Another Store Bites the Dust
Chicago's about to witness the death of yet another independent record store: five-year-old Blackout Records, at 3729 N. Southport, will close at the end of May.
Mom-and-pop stores like Blackout are being underpriced and outstocked by chain stores, which thrive despite their sterile atmospheres and generally underinformed employees. The last five years have seen the rise of Tower, Best Buy, and Blockbuster, and the fall of local independent institutions like the Rose Records chain, the Inside Track, and Wax Trax. Newcomers haven't had an easy time either--Vagabond Music, on a prime block of Lincoln Avenue near DePaul and Lounge Ax, closed in 1996 after only two years of operation, as did the retail arm of Ajax after three. It's starting to look like the best routes for indie stores are to either specialize even further, as evidenced by dance-oriented shops like Beat Parlor (the store that took over Wax Trax's Damen space late last year) and the always-bustling Gramophone, or to pamper customers, as does Quaker Goes Deaf, which allows them to preview any CD in the shop on a Discman.
"Since alternative rock became a household name there's been an oversaturation of records out there," says proprietor Jillian Matson, who opened Blackout in June 1992 by buying out the stock and taking over the lease of the Pravda store, which she had managed for a year. "I can't stock them all and keep up with it, and it's really dampened my enthusiasm." Matson says that as the store's original customers have aged, by and large they've become less obsessed with records, and she admits that she too has lost the drive to keep up on pop music's spiraling microstratification.
Matson also points out that in the last two years the neighborhood has changed dramatically: the influx of upscale restaurants and shops on the strip near the Music Box has brought with it traffic congestion and a parking crisis, both of which she claims have driven away customers. The resulting slow inventory turnover has further impeded her ability to carry the broad selection consumers expect these days.
Matson hopes to present a variety of free in-store performances during Blackout's last month. (She's not sure who'll perform, but in the past bands like Low, the Grifters, Smashing Pumpkins, and Eleventh Dream Day have played in the tiny store.) "I'm also looking forward to playing records at home," says Matson. "I've been so burned out on music I haven't done that in years."
Saturday's double bill at the Aragon--the Chemical Brothers and the Orb--is electronica's big coming-out show, at least until this summer's Chaotica package tour rolls through town with both these acts plus Prodigy and Primal Scream. The Orb, whose new Orblivion (Island) finds Alex Paterson and company tweaking their fine-tuned ambient techno with some distended drum 'n' bass here and there, has played Chicago several times in the last few years, but the unquestionable draw this time is the Chemical Brothers. As heard on the brand-new Dig Your Own Hole (Astral-werks), Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons make electronica for lunkheads, reducing the Bomb Squad's awesome density to pep-rally music. They've become the genre's critical darlings because their amped-up, breakbeat-based sound approaches the simplicity of rock and thus seems familiar, but once you get beyond their manipulative energy, their hopelessly formulaic music gets real tired real fast. Seeing them work their "magic" in the acoustic canyon that is the Aragon should be about as fun as discovering that the Wizard of Oz is just some twerp twirling knobs behind the curtain.
"Look out honey 'cause I'm using technology," warned Iggy Pop on the Stooges classic "Search and Destroy," and after 25 years he's made good on that threat. This week Columbia released his version of the final Stooges album, Raw Power. Back in 1972 the label opted for David Bowie's mix--Iggy's original was rejected--which is now considered one of the most infamous botch jobs in the history of pop music. Bowie flattened the band's volatile, desperate energy like a pancake. The new version finally gives Ron Asheton's bass a serious presence and the drums of his brother Scott some oomph without losing the crazed edge of James Williamson's guitar. It remains one of the most reckless, devastating rock albums of all time. The new version doesn't include any bonus material, but a few seconds are restored to the end of "Death Trip" and the silly marching sounds on "Search and Destroy" are gone.
Steve Cushing's Blues Before Sunrise, heard every Saturday at midnight on WBEZ, recently received a $1,000 grant from the Illinois Arts Council. Cushing left the staff of WBEZ last September and has been broadcasting independently since. The program now has a Web site (www.falconweb.com/blues), and next month the Delmark label will release the first of three CDs recorded live last October at B.L.U.E.S. during a fund-raiser for it. Billy Boy Arnold, John Brim, Golden "Big" Wheeler, and Jimmy Burns appear on the first installment. (Proceeds do not go to Cushing.) o A new exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art called "Performance Anxiety," which runs through July 6, allegedly "examines the performative element that exists in much of contemporary art." New York artist Rirkrit Tiravanija has contributed Untitled 1996-1997 (Studio no. 6), a functioning Plexiglas-enclosed recording studio. Tiravanija's big on audience participation: for his Untitled 1993 (Live and Eat, Eat and Die), at Randolph Street Gallery, he prepared a Thai feast and served it to the audience. Here local musicians are encouraged to use his artwork to rehearse and record during regular museum hours, free of charge; exhibit visitors watch them wank while listening through headphones. Musicians wishing to take their act to the, um, museum, can call the MCA's curatorial department at 312-397-3854 to schedule time.
With a little over a month left before the Blues Festival, WBEZ has finally confirmed that it will not broadcast the event.
Pat Barnard, former guitarist for the Wesley Willis Fiasco, drowned in Nevada on April 15. He was 26.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Jillian Matson by Marty Perez.