The last Blackout. Ever. It was a saddening prospect, sure. As someone who attended for four years running, the Blackout had become a very special event year after year. At first, it was all about the bands for me. The first year I attended (2003) I didn't really know anyone, save for a couple of Buffalo expatriates now living in Chicago and perhaps some members of touring bands I had become acquainted with. All of my energy was spent concentrating on the show itself, with little time spent socializing and small-talking (although I did meet the almighty RFA that year). The next year, I had more acquantainces and friends, and more the year after that. So as I flew in for this last ever affair, I came to the obvious realization that the Blackout had really become more than a music festival. It was the one long weekend a year I got to see many friends from across the country. And that was really the reason I was going. One last party. The bands are certainly the glue the shindig is held together with, but to see the people and soak in the vibe one last time was essential. It was hard for it to not be anticlimatic. It wasn't as if the whole weekend was like a funeral, even though a lot of people were wearing black. Maybe more like a wake where a lot of people got inappropriately drunk. I mean, had 2005 been the last Blackout, when we had not had the knowledge that it was to be the last Blackout ever, it would have been different. There would have been no expectations to skew our memories. But, with everyone knowing this was it, we all expected it to be the best of everything, the most drunk, the most amazing bands, the most delicious sausages at Hot Dougs, the most mindblowing shit is what we were expecting. And of course, no matter how hard everyone valiantly tried, this Blackout couldn't possibly cash the gigantic check we had written for its ass. Was it a letdown? No, I'm not saying that at all. A ton of bands played. I was surrounded by a lot of friends. Lots of beer and food. And Chicago has become one of my favorite cities to visit. I went there for a fucking party, and that party was delivered in spades. But The Flakes and Black Time both had to bail out, two of the bands I most wanted to see, and that certainly put an unintentional damper on things. And you know, at the end of the day, a fest is supposed to be about the bands and that's really it. Perhaps we've become spoiled with this fest-a-month scehdule of the past couple of years and lost sight of the big picture. Burned out. But the HozAc guys were right to pull the plug, as some of the innocence was gone from this year's festivities. I'm not saying most people were going just to "make the scene", but I will say this thing was one good year away from being a total fashion show/knitting circle. So kudos to the guys in charge for killing things when they did and for putting up with us all one last time.

Looking back now, months later, I think I remember the important things. The truly great performances. And the good ones as well. The headliners are always exciting, but more often than not, it turns out to be the middle-of-the-bill or opening bands or matinee shows that end up being my favorites. I usually write a four page blow-by-blow chronicling every hot dog I ate and every hand I shook, but I think at this point no one wants to hear it, especially me. Let's just say Hot Dougs was visited, too much White Castle was consumed, there were a bunch of leather-daddies staying at our hotel, some people got some tattoos, I spent some quality time at Delilah's and palled around with a good portion of the TB staff. But as I said, a fest is about the bands, and that should be the only category on which any fest is graded. So looking back now, here are the five Blackout performances (out of about thirty-some bands I saw this year) that I will remember most. My favorites, in order...

The Feelers @ The Mutiny, Thursday afternoon
In my book, the best performance laid down all weekend, and I mean that. Firstly, I've seen a couple Feelers shows in my time, and the smaller and more cramped the venue, the better these guys are. Hotbox shitholes with low stages and crowds that are claustrophobically jammed in close inspires these guys to greatness in my experience. When it looks like there are too many of them to fit on the stage, you know The Feelers are going to tear the place up. Put these guys in my living room with about twenty people watching and it would probably be the best show EVER. But back to this show in particular, it was packed and sweaty and these dudes were on top of their game. Electric. They plugged away rapid-fire, and their set was the only time during the entire weekend when I actually felt like jumping out of my skin, inspiring me to even mix it up and bash around with the kids up front a bit. The punkest shit dropped during Blackout '06 for sure. More frantic than even The Frantic, who were good (and so were The Carbonas at the same venue), but The Feelers were legitimately great. As a bonus, it was most likely the last time I will ever see them with Albundy on bass. Plus, the singer wore a mask and a cape, and managed to keep them on for a good portion of the show. When I'm in my rocking chair in old age thinking back to the last Blackout, this is the set I will remember first.

The Mirrors @ Empty Bottle, Friday night
I was not a real big Greg Ashley fan going into this. I like the guy fine, but I never really dug the Gris Gris too much. I'd listened to a Mirrors CD once and thought it was decent at best. So when we were deciding whether to stay at the Bottle for The Mirrors and Dead Moon or head down the street for the Mangina show (which I REALLY wanted to see), I was a bit bummed we were staying. At first. Then The Mirrors took off and legitimately blew my fucking mind. It was one of those sets where you start off at the back of the crowd sipping a beer, and then mid-way through you find yourself pushed up as far as you can get, pressed to the stage in awe of the band. It was a perfect modern version of Roky/Elevators Texas-fried psych, with the wah-organ just ripping my brain to shreds and Ashley finally gripping me firmly by the collar with his performance this time. It all made sense to me. I really didn't want them to stop, and the perfomance made me revisit my entire take on the entire Ashley catalog afterward, which has been rewarding. It also sent me frantically searching for a copy of their long OOP LP (since scored). A real eye-opener, and something that I wasn't expecting in the slightest. My second favorite set of the entire weekend.

Cococoma @ Empty Bottle, Saturday night
One of the best things the Blackout provided over the years was a look at many great Chicago bands. Tyrades, Functional Blackouts, Busy Signals and more have provided me with great Blackout sets over the years. And Cococoma served me up one of the best opening slot sets I've witnessed in four years. The tunes were great, the energy was high, and they were doing garage rock, I guess, but it was a really refreshing take on it. Kicking garage rock in the ass seems an appropriate description. The lady on guitar (Lisa?) was just riveting. I hate to make lame comparisons, but I can think of no female performer recently who has really commanded my attention like that besides Alicja Trout. She exuded the r'n'r-itude and honestly just played the shit out of that guitar. Amazing. It was the kind of thing I was hoping someone was taping so I could watch it again later. It was that rocking. The record was good, but live Cococoma were absolutely great.

Marked Men @ Empty Bottle, Wednesday night
The first year I went to the Blackout, I drove all the way from Buffalo. Eight hours or so, one way. A good half of that time, if not more, was spent listening to an advance copy of the first Marked Men record. For me, that album is one that will always remind me of a certain meaningful and wonderful time in my life, a real benchmark you could say. So, finally getting to see them in Chicago four years later, and for the first time, really brought the Blackout full circle for me. And I have to admit, they were just as amazing live as everyone said they were. One of the tightest bands I've seen. And they played tons of shit from the first record too! This set probably plastered the biggest smile on my face, for sentimental reasons, and for the fact they were just shit-hot great.

Angry Angles @ Empty Bottle, Thursday night
What would the Blackout be without a Jay Reatard performance or two or three? Kidding aside, via Bad Times, Lost Sounds, Reatards, and Final Solutions, Jay has served us up some great Blackout sets, and a couple of my all-time faves. My first time seeing the Angry Angles was no disappointment either. It was great to see a band who's records I was really into at that very time live on stage, as I was listening to their singles pretty much non-stop in the weeks leading up to the Blackout. Jay showed just enough restraint, playing the beast to Alix's (blonde) beauty on some great boy/girl give-and-take tuneage. And I was happy to see Jay prove that he doesn't have to be crawling on the floor with a crazed look in his eye to get a crowd going. It's the songs, and he (or they, I should say in this case) are writing some great ones. And Alix holds her own just fine. Far better than I imagined they would be live, and the set validated my thought that they honestly are one of the best bands around.

So, yeah, those are my five highlights of the last ever Blackout. What? What's that you say? "B-b-b-but the Oblivians played, man, how was that not the best thing you've ever seen?" Well, the Oblivians were certainly good. And as someone who never saw them back-in-the-day, it sure was nice to hear those songs live. But they were never the be-all-end-all for me that they are for a lot of people. The Mummies, that would've had me in tears. To me The Oblivians were a great band who turned in a great set. Plus, being absolutely exhausted and in a hungover-yet-still drunk four day haze didn't help. Dead Moon? Very good too, and I've seen them a few times before. Legends for sure, and we should be cherishing them while we can. King Khan & BBQ? Hey, I love these Canadian rascals as much as anybody. But I've seen that set like four times now. I'm ready for some new stuff. Cheater Slicks? Definitely the best of the headliners. Mesmerizing. Really really good. Honestly, I was so drunk I don't remember much of it. Clone Defects with A-Ron on bass? Definitley good. Time Flys? Hell yeah they were good, but I wanted them to be better. I did get the bonus of getting blasted point blank with the singer's spray of Gold Bond medicated powder which led to people telling me the rest of the night that I had some powder on my nose, ear or face and leaving me looking like I just did a Tony Montana sized pile of blow. Dutchmasters were good too, even though I missed half their set. Live Fast Die with a cameo by Eric Lastname? Yes, I enjoyed it very much. Persuaders triple flying V assault with smoke machine? Yes, I was digging it. Demon's Claws were disappointing, as were Mind Controls. Mullens put me to sleep. Tampoffs? Probably the worst band to ever play the Blackout. Cuts? Never liked 'em, still don't. Goodnight Lovin' were a big surprise, they were everything I always hoped the Mystery Girls would be live but never were every time I saw them. Missed the last ever Catholic Boys show, which was the biggest disappointment of the weekend for me, but what can you do. I hear they got by just fine. Carbonas, Frantic and Terrible Twos provided a good matinee. Good, good, good. A fest with a lot of good performances, a few great ones and a few stinkers. I had a great time, no doubt. I will miss heading to Chicago every spring for sure, but I think it all ended well. I have a great bank of memories to look back on, The Blackout Years, and I thank everyone I partied with and everyone who made all the shit possible. HozAc closed the book at just the right time, and we should all thank them for that as well. Case closed. Forever.

To read past Blackout reviews and an interview with Todd Killings and Uncle Ted go here.

Marked Men and Mirrors pics by Canderson.
Angry Angles, Cococoma and Feelers pics by Windy Mayes.