In spring 2010 i went to America for 3 months and had a whale of a time. I managed to navigate east to west from New York to Seattle on the greyhound bus in just over a month and a half, without paying for a single place to stay. Thanks solely to some incredible folks i met along the way. Out of all the places i visited on that first leg out west, Chicago was my favourite.
I stayed at a place called The Ball Hall, which was an old dance hall converted into a dozen or so ‘rooms’ that bared a striking resemblance to where the lost boys lived in Hook. They held gigs there on the weekend, the weeks were mostly spent picking the remains of the Food Not Bombs grocery drop from wholefoods and larking about on the fire escape.
The place and the people that lived there had such a profound effect on me, that when my time was up in the west and i needed to start heading home, I spent my last $80 on a ticket from Las Vegas to Chicago and rode straight through, 36 hours, to Balhalla and into the hallway of my home from home. All surprise and screams.
One night, after a few rests, Jake who lived there came and said he was playing a gig across town with a band called Ganges and i should come. The venue took some finding, nothing more than a boarded up shop on a corner, with no sign or even a flyer on the door to say it was happening. I was one of those situations where you know you’re on the right block, so you just stand around until you see a group of people come out of somewhere for a smoke and then jump in.
Inside it was dark, dusty and damp. A small stage was set in one corner, a table of beers in the other and a guy selling used books at the side. About 40 or so people were just getting ready to watch Jake play his ‘Famous Laughs’ set, which i’d had the pleasure of waking up to him practicing for the last few mornings. Slow and droney guitar tunes with windswept and witty vocal lines, about a girls surprise reaction to how he had once addressed her dog.
After a weird comedian ran around for a bit shouting, whilst a camera crew attempted to film him causing shock reactions, Ganges set up and played one of the best sets i’ve ever heard. Mixing grungy fuzz guitar with plodding acoustic numbers in a 60s Californian style, all while the singer’s voice soared high above our swaying heads with a sound somewhere between Neil Young and Nebraska era Springsteen. I’ve found in time that they’re one of those bands that carve their own category and shouldn’t be placed in any other genre other than ‘beautiful’.
I picked up a tape and ended the evening with a warm midnight bike home to the Hall, playing it over and over on return whilst i sunk deep into the softest bed i’ve ever slept in. Three days later i left Chicago, promising to return as soon as possible. Riding the greyhound to New York at dusk and listening to this tape on my walkman, i passed through Indiana fields filled with jumping neon fireflies and a full blood moon rising. The collaboration between the two was unforgettable and i knew that this was one of those records i’d still be playing well into my 90s. Thank Jeebus that it’s been converted to mp3 and i no longer have to worry about my already overplayed tape wearing out.
Download it now from the Teen River Bandcamp.
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