The Chicago band Negative Scanner made one of my favorite records last year — just narrowly missing out on my top 10. Released by the top-notch local label Trouble in Mind, Negative Scanner’s self-titled album is filled with short bursts of searing punk and garage, with singer-guitarist Rebecca Valeriano-Flores spitting out the words with alarming force. This group has played a lot of shows in Chicago, but somehow I had never seen it live until Friday, Feb. 12, when Negative Scanner opened for Disappears at the Empty Bottle. The band did not disappoint, ripping through a fast set of songs from the album and cementing its place as one of my favorite bands in Chicago right now.
Disappears is another outstanding local band — and it played a really strong set to finish the night, with those guitar riffs sounding especially propulsive. The first group of the night was Hide (or maybe that should be all-caps HIDE) — who played aggressive electronic music amid strobe lights. Not exactly my sort of music, but a cool spectacle. (See the first picture below for a demonstration of what happens when you take a quick sequence of photos while strobe lights are flashing.)
Out on Chicago’s Northwest Side, Bohemian National Cemetery has hosted a few concerts over the past few years, including performances by Wrekmeister Harmonies and the Silver Apples. But until this past week, I hadn’t made it out to any of these “Beyond the Gate” shows, which are presented by the Empty Bottle. I was there on Thursday, Sept. 10, for the concert by Earth, Disappears and Holy Sons, with appropriately atmospheric DJ sets by J.R. Robinson of Wrekmeister Harmonies.
The stage was next to the Marsaryk Memorial Mausoleum (No. 15 on this map), not far from the corner of Pulaski and Bryn Mawr. There aren’t any graves in that section of the cemetery, but tombstones and trees are visible off in the distance to the east.
It was still light outside as people showed up and Holy Sons (led by Emil Amos, who also plays in Grails, Om and Lilacs & Champagne) started off the show with bluesy hard rock.
It was getting dark by the time Disappears took the stage, with shimmering, clanging guitar chords ringing out across the lawn. The Chicago band’s latest album, Irreal, is another solid addition to its discography, but a couple of older tunes were the highlights for me. The set ended with Disappears locked into a Krautrock groove that gathered strength as it repeated and repeated.
As Earth played the final set of the night — slowly grinding out its thundering, mountainous instrumental music — guitarist Dylan Carlson cast huge shadows on the wall of the mausoleum behind him. I departed a bit early, just because I wanted to get to the Empty Bottle for that night’s “after show,” heading to my car on Bryn Mawr as Earth played its final song of the night. Walking on the sidewalk along the cemetery, I looked back across the rows of tombstones and heard Earth’s ethereal chords floating through the night air.
Although the venue doesn’t officially open until Wednesday, I got a look inside last night, May 16, when Thalia Hall invited some folks to a concert by two local bands, Bare Mutants and Disappears. My first impression: This is a real beauty of a room, with some lovely ornate architectural details and — at least for now — a few touches of decay that seem appropriate for a rock venue. (That peeling paint on the walls up in the balcony may eventually get spruced up, however.)
The sight lines are excellent, whether you’re standing on the main floor looking at the stage — which is fairly high, maybe 4 1/2 feet up from the floor — or if you’re watching from the balcony. The upstairs is cleverly designed, with short, stepped tiers that should make it possible for you to see over whoever is standing in front of you. The stage is pretty large — around the size of the stages at Metro and the Riviera, with lots of space behind the band. And the ceiling is quite high. The room looks like it could hold 1,000 people. There’s a cool bar area upstairs, in a separate room from the main balcony.
On Friday night, the sound of Bare Mutants and Disappears’ rock was pretty good wherever I was standing in the room, though the real test will come over time as musical acts with widely varying styles and dynamics play in the room. Real concerts will also test what sort of venue this turns out to be. What it’ll feel like when it’s filled with people for a sold-out show? How will crowds tend to move around in this space? And how will audience members behave — a factor that the venue owners only have so much influence on?
All of this is hard to predict at this point, but the signs are good that this is going to be an outstanding venue. The schedule so far includes a mix of the sorts of artists both the Empty Bottle and SPACE are knowing for booking: Panda Bear, a double bill of Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle, the Mavericks, Goat, Teb Benoit, Gillian Welch, Camera Obscura — and even an -odd-sounding show called “Green Porno” starring Isabella Rosselini.
I realize now that I failed to take any pictures yesterday of the building’s fabulous exterior, so here’s one from the Thalia Hall website:
And here are some photos I took at last night’s preview concert:
With its new album, Era, the Chicago band Disappears continues to make loud, churning kraut rock with an unsettled, occasionally menacing air about it. On its previous record, Pre Language, the group moved a bit away from epic-length drones and jams and more toward concise rock songs. The new record tilts back in the old direction… or maybe it just shows the band finding a middle ground between song structure and full-on sonic assault? In any case, Disappears’ new and old songs sounded powerful when the group played them Friday (Sept. 20) at the Empty Bottle. Since last year, ex-Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley has departed from Disappears, but his replacement, Noah Leger of Electric Hawk and Anatomy of Habit, made an appropriately thunderous noise.
Speaking of thunder, the middle band on the lineup, Weekend, played an equally fierce set, finishing its final song with about 30 seconds of hair-raisingly dramatic crescendo. It was quite an end to an impressive performance.
The Chicago band Outside World started off the evening, beginning its set with shoegaze-style drone but eventually settling into a series of tuneful rock songs. It was the first time I’d heard Outside World; they’re a band that’ll be worth watching.
The Chicago band Disappears’ new drummer — possibly just a temporary fill-in — is Steve Shelley, more famous for his work with Sonic Youth. Shelley’s been spending a fair amount of time playing gigs in Chicago over the last year or so, and there he was on Tuesday evening (March 22), when the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago hosted a free show by Disappears. Making the gig extra special was the addition of the two musicians who make up the Chicago band White/Light, Matt Clark and Jeremy Lemos. They’re the curators of this “Face the Strange” series of free concerts at the MCA, and for this show, they sat in with the band, adding a couple of extra layers of humming noise to the proceedings. Disappears easily shifted between those experimental stretches of elongated chords into crunchier rock songs with vocals, and Shelley helped to tie it altogether without ever getting flashy on the drums. Only complaint: The band played too short, clocking in at barely more than half an hour. More music, please! http://disappearsdisappears.blogspot.com/