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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

June 28, 2006
The reason Burn To Shine works is because it is meant to have multiple volumes, much like an encyclopedia, and similarly give a detailed summary of its topics. But with each TrixieDVD-issued release in the Burn To Shine series the focus is on a local music scene from one city, and from one time era.

Burn To Shine 2: Chicago IL is especially significant to me because it is set in the city where I have been raised all my life (well, some don't consider the surrounding burbs as Chicago, but it has been significant to the city scene-Alkaline Trio, Sidekick Kato, Cap'n Jazz raise up!). Of special note is what the film ties together solidly as valid Chicago exposure - local music is booming and many indie rock and hip-hop labels are peeking their heads from nooks and crannies throughout the city, media, fests, shows, et al are all getting their dues in one of the hardest working, creative, overlooked cities in the United States. It's no Ames but Chicago is the next best thing (if that's even possible).

As the Burn To Shine theme goes, Christopher Green and Brendan Canty (always parenthetically referenced as "of Fugazi") pick a musically inclined city to document, find an abandoned home in the area, and then have some indie musicians from the city perform there before it is destroyed. The Chicago tale is intimate, and the house feels just as attached to the scene as the musicians, even though none of them have any significant attachment to the doomed structure.

The performance space is a standard northside Chicago two-story residence. The home is 100 years old, reportedly one of three identical fixtures built by the owner's father - one for each of his three daughters - and the last one still standing in the fall of 2004. Throughout the video's performances you can see passersby casually passing outside the windows, sometimes curiously glancing inside the performance room, other times not.

The film's narration describes the general urban community well, explaining that the performing musicians are coming straight from work, on their way out of town, or are in between errands to devote an hour to recording one song for the video. What follows is a recount of the nine performances that exemplify the situation on this one day.

1. The Lonesome Organist ("Catching Flies with Teeth") - Definitely an underground performer that fits into the upper echelon of Chicago performers of the day. AKA Jeremy Jacobsen, the one-man act sets the mood as hard-wrought and efficient creativity. Jacobsen has an old European look with newsie hat and dirty leather boots, taking the connection further with accordion and tap shoes as part of the routine. The track begins with him playing a dusty organ with his left hand, and drum set with his other appendages. He then transitions to an accordion/tap dance/tambourine standing segment and slays the end of the tune with the original organ and some heavy drum battering.

2. Pit er Pat ("The Bog Man") - One of the city's newer indie rock progeny, this trio was profiled in an LAS feature last year. Spooky bass/drums/keyboard trio with female vocals. The group winds an energetic and artistic performance of this track from their first full-length. Drummer Butchy Fuego wears some weird ass glasses, and presses aggressively with the tempo to lead the group. At moments you kinda wish they picked a shorter song or something with a little less repetition, but overall they represent well.

3. Shellac ("Steady As She Goes") - Chicago's post punk forefathers. Industry regarded engineering legends Bob Weston and Steve Albini reform with drummer Todd Trainer in the groups first audio/visual showing in years. Fucking worth the wait! Trainer still looks like he's strung out and dead at the same time, but still also throws the f' down. The guitar is metallic and industrialized and the bass is palm-muted sixteenth notes to the highest At Action Park degree. Sometimes during this track, the video and audio tracking seem off from each other. Close ups of Albini's screaming face and the group's one-knob amp heads are killer crucial.

4. The Ponys ("Shadow Box") - Comers-up hoisting the new image of Chicago rock. I have little to say about the group other than that they are a newer indie, hipster music with emphasis on a hook surging through blankets of sharply distorted guitars. The group doesn't have that much of a performance presence here, though, just four cool 20 year olds (one wearing sun glasses) going through a practice of one of their songs.

5. Wilco ("Muzzle of Bees") - Of course I'm going to say this is one of the better points of the disc, right? Well... actually... yeah, it is. For all the hype they get Wilco is actually an exceptional band, with a performance here that emphasizes their deeply drawn but simplistic instrumentation. Right before they play this tune, you can hear lead singer/guitarist Jeff Tweedy saying he doesn't know if he should wear the baseball cap he has on, and later, Nels Cline stylistically shreds a guitar solo. Both are intimate looks into the character of one of Illinois' more proud music ventures.

6. Tight Phantomz ("Ninja Talk") - Former members of Lustre King are part post punk/aggro-funkiness. A performance full of stick flashes, head thrashings, full-extension karate kicks, and mouth-open instrument poundings. This is the highest moment of performance energy of the video.

7. Freakwater ("Jewel") - Freakwater is an institution to Chicago's Thrill Jockey label. The trio collective plays a neo-folk tune while seated in chairs in the empty living room, with a dimly sunlit backdrop. The barren harmonizing female voices echo in the desperate space and of all the groups, this song seems the most fit for its surrounding.

8. Red Eyed Legends ("Je M'Appelle Macho") - Sorta similar in that new indie rock flavor to The Ponys, Red Eyed Legends play hooky, straight-laced alternative/underground rock music. Not all that exciting, and there are plenty of other indie groups that could better exemplify the Chicago scene.

And you know the last had to be Cheap Trick, or...

9. Tortoise ("Salt the Skies") - Again proving that they the best rock-based music the Chicago underground has to offer. Even one of the best bands Chicago has had to offer altogether in the last many years. The amazing group of Jeff Parker, John McEntire, John Herndon, Doug McCombs, and Dan Bitney holds so consistent recording-to-performance that one could be substituted for the other and nothing would be lost. The group is packed into the living room with videographers' heads and bodies pushed against keyboards and next to high-hat. The most impressive part is how in-sync the mallets/keyboard instruments are with each other and still how all over the place everything else (guitar, drums) is at some points.

After the performances the film shows a wrecking crew tearing down the house amid a light drizzle of rain. The memories remain of what happened for the decades before in the house and the Chicago neighborhood-especially the day before-but the physical aspect has been uprooted to another day and another site in the Second City. Trixie DVD plans to release Burn to Shine 03: Portland on August 22nd.

SEE ALSO: www.trixiedvd.com

--
Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other articles by Josh Zanger.

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