Girls Rock! and the Baby Magic

June 22, 2010

 

Reggy's wasn't my only rock 'n' roll adventure last Saturday; in the afternoon, I also swung by the Girls Rock! Chicago Kick-Off Celebration at Josephinum Academy in Wicker Park.

Yet another outgrowth of Baby Boomers striving to relive their youth through their offspring, as well as an example of the dreaded phenomenon of helicopter parenting, a number of expensive, corporate,'60s-centric "School of Rock" programs have sprung up in recent years to grab fists full of mommy and daddy's dollars while teaching junior how to "rock out" playing "Smoke on the Water" -- a vastly inferior alternative, if you ask me, to him gathering with friends in the basement, making a glorious noise of his own, and puking in the corner after drinking too much cheap wine.

Girls Rock! Chicago is a very different story. Part of a national alliance of similar programs across the country -- one of the first, in Portland, was strongly backed by Sleater-Kinney and the subject of a 2008 documentary entitled "Girls Rock!" -- this is a non-profit program staffed entirely by female volunteers from the local music community dedicated to teaching girls ages 8 to 16 to express themselves through guitars, bass, drums, or the DJ's turntables. It started with one week-long program in August 2006; this year, it's grown so popular that there are two camp sessions, both already filled to capacity, and both ending with the campers strutting their stuff onstage at Metro playing the songs they wrote, practiced, and recorded with their peers.

Nothing brings a tear to my eye more quickly than the thought of a young soul led astray down the corrupting but life-affirming path of rock 'n' roll -- the real trail, not the sanitized, corporately paved-over path. Lou Reed sang in the Velvet Underground classic "Rock and Roll" of young Jenny wasting away on soulless, suburban Long Island until that one fine day when she turned on a New York radio station and her life was saved by rock 'n' roll. Well, just imagine if she'd had Girls Rock!


The Cathy Santonies at the Girls Rock! Kick-Off

In addition to supporting the program, my own rockin' girl and I came out to the baseball field beside Josephinum to see the Cathy Santonies. A little more than 12 hours after tearing it up at the Flesh Hungry Dog Show in the middle of the pseudo-hurricane Friday night, the four musicians, several of whom volunteer to teach at Girls Rock!, braved the punishingly bright, sunscreen-defying rays on Saturday afternoon to unleash a short but invigorating set reconfirming my belief that they're one of the best up-and-coming bands on the local scene. Even as they rotate through a trio of drummers in search of a permanent percussionist, Radio Santoni, Mojo Santoni, and Jane Danger can do no wrong and never fail to deliver a cathartic explosion of energy. Just as impressive was the band that preceded them with the thankless task of playing to a mostly empty dirt field: the Baby Magic, led by another Girls Rock! instructor, Mary Beth "Baggy Time" Brennan. Dressed in a baseball uniform, Brennan gyrated like a dervish in between picking out minimalist synth riffs and banging on a tom-tom as the guitarist and drummer behind her helped create an unlikely but effective merger of Beat Happening-style, willfully naïve indie-pop and funky/polyrhythmic Afro-pop-period Talking Heads.


Mary Beth Brennan

As a dedicated girl-power button-pusher, Brennan's lyrics can be a bit on the rough side. "I used to f--- like a sailor," she wails at the start of "Ass Against These Hands," one of several strong tunes streaming on the band's MySpace page. "Guys and girls, it didn't matter"¦ I'd always be the one on top." But I've never been hung up about a little salty language when employed in the interest of delivering a message of self-empowerment to young ears, and the Baby Magic's set ended with a bit of theatrics that underscored the importance of refusing to be boxed in -- literally. As her bandmates grooved hard behind her, Brennan climbed into a big cardboard shipping box and began singing from within its depths. Then she plunged a huge kitchen knife through the cardboard from the inside and cut out one circle, then another, and another. Finally, her arms and head emerged from the box and she flailed around onstage, howling through to the big finale.


The Baby Magic: Don't Box Them In

It was a riot, girl. And I'd have killed to see something like it in my own impressionable youth.

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