Monday, August 31, 2009

Ida + Babe The Blue Ox @ Clifford The Big Red House (Oct. 21, 1996)

So. A long time ago, a band called Ida released a 7" record with a song called "It's Not Alright" that I used to play over and over again on my radio show at WVFI. It was a simple song, repetitive, so unlike most of the math-rock and prog-rock I loved, but it stuck with me. So started a temporary love affair with that band's music, reaching its zenith with the song "Tellings" from I Know About You. I think I put that one on every mixtape (that's right, TAPE) I made in the mid-to-late 90s before CD burners became the norm.

Before that, I was introduced to this crazy little trio called Babe The Blue Ox. I'm pretty sure it was during a marathon here's-some-music-I-think-you'd-like session courtesy of Joe C. right at the end of freshman year. I was hooked from the opening minute of "Home" ("give me a house where/our home can live"). I played "Chicken Head Bone Sucker" on every single one of my radio shows for the next three years. Another song, "Waiting For Water To Boil," became (like Ida's "Tellings" above) a mixtape (yes, TAPE) regular.

Fast forward to the Fall of 1996. Jim M. is excited that he was able to convince Ida and Babe The Blue Ox to play at Notre Dame. For some reason, however, the usual venues for visiting bands (SMC's Dalloways Coffeehouse, the ballroom at LaFortune, let alone Stepan Center) were not available. What was available? Our basement. Max capacity? Oh probably around 50 audience members, plus the band, plus our washer and dryer. A perfect place for a band fresh off its major label (RCA) debut (Babe's People), don't you think?

There seemed to be an unusual amount of excitement leading up to the show. Recent grads who had settled back in Chicago or somewhere in Ohio were coming back into town to see these bands. It was to be this legendary house party event. Actually, it did not disappoint, and remains one of my favorite memories of my time in the South Bend Power Nineties music scene. Some highlights:

- an excellent potluck dinner the afternoon before the show
- talking with Hannah, the Babe drummer, about Notre Dame Football whilst she did her laundry in our basement
- Jim M. worried about Doug's probable reluctance to let us use his PA system for the show
- Doug graciously letting us use said PA, along with running the soundboard that evening
- the Ida singer trying to shush the crowd during a quiet segment of one of their songs

- Karla, the bassist for Beekeeper, playing with Ida
- the incredible Babe stompdown, especially the moment when the Ida drummer began dancing in front of Rose, the bassist
- Mike N., our housemate and grad student, coming home in the middle of the show and wondering what the heck was going on (it was our first show at the house, the first of many)
- talking to Tim, Babe guitarist, about their major label experience, in our kitchen after the show
- Finally, Jim M. paying the bands out of his own pocket, because we did not make enough money at the door, because most people gave lame excuses why they could not pay five bucks, but we're nice and let them in anyway. If you see Jim, and you attended this show, and you didn't pay - you owe him $5, plus, oh, 12 years worth of interest.


P.S. I am very happy to say that Ida is still around and Babe The Blue Ox recently reformed in NYC. Go see them.

Ida on MySpace
Ida on
Babe The Blue Ox on MySpace
Babe The Blue Ox on

Thursday, August 20, 2009

emiLy Live at Prufrock's - March 1996

Guess what, boys and girls? The South Bend Power 90s crew is now unleashing video on your unsuspecting eyes. Yes, the same technology that distilled mp3s from old audio cassettes is now pulling sound and images from dusty old VHS cartridges and stitching them into magical streams of 1s and 0s that let you relive the 90s right on your monitor.

Our very first offering is footage of emiLy playing at Prufrock's Coffeehouse in Lambertville, NJ. The show took place in March of 1996, at the beginning of our spring break tour which consisted of this night in Lambertville, a show in the back room of Blue Chair Records in Tampa, FL, and a house party in Gainesville, FL.

Part 1 of the video starts with a snippet of "Sap" and a quick glimpse of my parents' cat Cuddles, whose possible godhood we declared in the liner notes of engineering means i Like you. It then moves into "ayin" and "Tactical". Between the initial snippet and the two full songs, observant viewers will note that the suits we donned for the occasion disappeared. It was too hot to keep them on.

In part 2, Joe introduces a quieter set of songs, "Finer Time" and "Fearless". Prufrock was getting complaints about the noise, so much of the set was a struggle to keep dynamics in check, especially on drums. At times I put a t-shirt over the snare drum. At other times I played parts meant for the ride cymbal on the floor tom, as it didn't ring so much. The hi-hat does tend to drown out the rest of the band at times, flooding the microphone on the camcorder Ted was using to tape the show.

Part 3 begins with "Tear in My Eye", a song unrecorded at the time, before progressing through "Talking God, Talking Girls," "Atoms Are A Boy's Best Friend," and "Trinity". We recorded the latter three songs (as well as "ayin" and "Sap") a month earlier for what became the riverrun CD. Check out the microphone jury rigged to what is definitely not a microphone stand!

The rest of the tour was a bit more eventful. We played with Grade and a bunch of grindcore bands in Tampa. We also played a crazy house party in Gainesville. Anyone who remembers anything about that show remembers more than me, as I made one too many trips to the gas station for 32's of OE800. Ah, youth.

Keep an eye on the SBP90s channel on YouTube for more videos in the future!

see also:
emiLy on MySpace
emiLy on

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sweep The Leg Johnny/Streganona - Split 7” + Bonus Track

It's a bass player face-off. It's a bass-off! Wil Freve (STLJ) and Mark Miyake (Streganona) go one-on-one to discuss this split 7", the camaraderie between the two bands, and of course, who's got the most game.

Wil: After leaving Notre Dame, Sweep The Leg Johnny quickly developed a friendship with an indie-rock band hailing from the University of Chicago: Streganona. In that first year in Chicago, Sweep and Streganona collaborated on a split 7” as well as played a vicious game of band vs. band pickup basketball (we kicked their ass).

Mark: The split 7” (The eSTaTe 003) was the first release from either band that was seriously intended for widespread distribution and was also the first release of the recording label wing of our Chicago and South Bend based music and art collective, The eSTaTe. Both bands were just starting to break into the North Side Chicago scene at this point, and this was intended as something of a calling card for both of us as we did so. Sweep spearheaded the project, asking us to record and release this with them and setting up our recording session in South Bend. We were greatly honored that they did so, as we had already developed a close friendship with them at this early point based on a great deal of love and respect for them as musicians and people. Sadly, however, Wil is right-- we did indeed remain extraordinarily intimidated by them on the basketball court.

TRACK 1: Sweep The Leg Johnny - “Similarities”
Wil: This song marks a bit of a departure for Steve’s saxophone playing, as it leaned towards the melodic element, and not just the rhythmic. I was disappointed with the stylistic pairing of the two songs on this 7” (by the way, if you haven’t listened to Streganona...please do—their music is much better than their basketball skills!). Although I’m a fan of both songs, they make for odd record-mates. I think Sweep should have paired a different song with Streganona’s “...Then I Had A Stroke”.

Mark: I love listening to this song, and it stands as a great record of both what Sweep was doing at the time and the musical direction in which they were heading. It’s also, I believe, their last recording with Wil and Jim, which is, of course, another reason that it represents a critical turning point for the band. When Matt and Scott replaced the rhythm section, the whole sound changed, as Matt played much darker and more straightforward bass lines (as well as adding another vocal element) and Scott played much busier and intense drum parts. These changes obviously marked a significant shift in the band’s sound, and even though Wil and Jim are playing on this track, you can hear the band already pulling a bit in that new direction. This song has a tight, clean, and heavy but intricate sound, and although Wil’s bass line is both representative of his style and a significant element of this song, this ultimately sounds more like the music the band would make after his departure than earlier songs of this era of the band’s songwriting.

TRACK 2: Streganona - “...Then I Had A Stroke”
Mark: We recorded this and two other songs on June 4th, 1995 with John Nuner at Miami Street Studios in South Bend. We intentionally recorded three very different sounding songs that day with the idea of then being able to choose what went best with the Sweep side of the 7”. But by the end of the session, we already knew that we’d be using this one because of the way it turned out in the studio, and because its darker, more sprawling nature (in comparison to the other two) seemed to be a better fit for STLJ’s emerging overall sound anyway. There’s a lot about this song that represents things we were trying out at the time as we were starting to close in on what would become our own more distinctive overall sound. Juxtaposing song parts with different feels, meters and tonal qualities, the two guitars pushing and pulling against and with each other over a steadier but still frequently shifting rhythm section presence, and the often surprisingly conventional overall song structure were all things consciously evident here that we kept refining and utilizing over the next few years. Personally, I was trying a lot of both old things (the style of the fingerstyle fills here sounds to me like something I might have done much earlier in my musical development) and new things (the big distorted bass chords that fill the verses and my attempts to control their expressiveness through their volume, sustain and coloring was pretty experimental for me at the time) in close proximity to each other in order to try to create something fresh and tasteful for me, the band, and the listeners. It took us all a while to figure out how to work things like this together into our cohesive band sound, but the basic building blocks are all here. This was also our last recording with Greg Heygood on drums, as he left us for an actual career (I guess some people consider building computer networks to be a more stable field of employment than punk rock...) just before we recorded How Do You Feel About Plastic? the following year. Greg had a very different style than our next drummer, Brett Norman, and although Brett’s drumming became a central feature of our sound in the following years, it’s always a real treat to listen to these older recordings and hear the original rhythm section as it sounded for so long through this initial phase of our existence. This didn’t end up being the best song we ever recorded, but it was definitely the best choice at the time and has, I think, stood up to the aging process fairly well and still sounds fun to listen to and to remember playing today.

Wil: What a cool friggin’ song “...Then I Had A Stroke” is. I always loved playing with Streganona (although this was tempered by a quiet anxiety that they might “out play” us). Not only was Streganona a great group of “U of C” guys, but they were very good at the style of music they played. I loved their signature, dueling guitars... sometimes sounding complimentary, and sometimes sounding hostile to one another. Streganona also used their dual vocals very effectively in their music. “...Then I Had A Stroke” is a great example of Aaron and Matt’s fine and expressive guitar work, as well as their ability to lay down the law and simply rock out. Matt screaming out, “My god... that wasn’t what I meant to do at all!” ranks up there with some of my favorite musical moments. Greg sets the stage with unapologetic drums, and Mark pushes all three of them with his driving bass lines. Please give this song a listen, as well as other Streganona songs (reviewed in previous blog posts)... you will not regret it!

BONUS TRACK: Streganona - "Angelico de Muerta"
Mark: This was one of the two “extra” songs we recorded at the Miami Street recording session, the other being “Encephalopod,” which ended up being released on How Do You Feel About Plastic? the following year. The reason that we never ended up releasing this song is pretty obvious- it’s a sort of fun, silly song that even we never took all that seriously. We intended it as a sort of change-of-pace B-side in case we ever needed anything like that or in case Sweep thought that it would be better to have a “fun” option for the 7”. This also includes some fine guest vocals by Steve Sostak-- Marlon Brando, eat your heart out…..


(the Bandcamp downloads contain the MP3s, scans of the Streganona postcard insert, 3 of the 4 STLJ basketball trading cards, a copy of the first eSTaTe newsletter, and more!)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Cuba Five - Last Show 3/13/1997

The Cuba Five played for about a year, from spring of 1996 to March 1997. Chris, the drummer, announced one weekend that he was moving back to Texas the following Friday. We rushed some practices, recorded an album, and played our final show at an impromptu party at the Green House. Obstruction made their debut as the opening band. Ron Garcia set up a four track and some microphones to record the whole affair, and we made a few copies of the recording to give out to friends. The cover photo featured Joe Cannon apparently passed out in a chair.

The performance itself gives you a good idea of an average set from a band back then -- a bit more frantic energy than the studio recordings, a smattering of applause at the end of each song, false starts, and the eternal struggle to keep guitars in tune. This being a Cuba Five show, there are questionable vocals and inane commentary between the songs, though the banter is mixed mercifully low, meaning you can gloss over it completely. Mike and Chris play a short improvised bit in the middle while the unruly guitar strings are brought back in line.

The final track, "At Long Last Arriving..." gets cut off as we hit the magic 46-minute mark and the tape simply ran out. This is unfortunate, as this song was generally the highlight of a Cuba Five show. So it goes. I suppose that means the small crowd that evening gets exclusive rights to that memory.

see also:
The Cuba Five on MySpace