Blackout Fest, an annual showcase of garage, punk and power pop music curated by Chicago’s HoZac Records, returned to the Empty Bottle May 15 and 16. It wasn’t quite as raucous as these shows have been in some past years, but both nights had solid lineups of bands both old and new.
The headliners fell into the “old” category — both were groups with cult status from the 1970s. On Friday night, it was the Real Kids, a Boston punk and power pop band led by singer-guitarist John Felice, who was also an original member of the Modern Lovers (alongside Jonathan Richman) and a Ramones roadie. Somewhat surprisingly, the Real Kids started their Blackout set with their best-known song, the super-catchy “All Kindsa Girls.” But the band had plenty of other great tunes to play during its set, including some from last year’s album Shake … Outta Control and a cover of the Beatles’ “You Can’t Do That.”
The headliners on Saturday were the Avengers, a San Francisco punk band that made its recording debut with an EP in 1978. The group didn’t last for long after that, but founding members Penelope Houston and Greg Ingraham reunited in 2004. They were in top form during their charged, energetic Blackout show.
The early acts on Friday night were Chicago’s MAMA and Milwaukee’s Platinum Boys — both playing power-pop songs with classic-rock-style guitar riffs — and Cozy, a group from Minneapolis with a giddy glam songs and a playful attitude to match.
On Saturday, the night started with another string of bands playing lively guitar rock: Gross Pointe, Thing and Nervosas, followed by Sweet Knives, a Memphis group featuring members of the Lost Sounds, a band that featured Jay Reatard, playing new versions of that group’s old songs. The riffs barely let up all weekend.
On Thursday, May 14 — the night before Blackout Fest began at the Empty Bottle — HoZac Records held a kickoff party at Virgin Hotel. A mosh pit briefly formed on the 25th floor of this downtown hotel as Flesh Panthers and Sueves rocked.
Blackout Fest was back this past weekend at the Empty Bottle, and once again, Chicago’s HoZac Records delivered a fun package of garage rock, punk and power pop. I missed the first night on May 15 (an art show and opening party), but I was there the following two nights.
The headliners on May 16 were a pretty big deal: The Boys, a legendary British punk band from the 1970s, played a Chicago gig for the first time — and amazingly, it was only the fourth time the Boys had ever played in the U.S. As these older blokes ripped through their old tunes (including a bunch of memorable shout-along songs, such as “Brickfield Nights”), a bunch of young garage-rock lovers packed the dance floor in front of the stage, moshing and bopping up and down with reckless joy.
Friday’s lineup also included the Man (I showed up too late for their set), the fuzzy guitar riffs of 999999999 (apparently pronounced “all nines”) and First Base, a Toronto band with a slew of sweet and catchy songs. They even did a cover of the ABBA song “Mamma Mia.”
The headliners on Saturday, May 17, were another band that started back in the mid-’70s punk explosion: The Dictators, from New York City. Maybe the Dictators are actually a kind of proto-punk, since they formed all the way back in 1974. And on Saturday, as the current lineup played old Dictators songs as well as covers of songs by bands like the Flamin’ Groovies, they jammed more than you’d expect from punks. The frontman, Handsome Dick Manitoba, insisted on telling stories to the audience in his gruff New York accent, which slowed down the pace of the gig a bit, but still proved pretty entertaining. He’s quite a character. For the most part, the crowd ate it up.
The rest of the lineup on Saturday was solid, with three bands playing the kind of straight-ahead, no-frills rock that HoZac is known for: Rainbow Gun Club, A Giant Dog and — my favorite of the bunch — Shocked Minds.
Hozac Records’ Blackout Fest was back this past weekend for another round of garage rock, power pop and other mostly raw and raucous music. It stretched out across four days at the Empty Bottle; I was there for the last two nights: Saturday, May 18, when Chrome headlined; and Sunday, May 19, when Dwight Twilley had top billing.
For my money, Sunday was the much better of these two nights — partly because Sunday’s lineup leaned more heavily to the power-pop end of the spectrum, which was to my liking. As for Saturday … Well, Saturday had its moments, too, especially the powerful music of Chicago’s Verma, with wordless singing (or is it merely incomprehensible?). Wizzard Sleeve, with Quintron on percussion, were another highlight, with a number of catchy choruses.
But when Chrome took the stage for the headline act of the night, everything ground to a halt. Original Chrome member Helios Creed encountered one technical difficulty after another, struggling to tune his guitar or to get his pedals working, even as he kept making boasts such as, “We’re going to blow you away.” It seemed like a rehearsal with a newly assembled band more than an actual concert. The band sounded all right once it got started playing songs, but there was an uncomfortable vibe among the players. At several points, Creed abruptly halted songs by waving his arms at everyone else in the band, giving them a not-so-subtle signal to stop playing. Maybe this is just the way Creed functions on stage, but it seemed more like malfunctioning.
Sunday got off to a damn good start with The Sueves, a Chicago band with jagged guitar riffs and vocals — the best discovery of Blackout Fest for me. The second band of the night was one that I was already familiar with, Games, who put out a strong album of ’60-influenced garage rock/power pop on Hozac late last year. The songs sounded even more bracing in concert than they do in the studio versions.
Then came what amounted to a double dose of power-pop headliners: Oak Park’s Pezband — a trio that originally formed around 1971 and still knows how to rock, demonstrating that they should play far more often than they do — followed by Dwight Twilley. The Tulsa, Okla., singer is most famous for his two hits, “Girls” and “I’m on Fire,” but he has a cult following of fans who clearly loved hearing Twilley play other songs from his old records — as well as the news that Hozac is releasing the first official record of Twilley’s 1975 song “Shark (in the Dark).” Twilley closed out the Blackout Fest in style.
Chicago’s terrific HoZac Records brought its annual Blackout Fest to the Empty Bottle this past weekend, May 18-20, for three long nights filled with lots and lots of rock music — mostly garage rock, with a bit of punk, power pop and classic ’60s psychedelic music thrown in for good measure. Many, but not all, of the bands are on the HoZac label, and nearly all of them shared a similar spirit of banging out scrappy yet tuneful songs with enthusiasm.
This was the sort of festival where an audience member would boo (jokingly, I think) at the very sight of an acoustic guitar. That was during Friday’s set by Cozy, but haters of mellow music had nothing to worry about — the band strummed a few acoustic chords before jumping back into the rock. And while some of the musicians swaggered and flailed with punk attitude, many of them were more nonchalant in their stage manner. The Ketamines set the tone by dryly announcing: “We’re going to play 12 songs and then we’re going to stop.”
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Researching the Blues, which will come out Aug. 7 on Merge Records. Judging from the title song (download it here), Redd Kross’s new music sounds much like its old — power pop with a hard edge. Saturday’s set started off with a complete performance of the band’s 1981 album Born Innocent, which provided some raucous fun — although personally, I would have preferred to hear a full run-through of Redd Kross’ 1993 record Phaseshifter. The band did play some songs from that album later in its set, as well as a cover of the Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb.”
Erickson, the legendary former leader of the 13th Floor Elevators, has been back on the concert circuit for a few years now, recovering from a long absence due to legal problems and mental illness. Erickson seemed to be in a good place Sunday night, smiling as he sang and played guitar, backed by a strong and hard-rocking band. The audience in the sold-out venue sang along to many choruses and was rewarded at the end with the 13th Floor Elevators classic, “You’re Gonna Miss Me.”
There were many other fine performances throughout the weekend. My favorites included Barreracudas, who played head-bopping pop-punk; Far-Out Fangtooth, who delved more into dark psych sounds reminiscent of the Black Angels; Fungi Girls, who sound like the house band at some mysterious road house circa 1966; and Bare Mutants, who grooved to a Velvet Underground-style beat.