Where kids rock


May 18, 2001



Though it's rarely written about because cultural commentators tend to be well over the legal drinking age, the 21-and-over law at most local music venues is perhaps the single biggest factor limiting the economic health and artistic vitality of rock today.


You can count on one hand the number of all-ages venues in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, and the few that do exist tend to be under constant siege from civic forces that are inordinately threatened by the sight of large groups of kids having good, loud fun.


So what can a poor (under-age) boy do if he wants to hear a rock 'n' roll band?


One option is to wait for big, corporate, all-day outdoor festivals like the Q101 Jamboree (which comes to the Tweeter Center on Saturday--more on that in a moment) or the Van's Warped Tour (which pulls into the same venue on July 15). But a much more adventurous route is to patronize the handful of all-ages venues that consistently respect the taste and intelligence of under-age audiences by offering more challenging bookings.


There's the Fireside Bowl, of course, for as long as it remains at 2648 W. Fullerton (the building is earmarked to be torn down by the city and the site turned into a park). But quickly rising to serve as its successor in terms of cool ambience and good bookings is the Sputnik Coffee House at 18067 S. Dixie Hwy. in south suburban Homewood.


With a richly colored blue-and-red decor maintaining a celestial and outer space theme, the Sputnik serves coffees, lattes, smoothies and Italian sodas (most less than $3) in lieu of booze, and it hosts local and touring punk and alternative-rock bands starting at 7:30 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights (cover charges range from $5 to $7).


Translated into teenspeak, all of this spells "paradise."


The Sputnik is owned by John Brazas. A Homewood native, he spent 20 years working in Los Angeles as a part-time musician and full-time painting contractor before returning to Illinois and realizing his dream of buying and updating a local coffeehouse. He started by booking jazz and blues, but he soon found that older audiences weren't particularly supportive. Kids like his 17-year-old daughter Tate were a different story.


"There really is nothing for kids," Brazas says. "We started doing rock shows here, and the kids started packing the place. Then we got more and more bands who wanted to play--they're coming from all over the country now on these low-level, lose-all-your-money kind of tours."


The venue got a big boost last summer when Green Day name-checked it from the stage at the New World Music Theatre. Since then, the bookings have grown even more impressive. Tonight the club hosts a hard-rocking triple bill of the Plain White T's, Amona and the Gels. Saturday night industrial-noise veteran-turned-lush-pop songsmith Chris Connelly headlines with opener Polyfuse, an atmospheric electronic band featuring Tate Brazas on vocals.


Other upcoming shows include Showoff and Twinstar on Monday; Don't Look Down and the Midwest Premiere Hardcore Showcase on May 25, and a Ramones tribute show on June 8. Check the Web site at www.sputnikcoffeehouse.com for a full calendar, or call (708) 922-9950.


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As for the annual Jamboree, this year's lineup reflects the moribund, hype-crazed and artistically bankrupt state of modern-rock radio. With the notable exception of New Jersey's psychedelic gods Monster Magnet, who've released a contender for Album of the Year in the new "God Says No," the lineup is mostly bombastic but hollow testosterone rock--the new millennial equivalent of miserable '80s hair metal.


WKQX-FM (101.1) refuses to publish the set times on the two stages in advance of the show (for fear of fans skipping some acts?), but one can guess the rough running order by the way the bands are listed on the station's Web site, www.q101.com.


From the lesser talents to the "greater" (sic), they are local ``nu-metal" wannabes From Zero; Limp Bizkit favorites Cold; poseurs Lucky Boys Confusion from Highland Park and Downers Grove; California nu-metal frauds Alien Ant Farm; Monster Magnet, and Sony Records rap-rockers Crazy Town.


Also: Memphis rap-rockers Saliva; the preening alt-pop poseurs in Fuel; tired rappers Run-DMC; New England's Staind, another of Limp Bizkit's "discoveries"; rap-rockers Linkin Park; inexplicably angst-ridden nu-metallers Papa Roach, and finally Chicago's entry into the vapid nu-metal sweepstakes, Disturbed.


"Hey, Jim, try to remember what it was like when you were 18," Q101 program director Dave Richards told me when I contended that this year's Jamboree lineup is the station's all-time nadir. Actually, I do remember those days: Then as now, I'd have preferred pogoing to the punk rhythms over at the Sputnik Coffee House to marching to the corporate beat at the Tweeter Center.