[Indie rock vagabond Lars Ro, one of our oldest friends, attended the Touch & Go Records 25th Anniversary festival in Chicago this past weekend. Mr. Ro is a veteran of numerous indie acts, the longest-running being Sfu-ma-to; he also operates Peace Makes Revolution Records. Below is the first installment of his report; a second and third will follow Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. Photos for these items are courtesy of Mr. Almanac himself, Brad Searles, who also attended the festival and whose own coverage is forthcoming at BradleysAlmanac.com -- Ed.]
DAY ONE: Touch & Go Records celebrated its 25th anniversary with a three day festival at The Hideout in Chicago (the event doubling as The Hideout's 10th annual Block Party). On my way there, I found out that the three day passes had sold out. Uh oh... Luckily, a helpful co-organizer of the festivities who wishes to remain anonymous was kind enough to help me out.
The festival set-up split the bands between two stages, but luckily acts didn't overlap (a first for me which I really savoured). The humility of Corey Rusk and his label was evidenced by the small Touch & Go banners on the side of each stage, seemingly smaller even than the also discreet Hideout banners. Behind the West stage a single skyscraper stood in the distance. There we were mere days before the anniversary of September 11th, but tonight the planes were flying well above the building...
Friday was a beautiful sunny day. The Shipping News kicked the whole weekend off, but although I'm a serious fan, I missed the first few songs while my entry was sorted out. The rest of the set was very good, with Todd Cook's repetitive bass lines (repetitive in a good way!), Kyle Crabtree's inspired drumming and what we have come to know and love from Jason Noble and Jeff Mueller. The band thought enough of the event to distribute a commemorative single called "Claws."
Supersystem was poppy, dancy, you know -- what in my case amounts to "whatever..." after not too many notes. The kind of thing that must give the drummer bass drum foot cramps. Disco for the kids, yes.
Girls Against Boys emerged and delivered the entire Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby album plus two more hits! The players thrusted themselves around the stage like they were much younger than their 40s. A bass-heavy, tight, well-oiled machine. You would never guess that it had been however many years since they last played together. In between every song, singer Scott McCloud repeated "Thank you very much" -- the only thing which revealed GVSB's feeling of being out of place/out of practice. A guy near me was dancing so vigorously it looked like contortions. I even spied dragonflies arcing over our heads -- can't say that's ever happened to me at a concert before!
Ted Leo & Pharmacists were high on energy, but did the druggists have anything for my growing headache? Melodies aplenty were the order of the day, and the bassist's fro was all the visual we needed. The pop-punkiness of their set morphed into straight-up white boy reggae a la The Clash for a while. Thumbs up.
Walking out from the bar, what I thought was a Beastie Boys record being played somewhere turned out to be !!!. The septet (which expanded to eight at one point) performed under a gorgeous, near-full moon. The band's vibe made me feel like how I would imagine a that of a British festival feels. The music was a mixed coctail of new-wave, Manchester-ish beats, A.C. Kane (according to my British friend), The New Fast Automatic Daffodils and Talking Heads, to name a few, with an extra indie-sensibility. "Weird band," I turned to him and hollered. They even busted out bluegrass licks before getting funky again with their double drum action. It was so danceable I was even dancing and cheering in the porta-potty. Flangers abounded, and in the spirit of the Joe and Mick reveries, I felt like I was getting "Overpowered By Funk." The only minus was the singer's odd endorsement of Starbucks, because he had apparently picked up a free CD there that day. Great, but $tarbuck$? Come on! -- Lars Ro