[This is intrepid festival-goer Lars Ro's second-day reportage from the Touch & Go 25th Anniversary festival in Chicago, which transpired this past weekend. Day Three coverage will run tomorrow evening. Photo is once again courtesy of Mr. Searles of Bradley's Almanac. -- Ed.]
DAY TWO: Saturday was cloudy and cool in contrast to Friday's sunshine and clear skies. I regrettably missed the day's first act, The New Year, which was especially disappointing since I had been singing their tune "Chinese Handcuffs" all morning.
Uzeda boasted a remarkably chunky, Chicago-ish sound for a quartet all the way from Italy. The female-delivered vocals were often yelled (oh well), but the dissonant guitar spasms were joyfully endless. It's a shame guitarist Agostino Tilotta stood sideways for most of the set because his stance obscured from view the anguished facial expressions accompanying his work on the fretboard. One of the best parts of the set was a hypnotic, very hushed passage that stretched on delightfully. The musical climaxes were full-body experiences for Uzeda -- I guess it's their Mediterranean blood. [Is that some sort of jab at Gov. Schwarzenegger? -- Ed.]
Pegboy came off like hefty, drunk, frat boys playing hardcore-inspired punk. I would rather see Jawbreaker reform, personally.
Tim Midgett and Andy Cohen, formerly of Silkworm, took the stage together with a keyboard player. Midgett played with his back turned, facing the ominously empty drumset which Michael Dahlquist would have occupied had it not been for his untimely death last summer. Cohen soloed and soloed in between verses of a moving elegy for Mr. Dahlquist. After this single song, the men exited stage right, Cohen patting the keyboard player on the back, leaving nothing but the palpable heaviness in the air. We miss you Michael... (The good news is that a double CD of Silkworm covers is out -- somebody send me a copy!)
Next up: Dutch act The Ex. After a silly introduction which overglorified how idyllic The Netherlands is, singer G.W. Sok responded that the last part was true -- that is, the band indeed hails from there. Guitar stabs and songs of political dissent abounded. The jerky, syncopated skronk reminded me of Truman's Water at points -- an association I hadn't noticed before. One guitarist utilized a number of innovative playing techniques, including the "speed-riff-until-you-slash-yr-finger-on-the-strings-sending-a-spray-of-blood-across-the-pickguard-but-just-keep-on-playing" technique. Kat rocked out on the drums, cowbells and woodblock, and Mr. Sok even pulled out a megaphone.
Killdozer featured punk with macho male vocals and humorous banter, with the guitarist tossing and kicking his guitar around.
Jon (from The Mekons) and Kat (The Ex) played a few stripped-down anthems, ending with a catchy one about being in limbo - "that's where you'll stay."
As The Didjits took the stage, singer and guitarist Rick Sims "greeted" the audience with "Can your fake applause -- save it for some other band." Allrighty then. They then played an attitude-infused set a la Supersuckers with the playground brat trying to pick a fight, Sims giving us all the finger, etc. Evil Knievel, I guess.
Thanks to some fellow concert-goers, I then proceeded to get stoned just in time for P.W. Long, who played a short set sitting on a chair and playing a plug-in acoustic [Just say no to drugs, kids -- Ed.]. Most of his set had impressive depth, except when the melancholic met the poppy at one point -- then it was almost embarassing. Long even played Mule's "I'm Hell," which was fantastic.
Negative Approach came on and gave us a very good helping of hardcore. Dormant since the mid-'80s, its brand of punk was much more satisfying than the Pegboy, Killdozer and even the Didjits sets. NA's guitarist sported the handlebar moustache of the year, and singer John Brannon seemed quite troubled. A healthy mosh pit emerged, and overall the band was a lot of fun.
Sally Timms swung the musical pendulum quite drastically to the other stage where she played loungy torchsongy songs accompanied by accordion. At one point Ms. Timms quipped something about a penis before a pathetic attempt at crowd participation which made me scratch my head and wonder what kind of day her ego was having.
Scratch Acid re-united, featuring David Yow and David Wm. Sims of Jesus Lizard fame. The music was good but not on par with Jesus Lizard, in my opinion. Mr. Yow showed off his bicep, then removed his shirt and had his pants down to crotch level in trademark style, thrusting his body this way and that like a much younger man. Sims whipped the bass upwards on the tightest kicks, and then Yow was relegated to playing the ride cymbal for an instrumental. Crowdsurfers appeared not long before Yow explained that the set had to end so as not to encroach on "Medium Grey's set time" -- a joke I didn't get until later that night.
Man or Astro-Man? introduced the visual component to the day by setting up a bunch of TV screens, and they were good background music while I attended to other things. Later I met someone whom they had given part of their drumset to -- what generosity!
Big Black -- consummating the much-hyped reunion -- sounded fudgy to me. The crowd was apparently full of avid fans because every song was a sing-along. The guitar sounded like sheets of metal in typical Steve Albini fashion, and the band delivered the most grateful, heartfelt speech of the weekend to Corey Rusk and his Touch & Go/Quarterstick legacy (and believe me, a LOT of thank you mini-speeches were given).
Mr. Albini was then joined by Bob Weston and Todd Trainer for the night's pinnacle set from Shellac. The trio's precise musicianship was impeccable, as it seems to be everytime I see them. Mr. Weston, who was about to jaunt off to the west coast for some Mission Of Burma tour dates, paused to start a question and answer session (no requests though, so, alas, no "Wingwalker" for me), and then Mr. Trainer thanked Mr. Rusk and proclaimed that tonight was the highlight of his musical career (he went on about how autographs and kisses were welcome, just "don't bother me."). "I side with the defenders," Shellac sang, and I sided with them too.
Shellac proved themselves yet again to be true masters of dynamics (though you probably know this). Trainer's drumming alone was worth watching: he bowed down over his toms during an intro, later struck Albini's strings on the kicks. One of the trio's final songs featured an extra, extended bridge with Albini apparently delivering free verse. Shellac also performed a quality new song about "the final transmission": "Can you hear me now, alien civilisation in 10,000 years?" Albini often did this cool trick of flicking his pickup selector switch back and forth to create some post-punk tremolo effect. He and Weston even trampled around for ten seconds in the middle of one song, doing cow impersonations or performing some odd ritual. Shellac's triumphant last song ended with all three principals being joined by two young women and all of them playing the cymbals together. -- Lars Ro