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Clip: Eleventh Dream Day

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  • Carl Z.
    Eleventh Dream Day turns `Zeroes and Ones up to
    Message 1 of 2 , May 13, 2006
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      Eleventh Dream Day turns `Zeroes and Ones' up to 11

      Andy Downing
      Published May 12, 2006

      The idea of "ones and zeroes" is something that author Thomas Pynchon
      explored on more than one occasion, writing in "Vineland": "If
      everything about an individual could be represented in a computer
      record by a long string of ones and zeroes, then what kind of creature
      could be represented by a long string of lives and deaths?"

      That concept began to fascinate Rick Rizzo after the Eleventh Dream
      Day frontman enrolled in a class to tackle Pynchon's dense masterwork,
      "Gravity's Rainbow." Ironically, the classroom setting didn't agree
      with the Chicago public school teacher, who dropped out of the
      discussion group after only two meetings and finished reading the book
      on his own.

      "It actually inspired a lot of [the album], especially the title,"
      "Zeroes and Ones" (Thrill Jockey), says Rizzo. "The characters are
      unsure of what's real and are kind of caught between hanging on to
      something concrete and losing it completely."

      Or as Rizzo sings on "Dissolution," "I've come undone between zeroes
      and ones/ The focus has lost its appeal."

      Even with its high-concept, academic roots (another song, "Pinwheels,"
      was inspired by a William Eggleston photograph) the band's 10th album
      is, at its core, a freewheeling rock recording. Invigorated by the
      2003 reissue of "Prairie School Freakout" and the subsequent one-off
      reunion show with original guitarist Baird Figi (who now makes his
      home in New Mexico), Rizzo set out to write a song a day, and while he
      didn't quite stick to his plan, the process yielded seven new
      tunes--five of which made the record.

      Convening at Chicago's North Branch Studio, the group--Rizzo, Janet
      Bean (drums), Doug McCombs and Mark Greenberg (keyboards)--blasted
      through basic tracks in three days. Many of Rizzo's vocals and all of
      his guitar solos (reminiscent of Neil Young in Crazy Horse) were
      caught in a single take.

      The band's chemistry, developed over its 20-plus years together, is
      apparent throughout. Bean, whose sweet vocals provide a counterpoint
      to Rizzo's bratty delivery, pounds her kit with the ferocity of a rail
      worker driving steel spikes into solid earth. McCombs' bass lines,
      which often play counterpoint to Rizzo's guitar, snake through the mix
      instead of simply setting the groove. Most startling after all this
      time is how raw and passionate the music sounds, as if the group were
      readying its make-or-break debut.

      "This album was the loudest thing I've ever recorded," says engineer
      Barry Phipps. "Even behind walls in the control room I was reading 97
      decibels." (By comparison, sitting front row at a rock concert
      registers 120 decibels, a borderline dangerous sound pressure.) It
      sounds like everything is right on the edge of breaking apart."

      Phipps says the band pushed itself so hard during the sessions that
      there were times he wasn't sure if they had the energy for a second
      take. That live intensity carried over to Rizzo's acrobatic guitar
      solos, where the studio was emptied and everyone watched from the
      control room as the guitarist performed what Phipps calls "a ballet
      act with the amp, [Rizzo] moving in and out to pick up on these
      invisible force fields of feedback."

      This same "ballet act" is what fans can expect to witness at the Empty
      Bottle. Like guitar-driven albums by Young or Television, "Zeroes and
      Ones" almost sounds designed for the stage, where the band can stretch
      its legs and let the songs bend in new and unexpected directions.

      "That's the best part," says Rizzo, of performing live. "When you know
      where things are going that's when it gets boring. I want to provide
      thrills for myself. I still just love playing."

      Eleventh Dream Day, 9 p.m. Thursday, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western
      Ave. $12; 773-276-3600
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