Clip: Eleventh Dream Day is complete again
- This show happened over the weekend. Was anyone onlist lucky enough to
Eleventh Dream Day is complete again
By Greg Kot
In a city with no shortage of great rock bands over the last two decades,
one of the very best is celebrating its 20th anniversary this weekend. When
Eleventh Dream Day performs Saturday at Double Door, the threesome of Rick
Rizzo, Janet Bean and Doug McCombs will be joined for the first time in
more than a decade by guitarist Baird Figi. It'll mark a one-time reunion
of the twin-guitar Dream Day lineup that lit up stages with jaw-dropping
regularity in the late 1980s and early '90s.
What brings Figi out of musical semi-retirement in New Mexico is the
reissue of Dream Day's first great album, "Prairie School Freakout," on
Chicago-based Thrill Jockey Records. Initially released only on vinyl by a
tiny California label in 1988, "Freakout" was one of many fine albums to
emerge unheralded from the rock underground in that decade. It was recorded
in six hours on a sweltering night in Louisville, and is essentially a
document of the quartet's concerts at the time--and what concerts they
were. Fans stood within arm's length of Figi and Rizzo in such
claustrophobic joints as the old Batteries Not Included and Lounge Ax, and
reveled in a haze of sweat, beer, adrenaline and guitar splatter. Bean
tried to trample both guitarists with enthusiastically untutored drumming;
she was less a conventional time keeper than a human roller coaster.
Listeners and band members alike had to strap on for the ride, and it was
never less than thrilling. McCombs' bass held its ground, keeping the songs
grounded even as they threatened to fly apart. As a document of that era,
"Prairie School Freakout" is both steeped in tradition (wearing influences
from Crazy Horse to Patti Smith) and ahead of its time (prefiguring grunge
and alternative rock).
"We wanted everything as loud as possible," Bean once said of the recording
session. "We turned all the amps up to red. The engineer was horrified."
Figi snapped a guitar string during the blazing coda to "Life on a String,"
and the besieged engineer suggested an overdub to correct the "mistake." He
was shouted down.
A balky amplifier, wrong notes, nearly intolerable heat--it all made
"Prairie School Freakout" sound desperate, chaotic, on the verge of
collapse. In other words, it's everything a great rock 'n' roll record
should be, and it deserves a second shot at finding an audience.
"You hear the mistakes, but that's part of the charm," says Figi in an
interview from his home near Albuquerque. In the background, his three
children--ages 8 months, 3 years and 6 years old--are audibly enjoying a
Saturday morning with Mom and Dad. "I've been listening to the album again,
and while there are moments I wish we could've redone, the songs themselves
hold up really well."
The relationship between the guitars of Rizzo and Figi is anything but
polite, which gave the "Freak Out"-era Dream Day an anything-can-happen
spontaneity and intensity on stage. "We didn't really listen to each other
very well," Rizzo says. "It wasn't guitar interplay, like they had in bands
like Television. Instead of playing off each other, we were playing all
over each other, and I really liked the results."
It worked because the guitarists were so different: Rizzo played long
linear, melodic solos, while Figi favored riffs and slide fills that
bespoke a background in blues and early rock.
"A song like `10th Leaving Train' is a big ball of mush, 12 minutes based
on four chords that is about us pushing and pulling at each other," Figi
says. "Rick brought in most of the songs, but we all contributed to the
songwriting, and it wasn't a dictatorial type of band. No one was in
charge. We'd all try things, and we'd all cram stuff into songs."
After six years, however, Figi had had enough. In 1991, he left the band
just as it was about to head off on another tour. "Prairie School Freakout"
got the band signed to Atlantic Records, and the pressure increased to stay
on the road.
"My quitting had nothing to do with the music we were playing, or the
people in the band," Figi says. "It had to do with being on the road a lot.
It was not making me happy. To be gone that much from the person I was
going to marry at the time was too much."
Figi's first marriage ended in divorce, but he soon remarried and has
worked a variety of non-music jobs in woodworking, store management and
sales. "I have no regrets," he says. "Things worked out great for me."
But he's kept up with his guitar playing, and looks forward to reuniting
with his old bandmates for the first time in more than 13 years. "I loved
playing places like Batteries Not Included. We overpowered the sound
system, and it was hard to hear each other, but it was great having the
crowd that close, in our faces. Just talking about it reminds me how great
it was to play in this band."