Cap’n Jazz and Mission of Burma

This past weekend’s Wicker Park Festival had a pretty strong lineup on both days. I was there for the two final sets on the north stage Saturday night: Mission of Burma followed by Cap’n Jazz.

The two bands have something in common. Both labored in obscurity when they were originally together. And both are more famous now that they’ve reunited. Well, “famous” is a relative term here, but at least they’re getting more recognition now, long after original hey day.

In Michael Azerrad’s terrific book about underground rock bands of the 1980s, Our Band Could Be Your Life, he describes Mission of Burma touring the country and playing in front of barely anyone. Reunited now since 2002, Mission of Burma at least draws a decent-sized crowd.

The aging punks sounded fierce and alive as they played Saturday on Milwaukee Avenue. The kids in the crowd started moshing, slamming up against one another, as Mission of Burma ran through some of its best-known old tunes in the final part of the set: “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver,” “This Is Not a Photograph” and “Red.”


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Cap’n Jazz apparently had a pretty good local following back in the early 1990s, but I for one heard nothing about them until years later. Here I was, a journalist at a suburban newspaper trying to stay on top of such things, and somehow it escaped my attention that some young guys from Wheeling were making all this noise. This was not the sort of band that sent out press releases to the local paper. Some now point to Cap’n Jazz as one of the groups that influenced all those later “emo” bands. I finally heard about Cap’n Jazz when its lead singer, Tim Kinsella, went on to perform in a series of other, and usually artsier, stranger bands, including Joan of Arc. (For more background, read Jessica Hopper’s interview with Tim Kinsella for the Chicago Reader.)

Reunited, apparently for just a brief tour, Cap’n Jazz is drawing sell-out crowds at clubs. They even landed on the front page of The New York Times’ Arts section.

Saturday night, the fans were rabid with excitement as Kinsella and company thrashed through their songs. “Just to be clear, these songs were written 15 or 17 years ago,” Kinsella remarked at one point. When a fan apparently said something encouraging Kinsella not to go away again, he said, “It’s not like I’ve been hiding, man … If you’d gone to a Joan of Arc show, there’d have been 30 people there.”

Kinsella threw himself out on the crowd a number of times. As the show reached its climax, maybe or dozen or so audience members climbed up onto the stage and dived back into the crowd. With a minute left before the end, security guards finally showed up to see what was going on.


PHOTOS: CAP’N JAZZ

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Wicker Park Festival 2005

JULY 30, 2005
WICKER PARK FESTIVAL

This was the best lineup for a street festival this summer in Chicago, probably because the nearby Subterranean nightclub booked the music. Sunday featured the esteemed Reigning Sound, but deciding to attend one day only, Saturday was the obvious choice.

I missed Catfish Haven and Baby Teeth, but showed up in time for the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir. The band practically invited comparisons to Belle & Sebastian with its name, and its orchestrally twee pop music featuring alternating male and female vocals. But, hey, the songs are strong, so who cares if it’s not totally original? The band fits in well with the other big, quasi-orchestral ensembles of the moment, like Head of Femur (who played next on the same stage) or even the Arcade Fire.

Head of Femur was also very good, bringing its big-sounding set to a raucous conclusion.

Turing Machine, from Brooklyn, will certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for instrumental heavy-guitar rock music, it was pretty impressive.

  

Okkervil River was just as excellent as it was in May at Schubas, bringing fierce passion to its music. It’s interesting to see how much the nonsinging band members sing along with the lyrics off-mike. Even if they’re not contributing to the vocals, the songs obviously mean a lot more to them than a paying instrumental gig. I wonder what the people standing up on the nearby Blue Line el platform thought about the music they were hearing and seeing from a distance.

  

Olivia Tremor Control hasn’t toured for quite some time, so the group’s arrival in Chicago for two shows was pretty noteworthy. I was hoping the band’s live show would trump some of the problems with its studio recordings — which have a lot of good melodies and playing, but way too much lo-fi psychedelic wankery. It was fairly exciting and humorous to see Olivia Tremor Control going through its sound check, with a bewildering variety of instruments and noise makers: tuba, saw, banjo, reel-to-reel tape machine … even a typewriter???

Unfortunately, the set started off with a surprise mini-concert by the Tall Dwarves. Their songs might be fine, but this was the wrong time to hear them, and one of them went badly awry with off-key guitar playing and/or singing (by one of the OTC horn players).

When Olivia Tremor Control finally took the stage, it became clear the band’s pretty much the same in concert as it is on record: brilliant at moments, annoying at others, a shambling mess with bits of beauty.