It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since I first heard Salesmen & Racists. I remember the day like it was yesterday: My friend Jeremy and I were headed up to the video store (as was the routine back then) and he had a cd with him he wanted me to here. It was actually two albums on one cd, the first of which was White Blood Cells by The White Stripes. We listened to it, and Jeremy was skipping through to all the best songs so I got an idea of what the band was all about. I dug it, but I wasn’t overly impressed-lots of obvious Zeppelin references and a guy who doesn’t sing that well (though in time I went back and listened to De Stijl and The White Stripes and enjoyed those much more). The second record was Ike Reilly‘s breakthrough record.
As I’m writing this, July 31, we can officially celebrate the ten year anniversary of Salesmen & Racists release. Listening to it now, I get much the same feeling as I did riding around in Jeremy’s Ford Ranger through the streets of our small town. It’s a frank, honest portrayal of American decay and disillusionment. It’s also about as fun a record as you can find. Reilly’s ability to find humor in anything is really astonishing. His desire to put out an album that maintains artistic integrity while also playing as a kind of party record is also impressive. You may remember that around this same period there was another midwestern guy raised on country music that wanted to mix many genres together, his name is Kid Rock. Ten years later, Reilly is still successfully rocking the same kind of grooves, while Rock has been forced to move on due to lack of interest (from the audience, not him).
It surprises me a little (not really) that he hasn’t made it bigger with a national audience. I know from talking to some people around the country that he has a good following everywhere he plays, but becoming part of the zeitgeist doesn’t seem to be in the stars for Ike Reilly. Unfortunate for people out there who are looking for good music but haven’t found him yet. Salesmen & Racists was just the beginning. I actually like We Belong To The Staggering Evening even better than his debut. His most recent full-length, Hard Luck Stories, has some good stuff on it as well.
Ok, the fact that I’m a fan of his music has been established, so let me tell you how the show went.
Well, we got there about halfway through DJ Jesse De La Pena’s set opening up for Ike and the Assassination. I felt a little bad for the guy. About half the crowd wasn’t paying any attention at all to him, and the other half was only paying attention because they had to talk over his music. I thought he was doing a fine job up there, but the audience gave him nothing to work with. It may also be that I don’t really understand DJ sets, but it looked like he was working pretty hard up there. Anyway, my two cents thought he was good.
After the opening set, the vibe changed rapidly from non-chalant to ultra-amped. People were chanting “Ike, Ike, Ike!” and applauding at the end of every song coming out of the PA on the off chance that Reilly would come out and start. It was seriously akin to going to a midnight screening of a Harry Potter or Star Wars movie. The only thing missing were some guys dressed up as their favorite characters from Ike Reilly songs. It helps that he’s from Chicago, and I was very happy to be amongst a crowd of people as excited as I was (many moreso).
Ike finally came out with The Assassination to uproarious applause, and launched into “God Damn Shame.” That’s right, they played the album in it’s entirety, but not in order. In fact, save for a couple of changes, they played the album in reverse. I’ll go ahead and assume that the night before in Minneapolis they played it regular, and switched it up for their own amusement. The record plays just as well backward, as it isn’t really a narrative story. The band sounded good even from where we were, directly under the speakers on the right-hand side.
I was surprised by which songs sounded good and which ones sounded absolutely great. The biggest shock being “Crave.” I never really thought it would play as well as it did. Ike’s voice just nailed every note, and I was surprised after ten years how well his performance of the song holds up. The live version actually has the vocals pushed much more out in front, with the backing instruments whispering behind them. It was a really beautiful moment in a concert that was at times hard rockin’ and not so nuanced.
Another thing that came out of nowhere as far as I was concerned was the version of “Put A Little Love In It” they played. I’ve always thought of that song as a signature of the Ike Reilly Assassination, but on this particular night it seemed to be pretty much skimmed over. Something that HAD to be played to get to the next song. The audience didn’t seem to be as into as I was, either, which makes me thing that perhaps I’m the only one that thinks this way. It’s possible, but that’s a great song, and I don’t think any fans would argue with me on that point.
The set kept getting faster and louder as it progressed through this first collection, and by the time we got to “Hail, Hail” the crowd was jumping up and down and screaming. Getting a couple hundred people to chant “Hail, Hail, Hail, Hail” over and over again is fun, but I wonder Ike ever thinks to add something else to hit, like as the crowd is chanting he could be saying “Worship me” into the microphone. That’s one of those silly things I think about when I find something funny, and probably a terrible idea.
One detail of the show that really caught me off guard was the range of ages that showed up to see the band. It was 17 and up, and there were certainly some young folks there, but there were also a lot of ladies and gentleman not far from retirement. We were right up in the front, and I thought at any second a bridge game might break out. They were into it, though. As were the kids. It made the evening a lot of fun to look around and see someone’s grandmother singing “I love the hips of my communist.” This is yet another illustration of why these guys should be huge.
The Salesmen & Racists portion ended with “Last Time” and then some of the band left the stage for a second. Ike stayed up and called some kids from Iowa up on stage to play with him. This second half was a bit of a mashup of all the other material Ike’s put out since that 2001 release, and I actually found the second half more enjoyable. Maybe the band felt boxed in by the confines of having to play those first 13 songs, but they really let loose on the other side.
The highlights of the non-Salesmen set, for me, were “When Irish Eyes Are Burning,” “Charcoal Days and Sterling Nights,” “Valentine’s Day In Juarez,” and “Seven Come Eleven.” The band was much more animated with the more fast-paced, rockin’ set, and they seemed to be having a great time up there. They ended the show with “Ex-Americans” off Sparkle In The Finish. Great song to end with, plus a shout out to Waukegan, Illinois.
In all, I was pretty impressed. My friend Jeremy has seen Ike a bunch of times, and he comes back from each talking about what a great show the band puts on. Now I know firsthand that he wasn’t blowin’ smoke. These guys know how to party, and they get everyone just as pumped as they are. The Salesmen & Racists shows were a one-off event, but if you get the chance to see them play, I encourage you to make sure you’re there.