Ian’s Party, 2017, Showcases Chicago’s Underground

Ian's Party 2017 Poster, credit: Jenn Leis. Ian's Party 2017 Poster, credit: Jenn Leis. To begin, an embarrassing admission: this was my first ever Ian's Party. I've seen the stacked lineups every year for this Ian's Party, a weekend festival that showcases the best of Chicago's underground. The festival has taken place at venues around the Northwest side for a few years (after its more humble beginnings in the suburbs), and the lineup only continues to get better. This is the second year the festival finds itself centered around North, Milwaukee and Damen in Wicker Park, utilizing the proximity of venues like Double Door, Subterranean and Chop Shop (and comedy at the Flat Iron) to pack as many bands into a weekend as possible. I was only able to attend Friday night at the Double Door, but the bands I saw were exceptional. DROOL Ian's Party took advantage of the two floors of the Double Door. DROOL played in the basement, where their post-punk songs sounded most comfortable. The basement was hot despite single digit temperatures outside and felt like any DIY house show...except for the fact that there was a full bar and security that would call you out for standing on the couches. I was digging the sounds I heard, but I can't say I actually saw DROOL, for the room was totally packed. But they reminded me of other local bands like the Hecks, Disappears, and Evasive Backflip. Aggressive, heavy, angular, noisey, whatever: it's gonna keep me coming back. ONO I've lost count of how many times I've seen ONO. Upwards of 20, and probably closer to 30. Yet I never grow tired of an ONO performance. They could play the same four songs every set and it will sound completely different each time. For the uninitiated, ONO have existed in some form or another since 1983. The words “avant-garde” and “noise” are the most popular descriptions in reference to the band, though not much in the English language comes close to properly describing their sound. Frontman Travis commands most of the attention. He strips from a red dress to a white blouse. He gets the crowd to gleefully sing along to “Ever touch a man's penis for ole' time's sake?” ('Snatch' from 2015's Spooks). Travis is always confrontational and performing on the Double Door main stage was a weird barrier that usually doesn't exist between ONO and audience. But this night, the crowd gave as much as it got, and Travis fed off this energy, with quite the stage performance. Despite the attention he commands, Travis himself will tell you that the stoic P. Michael is the leader of the band. Likewise, Brett Naucke contributes synthesized noise, Ben Baker Billington erratically slams the drums, Dawei Wang grinds his guitar strings with various metallic objects, and keyboardist Rebecca Pavlatos helps provide some semblance of sanity in the midst of the chaos. ONO is truly one of the most unique bands that I have ever seen and am grateful every chance I get to see them perform. Lala Lala No, this isn't that movie everyone is talking about. But they are a band more people should be listening to. Back in the basement, Lala Lala made some reverb-drenched hooks that won't leave my ears, balancing a fine line between gritty and catchy. “Okie Dokie Doggy Daddy” has been stuck in my head since I left the show 48 hours ago. Lillie West's heart-on-the-sleeve delivery is commanding and at different times I was reminded of Diet Cig, Eskimeaux, and Mitski. The trio released an LP late last year and it's hard not to see 2017 being an even better year for Lala Lala. a2686019409_16 A Giant Dog's third album, Pile A Giant Dog A Giant Dog from Austin is much like the city they hail from: everything you've heard about it is good and everything you've heard about it is true. Singer Sabrina Ellis didn't stop dancing the entire time she was on stage. Their set bursted out with 'Creep,' the opening track off last year's Pile, their third album and first for Merge Records. Like Lala Lala, they make songs that seem deceptively simple, and won't leave your head for days. A Giant Dog has more of a garage rock sound though (think fellow Austinites OBN IIIs and Bad Sports), with a bit of glam thrown in for good measure. They played a new song which found guitarist and singer Andrew Cashen jumping into the crowd and returning to the stage with an audience member's scarf (“It makes me feel like Bono!”). They covered “Angst in my Pants” by Sparks, one of the bands major influences, both in sound and style. Merge may be a bigger label, but A Giant Dog made themselves right at home at the DIY-minded festival. They get tighter and tighter every time I see them and the crowds get more and more into it, and there's no way anyone left the building without becoming A Giant Dog's number one fan. It feels unfair to call this a review of Ian's Party. I didn't even scratch the surface. I missed some of my local favorites like Paper Mice, EGO, the Cell Phones, and Negative Scanner, not to mention the many artists I'd never heard of before. At the least, I'll sleep easy knowing that they will all play again (except for Swimsuit Addition...*sniff*), and that I can continue to contribute to my never ending list of bands to check out just by looking at the festival's poster. I know the new year just started, but I'm already looking forward to the first weekend of 2018 for the next iteration of Ian's Party. Give Ian's Party a like on Facebook so you'll be ready when next year comes around. You're welcome.
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Andrew Hertzberg