(Click band name for photos from HoZac Blackout Fest)
The line-up kicked off Friday with locals Squish, an all-female cast serving up raw banshee howl punk. In the closing moments a pants-less saxophonist in Kiss make-up, identified later as XMAS (possibly of Puffy Areolas? QRO fact-checking department doesn’t get paid overtime…), jumped up on stage and helped Squish to a rousing finish.
With their new album Rock N Roll Dreamer dropping at Blackout, local greaser punk outfit Mickey had plenty to shout about. The five-piece takes little bits of magic from all over the rock ‘n’ roll map and boils it together in one big proto-punk stew. When the band took the stage it wasn’t yet dusk, but the crowd (which sang along to most of the lyrics to the songs) cheered on Mickey to what might have been the ballsiest performances of the fest. The frontman has the look of an unemployed dad in the ‘70s that stumbled into his son’s rock wardrobe, a memorable amalgam of beer gut, leather, and skinny jeans. Extra points awarded for being the first act (possibly the only?) to venture scaling the PA towers on either side of the stage.
Eric & The Happy Thoughts brought a little sunshine to the festivities with their happy-go-lucky garage rock stylings. At the other end of the spectrum, TV Ghost dialed up some darkness with synth-inflected zombie punk – their flailing frontman was an odd combination of Buddy Holly-meets-Iggy Pop (QRO photos). By the end of the act, night had fallen. The PBR was percolating in the veins, and the airy day show vibe morphed into more of a dank club atmosphere. Club Velvet Perineum, if you like: where the beer is served in tubs and the bathrooms are portable.
K-Holes took the stage, toting the infamous sax that served up such a delicious racket on their HOZAC release. Punk-saxophone seemed to be a strong sub-theme of this edition of Blackout. From the XMAS guest spot, to the K-Holes, to the Puffy Areolas: the brass demon kept popping up. Unfortunately for the K-Holes, the sound mix for their set didn’t do the saxophone justice, robbing them of their signature accent. But the usual punk/rock complement of guitar, bass and drums grinded out a solid set nonetheless. As you might expect with an irregular venue like the Velvet Perineum, all the sound wrinkles had not been entirely ironed out. The quality of the mix rose and fell; but the bands attacked the PA with gusto regardless, and PBR took care of the rest.
One of the first ‘legacy’ acts of the festival came on next. Brides, a three-piece punk ensemble that re-united for Blackout. They played quite a few of their old favorites and drew an interested crowd of old fans alongside the purely curious. Other legacy acts included Timmy’s Organism, who have the distinction of playing in all three Blackout fests dating back to the ‘90s; Tutu & The Pirates, vintage first-wave punkers who mostly looked and acted their age except for the wig-wearing frontman and a ‘toilet seat’ guitar; and Nervous Eaters (who were rumored to have a guest appearance by Neko Case – QRO album review).
The Spits headlined Friday night. Former Midwestern natives, the current-West Coasters dished out roiling, moiling four-chord punk behind Ronald Reagan masks. The first true mosh pit of the night broke out shortly into the set and slogged its way through to a sweaty climax. No casualties to report. Credit the family atmosphere and a scene that knows how to let loose without getting anyone squashed.
The epic haul of the festival was the Saturday line-up. Acts were scheduled from four in the afternoon until midnight, but there was no doubt the usual ebb and flow of live performance would string out the show deeper into the night. The crowd that arrived as doors opened were girding themselves and their livers for tremendous feats of stamina. Excitement was in the air, and a sense of camaraderie among a group of artists, journalists, promoters and the HOZAC gang. Local blogger Babystew remarked it was one of those shows where you recognize 80% of the audience. There was the goth-punk Crybaby couple (kudos Cream Team); the White Mystery (QRO photos) siblings; the Acid Marshmallow dude was filming, as was Secret Note; and QRO’s own photog Eleanora Collini jetsetted Stateside to shoot the fest, along with Nicole White. The vibe was kind of backyard BBQ-esque (appropriate for Memorial Day weekend) with friends and beers.
Nones opened for a friendly crowd, led by a PBR-spewing saxophonist (there’s that instrument again). That started a stretch of great local acts including Outer Minds and Radar Eyes. The latter have an album coming out shortly, sure to be a righteous tribute to their Ramones-on-acid sound. Heavy Times followed, total jean-jacketed punk mayhem reminiscent of Catacombz. A steady squawking feedback sounded during the set; difficult to tell whether this was a PA issue or just more showmanship from the feisty band that called out security for confiscating their switchblade.
People’s Temple came on next. Riding high on a superb sounding full-length album Sons of Stone (which may have sold out at the merch stand?), the four-piece grinded out hot manicured licks in a more muscle-bound version of 13th Floor Elevator-style psych. Afterwards Philadelphia’s Reading Rainbow unveiled themselves as a newly minted three piece. Raw garage bubblegum alternated with scruffier rock ‘n’ roll riffing. The band leans hard on pop luster, so the set dragged a bit when they ran short on catchy hooks. Maybe the third member will introduce a new dimension, but for now the delivery remains a bit too twee to shake the Matt & Kim (QRO spotlight on) comparisons.
Idle Times segued Blackout back to meat-and-potatoes proto-punk. The three-piece laid down a solid foundation of bass guitar and percussion, and let the lead guitar run wild in a fantastic, careening, caroming solo that last for about 90% of the set. Major hot finger fatigue. The heat got hotter when Puffy Areolas set up their gear on the ground floor, in the pit before the stage. There must have been some thought to having the crowd storm up on stage while the band played below – a real punk role reversal of performer and spectator – but the band was too intense, too weird, and put on too good a show for anyone to miss it by heading up on stage. The crowd clustered around Puffy Areolas below for a set of kamikaze, flame-throwing (literally) saxophone-accented punk.
Timmy’s Organism and Tutu & The Pirates led Blackout into the night, while NoBunny got the pit moving with his twisted interpretation of pure rock ‘n’ roll pop. The masked maestro started the set in tight fitting black pants before stripping down to a more comfortable pair of black undies (which he wore around the Velvet Perineum for the rest of the night). Closers Nervous Eaters, another legacy act, signaled the particularly historical bent of the latest Blackout. The gang at HOZAC has enjoyed a decades-long love affair with the punk rock scene of the Midwest, and, for three sweaty PBR-fueled days, Chicago got to come along for the ride. In the fake words of punk Martin Luther King Jr., "Those who don’t know their punk rock past are doomed to rip it off." The future awaits.