Do-It-Yourself projects pile up fast


July 23, 2004


It hasn't even been three months since this column last dived in to the always-overflowing stacks of Do-It-Yourself releases by local bands, but three mail bins full of submissions have piled up already. Let's sample some of the best.

A lovably shticky side project of the Industry, the Power-Ups are an instrumental quartet that claims its "passion for rock is equaled only by [its] passion for video games." On a three-song demo, the group combines both loves by playing appropriately synth-heavy, cheesy but rocking arrangements of the theme music from games such as "Castlevania," "The Legend of Zelda" and "Ms. Pac-Man" on the Arcade, Nintendo and Commodore 64 video systems. It's the next best thing to Devo, at least until that group's reunion tour in the fall. The Power-Ups will perform at the Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, at 9 p.m. on Aug. 10. (

Chicago's garage-rock scene continues to thrive, rivaling those in New York or Sweden, and after a three-year break from live performing, one of the best local groups has returned to sear local stages with its particular brand of grunge, a sound that's potent enough to put the Hives or the Mooney Suzuki to shame. The Havox have roots that stretch back to the original '60s "Nuggets" bands, via '80s revivalist heroes the Fleshtones, and the group is shopping around a strong four-song demo with the hope of following up its 2001 debut, "Here, Catch." With a strong R&B underpinning, the occasional blast of nasty harmonica and a killer live cover of "In the Midnite Hour," the Havox do garage-rock like it should be done.



The "new wave of new wave" continues to be strong in this town as well, and the Dirty Things are one of the better bands in this vein, drawing on the influences of Wire, the Gang of Four and the early Cure on a five-song EP called "Movement Making Noises." On songs such as the aptly titled "New Dance," the young quartet easily betters the Rapture, if not bands like Franz Ferdinand and Clinic. The Dirty Things will perform at the U.S. Beer Company, 1801 N. Clybourn, on Aug. 13. (

Chicago also continues to be a hotbed for gothic music, both of the raucous metal variety and the gentler ambient style. Something Beautiful definitely fits in the former category, as evidenced by the duo's four-song demo, which approaches the ethereal sounds of Evanescence with a thrash-rock edge and some inspired electronic arrangements. Guitarist-vocalist Dale Tippett Jr. and bassist-vocalist Justin Smith have landed a prime gig opening for Fear Factory at the Rave, 2401 W. Wisconsin in Milwaukee, on Aug. 10. (

Ken Sommer is an earnest and prolific home-recording artist -- "still unsigned, living in the parents' basement in Highland Park," he writes. To date, he has self-released two albums, "Officer" and "Sir Real," and a third, "In the Highlands," is coming soon. A rabid Replacements fan, his literary eye for lyrics and indie-rock take on the Rolling Stones circa "Exile on Main St." would do Paul Westerberg proud. He performs at Gunther Murphy's, 1638 W. Belmont, on July 31.

Taking its name from the Velvet Underground's fourth and poppiest album, Loaded actually reaches back to the early '90s grunge explosion for its inspiration, evoking Soundgarden or the Screaming Trees with its furious guitars and George Carson's robust baritone vocals on a four-song demo that packs a nice wallop. It's a big band (two guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, percussion and vocals) and its Web site ( includes links to some impressive D.I.Y. videos.

Jangly power-pop never goes out of style, especially here in the Midwest, and Juan Avila and his band Gooey continue to fly the flag high. On its self-titled 10-song album, the quintet strums and croons with considerable energy, flaunting the typical Matthew Sweet and Beatles influences, and delivering more than the requisite number of indelible hooks and heartfelt tales of romance and love lost. Gooey performs at Subterranean, 2011 W. North, on July 28. (

Cheekily calling his well-produced 15-song debut album "The Sexiest Man on Earth," the virtuosic musician and songwriter Aaron Ackerson brings to mind a cross between Beck and Frank Zappa, giddily mixing seemingly disparate genres (new age, rock, electronic dance music and hip-hop among them) while laughing at himself and the foibles of society in tunes such as "The Artichoke Song," "Keep God Out of Canada" and "Ten Pounds of Love." Don't expect to catch him live any time soon -- he's moving to Japan to teach English -- but he is getting radio play on the legendary and enduringly eclectic "Dr. Demento Show." (

The Puerto Rican rapper Bosco is undeniably skilled at the mike, and producer Surge Carrillo crafts some impressive musical backings to highlight his rapid flow on his self-titled 14-track album for Hit Brigada Records. Unfortunately, the artist is unduly obsessed with the standard gangsta-rap cliches; he fares best on the cleaned-up radio edit for his single "Modern Day Prayer." (

Unapologetically political and hyper-critical of George W. Bush -- the name comes from the administration's bogus claim that Iraq tried to procure uranium from Niger -- Yellowcake isn't quite as slick at leftist propaganda as Michael Moore, but it makes its point with considerable energy on the D.I.Y. album "Since You Ruined the Earth," and it's not nearly as didactic as, say, Rage Against the Machine. The three musicians are all ultra-accomplished players -- think of a harder, more metallic Primus -- and songs such as "America, We Need a New President," "Come Election Day" and the title track are timely, indeed. (

Just as political, a little bit more preachy but with a winning and fast-moving punk groove is the quartet Void Where Prohibited. "I have something to say," guitarist-vocalist Kevin Giglinto declares on the opening track of "Cryptic Cowboy," the follow-up to the group's "Freakinator" EP, and he proceeds to deliver over joyfully raucous if occasionally generic backing music throughout the nine-song album. The band will perform at the Elbo Room, 2871 N. Lincoln, on July 30. (

You've gotta love a band that calls itself the Unemployed and titles its seven-song indie release "F--- Work." On tunes such as "Self Deprecate" and "Before/After/ Still," the young band delivers a spunky, catchy brand of pop-punk. You can judge for yourself if you take the group up on its offer of a free CD, available through its Web site (

Boasting an equally endearing moniker is Eva Destruction and Her Big Band -- especially when you realize that said group consists only of the smoky-voiced diva and her lone accompanist, Gary Indiana on banjo and other assorted acoustic instruments. On a three-song demo and in live performance, the duo refashions punk-rock classics such as "Die, Die My Darling" by the Misfits, "I Wanna Be Your Dog" by the Stooges and "Smash It Up" by the Damned, delivering them in smooth, sultry cabaret arrangements that bring to mind the incongruous image of Peggy Lee sporting tattoos, a mohawk and a safety pins as earrings. Eva and her man will perform at Uncommon Ground, 1214 W. Grace, on Aug. 22. (

Groovy bar bands are a dime a dozen in Chicago, but Green Street is a particularly impressive and kickin' seven-piece combo that distinguishes itself on its demo single, "Into My Life Again," with a sultry neosoul vibe and the ultra-sexy vocals of singer Fatima, who could end up being the best thing to hit this genre locally since Rachel Yamagata split with Bumpus. (

Finally, we have the lo-fi quartet Satellite 66, which has issued an impressive eight-song EP called "Grasshopper" on the Bloomington, Ind., label Smokeylung. On the follow-up to the 2000 album "It Seems Like," bandleader Josh Selb clearly worships at the altars of Built to Spill, Grandaddy, Yo La Tengo and atmospheric indie guitar bands of that ilk, but his songwriting is strong enough to mark the group as one to watch on its own merits. (