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Riot Fest: Naked Raygun reloads with Santiago Durango

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sant.jpgSantiago Durango left punk rock to become a lawyer. Riot Mike ditched a law firm to bring guys like Durango back to punk rock. At least for one night.

"I lead a totally different life now. My kids are in school, I have a job. That was my youth and I've moved on," Durango says of his punk rock days. He's speaking from his office in Ottawa, where he's an assistant public defender for the Illinois State Appellate Court. In some ways -- but maybe not in others -- it's a long way from that youth, when he was the founding guitarist for influential Chicago punk band Naked Raygun.

Most of Raygun's original 1980-'83 lineup reunites this week to play one show kicking off the city's sixth annual Riot Fest, a five-day, multi-venue celebration of punk's past and present organized by Riot Mike, a k a Michael Petryshyn, and Cobra Music's Sean McKeough. The band will feature Durango, singer Jeff Pezzati and bassist Camilo Gonzalez. (Original drummer Jim Colao took a bad spill on his bicycle a few weeks ago and can't play; current Raygun drummer Eric Spicer will be behind the kit instead.)

"Personally, I never thought this would happen," Petryshyn says of the Raygun reunion during a separate interview. Durango is just as surprised: "I tell people it's like 'The Godfather,' when Michael says, 'Just when I think I'm out, they grab me and pull me back in!'"

Pictured: The return of Santiago Durango (Photo by Edwina Hay)

• Wednesday through Oct. 10
• Congress Theater,
2135 N. Milwaukee; Metro, 3730 N. Clark; Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee; Subterranean, 2011 W. North; and other venues
• Tickets: Three-day passes, $74.99; five-day passes sold out; individual tickets vary;

featuring Naked Raygun (original lineup), the Subverts (original lineup), Steve Bjorklund with Articles of Faith, Silver Abuse (original lineup), Toothpaste (original lineup), Rottenfinko & the Convicts
• 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
• Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee
• Sold out

'From all over the world'
One of the hallmarks of Riot Fest is the event's knack for getting defunct (depunked?) bands back together. The festival has reunited groups from the Blue Meanies and Sludgeworth to bigger names like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (who are back for Riot Fest this year) and All. The Raygun reunion occurs Wednesday night on a sold-out bill called "Busted at Oz," which also features original lineups of the bands the Subverts, Silver Abuse and Toothpaste. Oz was a popular punk club in Chicago from 1977 to around 1981.

Petryshyn moved to Chicago a few years ago from Buffalo, N.Y., for graduate study in philosophy. He didn't finish and wound up at a law firm. "But I got bored," he says. He started Riot Fest thinking it would only last a year or two. "By 2007, 2008, I realized this had become bigger than me or Sean. We weren't just putting on a show. We were creating these once-in-a-lifetime moments. People come from all over the world to see these reunions."

Naked Raygun re-formed a few years ago -- for the 2006 Riot Fest -- and has remained somewhat active by touring and releasing new music. The band may be the most name-checked Chicago punk group. Recent mainstream acts like Alkaline Trio, Rise Against, Lucky Boys Confusion and Fall Out Boy have each cited Naked Raygun as a major influence. Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) loves to claim that he was inspired to form a band after seeing Naked Raygun in the early '80s. (He would have been around 12, but he says an Evanston cousin introduced him to the local scene.) Truthiness or not, the claim is one of many helping to cement the band's historic value, if not validating the title of a 2007 documentary, "You Weren't There," about the continuing allure of Chicago's punk heyday.

Durango played with Naked Raygun briefly, leaving after only one brief but landmark recording, 1983's "Basement Screams" EP. He laid down the muscle that future players built melody on. He eventually joined Steve Albini in the equally acclaimed Big Black, where he played until 1987.

"Sometimes you do stuff you regret, and you learn from it," Durango says of leaving Raygun so soon. "At that point, I was not happy and frustrated with the direction of the band and the pace of things. I left and was in the Interceptors. Then Steve came into my life and asked me to play with Big Black. That really clicked. But when I went back and listened to 'Throb Throb' [the second Naked Raygun album, featuring guitarist John Haggerty], recorded right after I left, I thought, 'What a kick-ass record this is!' I'm happy it went well for them. And for me."

So why come back to Raygun now?

"Part of it is because we're doing the show for charity," Durango says. All proceeds from the Wednesday night show benefit the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. "We'd rather be doing that at this point in our lives than, you know, going on VH-1 to kiss ass. But there's always the appeal of getting together with the old band. We've had a good time, it's been fun.

"On a bigger scale, it's just sort of good to get the punk scene back together. In my mind, the Chicago scene was very important in saving the world from the apocalypse of hair-band ballads. Without Chicago, punk may have been just a flash in the pan in America, gone from East Coast to West Coast in 60 seconds and disappeared. Chicago's where it really got hung up and took root.

"Why? Chicago was gritty and very working-class at the time, and in a lot of ways resembled London. So musicians were able to talk about common ideas and experiences."

If that hints at the creation of a particular Chicago style, don't try asking what is or was instrumental to that alleged common sound.

Durango: "It's very heavy, with big guitar."

Petryshyn: "People always say it's because of the guitar. It's not because of the guitar."

Durango: "One thing people don't ever focus on is the Chicago bass sound -- very big and distorted and a sound nobody else had."

Petryshyn: "One thing people miss the ball on is the different vocal style each band has."

Durango: "Chicago bands just got the balance right, a good blend of heavy with a good pace, good lyrics. The heaviness can't be overlooked, though. When I have an 'appetite for destruction,' I listen to the Effigies, not Bums N' Hoses."

Two-decade silence
This summer, Iggy & the Stooges rolled through town again, this time boasting their own former iconic guitarist, James Williamson. He'd taken a similar course: played guitar on the Stooges' seminal "Raw Power" record in 1973, then chucked punk rock to enter the very establishment he was railing against. A retired Sony executive, Williamson had to woodshed most of last year in order to return to riffing speed.

"I have a guitar, but I haven't played," Durango says of his own two-decade silence on the instrument. "Big Black got together and did a few songs in 2006 for the Touch & Go reunion, but my hand is like a claw. It's like riding a bicycle, though.

"Now, though, it's interesting. I've got people telling me how to play the songs I wrote. We'll do 'I Lie,' of course, but I couldn't remember how to do that. I wrote a fair amount of them, but usually I'm turning to the guys and saying, 'Now, what happens here?'"

Petryshyn's happy to have a spotlight act for the festival from his own backyard. Radius clauses and competition from other promoters have made the booking process more of a challenge in Riot Fest's sixth year.

"This fall is completely saturated," he says. "Six years ago, it wasn't this bad. But a week after Riot Fest this year is Social Distortion. Everyone stays out of Chicago during festival season and comes in the fall. There's so much more competition. We went after a ton of bands we couldn't get because of radius clauses or other talent buyers. This year, we got 55 to 70 percent of the acts we were aiming for."

Then again, where else could a festival like this take place? Petryshyn says what made Chicago punk flourish, as opposed to New York or Los Angeles, is the same thing that makes Riot Fest succeed today. The Midwest isn't exactly choked with punk rock touring traffic. Fans are hungry. Seventy percent of Riot Fest pre-sale ticket buyers are from outside the city.

Durango's a Downstater now, too. Even he's hungry for action.

"Yeah, I'm ready to be back in Chicago for a bit. We don't get much punk in Ottawa," he says. That, however, doesn't mean his more peaceful existence as a stalwart citizen is completely void of his original punk ideals. "A show like this shows punk was a social movement. We're gonna feed the hungry. In my current job, I'm doing something socially, too. I'm a public defender. It's very gratifying. I'm on the front lines of protecting civil and constitutional rights. In that way, the things I argued for in my punk life and fight for now are the same. It's about trying to improve things for everyone."

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on October 3, 2010 4:00 AM.

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