Features | Festivals

Tomorrow Never Knows Festival

By Clayton Purdom | 20 January 2010

:: Photo by Will Rice

Got out of the apartment the other night to join some teenagers at an indie rock show, see what was up. Got nothing in the way of complaints re: Surfer Blood on Thursday night, and so will thus toss down the mighty thunderbolt of my cosign to Dom Sinacola’s assertion that the four-wee-boys-plus-one-terrifying-sasquatch that comprise the band “sounded unadorned, practiced, capable of writing ten more songs exactly alike and as good as their debut.” Perhaps most impressive to me was the heavily produced and slightly sloppy appeal of their album—sorta Guitar Romantic (2003) with less aggressively perfect songwriting—somewhat inverted live: they seemed tighter in this setting, less produced, the vocals a little cleaner and the guitar lines a little more practiced. Up front, drunk, me and one other dude knew every fucking word (I will be a pre-release fanboy here), and back behind us the vaguely of-age crowd seemed enthused. Let’s get this shit on the sticker:

“Surfer Blood: good band.”

Unfortunately for the crowd in question and Surfer Blood themselves they did not come on after good bands. They came on after a fucking gauntlet of shitty bands the likes of which I had sort of come to believe I would avoid, for most of my life. The crowd seemed, for their part, witless. Lasers and Fast and Shit were the first and least egregious: staggeringly tight, percussion-wise, but rocking the funny-fat-guy-with-a-beard-frontman thing that is seriously not going to be improved upon while Fucked Up exists (example: “We are The Lasers and Fast and Shits. Just kidding, that’s a mispronunciation of our name”), and also playing kitschy way-sub-Tenacious D joke-rawk. Probably might’ve killed with the crowd that eventually packed in but they hadn’t packed in then, so they “rocked” with finger-quotes aflame to a room of like fifteen bored and sober people. They entirely deserved the polite applause they netted but nothing else, and when I ran into the guitarist while waiting for the bathroom (this guy kept holding his guitar vertically in front of some kid by the stage’s face while he shredded, which action was met by bored motionlessness) I told him I enjoyed his set (because I kind of had, or at least the musicianship contained therein) and he responded with a weird “Hello” like we knew each other but he didn’t want to talk to me, but man: you’re in a yellow jumpsuit and were just onstage doing rock god joke rawk and now you’re going to be socially awkward?, and so then we just waited in awkward silence for me to go take a shit which he then had to smell afterward, which works fine for me, karma-wise. I know there’s a bathroom downstairs at Schuba’s he could’ve gone to anyway.

Let’s keep moving. There’s less to say about the other two bands. Bear in Heaven looked like forest gnomes with their little fashion haircuts and plaintive looks at one another. When they announced that they were from Brooklyn they acted like they were doing us a favor by being as such, so fuck’em right there, but then their formless, self-consciously Important indie rock was to TV on the Radio as a glass of milk that’s been sitting out for six hours is to milk pulled fresh from the carton. Their very first song contained a synthesizer interlude. Freelance Whales were also named after an animal and were the sort of band that smile while they’re singing and bring up watering cans onstage and generally include banjo in all of their songs. I am intolerant to this shit from the gitgo but tried, truly, to appreciate it as a good example of that sort of thing, but after pushing my way up a bit realized I couldn’t. Sorry, awfully named band. I was standing next to this one kid who kept putting his hands behind his head and looking up with his eyes closed like he was Ripley taking a shower in Alien 3, which I was drunk (and alone, I should note—this could explain some of my antipathy, that this fucking show sold out and so I was there fucking sans anyone surrounded by these little kids at Skyler’s First Music Show) but still, man, this is twee music, not the fucking key to your personal catharsis. Get your elbow out of my face.

But anyway this is the type of shit you’ll get when you go see what the kids are doing. This four-headed hydra of bands, one Heavy, one Serious, one Twee, one Hyped, was night two of Schuba’s five-night mini-festival Tomorrow Never Knows, this year fattened up to squat from Schuba’s all the way to their new venue Lincoln Hall. Schuba’s is a weird mainstay in Chicago’s live music scene, affably curated with equal hotshit, local lesser-knowns and also the sort of Garden Variety Indie that needs shoveled somewhere (see: Bear in Heaven), and also is pitted in Lakeview, which is the sort of neighborhood where people generally toss out the word “hipster” appended with something like “fag” just to show you where they stand on the whole “pants-tightness” v. “fucking heterosexually” binary. Still, location and all, the spot works via a conglomeration of the neighborhood’s small outcroppings of interested folk, drunken curiosity-seekers and (in my case) as a change of pace for folks who normally go to other venues. The brand new Lincoln Hall, which you can tell by the name is supposed to be taken very seriously, is Schuba’s owners pushing their luck with a Lincoln Park venue, the very existence of which says something about the commercialization/bankability of indie culture (I believe this venue exists exclusively for the intersecting portion of Fleet Foxes’, Phoenix’s and Express for Men’s fanbases) that I’m not going to parse too much because I have no reliable information to set on this besides anecdotal/experiential evidence. To wit: I appear approximately 15% shorter in a Lincoln Park bar than I do in other neighborhoods.

On night two I sojourned off again, rich with burrito, to see Atlas Sound. I was immersing myself journalistically (“embedding”) myself in this mid-winter pustule of Chicago indie-rock nightlife, like a character in a Spoon song. I had cigarettes and was txting peeps “meet me at teh spot lates”. Lincoln Hall was sleek and black, a lounge blown to concert size and so engorged with lounge people (also like a Spoon song), its sleek black soft walls stretched out like the skin of a leather-chair-monster and we scurrying about inside like so many STDs, gulping Stella Artois because when in Rome, right. (Here I snarkily note the DePaul student in a North Face jacket I talked to before entering.) Into this feverish, buttoned-up meatpie strode Bradford Cox, seeming as out of place as he normally does and performing with the same magnetic grace and torrential interest in beautiful sound that is the constant in his musical output, recorded or otherwise—and, stripped to an acoustic guitar, harmonica and bank of gracefully applied pedals (mostly for looping), recreated his work as Atlas Sound like a topography etched in guitar notes. Shit felt almost cartographic in its emotional intensity, coming in extended whispers and even more extended waves. It seemed too good, not for the venue or the crowd but just for Friday night itself, cast out like crystals into the stock-still, silent hall—shattered only once, by the brain-dead yokel who shouted at Cox from the back of the house, “Who’s your cardiologist?!” The crowd booed, Cox sneered, and the five-night two-venue forty-band showcase went on in the freezing fucking January.