I don’t remember when I figured out that the Blitzoids were a Chicago band, but it certainly wasn’t from seeing their name in the Reader’s music listings. The group, which existed mostly during the late 80s and a touch into the early 90s, almost never played live. During a rather fallow time in Chicago’s rock history, the Blitzoids were early experimenters who revealed a strong affinity for the European progressive rock movement called Rock in Opposition, which centered around figures like Henry Cow, Etron Fou Leloublan, and Art Bears. They didn’t let technical skills and overly ambitious compositional gambits impinge on melody and harmony—this was a kind of prog rock that wasn’t obsessed with large numbers of notes.
The group consisted of brothers Chris and Steve De Chiara and Jim Nickels, although other musicians did help out once in a while. Chris De Chiara later gained notice as the original guitarist in the Vandermark Quartet. The group released only two albums for their own Mook Records (Stealing From Helpless Children in 1987 and Look Up in 1990), both of which have recently been collected on a double CD on Ad Hoc Records, a Denver label that has released loads of post-RIO stuff affiliated with England’s Recommended Records, run by drummer Chris Cutler. In fact, a couple of songs originally issued via Cutler’s Re Records Quarterly—a kind of magazine/record released sporadically during the 80s and 90s–are included as bonus tracks on the Ad Hoc release.
There’s a deliberately weird and wacky part of the sound that doesn’t do it for me, the same kind of aesthetic that mysteriously endears people to the Residents and other Ralph Records acts, as well as the geeky humor of Frank Zappa. What’s satisfying about electronically altered voices? And why bother with a cover of “The Witch Doctor?” Songs veer between straight-head tunes played with dissonance and odd juxtapositions and more fragmented, patchwork experiments. It’s not something I’ll be digging out all the time, but ultimately it sounds better and heftier than I recall. When one considers that Chicago has such a bustling, multi-layered, and stylistically diverse scene these days, it’s easy to forget bands like the Blitzoids, who carried on in the face of total indifference. Any other forgotten acts waiting for their just desserts?