Royal Trux, Gastr Del Sol Rock Chicago

Royal Trux performed at the Empty Bottle Saturday night.

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.