Big Black, Scratch Acid, Man … Or Astro-Man? Give Chicago Hope At Touch And Go Bash–at 5:37–

Ted Leo, !!!, Calexico, Pinback, Three Mile Pilot also make waves at 25th anniversary event.--at 5:37--

CHICAGO — Touch and Go’s three-day anniversary bash wasn’t just a lesson in the history of the seminal record label. It was a Cliff’s Notes-like recap of the last 25 years of indie rock itself.

Underground granddaddies Big Black, Scratch Acid and Killdozer spit forth a lethal dose of abrasive, confrontational brutality, while !!!, Ted Leo and Enon courted the crowd with dance-rock appeal. And therein lied the clear distinction between the challenging approach taken by yesterday’s bands and the sheer accessibility of their successors.

Seven thousand fans — ranging in age from 12 to 62, but largely sporting more-obscure-than-thou tees — packed two outdoors stages at the Hideout, located fittingly enough in one of the city’s most industrial areas. Thirty-two acts threw down over the course of 25 hours, from the Shipping News’ math-rockin’ 5 p.m. set Friday up through Calexico’s water-logged feast that wrapped up the once-in-a-lifetime gala by 10 p.m. Sunday.

But that unusually large indie crowd wasn’t just there to savor the reunions of the Didjits, the New Year, Negative Approach and the Monorchid, or witness Shellac, Supersystem and Pinback proving that they’re indeed in their prime. Like the bands that performed, the attendees were there to celebrate an ethos that has proven to be the backbone of the DIY scene since SST, Touch and Go and Washington, D.C.’s Dischord Records started giving punks a chance to be heard beyond their basements in the early ’80s.

Touch and Go is a label that has epitomized the concept of artists’ rights, letting them split profits equally and forgo lawyers, as well as put out the music of their choosing (see “Move Over, Fall Out Boy: Touch And Go Records Is Retaking Chicago” ). And while he tried to remain out of the limelight for most of the weekend, the label’s ever-humble founder Corey Rusk and his admirable business mantra were heralded by every band there, none of which was paid a penny for performing. It was, in a nutshell, a living, breathing example of what indie rock was, is and can be all about.

But while the bands were united in that cause, the contrast between the vets and the newbies couldn’t have been more drastic. Heads barely bobbed and hips hardly swayed on Friday as Girls Against Boys resurrected their faux-sexy swagger, which was further marred by poor acoustics. Less than an hour later, though, the ever-enthusiastic Ted Leo took to the podium, rousing the audience with joy over his newfound deal with the label. His pro-crowd antics were only upstaged by !!!, who crafted a masterful dance party that closed Friday evening with typically aloof indie rockers getting their kicks out.

Saturday proved to be the cornerstone of the weekend, with moody low-fi lords the New Year and Uzeda drawing fleets of fans early in the day. After that, long-running Euro-socialists the Ex and the perfectly named Negative Approach smacked the crowd awake with brutal displays of power, laying the groundwork for the evening’s main events.

Impudent scamp David Yow reared his bald mug for the first time in years, leading Scratch Acid’s punishing set with riotous revivals of “Lay Them Screaming,” “El Espectro” and “Cannibal.” The swaggering howler didn’t do his famously naked tight-and-shiny dance (nor did he revive his “spoon trick”), but elicited laughs and grunts all the same with his sorely missed brand of bad humor. “I have to stop eating sh– because it’s making my vomit smell bad,” he snarled.

Scratch Acid’s nihilism was only bested by a brief set by noise-rock deacons Big Black, who an ever-misanthropic Steve Albini openly admitted were not thrilled to be onstage together for the first time since 1988. It was all for Rusk and Touch and Go, Albini declared, as they tore into “Cables,” “Dead Billy” and “Racer-X.”

A scaled-down Man … or Astro-man? — alas, no screens beaming “Mystery Science Theater 3000″ imagery this time — blew through their sci-fi-surf classics, but came across a little rusty. Albini’s still-active Shellac, on the other hand, convinced many that they’re just entering their prime with a batch of promising new tracks and an impromptu jam session with fans. Drummer Todd Trainer announced that it was the highlight of his musical career, and bassist Bob Weston seconded the notion.

Sunday was more of a hit-or-miss affair. Three Mile Pilot thrilled the diehards and eclipsed subsequent project Black Heart Procession’s more limited set later in the day. Pinback added more proof to the notion that they are the prolific Rob Crow’s most accomplished act and Calexico polished off the night with their eclectic range of Southwestern spices and mariachi melodies.

Heavy rain and technical problems, however, marred the Monorchid’s performance, which only lasted for 25 minutes, and Enon, once again, turned out to be relatively limp. Brick Layer Cake and Seam left some fans wishing it were Naked Raygun, Die Kreuzen or Rusk’s Necros — who christened the label in 1981 with a self-titled EP — that had reunited instead. All the while, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and his family scoped the scene, like Chicago’s first family paying reverence to the community.

And speaking of community, every cent from ticket sales went to charity, including Tuesday’s Child, Literacy Works and the Thomas Drummond Elementary School. But while older fans were responsible for most of those sales, it was the promise of the younger attendees who gave hope that Touch and Go could potentially pull off another one of these lovefests 25 years down the line.–at 5:37–

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