Besides a looming deadline, this entire process is tinged with sadness: Best Blues Artist nominee Bennie Smith passed away Sunday evening from complications following a heart attack. (See page 12 for further information.)
In light of this, it almost seems frivolous to flippantly detail the drunken chaos and ridiculous antics of the showcase. But it's safe to say that one of Bennie's best qualities his tireless work ethic certainly was on display yesterday. From the musicians to the RFT staffers, from Contemporary Productions to businesses all over the Loop, I'd like to thank everyone who helped make the showcase run incredibly smoothly. I was certainly so, so proud of and happy with how everything turned out, and I hope everyone who attended felt the same way.
Without further ado, and in no particular order, the highlights:
A raucous noon-time punk kickoff set that was ostensibly the Pubes but that I discovered much, much later was an undercover Ded Bugs set (owing to Pube/Sex Robot Mario Viele being out of the country).
Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, smiling beatifically throughout his entire set of minimalist grooves, clanking percussion and tribal ephemera.
Kotche incorporating the chirps of live crickets during songs. (Every awe-struck local drummer I talked to after the set wanted to immediately go home and practice.)
The fabulous hip-hop stylings of righteous mixer DJ Trackstar starting my local-show night off right in Blueberry Hill's Elvis Room.
Best New Artist nominee Berlin Whale packing Riddle's and we're talking a sweaty, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of probably a hundred people. It's not an exaggeration to say that their Casio-driven set may have been the most inspiring I saw of the day especially when the entire audience danced and shouted along to the taut limb-loosener "Sweet Sixteen." Goosebumps.
The Vultures kicking out the rockabilly jams underneath the hot sun on the Market Stage, sounding incredibly tight.
Finally seeing Ghost in Light (mellow) and James Will and the Engines of Creation (raucous).
Bunnygrunt obliterating any twee-pop cred they've ever had by covering Minor Threat's "Cashing In" a nice complement to the Sex Robots' cover of the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog."
Huddling under a tent with various members of Bad Folk, the Love Experts, Magnolia Summer (and the Minus 5's Peter Buck) during a freak late-summer shower that upped the humidity and scattered the crowd before Grant-Lee Phillips' set.
Grant-Lee Phillips nevertheless rallying and uncorking a blazing, high-energy gig that started with his feathery cover of the Church's "Under the Milky Way" and snaked through Grant Lee Buffalo classics, including "Fuzzy," "Mockingbirds" and my fave, "Lone Star Song."
The Minus 5 unleashing an expectedly rip-snorting headlining set highlighted by the barn-burners "Aw Shit Man" and a cover of the Sonics' "Strychnine," as well as the sweetly twanging sing-alongs "Twilight Distillery" and "Cigarettes Coffee and Booze."
The members of the Minus 5 being incredibly gracious and kind people when I met them.
Coming home well after three a.m., slightly tipsy and reeking of bar but being as happy and content as I've probably felt in months. Thank you, St. Louis.
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