LOCAL BAND MAKES MAJORS: The new Eleventh Dream Day album, Beet, makes you think that this Chicago foursome have listened to only one record their entire lives. But that record was probably Rust Never Sleeps, and Beet is something to hear. Full-throated and unrelenting, and recorded at a bruising volume, it’s as formal and powerful an exposition of (non-thrash) guitar-fetish rock as you’re likely to hear anytime soon. After an album and two EPs on the LA indie label Amoeba, Beet is the band’s major-label debut, on Atlantic; they’ll play a record release party at Lounge Ax next Thursday, November 16.
Eleventh Dream Day is the sound of giddy guitarists Rick Rizzo and Blair Figi, drummer Janet Bean, and bassist Doug McCombs. Rizzo sings, in a kind of desperate wail, and writes much of the material; Bean and Figi compose as well. Rizzo and Bean started the group as a threesome, with a bassist who’s since departed; by ’86 they had found Figi and McCombs, and they released an eponymous EP in ’87. The next year they recorded their first album, Prairie School Freakout, in a single wee-hours recording session in Louisville. Freakout is a good intro to the band’s sound: besides the thoroughgoing Crazy Horse mania, the record is a simmering tribute to the dueling guitars of Television. Standout tracks include Figi’s ripping “When the Candle Burns” and Rizzo’s “Among the Pines,” a song that starts out dumb–it’s about a guy who slips and dies in the shower–and ends up taking off, through some great dynamics, a killer chorus, and Bean’s backup vocals. Earlier this year the band put out another EP on Amoeba, Wayne, featuring a dizzying sledgehammer of a song called “Go,” a loving cover of Neil Young’s “Southern Pacific” (from the almost forgotten Young and Crazy Horse guitar-hysteria album Re-Ac-Tor), and an extended workout called “Tenth Leaving Train.”
Beet was intended for Amoeba as well, but a happy concatenation of circumstances put a tape into the hands of an Atlantic Records A&R person, and wheels started to spin. “Bettina Richards–that’s who signed us–came to see us at Metro,” says Rizzo. “It wasn’t the greatest show we ever played, but she came to see us again in Boston, and we were better there.” The deal is “pretty decent,” he says: “We get a bunch of tour support [the group will be doing most of America and Europe over the next six months] and retain our publishing rights. And if we sell a certain amount of records we get to do a second one.” Eleventh Dream had developed a reputation for relying a bit on serendipity, what with not having a manager and all, but they got a lawyer for the contract negotiations with a little help from Beet producer Gary Waleik, of Big Dipper. A manager may loom on the horizon. “We may have to get one,” sighs Rizzo.
Beet, recorded over a leisurely four days, is a hoot. Lissome guitar lines float in and amongst varying degrees of thunder riffing; Rizzo’s voice flails wildly above the mix. None of this is to imply that Beet is a noise album: while it doesn’t match Neil Young’s melodic subtlety, its conceits–to my ears–seem firmly based in mainstream American guitar rock. And there are some real good songs. My favorite is “Bomb the Mars Hotel,” by Figi. Rizzo denies that the tune is an anti-Grateful Dead song (the Dead have an album called From the Mars Hotel), but allows that it could have something to do with Grateful Dead fans. The album’s tour de force is Rizzo and Figi’s “Between Here and There,” a moody traveling tune that tips its hat to the great tradition of rock ‘n’ roll road songs. “It’s about a friend of mine who travels a lot,” says Rizzo. “I was trying to put down what might be going through his mind.” It works: “When the wheels roll,” he sings, “it soothes your soul.” That release party, again, is next Thursday, the 16th, at Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln. The phone is 525-6620. The show starts at 9:30; another band, TBA, will play late as well.
MARSHOLOGY: I like lists because they’re fun, generally nonsensical, and occasionally meaningful. I didn’t like to do them myself until an editor pointed out that they’re a good measure of a critic or journalist for the audience–a guy who puts down Slippery When Wet as a desert island disc can be quickly pegged for a goof. Rock critic and free-lance moralist Dave Marsh, creative as always, presents new problems with a huge and wondrous new book, The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles of All Time. Marsh, of course, is the busy (this is his 13th or 14th work) and pugnacious Springsteen hagiographer and political haranguer whose work over the last few years has been characterized by an ever-increasing hostility to new music and ever-more sentimental meditations on how great music was once and could be again. The Heart of Rock and Soul is his masterwork, a vast and definitive volume of Marshism that will keep Marshologists like me happy for years.
After about four introductions, the book is nothing more than a 700-page list of 1,001 singles, with Marsh’s glosses accompanying each one. Like most of his other works, however, the book has an easily identifiable thesis, one best indicated by using capital letters: SOUL IS GOOD. Marsh thinks that the business’s emphasis on albums as opposed to singles over the years has led to black music getting short shrift from rock critics. “It makes perfect sense to me,” he says by way of example, “that the work of Otis Redding and Smokey Robinson is as compelling, as intelligent, as well- planned and finally as creatively ambitious as anything James Taylor or Brian Ferry ever dreamed.” Now, bringing up the once-buried Otis Redding-James Taylor debate may seem to you to be opening up old wounds, but Dave goes at it with gusto. Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through the Grapevine” checks in at number one. The first song released after 1970 that Marsh can chart is, predictably, Bruce’s “Born to Run,” which is a great song but not really a single, at 24. Otherwise, besides Prince, who appears seven times, Marsh finds that only about 10 or 12 percent of the greatest singles ever recorded have been released in the last 16 to 20 years. To his credit, he dredges up a lot of cool soul and R&B items, but much of the book is filled with endless lists of Motown, James Brown, Sam and Dave, and early Atlantic stuff. All of which is great (SOUL IS GOOD), but along the way Marsh hits only the most obvious rap singles, completely ignores synth-based dance music, disregards great 70s guitar pop like “Go All the Way” and “I’m on Fire,” and is his usual asinine self when it comes to punk and new wave. And besides, everyone knows that “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is the greatest single ever made.
Anyway, you can argue with Dave in person at Guild Books next Thursday, the 16th, at 7 PM. He’ll speak and sign books and answer questions (ask him about the time Ronald Reagan called up Springsteen). Guild is at 2456 N. Lincoln; the phone is 525-3667.
IN-STORES GALORE! If you’re reading this on Thursday the 9th, before the officially sanctioned cover date, you might be able to catch My Dad Is Dead performing at Reckless Records, for free, at 7 PM. On Sunday, Reckless has, also in-store and also free, Champaign’s Poster Children, a very hard rock outfit with a new album, Flower Plower, whose two sides were produced by local noisemeisters Ian Burgess and Steve Albini, respectively. Reckless is at 3157 N. Broadway; phone is 404-5080. Also, there’s a possibility that Camper Van Beethoven will be appearing in-store at Pravda Records, 3728 N. Clark, on Saturday afternoon before their show at the Vic. Call first: 549-3776. Speaking of Pravda, one of the record company’s best acts, Green, has put action to words and left the label. Leader Jeff Lescher is looking for a new bassist and second guitarist as well. A new record is set to come out on Giant Records.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Bruce Powell, Barbara Kretzschmar.