Hideout Block Party – Hideout (Chicago, IL)
“I know what you’re thinking: What was the big deal?” Steve Albini speculated halfway into Saturday night’s set by the re-convened Big Black. “Believe me, it was a lot cooler in the ’80s.”
Albini was referring specifically to the corrosive, high-energy performance that drew the largest crowd to the tenth annual Hideout Block Party, which this year doubled as a 25th-anniversary celebration for Touch and Go Records. But then he grew more expansive: “When the history of rock music is written, the tendency is to jump from the Sex Pistols to Nirvana. But something happened in the 80s, and Touch and Go is the best thing to happen to music in my lifetime.”
The sentiment was echoed again and again by the 32 acts that performed for thousands of fans (many from overseas) who turned out to toast the indie label over a three-day weekend. Performances took place precisely on schedule on alternating stages set up in a capacious, vacated parking lot where the Chicago Department of Fleet Management usually keeps its garbage trucks.
The lot is across the street from the Hideout, whose first Block Party a decade ago was a barbecue for a couple hundred people in its side yard. Block Party proceeds traditionally go to Chicago charities (this year: Tuesday’s Child, Literacy Works and the Thomas Drummond Elementary School), so all the bands played for free. The good causes were all but incidental to honoring the legacy of Touch and Go founder and spiritual leader Corey Rusk. Eight of the bands overcame acrimonious splits, aging joints and rusty chops to reunite for the occasion.
Pegboy’s John Hagerty, also of Naked Raygun, exulted, “I’m like Touch and Go Records — I’m way too fuckin’ old to be doing this!” as the band cranked out its working-class punk, generating a tsunami of testosterone. Pegboy’s last release was in 1997. David Yow’s pre-Jesus Lizard incarnation, Scratch Acid, was introduced by Julia Adams and Sue Miller. The pair’s legendary Lounge Ax nightclub, to which the Hideout is a spiritual heir, influenced ’90s indie rock almost as much as Touch and Go before wrangles with the city shut it down in 2000. Although Scratch Acid dissolved before Lounge Ax opened, Adams cracked that “they would’ve been good enough” to play there.
The most emotional reunion was that of the uniquely noisy and challenging Silkworm, whose drummer was killed in a freak auto accident last year. With an empty drum kit onstage, the remaining duo performed a single, lengthy tribute to their friend, then left the stage, and the crowd, in silence.
Among bands still active but dormant, Seam (whose last release came in 1998) turned in a brilliant set of transcendent post-rock. Man Or Astroman? — prolific from 1993 through 2001 but MIA since — plied their space-cadet abstractions of Jan & Dean with a stage full of entertaining science-fiction diversions.
Plenty of active performers proved the durability of Touch and Go’s taste and the continuing appeal of its groundbreaking, artist-friendly business practices, which inspired Bloodshot Records, among others. Sally Timms performed a mini-set of tunes from her 2004 disc In The World Of Him, accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Justin Asher. Jon Langford sat in for her performance of the Mekons’ “The Bomb”, complete with hilariously impractical, choreographed arm movements for the tightly packed crowd.
If the weekend had an Offbeat Charm award, it would have gone to Tara Jane O’Neil, who turned in a talkative set of pretty, almost folk-sounding material, mostly from her new release In Circles. Her tuneful, thoughtfully tentative vocals inevitably stole the set, but fans of her exceptional guitar playing were rewarded, too, especially when Chris Brokaw joined her in a climactic closing throwdown. Her performance served as a palate cleanser in a weekend otherwise dominated by high-energy rock excitement.
Langford and Katrin Bornfeld debuted a new joint project that will yield a Touch and Go release next year. “Look, Kat!” Langford exclaimed, surveying the crowd. “These are my people!” Bornfeld is the drummer for Netherlands band the Ex, which, besides Girls Against Boys and Big Black, had drawn one of the biggest crowds of the weekend. The duo with Langford showcased her talents, especially when she took the lead vocal, as on the lilting, folk-like original “I’ll Meet You In Limbo”.
For all the accolades sent his way by fans and bands alike, Rusk insistently avoided the limelight throughout the weekend. The message, it seemed, was that the label is about the bands. In the event’s closing set, Calexico’s Joey Burns freestyled what could only be called a “ballad rap” in Rusk’s honor. Sitting within a few feet of center stage, Rusk grinned widely, beaming with the enthusiasm of an inexhaustible music fan.