Out Go the Lights

The jam-packed record release party at the Fireside Bowl for Milemarker’s Anaesthetic (Jade Tree) last Saturday was marked by a fairly typical postpunk intensity: guitarist Dave Laney’s emo wail was offset by keyboardist Roby Newton’s love-it-or-hate-it quasi-operatic chirp, while bassist Al Burian and tem-porary drummer Noah Leger (formerly of Hurl and Thee Speaking Canaries) ground out muscular grooves with mathematical precision. But according to Laney, this was reflective of a new direction for the group: “We’re just trying to be a tighter rock band,” he says.

The quartet moved to Chicago a year ago from Chapel Hill. (“Everybody had been wanting to get out of North Carolina for a pretty long while,” says Laney, “but it was more of a process of elimination than anything else. We all made a list, and Chicago was the place we all had in common.”) The local scene has been extremely supportive, but the band came here with an established following: since 1997 they’d released three other albums and toured relentlessly. But for much of that time, Milemarker’s goals were more conceptual than musical: at an early Chapel Hill show, for instance, the band played behind an opaque screen while the word “entertainment” was projected upon it, and Newton first joined the ensemble not as a musician but as the tech-nician responsible for a relatively elaborate light show. Individual members have also achieved some renown via other avenues: Newton is a puppeteer; Burian gathers his personal reflections in a zine called Burn Collector; and Laney publishes Media Reader, a zine about lefty culture and politics.

Maybe it’s that old Chicago salt-of-the-earth influence, but now, says Laney, Milemarker has “switched from being a spectacle to being more of a band. We try to do things and then back off from them when we’ve gone as far as we want to. We stopped so the gimmick of the band wouldn’t become a light show. I’d hate to look back and see that the last five years all we did was play normal rock shows, but I feel OK about us doing it for a year or so. I think something else will happen eventually.”

Someone’s in the Kitchen With Neko

Neko Case has already started recording her third solo album, but it won’t be out until sometime next year. Meanwhile, if you’re hankering for more furnace-room lullabies, you might want to order a copy of Canadian Amp, a low-key eight-song recording the singer made in her kitchen this past spring with help from local ringers like Kelly Hogan, Andrew Bird, Andy Hopkins, and Tom Ray. The CD fea-tures acoustic versions of a couple of songs from her last studio album, covers of Neil Young’s “Dreaming Man” and Hank Williams’s “Alone and Forsaken,” and some really swell tunes by some of the singer’s Canadian friends, none of whom I’ve ever heard of. Case released the EP on her own Lady Pilot label primarily to sell on tour, but you can get it on-line through Bloodshot Records (www.bloodshotrecords.com).

Case performs with the New Pornographers at the Hideout’s fifth annual block party next Saturday, September 22, and on Friday, September 28, she and her Boyfriends open for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds at the Chicago Theatre–one of eight U.S. dates they’re playing with Cave.

Vandermark Your Calendar

This Tuesday, September 18, the Vandermark 5 will release its latest album, Acoustic Machine (Atavistic). It’s the avant-garde jazz outfit’s first all-acoustic outing–Jeb Bishop plays the trombone exclusively, leaving his electric guitar at home–but the lack of voltage doesn’t diminish the screaming intensity of pieces like “Wind Out.” Overall the album is the band’s most spacious and swinging yet.

Vandermark and Bishop also perform on Sunday, September 16, in a trio with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm at the Hungry Brain, to kick off Phrenology Fest, which runs through Tuesday. Every Sunday evening for most of this year, the unassuming bar at 2319 W. Belmont has played host to a mix of up-and-comers and familiar names from the local improvised-music scene. The series has been coordinated by Mike Reed, who plays drums in the Treehouse Project and Moonshine Willy, among other projects, and Josh Berman, who plays cornet in the Shelton-Dibblee Quartet; it leans slightly more toward swing-based stuff than bookings at places like the Nervous Center and Empty Bottle. Among the other highlights are Monday’s performance by Triage, the trio with reedist Dave Rempis, drummer Tim Daisy, and bassist Jason Ajemian, and Tuesday’s set by pianist Jim Baker with bassist Josh Abrams and drummer Avreeayl Ra. See the jazz listings this week for the full schedule.


Berlin looks an awful lot like Chicago right now, thanks to X-Tract Chicago, a music festival organized by the German arts organization Podewil. The program started on September 11 and runs through the 26th; it presents an impressively broad spectrum of Chicago underground acts, including Shellac, Town and Country, Chicago Underground Duo, Olivia Block, TV Pow, Illusion of Safety, Ribbon Effect, Gene Coleman, Califone, Lou Mallozzi, Jim O’Rourke, and Casey Rice (via remote streaming video).

The 7 PM show this Saturday, September 15, at the Abbey Pub is a one-off by the Minus Five, the solo project of Scott McCaughey–charter member of the Young Fresh Fellows and regular road member of R.E.M. For this gig his band will be all four members of Wilco; no opening band has been announced, but with Wilco about to embark on a U.S. tour I wouldn’t be surprised if they took the opportunity to get in a hometown set before they leave.

Next week’s Reader will include a pullout guide to the third annual Chicago World Music Festival, which begins Thursday, September 20. This week, you’ll find an unannotated schedule–including listings for the opening-day concerts, most notably a superb Park West show with Brazilian singer Daniela Mercury and Ethiopian rising star Gigi. No doubt the horrifying events of the past week will affect the schedule in some way; but at press time organizer Mike Orlove in the city’s Cultural Affairs department said it was too early to tell how.


In last week’s column I referred to the jam-band-friendly Lincoln Park bar Aliveone, at 2683 N. Halsted, as defunct. It is in fact alive and well; I regret the error.

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/Marty Perez.