (almost) original Aurelio's that they carved out of the old Van Drunen Ford Body Shop in Homewood, Illinois. (The truly original Aurelio's two blocks away on Ridge Road, a tiny little place that had two tables and a carry-out station, has been gone since they opened the place we went to in 1976).

I’m just rather impressed with myself that not only did I last as long as the kids that day, I also found enough music that I truly enjoyed and I was also glad to see that there’s still a very active and enthusiastic market for this stuff. OK, I made it through! On to Riot Fest!