Power-pop goes Chicago

March 29, 2002


'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 Material Issue.

  Easter gives 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 Simon.

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 jimdero@jimdero.com 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 shows.

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 gleefully.

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."