Material Issue at the Thunderdome

By Kevin Gibson

The first time I heard Material Issue was on a sampler called Ten of a Kind, released in 1988 by CMJ Entertainment.

The selection was an excellent pop tune telling the story of tragic, unrequited love titled "Valerie Loves Me." It was thrown in eighth of ten cuts by no-name bands from across the country, and I figured it would be the last I would ever hear of the Issue.

As one could imagine, I eagerly pulled out ten bucks three years later when I found (in Target, of all places) a copy of the band's first full-length release, International Pop Overthrow.

The CMJ version of "Valerie" led off the 14-song LP, but it didn't grab me as I had hoped and it certainly didn't get much attention on the radio. Again, I figured I'd seen the last of Material Issue.

When the Chicago band's current release, Freak City Soundtrack, hit the record stores, I balked. Even when they came to Louisville (twice) and even with the excellent single "Kim the Waitress" seducing me slowly, I continued to look the other way.

My loss.

Six hours before the July 17 show at The Thunderdome in Louisville, I finally broke down and bought Freak City and loved it. A few hours later I watched lead singer/guitarist Jim Ellison and his two companions rip through a short but energized set which hooked me once and for all.

Performing stinging renditions of cuts like "One Simple Word" and "A Very Good Thing" from Freak City along with revved-up renditions of "Renee Remains the Same" and the title track from Overthrow, Material Issue made a believer out of this reviewer and more than a few who were on hand for the show.

Ellison and bassist Ted Ansani flipped guitar picks into the crowd of about 200 all night, and Ellison's stage presence was startlingly entertaining.

His thin frame, Little Dutch Boy haircut and otherwise unassuming appearance left no clue as to the supercharged energy which was hiding inside. He didn't stop from the time the first drumstick pounded snare until the last screeching guitar chord faded into the night air. Angus Young has nothing on this guy.

Ansani and drummer Mike Zelenko seemed content to let Ellison do his thing and merely fill in where they felt it was necessary. And make no mistake: Ellison is Material Issue.

The trio wrapped up the set with "Kim" and a well-received "Valerie" (which told me I wasn't the only one in the house with a copy of Pop Overthrow in the collection), then encored with "Diane" from the first album and a cover of The Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz."

Don't let this group come to Louisville again without checking them out.

Similarly, The Gigolo Aunts, a Boston foursome, hadn't impressed me much with their studio work, but gave a good account of themselves on stage.

Their combination of blistering guitar with pleasant harmonies and pop hooks ("Hallmark Rock," as it is called in the group's fanzine) works to the point that it resembles Teenage Fan Club or perhaps The Posies.

The self-proclaimed "purveyors of sonic splendor" made their presence felt, and the band's new release, Flippin Out, might be worth checking out, especially for those who appreciate good power pop.