DeKalb Rock City | Bleader

DeKalb Rock City

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Blatant Dissent circa 1987
  • Blatant Dissent circa 1987
On Saturday evening the Abbey Pub plays host to an unlikely showcase of reunited bands from DeKalb, Illinois. The event is billed as “DeKalb Rocks,” and it looks back to a more innocent time, when hardcore didn’t basically just mean fast metal and nobody thought they could make any money at it. Believe it or not, DeKalb had a nice run in the 80s, producing some great albeit short-lived acts. The one that still resonates the most for me is Blatant Dissent, probably best known as the group that later contributed singer and guitarist John Mohr and drummer Mike Greenlees to the lineup of Tar. When I heard about this show I dug up their two seven-inch singles, one on Landspeed and a second on their own No Blow imprint, and damned if they don’t hold up pretty well.

The band coproduced its first record, a 1985 four-song EP called Is There a Fear?, with Naked Raygun singer Jeff Pezzati (it was engineered by Iain Burgess, at one time the go-to studio guy for Chicago punks), and the music definitely has a strong Raygun influence, albeit with a touch of more midwestern meat-and-potatoes hard rock. In addition to Mohr, the lineup was guitarists Tim Fowler and Tom Clark, bassist Tim Mescher, and drummer Dave Fishman.

More distinctive was the “Dreams” seven-inch, released in 1987, where new drummer Greenlees brought a better sense of dynamics to the combo. The songwriting also markedly improved, with less obeisance to Naked Raygun; the rest of the lineup was Mohr, Mescher, and Clark. A posthumous album called Hold the Fat—featuring material cut in 1986 with Steve Albini—came out on the German label Glitterhouse in 1991, and I was surprised to discover I don’t have a copy of it; it's out of print, but you can download it here. By then Tar had been making noise for almost four years. Mohr and Greenlees had started the band in 1988, joined originally by guitarist Mark Zablocki and Blatant Dissent bassist Tim Mescher, who also played with Shorty, the first band of U.S. Maple singer Al Johnson. Mescher was eventually replaced by Tom Zaluckyj.

Blatant Dissent headline Saturday's bill, which also includes the Subverts, Happy Hunting, Ring 13, and Otis Ball & the Chains. An earlier punk combo generally linked to Chicago rather than to DeKalb, the Subverts turned up on the classic compilation Busted at Oz. You can hear the four tracks from the killer 1981 EP Independent Study here.

I don't know anything about Ring 13 except their name, but I can verify that they were turning up in the pages of Maximum Rock ’n’ Roll in the mid-80s.

Otis Ball was another scene fixture, but he made his bones only after moving to the New York area—thanks to the support of They Might Be Giants, he ended up making an album for Bar-None Records in 1990 (all traces of it contents are long gone from my memory).

Happy Hunting formed in the mid-80s and pursued the proto-punk sound of the New York Dolls, with plenty of Stones and Kiss in the mix. Singer and guitarist (and former Blatant Dissent member) Tim Fowler purveyed similar sounds as a member of Lava Sutra and in the Chamber Strings, with whom he still works. Happy Hunting drummer Dave Fishman also played in Blatant Dissent in its early days—I wish I had some kind of diagram for all this—and guitarist Matt Parker played in Barrington jangle-pop heroes the Reverbs (with drummer Ric Menck). Blatant Dissent’s Tom Clark was also in Happy Hunting for a short time. They split in 1992 but re-formed in 2001, and since then they’ve made several albums.

A second DeKalb Rocks showcase happens at Otto’s in DeKalb on Sunday night, with Blatant Dissent replaced by the Service, another band I associate with Chicago—three-fourths of the band became the jokey New Duncan Imperials. The Service were one of the more underrated pop-rock outfits from the area during the 80s.

photo: Chris Block

Today’s playlist:

Gilberto Gil, Nightingale (Collectables/Elektra)
Ferran Fages, Al Voltant d’un Para/.lel (Etude)
David Hurley, Outer Nebula Inner Nebula (Porter)
Johnny Hodges, Used to Be Duke (Verve)
Mika Miko, We Be Xuxa (PPM)

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