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Rock 'n' Roll: four days of clubs and schmoozing

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MEET TO THE BEAT: More than anything else, Chicago's music scene seems balkanized--Wax Trax technostomp in one corner, Touch & Go grungemeisters in another: there's no there here. A lot of this has to do with the almost nonexistent press support (it's as nonexistent in this paper as it is anywhere else), but it's also true that besides Souled American, Ministry, and some of the acts on Pravda, there's not too much homegrown stuff that you'd drag a friend in from out of town to see. Then, of course, there's radio. "A music scene is only as strong as the radio support it gets," says Jeff Kwatinetz, whose Q Productions (which he runs with partner David Bernstein) sponsors the Chicago Pride concerts. "In Boston there are three or four local stations that play local music, and they've got ten bands like Dick Holliday that can charge $10 for a ticket and fill a place. Here, besides XRT--which really supported the Chicago Pride album--there's nothing. If Z95 or the Loop started playing local stuff it would be incredible."

Kwatinetz's contribution to the local scene is the Midwest Music Conference, to be held at North Pier this weekend. Optimistically designed along the lines of the megaschmooze New Music Seminar in New York and smaller, hipper affairs like Austin's South by Southwest conference (SXSW), the midwest version hasn't exactly set Chicago on fire--Kwatinetz says that out-of-town registration is bigger than in-town. "The scene just isn't cohesive here," he says. "People are really skeptical." When we spoke, Kwatinetz, Bernstein, and their partner in this conference--Riviera booker (and Dick Holliday manager) Pete Katsis--were looking at registration of about 300, though that was a full week before things got started, and Kwatinetz was hoping for a lot of walk-ups. Both SXSW and the New Music Seminar started small.

The conference schedule has a regional feel, with seminars boasting mainly midwest natives--like Cary Baker, publicity director of Capitol, a Reader contributor way back when--and those associated with them: the panel on management, for example, features the managers of both Prince and John Cougar Mellencamp. As for the obligatory showcases, Kwatinetz has got two dozen clubs to participate, and one $25 ticket gets you into all of them all weekend (with the exception of the Jeff Healey show at Park West Saturday night). Notable: Saturday night at the Riv, you get a Touch & Go label showcase, with the Didjits (cool), the Laughing Hyenas, and more, followed late by house star Frankie Knuckles; Metro has an Iowa showcase Thursday night, with the Dangtrippers (fun), from R.E.M. manager Jefferson Holt's Dog Gone Records; the Vic has local pop legends the Shoes Friday night; Avalon has strong lineups of Chicago music every night; Jonathan Richman plays Lounge Ax Friday and Saturday, with Big Shoulders opening the second night; Minneapolis's hard-edged Magnolias are at the Cubby Bear Friday; and a guaranteed hot night is Metro's Minnesota showcase Sunday, with Soul Asylum headlining the Blue Hippos, Black Spot, and the Geardaddys. There's good blues participation as well, at B.L.U.E.S., B.L.U.E.S. Etcetera, Rosa's, and Buddy Guy's Legends, with the usual suspects--Billy Branch, Magic Slim, Otis Rush, and so forth. (Out of towners: Otis Clay Thursday at B.L.U.E.S. Etcetera is a must.) Tickets are $55 for the conference, $25 for just the club hopping. Registration begins Thursday at 1 PM at the conference office in North Pier; information can be had at 935-7488.

BAND TO WATCH: In 1987, Luck of Eden Hall began a four-song demo tape with a number called "Monday," as rockin' a bit of pop confection as you'd ever want to hear from an obscure local band with a funny name. It starts with a roar of drums and guitar, then segues into a lithe, bouncy exercise in guitar riffing. The varying guitar lines--played by the gravel-voiced Greg Curvey--are articulate and precise, and the dynamics of the song are thoroughly planned and perfectly executed. The lyrics are a little light, but you can overlook them. And though "Monday" stands out, the rest of the tape bears the same imprint of startling melody makers.

Two years on, the group has a new tape out, Corner of the Sky, and a couple of local dates this month. Live, Luck of Eden Hall makes a weird appearance: turns out they're a bunch of hippies, but unlike most they believe in letting their drummer go to town. They may be a band to watch.

All three of the Lucks--Curvey, bassist Mark Lofgren, and drummer Bruce Zimmerman--grew up in Michigan, but separately. "Mark was playing in a band I liked in Kalamazoo," says Curvey. "I was in Chicago with Bruce just messing around and trying to coax him down. He wrote and sang for his group, and I thought we could write well together." The band was originally called Midwest; one night after a gig at Avalon, a guy they didn't know came up and said he was a booking agent and wanted to be their lead singer. The group acquiesced, and as Revolver they toured around the midwest. "Then we let him go," says Curvey. "Then we weren't Revolver anymore, so we changed it to Luck of Eden Hall."

About that name: "It comes from an Irish folktale about some little elves. They stole an expensive vase from this castle, but they were caught and forced to bring it back. They said no problem, but put a curse on the vase: 'If the glass shall ever break or fall / Farewell to the luck of Eden Hall.' The story is really good, but even when I first said the title I really liked it. We're all pretty ecology conscious, and I thought that the title also referred to the Garden of Eden. Look how the luck of the garden turned out--bad luck."

The new tape, Corner of the Sky, is another nice workout, tinged with psychedelia. It is the product of another strange personage's waltzing into Eden Hall's little corner of paradise. A guy named John Hachtel was taking a class in record production and offered the band free studio time if they would be his class project. "We really liked him," said Curvey. "For his first time, he did really well. On 'Harbor' [a "Dear Prudence"y rave-up], where the guitar sweeps all around, I told him what I wanted it to sound like and he did it." The trio is now at work on a new tape, with Hachtel and Phil Bonnet producing. They're playing at Phyllis' Musical Inn tonight and Club Dreamerz on Saturday the 21st.

RECORD BUSINESS: Speaking of Souled American, as we were a little bit ago, the band did a show Thursday night at Phyllis' and went from there directly into the studio to record their third album in a year. The foursome--who sound like Hank Williams would sound if he grew up in a modern-day suburb and smoked lots of dope--got their Rough Trade contract, ironically enough, after a hot show at SXSW 18 months ago; they opted out of the conference this weekend. . . . Meanwhile Eleventh Dream Day has been picked up by Atlantic for a big contract--up to seven albums.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul Natkin--Photo Reserve.

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