Monday, March 27, 2006

Two years at the Third Floor

The building is still there, on the south side of Chicago Street just a couple doors west of Center Street. Every time I drive past I remember...

In the early 90's, Brian Peterson was the drummer for International Hoodwink. He started setting up shows around the area mainly to set up gigs for his own band. The first several were in the gym on the top floor of the Elgin Turners Club. That's where I first saw Apocalypse Hoboken, the Blue Meanies and several other good Chicago-area bands. That was before I got back into doing sound, but I was a regular at the shows.

One Saturday I arrived at the Turners Club to find out that, on very short notice, the Turners had decided that punk shows didn't fit their clean-cut athletic image. That night's show had been moved to the Scrap Skate Park in Hoffman Estates. By the time I got there, Slapstick had already played and Sidekick Kato was on. Then came Rancid (this was just before they signed their Major Label Contract), opening for the Queers. A really excellent show, with a big enough crowd to soak up the echoes that usually screw up the sound at a skate park show.

Meanwhile, Brian was scrambling to find venues for other shows he had scheduled. What now is the Prairie Rock Brewing Company was at one time the Grove Movie Theater, but had, by then, become a black-owned nightclub called the Number One Soul. They had a stage, and trouble making ends meet, and rented it to him for a couple shows. He did a couple more at Scrap. Then, in late 1992, he hooked up with the Elgin Alano club (Alcoholics Anonymous).

They had a fair-sized space on the third floor of this Chicago Street building that they were having trouble paying the rent on. Their take from Brian's shows was more than the lease payments and their strict no-alcohol policy was perfect for all-ages shows. The Third Floor was born.

It wasn't really designed as a venue for shows. The building had, at one time, been a department store or something. By this time, the ground floor was vacant, the second floor housed Line Archery (an indoor archery range), and the third floor was the recovering alcoholics' meeting room. While the building had an elevator, it had failed its last safety inspection several years before and was shut down for repairs... permanently. There was no intention on the part of the building's owner to fix it. So all the band instruments, amps, PA gear (and audience) had to climb the stairs... almost every Saturday for two years.

A lot of really good bands climbed those stairs. Some of my favorite shows were when Slapstick and Tricky Dick shared the bill. Both were Elgin bands: the members were friends who hung out together off-stage. It was unusual if you didn't see and hear Memo onstage during Slapstick's set, doing a duet with Brendan, and Brendan returning the favor during Tricky Dick's set.

Similar things would happen when Sidekick Kato, from DesPlaines, played with Jerkwater, a Crystal Lake band. At one Sidekick Kato/Jerkwater show, Jerkwater played nothing but Sidekick Kato covers and Sidekick Kato played mostly Jerkwater covers. At another, the two bands played their own songs, but swapped lead singers. Another pair of bands that worked well together and often swapped singers or songs was Oblivion and Apocalypse Hoboken.

Other Chicago-area bands that I enjoyed working with at the Third Floor include (in no particular order), the Smoking Popes, the Foursquares, Succotash, Trenchmouth, Herbal Flesh Tea, the Bollweevils, No Empathy, Not Rebecca, the Blue Meanies, Dr. Mannette, Contracide, the Tragedy Clowns, Hot Stove Jimmy, Sweetcar, Groovy Love Vibes, Limpspork, Greenhouse, Cheer Accident and a political/punk/rap group called the Dirt Merchants. That's a partial list - I have trouble remembering names sometimes.

There were also out-of-town bands on a regular basis - a musician himself, Brian has always had a soft spot for touring bands. It wasn't unusual for a planned five-band show to grow to six or seven at the last minute because a touring band had had a show cancelled and needed to try to make some money to continue the tour. A few of the bands I remember would be NoMeansNo, The Joykiller, Telegraph, MU-330, and Judge Nothing, but there were almost as many touring as local bands.

Every show was an adventure. We set up the "stage" (on the floor) right in front of the elevator door. There was no power there, so I ran several heavy-duty extension cords from the kitchen. I don't think we exceeded the fire marshall's rating for the number of people in the space, but it was based on slow-moving adults, mostly seated, for an A.A. meeting. When the same number of fast-moving kids got to jumping up and down in time with the music, you could feel the floor move... a lot.

It made me a little nervous to see my lights and speakers swaying to the beat. I could actually feel the floor moving under me. There was no air conditioning, and we had to keep the windows closed to avoid noise complaints, so in summer it wasn't unusual for a musician to pass out on stage. Drummers, the hardest-working musicians, often played in nothing but their underwear, and I'd lose ten or fifteen pounds in the course of an August show.

In 1994, NOFX was too big for the Third Floor, so Brian planned it for the Number One Soul... and I was to do the sound. Two weeks before the show, the owners sold the building to the people who would turn it into the Prairie Rock. The new owners wouldn't delay the start of construction for us, so Brian moved it to the Fireside Bowl. Fireside sound, by that time, was in the capable hands of Elliot Dix. I worked security--what the heck, it got me into a sold-out show. Slapstick opened.

In December of 1994, the Alano Club lost their lease. Matt Vecchio, lead singer first for Contracide and then Tragedy Clowns and later, drummer for The Mashers, had recenty opened an indy record and book store called Over The Edge, in the front part of a building his parents owned, a couple blocks away on North Ave. The back of the building was mostly empty warehouse, so Brian moved the next couple scheduled Third Floor shows there. By that time he had moved into Chicago and was also running shows almost every night at the Fireside Bowl. He stopped doing Elgin shows entirely for several years.

Meanwhile, I did a few of his Fireside gigs, then several he booked at the Bog Theater in Des Plaines. Another promoter, Dave Eaves, started using me almost every Friday at the Elmhurst VFW, and once in a while Dave and Brian got together to set up a massive show (10 or 12 bands on two stages) at the Wonderland Ballroom.

Every once in a while, somebody tries to restart the Elgin scene. A couple years ago, Memo, with his new (at the time) band, Los Chones, put together a few shows at Jalapenos - and I did the sound. Josh Trevino, brilliant guitarist and veteran of too many bands to name (currently with The Dutchmen), tried to get something started at a west-side bar (but it was 21 and over). Brian came back and set up a couple all-ages shows at the (once again cash-strapped) Turners Club in 2004, but so far, nothing has recaptured the magic of that two years at the Third Floor.

~ John K. Emerson

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chacho is not brillant!

6:36 AM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

Wow! I love hearing about my home town and the awesome shit that comes out of it!

11:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi John, Wow this was a walk down memory lane. This is Steve Kinal and I used to help out Jason Jackson with Dyslexic Records. I think I was at almost every show you mention in this article. Thank you for bring back some good memories.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Dog Ear said...

That Blue Meanies show where the floor seemed like it was moments away from giving out was actually the 2nd to last show of the "old" lineup. The next night in Madison (?) half the band was fired/quit/whatever.

1:29 PM  

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