Bands like Chicago’s Braid are embracing the nostalgic thrill of playing an entire album at fests

Categories: WBEZ Chicago

At Riot Fest this weekend, the Chicago post-punk band Braid will join the likes of the Breeders, Danzig and Death Cab for Cutie in recreating a seminal album from start to finish.

By Mark Guarino

Sept 13, 2023, 6:00am CT

This year, Chicago post-punk band Braid celebrates the 25th anniversary of its influential album Frame & Canvas (Polyvinyl) with a new edition and a set at Riot Fest on Friday, during which the group will play the record in its entirety.

Braid will be one of eight groups, including the Breeders, Danzig, Death Cab for Cutie and Postal Service, performing an album from start to finish at Riot Fest. Braid’s Frame & Canvas bridged the gap between hardcore punk of the 1990s and the rising popularity of emo the following decade.

Guitarist/vocalists Chris Broach and Bob Nanna, bassist Todd Bell and drummer Damon Atkinson will also pull across the band’s long career. Nanna and Broach, both 48, recently talked about the milestone with WBEZ contributor Mark Guarino. What follows is an edited transcription of the conversation.

WBEZ: A lot of bands don’t last 25 years. Do you have a sense of your audience today?

Bob Nanna: We’re seeing people coming to the show who are our age and bringing their kids who are the younger side of teenagers. And who clearly have never seen us but have probably heard their parents talk about us to death. That was cool to see.

Chris Broach: I remember one show in particular there was a line of obviously high school kids up front and maybe early college. And they were singing all the words. It’s kind of amazing. I do feel lucky that we’re able to keep doing this and people are coming out.

The word “emo” comes up when describing Frame & Canvas. But I don’t hear that necessarily in your band: It’s more melodic and more mature. Is “emo” a fair label or one you outgrew?

Nanna: The fact people wouldn’t label it as emo today has to do with where emo headed in the early 2000s where there was little more of a focus on sadness or longing or relationships. More a younger vibe and maybe more of a performative vibe. Maybe they were taking the term emo and making it their own. Because when you go back and listen to Frame & Canvas, you can see how it doesn’t fit with all this other stuff.

Broach: We really came from a hardcore and post-hardcore upbringing. We had post-hardcore angular guitars. We were a little bit heavier than a lot of those post 2000 bands.

You came out of the Champaign scene. How much of that made its way into Frame & Canvas?

Nanna: It’s easy to say Champaign because that’s where we were at the time. The band started there. Chris and I came from the suburban scene in Chicago. So, living in Champaign, which was a little bit insular opposed to Chicago, probably had to do with the development of our sound and the writing of that record.

Broach: Bob was finishing college, but any time we had a break, we toured. But we lived together as well. If you listen to the record it feels like there’s a pressure there. I don’t think we felt the pressure, but we were practicing multiple times a week, living in the same house together, touring all the time together. We grew into early adulthood together. It was just a lot.

We were also influenced by all the bands we were bringing through Champaign as well. If we hadn’t been there, a lot of the early post-hardcore bands at the time probably wouldn’t have come through as much. We brought that DIY to Champaign.

How so?

Nanna: You had to be 19 to get into the bars. There was a venue called Blind Pig. If you were a band that was touring, that’s where you would play. All the kids would stand outside because there was a window (through which) you could kind of see the band. That’s how we went to those shows, which kind of sucked and felt very exclusive. We were influenced by bands like Fugazi that only played all ages shows. And we were from the Chicago suburbs where we were putting on shows in VFW halls because bands our size couldn’t play the bars.

Broach: Here’s a vegan restaurant that would do shows, a coffee shop that would do shows, a house party where we would play. And we would bring other bands to play all those places, too.

Why did the band initially break up after Frame & Canvas came out?

Nanna: We toured nonstop and we lived together when we were home and we just got burnt out. We were still pretty young and wanted different things and maybe didn’t really understand the interpersonal relationships that are needed to keep a partnership going.

Does the positive reception you’re getting on this tour suggest you may try making new music?

Nanna: We don’t have any specific plans to write any more music. In terms of touring, if there’s an opportunity to play, we’re still active in that sense. But I think that if we do decide to write more music it’ll be what excites us to play live.

Does playing this record in its entirety in one sitting make you discover anything new about it?

Broach: It’s not like we’re discovering new stuff when we play the record. However, there’s a lot of emotion tied to these songs. Because I can get lost when we’re playing them. All the sudden, weird memories pop in, it’s just random. Because music does that. It’s transcendent.

Because of streaming, albums are not as valued as they once were. Young bands are making singles or videos. Do you see that as a loss? Would we even have a Frame & Canvas if you were coming up today?

Nanna: It’s easy for somebody our age to be a little jaded and say it’s a loss. But what I can’t deny is that when we’re playing these shows on tour, you have to imagine that half the people in the crowd, maybe 75% of people, don’t own our album. They just listen to it on Spotify. That’s why they came to the show.

So, I don’t have any problem with that. People are singing along to the songs on an album they don’t own. I can’t be upset. The other thing is vinyl has made this format of the album a little more important. And because vinyl is booming right now, I think the idea of the album is still pretty vital even though a lot of people discover music on Spotify.

Broach: When CDs and tapes were around, I’d spend a lot of time with the record and really knew all the songs. There might be one or two I didn’t like, but I still knew them. They kind of grew on me. Because it was a piece of art. It was more about the album and the concept. And it’s fine that it’s different now. There’s a different formula to release singles than releasing complete albums.

Nanna: One other aspect is the concept of a band going out on tour and playing the whole album. At Riot Fest, (several) bands are going to perform their album. It’s clearly a popular thing. You see it all the time. Maybe in some sort of strange way that might make people who are making records today think, maybe in 10 years this album will be important to somebody, and we’ll play the whole thing live. So, let’s make a statement.

If you go: Braid plays Riot Fest Friday, Sept. 15, and a Riot Fest aftershow at Metro on Saturday, Sept. 16. Riot Fest runs Friday through Sunday at Douglass Park, 1401 S. Sacramento Ave. Tickets from $109.98.

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