Chicago's Empty Bottle nightclub provided an ideal meeting place
for the boho intelligencia and the morally ambivalent this past Saturday night
(May 3) as Drag City Records presented a truly unorthodox concert event.
Showcasing the infamously degenerate Royal Trux with England's
dronological Flying Saucer Attack and Chicago's improvising iconoclasts Gastr
Del Sol may have been improbable on paper, but the actual festivities suffered
not a whit. The Drag City philosophy is inspiring in that however
non-commercial their product/endeavors may be, they maintain the explicit
belief that these artistic ventures are vitally important to our existence.
Coordinating a summit of dedicated subterraneans is one thing, but these wily
bastards disguised the aforementioned event as an
alternative-to-the-alternative rock show and lured over five hundred patrons
into the tiny club.
The evening's instructive performances began with M,
ex-Slint and present Tortoise member Dave Pajo's instrumental solo project.
Playing brittle guitar stylings against a backdrop of prepared tapes and
sampled electronics, Pajo warmed up the semi-oblivious audience with his
circular, post-rock meditations for about thirty minutes. While the room slowly
began to fill up with people eager for Royal Trux to appear, Dave Pearce's and
his Flying Saucer Attack quietly took the stage. A critically acclaimed
recording artist of the nineties who has been erratic in his live performances,
Pearce enlisted the generous aid of Gastr Del Sol's mainstays, Jim O'Rourke and
David Grubbs. With Pearce and his two sidemen all seated with their guitars in
hand, Flying Saucer Attack began a cellular, psychedelic drone that was both
remarkably delicate and extremely powerful.
The thicket of plucked and
strummed six-strings gradually increased with an underlying sonic tension as
Pearce's barely audible vocals battled the piss-poor acoustics of the Empty
Bottle. Performing songs from his first few records, Pearce and company made
the simple sound complex (or was it the other way around?) with a dynamic use
of volume and compressed distortion. A passively unobtrusive frontman, Dave
Pearce's ambient forays into guitar-based psychedelia seemed to greatly inspire
Grubbs and O'Rourke as the three devolved as one into joyous, chiming chords
drenched with feedback. The overall sound was highly reminiscent of a very
fragile Syd Barrett and his original Pink Floyd, illuminating Pearce's lineage
from the acid-rock of the sixties to the intellectual math-rock of tomorrow.
By the time Royal Trux finally hit the stage...
By the time Royal Trux finally hit the stage the place was
so crowded you could hardly move and anticipation was high. It was rock-star
time for all those people who had paid ten bucks to hear something loud and
their moment had come. The former Drag City recording artists carved out a
lurid, bluesy boogie that quickly morphed into some harmolodic rock with jazzy
dischords and funk/metal riffery. All eyes were on Jennifer Herrema as she
slouched back with her pelvis thrust forward looking cool, tough, and hot as
hell. For all of Neil Hagerty's indelible guitar heroics, Jennifer is the show.
When the rock 'n' roll blonde wearing a black cowboy hat opens her mouth and
that raspy, TRASHY voice comes spewing out, well...the little boys understand.
Always a coherent live experience, the Trux present an urgent, swirling
sound that unifies their multitude of influences in a way that never really
comes across on their records. Perhaps it is the earnest nature of these two
ex-junkies hanging on, finding a reason to stay clean and regurgitating classic
riffs from the Rolling Stones, the Allman Brothers and Deep Purple like it all
really mattered somehow. Yes, the outrageous couple really had the zeitgeist by
the balls and their mutant recontextualiztion of rock and roll fell right into
Drag City's master plan, again. Using just a guitar, drums, keyboards and
Jennifer, the band rallied together, hit hard, and split the scene. Most of the
crowd split too, leaving only a dedicated few to catch the strange, spontaneous
performance by Gastr Del Sol.
After setting up equipment for a half hour,
Gastr Del Sol's Dave Grubbs and Jim O'Rourke looked like they were going to
have an all-star Chicago jam on their hands. Saxophonist Ken Vandermark stood
impassively on-stage waiting to begin and avant-folksinger Edith Frost was
eagerly waiting in the wings. Then, Jim O'Rourke disappeared, Ken Vandermark
suddenly walked off-stage, Edith Frost evaporated, and David Grubbs gave a
startlingly intense solo performance. Playing the keyboards like a man
possessed, Grubbs sustained a time-bending drone that transported the surviving
audience into varying states of semi-consciousness. He proceeded to improvise
impeccably on a couple of his more recent compositions for the acoustic guitar.
Finally, he thanked everyone for coming out, gave kudos to M, Flying Saucer
Attack, and Royal Trux, and left. This was art for art's sake, kids. You
shoulda oughta been there.