MUSIC | The Ike Reilly Assassination show a Thanksgiving Eve crowd at First Ave how it’s done in Chicago

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A while back, the Daily Planet republished a series of columns by a former scenester writing for Rift Magazine under the name of Almostred. Returning to Minneapolis after many years out of town, he found the music scene—and specifically First Ave, where he worked in the late 80s and early 90s—much changed. Back in his day, “a general atmosphere of mayhem loomed,” he writes, and employees were often called upon to “dog pile on anyone engaged with another employee.”

Almostred has no rosy-glassed nostalgia for those days (“I don’t go to First Ave to have my eye socket shattered by an overzealous, amped-up security goon raging against his repressed homosexual tendencies with a giant Maglite”), but you can’t blame those of us who missed that scene for being a little curious about what it must have been like. Possibly as close as we’re going to get is Ike Reilly‘s annual Thanksgiving Eve show, an event the likes of which is not seen at First Ave on any of the other 364 days of the year.

By the time bands make it to a headlining spot in First Ave’s Mainroom, they’ve usually claimed some sort of artistic achievement that’s earned adoration from the downloading public. If Ike Reilly gives half a shit about anything that might be sincerely referred to as “artistic achievement,” he was not letting on as he played to a roaring, near-sellout crowd last Wednesday night. Reilly’s principal accomplishment is leading a really great bar band (they go by the name of the Ike Reilly Assassination), and they tore it up. There weren’t any skinheads with Maglites on the premises, and I don’t think anyone’s eye socket was shattered, but there might have been a pool cue broken over someone’s head in there somewhere and no one would have noticed. Actually, that could have happened on stage and no one would have noticed.

Seasoned by years on the Windy City scene, Reilly throws juicy cuts of roots rock around like he’s John Mellencamp, snarls sardonically like he’s Warren Zevon, vamps like he’s Neil Diamond, and grabs his crotch like he’s Michael Jackson. His songs are probably strong enough to support a less entertaining stage show, but Reilly is not one to take chances—certainly not on Thanksgiving Eve. He tells stories (“this is a song about a Croatian who beat the shit out of me, and also about a gay woman I’ve come to love”), busts out with a trio of backing singers (“they really class this fuckin’ operation up”), and spurred to further drunkenness a crowd that needed no enticement (leaving the stage before his encore, Reilly declared that “we’re going to take a break so we can ge liquored up, and you can get liquored up too”). The songs from his new album Hard Luck Stories sounded great to me, and no one was complaining, but the crowd really revved up for back catalog favorites that everyone sang—no, shouted—along to. Give me a couple years to learn the lyrics, crew, and I’ll be right in there with you.

Unfortunately I missed the first opening set, by Martin Devaney’s rock outfit the Crossing Guards (there were several very hard-core leg kicks, I was assured by a friend who caught the set), but I tremendously enjoyed the reunion set by the Magnolias, a band Almostred would surely remember from his days at First Ave and who performed their rich postpunk songs with a clanging urgency. It was a night for true believers.


See Stacy Schwartz’s photos of this show at City Pages.