||March 29, 2002
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
'I was ridin' with the radio up and the windows down/I took a minute or
two to think about all my problems," Chicagoan Jim Ellison sang in 1991. "Drivin'
in the van, playin' in this band, you know it's bringin' me down/But I'll
pop back up when the pretty blue lights come on.
"It's an International Pop Overthrow. International Pop Overthrow!"
When California psychology teacher turned concert promoter and would-be
pop impresario David Bash was looking to name his nascent power-pop festival
in its first year back in 1997, it's not surprising that he thought of
rise to local 'Superstar'
Leave it to the imaginative members of Chicago's rock scene to find a
musical hook for celebrating any holiday.
Last year, the Goblins marked Easter Sunday by hosting a night
of "God Rock" at the Empty Bottle, highlighting some of the best music
from "Godspell," "Jesus Christ Superstar," and other efforts of that
hallelujah ilk. This year, Frisbie and Poi Dog Pondering bassist
Eddie Carlson are going one better by orchestrating a version of
"Jesus Christ Superstar," Andrew Lloyd Webber's lovably cheesy first
epic, in its entirety at Nevin's Live, 1450 Sherman Ave., Evanston.
Chicago actor Sean Allan Krill (Sparky in the original cast of
"Forever Plaid") has played the son of God in "Jesus Christ Superstar"
before, but other local heroes will be a bit out of character in their
roles. The cast includes Steve Frisbie of Frisbie as Judas,
Matt Spiegel of Brother Brother and Sonic Voodoo as King Herod,
Liam Davis of Frisbie as Pontius Pilate, Amy Warren of
Tallulah as Mary Magdalene and Chris Cubberly of Moxie Blue as
In addition to Carlson, the musicians include Aluminum Group
keyboardist Liz Conant (the two were last seen portraying members
of Genesis at Nevin's Halloween show), bassist Jackson Wilson,
drummer Zack Kantor and viola player Stacia Spencer.
There are two performances, 8 and 11 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $10,
and all proceeds benefit Housing Opportunities for Women. Call (847)
869-0450 for more information.
Pop Music Critic Jim DeRogatis co-hosts "Sound Opinions," the
world's only rock 'n' roll talk show, from 10 p.m. to midnight Tuesday
on WXRT-FM (93.1). E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit him
on the Web at www.jimdero.com.
"I was talking to a friend and saying that I wanted to come up with a
name that exemplified trying to coalesce an international pop scene, and he
was thinking out loud and said, 'International pop,' " Bash recalls. "As
soon as he said that, it just clicked. Not only did it sound good, but it
was exactly what I was looking for, and it also allowed me to pay tribute to
Jim Ellison, whose music meant so much to so many people."
Now, after four successful summer festivals in Los Angeles and one
heralded road trip to New York last December, International Pop Overthrow is
coming to Chicago, with a two-week schedule of shows starting tonight and
visiting eight clubs scattered around the city in the coming days.
"The way I see it and I think a lot of people see it, Chicago is the true
home of the music that inspired this festival in the first place," Bash
says. "It's the home of some of the greatest power-pop we've ever had. Even
beyond Cheap Trick and Shoes and Material Issue, you have the Elvis
Brothers, the Bad Examples, and so many lesser-known bands of high quality."
True enough, though Chicago's two most significant bands in this genre
right now, Frisbie and OK-GO (which recently signed to Capitol) aren't
performing at the festival. Neither is Zion's Shoes, and of course,
tragically, Material Issue is long gone.
What the festival is presenting is 150 underground bands from across the
country and around the world, performing on bills that are scheduled one per
night so that diehard popheads can see every act that's scheduled, in
contrast to other festivals that force fans to choose between competing
Now, when Bash uses the word "pop," he certainly doesn't mean "popular,"
or "pop" in the sense of acts such as 'N Sync, Pink and Jay-Z who are
topping the Billboard pop charts. So what exactly is the aesthetic of
the music he promotes?
"It's music that is very hook-heavy, harmony-heavy, and somewhat
guitar-oriented, that harkens back to the joys of AM radio in the '60s and
'70s without necessarily sounding like those songs. You can hear the
influences, hear the inspirations, but the sound is mostly original. It's
the idea of the optimism--the joy of what the music traditionally was trying
to bring us.
"Pop in the '60s and '70s was a lot different than what it is now," he
continues. "Now, it's much more rhythm-heavy and much more antiseptic. The
stuff back then happened to be very catchy and very memorable and inspired
good feelings, and it was embraced by the mainstream. We're trying to bring
that back with the music at IPO."
Among the shows that the promoter is proudest of is a reunion by the
local early-'80s trio the Elvis Brothers, who headline an eight-band bill
starting at 7:30 p.m. April 5, at the Abbey, 3420 W. Grace. "People were
telling me it would never happen because a couple of the guys weren't
speaking to each other and so on, but suddenly it happened," Bash says
He is also inexplicably excited about an appearance by Enuff Z'nuff
at the Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, at 9:30 p.m. Thursday. After flopping
as a dreadful hair-metal band, the group turned to power-pop on its last two
recordings. But far more impressive on the same bill are the Vandalias
and Million Yen, who follow at 10:30 and 11.
Other highlights that I see include the much-buzzed Kevin Tihista
tonight at Schubas; the always-great Green on Saturday night at the
Abbey; Outrageous Cherry at Schubas on Sunday; the Pillbugs, the
Pages and the Elms at Nevin's Live on Monday, and Kevin Junior
of the Chamber Strings at Schubas on Tuesday.
Also: the Barry Holdship Four and the Grip Weeds at the
Beat Kitchen on April 6, and the Ted Ansani Project, Doug Roberson
and the Swarays, and the New Duncan Imperials at Gunther
Murphy's on April 12. (For a full schedule of all the bands and links to
their Web sites, visit www.internationalpopoverthrow.com.)
Why should Chicagoans care about this festival if they aren't subscribers
to the Audities news group (the online home of diehard power-pop fans) and
haven't heard of any of these bands?
"Well, if you're a pop fan at all, you're gonna really love this music,
because it's all within the style and framework of what you love," Bash
says. "If you're a pop fan, you know very well that most of your favorite
music is stuff most people haven't heard of, so you definitely wouldn't want
to dismiss it on that account. If you're a pop fan who loves guitar-oriented
music with hooks and harmonies, then this stuff is for you."