Rock 'n' Roll Vacancy
Regular readers of the Sun-Times may have noticed that Jae-Ha Kim's Backbeat column hasn't appeared in the Friday Weekend Plus section for a couple of weeks, and that moreover her byline no longer identifies her as the paper's pop music critic. She's back to the less glamorous "staff reporter," and her prominent spot in the Showcase section of the paper's Web site is gone. Though union rules guarantee Kim didn't take a salary cut, sources at the paper confirm that the loss of the title is considered a demotion.
Managing editor Larry Green declined to give an official explanation, but whatever it may be, it's hard not to see the move as a face-saving opportunity for the editorial department. In her seven years writing about music for the paper, Kim's approach has remained distressingly puerile and her reporting fraught with errors, which may be why it took the Sun-Times more than a year to decide that she was the right person to succeed Jim DeRogatis, who left in May 1995. DeRogatis proved that writing for the mainstream doesn't necessarily mean writing pap, and as a result Kim's focus on celebrity gossip (for which she was skewered in an unusually sharp Lumpen parody this spring) seems a smokescreen for the fact that she has virtually nothing to say about music. My predecessor in this forum probably critiqued her work with enough frequency and sadistic delight to last for perpetuity, but then the country's eighth-largest daily should know better than to set out such an obvious target.
In fact, the funniest thing about the Lumpen parody, a fake page out of a teen fan magazine, was that it was composed entirely of quotes taken from Kim's articles. "Did you like Gwen Stefani's outfit Thursday night when No Doubt played [at the World]?" she wrote toward the end of her last column, on July 3. "If not, blame her boyfriend Gavin Rossdale of Bush. Chances are she was wearing something picked out by him." Likewise, a few months ago she lovingly described a Gold Coast shopping spree taken by Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland. A mind-boggling expose on backstage passes in May included a lengthy meditation by Kim, who labels herself a "freebie-mongering industry weasel."
"You're not necessarily out of luck if you have no connection to the music industry or can't win any contests to meet your favorite group," she wrote. "It just means you have to be wily. For instance, if you hang around the backstage area after a performance, one of the musicians may see you and come over to you." With her all-access pass now revoked, Kim may just have to try out her own advice.
Last month the first M.O.B.fest presented Chicagoans with a thoroughly ordinary weekend of concert-going, and Chicago's New Music Festival, this weekend, won't do much to up the ante. Known formerly as the Independent Label Festival, the event's programming includes a few more out-of-town acts than M.O.B.fest, but bands like the Poster Children, Shallow, and the Chainsaw Kittens all perform in the city regularly. The event organizers took a step in the right direction this year by offering consumer passes for band showcases. But to see $35 worth of shows you'll have to visit two or three clubs on both Friday and Saturday. If you're not so ambitious, paying at the door is still significantly cheaper. Among the more promising events is the Bloodshot showcase Friday night at Empty Bottle, which includes a Sally Timms performance. Scratchie Records seems to love these schmoozeathons; it hosted a M.O.B.fest showcase, and it's got another rigged up for CNMF that highlights a pair of less-than-awe-inspiring recent local signings, Fondly and Freak Magnet. The fledgling Sugar Free label hosts a showcase on Friday at Schubas that doubles as a record-release party for passable folk rocker Birddog; his labelmates Chris Mills and Jon Langford open. But the weekend's most solid lineup is the Touch and Go-related bill Saturday at Double Door: the Cimmerian New Orleans crooner Glyn Styler, who records for the T&G-distributed Truckstop imprint, makes his Chicago debut (see Spot Check); Edith Frost and Cash Money open.
Metro is participating in the CNMF on a limited basis, but its two best weekend gigs aren't part of it. On Friday the brash, if occasionally grating, British pop trio Bis (see Spot Check) makes its Chicago debut. And on Saturday Northwest types Elliott Smith and Quasi (see Critic's Choice) open for Tim Rutili, best known as Red Red Meat's diminutive front man. Rutili will lead a combo featuring RRM percussionist Ben Massarella, drummer Tina Matlock (formerly of Barbie Army), and keyboardist-bassist P.J. Christie (formerly of Sardina). A misleading headline in the Tribune last month proclaimed that Red Red Meat had called it "quits" because Sub Pop had "pulled the plug"; in actuality the band's contract had merely been fulfilled. Reinforcing the remarks of drummer Brian Deck in the text of the Trib article, Rutili says, "We've just put it aside for a while. We're taking time off to work on other things, but we all want to come back to it." The Flydaddy label is slated to release an EP by Rutili's new project, which doesn't have a name yet, in November.
There's been no such hedging about the breakup of instrumental abstractionists Rome. Founder and bassist Richie Smith, aka Deadly Dragon Sound System kingpin DJ Rik Shaw, has joined ex-Trenchmouth members Damon Locks and Wayne Montana and former Uptighty drummer Dan Fliegel in a new band called the Eternals. They'll make their debut next Saturday, August 2, on WNUR's live music program Airplay, which starts at 3:30 PM on 89.3 FM.
Looks like the quitting is contagious: Earlier this month, after the duo finished a new album (Camofleur, to be released by Drag City in January), Jim O'Rourke left Gastr del Sol.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Jae-Ha Kim illustration by Ken Wilson.