A triumphant Material re-Issue took the stage Saturday at Reggie's for the final evening of what has turned into a very successful 2011 victory lap. The group rang in 2012 in jovial fashion with a setlist spanning not only their entire catalog but also some covers and other rarities for what has been billed as their "last show ever" and in the process wrote the epilogue for a book whose ending never felt quite right.
In April, to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of their debut album International Pop Overthrow (and subsequent revamped album reissue), surviving Material Issue members Ted Ansani (bass/backing vocals) and Mike Zelenko (drums), joined with local Beatlemaniac Phil Angotti (stepping in for original guitarist/vocalist Jim Ellison who took his own life in 1996) to form Material re-Issue and play a series of well received local gigs throughout the year.
What started on April 23rd with the first official show at Abbey Pub (following warmups at both Fitzgerald's and Double Door) made the summer festival rounds (on June 28th with The Lemonheads at Taste of Chicago and on July 8th with Goo Goo Dolls at Summerfest in Milwaukee) and headed toward completion at Lincoln Hall on September 17th, ultimately culminating in what is said to have been the final set on December 31st at Reggie's Rock Club.
Unlike the trio's previous area shows this year, they were not joined by Insider Jay O'Rourke on guitar/sitar. That duty was split instead between Lou Hallwas and Hushdrops guitarist John San Juan (who according to Ansani once also toured with Material Issue as the band's second guitarist).
While the duo ultimately couldn't reach the high level of precision provided by O'Rourke (that bar was set pretty high), they were nevertheless more than adequate and the songs sounded just fine.
Material re-Issue opened with four straight from the aforementioned '91 classic, pausing following "Diane" as Angotti led the crowd in a countdown to 2012.
Ansani began the new year with a brief tribute to Ellison as the group began their rendition of the 1969 Jeff Barry/Andy Kim penned Archies classic "Sugar, Sugar."
Hallwas joined the trio on guitar as Angotti and Ansani harmonized on "Next Big Thing." Ted mentioned the song as a great example of Ellison's slower and more emotional songwriting. The song's tale of young love lost remains resonant and is indeed a great example of what Ellison did so well: he wrote simple and melodic but poignant songs about girls. It was one of the evening's finest.
There are times in the live show when the vocals of Phil Angotti sound eerily familiar to those of Jim Ellison. Angotti showcased not only that but also his range as he went back-to-back from the soft and sweet stylings of "Very First Lie" to the louder near screams of "She's Going Through My Head" for his best performances of the evening.
The girl in front of me (to the left side of the stage directly in front of Angotti) took an intoxicated cue to treat the guardrail as her own personal stripper pole when the group tore into a pulsing version of their 1992 hit "What Girls Want," proving that girls do indeed seem to want love, drugs, sex and affection as Ellison once so wisely suggested... or at least in this particular case, more beer.
The set grew a bit looser as the evening progressed and it was really unique to watch a band approach their final act with grace and humor. A bottle of Maker's Mark was passed amongst the band between "This Far Before" and "Eko Beach."
One thing about catching a band like this, amidst such circumstances, on New Year's Eve is the fact that all in attendance are real fans. You don't get casual fans giving up their biggest party night of the year to check out a band live unless they're head-over-heels for it. The show wasn't sold out. But for the first time in a while, I stood amongst people dancing and singing along to every song as opposed to standing arms folded looking at their phones. It was refreshing and it was contagious. I couldn't help myself either, dancing with the girl next to me as we traded off lines from "Everything."
But the coolest part of the evening was the way the band finished the show putting a fitting end on the holiday season with "Merry Christmas Will Do." The song never appeared on a Material Issue album (and as Ansani explained, they never really got much of a chance to play it live), landing instead as the second track on a cool 1991 compilation of holiday songs entitled Yuletunes.
Ironically, the first track on the Yuletunes album is "It's About That Time"... by Phil Angotti's band The Idea. Angotti is also said to have once seen Material Issue in the nineties at Metro. And I think that's what makes this reunion so great. Ansani and Zelenko didn't just run out and hire the best Ellison imitator or some karaoke star like so many other bands do when they mount a reunion. Instead, the band took their time and joined with a vocalist from Chicago familiar with the band and it's history for a reunion that was respectful of Material Issue's history. These reunions rarely work. This one did.
I don't know if this truly was the band's final show. They've certainly said that it is. Despite probably having had the opportunity at some point over the past fifteen years to exploit the group's history for profit, they certainly haven't done it. So there's no reason to doubt their word. That said, Ansani and Zelenko remain a tight rhythm section with a rare chemistry and it has certainly been a treat to see that again live in 2011. And I will miss that if it is indeed the end.
Regardless of how the band decides to proceed, one thing is certain: As a Material Issue fan, New Years Eve 2011 certainly brought me a welcome sense of closure to the story of a band that never felt complete. The members of Material re-Issue took a well deserved bow last Saturday night.
- "Chance of a Lifetime"
- "Renee Remains the Same"
- "Sugar, Sugar" (The Archies cover)
- "This Letter"
- "Next Big Thing"
- "A Very Good Idea"
- "Sixteen Tambourines"
- "Li'l Christine"
- "Very First Lie"
- "She's Going Through My Head"
- "What Girls Want"
- "International Pop Overthrow"
- "This Far Before"
- "Eko Beach"
- "Valerie Loves Me"
- "Goin' Through Your Purse"
- "Kim the Waitress" (Green Pajamas cover)
- "Merry Christmas Will Do"
- "Ballroom Blitz" (Sweet cover)