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?