Sending out the music fest season with a bang

September 8, 2006


  • After the Intonation, Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago House Music, Pitchfork and Lollapalooza bashes, Chicago's extraordinary summer of festivals comes to an end this weekend as two venerable and much-loved local institutions celebrate milestone anniversaries with an incredible weekend of diverse sounds.

    For 10 years, everyone's favorite Chicago dive, the Hideout, has ushered in the fall with its fan-friendly block party, providing music, food and plenty of distractions for the kids, while for the last quarter-century, Touch and Go Records has been one of the most consistent and adventurous independent labels in the world.

    Needless to say, it's great to see the two joining forces for three days featuring 31 remarkable performances outside the club at 1354 W. Wabansia, just off Elston Avenue -- a classically gritty and urban Windy City setting that practically screams "Touch and Go" -- for the bargain price of $35 for a weekend pass/$15 per day in advance or $45/$20 at the door (providing the event hasn't sold out in advance). Much more information is available at (including audio clips of all of the bands) or, but here is my quick hour-by-hour overview. All sets are an hour long, unless otherwise noted.


    The Shipping News, 5 p.m. With a name taken from the novel by E. Annie Proulx and its key members first coming together to record music for Chicago Public Radio's "This American Life," it should come as no surprise that the Louisville band specializes in brainy, atmospheric art-rock, though its sound is much more inviting than that description might suggest.

    Supersystem, 6 p.m. Gleefully mixing dance and worldbeat rhythms, textures, punk energy and hip-hop textures, the New York quartet is riding high on the recent release of its second Touch and Go album, "A Million Microphones."

    Girls Against Boys, 7 p.m. For a moment in the late '90s, Scott McCloud's post-Fugazi punk band was hyped as "the next Nirvana." But the multi-platinum success never came, and its albums for Geffen Records were never as good as the earlier Touch and Go recordings, especially 1993's "Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby." Officially on hiatus, this gig brings the band back together for a rare performance by the lineup that recorded that album.

    Ted Leo + the Pharmacists, 8 p.m. Ultra-earnest, socially conscious punk-rocker Ted Leo literally bled for his art at the Pitchfork Festival when he cracked his forehead open on a mike stand. Hopefully, he'll deliver the goods without needing any sutures this time around.

    !!!, 9 p.m. This seven-piece California dance-rock band -- whose name is pronounced as three percussive syllables (i.e., "chk chk chk") -- pursues an invigorating mix of layered percussion and noise-rock. It signed to Touch and Go for its wonderfully titled 2003 album, "Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story)."


    The New Year, noon. The new but similarly dense and brooding band that rose from the ashes of the late, lamented Bedhead, the New Year has released two albums for Touch and Go, including 2004's "The End Is Near."

    Uzeda, 12:55 p.m. Led by captivating vocalist Giovanna Cacciola, these uncompromising Sicilian noise-rockers took a break in the late '90s but returned to their musical vendetta earlier this year with a new album called "Stella," recorded by Steve Albini.

    Pegboy, 1:50 p.m. A Chicago treasure, it was a sad day in 2000 when John Hagerty disbanded his post-Naked Raygun anthemic punk quartet, but for one day, at least, Hagerty, vocalist Larry Damore and the boys will be back in action. The only thing better than this and the Big Black reunion would have been the return of the Jesus Lizard.

    Tim Midgett and Andy Cohen, 2:35-2:50 p.m. The art-rock band Silkworm came to an end when drummer Michael Dahlquist was one of three Chicago musicians killed in a car crash instigated by a woman trying to commit suicide. This 15-minute set by the band's bassist and guitarist should be a fitting tribute.

    The Ex, 2:55 p.m. Long-running cult favorites, these Dutch activists and sonic alchemists refuse to be defined by any one adjective, unless you count "intense."

    Killdozer, 3:50 p.m. Disbanded since 1996, these Madison, Wis. noise-rockers were one of the groups that defined the abrasive, industrial-punk sound of the late '80s and early '90s, and they were never less than incendiary onstage.

    Jon & Kat, 4:35-4:50 p.m. It wouldn't seem like a real Chicago shindig without an appearance by sometime Mekon, Waco Brother, Pine Valley Cosmonaut, etc., Jon Langford. Here, he'll be joined for a short set with the drummer from the Ex.

    The Didjits, 4:55 p.m. Another of the festival's remarkable reunion gigs, this one tempts the exuberant Rick Sims away from his recent work in the theater long enough to go back to the unrelentingly high-energy punk of his misspent youth.

    P.W. Long, 5:40-5:55 p.m. Initially formed by the rhythm section of the Laughing Hyenas and former Wig frontman Long, this country-punk combo released two albums for Touch and Go in the late '90s, came back for 2003's "Remembered," but is once again officially disbanded.

    Negative Approach, 6 p.m. One of Touch and Go's earliest hard-core punk bands, Negative Approach was led by John Brannon, who would go on to form Detroit's legendary Laughing Hyenas.

    Sally Timms, 6:30-6:45 p.m. Chicago's other favorite Mekon checks in, acknowledging her debt to the label that released her stellar 2004 solo album, "In the World of Him," a concept effort that found her singing entirely from the male point of view.

    Scratch Acid, 6:50 p.m. Another of the groups most associated with the Touch and Go sound of the late '80s, members of this hugely influential Austin, Texas, band would go on to play key roles in Rapeman and the Jesus Lizard. Vocalist David Yow remains one of the greatest front men in rock history, period, second to few besides Iggy Pop.

    Man ... Or Astroman?, 7:45 p.m. Surf music never died, and it was never limited to some bands' narrow definitions of the genre ... at least not on the many recordings and always celebratory live sets of this prolific Alabama combo.

    Big Black, 8:40-8:55 p.m.

    Shellac, 9 p.m. Steve Albini has done his best to downplay expectations for the reunion of his phenomenal '80s trio, noting that it will only perform a couple of songs, and the lineup will be the one on its first EP, "Lungs," instead of the band that made the 1985 masterpiece, "Atomizer." It doesn't matter: It's still the most anticipated set of the festival, and the fact that it will be followed by an increasingly rare local appearance by his current band with monster drummer Todd Trainer and bassist Bob Weston only adds to the excitement. Shouted Big Black requests ("Cables"! "Jordan, Minnesota"! "Kerosene"!) will probably make Herr Albini very angry, hence they are highly encouraged, since that will make Shellac kick harder than ever.



    Arcwelder, noon. A Minneapolis trio, Arcwelder formed from the remains of Tilt-A-Whirl in the late '80s and proceeded to carry the classic Touch and Go noise-rock sound well into the '90s.

    Quasi, 1 p.m. For many fans, the only good news about Sleater-Kinney splitting up is that drummer Janet Weiss will have more time to devote to this avant-pop duo with keyboardist Sam Coomes.

    The Monorchid, 2 p.m. A late addition to the bill, this guitar-heavy quintet split up only weeks after releasing its second album, 1998's "Who Put Out the Fire?" It is reuniting for the first time since for this festival.

    Enon, 3 p.m. Slimmed down to a trio, these Brooklyn musicians, veterans of Skeleton Key and Brainiac, could loosely be categorized as another New Wave of New Wave revival band, though their electronic pop is never quite so easily pigeonholed.

    Three Mile Pilot, 3:55 p.m. Part progressive or math-rock, part punk, Three Mile Pilot formed in San Diego in the early '90s and would later be eclipsed by its members' other bands: the more Bad Seeds-styled Black Heart Procession and the ambitious indie-pop band Pinback, both of whom are also appearing later today.

    Tara Jane ONeil, 4:40-4:55 p.m. One of many acts providing testament to the fact that Touch and Go (and its sister label Quarterstick) were never all about the noise, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and painter ONeil is responsible for some of the gentlest and most beautiful music the label has ever issued, from 2000's "Peregrine" to the recent "In Circles."

    Seam, 5 p.m. One of the most sadly underrated guitar bands of the '90s, Seam hasn't appeared on album since 1998's "The Pace Is Glacial, and though there's been talk of an ongoing reunion, main man Sooyoung Park is also busy these days with a new group called ee.

    Brick Layer Cake, 5:45-6 p.m. One of the only disappointments of the fest is that Shellac drummer Todd Trainer is being limited to 15 minutes to perform in his solo/home-recording guise, which has produced only three albums between 1991 and 2002, though each was a winner.

    The Black Heart Procession, 6:05 p.m.; CocoRosie, 7 p.m. Sisters Sierra (vocals, guitar and flute) and Bianca (vocals and percussion) Casady have merged elements of hip-hop and electronica with more acoustic sounds, winning a growing following in the freak-folk movement, thanks to three albums to date, including 2005's "Noah's Ark."

    Pinback, 8 p.m.; Calexico, 9 p.m. The first time I saw Calexico perform was at one of the Hideout's big outdoor barbecue shindigs at South by Southwest, where the club-owners were thrilled to be presenting the group, so it's fitting that the hard-touring, ever-changing, genre-defying southwestern rockers are closing out the festival, as well as celebrating their latest Touch and Go disc, "Garden Ruin," released last April.