WBEZ | #thevortisdiaries http://www.wbez.org/tags/thevortisdiaries Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en The Vortis Diaries: Everything falls apart http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/2011-09-12/vortis-diaries-everything-falls-apart-91826 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-September/2011-09-12/Vortis_Schrader.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-11/Dero_VortisDiaries_v2.jpg" style="width: 518px; height: 47px;" title=""></p><p>As any musician who takes the stage with some regularity will tell you—if they’re honest enough to admit it—every so often, through some bad karmic collision of foul serendipity, the stage of the moon, and sheer numerical odds, the band will play a set where everything falls apart, and, regardless of the level of experience or preparation, it all just goes to hell.</p><p>After a fine and busy summer—including the previously chronicled <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/2011-07-27/vortis-diaries-record-release-party-89693">record release party in July</a> and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/2011-05-31/vortis-diaries-rock-%E2%80%99n%E2%80%99-roll-rituals-87198">the trip to Milwaukee on Memorial Day Weekend</a>, as well as a fabulously fun show with C.J. Ramone at the Abbey, a second road trip to Brew City in late August, and a taping for <em><a href="../../eight-forty-eight">848</a></em> that will air in the coming weeks—it’s possible that we were getting cocky. Or maybe it was just our turn. Whatever the reason, Friday at Wicker Park's <a href="http://subt.net/">Subterranean</a> was one of those nights.</p><p>We knew we were tempting fate when we accepted the last-minute gig proffered by my old pal <a href="http://www.myspace.com/tomschraeder">Tom Schraeder</a>, since the Vortis assault would provide a jarring stylistic detour from his music and that of Chicago-to-Nashville transplants <a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Clones/115264998494448?sk=app_178091127385">the Clones</a>. But Tom said that’s exactly what he wanted; we’d never played Sub-T before, and we figured, “What the heck; it’s been a long time since we cleared a room!” Of course, we assumed we’d do it through the force of our musical assault.</p><p>Actually, that’s not fair to Tom: Through persistent hard work and consistent creativity, he’s built a passionate, adventurous, and very accepting audience that’s growing all the time, though it deserves to be much, much larger. As I recalled when he blew me away with <a href="http://www.jimdero.com/News2007/lollablog.htm">a big-band performance at Lollapalooza in 2007</a>, I first met Tom about 10 years ago, when he was 16 or 17, lived across the street, and sat on his front porch playing Dave Matthews songs and Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” on acoustic guitar. He loved to talk about music and was always hungry to hear more, so out of kindness as much as the fact that I was tired of hearing those Matthews ditties, I loaned him albums by the Velvet Underground, Nick Drake, Paul Westerberg, and others; took him to shows, and generally encouraged him to think bigger and better all the time.</p><p>By no means is this to say that I claim any credit whatsoever for his musical journey or his accomplishments over the last decade. It’s all the result of his talent, curiosity, tireless labor, and seemingly unending ability to think outside the box.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="Tom Schraeder (center); photo by Amber Meairs." class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-11/tom-schraeder-by-Amber-Meairs.jpg" style="width: 450px; height: 300px;" title="Tom Schraeder (center); photo by Amber Meairs."></p><p>When whiny young musicians ask why no one pays them any attention, I often think, “It’s because you don’t work nearly as hard or try things a fraction as ambitious as a guy like Tom.” <a href="http://blogs.suntimes.com/music/2008/01/ego-what-ego-1.html">Since I last profiled him in 2008</a>, he’s toured relentlessly; lived in Austin for a time and started <a href="http://blogs.suntimes.com/music/2009/03/sxsw_2009_11_am_to_5_pm_wednes.html#more">an annual day-long showcase in the midst of South by Southwest</a> to give his friends and fellow Chicagoans another gig before leaving Texas or a stage when they’ve been ignored by festival organizers, and rebounded from a short spell of writer’s block to issue an iPod’s worth of new, self-released music.</p><p>Now, in collaboration with Chicago’s <a href="http://www.bailoutpictures.com/">Bailout Pictures</a>, Tom has made what he calls “a record in short-film format” titled <em>92 Days</em>. Impressionistically depicting that period of blockage, the 17-minute movie features local artists such as fire juggler <a href="http://www.upchicago.com/playing-with-fire-sylar-brodie-chicagoan-of-the-week">Sylar Brodie</a>, comedian <a href="http://marktheknife.com/">Mark “the Knife” Faje</a>, professional dominatrix <a href="http://www.sinstress.net/">Maya Sinstress</a>, and the <a href="http://www.chicagooutfitrollerderby.com/">Chicago Outfit Roller Derby</a> responding in their signature ways to his increasingly diverse sounds, with the relatively straightforward alt-country of his early days now including elements of electronica, hip-hop, and Flaming Lips-like orchestrated psychedelia, among other things.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/xSHzXnsMYZM" frameborder="0" height="345" width="560"></iframe></p><p>In any event, Tom, who hadn’t seen Vortis since an early gig at the Fireside Bowl back when the Professor fronted the band, asked it to open the local “film release show” in the midst of his current three-month tour. The invite became all the more welcome when the Clones offered to share drums—and assume the daunting task of hauling them up Sub-T’s steep staircases. (Anybody else ever consider the irony that a club called Subterranean is in a third-floor walk-up?)</p><p>Unfortunately, things were dicey almost from the start, with the band’s usual express train nearly but not quite derailing as I started the ultra-fast drum beat from one song with the ultra-fast drum beat from another, then spaced on a transition in another song and inserted an unrehearsed but somehow effective pregnant pause. Next, Louie Vortis inexplicably got his bass tangled up with Tony Vortis’ guitar cord, knocking it way out of tune. Finally came the one disaster no band can recover from.</p><p>There are almost always handy substitutes among the gear in the club for busted guitar amps, out-of-tune axes, bum microphones, and faulty keyboards, and all of them can be replaced relatively quickly mid-set. The one thing that can’t is the bass drum, the literal and metaphorical foundation of a drummer’s sound and set-up. Even when three bands aren’t sharing the same drum, a broken bass drum head means big trouble, since there’s just no easy way to replace it without disassembling the entire oversized Erector Set monstrosity and all its attendant microphones; undoing a dozen lugs; replacing the head, if anyone has a $30 spare in the right size handy; redoing the lugs and re-tuning the thing, then putting the whole kit back together again. (Watch a much-simplified version of this process <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1RcxkZ9OJM">here</a>.)</p><p>When I was kid about five years younger than Tom at the age when we met, I bought a ticket to see the Police at Madison Square Garden, intentionally sitting behind the stage so I could marvel at the dexterous power of drummer Stewart Copeland. I’ve never forgotten two things about that night. One is that Copeland so hated his fellow bandmates at that point that he had Magic-Markered the most vile string of curse words imaginable describing them on the heads of every one of the constellation of tom-toms that surrounded him. The other is that early in the show, he broke his bass drum head, and the concert stopped cold for a good 15 or 20 minutes as a trio of stressed-out roadies frantically went through all the steps described above to get things going again.</p><p>I've been stomping hard on bass drums for 33 years now, and I've never broken a head before, but there's a first time for everything. If there was no easy fix for the Police, once the biggest band in the world playing at one of its most famous arenas, there certainly was no hope for Vortis when my bass drum pedal suddenly smashed through the borrowed Mylar drum head and refused to come unstuck. We paused as I dug the beater out and tried to plug the hole with a few strips of duct tape, the indispensible fix-all that no band travels without. That held for another song and a half before the pedal once again disappeared into the void like Thelma and Louise. “We’re done, fellas,” I sadly admitted, so we scratched the remainder of our set list and gamely jumped to the closer, our Vortisized cover of <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0pV8vOQbxg">Roxy Music’s “Editions of You,”</a> which I figured we could approximate since it’s just a ’50s rockabilly groove revved up and transported to Mars, and it's 90 percent about the snare drum anyway.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="This is how a bass drum pedal looks when hitting a healthy bass drum head." class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-11/Cobra_Beater.jpg" style="width: 450px; height: 450px;" title="This is how a bass drum pedal looks when hitting a healthy bass drum head."></p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="This is how a broken bass drum head looks." class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-11/m.jpg" style="width: 450px; height: 466px;" title="This is how a broken bass drum head looks."></p><p>Ninety percent ain’t 100, and I won’t lie: It sucked, we sucked, and not even a word like “catastrophe” does things justice.</p><p>Wracked with guilt and shame, after the set, I helped the Clones sub out the front bass drum head for the batter head. Despite the longer-than-usual changeover, they smoothly sailed through their sophisticated sounds—think of a little J.J. Cale grit combined with early ’70s Bread or America and a dollop of alt-country; not my thing, but they do it well—and they were rewarded with a half-dozen couples actually slow-dancing in front of the stage (as opposed to running away from it for us). I told Tom to give them our cut of the door to pay for the damage, and I may still owe them a few bucks on top of that. Sorry again, boys.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="Crappy cell-phone pic of Tom Schraeder at Subterranean Friday." class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-11/Schraeder onstage.jpg" style="width: 450px; height: 338px;" title="Crappy cell-phone pic of Tom Schraeder at Subterranean Friday."></p><p>As for Tom, he got off to a rough start, too: The decision to screen the movie before performing confused people, and it really wasn’t the ideal showcase for a crowd that came to rock. But he recovered as soon as he took the stage, continuing to take chances with an impressive and anthemic new tune featuring a trio of rappers and backing singers, among other memorable numbers, and building from one beautiful, swelling crescendo to another, making the most of the big sound from his relatively big band.</p><p>As miserable a night as it was for Vortis, it was as fine an evening for him. But so it goes. We've all been there, and we're never eager to go back.</p><p><strong><u>THE VORTIS DIARIES</u></strong></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/2011-07-27/vortis-diaries-record-release-party-89693">July 27, 2011: Record Release Party</a></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/2011-05-31/vortis-diaries-rock-%E2%80%99n%E2%80%99-roll-rituals-87198">May 31, 2011: Rock 'n' roll rituals</a></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/2011-07-27/blog/jim-derogatis/2011-03-09/vortis-diaries-stage-patter-sucks-83444">Mar. 9, 2011: Stage patter sucks</a></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-finding-catharsis-cal%E2%80%99s">Jan. 27, 2011: Finding catharsis at Cal’s</a></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-evening-pancho%E2%80%99s-new-and-far-superior-ronny%E2%80%99s">Dec. 15, 2010: An evening at Pancho’s, the new (and far superior) Ronny’s</a></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-trip-milwaukee">Nov. 14, 2010: A trip to Milwaukee</a></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/2011-07-27/jderogatis/2010/10/the-vortis-diaries-dance-fever/39314">Oct. 11, 2010: Dance Fever</a></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-road-trip-madison">Aug. 30, 2010: A road trip to Madison</a></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-weekend-wall-wall">July 26, 2010: A weekend at Wall to Wall</a></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-evening-fcked">July 12, 2010: An evening with F*cked Up</a></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-six-hours-ronnys-saturday-night">June 21, 2010: Six hours at Ronny’s on a Saturday night</a></p></p> Mon, 12 Sep 2011 11:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/2011-09-12/vortis-diaries-everything-falls-apart-91826 The Vortis Diaries: Rock ’n’ roll rituals http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/2011-05-31/vortis-diaries-rock-%E2%80%99n%E2%80%99-roll-rituals-87198 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-May/2011-05-31/outside2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-May/2011-05-31/Dero_VortisDiaries_v2.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 54px;" title=""></p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-May/2011-05-31/outside2.jpg" style="width: 450px; height: 603px;" title=""></p><p>Though they seldom are as cheesy as the pre-concert prayer circle/ affirmation ring depicted in the Madonna documentary “Truth or Dare,” every band has its pre-show rituals. They’re often treated as a joke. Yet woe is the musician who strays from the routine when he or she has become used to centering him or herself in a certain way before churning out the rock.</p><p>The members of Vortis recently realized that we’re celebrating our tenth anniversary as a band, a fact that dawned on us only when we saw the slew of recent news stories about the FBI investigating Ted Kaczynski anew <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110519/ap_on_re_us/us_unabomber_tylenol_poisonings">for a possible connection to the Tylenol murders</a>. (One of the first sets of lyrics contributed to the proceedings by the Professor, the band’s original anarcho-agitainer front man, was called “The Unabomber Fight Song.” In 2001, Kaczynski already was three years into serving a lifetime sentence without the possibility of parole, but the Prof, a.k.a. “F.T.” or “the Fellow Traveler,” appreciated his critique of the global corporate hegemony destroying our planet… though obviously not the violent means he utilized.)</p><p>Vortis was a very different band back then, and there now are as many former associates as there are present members. That the latest defection is permanent and not temporary, as originally thought, struck us when <a href="../../blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-weekend-wall-wall">once again we returned to Wall to Wall Recording Studio</a> to serve as a test band for our buddy Dan Dietrich’s audio engineering class at the end of Columbia College’s spring semester. It probably was ludicrous to think that Chris Vortis ever could juggle band responsibilities in Chicago with getting a PhD in 18<sup>th</sup> Century Literary and Aesthetic Theory in Bloomington, Indiana. Yet, slow as ever on the uptake, the rest of us didn’t admit that his loss was for good until we recorded a new set of songs that he’d not only not contributed to, but had never even heard, exacerbated by the fact that he hasn’t played a gig with us since last July. Oh, well; such is life.</p><p>In any event, every member of the now-a-trio has his pre-gig protocol, pretty much set in stone a decade on. Tony Vortis usually tries to seek equilibrium after several beers and a shot of Makers by downing a strong black coffee, and he always dons his special black uniform shirt just before we play. Similarly, Louie Vortis always performs in his black peg-leg jeans, which are reserved for only these occasions. (He may or may not ever launder them.) As for me, at some point prior to every gig—ideally at the most mundane or unpleasant moment of the evening; sitting through an abysmal opening band, say, or lugging the gear into the club through a foot of snow—I solemnly intone, “Rock ’n’ roll is my life,” just to underscore the absurdity of gigging perception versus gigging reality. (Which is not to say it isn’t and I don’t love it, mostly.)</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-May/2011-05-31/braineyecircle a.jpg" style="width: 350px; height: 467px;" title=""></p><p>A punk-rock hole-in-the-wall of the favorite Vortis variety, we were happy to return to <a href="http://circle-a-cafe.org/band.html">Milwaukee’s Circle-A Café</a> last Friday, especially since the opening act this time was much more to our liking. The locals in <a href="http://www.myspace.com/wwwfloormodelcom">Floor Model</a> are veteran punks and kindred spirits, finding catharsis from day jobs as teachers and chefs by rocking fast and loud, with very little distracting nonsense, the occasional welcome slur hurled at anti-labor Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, and a set of funny and ferocious originals (one paid homage to an annoying pal named Larry; another was called “Kill My TV”) and well-chosen covers (the Dead Kennedys’ “Let’s Lynch the Landlord,” yeah!).</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="Jeff Floor Model" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-May/2011-05-31/JeffFM2.jpg" style="width: 450px; height: 603px;" title=""></p><p>As for Vortis: We came. We rocked. Though I was plagued throughout the set by the dreaded <a href="http://www.troys-drums.com/articles/drum-tips-dealing-with-bass-drum-creep.htm">bass drum creep</a>—I was using Floor Model’s drums, and I’d forgotten to look for a handy cinderblock to help stop the bass drum from inching forward every time I hit it—and a faulty hi-hat (argh; <a href="../../blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-evening-fcked">that again!</a>). These two problems I can blame on Tony Vortis forgetting one other key part of the pre-gig ritual: the traditional sounding of the World War II air raid siren (a great vintage find on eBay) right before we play. But again: Such is life.</p><p>Finally, it was time for the drive back to Chicago—thankfully minus the Friday rush-hour start-of-Memorial-Day-weekend traffic that we’d neglected to factor in on the trip out—along with one other post-gig ceremony. Eating before playing never is a good idea, but by 1 a.m., midway between Milwaukee and Chicago, we were famished. As culinary excellence goes, the Iron Skillet truck stop in Racine has very little to commend it. Yet whether you attribute it to the accumulated alcohol or the post-performance decompression/afterglow, breakfast never tastes as good as it does late at night after rock, and though we’ve strayed from this particular ritual in recent years, it’s one we now are committed to reinstating.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-May/2011-05-31/4721431-southern-breakfast-of-corned-beef-hash-and-sunny-side-up-eggs.jpg" style="width: 236px; height: 158px;" title=""></p><p style="text-align: center;"><strong><em>Circle-A sign and Jeff Floor Model photos by Louie Vortis.</em></strong></p><p><strong><u>THE VORTIS DIARIES</u></strong></p><p><a href="/blog/jim-derogatis/2011-03-09/vortis-diaries-stage-patter-sucks-83444">Mar. 9, 2011: Stage patter sucks</a></p><p><a href="/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-finding-catharsis-cal%E2%80%99s">Jan. 27, 2011: Finding catharsis at Cal’s</a></p><p><a href="/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-evening-pancho%E2%80%99s-new-and-far-superior-ronny%E2%80%99s">Dec. 15, 2010: An evening at Pancho’s, the new (and far superior) Ronny’s</a></p><p><a href="/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-trip-milwaukee">Nov. 14, 2010: A trip to Milwaukee</a></p><p><a href="/jderogatis/2010/10/the-vortis-diaries-dance-fever/39314">Oct. 11, 2010: Dance Fever</a></p><p><a href="/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-road-trip-madison">Aug. 30, 2010: A road trip to Madison</a></p><p><a href="/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-weekend-wall-wall">July 26, 2010: A weekend at Wall to Wall</a></p><p><a href="/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-evening-fcked">July 12, 2010: An evening with F*cked Up</a></p><p><a href="/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-six-hours-ronnys-saturday-night">June 21, 2010: Six hours at Ronny’s on a Saturday night</a></p></p> Tue, 31 May 2011 10:22:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/2011-05-31/vortis-diaries-rock-%E2%80%99n%E2%80%99-roll-rituals-87198 The Vortis Diaries: Finding catharsis at Cal’s http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-finding-catharsis-cal%E2%80%99s <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/cals.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-January/2011-01-26/Dero_VortisDiaries_v2.jpg" alt="" style="width: 599px; height: 53px;" /></p><p>As noted prior to yesterday&rsquo;s short self-promotional blog blurb and mentioned in my <a href="http://audio.soundopinions.org/streams/2011/01/show269dij.m3u">Desert Island Jukebox pick</a> on last week&rsquo;s &ldquo;Sound Opinions,&rdquo; I&rsquo;ve spent the tail end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011 in moving hell. At some point amid all the packing and hauling, I calculated that this was my 14th move since the age of 22, and let me tell you, in the intervening two and a half decades, a lot of crap has accumulated from this job of rock critic, not the least of which are several hundred books and tens of thousands of CDs (plus LPs, 45s, and even cassettes&mdash;still!). And the only thing I can think of that&rsquo;s worse than moving all of them in general is moving them in Chicago in January.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-January/2011-01-26/cals.jpg" alt="" title="" /></p> <p>It seemed like a good idea at the time when Vortis took a gig last Friday at <a href="http://www.myspace.com/calbar">Cal&rsquo;s</a>, a lone outpost of weirdness in the staid business district of the Loop, grungey bike messenger bar by day and even grungier punk-rock dive by night, and pretty much the Vortis definition of paradise 24/7. But truth be told, at a point when every bone and muscle in my body were aching and it took 20 minutes of rummaging through boxes just to find a clean pair of socks and my drum sticks, the last thing I wanted to do was to venture out into the single-digit deep freeze to play the drums.</p> <p>Still, the show must go on, and Vortis has <a href="../../../../../jderogatis/2010/06/album-review-band-of-horses-infinite-arms-and-a-few-words-on-the-rockbox/26227">only once walked away from a gig</a> it committed to play&mdash;at the dreaded Rockbox, which had royally screwed over many a local band and was in the midst of doing the same to us and our friends <a href="http://www.myspace.com/anxietyhigh">Anxiety High</a>&mdash;and the kind and selfless gesture of Darrick Elia offering the loan of his drum set, thereby sparing me the strain of having to carry any more heavy junk, combined to assure that venture forth I did.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-January/2011-01-26/bumpus.jpg" alt="" title="" /></p> <p>Speaking of that Rockbox gig, kicking things off on Friday was a fine local combo called <a href="http://www.myspace.com/thebumpushoundschicago">the Bumpus Hounds</a>, cheekily named for the pack of rangy mutts that destroy the family turkey in the classic holiday film &ldquo;A Christmas Story,&rdquo; and the third band that Vortis and Anxiety High were supposed to play with on that awful night last year. Resonant of Social Distortion, with hints of rockabilly roots in their straightforward punk, the Bumpus Hounds sounded a little cleaner and more controlled than seemed appropriate for Cal&rsquo;s&mdash;if ever a dive calls for maximum distortion and aggression, Cal&rsquo;s is it&mdash;but the band got the energy flowing in high style nonetheless.</p> <p>The hardest-rocking dude in Berwyn, the aforementioned Mr. Elia has played with innumerable fine garage combos through the years, and is currently the man behind the mask in <a href="http://www.reverbnation.com/thehamburglars">the Hamburglars</a>, who already have generated considerable buzz&mdash;though it actually sounds more like &ldquo;robble, robble, robble&rdquo;&mdash;and are about to release their first single. He first paired with his wife Nancy and Brandee Kopta, a.k.a. Mrs. Tony Vortis, a few years ago in a quintet called the Adornments. <a href="http://www.jimdero.com/News2008/10newChicagoacts.htm">I was a big fan</a>&mdash;their tune &ldquo;Blogs Are Cries for Help&rdquo; remains one of the most brilliant anthems of the Internet Age that I&rsquo;ve heard&mdash;but the inevitable personnel conflicts led to them paring down to a trio with a new name: <a href="http://www.myspace.com/thedemerits">the Demerits</a>.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-January/2011-01-26/demerits.jpg" alt="" title="" style="width: 474px; height: 634px;" /></p> <p>In the middle of the bill, the Demerits impressed with far less shtick than they employed in their previous incarnation and a much more focused flair for twangy surf melodies underscoring their minimalist but endearingly effective garage pop. What I wrote of the Adornments holds even more true of the Demerits: Think of the B-52&rsquo;s, the Cramps, and the Violent Femmes crammed into a van on a three-day road trip. Then think of them on acid.</p> <p>Finally it was Vortis&rsquo; turn to take the small corner of the floor by the back curve in the bar that serves as the stage at Cal&rsquo;s. Darrick sits a good foot lower at his drum set than I do at mine, and I didn&rsquo;t have the energy to rearrange his kit, so I kept it as it was and as a result kept hitting the knuckles of my left hand on the top rim of the snare drum and banging my right knee on the bottom as I struggled to work the bass drum pedal throughout the set. Little annoyances like that can throw a drummer&mdash;good posture is important here if nowhere else in rock&mdash;but the Vortis express train derailed only once, and that was when I couldn&rsquo;t remember the syncopated drum intro to Louie Vortis&rsquo; new song &ldquo;Singalong&rdquo; because it sounds so much like the syncopated drum intro to Louie Vortis&rsquo; older song &ldquo;Fight.&rdquo;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-January/2011-01-26/drum pic.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>&ldquo;Keep going&mdash;next tune!&rdquo; I shouted to the boys, and we did, and, as usual, about 18 songs flew by in about 20 minutes. Then we doubled back and finally played &ldquo;Singalong&rdquo; correctly, followed by an encore of the Ramones&rsquo; &ldquo;53rd &amp; 3rd&rdquo; with Pete Bumpus jumping in on guest vocals, even though he didn&rsquo;t know the words as he&rsquo;d claimed.</p> <p>It didn&rsquo;t matter: We came. We rocked. And all was right with my moving-damaged world, underscoring once again why so many of us on the grassroots level of the music world gloriously devoid of delusions of grandeur spend the time and energy and effort, regardless of our state of physical and mental well-being, to rehearse and haul the gear and brave the elements and hang around the club all night to play a set that rushes by in the blink of an eye for a handful of friends. As a cathartic outlet to wash away the pains and troubles and mundanities of so much of the rest of our lives, there simply is nothing better.</p> <p>THE VORTIS DIARIES</p> <p><a href="../../../../../blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-evening-pancho%E2%80%99s-new-and-far-superior-ronny%E2%80%99s">Dec. 15, 2010: An evening at Pancho&rsquo;s, the new (and far superior) Ronny&rsquo;s</a></p> <p><a href="../../../../../blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-trip-milwaukee">Nov. 14, 2010: A trip to Milwaukee</a></p> <p><a href="../../../../../jderogatis/2010/10/the-vortis-diaries-dance-fever/39314">Oct. 11, 2010: Dance Fever</a></p> <p><a href="../../../../../blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-road-trip-madison">Aug. 30, 2010: A road trip to Madison</a></p> <p><a href="../../../../../blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-weekend-wall-wall">July 26, 2010: A weekend at Wall to Wall</a></p> <p><a href="../../../../../blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-evening-fcked">July 12, 2010: An evening with F*cked Up</a></p><p><a href="../../../../../blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-six-hours-ronnys-saturday-night">June 21, 2010: Six hours at Ronny&rsquo;s on a Saturday night</a></p><p><strong><em>Band photos by Louie Vortis.</em></strong></p> <p>&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 27 Jan 2011 12:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-finding-catharsis-cal%E2%80%99s The Vortis Diaries: Dance Fever http://www.wbez.org/jderogatis/2010/10/the-vortis-diaries-dance-fever/39314 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2010-October/2010-10-26/HotHeavyVortis4-1024x766.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><a rel="attachment wp-att-39320" href="/jderogatis/2010/10/the-vortis-diaries-dance-fever/39314 /dero_vortisdiaries_v25"><img style="width: 450px; height: 40px;" class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-39320" title="Dero_VortisDiaries_v25" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Dero_VortisDiaries_v251.jpg" alt="" /></a>&nbsp;<code> </code> <a rel="attachment wp-att-39323" href="/jderogatis/2010/10/the-vortis-diaries-dance-fever/39314 /hotheavyvortis4"><img style="width: 450px; height: 336px;" class="aligncenter size-large wp-image-39323" title="HotHeavyVortis4" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//HotHeavyVortis4-1024x766.jpg" alt="" /></a></p><p>From the point of view of the musician onstage, there can be no better sight than to look out mid-song and see a throng of people dancing.</p> <p>On a good night, when the band is in synch and firing on all cylinders, the non-verbal communication between members locked into the same rhythms, anticipating one another&rsquo;s next moves and simultaneously reacting to and spurring them on, is the most intimate exchange that people can have outside of sex.</p> <p>When listeners are dancing in response to these sounds, this deep and visceral connection extends into the audience, the feedback loop expands, and the energy swap grows ever more intense.</p> <p>You play harder, tighter, maybe a bit faster, and certainly with more spirit. You have to: The dancers depend on it. And it essentially is as close as you can get in modern days to one rock &rsquo;n&rsquo; roll ideal of recreating <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacchanal">the bacchanalia of ancient times</a>.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><a rel="attachment wp-att-39324" href="/jderogatis/2010/10/the-vortis-diaries-dance-fever/39314 /levequebacchanalia"><img style="width: 450px; height: 347px;" class="size-full wp-image-39324" title="LevequeBacchanalia" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//LevequeBacchanalia.jpg" alt="" /></a></p><p style="text-align: left;">Vortis has been spoiled by several spontaneous and extended outbursts of dancing at recent gigs: There was a fair amount of moshing when <a href="http://blogs.vocalo.org/jderogatis/2010/10/jderogatis/2010/07/the-vortis-diaries-an-evening-with-fcked-up/29382">we played with F*cked Up at the Empty Bottle</a>, and the slamming was absolutely nuts during our <a href="http://blogs.vocalo.org/jderogatis/2010/10/jderogatis/2010/08/the-vortis-diaries-a-road-trip-to-madison/35496">late-summer road trip to Madison</a>. When the fine fellows in Royal Pines asked us join them on a double bill Saturday at <a href="http://www.viaducttheatre.com/cms/">the Viaduct Theatre</a> booked by Christa Meyer, formerly of the sublime <a href="http://blogs.suntimes.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?search=puerto+muerto&amp;IncludeBlogs=84">Puerto Muerto</a> and now in the process of putting together a new cello-driven group in between the duties of her day job, we wanted to do something special to mark our first time at this wonderfully friendly and eclectic venue tucked beneath the soon-to-be-dismantled bridge on Western near Belmont.</p> <p><a href="http://www.myspace.com/hotandheavyburlesque">Hot &amp; Heavy</a> to the rescue.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img style="width: 451px; height: 675px;" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-October/2010-10-26/Viva-La-Murte.jpg" alt="" title="" /></p><p style="text-align: left;">Chicago&rsquo;s hardest-rock burlesque troupe was formed about two years ago by the indomitable Danielle Call, a.k.a. Viva La Muerte, who may be small in stature, but who looms very large indeed as an undeniable life force. (She likes to describe herself as &ldquo;a little hell-raiser.&rdquo;) Starting with a handful of friends but now numbering 18 dancers who join her onstage at different gigs, Hot &amp; Heavy grew out of Call&rsquo;s two big loves: heavy metal and horror films. &ldquo;And naked girls and metal just seem to go together!&rdquo; she said.</p> <p>This is not your grandmother&rsquo;s burlesque troupe. In addition to the louder, nastier sounds that power it and a penchant for macabre twists and wicked humor in many of the routines, few of the girls fit anybody&rsquo;s stereotype of a Playboy bunny. Their allure is in the sheer, unbridled, self-empowered joy that they display in unselfconsciously expressing themselves through dance, thoroughly losing themselves in the moment, and in the process taking off (strategic pieces of) clothing.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><a rel="attachment wp-att-39326" href="/jderogatis/2010/10/the-vortis-diaries-dance-fever/39314 /hotheavyvortis2"><img style="width: 450px; height: 336px;" class="aligncenter size-large wp-image-39326" title="HotHeavyVortis2" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//HotHeavyVortis2-1024x766.jpg" alt="" /></a></p><p style="text-align: left;">The Viaduct was the scene of Hot &amp; Heavy&rsquo;s biggest triumph to date&mdash;a full-scale burlesque rendition of the Pink Floyd epic &ldquo;The Wall,&rdquo; which they&rsquo;ll reprise with 10 shows every weekend in January at the same venue&mdash;and when Call asked if Vortis would like them to join us for our Viaduct debut, we couldn&rsquo;t say no. We&rsquo;ve collaborated with the troupe a few times before, and the girls (and occasionally a guy) did their routines between sets. This time, we wanted to try something different, incorporating them into the set itself as a sort of bizarro-world/punk-rock take on the &ldquo;Shindig&rdquo; or &ldquo;American Bandstand&rdquo; dancers of yore.</p> <p>This would be no easy feat, given the take-no-prisoners or pauses, banter-free, rapid-fire, express-train delivery that the band favors. Imagine trying to dance in time to a hurricane. But we sent Call and the girls a rough practice-space recording of our set&mdash;a typical 20 songs in 27 minutes&mdash;and she said they were up for the challenge. As indeed they were.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><a rel="attachment wp-att-39334" href="/jderogatis/2010/10/the-vortis-diaries-dance-fever/39314 /hotheavyvortis1"><img style="width: 450px; height: 335px;" class="aligncenter size-large wp-image-39334" title="HotHeavyVortis1" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//HotHeavyVortis1-1024x766.jpg" alt="" /></a><code> </code></p><p style="text-align: left;">We came. We rocked. And so did Hot &amp; Heavy, comprised on this night of Viva La Muerte, Red Hot Annie, Donna Touch, and Mai Atari, who mostly did their thing on the floor&mdash;pulling more than a few members of the crowd into the ensuing chaos and prompting others to spontaneously burlesque&mdash;while the band did its onstage, until we all came together for an encore of the immortal Naked Raygun&rsquo;s &ldquo;Rat Patrol.&rdquo; (Hey, if we couldn&rsquo;t be at Riot Fest, this definitely was the next best thing.)</p> <p>One downside of being sequestered behind the drums behind a screen of cymbals is that I often miss all of the best stuff; I never heard about the guy who took a swing at our former lead singer mid-set or the night someone burned a flag in front of the stage until after the fact. On Saturday, all I could see beyond Tony and Louie Vortis and the vocal mikes was a blur of gyrating flesh and extended limbs, plus the occasional garment tossed onstage. But I could feel it, and it was sublime.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><a rel="attachment wp-att-39327" href="/jderogatis/2010/10/the-vortis-diaries-dance-fever/39314 /hotheavyvortis3"><img style="width: 450px; height: 336px;" class="aligncenter size-large wp-image-39327" title="HotHeavyVortis3" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//HotHeavyVortis3-1024x766.jpg" alt="" /></a><code> </code></p><p style="text-align: left;">As for our partners in crime, <a href="http://www.myspace.com/royalpines">the Royal Pines</a>, Joe Patt and his band mates are at their best when their eschew their more traditional alt-country material&mdash;which is fine, but nothing we haven&rsquo;t heard before&mdash;and wade through murkier, muddier, and much more Gothic waters. &ldquo;You guys make me think of backwoods hillbilly goat-humping music,&rdquo; I told them afterwards. I meant it as high praise&mdash;&ldquo;We&rsquo;ll take it as a compliment!&rdquo; Patt said&mdash;but then it was that kind of night.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img style="width: 450px; height: 336px;" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-October/2010-10-26/Royal-Pines-1024x766.jpg" alt="" title="" /></p><p style="text-align: center;"><code> </code> <strong><em>Viaduct photos by Mary Elisa Merrill.</em></strong></p></p> Mon, 11 Oct 2010 06:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/jderogatis/2010/10/the-vortis-diaries-dance-fever/39314 The Vortis Diaries: A road trip to Madison http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-road-trip-madison <p><p><a href="/jderogatis/2010/08/the-vortis-diaries-a-road-trip-to-madison/35496 /dero_vortisdiaries_v2-6" rel="attachment wp-att-35500"><img height="72" width="800" alt="" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Dero_VortisDiaries_v25.jpg" title="Dero_VortisDiaries_v2" class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-35500" /></a></p><div>&nbsp;</div><p>Every musician wants his or her music to be heard by as many people as possible, and to that end, one of the big advantages for bands in Chicago is that the city is within easy striking distance of so many other Midwestern burgs. With relatively little effort, a group with any ambition can soon build a reputation that&rsquo;s regional instead of merely local, and from there, world domination is that much closer in reach, even if only in one&rsquo;s dreams.</p> <p>Beyond the benefits of expanding your audience, however, there is an indescribable excitement to solving the Tetris-like puzzle of how to stow your gear in the van; gassing up and laying in the requisite store of pretzels and beef jerky; plotting out a course on Mapquest but leaving to chance where you&rsquo;ll crash for the night, and watching the highway roll by through a bug-splattered windshield.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><a href="/jderogatis/2010/08/the-vortis-diaries-a-road-trip-to-madison/35496 /madison-2" rel="attachment wp-att-35504"><img height="375" width="500" alt="" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Madison-2.jpg" title="Madison 2" class="size-full wp-image-35504" /></a><br /><em>Stowing the gear is like playing Tetris</em></p><p>In part, it&rsquo;s the Beat ideal of the cross-country quest for kicks. Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty may have been grooving to bebop on their journeys, but no book ever has described the fundamental allure of the rock band in a van better than <em>On the Road</em>. Yet there also are more timeless aspects to the romance of touring. This is no aimless wander or casual meander: There are elements of the military campaign, especially in the hurry-up-and-wait challenges of getting a group of people to move in the same direction at the same time; the crusade, in the agnostic Merriam-Webster sense of &ldquo;an enterprise undertaken with zeal and enthusiasm,&rdquo; and the quest, with the gig at the end of the road standing as no less than the Holy Grail.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s been seven years since Vortis did any significant road-tripping. Back then, when the professor still was in the band, we undertook a trio of long-weekend jaunts to Cleveland and Columbus; Detroit, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Grand Rapids, and Iowa City and Minneapolis. Though the group has talked about it every summer since, it&rsquo;s failed to make it happen again for one lame reason or another&mdash;until now.</p> <p>The logical extensions of last weekend&rsquo;s trip to Madison would have been Milwaukee and Minneapolis, but the Madison invitation, proffered by our friends <a onclick="pageTracker._trackPageview('/outgoing/cathysantonies.com/?referer=http%3A%2F%2F208.100.14.212%2Fblog%2Fderogatis%2Fpage%2F5');" href="http://cathysantonies.com/">the Cathy Santonies</a> but originally booked by a band from Rockford called <a onclick="pageTracker._trackPageview('/outgoing/clayburgcreate.com/prolespunk/?referer=http%3A%2F%2F208.100.14.212%2Fblog%2Fderogatis%2Fpage%2F5');" href="http://clayburgcreate.com/prolespunk/">the Proles</a>, arrived too late to make either happen. This was to be a one-gig mini-trip, then, but it felt like a brief tour nonetheless. Any band will tell you that any show involving more than a 90-minute drive always does.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img height="375" width="500" alt="" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//madison-11.jpg" title="madison 1" class="size-full wp-image-35505" /><br /><em>The Lothórien Housing Collective</em></p><p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p><p><a onclick="pageTracker._trackPageview('/outgoing/lothloriencoop.org/?referer=http%3A%2F%2F208.100.14.212%2Fblog%2Fderogatis%2Fpage%2F5');" href="http://lothloriencoop.org/">The Lothórien Housing Collective</a>&mdash;&ldquo;Madison&rsquo;s largest residential housing co-operative since 1973&rdquo;&mdash;is one of those institutions unique to this contrastingly progressive and regressive college town. A massive, sprawling, and vaguely Gothic old house situated on the banks of Lake Mendota, it&rsquo;s located in the midst of UW&rsquo;s fraternity and sorority row, but it&rsquo;s filled with an alternative population of multiply-pierced punks, hirsute hippies, grungy bicyclers, and aging academics. Proudly declaring itself &ldquo;LGBTQ-friendly,&rdquo; it&rsquo;s run by a council of &ldquo;elves&rdquo; who invite visitors to &ldquo;join us for vegetarian &amp; vegan food (mostly local/organic) everyday at 6 p.m.&rdquo; A large bowl of conch shells sits near the front door, and an elf apparently blows one daily to herald dinnertime&mdash;or to warn that Madison&rsquo;s finest have arrived on the premises, and it&rsquo;s high time to, er, <em>cleanse</em> one&rsquo;s co-operative dwelling space.</p> <p>Proud of our status as the prompest (and politest) band in punk, Vortis arrived in Madison early enough to spend an hour in a frustrating and very Chicago-like Friday-afternoon rush-hour traffic jam, aggravated by the fact that every other street seemed to be closed for summertime construction, and that hordes of SUV-driving helicopter parents had descended upon Badger U to deliver their sweeties to the dorms. It was rush time as well as move-in week, and it would be hard to imagine less surreal or more distasteful spectacles than the gaggle of aspiring sorority sisters we saw on one lawn being forced to stand in anatomy-defying poses until they toppled over, or the band of brothers barbecuing on the regal veranda of another house and tossing out the rudest of invitations to any female passersby.</p> <p>Madison was ripe for some rock in opposition, to be certain, and none of the bands on the bill at the Lothórien disappointed.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img height="669" width="500" alt="" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//first-band.jpg" title="Back Camera" class="size-full wp-image-35506" /><br /><em>Living and Wrestling -- and wearing no shirts</em></p> <div>&nbsp;</div><p>First up was a young quintet from Milwaukee called <a href="http://www.myspace.com/livingandwrestling">Living and Wrestling</a> that delivered a short but sweet set of aggressive screamo distinguished by the fact all of the band members had taken their shirts off within about 10 seconds of striking the first notes. </p><p style="text-align: center;"><img height="375" width="500" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-November/2010-11-12/2010-08-30 proles.jpg" alt="" /><br /><em>The Proles (in a photo from their Web site)</em><br />&nbsp;</p><p>Meanwhile, at the other end of the night, the Proles ended the festivities by tearing things up with some searing old-school punk marked by the appealing sweet-and-sour combination of dual lead vocals from bassist Megan and guitarist Logan, with whom I'd bonded over a mutual conviction that as men of a certain heft, we are deeply opposed to removing our shirts in public anywhere but the pool or the beach -- though pants might be a different story.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><a href="/jderogatis/2010/08/the-vortis-diaries-a-road-trip-to-madison/35496 /mojo-one" rel="attachment wp-att-35508"><img height="535" width="400" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//mojo-one.jpg" title="mojo one" class="size-full wp-image-35508" alt="" /></a><br /><em>The Cathy Santonies in action in Madison</em></p><p style="text-align: left;">In between, the Cathy Santonies delivered their usual take-no-prisoners helping of ferocious but melodic anthems. The quartet had been plagued by two questions during its three-hour drive to Madison. The first was why the Chicago press seems to have such a hard time describing its music. The second came when Mojo and Radio Santoni stopped at the Taco Bell on I-90 at what they rechristened the &ldquo;Mr. Belvidere Oasis,&rdquo; in honor of a best-forgotten &rsquo;80s sitcom. (Named for the &ldquo;bad girl&rdquo; in &ldquo;Full House,&rdquo; the group has an inordinate fondness for these).</p> <p>The fast-food restaurant had posed a riddle as part of a free-grub promotion&mdash;&ldquo;What is black when you get it, red when you use it, and grey when you&rsquo;re done with it?&rdquo;&mdash;but the Santonies hadn&rsquo;t been able to answer it on the spot, thus losing out on a free cardboard-tasting gordita. (Vortis didn&rsquo;t fare any better when the Santonies asked us, but one of the elves solved the puzzle: charcoal.)</p> <p>My answer for the more substantive query is that the band represents a unique and unlikely mix of seemingly disparate sounds that unexpectedly combine to work as perfectly together as chocolate and peanut butter. The group actually is spot-on with its description of itself as &ldquo;a subversive mix of riot grrrl and cock rock&rdquo;&mdash;Bikini Kill crossed with the Runaways&mdash;and the only combo I can recall mining similar turf is L7, which critics also had a hard time pigeonholing. Simultaneously angry and celebratory, punk-minimal and metal-excessive, super-smart and wonderfully stoopid, the Santonies were a highlight of the night in Madison. More importantly, and as I&rsquo;ve said before, in my contention, they&rsquo;re one of the best up-and-coming bands in Chicago.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img height="535" width="400" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//crowd-2.jpg" title="crowd 2" class="size-full wp-image-35509" alt="" /><br /><em>A pleasant crowd of freaks and geeks eager to mosh and rock in opposition</em></p><p>As for Vortis, it was second on the bill and played to about four dozen people who nicely filled the Loth&fnof;&sup3;rien's big common room. We came. We rocked. And the gig instantly made the list as one of our all-time favorites, thanks to the frequent eruptions of chaotic moshing, the towering dude who alternated between lovingly giving us double-barreled middle-finger salutes and screaming along with Tony and Louie Vortis even though he didn't know a word of any of the tunes, and the opportunity to play for a near and dear friend from Madison who'd never had the chance to see us before. </p><p>The band got $20 from the door and sold $15 worth of merch, which was ideal, since the trip cost a little more than $35 in gas. Unfortunately, the merch bag wound up being excluded from the Tetris-like re-load at the end of the night (though it was recovered by the Proles, who promised to bring it back to Chicago on <em>their</em> next road trip).</p><div class="mceIEcenter"><dl class="aligncenter" id="attachment_35511"> <dt style="text-align: center;"><img height="375" width="500" alt="" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//47825_1368953786918_1323910146_876016_7744250_n.jpg" title="47825_1368953786918_1323910146_876016_7744250_n" /><br /><em>The merch</em></dt></dl></div><p>It was our Madison friend who recommended breakfast at another local institution before we hit the road back to Chicago on Saturday morning. <strong>Bennett&rsquo;s Meadowood Country Club</strong> is an odd, defiantly libertarian, and proudly gonzo bar that resembles the oldest of old-school Wisconsin supper clubs&mdash;dark wood paneling, coolers full of PBR, stuffed fish mounted on the walls, and all the rest&mdash;but which proudly hosts &ldquo;Porn in the Morn&rdquo; breakfasts on the weekends.</p> <p>Surrounded by blue-collar construction-worker types and fifty-something couples enjoying a hair of the dog Bloody Mary, I relished a good mug of strong coffee and a &ldquo;Smut Muffin&rdquo; (two eggs over easy with four strips of bacon on an English muffin) in the midst of a dozen television screens flashing different scenes from &rsquo;70s porn films. In some weird way, it was the perfect complement to the collegiate horror show of the previous afternoon, as well as the ideal farewell to Wisconsin&rsquo;s capitol city, and exactly what was need to fuel the drive home.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img height="535" width="400" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-November/2010-11-12/2010-08-30 tony vortis.jpg" alt="" /><br /><em>Tony Vortis tuning before the gig</em></p><p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p> <p><strong><em>Photos by me, Louie Vortis, and Anna Lewis.</em></strong><strong><em> </em></strong></p></p> Mon, 30 Aug 2010 06:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-road-trip-madison The Vortis Diaries: A weekend at Wall to Wall http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-weekend-wall-wall <p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="478" height="43" class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-31143" title="Dero_VortisDiaries_v2" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Dero_VortisDiaries_v24.jpg" alt="" /></p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="296" height="224" class="aligncenter size-medium wp-image-31149" title="DSCN1358" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//DSCN1358-300x224.jpg" alt="" /><code> </code></p><p>The recording studio is a magical place. From the first time I entered one 27 years ago -- a cramped eight-track facility in the basement of a house in suburban New Jersey run by a guy who went on to record Christina Aguilera -- through about four dozen projects since, up to the 19 hours that Vortis spent at Chicago's <a href="http://www.walltowallrecording.com/">Wall to Wall Recording</a> last weekend, I've always felt like a kid in a candy store whenever I've been within the studio's mysterious, buzzing, and womb-like walls.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><!--break--> <img width="300" height="224" class="aligncenter size-medium wp-image-31150" title="DSCN1380" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//DSCN1380-300x224.jpg" alt="" /><code> </code></p><p>The sense of privilege, wonder, and bountiful riches open to endless exploration is a feeling that many musicians share. English record producer Stephen Street, who's worked with the Smiths, Morrissey, and Blur, among others, was our guest on <a href="http://www.soundopinions.org/">&quot;Sound Opinions&quot;</a> last week, and he put it like this: &quot;What I love about it is that at the start of the day, there's this blank piece of tape and these musicians, and you put up these microphones and things around them and then you record it, and balance it, and it goes onto this tape, and at the end of the day, this recording exists, and it's something that can never be taken away.&quot; But not every rock musician is quite so enchanted by the process.</p><p>For some, recording is a drudgery to be endured only by necessity, since it's the only way to capture the sounds you need to make a record. Chris Vortis genuinely hates the process: Breaking down every element of the band's wall of noise and putting them under an intense aural microscope runs counter to the chaotic, energetic, &quot;live in the moment&quot; immediacy that he values most about the rock 'n' roll experience. Tony Vortis is closer to my Enoesque way of thinking, and Louie Vortis still is too new to all of this to be jaded about anything, but we certainly see Chris's point: Time has a way of becoming more elastic and moving even more slowly in the studio than it does in the hours preceding a gig or crossing the country in a van while touring. So, over the course of four albums, we've tried to bring a measure of what Vortis does onstage to what Vortis does in the recording studio, striving to keep things as direct, immediate, and in-your-face as possible.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="300" height="224" class="aligncenter size-medium wp-image-31154" title="DSCN1361" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//DSCN1361-300x224.jpg" alt="" /><code> </code></p><p>Wall to Wall has been especially conducive to this goal, and part of it is the place itself. As with almost every aspect of the music business, recording studios have been under assault in the years since the digital revolution: Every schmuck with <a href="http://www.apple.com/ilife/garageband/">Garage Band</a> on their laptop has come to think that they can do anything a professional recording engineer can do, even if they're trying to record a drum set in a closet with one SM57 microphone. (The best studios have a choice of rooms with different sounds and dozens of mikes, each best suited for a particular task, and some costing thousands of dollars each, to say nothing of the years of training required to properly use them in the first place.)</p><p>Though we've lost some fine ones in recent years -- Kingsize, Warzone, Idful, Trax, and &fnof;Å&ldquo;ber Studio among them -- Chicago still is blessed with a long list of extraordinary recording facilities. Far fewer music lovers interact with them directly, but every one of them is as vital a part of the local music community as the clubs, independent record labels, community radio stations, blogs, and record stores, from the state of the art (and commensurately expensive) <a href="http://www.chicagorecording.com/">Chicago Recording Company</a>, to Steve Albini's infamous <a href="http://www.electrical.com/">Electrical Audio</a>, to workhorses such as <a href="http://www.enginestudios.com/">Engine</a>, <a href="http://www.gravitystudios.com/">Gravity</a>, <a href="http://www.somastudios.com/">Soma</a>, <a href="http://www.perishablerecords.com/clava/clava.html">Clava</a>, and <a href="http://www.millionyen.com/">Million Yen</a>. But even in this distinguished company, Wall to Wall is unique.</p><p>Occupying a never-ending 9,000 square feet in the basement of a six-story brick building raised in 1911 at the corner of LaSalle and Huron, Wall to Wall has an aura of the bomb shelter about it -- or maybe an outdated Cold War missile complex housed deep underground somewhere in Omaha, since its warrens of twisting hallways, myriad heavy metal doors, and strange hidden rooms that open up to other, even weirder rooms that you'd never suspect are there create a vibe of slightly sinister and super-secret endeavors. The studio itself was opened as Sonart in 1972 by two Chicago music-scene characters named Chuck Lishon, a tireless wheeler-dealer whose father owned the renowned Frank's Drum Shop, and Hans Wurman, a classical musician who tried to cash in on the success of &quot;Switched-On Bach&quot; by Wendy Carlos with unimaginatively titled albums such as &quot;The Moog Strikes Bach&quot; and &quot;Chopin a la Moog.&quot; (John Dugan recounted a lot of this fascinating back story when he wrote about Wall to Wall's opening for <a href="http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/he-has-built-it-will-they-come/Content?oid=915378">The Reader</a> in 2004.)</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="223" height="300" class="aligncenter size-medium wp-image-31226" title="IMG_0010" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//IMG_0010-223x300.jpg" alt="" /> <code> </code></p><p>Part of its charm is that very little at Wall to Wall seems to have changed since '71. The hallways are adorned with a number of antique tape machines the size of industrial refrigerators, and they share space with a collection of vintage Farfisa, Hammond, and Vox keyboards, as well as a Mellotron (shades of the Moody Blues!). The main recording room is resplendent with old mauve sound baffles and painfully bright red and blue shag carpeting, while the smaller Gold Room acquired its name from shiny faux-metal paneling that would bring a smile to the face of any denizen of Studio 54. The lounge has a massive TV set that was positively futuristic, three decades ago, as was the Atari video game console that's hooked into it. And with its wood paneling, enveloping leather couch, black velvet draperies, glowing ambient lighting, and massive double-pane glass wall looking down on the main recording space, the central control room is the sort of place where you'd expect to find an exceedingly disheveled Stevie Nicks after a four-day coke binge, crashed out under the old 60-input Neve V51 recording console.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="300" height="224" class="size-medium wp-image-31155" title="DSCN1368" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//DSCN1368-300x224.jpg" alt="" /><br /><em>Dan Dietrich, man of mystery</em><br />&nbsp;</p><p><code> </code> As with any studio, however, the biggest part of its appeal is the proprietor, who invariably infuses the place with his own soul and personality. A native of Springfield, Illinois, Dan Dietrich used to play in a surf/garage band called the Aquavelvets with his brother Matt, a newspaper reporter who was a competitor of mine when I was at The Jersey Journal and he was at The Hudson Dispatch at the start of both of our careers (small world, eh?). Dan started out recording his own group in a home studio, and graduated to working at Kingsize. After Sonart closed, the River North space was run by a few other studio operators over the years, until it finally wound up as Columbia College's teaching facility. When the school opened its own studio in the South Loop in 2003, Dietrich, who was left without a home after the demise of Kingsize, seized the opportunity, invested a butt-load of cash, and opened Wall to Wall pretty much at the worst time in the history of the recording business.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="223" height="300" class="aligncenter size-medium wp-image-31228" title="IMG_0014" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//IMG_0014-223x300.jpg" alt="" /></p><p>Despite the challenges, Wall to Wall has found its footing, balancing commercial jingle work and tape transfer projects with recording an impressive roster of local artists, including <a href="http://www.myspace.com/andrewbird">Andrew Bird</a>, <a href="http://www.myspace.com/muccapazza">Mucca Pazza</a>, and <a href="http://www.myspace.com/chrismillsmusic">Chris Mills</a>; one specialty is that the sheer size of the place makes it ideal for big, ambitious orchestral-pop sessions. But Dietrich also teaches audio engineering for Columbia, and it's with these classes that his personality really shines. Laidback almost to the point of laconic, he has a way of getting things done fast, efficiently, and flawlessly without ever looking as if he's working. Razor sharp and bitingly funny in a dry and low-key way, he teaches with an approach that Louie Vortis calls a slightly perverse take on the Socratic method. Two students may spend an hour placing overhead mikes on the drum set or a direct line and a mike on the bass amp only for Dietrich to come in, take one look, and ask, &quot;Are you <em>sure</em> you want to record the cymbals that way?&quot; or &quot;Have you listened to the way the bass sounds in the room? Do you think you're going to get that the way you've set this up?&quot; Then he fixes things and illustrates the right way to do them in about five minutes flat.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="223" height="300" class="aligncenter size-medium wp-image-31227" title="IMG_0011" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//IMG_0011-223x300.jpg" alt="" /> <code> </code></p><p style="text-align: left;">Since the recording students always need bands to record, Vortis has been a test case for four of these classes in the last three years. Most volunteer bands come in and cut a track or two during one five-hour session; the first time Vortis came in, we laid down more than 20 songs for a grand total of 35 minutes of music, and still had time for a rough mix. In addition to enjoying our company and maybe even liking our music -- it's hard to be sure, and in any event, that's never really required of a professional audio engineer -- I think Dietrich views our band as a distinct challenge to whatever crew of twenty-something slacker students comes in thinking that this recording thing has got to be a cakewalk, and maybe they'll just kick back tonight and dig some power-pop group or jam band.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="300" height="224" class="size-medium wp-image-31156" title="DSCN1369" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//DSCN1369-300x224.jpg" alt="" /> <br /><em>Tony&nbsp;Vortis, waiting to rock</em><br />&nbsp;</p><p>During our last three visits to his class, we've kept the agenda to a more reasonable five or six songs each time -- which means we now have a backlog of 13 tunes to consider for a new album, once we mix them properly with Dietrich. (The students' rough mixes can range from sounding like Korn, to sounding like the Dave Matthews Band, to just plain sounding like ass, as Tony Vortis would say. But what do you expect for free?) We also had four new songs we were dying to record, and one cover we wanted to lay down. There never was any way that we were going to get all of that done in one weekend -- <a href="http://www.myspace.com/anxietyhigh">Anxiety High</a>, our next-door neighbors at the <a href="http://www.superiorst.com/">Superior Street</a> rehearsal spaces, were hoping just to track four songs when they went into Million Yen last weekend -- but it didn't stop us from trying.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="300" height="224" class="size-medium wp-image-31157" title="DSCN1382" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//DSCN1382-300x224.jpg" alt="" /> <br /><em>Tony Vortis, tracking vocals</em><br />&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: left;">Setting up and getting the basic sounds is the worst part of recording -- and the part that Chris Vortis understandably likes the least -- but we've learned through experience that rather than, say, sitting and monotonously hitting the bass drum for half an hour, and then the snare drum, and so on through every instrument one by one, it's better to use that time to warm up as a band and rehearse the songs a few more times as Dietrich and his students -- there were three interns this time, plus regular studio assistant Frank -- tweak the mikes, set the levels, and adjust the EQ's.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="300" height="224" class="size-medium wp-image-31232" title="DSCN1400" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//DSCN14001-300x224.jpg" alt="" /> <br />Tony Vortis, liking what he hears</p><p style="text-align: left;">The advent of <a href="http://www.avid.com/US/products/Pro-Tools-8-Software">Pro Tools</a> and digital recording and mixing have given studios some wonderful advantages -- not the least of which are the abilities to continually hone the mixes as things progress; to cut and paste with the click of a mouse, and to literally see the wave forms on the computer screen in addition to hearing the music -- but for us the ideal way to record still is to capture the basic songs plus a few guitar and vocal overdubs on two-inch tape, and then dump the music into the computer to mix. Unfortunately, a few days earlier, Wall to Wall's big old reel to reel recorder had started to spew some weird smoke that Doug the Intern said smelled like grape soda, so this was going to be an all-digital session. And, though the computer is supposed to be immune from such mechanical problems, it assuredly is not: First, a weird glitch that Dietrich calls an &quot;IO problem&quot; (it has something to do with &quot;input, output&quot;) sidelined us for a while and had Frank scurrying for manuals -- never a good sign -- and then, once that was fixed, there was a recurring &quot;Assertion Problem&quot; error message that set us back a while longer.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="223" height="300" class="aligncenter size-medium wp-image-31229" title="IMG_0016" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//IMG_0016-223x300.jpg" alt="" /></p><p>Finally, four hours after we arrived, we were ready to roll. We came. We rocked. And in 45 minutes, we'd recorded our four originals and a cover of &quot;Oh Bondage, Up Yours!&quot; by X-Ray Spex. A few hours more, and we'd laid down the vocals for everything except the latter, and it was a fine time to stop for the night and adjourn to the Blue Frog, one of Chicago's most lovable dive bars, and most conveniently located directly above the studio.</p><p>One disadvantage of Wall to Wall's subterranean missile control architecture became apparent when we arrived again on Saturday to find Dietrich, Frank, and Doug the Intern trying to clear out an inch of water from the recording room; that was a hell of a storm Friday night and Saturday morning, but things could have been worse: <a href="http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/2532402,flood-rain-warning-chicago-weather-072510.article">The studio could have been in Westchester.</a> The purpose of the lounge and that Atari console becomes obvious at times like these or during one of those IO debacles, though Vortis just whiled away the hours smoking and drinking. Chris Vortis had thoughtfully brought a couple of bottles of Italian Chianti to make things more pleasant in the studio, and all that was missing were the meatballs.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="300" height="224" class="size-medium wp-image-31159" title="DSCN1397" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//DSCN1397-300x224.jpg" alt="" /> <br /><em>Watching Radio Santoni--a real rock star--<br />singing from the control room<code> </code> </em><br />&nbsp;</p><p>In any event, Saturday's session didn't really get rolling until late afternoon when our friend, Raedy Ping, a.k.a. Radio Santoni of <a href="http://www.myspace.com/thecathysantonies">the Cathy Santonies</a>, came by to lend her dulcet tones to the X-Ray Spex cover, outdoing even the ferocious Poly Styrene with her impassioned yelps and bleats. We did manage to mix all five of the new songs by 9:30 or so -- though Tony Vortis insisted on Sunday morning that the bass is too hot in the mix, so there's that to fix -- which means we still have those other 13 songs from the three sessions with Dietrich's classes still untouched.</p><p>The very prospect makes Chris miserable, but I couldn't be happier: It just means we get to spend more time in the studio.</p><p><strong><em>Photos by Chris Martiniano and Louie Calvano</em></strong></p></p> Mon, 26 Jul 2010 06:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-weekend-wall-wall The Vortis Diaries: An evening with F*cked Up http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-evening-fcked <p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="501" height="45" class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-29385" title="Dero_VortisDiaries_v2" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Dero_VortisDiaries_v22.jpg" alt="" /><img width="315" height="421" class="aligncenter size-medium wp-image-29383" title="Bottle Door" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Bottle-Door-224x300.jpg" alt="" /></p><div>&nbsp;</div><p>When you&rsquo;re playing a three or four-band club bill, every slot has its advantages and its disadvantages.</p><p>The headliner is, of course, the headliner, and therefore considered the best or most important band of the evening, though the downside if that&rsquo;s your role is that you&rsquo;re probably a little edgy for most of the night before taking the stage. The middle bands can play to the biggest crowd, since some people come late and some leave early, but you have the pressure of a quick turnaround, hastily putting your gear up on stage, and then quickly hauling it off. The openers get to play and then spend the rest of the night enjoying themselves. They may play to fewer people, given the late arrivals, but they have the luxury of leaving their equipment set up in the optimal position on stage after soundcheck and before the set, though the soundcheck almost never happens as scheduled.</p> <p>Time is a nebulous concept in rock &rsquo;n&rsquo; roll. Most people involved with the booking of bands know this and assume that musicians generally are irresponsible and/or chronically late, so a stated load-in time of 6 p.m. with a 6:30 soundcheck really means &ldquo;7:30 and 8:15 or so.&rdquo;</p> <p>Vortis prides itself on being prompt, if not early, as well as being relentlessly polite and conscientious, so our band arrives at the Empty Bottle for its scheduled 6:30 load-in at 6:15, only to find that <a href="http://www.hoylebrothers.com/">the Hoyle Brothers</a> are in the midst of their every-Friday happy-hour honky-tonk set (<em>doh! of course</em>), and headliners F*cked Up actually will arrive for their 3 p.m. load-in around 7:30.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="360" height="269" class="size-full wp-image-29389" title="Hoyles" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Hoyles.jpg" alt="" /><br /><em>The Hoyle Brothers playing<br /></em></p><p style="text-align: center;"><br /><img width="360" height="269" title="" alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-November/2010-11-13/Wait.jpg" /><br /><em>Vortis waiting and drinking</em></p><br /><p>The Hoyles set up on the floor and play in front of the stage, so we stack our gear on the elevated area to stage right and I leisurely begin to assemble my drum set as the rest of Vortis starts waiting and drinking. I&rsquo;m sticking with Cokes tonight, since I want the maximum caffeine/sugar-rush buzz for the punk rock to come, so time goes even more slowly for me, but I&rsquo;m not complaining.</p> <p>Laced with sublime pedal steel guitar, the Hoyles do honky tonk as well as honky tonk can be done, gamely entertaining requests from fans, mixing classic country covers with their own material, giving a lesson in western swing dancing, and providing a fine soundtrack for unwinding at the start of the weekend. Plus it&rsquo;s always entertaining to see the odd juxtaposition of tattooed and pierced Wicker Park hipsters two-stepping and slow dancing beside older folks from the neighborhood who you normally wouldn&rsquo;t expect to see at the Bottle.</p> <p>Four hours after we load in, Bottle stage manager Pete tells us it&rsquo;s time to play, but Tony Vortis is nowhere to be found. He has a pre-performance ritual: After four or five beers and the occasional shot with the rest of the group, he likes to duck out for a cup of gas station or 7-Eleven coffee, with the theory that the coffee stimulant balances the alcohol depressant to achieve a state of perfect equilibrium. Equalized or not, Tony eventually is found savoring his java in the basement green room, and we take the stage about five minutes late&mdash;a mark of shame for the rest of us, since, as noted, Vortis takes pride in its promptness.</p> <p>Most non-musicians and even many other instrumentalists rarely understand the myriad complexities of a drum set: <em>You drummers just bang like heck on the things, so how complicated can they be?</em> In fact, there are about three or four dozen weird little metal parts&mdash;connectors and wing nuts and springs and collar locks and washers and set screws&mdash;and if any one of these come loose amid all of that pounding, it really can wreak havoc with your rhythm.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="158" height="300" class="size-medium wp-image-29391 aligncenter" title="hi hat diagram" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//hi-hat-diagram1-158x300.jpg" alt="" /></p><p>&nbsp;</p><div><p>Early in Vortis&rsquo; set, something happens to my hi-hat pedal that never has happened during 31 years of playing the drums: Inside the upper metal tube that slides into the lower metal tube, the top metal rod that connects to the bottom metal rod that&rsquo;s connected to the spring that connects to the pedal that allows you to bring the upper hi-hat cymbal together with the lower hi-hat cymbal on the beat with your left foot, as well as to control how tightly the cymbals close when you play them with your right hand (providing either a tight, clipped &ldquo;<em>chink</em>&rdquo; or a loose, sloppy <em>&ldquo;sloosh</em>&rdquo;), somehow un-threads from its six inches of threaded connection, leaving the damn thing just sort of sitting there like a dead and useless limb, and requiring about four times as much effort from the right hand to get any semblance of that rapid-fire eight to the bar <em>&ldquo;sloosh</em>&rdquo; so necessary for punk-rock aggression.</p> <p>This would have been a three- or four-minute fix, if a drummer was so inclined, and many bands would have filled that time with some friendly stage patter and reminding people to tip their bartenders (who, at the Bottle, are always pleasant and deserving of thanks, as is Pete and all of the stage crew). But Vortis doesn&rsquo;t do stage patter&mdash;I&rsquo;ve heard way too much lame bloviating through the years ever to allow my bandmates to indulge, though that&rsquo;s really the only restriction I&rsquo;ve ever put on them&mdash;plus we have something we like to call &ldquo;the freight train,&rdquo; though &ldquo;bullet train&rdquo; would be more appropriate, since it means that we start with song number one and play through to song number nineteen while striving for maximum speed, ferocity, and efficiency, with no stopping whatsoever, no way, no how.</p></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div style="text-align: center;"><img width="300" height="200" title="" alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-November/2010-11-13/Vortis-rocks-300x200.jpg" /><br /><em>Vortis rocks as the drummer frets about that damn hi-hat </em></div><p>So I grit my teeth and I deal with it; I drop two sticks (it's about 20 degrees hotter and sweatier onstage than it is in the rest of the club, which is plenty hot and sweaty already), but I don't drop a beat, and the train hurtles forward and stops 25 minutes later without flying off the rails. We came. We rocked. And now we can enjoy the rest of the evening.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="300" height="224" title="" alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-November/2010-11-13/Phantomz-300x224.jpg" /><br /><em>Mike Lust of Tight Phantomz</em></p><div>&nbsp;</div> <p><a href="http://www.myspace.com/tightphantomz">The Tight Phantomz</a> are an excellent Chicago band on the faster, nastier tip of the stoner-rock spectrum. They officially are a quartet, but their second guitarist has another, better-paying gig as what bassist Pete Croke calls &ldquo;a blues jobber,&rdquo; so sometimes the group is a trio, as it is tonight. Bandleader Mike Lust is an astoundingly good shredder himself, and when he&rsquo;s the only guitarist, the combo is at its loudest and most chaotic, as opposed to what Croke calls the &ldquo;poppier&rdquo; sound of the four-piece unit. The three musicians take the stage and they slay, and Lust and Croke are exceedingly cool fellows to hang with before and after, to boot.</p> <p>The Phantomz sell every CD they put out on the merch table, with Tony and Louie Vortis doing them the solid of watching over things and collecting and passing on the cash. Vortis merchandise doesn&rsquo;t move quite as fast&mdash;we sell two CDs, which is satisfying enough (<em>&ldquo;Hey, somebody likes us! They really, really like us!&rdquo;</em>)&mdash;while at the big table next to us, <a href="http://www.myspace.com/epicsinminutes">F*cked Up</a> fills fans&rsquo; hands with a steady slew of vinyl and shiny plastic discs, and deservedly so.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="300" height="200" class="size-medium wp-image-29394" title="Fcked Up" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Fcked-Up-300x200.jpg" alt="" /><br /><em>F*cked Up</em></p><div>&nbsp;As I&rsquo;ve said before, the Toronto art-punks are one of the best live bands in the underground today, with a massive three-guitar attack powering its melodic hardcore anthems&mdash;&ldquo;epics in minutes,&rdquo; the group calls them&mdash;all on top of the inimitable stage presence of massive front man Damian &ldquo;Pink Eyes&rdquo; Abraham.</div> <p>Tonight, the band may be holding back a bit&mdash;it was slated to play another set on Saturday outdoors at West Fest&mdash;as it&rsquo;s a little more subdued than I&rsquo;ve seen it before. But a slightly subdued F*cked Up still is more intense than 99.9 percent of other bands, and it tears through a strong set of its classic tracks, with Pink Eyes stripping off his T-shirt about three songs in, and everything ending with the trademark cover of Black Flag&rsquo;s &ldquo;Nervous Breakdown,&rdquo; though Abraham jokes that the band would have played &ldquo;Hey Suburbia&rdquo; by local pop-punk legends Screeching Weasel, if only it actually knew the song.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="300" height="224" class="size-medium wp-image-29395" title="DSCN1305" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//DSCN1305-300x224.jpg" alt="" /><br /><em>Even more F*cked Up, sans T-shirt </em></p><p>F*cked Up is a rare exception to the &ldquo;stage patter sucks&rdquo; maxim, and Pink Eyes&rsquo; story about being a stay-at-home dad when the band isn&rsquo;t touring is pretty entertaining: Seems he freaked out the hippie/yuppie moms in his Toronto neighborhood during a Mother&rsquo;s Day Picnic when he pushed his young son on the swings while wearing a Charlie Manson T-shirt. A frantic mosh pit forms in front of the stage, with Chris Vortis in the thick of things, and it lets up only during these occasional monologues. As a result, by the end of the night, the Bottle is even hotter and sweatier than it was earlier, with a thick, humid, and almost tangible cloud of body odor hovering throughout the club&mdash;a sure sign of a great punk-rock experience.</p> <p>In the end, Louie Vortis collects a crisp hundred-dollar bill (<em>sweet!</em>), which joins the $20 we made from the two CDs we sold, and we load out at 2:15 a.m., which means that&ndash;if we considered this a job&ndash;each of us made $3.75 an hour for the eight hours we spent at the club. But we most certainly don&rsquo;t consider it work, and really it all seemed to go down in less time than it had taken to find coffee-sippin&rsquo; Tony Vortis.</p> <p>As I said, time is a nebulous concept in rock &rsquo;n&rsquo; roll.</p> <p><strong><em>Cool, arty photos by Chris Vortis, except for the Vortis waiting photo by me and the Vortis playing and in-focus F*cked Up photos by Chris&rsquo; love, Kathy.</em></strong></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 12 Jul 2010 06:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-evening-fcked The Vortis Diaries: Six hours at Ronny's on Saturday night http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-six-hours-ronnys-saturday-night <p><p><a rel="attachment wp-att-26879" href="/jderogatis/2010/06/the-vortis-diaries-saturday-night-at-ronnys/26878 /dero_vortisdiaries_v2"><img height="72" width="800" class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-26879" title="Dero_VortisDiaries_v2" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Dero_VortisDiaries_v2.jpg" alt="" /></a></p><p>Located at the corner of California and Dickens in Logan Square, before its reincarnation as a neighborhood watering hole, <a href="http://www.myspace.com/ronnysbar">Ronny's Bar</a> was a garage. Chicago's ace punk-rock promoters MP Productions regularly stage shows there, and for those occasions, they've renamed it &quot;Ronny's Center for the Performing Arts.&quot; But there is considerable irony in that grandiose title.</p><p>Ronny's is inarguably best described as &quot;a sh*thole.&quot; But it is as wonderful a sh*thole as sh*tholes come.</p><p>Its nondescript façade can make Ronny's hard to find, especially amid the chaos of post-Puerto Rican parade festivities. But we knew Saturday would be special when, for the first time any of us in Vortis or anyone at MP could remember, the neon marquee magically flickered on. Sure, it was missing an &quot;n.&quot; But it still was &quot;phonetically correct,&quot; as Louie Vortis enthused.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img height="225" width="300" title="" alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-November/2010-11-12/sign1-300x225.jpg" /></p><p><!--break--></p><p>No matter how vibrant their underground music scenes, most mid-sized cities -- Madison, Milwaukee, Chapel Hill, or Ann Arbor -- are lucky to have one venue like Ronny's sporadically hosting five- or six-band punk-rock bills. Chicago has half a dozen. But even given this bounty, Ronny's is special.</p><p>Vortis first played the place between Christmas and New Year's Eve, 2008. It was the coldest day of the winter, and the bands -- which included a young group from Florida which hadn't packed winter clothing and had been waiting in its unheated van for several hours before the door man arrived to open up -- could see their breath <em>inside the club.</em> Even so, Ronny's smelled of cat piss, as it always did, which was hard to explain, because there never was a feline in sight. </p><p>Spanning the door where bands load their gear in and out was a thick marble slab which, besmeared by snow and ice, became treacherous to anyone struggling with an unwieldy bass drum or a 90-pound Marshall cabinet. Most of us fell prey to this hazard at one point or another, suffering a sore butt, a twisted ankle, or merely some wounded pride. But it was character-building.</p><p>In recent months, Ronny's has been subject to slow but steady renovations. The marble slab still is there, but the dry wall lining the music room has been finished and painted black. A stage has been built --a short stage about six inches tall, but a stage nonetheless. The big, broken statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe has been removed, and a new plywood booth has been built for the sound technicians. (It replaces the old tiki bar, which was troublesome because it was on casters and would sometimes roll across the floor during a show.) And, most amazingly, the joint no longer stinks --&nbsp; or most of it doesn't, anyway. </p><p>For a true taste of the old Ronny's, you have to brave the restrooms, which remain gloriously unaltered. C.B.G.B. was infamous for its toilets, but as someone who's played both clubs, let me tell you, Ronny's wins -- or loses, as the case may be. Words really can't do its facilities justice.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><a rel="attachment wp-att-26881" href="/jderogatis/2010/06/the-vortis-diaries-saturday-night-at-ronnys/26878 /toilet"><img height="300" width="225" title="" alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-November/2010-11-12/toilet-225x300.jpg" /><br /></a></p><p>Chris Vortis is juggling work on a PhD in 18<sup>th</sup> Century Literary and Aesthetic Theory and a day job in graphics with his true calling as a punk rocker nonpareil, and he recently was outed to a coworker, who asked what the punk-rock experience is like. &quot;I don't know what kind of bathrooms you frequent,&quot; he said, &quot;but I go to all the worst ones in the world.&quot; </p><p>That is one truism about the life of a grass-roots gigging musician that rarely is discussed, just as you never hear about the behind-the-scenes ordeal of packing the gear, loading the gear, unloading the gear, setting up the gear, breaking down the gear, loading the gear, and unloading the gear again at its original storage space -- a process that can be three or four times as long as the amount of time actually spent onstage -- or the fact that the set is a mere fraction of the six or seven hours spent in a club between soundcheck and load-out at the end of the night.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img height="225" width="300" title="" alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-November/2010-11-12/Vortis-300x225.jpg" /><br /><em>Vortis: Sitting, waiting, drinking.</em></p><p style="text-align: center;">Because, for Vortis, eating before a gig is strictly verboten -- it just makes you logey when you're trying to play 18 songs in 30 minutes -- there are only two things to do during this long stretch. One is drinking. The other, of course, is supporting our fellow bands, which on this night started with a Chicago quartet called <a href="http://www.myspace.com/thelarroquettes">the Larroquettes</a>, named, no doubt, for that great thespian from &quot;Night Court.&quot; </p><p style="text-align: center;"><a rel="attachment wp-att-26883" href="/jderogatis/2010/06/the-vortis-diaries-saturday-night-at-ronnys/26878 /laro"><img height="225" width="300" class="size-medium wp-image-26883" title="Laro" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Laro-300x225.jpg" alt="" /></a><em><br />The Larroquettes</em></p><p style="text-align: left;">Ably anchored by a solid bassist named Mariah (just Mariah), the group churned out nasty, dirty, blues-based garage-rock crunch -- the members cite the Mummies and the Cramps among their heroes -- and a fine start to the night it was, especially when the set ended with trashed drums and an onstage wrestling match.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><a rel="attachment wp-att-26884" href="/jderogatis/2010/06/the-vortis-diaries-saturday-night-at-ronnys/26878 /brothers"><img height="225" width="300" class="size-medium wp-image-26884" title="Brothers" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Brothers-300x225.jpg" alt="" /></a><em><br />The Brothers of Barabas</em></p><p style="text-align: left;">Things slowed down a bit with the second Chicago foursome, <a href="http://www.myspace.com/thebrothersofbarabas">the Brothers of Barabas</a>, who did a more generic yet indefinable indie-rock choogle. It wasn't that the group sucked, exactly; just that its stiffness and apparent lack of enthusiasm belied the otherwise festive spirit of the night.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img height="225" width="300" title="" alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-November/2010-11-12/StandDeliver-300x225.jpg" /> <em><br />Stand &amp; Deliver, Fat Sammy on the floor, obscured by my crappy iPhone photo</em></p><p style="text-align: left;">Much, much stronger -- indeed, the highlight of the bill -- was <a href="http://www.myspace.com/standanddelivernaptown">Stand &amp; Deliver</a>, a quintet from Indianapolis led by Fat Sammy (just Fat Sammy), formerly the vocalist of About the Fire. Sammy's new group continues in the screamo vein, and the needly, single-note guitar lines and over-abundance of earnest sentimentality can be a bit annoying, especially when Sammy starts talking about fallen friends and the challenges of bringing a kid into this world. But ultimately the man was an undeniable presence, stomping through the crowd -- he spent the whole set on the floor of the club, because no six-inch stage could contain him --and it was impossible not to be swept up by his passion or his bandmates' propulsive energy.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a rel="attachment wp-att-26886" href="/jderogatis/2010/06/the-vortis-diaries-saturday-night-at-ronnys/26878 /no-enemy"><img height="225" width="300" class="size-medium wp-image-26886" title="No Enemy" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//No-Enemy-300x225.jpg" alt="" /></a><br /><em>No Enemy</em></p><p style="text-align: left;">Hailing from suburban Park Ridge, the penultimate act of the night, <a href="http://www.myspace.com/noenemyband">No Enemy</a>, had plenty of passion and energy, too. But it also had a bit too much corporate West Coast pop-punk a la Blink-182 or local ex-pats Fallout Boy, which unfortunately overwhelmed the old-school Midwest Pegboy/Shot Baker elements. </p><p style="text-align: left;">Finally, there was <a href="http://vortisrock.com/">Vortis</a>. We came. We rocked. And then there were the other five and a half hours we spent at Ronny's Center for the Performing Arts -- which, for us, is said with no irony whatsoever. With or without the whiff of cat pee, it remains one of our favorite places in the rock universe.</p></p> Mon, 21 Jun 2010 06:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/jim-derogatis/vortis-diaries-six-hours-ronnys-saturday-night