On a Saturday afternoon in January, Radar Station joins about 20 people in Chris Deckard's second-floor apartment, a late-19th-century Benton Park storefront that somehow manages to seem both filthy and opulent ("decay" and "decadence" are cognates, after all). It's also the world headquarters of Radio Penny, Deckard's recording studio, and the official stomping grounds for members of the Everywhen collective, who are meeting today to discuss their upcoming compilation, Don't Name It, and their first performance project, "Person 1," a collaboration among six bands from the comp and actors from the Hydeware Theatre company. Ben Hanna, of Grandpa's Ghost, has driven in from his rural Illinois home; his fellow East Sider Rick Wilson, of Skarekrauradio, is cooing gently to his baby daughter, Faren, who's nestled in his arms. More people crowd into the room between Deckard's kitchen and his recording equipment: multi-instrumentalist Ben Davis, who came up with the idea for "Person 1"; his brother Desmond, of Western Robot; RFT contributor Paul Friswold; Radar Station-hata Chris Boron ("Letters," Oct. 24, 2001); Shauna Kapicka, bassist for There's a Killer Among Us; and all the Conformists.
Presiding over the meeting is Tom O'Neill, the Conformists' drummer and, if his notebook/planner is any indication, the designated adult-in-charge. He asks whether Kapicka has finished writing the scripts on which the actors and bands will base their improvisations. She hands them over. All the scenes are assigned numbers, which are drawn from a hat by a representative from each band scheduled to perform -- Skarekrauradio, There's a Killer Among Us, Phallus Chalice, Deckard, Grandpa's Ghost and the Conformists. Next, the musicians read over their scenes, which, at a paragraph or so, are deliberately vague, open to interpretation and completely free of dialogue. ("I can't work with this!" Conformists singer Mike Benker wails melodramatically.) Although all the performers for each scene will have the same basic scripts, no one will know ahead of time exactly how the scene will resolve itself; all they really know is that they have 10 minutes onstage -- no more, no less.
"To a degree, it's improvisational," Davis explains. "It's planned out individually, though. The bands will have time to work on the scene beforehand, and the actors will run through their scenes first, but the actors and the bands won't come together until the night of the show. The purpose was to promote the compilation, but instead of making this just a show, we'll make it an event so people will want to show up -- people are pretty tired of just seeing punk bands play shows, you know?"
"It's all sound and movement, no dialogue," O'Neill adds. "We're putting one band in each act, and that band will basically supply the soundtrack. Ideally we'll all use one set of equipment -- definitely one drum set and one set of amps."
John Shepherd, executive director of Hydeware Theatre, gathers the scripts to bring back to the actors. "This is going to be really exciting," he says. "We're going to keep it as spontaneous as we can."
"It could be a big bomb," Davis admits, laughing. "St. Louis is a big blank canvas with nothing on it right now, so why not? Successful or not, it's worth a shot."
"Person 1" takes place Saturday, March 9, at the Crowe T. Brooks Gallery (1520 Washington Ave., seventh floor). The event is free, but donations are strongly encouraged. All proceeds will support Don't Name It, which, in the words of the Everywhen mission statement, is a collection of "beautiful, nasty and confusing St. Louis bands." The CD might not be available by the time of the performance, but keep an eye out for it in stores: In addition to tracks from the six bands that will be performing in "Person 1," Don't Name It features contributions from Panicsville (led by former St. Louisan Andy Ortmann, who now lives in Chicago), Western Robot, Julia Sets, Torch and Jesus and the Flaming Tacos.
Skin Graft recording artists, noise sculptors and pop provocateurs Cheer-Accident bring their lovely dissonance to the Way Out Club on Tuesday, March 12. With influences that range from the Herb Alpert to Gyorgi Ligeti, the Chicago quartet, which has been around in one incarnation or another since 1981, is unapologetically arty without being a drag. Their cerebral post-rock sounds a bit like a punked-up Henry Cow -- a very good thing, in Radar Station's book. Sharing the bill are Nad Navillus, the Star Death and the Dave Stone Free Jazz Unit.
On Thursday, March 7, Chicago's 90 Day Men invade the Rocket Bar. Once known for their abrasive sonic assault, the band has moved from improv-inspired punk to a more studied, intricate prog rock, rife with odd chord changes and unexpected time signatures. Their most recent CD, To Everybody (Southern Records), is a dense web of delicate electric piano, brutal guitars, funky bass and over-the-top vocalizing. Fun fact: Three of the four members are originally from St. Louis; the other guy's from Kansas City (goddamn Illinois, luring away our best and brightest!).
Also on March 7, Glory for Champions, ForTheLastTime and Asia Minor perform at the Creepy Crawl. They haven't moved to Chicago -- not yet, anyway! -- but don't hold that against them.