I never had the chance to see the Vertebrats back in the day, when they were all the rage on the University of Illinois campus in the early 1980s, so these two reunion shows were must-sees. Of course, I can’t really say how this compared to the concerts back then, but the songs have held up great – and the reconvened Vertebrats fans were an enthusiastic bunch, moshing like they were still teenagers.
Regular Vertebrats bassist Roy Axford was absent, but his substitute was another veteran of the 1980s Champaign scene, Paul Chastain, who has gone on to quasi-fame with the Velvet Crush. Drummer Jim Wald switched to guitar and J.R. Richardson took over the drummer’s seat.
I can’t talk about the Vertebrats without mentioning the long article I wrote a few years ago about the history of their song “Left in the Dark,“ following its path as it was covered by the Replacements, Uncle Tupelo and Courtney Love. (Is that Courtney Love version ever going to see the light of day? Her career and life seem to be a wreck, but it’d still be nice if that came out in some form…) Hear the original song here.
Townie, a band featuring a couple of the Vertebrats (Kenny Draznik and Matt Brandabur) plus my friend Paul Budin (formerly of another great Champaign band, the Outnumbered) and Pat Dailey, opened up the shows, sounding especially good on Saturday night when a couple of horn players sat in with them.
Both of these bands should play more often. The last Vertebrats reunion was in 1995– don’t let another 11 years go by without playing, guys!
I noticed that all of the members of the Outnumbered were present. It’s too bad they couldn’t do a little reunion, too. In fact, I’m hoping someone will someday put together a festival featuring some of the Champaign bands I fondly remember from my days at the U. of I. To name a few: Lonely Trailer, the B-Lovers, Stamp Act, Turning Curious, Titantic Love Affair, Weird Summer, Ballyhoo, The Nines, The Big Maybe, the Last Straw, Contraband, Cowboy X, Nick Rudd and Paul Chastain.