Million Tongues

Steve Krakow, a.k.a. Plastic Crimewave Sound, may be the leading impresario of underground rock music in Chicago — a musician in a few bands, the writer and artist behind the comic strip “The Secret History of Chicago Music,” the creator/editor of the hand-drawn magazine Galactic Zoo Dossier, and curator of the occasional festivals and concerts bearing the banner Million Tongues. The Million Tongue series returned last Wednesday (March 25) for a showcase of experimental music and garage rock at the Empty Bottle.

I should have shown up earlier, because I really liked what I heard from the band Cave as I walked in near the end of their set. The next band, a French act called Gunslingers, did some sort of noisy biker rock, which I enjoyed whenever it started to cook like a Velvet Underground jam. I didn’t really get what the legendary noise-rock artist Michael Yonkers was all about. His heavily processed guitar solos seemed mostly like random sound to me, but when Plastic Crimewave Sound joined him onstage, the music they played together sounded more like rock songs and it started to click with me a little bit.

Over on the side stage in between the main acts, we heard short sets from Ray Donato (seemed like a lot of noise to me) and Bicycle Tricycle, who played some nicely distorted songs that sounded something like “Nuggets”-era psychedelic folk rock played at the wrong volume.

Mannequin Men, who were recently mentioned on the Entertainment Weekly Web site as a band to watch, charged through some of their great punk/garage rock at the end of the night, but I was still recovering from SXSW and feeling sleepy. Did not make it through all of their set, though what I heard this time was enough to confirm my opinion that these guys are one of the better young bands in Chicago right now.

Photos from a Million Tongues event.

A Million Tongues at the Empty Bottle

Steve Krakow, a.k.a. Plastic Crimewave, has many musical activities, ranging from playing in Plastic Crimewave Sound and the various Guitarkestra events, editing, writing and cartooning… and organizing an annual festival of strange psychedelia, folk rock and other stuff at the Empty Bottle called Million Tongues. I think it of sort of like the concert equivalent of the bins at the record stores where you find obscure old vinyl with great songs almost no one has ever heard of.

Friday’s mini-fest was headlined by the classic rock legend Terry Reid – who may be most legendary for turning down a gig as lead singer of Led Zeppelin. The music he ended up making on his own without Zep isn’t nearly as famous, but he clearly has a loyal cult following, as evidenced by the people signing along Friday as he performed gravelly voiced blues rock. And the stellar backup band that came together for this one-off gig was further proof that Reid is well-liked in certain circles: Emmett Kelly on guitar, LeRoy Bach on guitar and organ, David Vandervelde on bass and Ryan Rapsys on drums. The band sounded great, and so did Reid. Let’s hope he enjoyed playing with these lads well enough to do it again sometime.

Second billing went to another English veteran, Mark Fry, and his backup group included Dan Schneider of the venerable local outfit the Singleman Affair. I’d never heard Fry’s music before, but I was instantly enchanted by the lilting sounds of his folk rock. His 1971 record Dreaming With Alice has been described as “acid folk,” and I can see why. This was Fry’s first-ever show in Chicago. Or did Krakow say first-ever show in America? Either way, a belated appearance by a talented songwriter.

Also notable at Friday’s show were English folkie Ellen Mary McGee, whose lovely songs managed to cut through the annoying chatter over at the bar, and the first act of the night, Piss Piss Piss Ono Ono Ono, who made some compelling instrumental rock in a too-short set. Virginia Tate played both guitar and flute in another short set, while Brent Gutzeit and Steven Hess droned ambient-style. The odd group out was Hans Condor, whose head-banging rock seemed a bit like something out of School of Rock – complete with a stage dive out onto an empty audience floor (no one was injured). At least those guys seemed to be having fun.

Photos from the Million Tongues festival.