[This third installment completes music addict Lars Ro's coverage of the Touch & Go 25th Anniversary Festival. Mr. Ro is currently touring North America with his band Sfu-ma-to; full dates here. This photo of CocoRosie, like the others in this series, is provided courtesy of Bradley's Almanac. -- Ed.]
DAY THREE: Sunday saw the arrival to Chicago of the wind, and more problematically, the rain. For one reason or another I missed performances by Arcwelder and Quasi, but these things happen.
Monorchid's reunion was a bit stiff, and the act suffered equipment problems. Otherwise they were quite noisy (not a bad thing), although their vocals were too yelled for my liking.
Enon, the storied poppy trio (a rarity this weekend besides Shellac) traded back and forth from Toko Yasuda's (ex-The Lapse/Blonde Redhead) odd Japanese melodies and John Schmersal's affected, 70's Bowie/Britpop vocals with spunk. They delivered the weekend's first drum and bass breaks, which was exciting. Even so, I still much prefer the early 7" of theirs I have buried somewhere.
Three Mile Pilot was good, sounding like a young, postpunk doctrine-adhering trio -- then quartet with keyboards -- which didn't yet dare to leap full-fledged into the swampy Americana of Black Heart Procession or the math-pop of Pinback.
Tara Jane O'Neil with a few songs created a tangible atmosphere much larger than her and her guitar in the middle of the seemingly massive stage. Chris Brokaw of The New Year (and ex-Come, ex-Codeine, etc.) joined her for the last two songs, the final one turning into an extended jam turned noise soundscape -- ahh...
Seam was another ghost from the past, rocking out in the most straightforward, emo-ish, guitar-driven indie-rock way of the weekend (and making me miss my friends, Haywood) with Sooyoung Park's hushed vocals draped on top. At times the vibe was quite sleepy, although I liked their loudest songs best. Very amusing to see the security guard trying to give one of their fathers a hard time for trying to run around and take pictures.
Brick Layer Cake, a.k.a. Todd Trainer, played a short and hilarious set about glam and decadence. The jury is still out on how much of it was self-referential. Mr. Trainer dedicated one song of odd lyrics and simple chords to the late Syd Barrett.
Thanks to a pain-in-the-ass security guy hassling me about some flyers I had been distributing, I ended up missing half of Black Heart Procession's set. Thanks to the staff at The Hideout for clearing that up. It was the first time I have seen the band outdoors, but their charm was intact. A Tom Petty cover was turned into a tribute to a good label like Touch & Go being hard to find.
CocoRosie virtually made me cry and orgasm simultaneously and were the peak of my weekend. Pathos like you wouldn't believe. And the duo's Sierra Casady made me laugh by playing the "mouth trumpet" -- you could hear a pin drop. Concert epiphanies like this are rare for me -- CocoRosie performs in the rarified air of artists like Bjork or Sinead O'Connor. They were downright magical, tugging at your heartstrings like Cat Power. The act's instrumentation didn't consist of much more than some kind of harp, haunting voices and a few tastefully recorded rhythm tracks. The opera shifted into hip-hop as a flock of birds flew overhead on this "windy night in the windy city." Bianca rapped while Sierra Casady sang through some effect that made it sound as if she was weeping. God-affirming, haunting music. And finally, the first black musician of the weekend (at least the first I saw) stepped on stage and proceeded to beatbox expertly before doing a kick-ass, high-speed rap in French, and then fondling Bianca during a slow jam. "Someone's little baby boy ain't coming home tonight" -- did I say haunting harmonies? Yes, seeing CocoRosie live is a religious experience. Finally they pulled a little girl they referred to as their sister onstage to dance around with them while they sang"everybody just hold hands." I had the pleasure of meeting both women afterwards (missing some Pinback in the process) and they were quite friendly. Go buy their records -- I would have but they were sold out at the Reckless tent!
Speaking of Pinback, the band was a marvel, too. Infectious and tighter than tight, they made us all laugh by waving to Calexico setting up on the other stage, who waved back. Too funny. Pop with a capital P. Thumbs up, but who would want to try and follow CocoRosie?
Finally, the festival's last act was Calexico, who swept in with guitars, horns, lap steel, accordion, vibraphone, contra and electric bass, drums and maracas. Not to be outdone by the thrashier Touch & Go bands, the band seriously rocked out, almost getting punky here and there, transporting us all from a parking lot in the industrial part of Chicago to a wind-swept Arizona desert. An inspired ode to Chicago was played, a rocking encore which has us up dancing, and the birthday festivities were over.
This weekend was a crucial event in rock n' roll history. I wish that I had noticed more than 10 or so African-Americans out of the circa 7000 of us that attended, and I'm appalled that NO ONE mentioned the fact that some Touch & Go fans couldn't come because they're stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, serving as the man- and woman-power for the unconscionable, imperial occupations of those countries, but que sera sera. As a little side-attraction, I kept my eye out for cool T-shirts (there were many) for an unofficial Best T-Shirt at the Touch & Go 25 Award, and it was a tough call! There was the Japanese guy with a Guns N' Roses t, an old Polvo dragon shirt, a brightly coloured Gang Of Four tee, an old Jesus Lizard shirt with a demented Elvis-like mug, an old Racing Division Touch & Go shirt, a Rapeman one, or the handmade Butt Sex one with accompanying drawing. All I know is the "U.S. Rangers World Tour" with a partial list of the countries the U.S. has invaded since the '80s gets last place. -- Lars Ro