An ironically named outfit, Big Star existed in abject obscurity for a few brief years in the early 70s before speedily disappearing into cutout-bin limbo. Formed in 1971 by Chris Bell, Andy Hummel, Jody Stephens, and ex-Box Top teen star Alex Chilton, Big Star eschewed the then-prevalent idioms of progressive rock and southern-fried jamming for radio-friendly pop. Their first record, #1 Record, released in '72, is a pristine setting of Bell/Chilton gems that picks up and extends the pop mastery of the Byrds, Beatles, and Kinks; there are few better amalgams of ringing guitar, haunting vocal harmony, and refined songcraft in the rock canon. Bell subsequently left the band (he was eventually killed in a car accident), and under Chilton's sway Big Star released Radio City in 1974. Though more uneven than #1 Record, its high points--"What's Going Ahn," "You Get What You Deserve," "September Gurls"--are astounding. Sadly, neither record was effectively distributed or promoted, and few people were even aware of their existence. Chilton, Stephens, and various friends recorded the last Big Star record, 3rd: Sister Lovers, later the same year. Since the 70s Chilton has pursued a checkered "career" that has found him either enthused and engaged or cantankerously bitter. Amazingly, Big Star re-formed (with Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies taking Bell and Hummel's places) for a concert two years ago at the University of Missouri, a memorable though inconsistent performance; now the new lineup is playing one show each in Chicago and San Francisco. Just how earnestly Chilton approaches this tour remains to be seen, but the potential for greatness is there. Wednesday, 7 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 549-0203.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marty Perez.