The Long Stringed Instrument and the Gargantuan Vision

Poi Dog Pondering’s stand at the Vic this weekend is an impressive display of leader Frank Orrall’s talents as both a commercial draw–all three nights and 4,000 tickets are sold out–and an impresario. “When we were with CBS,” he says, referring to the band’s three albums on the label, “I wanted to do stuff like this, but they always put us on the road as a rock band. These shows are my opportunity to say, ‘Oh yeah, I can do it.'” Accordingly, fans are going to get their money’s worth: the lineup includes the new Poi Dog, now up to ten members; an additional brace of backup singers; a string quartet; a harpist; the House-o-Matic dance corps; and several other singers and musicians, from Abra Moore, who sang on the band’s first album, to Ellen Fullman, who plays something she calls the “Long Stringed Instrument,” which features dozens of pianolike strings stretched across a 100-foot frame. (The Vic version will be a somewhat attenuated 60-foot-plus model set against the stage’s back wall.) The band will be playing two sets, both in front of projections of film loops by old Austin collaborator Luke Savisky. The sound will be mixed on an enormous 56-channel board brought in just for the occasion. “This is the way I always envisioned Poi Dog,” says Orrall.

The band, originally based in Hawaii and then Austin, had a core seven or eight members during its CBS days. After moving to Chicago in 1992, Orrall essentially disbanded the operation and spent some time doing solo shows with multiinstrumentalist sidekick Dave Crawford. Now the band, back up to full strength plus, includes Poi vets Crawford and violinist Susan Voelz, Slugs guitarist Dag Juhlin, former Mekons drummer Steven Goulding, and performance artist Brigid Murphy on sax. Orrall’s been spending the week at the theater, familiarizing the string quartet with songs like “Street Hassle” and West Side Story’s “Somewhere,” rehearsing with the band, and sound checking. What with expenses like flying in nearly half a dozen people from Austin, he says, the shows will probably lose money. To put him in the black–and accommodate those who couldn’t get tix–a trimmer version of the band will play a “secret” show at Lounge Ax Sunday night.

Rose Records: “Solid” but Smaller

1993 wasn’t a good year for the midwest’s largest record-store chain. Billboard reported last month on Rose Records’ “sagging fortunes,” noting that a difficult Christmas season had prompted the closing of four stores (two in Chicago) and the 86-ing of the company’s four Montgomery Ward record departments. Three other stores may shut down besides. Jack Rose (“I don’t like titles; I guess I’m the chairman of the board”), while downplaying the store closings, acknowledges that inroads by the likes of Best Buy, Circuit City, and Tower have affected business. “Anytime [a customer] leaves us to go somewhere else it hurts us,” he says. “The weather was a huge factor, too. As cold as it was, as much snow as there was–do you go out?”

While he insists that the chain’s future is “solid” and seems to reject the notion of corporate downsizing, his tone of voice acknowledges problems. “To be honest, I’m not sure what the answer is,” he sighs. “If we have any unprofitable stores, we’ll close them, but we’re not going to have any wholesale closing of stores just for the sake of closing stores.” Still, he concedes, “there will be changes.”

The 60-year-old chain now comprises 42 stores and a major cutout operation. The flagship Wabash store is a separate corporate entity, but still in the family.) On other subjects, Rose said that the company would not participate in industry experiments with selling used CDs, and that the chain’s “Entertainment Outlet” store on Rush Street–a unique all-cutout affair–was converted to a normal Rose Records because of location. “It was a good store but unfortunately not a success where it was.”


Hitsville apologizes to Tribune columnist Steve Nidetz for misspelling his name last week….Urge Overkill will open for Pearl Jam in their widely alleged March 10 gig at the Chicago Stadium….Tracks for volume three of Pravda Records’ venerable K-tel tribute compilations are being recorded now in anticipation of an April or May release. “It’s hard to say when something of this magnitude will come out,” says Pravda apparatchik Mark Luecke. The as-yet-untitled successor to 20 Explosive Dynamic Super Smash Hit Explosions! and 20 More Explosive Fantastic Rockin’ Mega Smash Hit Explosions! will include a version of “I’m Not in Love” by Red Red Meat; Vic Chesnutt doing “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”; Southern Culture on the Skids’ take on “Venus”; Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet doing the novelty instrumental “Popcorn”; and “My Sharona” as done by Veruca Salt….From the plus ca change desk, a headline in the New York Times last Wednesday: “Beatles’ Guru Offers Nirvana to Mozambique.”

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