Bleary-eyed, I'm up and out the door way earlier than usual, but that's OK, cuz the headphones are rocking Lizzie Mercier Descloux's early 80s avant dance cover of "Fire," and I can't help but think that, in a perfect world, this track would be sandwiched between Sexual Harassment's "If I Gave You a Party" and The Slits' "In The Beginning" on the universal radio station that was available all over the planet. Well, I ain't on Sirius, but I intend on rectifying this on my radio show after I return.
There's a loose plan formulated in my mind. It goes something like this: Fly to Chicago, hook up with some friends, go see a show, maybe meet some people who are only names on a screen. Next day, head up to Milwaukee somehow someway, go see a show, actually two shows, meet some more faceless persons, possibly stay in Milwaukee hanging out and maybe seeing Ahia pals We March w/ Holy Shit!, then back to Chicago and fly back home. Why? Saw some good shows were happening, wanted out of town, not totally broke, and, well, why the fuck not? Just the fact that above, this was referred to as a vacation, says something, as I usually loathe the term. When I periodically travel, usually for weeks at a time, I somewhat obnoxiously correct people when they refer to it as a "vacation." "No, I'm traveling," I'll practically sneer. Vacation implies tourist which implies innocence and stupidity which implies easy target ("I hate tourists/tourists suck..."). But this seemed like a vacation. A cold and drunken vacation.
I'm in Chicago by noon, squinting at mid-afternoon sun-peeks through the stunning examples of Midwest cloud formations hovering above the city. Chicago. Only Los Angeles can compare to its vast suburban mega-sprawl glory. If LA is our country's ultimate living glitzy mall community, then Chicago is the strip mall down the road, cheaper stores but the goods are fine. Previous time spent here can be whittled down to a layover on a cross-country Amtrak sojourn and a few shows, Wire and Ex/Shellac/Fugazi. I jump on the El, and goddamn is it chilly up there waiting for that motherfucker. Gimme the piss-stink subways of New York anyday. But then again, the spring/summer is probably glorious in its elevation, as opposed to sweating it out with the rats down in the tunnels.
Via a bus and a newly-purchased pre-paid cellular phone (first phone of any kind within my reach for over two years!) I manage to meet my pal Sam on the street near his place. Sam is a very smart kid and excellent musician, who, at the tender age of 19, had already experienced quite a bit of the undie rock scene and he's all the better for it. He'll probably be a working musician with a semi-profitable band by the time he's 23, if not sooner. And that's no dis. He's just good and he's got great taste, partly cuz he listens to me (heh heh). Sam's from Cleveland, but he's in Chicago going, barely, to school. And I know the kid likes to get fucked up, but I'm still unprepared for the first thing out of his mouth; "Hey, you wanna get some whiskey?" Well, goddamn if I can argue with that logic, so off to the corner store we go to procure a bottle of Jameson. The easy availability of liquor in this town is a reason to celebrate, as Ohio is filled with asinine old Christian laws prohibiting the sale of hard liquor to only a few spots per district and also to ridiculous times that no alcoholic finds appealing. So armed, we head to his apartment where a half drank bottle of Jim Beam also awaits.
I have him drop me off on the corner cuz I feel like an asshole taking a taxi, just one of those stupid quirks. In Jim Carroll's 'Forced Entries,' he writes how him and his girlfriend had a pact that they would never take a cab except in the most extreme emergencies. That's neither here nor there, but I dig the logic. As I'm paying at the door to the SubT, I remember an email that Eric Lastname had sent me a few weeks previous. We were supposed to meet at the show and he mentioned that it was his birthday weekend and I told him I'd get him a present and he wrote something witty about how he wanted a Twinkie with a $20 bill stuck in it, and goddamn if I wasn't gonna grant him his wish. I ask the door guy where a convenience store is and he points across the street (how convenient). I purchase the Twinkie and I'm standing at the counter unwrapping it, trying to stuff a 20 spot into it without mangling the delicate cake exterior when an attractive "older" (probably 5 years older than my ass) lady stares at me, obviously intrigued. "It's for a friend's birthday." "Well, you're a really good friend then," she laughs. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I have yet to meet the dude.
The Subterranean is three stories: the ground floor just a bar that I peeked in but didn't venture, the second story, the stage, the action, and a third level that looks down upon the goings-on below, like a cockfight or an opera. I stumble up the stairs and see B. Costello, FBer and TBer. Add novelist to that list and I stupidly forget to ask if he has copies of his book, but I do spend 10 bucks on the brand-spankin' new record by his band, The Functional Blackouts. This being their record release potty, and them having released one of the best punk LPs of the new millenium with their debut, it feels like the right thing to do. Jaw with Darius of Criminal IQ for a moment and time for a drink.
A whiskey and a beer and a seat, and who shows up, but Russ Romance, former Cleavite. Russ is a character for sure, known to drunkenly scream for pussy and/or drugs in the middle of a show, like between songs, or at the end, hounding whomever for the aforementioned. I think the word "uncouth" was invented for him, but there's something honest and charming about Russ. We had been DJs at the same radio station and would occasionally see each other at shows, but soon after moving to Chicago he began talking shit via the forums section of this digital rag. At first it was amusing and then it got annoying and I got pissed off and physical threats were exchanged and then I think we both realized "How gay" and it was good to see him again. (Just don't let him around a keyboard when he's drunk!)
Ex-Kill-A-Wattses, The Monitors, lead things off, and while their sci-fi new wave punk, think Rezillos meets Zolar X, is fun, it's just a little too quirky and derivative. If you're gonna claim you're from space at this late date you better really SOUND like it, a la Human Eye. Next is Die Rotzz, who mash up sleazy KBD punk with a gutter-garage growl. The drummer from Die Rottz doubles duties for Angry Angles, Jay Reatard's new-ish band with girlfriend, Alix, on bass and backing vocals. I had heard their "Things Are Moving" single, of which the title track is a stunner, but I'm still surprised at how fucking good this band is; fantastic songs which somehow combine the post-apocalyptic paranoia of Lost Sounds with the maniacal, amped-up '50s rock of The Reatards.
Earlier, I told Russ to point out Eric Lastname to me or vice versa. Eric's band, The Busy Signals, was playing on some small-wattage college radio station ("I live 10 blocks away and I can't get it," was a quote I heard regarding the signal) that night, but he was supposed to come to the show. He shows up and I drag him to a corner and pull the open Twinkie package out of my bag, golden fluff crumbling everywhere. He seems generally confused and later told me that he was freaked out cuz I was so drunk and he thought I was trying to give him half-eaten food. Then he sees the twenty dollar bill and we laugh and share the Twinkie. I tell him the twenty is his, 'cept he's gotta buy me a drink with it, so I guess it's kind of a shitty present, ha! Eric introduces me to the infamous Matt Coppens, whom I recognize from Horriblefest, but don't remember actually meeting. Matt doesn't let me down and begins randomly running into people, heckling audience members, etc.
Last but not least, the Functional Blackouts take the stage and strafe the crowd with their no wave punk. Long having dropped the bile-soaked Clevo-isms of the original line-up, the FBs are now more concerned with making you feel dirty and sick (instead of dirty and sick and ready to party, I suppose). Guitarist Mac sings songs of rubber-room dementia as he and Dr. Filth engage in high-end treble guitar damage that is almost Arab on Radar-esque. Meanwhile, the attack never lets up as Costello pounds away behind them like a hardcore Keith Moon.
The show is finally over and I am insanely ripped and Lastname offers his place for the night, so me, him, and his girl, Carrie, head back to his "shoebox" apartment in Wicker Park. It really is a shoebox, size small, but that doesn't stop us from smoking grass, tobacco, and loudly talking shit. We listen to the several hours-old Busy Signals radio recording, and it's my first time hearing them, and it definitely brings a smile, good songs and playing, poppy but muscular. Eventually, the alcohol takes its toll and we all pass out.
So the plan is to drive up to Milwaukee, which is only about an hour away, and go see not one, but two shows. A day show at a house, then the feature attraction at a bar called the Onopa Brewing Co., which has a killer line-up of Hot Machines/Tyrades/Angry Angles/Die Rotzz. But first, it's time to celebrate Eric's birthday as Ana and Jeremy from the Busy Signals and Carrie come over bearing gifts. Carrie has a plate of homemade cupcakes with various inappropriate but hilarious frosting-drawings upon them, while Ana and Jeremy bring a heart-shaped deep-dish pizza. Apparently there is a pizza shop that makes heart-shaped pizza on Valentine's Day, and, since we're close and they were convincing, the shop was nice enough to make one. It's messy, but delicious, as are the cupcakes.
Carrie, Lastname, and I head up in her car, Eric playing DJ. We listen to the recently reissued 'Keats Rides a Harley' compilation and the new Headache City album, of which one of the songs, 'Suicide Summer,' seems to last forever and gets stuck in my head for several days (perhaps in a vain effort to stay warm). I bust Eric's balls about his internet celebrity status while Carrie professes bewilderment about the whole phenomena. We reach Milwaukee by nightfall, hit the liquor store and then onto the house show.
There's a gaggle of Terminal Bores there, including Steve Strange (excuse me, Young Steve), Richard Adventure, Coppens (listen for the guy yelling about everyone being pussies), and Kevin aka Vint. Kevin and I had recognized each other on the forums as somewhat kindred souls, chiefly because of our interest in chemicals and strange musics outside the realm of acceptable punk. We had vague plans to hang out for a couple days. I was hoping he'd come prepared with any number of illicit chemicals, but it seemed like a twelve pack was all he could procure. The dude was a big motherfucker, I'll give him that. The first band starts and someone mentions that it is Steve Strange's new band. I go downstairs to check it out, and there's a smiling young man at the bottom of the steps with a big glass jar for band money. He looks at me strangely and says, "Do I know you?" "No, I don't think so, but you're the drummer for the Catholic Boys, right? I saw you at Horriblefest, you were wearing a We March shirt." "Huh, you look like someone I know. But nice to meetcha, what's yer name?" "Erick," I say. "Me too." "Well, goddamn there are a lot of Eric's here!" "Welcome to my home," he says. I give him some dosh and check out a couple songs by the band (named?). Decent snotty punk in a Rip Off Records vein? Sure. It warms my heart to see so many kids (atleast 75) at a house show, and makes me nostalgic for my own former spot, The Black Eye.
There's something about the Tyrades which inspires fits of violent dancing. It makes me feel like I'm trapped in a crowded subway car and the only way out is to thrash my way, arms flailing, elbows out like knives. It's a different thing, but the Jesus Lizard used to make me feel like this; all building tension, sharp riffs that raise the hair on your nape and access some lizard-brain compulsion to kill and maim. It's pretty much what you want in a modern punk rock band: post-millennial terror scares and barely-withheld urban sexual tension.
I'm woken up the next morning by some dude cracking up about a "broken ball-gag." What happened while I was out? Seems the toilet busted on this guy. I pry my eyes open and eventually meet him and the dude who passed out across from me. Scene photographer extraordinaire Canderson and Hozac major domo, Todd Killings. Canderson can't stop laughing about the busted ball-gag and the exploding toilet and pretty soon my hangover fades into infectious goofy grins. Nothing like a little bathroom humor to kickstart the day. After sitting there for awhile I figure it's time to leave. Alex White says, "Good luck on your tour!" thinking I'm in one of the bands. I say, "Oh, I'm touring by myself, and thanks, you too." I go to the coffeehouse across the street on the corner. On the wall are some of Canderson's photos. Eventually, some of them come over and I tell them my deal. Stranded in fucking Milwaukee. They sympathize and wish me luck. I just need to get downtown to the take the Amtrak back to Chicago. I decide that my predicament is partly Kevin's fault, so I call him. He seems to feel bad about the whole thing, so he tells me to call his buddy who lives at the house that had the show the day before. I ask him about the two girls, Racheal and her friend. He gives me her number too, and tells me to call her. I call Bret first, and leave a message. "I'm Kevin's friend from Cleveland, blah blah blah, can I maybe stay at your house, blah blah blah." Then I call Rachael, and she answers. She's out of the city proper, doing boring family things (ah, the life of a teenager), but she seems to feel bad about my predicament and curses Kevin for a minute, claiming "he's always pulling shit like this." Well, it's not really his fault, but still, I'll take the pity. Then she pauses and tells me she'll call me back. A couple minutes later, she calls and tells me her and her friend are gonna come scoop me. Ah, the life of a teenager! A half hour later, they pull up and I jump in. There's some scowling kid in the back who's brother. Now I'm entertaining fantasies of liquor store hold-ups and under-age brushes with the law, but it's Sunday, and that's the Lord's day, and he don't like no funny business, so, to the train station it is. I thank them profusely and they act like it's no big deal, which I suppose it isn't, but it saved my ass. I buy a ticket (20 beans one way) and then wander around downtown for a few hours. Soon, I'm gazing listlessly out the window at abandoned factories sitting like castles on the tundra. Back to Chicago, and a little more drinking left to go.
I call Sam and Ben and they tell me to come over. I'm just about broke, but I have enough to hit TBX, a burrito joint that Sam swears is a coke front. He tells me of his plan to write an expose' on the place for one of his creative writing classes. He also firmly believes that they put cocaine in the burritos and that is the secret of their success. The burritos are pretty damn good, but I don't get a numby, so maybe the dude's imagination is getting a little feverish. We mostly sit around listening to free jazz records. Then Sam gets a call that there is a half-full keg at a friend's house, but the tap is broken. So, it's up to me to get the tap (seeing as I'm the only one of age) and we go to the house and drink some beers. I'm suitably unenthused by the very young mix of kids and can barely stifle my constant yawns. Me and some kid start talking about music and he proceeds to make me feel really old, but in a charming way. "No way, you saw [blank]! Holy shit!" "Yeah, they toured constantly, it's no big deal." "I would give my left [blank] to see them!" Ah, the life of a "middle-aged" undie rocker, yeah, don't get much better than that. Then again, years ago I worked with this dude that would regale me with stories of seeing Black Flag, Husker Du, and the Minutemen in the mid-80s and I would seethe with jealousy, so, what goes around comes around (I won't tell you why). Sleep comes easily after all this.
My final night in Chicago and I got no money, but Ben wants to go out and is willing to pay for some beers. Apparently, the Empty Bottle has free shows every Monday with decent, or at least known, bands, so we head up there to see Mice Parade, a post-rock band that just keeps plugging away. Ben's a musicianly sort so he appreciates their mind-numbing well-played neo-elevator music more than I, but I do appreciate the rich irony of seeing what could be called "typical Chicago post-rock" on my last night in town. I try to get into their sub-Tortoise vibes, but the one-dollar Pabsts and cute art chicks trying to look aloof occupy most of my attention. But I do notice a familiar face behind the bar, Billiams. I introduce myself and tell him how I enjoyed the Hot Machines a few nights previously. Matt seems to understand the underlying message and offers me a shot of whiskey. He waves me off when I tell him I got no cash. After the show, Ben and I go on a bar-hopping stint that didn't pan out for much excitement outside of Ben drunk-driving his car to comedic effect through the streets of Chicago. We fly by a cop, Ben swerving into the oncoming lane, and I'm sure we're fucked (the kid's only 20 on top of it all; good fake ID though), but he seems nonplussed. I'm waiting for the lights, but they never come. We go to a few more bars, including some punk rock joint that he swears is always swinging, but the only thing swinging there were all the dudes' blue balls. We give up and go home.
The trip has finally come to the end, but it ain't quite over. In my rush to get to the airport, I get on the wrong train once again, and find myself back-tracking and losing valuable time. For the second time in my last three flights, I find myself running in my socks, clutching all personal items, through the terminal in an attempt to catch my flight. I get to the gate and there's no one around, but the door to the tunnel is still open. I consider just walking down it, but am paranoid of the security situation and don't want to be assaulted by any Homeland Security dipshits, so I just stand there, vainly hoping someone will appear and usher me into the plane's bosom. Almost answering my prayers, a stewardess emerges from the tunnel and shuts the door. "Hey, can I still get on that flight?" "Sorry, once the plane doors are shut, we can't legally re-open them." fuck. 6 more hours in Chicago, here I come. No money, starving, thirsty.