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Metalheads in Mourning

Even as Chicago’s music scene has blossomed over the last decade, energized by everything from post-rock to alt-country to free jazz, heavy metal has been pushed further into the margins. Always rock’s dumb bastard kid, it’s never really gained respectability, and though big clubs like House of Blues and Metro have accommodated viable metal acts on occasion–such as local breakthrough stars Disturbed–most music venues avoid it like the plague. Since the closing of the Thirsty Whale in River Grove five years ago, Smiler Coogan’s, at 5637 W. Grand, has been something of a last bastion for the music in Chicago, booking local and national hard rock and metal acts just about every weekend for the last seven years.

But on March 20, owner Sabu Gabhawala sold the business, and as a result it appears that local metalheads will no longer have a club to call their own–the new owners have said they will not program live music. Gabhawala bought the bar in 1992 and started featuring live music two years later, at the suggestion of a promoter known as Heavy Eddie, who came into the bar one day. But he wants a break from the bar business, a trade he’s been involved with over 20 years and four establishments. “I’m 53 years old,” he says. “Now I’m just going to take it easy and relax.”

Rodney Pawlak, who manages the local “murder metal” band Macabre (their last album was a song cycle about Jeffrey Dahmer) and produces the punk and metal cable-access show Mind Melt, has helped promote shows at the club over the last year. He says that although places like the Fireside Bowl, Riley’s Rock House in Aurora, and Champs Rock Room in Burbank will pick up some of the slack, the loss of Smiler Coogan’s is a big setback for the scene. “It’s going to hurt the local bands the most,” he says.

Shows are booked every weekend until the club closes at the end of the month, including big gigs by New York’s Immolation (this Saturday, April 14) and Tampa’s Monstrosity (April 20), as well as local stars Lungbrush (April 28) and Disinter (April 29). The club will also host a free farewell party on Monday, April 30. For more info call 773-889-0601 or visit www.smilercoogans.com.

Oh, Christ!

Jake Austen, the brains behind Roctober magazine, coproducer of the cable-access dance show Chic-a-Go-Go, and front man for masked garage crusaders the Goblins, has frequently applied his special talents to the celebration of Jewish holidays, most prominently in Chic-a-Go-Go’s 1997 Ha Ha Hanukah and 1999 Passover in Puppettown videos. At the Empty Bottle on Friday, April 13–just in time for Easter–Austen will throw the gentiles a bone with the musical He Is My Rock–Will You Be My Roll?

The variety show spins the tale of a rocker who decides to give it up for God, until “divine intervention…leads him on a musi-cal journey that spotlights the masterpieces of the late-1960s-early-1970s God-rock movement.” It features the Goblins as the Godlins, Bobby Conn as the Savior, Eternals front man Damon Locks as Judas, Andy Hopkins of Mr. Rudy Day and Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire as the Disciple, and Chris Ligon as the Light; they’ll perform tunes from Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell along with religious-themed numbers made famous by artists like Elvis Presley and the Cowsills. Following the 90-minute show, complimentary cake and champagne will be served, and the players will answer any questions the crowd may have.

Dusty Groove Move

Last weekend Dusty Groove–the soul, Latin, and rare-groove record shop and on-line store–moved into new digs at 1120 N. Ashland, at the corner of Haddon. The new location is three times the size of the company’s old space, nearby at 1180 N. Milwaukee, although most of the excess will be dedicated to the shipping and administrative departments. One novel feature of the new spot is the “take-out window” on Haddon, through which customers who’ve ordered on-line can pick up their purchases. (They can also just go inside.) The official grand opening is Saturday, April 28, which is also the date of a big sale at the old location, where merchandise that wasn’t worth moving will be sold cheap: a buck for a record, three for a CD. Call Dusty Groove’s new phone number for more info: 773-342-5800.

The Center Holds

On February 17, the day Nervous Center was supposed to close its doors for good, proprietors Richard and Ken Syska got a call from building owner William O’Kane, inviting them to sign a one-year lease. The plight of the Lincoln Square coffeehouse–which has become an important venue for the local free-jazz and experimental music scene–was detailed in this column in December, when the Syskas announced they were shutting down due to a dispute over a provision in their lease: O’Kane expected them to pay 15 percent of any property tax increases levied on the entire building, which stretches from 4600 to 4612 N. Lincoln; the Syskas’ understanding was that they’d pay a

percent of that percentage proportional to the space they rented at 4612. This didn’t become an issue until last spring, when the brothers received a bill for about $3,500–15 percent of property tax hikes over the past five years. They refused to pay it, and until recently the management company O’Kane uses, Group Fox, had refused to negotiate a new lease ’til they ponied up.

After mulling over O’Kane’s 11th hour proposition for three weeks, the Syskas decided to compromise: they’ll pay off the tax bill in monthly installments over the next year. “We were always willing to work something out, but we didn’t want to lose our leverage,” says Richard. “We feel this arrangement is fair.” Last weekend they reopened, but they won’t be programming live music again until later this month. They hope to find a new location with a long-term lease by this time next year.


The annual Empty Bottle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music kicks off on Thursday, April 19, with two very promising bookings. Dutch trombonist Joost Buis will lead a one-off group through a set of Sun Ra tunes; the lineup includes fellow Dutchman Wilbert de Joode on bass, Ken Vandermark on reeds, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Jim Baker on synthesizer, Tim Mulvenna on drums, and Sun Ra Arkestra alum Art Hoyle on trumpet. Then German saxophonist Peter Brotzmann and his Die Like a Dog Trio (with bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake) will be joined by local tenor legend Fred Anderson. The two sax greats, whose styles are pretty different, have never played together before.

Send gripes, leads, and love letters to Peter Margasak at postnobills@chicagoreader.com.

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