Big Star to Reune Soon
A pair of enterprising students at the University of Missouri in Columbia have apparently pulled off the concert coup of the year–a Big Star reunion. The April 25 show will include leader Alex Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens; they’ll be backed up by Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies. The show was put together by two staffers at campus radio station KCOU, promotions director Jeff Breeze and general manager Mike Mulvihill. “Mike and I were talking about it, so we just gave Jody a call,” reports Breeze. “I’d heard that he worked at Ardent [the Memphis recording studio]. He said sure, if Alex would do it, snicker snicker. But we called Alex at home and he said sure, too.” The show will be part of a daylong lineup of eight bands outside the campus’s Hearnes Center, running from 9:30 to 7:30 on Sunday, the closing day of the school’s annual Springfest.
Between recording, personnel, touring, sales, and distribution problems, Big Star was a band that hardly even existed. Chilton was the former singer for the Box Tops, just a Memphis teenager when he sang hugely successful singles like “The Letter” and “Cry Like a Baby.” Thoroughly disillusioned by the experience, he eventually returned to a childhood friend, Chris Bell. Their new group, Big Star, married the rigor of British Invasion pop aesthetics to a nervous 70s self-consciousness. The result was a compelling and insular exercise in pop dramatics, most notably on the timeless “September Gurls.” The group released three records: #1 Record, Radio City, and 3rd (now generally referred to as Sister Lovers). Chris Bell left the band after the first album to record on his own; he died in a car accident in 1978. (The long-unreleased Bell album, I Am the Cosmos, was finally put out by Rykodisc last year; it came in in the top 25 of the Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop poll.)
The fourth member of the group was bassist Andy Hummell; he lives in Texas, Breeze says, and isn’t interested in music anymore. While Big Star was commercially a disaster, the band’s luminous atmospherics and arresting songwriting wove their way down into the collective cultural subconsciousness of American rock ‘n’ roll. It finally resurfaced in the 1980s, as groups like R.E.M. and the Replacements helped bring a semiretired Chilton back into the public eye. Chilton now tours frequently and has even participated in a Box Tops reunion. While he’s always played Big Star songs in his solo concerts, if the show comes off it will be the first time the band has played under its own name in nearly 20 years.
Prince Be, Nothingness, and Reality
The best song of P.M. Dawn’s new album is “Plastic,” a bruising assault on gangster rappers. The band’s effete songwriter, a magnificent mountain of a man named Prince Be, constructed his first album around a metaphor of withdrawal–into contemplation, mind games, and solitude. “Reality used to be a friend of mine,” he rapped. Two years later he’s been drawn out of his tent by the dysfunctional antics of some of his colleagues. Stung by attacks on the alleged softness of his music and outraged at the diverse rap controversies, he’s responded with The Bliss Album…? (Vibrations of Love and Anger and the Ponderance of Life and Existence). As the title implies, he’s a love man (“To Love You More,” “I’d Die Without You”) but a mad one, too: “So now I’m accused of spiking the punch / And I’ll be the scapegoat for faking the funk / But when they set up another prime time beef / What’s hard at first but melts in the heat / They call that plastic.” The Prince has no time for withdrawal when nihilism stalks the land: it’s woken him up, pissed him off, and reintroduced him to an old friend.
Important Non-Rock Radio News
Joanne Trestrail writes: “In magazines, it’s called an advertorial; on TV, an infomercial. Only on WFMT is it called the moral high ground. When the classical-music station reverted, January 1, to its former policy of all-announcer-read advertising copy, many listeners–including the sometimes sanctimonious Friends of WFMT, who had made this their cause celebre–wept with joy. Personally, I was bugged. Competitor WNIB’s standard, irritating canned commercials now strike me as pleasantly up-front. Ads should be ads, I think; edit should be edit. Advertising is the reason commercial TV and the Reader and the music on WFMT are free. It’s the reason a birthday card costs more than the Tribune. If we’re not ashamed to live in a world where that is true–and I’m not–then what’s wrong with an ad sounding like an ad? Couldn’t this be positioned as a holy-music (as opposed to holy-WFMT) stance? An even higher moral ground? Should I be starting a group?”
Van Morrison’s two Civic Opera House shows sold out in a couple of hours last Saturday, something more than 7,000 tickets. A third show goes on sale Saturday…Last week’s Trib “Friday” section debuted free-lancer Bill Dahl’s “Bluesmakers” column, which will run three times a month, with the fourth week devoted to Chris Heim reviewing new releases…Jazzman “Light” Henry Huff died last week of respiratory problems. There’s a memorial for him Thursday night, April 1, at 7 at Alderman Allan Streeter’s office, 7605 S. Halsted.