Time flies. It doesn’t seem like five years have passed since I attended the Thrill Jockey record label’s 15th anniversary celebration. (I posted photos here.) But on Thursday (Dec. 20), somehow it was already time for Thrill Jockey’s 20th anniversary. The Chicago label has maintained a defiantly independent streak over its two decades of existence, an achievement well worth celebrating. Thursday’s concert at the Empty Bottle was free, though not everyone waiting in the long line outside managed to get in.
There weren’t any speeches from the stage — just three bands, playing the sort of out-of-the-mainstream music Thrill Jockey is known for. It would’ve been impossible to represent the full range of Thrill Jockey’s musical spectrum in just a few hours, but this was a good sample. Man Forever, a group led by Oneida drummer John Colpitts aka Kid Millions, started the evening with a single piece of music featuring four percussionists playing polyrhythmic patterns as guitars and bass provided a wall of drone. Then came The Sea and Cake, a long-running Thrill Jockey band, playing its alternative-universe version of what pop music might sound like. And finally, two of the musicians from that outfit (John McEntire and Doug McCombs) stuck around for a performance by one of their other bands, the so-called post-rock (sorry!) instrumentalists Tortoise. One of the band’s members, Dan Bitney, was ill and unable to attend, so the band played as a quartet — which made for a scrappy and rocking, if somewhat abbreviated, set.
Kudos to Thrill Jockey for a terrific 20 years, and here’s to … the next 20?
The new record by Mi Ami, Watersports, is full of shrieking vocals – that’s a man singing, not a woman, in case you’re confused. I was the first time I listened. Daniel Martin-McCormick’s high-pitched squeals sound like they’re bouncing off the tumbling, ticking drums and funky bass lines. Guitar and keyboard sounds flit in and out of the mix, sometimes shredding like punk rock, sometimes fluttering through the air. The songs stretch on longer than typical punk tunes, with a sense of musical exploration. Maybe art punk would be an apt description. Whatever you call Mi Ami’s music, it’s invigorating stuff, if a little extreme.
Mi Ami, a trio from San Francisco including two members of Black Eyes, delivered the goods with an energetic set last night (Feb. 17) at the AV-aerie in Chicago. My only complaint was the echoing acoustics of the venue – a Fulton Street loft with a very high ceiling, brick walls and windows looking out on the United Center and the El tracks over Damen.
Mi Ami was the second of three bands on the bill, which started out with a noisy drums-guitar duo with the jokey name Shred Aquarium. The headliner was Thank You, a group on Thrill Jockey that was well matched with Mi Ami. While all three members of this duo sing from time to time, the music feels largely instrumental to me. Or maybe it’s just that the voices are inside the mix. As with Mi Ami, there’s a sense that Thank You is exploring sounds. The Baltimore group has a fine record called Terrible Two out on the Thrill Jockey label.
Since Mi Ami is on Chicago’s venerable Quarterstick label (part of Touch and Go Records), I would be remiss if I failed to point out the news about Touch and Go. As the Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot reports on his blog, Touch and Go is ending part of its business – the work it does distributing records for other labels. Touch and Go/Quarterstick are carrying on as record labels, but they’re also laying off some of their staff.