Bouncing Back

Last Saturday the Elastic Arts Foundation opened its new venue, Elastic, in a second-floor Logan Square space above the Friendship Chinese Restaurant, celebrating with a four-course benefit dinner and an open house. The EAF’s previous venue, in a former Pentecostal church at 3030 W. Cortland, had been forced to close in September after the city determined that the building wasn’t zoned to allow the foundation to operate the space without a license.

The EAF, led by a collective of local musicians and artists, began in 1998 as a for-profit corporation called Elastic Revolution Productions, which ran a space at 500 W. Cermak used mostly for rehearsing and recording. After ERP moved to 3030 in 2001, it started hosting shows regularly, and in 2003 the group reorganized as the nonprofit Elastic Arts Foundation. Director and cofounder Paul Giallorenzo began booking an electronic-music series called Elastro, and guest curators filled out the rest of the schedule: saxophonist Dave Rempis handled improvised music, for instance, and poets Kerri Sonnenberg, Jesse Seldess, and Marvin Tate maintained two series of readings.

Because 3030 hosted so many events, its programs developed regular audiences and attracted the attention of out-of-towners–over the years its bookings included not just adventurous locals but internationally known artists like German saxophonist Peter Brotzmann, British folk legend Bridget St. John, and AMM guitarist Keith Rowe. But in early 2005, provoked in large part by the complaints of a single vocal neighbor, city inspectors checked the space out and found a hitch: EAF had been skirting licensing laws by taking donations at the door, but 3030 wasn’t in a commercially zoned area. “It turned out that the exception to the PPA license where you could bypass it by just accepting donations was only applicable if you’re zoned commercially,” says Giallorenzo. “So that became a problem.”

The venue continued to hold shows, and in the spring the city sent undercover inspectors, who cited 3030 for operating without a license and accepting money. The tickets were thrown out in May when the inspectors didn’t turn up in court, but EAF was nonetheless referred to the zoning department. “In our discussions with them,” says Giallorenzo, “it became clear that we had to become a totally legitimate venue.” The city wasn’t going to look the other way, and the building owner faced the possibility of steep fines.

Confronted with hurdles it couldn’t clear, 3030 closed with a big finale on September 17. Immediately EAF began a search for a commercially zoned location, and with the help of 35th Ward alderman Rey Colon they found their current spot at 2830 N. Milwaukee. “He’s been great,” Giallorenzo says of Colon. “He likes the idea of having arts in the ward, and he knew what we needed.”

Comparable in size to 3030, with a capacity of roughly 75 people, Elastic will host shows and occasional recording sessions like its predecessor–but unlike 3030, during off-hours it will double as an art gallery. Elastic will get its occupancy card in mid-March, and Giallorenzo says that by the end of the year EAF hopes to acquire a Performing Arts Venue license–a new type, available since December, that allows smaller clubs and theaters to charge admission but not to serve alcohol.

Performances begin at Elastic on March 18 with Fred Lonberg-Holm’s Lightbox Orchestra, and most of the old programs from 3030 will relaunch in April and May–acts already booked include local hero Ken Vandermark and Scandinavian jazz group Atomic. “The booking will be similar,” says Giallorenzo. “It’ll be built around our different series. And we’ll have other people book and curate shows to expand the network of artists and people that come through.”

Lookout Fallout

As it sinks under its load of debt, the Bay Area pop-punk institution Lookout Records is making waves that’ve reached Chicago–locals the Reputation, led by former Sarge front woman Elizabeth Elmore, are the latest Lookout band to abandon ship. The label has been failing to connect many of its artists with their royalties, and in July its back-catalog cash cow, Green Day, responded to a long stretch of nonpayment by reclaiming ownership of four early releases that it’d allowed Lookout to continue selling after the band’s move to Warner Brothers. Other groups, including Avail, Screeching Weasel, and the Riverdales, had already pulled their old records, but Green Day’s decision was Lookout’s death knell.

In August the label announced it would no longer sign artists or release new albums. Its six employees were let go, leaving only the three owners–including president Chris Appelgren, formerly of the Peechees and the Pattern–to mind the store. Lookout’s active bands have been defecting right and left: last month Ted Leo left for Touch and Go and Mary Timony signed to Kill Rock Stars. Rising local stars Troubled Hubble debuted on Lookout in May 2005 with Making Beds in a Burning House, then broke up four months later after struggling with personnel problems–something a bit of label support might’ve motivated them to iron out. The Twin Cities band Hockey Night is still with Lookout, but that arrangement looks to be short-lived.

Though the Reputation is among the defectors, they’re not yet sure if Lookout still owes them anything, and Elmore doesn’t bear the label any ill will. “I believe Lookout is working hard to get back on top of things, just in terms of getting the accounting straight with us,” she says. “They haven’t managed to get there yet. But I do believe they’re trying.” The Reputation released To Force a Fate on Lookout in 2004 and now has nearly enough material for a new record. “There are two labels we’re talking to, and both are labels we’d be really excited to be on,” Elmore says.

Friday at Schubas the Reputation kicks off a two-month coast-to-coast tour, which includes a stop at South by Southwest to play a Lookout label showcase. (“We’d agreed to do it a long time ago,” explains Elmore.) Their sets will preview a half-dozen songs slated for the forthcoming disc, which the band hopes to release by the end of the year.

Where’s the Bottom Lounge?

The old Lakeview digs of the Bottom Lounge, which closed in October to make way for the CTA’s Brown Line expansion, have already been demolished, but the club isn’t ready yet to announce its new location. It was scheduled to reopen in the West Town warehouse district this winter, but those plans have been delayed. “I’ve been bombarded with people asking me about what’s going on,” says co-owner Dan Miskowicz, laughing. “Judging by the number of times people have come up to me, you woulda thought the Bottom Lounge was Woodstock.”

Miskowicz says the delay isn’t due to any conflict with the city–he just didn’t anticipate how hard it would be to bring a new space up to code. “It’s a lot different to start up a rock club in the 21st century. Laws that we were grandfathered in on at the old place we now have to get into compliance with,” he says. Right now he’s only willing to say that the new Bottom Lounge will open sometime in 2006–and that he’s hoping for a summer launch.

The Reputation, Holy Roman Empire, Cardinal Sin

When: Fri 3/3, 10 PM

Where: Schubas, 3159 N. Southport

Price: $8 in advance, $10 at the door

Info: 773-525-2508

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.