The Chicago area has produced some of the most influential bands in power pop: Cheap Trick in the 70s, the Shoes in the 80s, and in the 90s, Material Issue. It's too soon to tell if, say, Frisbie or Kevin Tihista will make the same kind of impact in the aughts, but meanwhile the local scene is apparently as active as ever. Of the 150 groups filling the 19 different bills that constitute the first Chicago edition of the International Pop Overthrow festival, a whopping 60 are local.
And that's not because the organizers are local: the event, which takes its name from the first Material Issue album, is the sole concern of David Bash, a 42-year-old LA resident who's never been to Chicago before this week. "I can't believe how many bands in Chicago I've discovered over the last few months," he gushes. "I thought I knew almost everyone, and now I realize I'm not anywhere near there."
Bash was initially attracted to the music as a teenager by the likes of the Beatles, Badfinger, and the Raspberries. He grew up in Poughkeepsie and New York City, and studied journalism at NYU. He continued to live with his parents after graduating, and when they moved to Los Angeles in 1982, he went too, eventually enrolling at UC Irvine to study psychology. "When I first got there it was at the tail end of the skinny-tie movement--the Plimsouls, 20/20, the Knack--and the Paisley Underground was just starting to flourish, but I wasn't really into going to shows then," he says. "I think during my first ten years in LA I probably only saw six or seven shows. I didn't see the social value of going out to shows."
But he was still avidly buying records, reading fanzines, and listening to college radio. In 1994 he moved to Bakersfield to work in real estate, and upon his return to LA the following year, he discovered a new crop of bands--including the Wondermints and the Sugarplastic--that seemed to be reviving the music he loved. Their energy inspired him to start seeing more live music, and though he was teaching psychology at community colleges by day, he also began writing articles for pop fanzines like Yellow Pills, Audities, and Amplifier.
In February 1996 a fellow pop fan named Tony Perkins launched Poptopia, a festival that focused on LA bands. (It's since been renamed Pop American Style.) Bash got involved, suggesting acts from outside of the area. "A lot of those bands were turned down, and they would commiserate with me," says Bash. "I started to feel badly for them, and I thought, why not do my own festival, which would emphasize the international pop scene?" He says the idea came to him almost overnight, late in 1997; the first International Pop Overthrow took place in the summer of 1998, with a roster of 120 bands. Bash has done it in LA every summer since. Shortly after the first fest he quit his teaching job at Cerritos College, and as of last summer he books the festival full-time. In December he put on an edition in New York with 90 bands, many of which are also playing here.
The Chicago festival runs for two weeks and includes shows at the Abbey Pub, Schubas, Wise Fools Pub, Nevin's Live, Beat Kitchen, Lakeview Links, and Gunther Murphy's. There's no comprehensive pass you can buy, but individual cover charges range from $5 to $10, which is pretty cheap for a seven- or eight-band show. In order to accommodate so many bands, sets are limited to 20 minutes, and amazingly none of the artists is getting paid. "Because I don't have it in the budget to pay all of the bands, I try to make it democratic," says Bash, who admits that after expenses are met, any proceeds will go into his pockets. "I don't want to choose some over the others. Granted, if I were to get a band like Cheap Trick to play and I paid them I don't think anyone would mind."
I make my living trying to stay on top of new bands, and I have to admit that I'm familiar with less than a third of the acts Bash has booked. Bash says that's because the Internet has exerted a huge impact on his beloved scene--bands don't have to try to win over critics and fans of other types of music. He estimates that about 6,000 people attended the LA event and that about 3,000 came out in New York. "Now artists can make their own CDs and market them on-line," he says. "The DIY ethic is a complete reality."
Among the likely highlights of the festival:
The opening night show, Friday, March 29, at Schubas, features Parasol Records artists Adam Schmitt (the Champaign fixture who played in the Farmboys, Pop the Balloon, and the Elvis Brothers before releasing a pair of solo flops on Warner Brothers in the early 90s) and Tihista, the former Triple Fast Action bassist who's recently emerged as a skilled songwriter of delicate, pretty pop.
On Saturday, March 30, at the Abbey Pub, Green--the shoulda-been-famous trio fronted by pop and blue-eyed-soul auteur Jeff Lescher--plays one of its infrequent gigs.
Also at the Abbey, on Friday, April 5, Bobby Sutliff of the Windbreakers, a Mississippi-based duo that recorded a couple great albums with Mitch Easter in the 80s, makes a rare local appearance, and the Elvis Brothers, the giddy Champaign outfit that developed a huge Chicago following in the 80s and early 90s, reunite as part of a showcase for Not Lame Recordings, the Colorado label that put out the Posies box set in 2000 and is about to issue a Jellyfish box.
Ginger Records, a local imprint that specializes in quality power pop, closes the fest on Friday, April 12, with a showcase at Gunther Murphy's featuring local hook machine Swinger (Ginger proprietor Mike McLaughlin's band) and the Ted Ansani Project, led by former Material Issue drummer Ted Ansani.
Other notable names on the schedule include poppy hard rockers Enuff Z'nuff and Long Island's Rosenbergs, a particularly bright example of the independent business model Bash refers to (both April 11 at the Double Door), Detroit's Outrageous Cherry (March 31 at Schubas), and the New Duncan Imperials (April 12 at Gunther Murphy's).
Visit www.internationalpopoverthrow.com for a complete schedule.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Gary Leonard.