Eleventh Dream Day returns with new album
Rock 'n' roll might still be a young person's game, but the old-timers who came up in the 1980s and '90s aren't about to leave the stage quietly.
The past few years have brought numerous records and tours that show that middle age isn't the same as over the hill, at least when it comes to indie rock. The Pixies and Pavement, both of which released debut albums at least 20 years ago, recently completed successful reunion tours, while other veteran groups like Mission of Burma, Dinosaur Jr. and Superchunk have released albums as strong as anything they did way back when.
Add Chicago's own Eleventh Dream Day to that list. The band, whose celebrated first album "Prairie School Freakout" came out in 1988, recently released its 10th record -- "Riot Now!" -- on local label Thrill Jockey Records.
Many songs on the new record evoke the rough, punk-tinged energy of "Freakout," while others strike tones that are moodier, but no less bracing. This is not the work of a band that feels old.
"Well, I'm in my 50s now, but my head is in the same place it was back when we started," said Northbrook native Rick Rizzo, the band's singer and guitarist. "I might be a little less hyperkinetic onstage, but I really don't feel any different."
"Riot Now!" opens with "Damned Tree," a song that begins with a midtempo groove then leaps into punk territory, complete with shouted lyrics and Janet Beveridge Bean's pounding drums.
"Satellite" features Rizzo's typically snarling guitar licks, while "Divining for Water" gives us an irresistibly melodic bass line from Douglas McCombs. Throughout the record, Mark Greenberg fleshes out the band's guitar-based attack with subtle keyboard accents. (His work on "Sonic Reactor" is a highlight.)
The band recorded the songs quickly, with almost no overdubs.
"I think we tend to sound best when we capture early moments of songs in the studio," Rizzo said. "We were lucky with these because we were able to hash out the songs live quite a bit beforehand, so we were able to 'get it right' pretty quickly."
The title "Riot Now!" might suggest that the record is a crusading call for revolution, but its themes are actually more complicated. Many of the songs deal with the tension between middle-class comfort and the desire for societal change.
Rizzo said that as is usually the case, he was influenced by a number of things while writing the songs -- from President Obama to the suicide of writer David Foster Wallace to the novel "Inherent Vice" by Thomas Pynchon.
"I think I was particularly affected by people like Wallace who really wanted more from us as people, as a society," Rizzo said. "It's easy to get lulled into complacency these days, but you have to advocate for what you want in life. You have to get out and do it."
"Riot Now!" is Eleventh Dream Day's first record since 2006. When not recording or playing together, the band's members are busy with families, other careers or other musical projects. (Bean is in the alt-country group Freakwater, and McCombs plays in Chicago post-rock band Tortoise.)
Rizzo, a teacher at the Albany Park Multicultural Academy in Chicago, said that while the band often goes months at a time without playing together, it's never difficult for the members to reignite the chemistry between them.
"Honestly, it's very easy," he said. "I'm not sure why that is, but even with songs we haven't done in years, we just play them and it works."
Eleventh Dream Day (with the 1900s)When: 9 p.m. Friday, April 22
Where: Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago
Tickets: $14; go to lincolnhallchicago.com