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.”
The festival’s two biggest names were Saturday headliners Redd Kross and Sunday’s closing act, Roky Erickson. Redd Kross is getting ready to release its first album in 15 years, 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.