So, now that you are all back safely from your respective political conventions are you ready to hear about an event that doesn’t involve tear gas, “free speech zones,” teen pregnancy the words “hope” or “change” or any funny hats? Well, I hope so because none of those things were present at this September’s Equalizer Chicago and that’s what I plan to write about here… fine, maybe there were some funny hats, but that’s just a given in this town. No my friends, there was no rhetoric, grandstanding, finger-pointing, obnoxious chants of “USA!” tree hugging, heart bleeding or ex beauty-queen moose-hunting hockey moms this month. Just some trail blazing independent music from right here in Chicago that I can assure you was properly and thoroughly vetted. Come on you guys, DJ Mikey Dance Panther slipped through the cracks in the system ages ago and has been thoroughly apologized for on numerous occasions since –can we move on?
KEXP, darkroom, Goose Island 312unes.com and brand new media sponsor The Onion delivered another economically sound, energy efficient and environmentally friendly September Equalizer. With the multi-cultural sonic experiments of Allá, and the psychedelic anglophillia of Demilos and Bicycle Tricycle, Equalizer was a microcosm of a utopian future in which everyone just shuts the hell up for once and rocks out. Dig?
Bicycle Tricycle, the malleable Eno-esque musical sideshow from the arguably over-stimulated mind of Bohb Blair opened the night in their current incarnation as a trio. With Bohb on Rhoads/keys, Jason Batchko on drums, Tom Szidon on bass, and an occasional guest back-up vocalist, the three fancy lads playfully if not manically pranced through a thirty-minute demonstration of what LSD sounds like to the British. My favorite song of the whole night had to be the bouncy ditty “Drugs are for Doin’.” To those of you who think I am the worst speller to ever write for a blog I’d like to point out right now that yes he does spell Bohb with an “h”… it’s not a typo. Bohb claims to be “deathly afraid of palindromes,” an irrational fear by his own admission, and certainly an ironic one considering the name his parents picked out for him but nonetheless one that he claims influences him daily. According to bassist Szidon, Bohb will even use expressions like “LOHL” in text messages to avoid those soul sucking alphabetic abominations. Currently at work on another top-secret recording project tentatively being called “Sassy Among Such Sod,” the prolific Bicycle Tricycle pulled their set on Thursday largely from their previous five records such as their 2002 debut, the 23-song album titled “10111.” It adds up to 23 in binary… get it? BI-cycle… TRI-cycle? Don’t worry it went way over my head too. Other releases include: The Law of Fives, The Principle Induction, Real as you Believe and the most recent; Stay Foolish Stay Hungry.
Demilos were next and they saw Bicycle Tricycle’s Brian Eno and raised them one Kinks and a Sgt. Pepper. Demilos are a group of 5 songwriter/multi-instrumentalists including a pair of twin brothers (Brian and Joe Daley) who draw heavily from the experimental sounds of early Brit pop a la Eno/The Kinks/Bowie as well as American avant-garde pop maestros like Brian Wilson or The Flaming Lips and blend it with enough roots rock twang to make something that is their own. Demilos drew most of their material on Thursday from their new self released LP “Peaking Through The High Hats” which is a fantastic collection of psychedelic retro jams and lyrically driven countrified rock that quickly sneaks into your brain and demands repeat listens. My favorite song on the record and one of my favorites from their set is “Avatar,” a pitch perfect drug era Beatles-esqu homage about making a virtual girlfriend online. If you don’t already feel like a douche for being on Second Life this song will make you sweat a little. “Picking up chicks never worked for me so I’m making up my own as you can see… ” Priceless.
It was a different brother band however, that was the main event at Equalizer this month. Brothers Jorge (guitar) and Angel Ledzema (drums) form the core of the fervently buzzed about Allá which is pronounced Ay-ya for those of you who don’t know how to say tortilla. The smooth as silk vocals of guitarist Lupe Martinez is the icing on their intricate uh… sound cake (just go with it) as she deftly triggers multi-layered looping and verb effects on her voice that dramatically build and shimmer transporting the music beyond ethnic boarders into the other-worldly. Maybe they should call her “Loopay!” Har, har. har! Ok, calm down. Allá have been suddenly getting quite a bit of attention with occasional spins on alt rock station WXRT here in Chicago but interestingly they have faired even better in the national and international press earning the title “band of the day” by the UK Guardian and a profile in the trendsetting The Fader magazine. It’s the beginning of a pay off that hasn’t come easy for a group that operates quite a bit outside of the lines that typical success for indie rock bands tend to fall inside of. There is no question that the music is engaging, melodic and powerful, but for a band whose songs are sung mostly in Spanish and blend the far flung sounds of Brazilian tropicalia and bossa nova with the more current trend of electro synth-pop (think Stereolab) as well as Radiohead style experimental rock, Allá don’t fit in easily with any scene that’s out there yet. “We can’t just piggy back on any trends and get popular by proximity like a lot of other bands can” says Jorge who produced the band’s debut “Es Tiempo” out now on Crammed Records. “We’re sort of pioneers, we need to start our own scene I guess.” Jorge is right. I’ve never heard anything quite like it before, at least not all coming from one band, but I’m sure someone said the very same thing about Manu Chao at some point and that hasn’t stopped him.
The record Es Tiempo sounds phenomenal which is a really good thing considering that it took Jorge 4 years and a reported $40,000 out of his own pocket to get this labor of love completed. By major record label recording budget standards 40k may not sound like much but for your average 20 something underpaid urbanite hipster kid it is a massive accomplishment. More impressive still is managing to record at A-list rooms all over the world including Chicago’s Engine Studios and Sweden’s famed Tambourine Studios with the help of major engineers like Colin Studybaker (Iron and Wine, The National Trust) and arrangers like Patrik Bartosch (Eggstone, The Cardigans).
As great as the record Es Tiempo sounds however, Allá’s ultimate success is a fight that will have to be won in the streets and they know it. It will be a city-by-city siege in which fans are converted by the power of their performance. But their performance is a considerable power indeed. You can’t really watch an Allá show and not “get it” on some level. If nothing else Alla’s ambition and tenacity indicates that they will be around for a while –they don’t seem like the types to give up. I imagine in a few years I’ll be headed down the neighborhood Tropicalia-Krautrock-brit-pop-electro-mexican-groove lounge to grab a drink and check out a band… I dunno, what else is going on tonight?
Don’t miss Equalizer in October! Thursday the 2nd