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Tweedy, O'Rourke, Apples In Stereo Rock Inaugural Noise Pop Chicago

San Francisco festival finds success in odd pairings as it expands to Windy City.

CHICAGO — You'd have a hard time summing up the intent of the first Noise Pop Chicago festival more succinctly than in Sunday's onstage pairing of Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy and experimental guitarist Jim O'Rourke.

Imagine rock icon Bruce Springsteen sitting in with avant-garde player Frank Zappa — it was that unusual.

At different points, often in the same song, the two incorporated both Tweedy's Americana pop roots and O'Rourke's noise-filled meditations — an appropriate union given the festival's ambitious plan to replicate San Francisco's successful Noise Pop fest and mesh it with Chicago's own Empty Bottle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music.

The show, at the Double Door, closed the book on five days of

indie-rock and pop club concerts that included sets by Sleater-Kinney, Wire, Modest Mouse, Grandaddy, John Doe and numerous others. The jazz half of the festival, which included the U.S. debuts of several musicians, wraps up Monday (May 15).

(Click herefor more about jazz at Noise Pop.)

Some folks had trouble reconciling the Tweedy–O'Rourke collaboration, though several audience members agreed that it was a good experimental exercise for the two longtime Chicago scene-makers who had never performed together.

"This show was intense from the start," David Bartholow, 20, a Wilco fan from Evanston, Ill., said. "But it became less enthralling as the set went on."

The pair's final song, a cover of T. Rex's "Organ Blues," started off as revved-up, distorted blues with a tribal beat (provided by drummer Greg Kotche) and built to Tweedy shouting short bursts of "Yeah!" so many times it felt like his vocal cords were sampling themselves.

Measure Of Happy Sloppiness

The Apples in Stereo got things rolling early in the fest with their Thursday set at the Empty Bottle. The recently released The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone tweaks their straight-up pop sound with a hint of soul. Onstage, guitarist/singer Robert Schneider — still boyish beneath a bushy beard — furthered the homage by sporting a Motown logo T-shirt.

With the full integration of newest members Chris McDuffie (keyboards) and Eric Allen (bass), the Apples proved themselves capable on tour as well as in the studio. They romped through new material and older crowd favorites such as "Seems So" and "Shine a Light" with a potent measure of happy sloppiness.

One of the festival's hottest tickets was Sleater-Kinney's Friday punk gig at Metro, which focused on their recently released All Hands on the Bad One (RealAudio excerpt of title track). The new wave-y Bangs opened the show, but the evening's true surprise came from a little-known, dynamic band out of Olympia, Wash. — by way of Arkansas — called the Gossip.

With a sassy belle who goes only by Beth at the mic, the Gossip dished out a Southern take on simple Northwest indie rock, influenced as much by rock 'n' roll forefathers Link Wray and Jerry Lee Lewis as by the garage-rock of the Sonics. "Mama told me I'd meet girls like you," Beth sang suggestively. "Papa told me about the girls all dressed in black." The band will release its still-untitled debut album on Kill Rock Stars this fall.

Art-Rock Meets Country-Folk

The following night, art-rockers Grandaddy worked the dichotomy vibe at the warm and tiny Schubas club. "Lofty ideas occur in cramped spaces," band mastermind Jason Lytle said.

Everything about him called out contradiction: the tree sprigs entwined in his Fender Jazzmaster guitar strings, his Hilmar Cheese mesh farmer's cap and his nerdy short-sleeve Oxford, complete with pen in pocket.

The band concentrated on the Radiohead–meets–Pink Floyd–meets–Pavement intersection of songs from Under the Western Freeway (1997), including "Nonphenomenal Lineage" (RealAudio excerpt). Grandaddy also dipped into their already acclaimed Sophtware Slump, which comes out June 6, with cuts such as "So You'll Aim Toward the Sky" and "Hewlett's Daughter."

Earlier that night, Califone plied their take on the nexus of art-rock and country-folk at Metro. At times Tim Hurley's guitar noise washed in and out like waves lapping against the hefty anchor point of Ben Massarella's drums.

The one thing that Noise Pop show-goers Doug Jack, 34, and friend John Reynolds said they'd like to see next year is more publicity — both said they attended several shows without knowing they were part of a larger event.

"It's a pleasant shock," Reynolds said.

Contributing Editor Anders Smith-Lindall contributed to this report.