FOLLOW THE BOOKER: Chicago's premier rock club, the Cubby Bear, has always had a schizophrenic existence: Cubs fans by day, rock fans at night. Suddenly, however, the club's concert schedule is blank, with little but second-rate metal bands booked for the future. What's going on?
Turns out the club's booker, Sue Miller, has absconded to Lounge Ax on Lincoln Avenue; she and her new partners hope she will bring along with her ten years of artists' loyalties to help make Lounge Ax the Cubby Bear of the 90s. She's already flexing some muscle: September 29 and 30 will bring the phenomenal Reivers from Austin; a weekend later we'll see a similar two-night stint by long-lost waif Jonathan Richman.
The two-night bookings are something of a necessity: one thing the Cubby Bear could offer was space for 700 or 800 people. Lounge Ax, after a major remodeling that's supposed to be completed by tonight, will hold half that. The club's notoriously uncomfortable layout--a thick letter C, with the stage at the top facing down--has been done away with by the simple expedient of tearing out some walls and relocating the bathrooms downstairs. Miller and Lounge Ax founders Jennifer Fischer and Julia Adams are promising perfect sight lines for 400.
Tonight (Friday) the club is planning a show of force with a lineup of about ten local bands, from Spies Who Surf and the Sapphires to the Elvis Brothers, the Slammin' Watusis, and the Insiders, all playing on a common setup to keep dead time to a minimum. Festivities start at 8 with These Tambourines and should go till 2 AM. And it's free. Call 525-6620 for more information.
BRITISH IMPORT: The new Reckless Records store--on Broadway a couple of storefronts below Belmont--has its roots deep in Brit psychedelia of the late 70s, in a hugely obscure group called the Brainiac 5. After its demise, leader Charles Taylor started a record store in Islington, London, in 1982; two years later he opened an offshoot in Soho. Exporting success, he brought a third Reckless to San Francisco in 1988. His fourth store is in Chicago. It's worth checking out for a formidable indie-alternative selection and--for a while at least--a phenomenal assortment in the used bins.
Reckless is trying single-handedly to revive the tradition of in-store performances by artists. At the Reckless store in San Francisco, which is conveniently located across the street from the cool I-Beam club, everyone from Nick Cave to the Ramones to the Go-Betweens did in-stores, most of the time playing acoustic sets. In the past year there've been exactly two in-stores in all of Chicago--the Young Fresh Fellows and Mojo Nixon, both at Pravda. In the last month, Reckless has featured both the Jesus Lizard and the Didjits, two hardcore outfits from the local indie label Touch & Go. Coming up are in-stores by Go Team and an Australian group called Lubricated Goat, and the store is trying to arrange others with Soundgarden and hippie-hop electro-pop rappers Pop Will Eat Itself. "If stores do in-stores to sell more records they might be disheartened," says manager Ivan Penfold, who's been with Taylor and Reckless from the beginning. "But if you want to do it because you have the space and it's fun, and also allows people under 21 to see bands they might not otherwise be able to see, it can be interesting."
Taylor himself, who's living in Lincoln Park until the store gets off the ground, says he likes Chicago. "I like the people very much: they're honest and straightforward." That and the good prospects for a good indie record store brought him here. (A Reckless press release says that Taylor went to San Francisco in case "the English economy went down the drain or Margaret Thatcher declared martial law.") "I'm surprised there are so few record stores in Chicago that deal with independent labels or imports in any significant way. The only one that approaches what we want to do is Wax Trax"--the pretty good Lincoln Avenue alternative record store-cum-label with, ironically, a pronounced British bent. But even Wax Trax can't compete with the stock in Reckless's used bins, a lot of it apparently shipped in bulk from other Reckless outposts. I immediately grabbed a couple of import Them compilations on Decca, one of rareties, for five or six bucks apiece, and also snagged a great-condition two-LP set of the infrequently seen Joanna Stingray Red Wave compilation of Russian rock bands. Plus you'll see lots of import 12-inch singles, a great source of obscure B-sides.
PET WORDS: "Rian had written a bunch of Beach Boys articles and had a couple of other things. He got the idea and it sounded good to me." Dan Koretzky is describing the genesis of Travelin' Fist, a free fanzine that turned up, briefly, in some local record stores recently. Typed out by hand and reduced onto crummy newsprint a la Maximum Rocknroll, Travelin' Fist is a normal fanzine except that it pays almost no attention to the local music scene and hardly talks at all about alternative music. What it's full of is the Beach Boy obsessions of one Rian Murphy, who helped Koretzky edit the mag and contributed the "couple of other things" besides. The Beach Boys occupy the cover art and no fewer than three inside articles.
Koretzky works at Kaleidoscope, an alternative record distribution company; Murphy, until recently, moved boxes around at a "wellness center." Travelin' Fist took more than a year to put together, most of this time spent doing nothing but typing the thing out onto 11-by-17 sheets of paper. The pair then reduced the typescript down to 8 1/2-by-11 and printed a thousand copies at a cost of $500. "It took us a year to type it and lay it out," sighs Koretzky. "To print it took a day." Inside you get some strange stuff--an interview with the group God Bullies, who discuss the size of Jesus' genitalia, and a couple of OK comics--but mostly you get Murphy, who contributes 4,000- to 6,000-word articles on the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson's solo album of last year, and even Game Theory. Murphy's a friendly fanatic and a deep thinker who skips across eras and floats over genres to chase his obsessions, at times reaching out and acquitting himself well in R. Meltzer territory: "the main point is expressed clearly . . . in a Love song, from Four Sail, where noted alchemist Arthur Lee gets into paradox territory with a duality climax, 'Always See Your Face,' by claiming omniscience over you, even though it's he who's trapped, on the vinyl disc, with you presiding and choosing whether or not to play him, but as he spins out, he's still 'looking at you looking at me.' WHOA!"
A new issue will be out in six months, the pair hope; they speak proudly of their first paid ad. To be featured is a massive interview with Adam Jacobs, a legendary figure on the local rock scene who has reputedly taped more than 700 local shows. Having sent copies of their first effort to other cities, the neophyte publishers are hoping for some outside contributions--a "global perspective"--for issue number two. Murphy has some lists in mind as well. But after the stories come in, the pair will face again the months of careful typing: Travelin' Fist is surprisingly uninfected with typos. "We were pretty anal about that," says Koretzky.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Loren Santow.