"More and more we are realizing what an honor it is to play here and that Touch and Go is much more than a record label; it's a community." Those were the heartfelt words uttered by the Ex lead vocalist Jos Kley just before his band launched into the final song of their 45-minute set. It was one of many emotional moments that Saturday afternoon at Touch and Go's 25th Anniversary Celebration, a three-day festival on September 8–10, honoring the Chicago-based label's unique achievements, as well as an historic setting for the temporary reunions of half a dozen influential punk bands from Big Black to Killdozer.
Just prior to the Ex's willfully abrasive, percussion-heavy set of angular art-punk, a decidedly more downbeat interlude transpired as Silkworm's Tim Midgett and Andy Cohen took the stage in memoriam of their former drummer, Michael Dahlquist, who was killed in a horrific car accident in 2005. Speaking briefly about the scope of their loss and the impact of Dahlquist's talent, the pair offered 20 minutes of stark electric guitar and mournful vocals, deliberately drum free and heartbreakingly raw with emotion.
The evening prior was aptly bacchanalian and giddy, thanks in no small part to a libidinous set by Girls Against Boys, who kicked things off with the dark, bass-driven throb of "In Like Flynn," and strutted their way through a perfectly chosen survey of their back catalog, focusing heavily on 1994's Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby and 2002's You Can't Fight What You Can't See. The Boys were followed by new label signee Ted Leo, who maintained his growing reputation as a formidable live presence whose seemingly bottomless energy reserves could jolt even the most jaded hipsters out of their Converses.
By the time the Ex left the stage on Saturday and anticipation began to build for the return of Scratch Acid later that evening, I was marveling at how beautifully conceived the whole event was. Two stages flanked the grounds and bands alternated between each one, ensuring that changeover time between acts was minimal and crowd-flow issues were almost nonexistent. The concessions—Whole Foods entrées, plentiful vegetarian and carnivorous options, and reasonable prices for water ($1)—were a welcome change after feeling seriously shafted at Bumbershoot. Short lines for beer and the freedom to roam virtually anywhere with your food or drink made the whole thing feel like an oversized backyard BBQ. In short: heaven.
Killdozer were rough, but still a messy delight, particularly when they broke out their cacophonous cover of ZZ Top's "La Grange." Sally Timms was as charming as always, joking her way through an easy set of country-tinged yarns and providing a sharp contrast to what followed: David Yow's noisy, sweaty return to stage with Scratch Acid. I could go on and on about how riveting Mr. Enigma remains, but you should just go see for yourself when they play the Showbox Saturday, September 16.
Man or Astro-man? were so good and so unexpectedly tight that I wish they'd just stop with all the teasing and clone bands and just officially reunite with all their original members. Big Black's 20-minute set was, well, short, and Steve Albini seemed almost happy to disappoint the fans pleading for them to play "Kerosene." That said, they opened with a flurry of firecrackers and did give up "Cables," so beggars can't be choosers. Much more satisfying and engaging was the performance from Albini's still occasionally active project Shellac, who capped the evening perfectly, swinging sharply between a hushed whisper and a sound akin to a steel mill imploding. In short: heaven.
Seattle-like rain showers and a much more pedestrian lineup kept me away from most of Sunday's shows, though I did catch the Black Heart Procession and saw many tired-but-happy faces in the smaller, soggy crowd.
Writing this column from Chicago, I'm reflecting on the experience and am already sad that it's over. However, along with the reprise of Scratch Acid, I have another great show to look forward to this week. Favourite Sons is the new project from Ken Griffin, the formerly reclusive force behind the criminally overlooked '90s Beggars Banquet band Rollerskate Skinny. They'll be showing off their new collection of plainly beautiful pop gems at Chop Suey this Thursday, September 14.