Death at the Empty Bottle

Death returned Friday (June 12)  to the Empty Bottle, sounding stronger and more confident than the group was back in 2009 at the same venue. This new version of Death — including two of the original members who made some fantastic protopunk recordings in Detroit in the mid-1970s — even played a couple of new songs, for an album that’s in the works. The incredible story of this band is chronicled in the documentary A Band Called Death.

Friday’s opening acts included Tutu and the Pirates, one of the original Chicago punk bands — and they, too, are making new music. They’re one of many groups featured in another fine documentary, You Weren’t There: A History of Chicago Punk 1977-1984.


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Tutu and the Pirates

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Tutu and Da at the Empty Bottle

The documentary film You Weren’t There is a fascinating and entertaining look at Chicago’s early punk-rock scene — a scene that most people barely even noticed or knew about in the late ’70s. Two of those neglected Chicago punk bands have new records out, collecting old recordings that barely came out in the first place.

Tutu & the Pirates and Da reunited for a show celebrating those records May 8 at the Empty Bottle. Tutu is one group that definitely doesn’t look like what you’d expect from punk stereotypes. These guys dressed up in goofy costumes, including a big Indian chief headdress, a police uniform and a hard hat. They dressed up like back in the ’70s, and they did it again on Saturday. The effect was something like seeing a jokey Village People act cranking through fast punk songs. A little odd, to say the least. The group was a little too heavy on the shtick for my tastes, but the songs still sounded pretty solid with shout-along choruses (if you actually knew the words to shout along with). The show dragged a bit, thanks to all the in-between-song joking around, but you had to cut these guys some slack. They haven’t played much lately other than a few reunion gigs. The set featured all three of the various drummers who played with Tutu & the Pirates, culminating with Tutu himself, the original drummer who hadn’t played with the band in ages. Wearing a war helmet emblazoned with his stage name, Tutu was grinning from ear to ear as he came onto the stage, and his section of the show seemed more propulsive than everything else.

The female-fronted post-punk band Da finished the show, playing its first gig since 1981. Like Tutu, this band sounded a bit rusty at times — not everything clicked quite the way it probably did when the band was playing in its heyday — but the power of the songs came through, making a good case for the idea that Da deserved a lot more attention when they were originally together.

The two old punk bands had a young garage-punk band as their opening act. Chicago’s Mickey started off the evening with a lively set, including a mid-song wrestling match between singer and guitarist. Mickey is upholding the punk tradition in fine fashion.

See my photos of Tutu & the Pirates, Da and Mickey.

For more about the bands, here’s Miles Raymer’s article in the Chicago Reader previewing the concert.

And to buy the DVD and LPs, here’s the website of Regressive Films, the producer of You Weren’t There.