Chicago has always been an experimental music kind of town — at least in my lifetime, so it doesn’t surprise me that there’s a lot of good, exciting music going on right now. Specifically, Dead Rider.
Dead Rider features ex-U.S. Maple guitarist Todd Rittman, doing a bit more structured, but equally weird music. I’m very stoked on them. What does it sound like? Well, their first record came out two years before Bowie put out Black Star and it’s in the same key as that record and they’ve only continued to evolve that style of experimentation. It’s both dark and uplifting, if that makes sense.
Check them out. They’re playing April 2nd at The Hideout here in Chicago as well as hitting the road.
Visions of Bodies Being Burned by clipping. is one of the darkest hip hop records I’ve heard in a while. It came out in 2020, but I didn’t give it a fair listen until mid 2021 and I sort of regret that. At the onset of the pandemic, I was specifically looking for fluff — things that were a distraction from the world around me, so if this was on my radar at that time, I wouldn’t have given it a fair shake. In fact, when I heard the first track in late 2020, I just added it to my wishlist on Bandcamp with plans to revisit later. Holy crap am I glad that I took the time to go back to this one.
Sometimes wishlists become “dead letter offices” where well intentioned music fans or shoppers put things to come back to, but never do. I’m as guilty of that as anyone else (I swear, I’ll go back and buy that HEAT MACHINE record!) Fortunately one Bandcamp Friday, I was looking at my recently added items to my wishlist and gave this another spin. I immediately added it to my cart, because it hit a little bit different this time. I wasn’t scared anymore — I graduated to angry, sad and disappointed. This album feels like it echoes many of these sentiments and really feels like an ally during these new dark ages.
I can’t quite tell you exactly what or who it reminds me of, but what I can do is tell you that it’s dark, tense and I suspect it’s coming from a similar place as Moore Mother or if we want to go back in time, Tricky or Portishead. Just to be clear though, it isn’t trip hop at all — I think similar influences are present though. It’s worth your time to explore this release. It also looks like LPs are back in stock too.
Dear Residents of and the City Called New Orleans,
Many many years ago y’all stole my heart. Your city is my second favorite in the entire world (#1 going to Chicago, my home) and I often refer to your city as “other home.” I never feel lost in your city, even when I don’t know where I am or where I’m going. Your entire city, with its grit, grime, music and culture makes me feel comforted and at home — at ease even.
Sure, I’ve been to bigger cities that resemble my own big city, but New York and Los Angeles will never hold a candle or place in my heart the way your city does. You can literally draw a straight line between Chicago an New Orleans and our greatest heroes have traveled that path to and from several times. Chicago’s musical legacy is also New Orleans legacy as it is Memphis’. The triode of these three cities make up American music regardless of style or color.
The first time I ever stepped foot in your city was not unlike many others first visits — I was in town for Mardi Gras. It was several days of pure joy and from that moment on, I spent the rest of my life (thus far) trying to carry those feelings of joy — the spirit of Mardi Gras to those I love and those who need it.
There was a moment in 2013 where I was looking for direction and insight and I was feeling very emotionally lost. My wife and I were trying to have a child and not having success. I went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras (not my first time), hoping to find a few pieces of of the puzzle. One of those pieces that fell into place was hearing and seeing Bounce music live.
I’ve struggled with identity and gender my whole life — literally since I was a kid. Male and female never fit right. I didn’t (and don’t) belong on the gender binary. Through Bounce music, I fell down a rabbit hole of gender identity which lead me to fully understand non-binary/gender queerness and in turn explained every fucked up feeling I had growing up. When I realized that I wasn’t in fact a “he/him” and dressing as a “she/her” felt like a costume, a giant weight was lifted from my shoulders and heart. I came out of that haze of sadness and uncertainty as a “they/them” gender queer, non-binary trans person. All because I saw Katey Red spit rhymes on Mardi Gras day.
To the wonderful people of New Orleans — from trans Bounce rappers to woman at the register at the Walgreens on Canal Street who greeted my drunk ass with a big smile and a hearty “how’s your momma and them” while I was buying a bottle of water. From the NOLA beat cop who once told us where to find a sweet hidden goth/vampire bar to TOAST, the ghost tour guide who was a Chicago ex-pat. From the excited rockabilly girls who talked my ear off about Rocky Horror to the gutter punks on Decatur Street who were excited about my ABBA/Dark Throne mash up shirt. From the wonderful and talented Meschiya Lake who makes some of my favorite Jazz-punk to Hollise Murphy (rest in peace, brother) who came up to me and introduced himself because I was wearing a Los Crudos shirt and talked to me about Chicago hardcore — thank you for being who you all are. I feel honored and lucky to have existed on this planet at the same time as you.
Chris Decay Chicago, IL
PS – Instead of a mix tape or listening list, I suggest you dig into the history of New Orleans music, because it is the roots and beginnings of all American music. Every note every one of your favorite artist sings or plays goes back to Congo Square, the birth place of not only jazz, but American music.
Well those two years kind of zipped by, didn’t they? Go figure, you’re in a global pandemic, raising a kid and dealing with both major depressive disorder and general anxiety disorder during a time of great turmoil; I guess everything just becomes a blur.
Anyway, the good news is I think I’m back for a little while again.
Let’s talk about albums that changed our lives, shall we? I picked five last night. They aren’t ranked, but rather chronological. These are sort of the big ones and while they aren’t as musically challenging as music I discovered following these records, they were big turning points for me that changed my trajectory in some way.
BAD RELIGION– SUFFER This was the first punk album I heard and bought. I guess you could argue that some of the records I convinced my mom to buy for me as a kid could have been somehow loosely considered “punk.” I mean, New Yorkers love to talk about how punk started at CBGB’s and will with a serious face call The Talking Heads an Blondie punk bands (both of which were in my small, childhood record collection) and act like The Stooges didn’t happen six years before anyone knew a Ramone. But for the sake of my time and yours, let’s just say this was the first actual Punk Rock album I heard. It was the left turn I needed to get me away from mainstream pop music and hair metal. This was thee album.
I’ve long since worn out the original cassette, scratched the shit out of the CD I had in the mid 90s and have since replaced it with the LP. The album is a ripper, but I rarely listen to it anymore. When those songs come up when I’m shuffling my MP3s, I still sing along, but they absolutely don’t cut the way they used to and that’s entirely because of my age. I appreciate the musicianship much more than the content of the lyrical themes. I worded that sentence carefully, because while the songs speak to a much younger person, Greg Graffin never talks down to the listener and doesn’t cut corners with the vocabulary. That’s the strength of a Young Adult writer though — you don’t assume your audience is made up of rubes. You talk to them and with them, but not at them or down to them. Graffin nails it.
GISH – SMASHINGPUMPKINS This came out in May of my sophomore year of high school and I was an early adopter. I was burnt out on hardcore and thrash metal. The Cure and The Smiths were good and I loved their music, but they weren’t my generation of bands. They were the music of kids older than me. GISH was the right amount of angst, the right amount of technical musicianship and just enough experimentation to wake up my ears and point me in a new direction.
Some people say NIRVANA was their left turn, but for me it was GISH.
BRAINIAC – BONSAI SUPERSTAR I was already a fan of BRAINIAC when this album came out, but the jump from SMACK BUNNY BABY to BONSAI SUPERSTAR didn’t feel like they went from one step to the next — not even like they skipped a couple stairs. It felt like they leapt from one landing to the next like god damned superheroes.
There was a moment while listening to this for the first time where my best friend and I looked at one another and realized that all of those goofy experimentations we were doing late at night with a boom box, toys and the radio dial could be music. That was the moment when I realized all those rules I learned from my guitar teacher weren’t rules at all. Nothing mattered other than sound. Sound and how our ears perceive it was all that mattered. This album drove us to be different musicians and it ultimately drove me to become an engineer. That’s basically it. This is the best BRAINIAC album.
RADIOHEAD – OK COMPUTER When OK COMPUTER came out, I was bored out of my skull with music. There wasn’t much coming out that got me excited, except SPIRITUALIZED. Honestly, it was kind of a coin flip here — I could have just as easily plugged LADIES AND GENTLEMAN WE ARE FLOATING IN SPACE here, but while that is one of my favorite albums, it didn’t quite impact my taste the way OK COMPUTER did.
Right around the same time, one of my favorite bands, THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN put out their MUNKI album, BECK put out MUTATIONS, JON SPENCER put out ACME and a lot of other bands I liked put out less adventurous, mostly disappointing records (like SONIC YOUTH, which was heart breaking because THOUSAND LEAVES isn’t a good record.)
OK COMPUTER signaled a bit of a sea change for me, much like GISH did when I was sixteen. The songs were catchy, weird and explored all of the sad emotions I was feeling at the time. It pulled some of the shoegaze sounds I loved, but it also featured a lot of new, broken sounds that gave my ears the warm fuzzies. This was the first in a chain of albums that caught my attention (I’ll add a bunch in mix tape section at the end of the post) and really woke up the sleeping bear so to speak. I feel like my band got a lot better pretty quickly after hearing this record.
THEAPPLESEED CAST – MARE VITALIS In 2000, a friend of mine made a mix CD featuring mostly emo bands of the time. BRAID, BOY SETS FIRE, BRANDSTON and a couple more bands that start with the letter B. Also on there was a DEFTONES song and a TYPE O NEGATIVE song. We’d talked about how I didn’t quite “get” those two bands, so he tossed on a song each that he though I might dig. They still didn’t grab me, but the band that did grab me was the lead off track on the mix, Fishing The Sky by THE APPLESEED CAST. That singular song blew my mind. They had elements of emo without the sappiness or hyperbole. They were post rock without any of the pretension. They had elements of post-shoegaze bands like RADIOHEAD and a singer who had notes of Perry Farrell hidden in his unique voice. All of the elements were there for them to become a favorite band of mine.
The next day I made a trip over to Clubhouse Records and managed to find a copy of this album. I played it for my bandmates and it was a huge source of inspiration. It absolutely had a positive affect on us, pointing us in a direction after searching for a missing piece. I even accidentally lifted a couple riffs from these songs only to change them after realizing what I did.
Mix Tape Recs:
1988/89ish – Bad Religion – No Control – Goo Goo Dolls – Jed – Gorilla Biscuits – Start Today – Nomeansno – Wrong – Naked Raygun – Understand
1991ish – My Bloody Valentine – Loveless – Dinosaur Jr – Green Mind – Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque – Slint – Spiderland – A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory – De La Soul – Is Dead
1998ish – Massive Attack – Mezzanine – Beastie Boys – Hello Nasty – Mercury Rev – Deserter Songs – Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea – Mogwai – Kicking a Dead Pig – Swans – Swans Are Dead
2000ish – Grandaddy – Sophtware Slump – Clinic – Internal Wrangler – Badly Drawn Boy – Hour of the Bewilderbeast – At The Drive In – Relationship of Command – Cursive – Domestica – Elliot – False Cathedrals – Orchid – Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow!
….is a question I’ve never asked, nor did I think I’d want to see something like that. Ya know what though? It’s 2020 and all bets are off about literally everything. What you have here is just that — an electric interpretation of John Coltrane’s A LOVE SUPREME and it’s unofficial sequel, MEDITATIONS.
Here’s the thing — A LOVE SUPREME is one of my all time favorite albums and probably the one record, more than any other that properly introduced me to actual real jazz. Before hearing the Coltrane masterpiece, I looked at jazz as a punchline to a joke. I was a teenager, so all I knew was the smooth jazz they’d play at the dentist’s office, scatting cartoon beatniks and something old people listen to. A much wiser person than I — the clerk at Dr Wax records in Evanston Illinois was talking to another to another customer about jazz and I was eavesdropping on the conversation. I couldn’t wrap my head around this longhair wearing some obscuro indie band shirt talking intelligently about jazz as if it was something you speak of in serious, hushed tones. The conversation kept going back to Coltrane and I made metal note.
I didn’t buy any Coltrane that day, because that would have been a poser move. Instead, I asked friends at school what they knew of John Coltrane. Most of them were like “is that the dude from that one hardcore band?” But one of my friends — one of the most musically educated sixteen year olds to ever live — said “yeah, A LOVE SUPREME is what you want.” So I did just that. I made a run for Rolling Stones Records in Norridge IL later that day and bought the album on CD. It didn’t click — like at all. It was one of those “what the fuck am I listening to” moments, but it was a primer for what was to come for me. I persisted with the album — listening to it everyday before bed until it finally clicked. Once it did, I was sold on jazz. This is pretty much where my journey into experimental, jazz and psychedelic music actually begins. A long hair and a sixteen year old metal head telling me what time it was.
Now that we’ve established that I *love* Coltrane’s album, lets dig into this.
This is Mike Watt of Minutemen/Firehose/all-around-bass-bad-assery fame; composer and saxophonist Vinny Golia; Chicagoan and band leader of the John Hanrahan Quartet — John Hanrahan on drums; guitarist Henry Kaiser who has worked with everyone from Fred Frith to Weasel Walter and lastly but not leastly, Wayne Peet on piano, who has worked extensively on the west coast, working most recognizably with Alex and Nels Cline.
Knowing the personnel should give you at least a little bit of an idea of what you’re getting into here. The recording itself is clean and sits somewhere between jazz and rock production and manages to illicit emotions — maybe not the same emotions Coltrane’s but emotions none the less. I need to pick up the physical release of this soon. It’s excellent and I recommend checkin’ it out.
The 90’s were a really great time for experimental music — especially for noise and psychedelic rock music. The explosion of bands like The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Radiohead and a laundry list of other like minded acid eaters and dope smokers lead the way for some of the most interesting music of the previous century. I’ve spent a little time writing about noise rock, no wave, now wave and other sort of “angular” music, but I think I should take a little time to talk specifically about some of my favorite bands of the last century.
In an attempt to make things easy, we’ll just do a list of my favorite 90’s psych rock bands, which should help set up the late 90’s really nicely. I like lists, you like lists lets make a list! This is by no means definitive of anything other than bands I like. I’m not Rolling Stone or Spin magazine and I’m not going to rank things in a way that’s outside of my own taste. You might disagree — I HOPE you disagree! Make your own list! Comment with your list.
MEDICINE (and really anything Brad Laner does) I saw Medicine open for someone… Swervedriver maybe? I don’t know. I saw the video for 5ive on 120 Minutes, bought SHOT FORTH SELF LIVING, but was not prepared for what I saw. Holy shit. God damn. Seeing them at THE METRO here in Chicago was an experience. For a very long time, I felt that the historic Chicago venue had the best sound system in the city and even after they updated it to compete with The House of Blues, with the right engineer at the helm, the system still slammed. I’ve heard bootlegs of MEDCINE at Lounge Ax and it just didn’t seem like it was the same. That Metro show was a revelation for me. I didn’t want to play punk anymore. I didn’t want to be hardcore or metal bands anymore. I wanted to do whatever the hell MEDICINE was doing and after graduating high school, I did just that.
THE FLAMING LIPS So back in the 80’s and 90’s my grandparents lived in Ukrainian Village on the near west side of Chicago. We lived on the northwest side. I spent a lot of time in Ukrainian Village, West Town, Wicker Park and Bucktown as a child in the 1980s, but at that time, those parts of town weren’t the yuppie and hipster wastelands the are now. Back then, it was rough and gritty. There were drug dealers, prostitutes and a slowly growing artist and punk community coming up. I hate comparing things to New York, because Chicago isn’t and never will be New York (it’s much better in every possible way… except the subway system), but for people who aren’t from here, Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town and Ukrainian Village were essentially the Lower East Side and East Village. After my step-grandmother died, my grandfather would commonly come over on Sundays and then we’d have to drive him home, which I always liked because it was an adventure. In 1992, when I was seventeen years old, I went with my mom to drop him off. On the way back, I decided we were taking the scenic route so she could see where these stores and venues I frequented were. As we drove up Damen avenue, we rolled passed the newly opened DOUBLE DOOR, which was a 21+ venue that I’d never been to (obviously). What grabbed my attention was on the fence under the L tracks next to Double Door were all of these posters that just said “FLAMING LIPS.” My mom was like “what are Flaming Lips?” I took a guess and said “they’re a band, mom.”
Anyway, I went to the RECKLESS RECORDS on Broadway and stumbled across their section and bought HIT TO DEATH IN THE FUTURE HEAD and was blown the fuck away.
MY BLOODY VALENTINE Do I need to go into this? Do I? Really? OK, I won’t. LOVELESS is the best album of the 90’s and one of, if not THEE most inventive psychedelic rock albums of all time. If you can find the all analog remix of the album MBV released a few years back, pick it up, because it’s earth shaking and brilliant. I legitimately cried after hearing it. Also, pick up the analog remix of ISN’T ANYTHING, because it sounds far and away better than the original version.
OLIVIA TREMOR CONTROL I did an entire post on this band a while back that you can find here. They’re awesome, I named my daughter after them and I don’t know if I can say anymore than I already have elsewhere.
TRIPPING DAISY Obligatory sophomore slump statement. Their second album isn’t great. It’s good, but not great. Yes, the single I Got a Girl is kind of annoying and paints them as a shitty post grunge alt rock band. None of that is true though. They’re a fan-fucking-tastic psych rock band that spent their career flying under the radar of so many people who should LOVE this band.
Like most people who aren’t from Texas, I heard TRIPPING DAISY because of the single, “My Umbrella” from their first LP, BILL. I was hooked on how fucking catchy it was and how much I felt like they sounded like an American NEDS ATOMIC DUSTBIN or a British JANES ADDICTION. You pick. I don’t care. The album is so great beginning to end. It was the soundtrack to the summer after my senior year of high school. However, I don’t think TRIPPING DAISY really hit their stride until their third album, JESUS HITS LIKE THE ATOM BOMB. They fell into a peer group with bands like THE FLAMING LIPS, MERCURY REV and GORKY’S ZYGOTIC MYNCI. I feel like on some tracks they even channel — and maybe even pre-date WILCO at times (I’m gonna have to revisit those early Wilco albums, because I keep hearing SUMMERTEETH when listening to songs like Sonic Bloom).
So this brings me to the point. The late 90’s got really exciting if you were into weird music. While the mainstream was skanking to third wave ska and mainstream pop punk, the freaks were in ecstasy with the eruption of bizarro noise and sugar coated fuzzed out melodies. It felt like every city in the United States had a band or three doing exciting stuff. In Chicago, we had a few — NOVASONIC DOWN HYPERSPACE ( who would later change their name to MIDSTATES), PLASTICS HI FI and I’d even dump WILCO into this family. (The band I was in at that time was in this group of bands, but not nearly as successful or recognized, which is fine… really. No, I’m fine. No, I’m not crying, you’re crying.) Dallas Texas was no exception; they had TRIPPING DAISY.
TRIPPING DAISY was a band I’d all but forgotten about — for the most part. I still listened to BILL pretty regularly and the follow up never grabbed me. Then out of nowhere, I saw a promo copy of JESUS HITS LIKE THE ATOM BOMB at EVIL CLOWN RECORDS. I took it over to the listening station and was floored. I bought it, popped it in the CD player, turned it up and went for a drive. My best bud was sitting shotgun and we couldn’t get over how great it was! It was one psych rock gem after another after another after another. We were in love.
Flash forward to THE YEAR 200o. The self titled album came out. We got word that their keyboard player, Wes Berggren died of a drug overdose and his father played his parts on the new album. Tours were canceled and the band broke up. We were heartbroken. Anytime a talented person dies it’s sad, but this one hit a little harder. We felt like we’d just rediscovered the Daisies and they were on a whole new trajectory into musical greatness.
Most of what followed for the members of the band was found in the POLYPHONIC SPREE, who were good, but never grabbed me the way TRIPPING DAISY grabbed me. Do yourself a favor — if all you know by the Daisies is I Got a Girl, go listen to the last two albums in order. If you don’t fall in love with them the same way you fell in love with other like minded bands, then I don’t know what to tell you. They’re awesome and deserve to be heard, celebrated and sung from the rooftops.
While you’re at it, go check out Tim DeLaughter’s current project, PRETEEN ZENITH. It’s in line with everything we’ve talked about here today. Super pretty psych rock that grips your heart strings.
While most of my readership might not know me, I suspect a good portion of you do and those of you who know me, know that I’m an enormous fan of MIKE PATTON. I’ve been a fan from the very first time I heard the song Epic by FAITH NO MORE. I was hooked hard by the sugary, accessible-but-not-really weirdness of FAITH NO MORE and that lead me down an obvious path to other metal/punk adjacent type bands — most of which weren’t that great. However, a friend of mine loaned the first MR BUNGLE album to me and I wasn’t prepared for what I heard. Holy shit. HOLY SHIT. What was I hearing? Funk-jazz-metal-ska? Who the fuck were these guys? I mean, I knew Patton, but who are these other weirdos.
The deeper I fell into the Bungle web, the more you heard stories about record execs losing their jobs because FAITH NO MORE wouldn’t sign unless BUNGLE was also signed. Bizarro mix tapes featuring completely fucked up thrash metal that pre-dated the first record — what a god damned mystery of a band!
That said, I always liked the friends I made through mutual love of BUNGLE. Dudes I knew at school, getting to know the band local band TUB RING and their fans — then it fuckin’ happened.
DISCO VOLANTE. Arguably the greatest, most fucked up album to come out on a major record label in the 1990’s. I was in college and my friends and I would commonly pull up to cars at red lights and turn up Carry Stress in the Jaw to ear bleeding levels. Walk through grocery stores singing the lyrics to Desert Search for Techno Allah. This album was a revelation — also a realization that wasn’t nearly the musician I thought I was. oops.
So it surprises me that it’s taken me this long to buy The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo. It features not just Patton, Trevor Dunn and Trey Spruance, but also Scott Ian and Dave Lombardo (who was also in Fantomas with Patton and Dunn as well as Buzz Osbourn from the Melvins), who were a pair of influences on me in my early days of getting into music. I mostly want to mention that I ordered the record earlier today and I’m listening to it on Youtube right now and it’s really really good. New old Bungle is great. Go buy it.
I always felt like having a job where I can wear band shirts, jeans and Converse All-Stars to work everyday while making a sustainable income would be a win — and it was. I’m an engineer and get to do really cool shit everyday (and some shit that’s less cool, but even that’s better than most people’s good days) and with that comes an understanding that you’re gonna get some weirdos… I’m one of those weirdos. When I started my job, if you told me that one day I’d be working from home full time, I would have thought you were full of shit, but here I am — working from home full time. I don’t think I’ve put on pants once in the last seven months unless I had to go to the store. That’s really weird.
I sit in a room all day with my record collection surrounding me, listening to music while doing my job. Great coffee is mere steps from me and I get to see my daughter all day everyday and that’s the fucking highlight of this pandemic. I’m surrounded by guitars, Moogs, FX pedals, books, records, CDs and as cool as that is, I miss waking up with a purpose — with the option to go to the office if I want to. Getting on the L and taking it into the Loop, grabbing a breakfast sandwich and seeing other people. Specifically people I work with. Sure, we have a Teams meeting everyday where we talk about work, what’s going on outside work, joke about music, talk shit about world events… but none of that really feels like human contact and I genuinely miss that. I miss the option for human interaction. Sometimes I feel we’re all becoming cyborgs — like we’re melding into one with our Lenovos and Macbooks and multiple displays. Soon we won’t know where the machine ends and the human begins, which leads me to…
I fucking love Kraftwerk.
I haven’t listened to The Man Machine in a really really long time — easily years at this point, but a weird sample at the beginning of a song by CULO reminded me of Kraftwerk. I’ve been listening to them for a few days now — Computer World,Autobahn, The Man Machine and various tracks while shuffling my MP3s.
The great thing about Kraftwerk is that they went into making music with no influence, really. They wanted to make computer music and that’s what they made. They get lumped in with Can, Neu, Faust and a lot of other German bands, but I really feel like they shine through a lot more than the others. Look — there’d be no House, Industrial, Jungle, Drum N Bass, or any other electronic music — or at least not how we know it today without Kraftwerk.
That’s all I got. OH YEAH. VOTE. If you haven’t done so already, go do it. Don’t let anyone stop you, either.
As a kid growing up in 1980’s Chicago, discovering a bunch of bands like Black Flag, Agnostic Front, Anthrax, Metallica and Cromags, it was pretty easy to feel like you’re living in a wasteland of nothing. All of these bands were from the coasts and none of them were from the Midwest. The first Chicago punk band I discovered was Life Sentence, but the first Chicago band I truly fell in love with was NAKED RAYGUN.
In 1988, I was thirteen years old going to Catholic school on the northwest side of Chicago. Fridays were always half days, so common practice for me was to jump on the Belmont bus and head to Lakeview and Lincoln Park to go record shopping, hit up The Alley or pester the clerks as Sessions skate shop. Whatever money I had always went towards music… always. Not band shirts, not skate decks — records or tapes. My favorite record store was Wax Trax on Lincoln and the bus transfer was always worth it.
I walked into Wax Trax on one of those Friday afternoons with my Catholic school mullet, denim jacket with the Bad Religion logo painted on the back and high top Chuck Taylors looking for something fresh. I asked the clerk what punk records I should buy and he said “you like Naked Raygun?” I had no idea who he was talking about, so I grabbed JETTISON on cassette, popped it in my Walkman and headed to the Fullerton L station to head up to Belmont. I felt like I was let in on some big secret that only so many people knew about. Naked Raygun changed my life forever.
In high school, I discovered a band featuring the newly ex-Raygun guitarist John Haggarty, as well as members of the Bhopal Stiffs and Effigies. It was a god damned super group. I fell in love with Pegboy. Everything great about those bands coalesced into one lean-as-fuck Chicago punk machine. Pegboy is and always will be my favorite Chicago punk band. All of my favorite memories of being young and going to shows are locked up in Pegboy and their influence as a band and as people (despite being Sox fans) is indisputable. If you’ve ever seen Pegboy, you know. I don’t even need to go into it. Pegboy is the high school reunion you wish you had. It’s the family that you should have been born into. It’s the friends whose names you don’t know, but recognize and talk to every time you see them.
Prior to the release of the second album, Earwig, Pierre Kezdy joined on bass completing the best line up of the band. He had a cool, calm, stern faced presence on the bass, but it added to the intensity of the show. If you were up front and locked eyes with Larry DaMore, odds are your getting grabbed by the shirt and he’s getting in your face to sing, but Pierre — he’s holding it down, making sure the car stays in the lane. That’s the bassist he was.
I met Pierre a handful of times — once when I was fifteen or so and again at various Pegboy shows. He was the nicest person in the punk scene, hands down. End of story. You weren’t going to find anyone kinder or more willing to interact with you if you approached him. However, this isn’t the memory that sticks with me. It’s the memory of his wife at The Metro standing in the audience up front waiting for Pegboy to come on, holding up their young toddler to say hi to dad. Security would be nervous, advising her that a toddler up front wasn’t safe, but she just assured them that they were just saying “hi.” Even as a jaded twenty something at the time, I thought it was really sweet and thinking about it as a 4o something father of a toddler makes me a little teary eyed.
I’ve shared so many moments with so many people wrapped around the music of Naked Raygun and Pegboy that it’s in my blood at this point. My child has been listening to both of these bands literally since birth. It’s in her blood too. I can’t separate their music from my life or the lives of the friends I’ve made through their music. My entire friendship with my late best friend is tied directly to the albums Throb Throb and Jettison. The first time I went to a punk show with him and his younger brother was to see Pegboy/The Bollweevils/Apocalypse Hoboken at The Vic theater (I took a combat boot to the head at this show from a stage diver, causing me to black out for a couple seconds). Every time I make a new friend and I find out they listen to punk, but don’t know either of these bands, I quickly make them a tape — or link them to Spotify or Youtube.
In 2003, I was helping my friend Justin start his label, Underground Communique primarily because he told me he was releasing a Pegboy tribute album. I was so excited about this that I jumped at the chance to be involved somehow. That record is still one of my favorite records I’ve ever been involved with. I was honored to help in whatever way I could.
I’m in the business of sharing my love for Raygun and Pegboy. I’m in the business of loving Chicago. It’s hard to be a punk from this town and not do one without the other. They’re synonymous with each other. They’re like peanut butter and jelly, coffee and donuts, watered down Jameson shots and the Fireside Bowl — you know what I’m saying. The Raygun family tree is Chicago and that family tree lost a very important, loved branch today.
RIP Pierre Kezdy. Thank you for your service. You’ll be missed. The world is worse place without your kindness in it.
Growing up in the 80’s meant I had a fascination with martial arts — karate, Bruce Lee, ninjas, SAMURAI SUNDAY on Channel 66 and of course, the Karate Kid. As an adult, I was super stoked to hear Youtube was doing a series on Johnny and Cobra Kai and it didn’t disappoint. When I was fifteen, I wanted to name my first band COBRA KAI (and fuck it, I should have), but the singer thought it sounded “dated” and too “eighties” and we should use something more “intelligent” and “ironic;” so Sycophant was born.
Anyway, all of that is tangential, because I’m not writing about martial arts or my first awful punk band, but rather about one of the best math rock bands to come out of Chicago’s extremely furtive math rock and post hardcore scene — SWEEP THE LEG JOHNNY.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t revisit Going Down Swinging because Cobra Kai is now on Netflix, but the truth is, I’ve been walking around the house yelling “SWEEP THE LEG JOHNNY!” This obviously lead me to the music room and pulling this LP off the shelf.
I’m fairly confident I’m not the only person in the mid 90’s who saw their name on the FIRESIDE BOWL list and automatically thought “huh, wonder if they’re a ska band?” I mean, after all, they had a saxophone. I’m pretty sure the first time I saw them, I went under the assumption that they were ska — thank Jah I was wrong. They were SO GOD-DAMNED-GOOD.
It’s probably a sin that I only saw them like six or seven times. They really should have been a band I should have prioritized. I mean, I spent way more money seeing bands I liked way less far more often. Who knows? I was in my 20’s, which is really my go-to excuse for every boneheaded thing I did between 1995 and 2005.
What do they sound like? Well, if you’re asking that question, either you didn’t hit play on the Youtube link above or that link is dead. I would say maybe something like Slint meets King Crimson with a saxophone? If that isn’t enough for you to want to go dig in, I don’t know what else I can say.
The above bands are just a small snapshot of the Chicago post-punk/mathrock scene in the 90’s. I really should just write a post about the Fireside Bowl and cover all of the scenes that called that place home.