Four years ago, Chicago photographer G. Thomas Ward was fronting a poppy queercore band called Flesh Hungry Dog under his nom de rock, Gary Airedale. Unfortunately, as he's written on his Web site, "There weren't too many venues that were willing to host four gay men belting out songs called 'Macho P----y' about lesbian S&M sex or 'Goin' Down,' a dark, blues-influenced song about a married bi-sexual looking for sexual satisfaction cruising the park in his mini-van."
In the great D.I.Y. punk tradition, Airedale decided to find a venue and create an event himself. Now, some 40 shows later, the singer's band is history, but the Flesh Hungry Dog Show is alive and well and getting bigger the first Friday of every month, standing as one of the musical underground's most vibrant and diverse club nights.
"I was a child of the '80s and the whole punk and New Wave scene," Airedale says. "When I first started off, I didn't know what the hell I was doing, and I was lucky to be able to get bands to play. I put together a few shows at the Underground Lounge, but it wasn't a regular thing, and I didn't really like the Underground Lounge. So I approached Jackhammer.
"Jackhammer wasn't known as a music venue; it was kind of a dumpy leather gay bar, but the owner loved music and loved what we wanted to do. We didn't have a stage, and bands would play on the floor, but it was kind of cool. It started as this kind of grungy, slap-it-together-any-way-you-can kind of night. But over the four years I've been doing it, it has developed more of an aesthetic. We have burlesque performers and we've had vaudeville-type performers between the bands; we've sprayed everybody with Silly String. It's kind of a high-energy, anything-goes, kitschy, fun, queer/alternative thing."
Airedale's bookings are wide-ranging and varied. "My tastes are pretty eclectic," he says. "We've had piano-rock bands, acoustic-rock bands, punk bands... I want to expand the audience for pop and rock in the gay community and try to wean people off disco. And judging from the numbers, I'd say we're doing pretty well."
Indeed, the Flesh Hungry Dog Show now regularly draws crowds of 150 or more to the Jackhammer (which has remodeled since the old days), and those include people of every sexual orientation. "The funny thing is, since we have burlesque acts, those appeal across the boards: The women love it because it's all types of body types and its very fun and celebratory; the gay guys love it because it's kind of wild and out-there, and the straight guys love it because it's girls taking off some of their clothes.
"I've also widened the mission of the show," Airedale adds. "When I started, I tried to make it as much 'gay bands for gay people' as possible. Now, I include bands that want to reach out to a gay audience and bands that I think our audience would like to see regardless of their sexual orientation. I've tried to make it a more inclusive thing that builds bridges so people can come together and just enjoy the music. And that's really rare."
True enough, and what Airedale understands that many local bands and clubs miss is that it's worth the extra effort to build a night that will be an event rather than just another club gig. "I mean, how many bands are there out there, and what can inspire people to come out? I hate to say it, but it's a line as old as show business: You've got to have a gimmick."
The gimmick for this month's Flesh Hungry Dog Show is "Zombie-A-Go-Go!"; in addition to three up-and-coming local bands and "the Titian-Haired Makeout Queen," burlesque performer Ms. Bea Haven, the Chicago Horror Society will be screening vintage zombie movies and dressing up as the walking dead. It promises to be exactly the sort of off-beat but fun evening that makes the local music scene special. But it's also the sort of evening threatened by the so-called "event promoter's ordinance" under consideration by the City Council.
Tabled last year but expected to be reintroduced soon, the new law would require indie promoters like Airedale to register with the city and buy a special license, even if they're working at a well-established venue already licensed and regulated by a dozen city departments. Like thousands of people on the local music scene, Airedale sees the law as unnecessary and possibly damning to the music scene.
"I tell people that doing this show is my version of gardening," the promoter says. "Some people like to go out in their yard and garden, and they spend money buying seeds and nurturing their plants. This is not unlike that for me; I would make more money working a part-time job at minimum wage than I do for the amount of hours I put in on this show. The law would probably make it not fun anymore to the point where it wasn't worth doing. The garden would wither and die."
Let's hope that doesn't happen.
The Flesh Hungry Dog Show's "Zombie-A-Go-Go!" with Loto Ball Show, the Balkaners, Yesterday's Lies, Ms Bea Haven, Rich Experience and DJ Sky
9 p.m. Friday [March 6]
Jackhammer, 6406 N. Clark