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Final Night Guest Review From Noise Pop Festival by Jerry Connolly: Old Chicago Punk Movie, British Sea Power, and More!

29 April 2008

My apologies in posting this quite late, much later than his previous reports from San Francisco’s Noise Pop Festival, but I had my hands full finishing the new issue 62 of Big Takeover.

(_And by the way, please send us your new address if you are a subscriber and have moved!!!!_)

But much, much, much better later than never, without further ado, here’s my good friend and fellow BT scribe, JERRY CONNOLLY!!!:

This fourth day of Noise Pop begins with a film that I’ve been dying to see since the trailer showed up on Youtube last year. You Weren’t There: A History of Chicago Punk 1977-1984 is a film by husband and wife filmmakers JOE LOSURDO and CHRIS TILLMAN AKA Regressive Films that was six years in the making and, based on my viewing, it was worth the effort and the wait. The film (okay, video) was being shown at ATA (Artists’ Access Televsion), a non-profit facility located in the Mission District. Lucky for me it is about 200 feet from my front door!

The feature itself is a smart and well-crafted look at the Second City’s punk scene from its birth until the Orwellian year of 1984, when the innocence had been lost. Almost always overlooked in punk-lit and films, Chicago was just screaming for someone to take on the task of documenting a vital scene, and thank god (sic) for Regressive Films.

I watched with a mix of amusement and feelings of comaraderie as early scenesters recounted tales of being assaulted with shouts of “DEVO” and “FAGGOT” (okay, less amusement with that one) when they were out in public in their punk garb. I recall the phenomenon well from my years growing up in suburban Detroit in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Being chased and beaten up was not an uncommon experience in those day,s but thankfully it didn’t prevent a vibrant community from being born.

Losurdo and Tillman were not content to simply bung together a work based on bands and talking heads busy patting themselves on the back. No, besides band members, others playing vital roles are included, such as various promoters, bar owners, DJs, and zine workers. The filmmakers really try to give a sense of the whole scene by including such varied participants, and the film is better for it. Also touched on are realities such as police, (city) government corruption, and the mob and how they affected the scene. The Chicago Punk didn’t just have to deal with the man on the street wanting to kick his ass, but also the Man and La Cosa Nostra. These things had to be dealt with by bands and club owners alike, which I imagine created a great deal of tension and anger, which of course fueled the music. A lot of the clubs were mobbed up and the cops were, well cops. You know, out to spoil any good time they happened upon.

Of course, the punks didn’t help the cause with their habit of wearing actual police leather jackets (albeit with the police patches removed, but with the Illinois flag still visible). Walking to the club sporting your police leather – run into a cop and you have instant trouble, folks. Mention is also made of Mayor JANE BYRNE reaching out to the L.A. mayor who had just dealt with the BLACK FLAG-related punk riots. It seems Da Mayor wanted first-hand knowledge of how to kill that thing called Punk.

As far as the venues, the tale of the city’s first punk club (and nation’s first punk disco) – LA MERE VIPERE (which apparently means “the mother snake” – get it, it was a gay bar) figures prominently as the film starts. Wildly popular with the city’s misfits, La Mere attracted neighborhood resentment to such a point that someone torched the place. Police and firemen have been suspected, but it remains a mystery as to who ended the run of La Mere. Other clubs of the day, such as Oz and O’Banions, stayed just one step ahead of the law (thanks in part to likely payoffs to the man) and managed to host many classic shows by the likes of THE EFFIGIES, NAKED RAYGUN, and STRIKE UNDER. The live footage shown was just stunning – The Effigies at OZ in all their boots-and-braces glory, for instance. Early incarnations of Naked Raygun playing loft parties!!!! Amazing stuff.

It wasn’t all peace and love among the punks, as the films spells out. Not everyone had the same agenda, and this provides some the most hilarious moments of the film. The verbal sparring between VIC BONDI of ARTICLES OF FAITH (AOF) and JOHN KEZDY of The Effigies is priceless, but things get even more heated when Bondi verbally takes on STEVE ALBINI and challenges him to a fight. After all these years, they still don’t like each other. This section of the film also shows how the wider scene started to fray as the younger set, represented by such outfits as AOF, are intent on blazing their own trails, elders be damned.

Chicago Punk is not more widely regarded for a number of reasons that come up in the film. The city was/is not a major media center like New York and L.A.; this is certainly key. Also playing a part was the apathy of the city—no one seemed to care save for the few participants. The upside of this is that the bands were allowed to experiment more without the media spotlight. The downside is that, well, again, no one really cared save for the participants.

Why does the film end in 1984? According to the filmmakers, it seemed the right time; early scene participants were leaving and those replacing them had different agendas. Crowds were getting bigger and the innocent everything-goes attitude was gone. Chicago Punk had a good run in the years covered in the film. I’m glad someone finally cared!

It’s worth noting that this was only the second showing of the film and as such it was a director’s cut. It was quite long, at a hair over two hours, and will likely be edited when it comes out on DVD (though there will be extra features).

I can’t say enough about how good this film is and how it succeeds on so many levels. A must see…

After a break between the film and the show that evening, I arrive at Bottom of The Hill to find out I missed the first band, Oakland’s own OFF CAMPUS. Too bad, as I was curious to see what this new vehicle for CHRIS APPLEGREN (from THE PATTERN and PEECHEES, and head of Lookout Records) was all about. When life gives you lemons…

The equipment for the next band, Oklahoma’s COLOURED MUSIC is on stage already, and it’s all white. I mean everything. Amps, drums, chords. Okay, not the cymbals, but everything else. This could only mean, yes, you guessed it—when the five-piece takes the stage, all its members are dressed from head to toe in white as well. To make things worse, they all have beards. I honestly don’t know who they are, but the club is full at this point and people look attentive, so maybe they’re something to see!! They burst into their first song and it’s off-kilter pop with the four guys up front (that’s three guitars and a bass) all at the mics! The only words I hear (and I can’t possibly be correct on this) are “Booty and a little gash.” If anyone out there can verify that, I’ll buy the first round. It wouldn’t be unfair to say of Coloured Music that they remind me at time of fellow Okies THE FLAMING LIPS. As the set wears on, I’m really not minding it. The music is upbeat and rhythmic and more often than not driving at a good pace. In between some of the songs there are taped segments that give information about the band, such as who plays what or what the source of inspiration for the upcoming song is. More schtick, I know, but I find it hard to be violently against these guys and the crowd is digging it. Coloured Music—not unpleasant at all (I’m sure that will please them).

As I wait for the next band, San Francisco’s own 20 MINUTE LOOP, I’m accosted by a Scotsman blathering on about how he used to be in CREEPER LAGOON and he played the first Noise Pop at the Kilowatt and Noise Pop founder and organizer KEVIN ARNOLD is the son of god for coming up with Noise Pop and the Scots should have their own nation….

I had no idea if that’s true (about Creeper Lagoon), but in checking since I see that if he was in the band at all, he played at the fourth Noise Pop at the Chameleon. Still, not a bad way to kill a few minutes waiting for the next act, I reckon. Drunks from the U.K. are among my favorite drunks. He’s to ya’ mate!

Somewhat off-kilter (yeah, that phrase again) pop songs are what 20 Minute Loop delivers—nice male/female harmonies from the dual vocalists that never actually get to the point of being overly cloying. From what I understand, they have been around since 1997, but somehow I’ve never managed to see them (having lived in SF since ’97, it’s odd we’ve not crossed paths before), which on second thought isn’t so odd, as their brand of Indie isn’t something I normally go for. The crowd, a packed house at this point in the evening, seem well into it though—who am I to complain? Every song is met with enthusiastic applause. This seems all the more noteworthy as they playing all new songs. Thirty minutes and nine songs later they are done, and I’d have to term their set a success. If tight pops songs with soaring harmonies get you out of bed, by all means give an ear to 20 Minute Loop.

Once more, the best has been saved for last. From the opening song it’s obvious who has won the night: BRITISH SEA POWER and its epic sounds have the fists pumping and the lips mouthing the lyrics. I look around, and I seem to be the only one who doesn’t know the words; ah well, that’s okay. Until about five minutes earlier, I had never heard the band! No matter, their overt British rock sound is something I’m quite fond of, so this’ll go down quite easily. The band is augmented by a violinist, which to my mind adds a richness to the already dense sounds. Another plus! As they roll through their set, it’s clear the band members are enjoying themselves immensely; and what better way to celebrate St. David’s Day than playing a packed show! The crowd is eating up the anthems effortlessly tossed off over the nearly 60 minute set. Honestly, these are stadium-sized songs, and to hear them in a small club was a treat.

That’s it folks—Noise Pop 2008, albeit in a somewhat abbreviated fashion. Highlights for me were definitely the two films, the movie about THE GERMS What We Do Is Secret and You Weren’t There: A History of Chicago Punk 1977-1984. Both fine pieces of work, with the latter being absolutely essential. As far as bands go, A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS and British Sea Power made things worthwhile for me.

Thanks to KIP and MADISON at Tell All Your Friends PR, JACK RABID, and of course Kevin Arnold…

Until next year!!—Jerry Connolly