Tall Dwarfs | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Tall Dwarfs 

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New Zealanders Chris Knox and Alec Bathgate learned early that the road to rock stardom is usually more like a broken treadmill. One of their old bands, Toy Love, had a brief, depressing career: a minor hit single in its homeland and a major-label debut album followed by a meat grinder of a tour that broke up the band. But Knox and Bathgate didn't want to stop making music, just avoid music industry bullshit; as Tall Dwarfs, they record in their homes, release albums at a leisurely pace, and tour sporadically. Since the 80s they've cast a long shadow in New Zealand, where Knox's four-track recorded most of the early releases on Flying Nun Records, and abroad, where Pavement, Yo La Tengo, and Neutral Milk Hotel have paid them homage. Since both men sing and can play pretty much anything they lay their hands on, there's no Tall Dwarfs sound per se; they've recorded bouncy acoustic sing-alongs, feedback-laden spoken-word recitations, remorseless Krautrock grooves, Beefhearty blues, and strident glam-rock anthems. Their lyrics are similarly wide-ranging, but recurring themes include rage at abusive authorities, compassion for misfits, revulsion toward their own bodies, and an openhearted love of music--"Meet the Beatle," the first song on their most recent album, 2002's The Sky Above the Mud Below (Flying Nun), is about begging George Harrison for an autograph. Knox has toured the U.S. repeatedly as a solo act, but Tall Dwarfs haven't played in this country since 1992. Olivia Tremor Control, on a brief reunion tour, has invited the band to open; in October the Cloud Recordings label, run by Olivia Tremor Control member John Fernandes, will reissue Weeville (1990) and Fork Songs (1991), two early Tall Dwarfs albums. This show is the band's Chicago debut. Olivia Tremor Control headlines and Michael Columbia opens. Fri 7/29, 10 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 800-594-8499, $15.

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