Smile Politely

Travel Back to 1993 Sunday at The Highdive

Better than any high school reunion could hope to be, the 1993 Revisited reunion show this Sunday is set to be an exciting time for those who can say they were there. Musicians and friends from all over the country will be coming back to Champaign-Urbana to not only witness, but to be a part of the magical times from fifteen years ago.

And it really was magical. Many have talked about the creative energy that existed in the Midwest back then and it’s no secret that Champaign was playing host to a great deal of it.

Albums released from bands outside the area had a significant impact on those locally — musicians, artists, and fans alike. Who could forget that show at The (old) Blind Pig when Afghan Whigs toured for Gentleman, or seeing Liz Phair, Dinosaur Jr, Smashing Pumpkins, Polvo, Seam, Buffalo Tom, Jesus Lizard, and Superchunk. If you were too young, all I can say is that I wish you were there.

Needless to say, 1993 wasn’t just a good year for music. It was a great year.

Smile Politely recently caught up with Rob Arrol, the conspirator behind the 1993 Revisited show. Rob is also the bass player for the show stopping, always entertaining band dick justice. (I wonder if Galen will be throwing dandelions into the crowd this weekend?)

For those of you that are heading to Champaign-Urbana after years of being away, we say welcome back. For those that have stayed, we hope this brings back some fond memories of years past.

Smile Politely: First and foremost, who is “Dick Justice?”

Rob Arrol: Richard “Dick” Justice is a very nice man who saw the humor in having a band named after him and didn’t pursue legal action to have us change our name. Seriously, when dick justice formed, Mr. Justice was the Dean of Student Affairs at the University of Illinois. We played around with several names (none that I’m going to repeat here) before Jim presented the idea.

As I understand it, if you really messed up at the U of I (we’re talking a last chance here) you had to see “Dick Justice.” Now, get me straight, when I was in school I always kept my nose clean. As such, I would never have known Mr. Justice’s name unless someone brought it to my attention. Jim, on the other hand, had the honor of meeting Mr. Justice during his freshman year and the experience stuck. When he told us it made perfect sense, like Lynyrd Skynyrd or Walk Mink (other bands named after school officials). Plus, we loved the juxtaposition of the “Dean of Discipline” being named Dick Justice.

We met him at his office once; actually, we were summoned there by his assistant. We all showed up wearing matching gingham cowboy shirts. He tried to put the fear of God into us but realized early on that we were not a threat. We ended up having a really nice meeting. He told us he first learned of the band when an academic friend of his (same position at Eastern Illinois University) gave him one of our t-shirts for Christmas. The kicker is his friend is also named Dick Justice. I’m shocked to this day that within a 60-mile radius there were two Deans of Student Affairs at state schools with the name Dick Justice.

SP: There is a great deal of excitement for the 1993 Revisited show on May 25. Tell us how this mega-reunion show came to be and how the roster of bands for the evening was selected.

RA: The 1993 Revisited show came about in a somewhat unconventional manner. It all started with me contacting Jim and Galen (my old band mates in dick justice) to see if we could get it together to play one last show in our old stomping grounds before I turn 40 and should start thinking about being more responsible (d-day is 6/17/08).

We were active in the scene from 1991 to 1994 and built a reputation on never taking ourselves too seriously. Oftentimes, a dick justice show turned into an event (as much performance art as rock show). Sure, we have a few “accidental” stage fires on our resume…but who doesn’t? The guys thought it was time to do it again.

My original thought was to call (local promoter) Ward Gollings to see about getting a low profile show, maybe a weeknight during the summer where we could hop on stage and entertain ourselves and whoever else happened to wander in. Still, we weren’t sure we’d be attractive as a headliner and looked to other bands from that era to reunite with us.

The Moon Seven Times signed on and I went to Ward. He had the idea of developing it into something more spectacular. At one point, we were considering doing a street festival featuring a full day of bands. We moved away from that concept after concerns were raised about outdoor shows (lighting, sound, etc.) and decided to focus on a smaller number of bands and have the show at The Highdive. Last fall, we both started contacting bands from the scene to give ‘em “the pitch.”

Responses were overwhelmingly positive. I think every band I approached wanted to be involved. In addition to the final roster, we talked to Love Cup, The Poster Children, Hardvaark, Hot Glue Gun, 16 Tons, The Suede Chain, Milo, just to drop a few names. Unfortunately, and to our overall disappointment, not all could do it for one reason or another.

Still, I couldn’t be happier with the six bands on the final roster. Many of my favorite bands are playing and what’s great is this show really demonstrates the diversity of the 1993 C-U music scene. By chance, we’ve ended up with a great cross section of bands from that era. Concert goers will get to experience the raw power and the beauty that made the scene what it was. It will also underscore the fact that even though we’ve all moved on and are well into the next phase of our lives, we’ve not settled down.

SP: Now take us back to 1993. The Champaign-Urbana music scene was very vibrant, active, and supportive. There are at least ten other bands that could also be playing Sunday’s reunion show. (Hum, Milo, Grout Villa, Hot Glue Gun, Jumpknuckle, Lovecup, and even Braid come to mind.) In past writings, you said that the main attraction in C-U was its creative energy. What was so special about the local music scene back then?

RA: There are more than 10 additional bands that could have been (and were considered). I wish every band could be a part of the show.

The C-U music scene has a rich history, going back into the 1970s when Dan Fogelberg was playing coffee houses and REO Speedwagon was cutting its teeth at local bars. Things really took off later and several bands got the golden ticket, signing with major labels. We’re talking bands like Champaign, Starcastle, The Elvis Brothers, Titanic Love Affair, Poster Children, Last Gentlemen, Adam Schmitt, The Moon Seven Times, The Didgits, Hardvaark, Menthol and Hum. Still, there were many more bands that put out quality music, toured extensively and built a regional (if not national) following. We’re talking bands like Milo, Love Cup, Sarge, Delta Kings, Lonely Trailer, Hot Glue Gun, Ward, The Vertebrats, Jumpknuckle, The Nines, Turning Curious, dick justice, The B-Lovers, Bad Flannel, We Ate Plato, Nick Rudd, Steve Pride and His Blood Kin, Steakdaddy 6, The Suede Chain, The Greedy Loves, The Bowery Boys, June and the Exit Wounds, Belva Plane, braid, mary me, Shotgun Wedding, Honcho Overload, Corndolly The Outnumbered, The Martyrs, Cowboy X and The Farmboys, just to name a few. How many bands can say they’ve been covered by The Replacements, toured with Husker Du and were the first to know of their break-up, or currently have a song featured in a Cadillac commercial? Talk to a member of The Vertebrats, The Bowery Boys or Hum and you’ll get an idea of how C-U bands have been and still are appreciated on a national level.

The C-U music scene in 1993 was amazing and I’m proud to be a small part of it. The wonderful thing about the scene was that there wasn’t one sound. The scene supported many acts playing many types of music, underscoring the high level of musical ability and tastes of the participants.

Plus, there was always something going, always somebody playing and always a good time to be had. It was a very creative time. There were great live venues to play (The Blind Pig, Trenos, Mabels, Tritos Uptown, Red Herring, Chins), but not all shows were at clubs. Many times, bands were rockin’ the front rooms or the basement for a Saturday night house party. Another great thing about the scene was, with all the bands vying for shows, I don’t remember a strong sense of competition (although I’m sure it existed to some extent). For the most part, bands seemed to be pretty supportive of one another. After all, many of us worked together at Record Service or Record Swap or Periscope Records or Pages For All Ages Bookstore or The Great Impasta or whatever other employer encouraged the wanderings of a local musician/artist. Having moved to Chicago in 1997 and then on to St. Louis in 2001, I’m somewhat removed from the current scene and I’m not sure how it all compares. I visit when I can and I’ve seen some changes — some for the better, some for the worse (probably the worst being the outdoor mall look to Green Street in Campustown). But, I’m happy to see that downtown Champaign is back. Developments there over the last few years have really made the downtown area into an attractive and viable entertainment destination.

SP: By the looks of Green Street on the U of I campus today, current students would have little to no idea that there was a plethora of locally-owned record stores or multiple venues for bands to play. What was your favorite local record store? Where was the best place for a local up-and-coming band to play?

RA: I seriously doubt current students could conceive that The Replacements, Nirvana, Dinosaur, Jr., and countless other amazing bands once played over their heads as they walk down Green Street.

I loved Record Swap. I grew up in Arcola, IL (about 30 miles south of Champaign). I discovered Swap when I was very young and used to pester my Mom/Dad to take me there whenever we made the big trip to “the city.” I remember “The Quaker” and was always intimidated by him. I think he was probably a total sweetheart, but he had this imposing presence (that and a ZZ Top beard added to the whole presentation). He used to review every album in the store. EVERY DAMN ONE. He’d write these very brief, but impactful reviews on little round stickers. The better the album the more stickers it would have on its cover. He turned me on to so much good music in the early/mid 1980s. He’s got a record store in Chicago now. I didn’t know it when I stumbled in there a few years back. Man oh man, when I saw him behind the counter and the little stickers pasted to CD covers I was 14 all over again — a mess of nerves and inadequacies.

I also got to know Josh Gottheil there too. He was a great musical resource and once clued me in that the punk band D.O.A. was playing in a living room in north Champaign (No Means No was the opener — their first tour). It was simply amazing. I miss Josh; when he lost his battle with cancer the scene lost a true supporter. It was a shock — my God, he was only 19 or 20. Too young. I can’t help but think he would have loved what came out of the scene in the early/mid 1990s.

Record Service was a great store too. I worked at the Lincoln Square version for many years with Don Gerard, Jeff Evans, Todd Fletcher, Kent Whitesell and Andrew Beddini. Good times. Later, Periscope Records really caught my attention. They had a great import selection and could get anything I wanted.

As for clubs, I really liked playing at The Blind Pig (now Cowboy Monkey) and Trenos (now a Bread Company in Urbana). The Pig had a better sound system and beer selection. Trenos seemed to pull more of the younger crowd being so close to campus. Ty (owner) was very supportive of dick justice and let us do pretty much whatever we wanted. He’d stand in the back, shake his head, tell us we’d crossed the line and then let Sasha book us there the next week. Ward (booking agent at The Pig) was always supportive too — there were many times we were called at the last minute to fill in for an opener that had to cancel. Playing at The Pig was, in my opinion, a more professional experience — we felt like a band at The Pig. It wasn’t a huge venue, but the elevated stage and good sound system allowed bands to play rock star now and then. You didn’t get that with Trenos. It was a restaurant during the day. For shows, they’d haul out a plywood stage from the basement and set up in a corner. It was very much like putting on a school assembly… but fun and with beer.

SP: What were some of your favorite bands to have come through C-U back in the early 1990’s?

RA: There have been so many amazing bands come out of Champaign-Urbana. As a fan of the scene, my list would be too long to include here. However, the bands that are playing in 1993 Revisited are some of my favorite bands of all time. If I could change anything, it would be that Milo could have reunited. Unfortunately for us, Charlie (Dold) is teaching in Thailand right now. Milo would have been the cherry on the sundae.

SP: As you said, Champaign-Urbana has a long history of great bands creating great music. C-U also has a **great reputation for putting on highly anticipated reunions and delivering on the promise. What can the old school and new-school scenesters expect this Sunday?

RA: I fully anticipate “1993 Revisited” to be Champaign’s show of the summer, if not the year. This is one of those events that will never be repeated and one that many never thought would (or could) happen. I remember when The Vertebrats reunited for two shows in the early 1990s with The Martyrs to mark the 10th anniversary of their break-up. I went to both shows and still hear people talk how great of an experience it was. With “1993 Revisited,” it’s been longer since many of these bands have played. In the case of Corndolly and Driver Has No Cash, it’s been a full 15 years; dick justice last played together in 1994; Honcho broke-up in 1995 and The Moon Seven Times in 1996. The final line-up has been solid since January, giving ample time for members to familiarize themselves with their material and prepare to rock.

From the reports I’ve received, everyone is taking practice pretty seriously and all of the bands are bringing their “A-game.” I’m fully expecting these performances to be the best of their careers. Plus, time away and experience offers a benefit. In terms of dick justice, we all continued playing in various other (and very diverse) bands once we broke-up. Our collective experiences over the last 14 years have made us better musicians and performers. As such, the songs have come alive again.

The lineup for the 1993 Revisited show is Driver Has No Cash (8:00 p.m.), Corndolly (8:30 p.m.), dick justice (9:15 p.m.), The Moon Seven Times (10:00 p.m.), Menthol/Mother (11:00 p.m.), and Honcho Overload (midnight). Doors open at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday at The Highdive, 51 Main St. in Champaign. Tickets are $10 and are still available online at The Highdive website>

Image courtesy of Jay Ryan.

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