Smile Politely

The Charming Beggars: Living the Magic

The 1990s — Halcyon days for the Chambana music scene if there ever were any, with Braid, Hum, Poster Children, the Didjits and numerous other acts making some serious music, and waves on a national level. You could certainly say that the ghost still looms large over current going-ons, as if to ask where the magic has gone (it’s still there of course, it’s just splintered into a million little new-media pieces). Not to discount current acts, as the problem of the 1990s remains one of changed perceptions and a scene dramatically altered by the rise of widespread internet usage and promotional presence. A show by Hum or Poster Children is still clearly a major occasion, and both groups have shown that still have it in abundance. Tomorrow, we find out if the Charming Beggars still do. The group, which was active from 1990 thru 1997 and split gigs between Chicago and Champaign, wound up sharing stages with groups such as Urge Overkill, Smashing Pumpkins and Titanic Love Affair, bring their hooky brand of Midwestern Indie to thousands. We caught up with guitarist Mitch Marlow earlier this week.

SP: What prompted the idea of doing a reunion?

Mitch Marlow: Our drummer Larry and I were playing in a Halloween show last year as part of the band Weezer. It was one of those look alike/sound alike Halloween shows — kind of like the Great Cover Up, I think. Our friend Tony, who took on the role of Rivers Cuomo, was a Beggars fan, and I guess since he had Larry and I in the same room, was bugging us to do a reunion show — and offered for us to do it on his band’s last show. His persistence combined with the fact that he made it so easy was what triggered it. We did a reunion show in January at Martyr’s in Chicago, and did a second one in August. That was going to be it, but we thought it wouldn’t be right not to do one in Champaign since three of us have lived here and it really was/is our second home.

SP: Was it difficult getting the band back together, or were you all relatively into the idea when it was floated?

MM: It was actually pretty easy. Larry and I already took the bait so we were in. For some reason I didn’t think Skid (vocals/guitar) would want to do it. Not sure why. He was busy with his current band, The Ladies & Gentlemen, which seems to be his natural extension and growth of what he was doing with The Charming Beggars. But when I called him to ask, he thought for a few seconds and said something like, “why not”. Greezy (bass) had already hinted at it, so I figured he was good.

SP: What differences do you see between the independent music scene of today and that of the 1990s?

MM: Lots of differences it seems. I think on a local level in most areas, there are more good bands now than there were then. On a bigger scale, I’m more excited about the bands from the 90s — Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, Sonic Youth, Oasis, Guided By Voices and a gazillion others. There were also a few great bands that, although they were ending their careers at that time, seemed to have a strong presence and influence on the times, bands like The Replacements and Pixies. It was a lot easier for bands to get signed in those days than now. Record sales peaked out in 1999 so all of the 90s was the pinnacle of the music business gravy train. Another difference that stands out to me is that these days, the world is one big local community, but in the 90s and certainly before then, you could go to Cleveland or Lawrence or anywhere and there would be this entire scene that you had no idea about. The internet changed this tremendously.

SP: How did one go about promoting a show before the advent of the internet?

MM: Just like nowadays, people could sign up at shows for the mailing list, but instead of sending out an email blast, we would make postcards, print labels and mail them out to promote shows. We would also spend an evening at Kinkos now and then cutting and pasting letters and pictures and glue-sticking them together to make a poster. I suppose if we were more pro, we would have had some designed and printed. It’s so much easier to spread things word of mouth nowadays with email, Facebook and text messaging. I was there then and it’s hard for me to remember exactly how things worked before all this current technology.

SP: Do any particular shows that the band played stand out as especially memorable? Good or bad…

MM: A lot of them blur together, but some stand out. In 1992 or so, in Chicago, we opened for a band called Dread Zeppelin. They sort of mashed together Zeppelin and Elvis Presley songs. Their front man was an Elvis impersonator. Very gimmicky but very popular at the time. It was a sold out show and we opened with a joke song that we had written the day before. It was kind of a parody of smooth 70’s pop-soul songs. The audience hated it and thus hated us. It was a really rowdy rock and roll crowd. In my mind’s eye, I picture a hockey crowd. They were booing and throwing things at us. They were yelling “go back to Champaign” which I never figured out because at that time, I think all of us lived in Chicago and I would be surprised if the Dread Zeppelin crowd knew our history. Anyhow,we spent the rest of the set trying to survive the audience and by the end they were tolerating us. Maybe they realized we were joking on the first song. Our friend Kevin was there that night and he’s reminded me how incredible that would have been if we had recorded the show for a live album. How cool would that be to put out a live album where the audience is booing?

The Charming Beggars perform at 8:30 p.m. on Friday (December 10th) at Memphis on Main with opening act the Delta Kings.

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