Welcome to On Tape, CHIRP's weekly exploration of Chicago music in films, videos, and beyond. Each week, our editors will reach back into the archives for the interviews, music videos, live concert appearances, and found footage of the city's most important musical icons. This week: Material Issue.
Jim Ellison does not belong here, and he knows it. It's March 1991, and he and his band, Material Issue, are riding high on the success of their first album, International Pop Overthrow, which is everything the grunge takeover of later that year isn't: sonically sunny, lyrically sentimental, existentially worried about being cool while simultaneously radiating an aura of serious unhipness.
This is not party music. This is AM radio gold for a new generation, and the new generation is digging it, enough to land Ellison and co. in the heart of it all: Daytona Beach, the exhaust-and-saltwater center of MTV's entire spring break industrial complex. There, before a gaggle of day-glo clad co-eds and dudes in board shorts and fraternity letters, Jim Ellison waits for his turn at the mic.
A quick aside, so that we may consider Material Issue's musical company in Daytona that year. Online evidence is sparse, but here are a few acts that also played:
* LL Cool J
* Red Hot Chili Peppers
* Vanilla Ice
* Salt-N-Pepa * Jellyfish * Trixster * C&C Music Factory
* Escape Club
* Cathy Dennis
It's possible that other bands even less suited to Spring Break than Material Issue played. It's possible that Danzig did body shots of rum at the Daytona Marriott during a performance that no one ever thought to talk about again. Until that footage surfaces, though, Material Issue remains the odd band out. Even fellow 120 Minutes alums Jellyfish and their neo-psychedelia seem more conducive to bro-ing down (or at least selling a hell of a lot of dime bags).
So no, Jim Ellison does not belong at the beach. Jim Ellison does not have much to say to Vanilla Ice or the C&C fucking Music Factory. Jim Ellison is wearing a leather jacket and tight jeans and trying to keep his hair out of his eyes. Jim Ellison is living out another night at the Metro, except outdoors and 1,100 miles away. But when the cameras come up and the mics go live, Jim Ellison sings one of the best warm-weather power pop tunes ever recorded in Chicago or Florida or anywhere. Jim Ellison wins over the crowd of half-attentive bros, who may not totally clock what they're hearing, but can feel its power from their Beastie Boys sunglasses right down to the soles of their sandals.
For two minutes in March, "Diane" is everywhere. For two minutes in March, Jim Ellison is spring break.