Mike Zelenko (left) and Ted Ansani reboot Material Issue for a show celebrating the 20th anniversary of the band’s “International Pop Overthrow” album … at the International Pop Overthrow festival. (Keith Hale/Sun-Times)It’s a true power-pop harmonic convergence — the 10th annual International Pop Overthrow festival in Chicago during the next 10 days will culminate in a rematerialization of Material Issue to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that acclaimed trio’s landmark debut, “International Pop Overthrow,” from which the festival took its name.
David Bash started this festival more than a decade ago in Los Angeles. Naming it after Chicago’s power-pop legends was a no-brainer.
“I was wanting to put together a festival that united the worldwide pop scene under one umbrella — all those bands that make melodic songs with strong hooks, traditional verse-chorus structure, the stuff we grew up on and that lives on,” Bash told the Sun-Times. “I was on the phone, trying to describe to a friend what I wanted to do, and I said the words ‘international pop scene.’ I started mouthing them over and over, and it hit me. I have to call it International Pop Overthrow. [Material Issue singer-guitarist] Jim Ellison had taken his own life just about a year earlier and, you know, I wanted to rally a cause — to actually take over what was on radio at the time, which was a lot of amelodic music, Korn and Limp Bizkit.”
INTERNATIONAL POP OVERTHROW
The 10th annual festival of power-pop bands runs April 14-23 at two Chicago venues, the Abbey Pub (3420 W. Grace) and the Red Line Tap (7006 N. Glenwood). Bands featured include the PondHawks, the Penthouse Sweets, the New Duncan Imperials, Graham Elvis, the Elements of Style and more. For a complete IPO Chicago schedule and more information, visit internationalpopoverthrow.com.
9 p.m. April 23
The Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace
Tickets: $10, (773) 478-4408, abbeypub.com
Material Issue debuted with that album in 1991, helping spark a power-pop revival that flared in the mid-’90s — a tuneful backlash to the rise of Seattle’s grunge. The band released two more records before Ellison’s suicide in 1996.
Bash’s IPO fest expanded to New York and then, in 2002, Chicago. In 2011, there are 15 International Pop Overthrows in cities such as Detroit, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Liverpool and London.
But the idea to re-create Material Issue for the first time since Ellison’s death had begun brewing before Bash planned his 10th anniversary Chicago schedules.
“We were talking late last year,” said Material Issue drummer Mike Zelenko, about his bandmate, bassist Ted Ansani, “and Ted said, ‘You realize it’s 20 years since we put out our first major-label record?’ We started talking about doing a special show, and we’d get different bands and singers to work up all the singles, find a nice venue, have a nice party. All this time has gone on, and we haven’t done anything together. You know, with Jim gone, you don’t want to mess with the legacy, but I felt like we needed to do something to at least maintain it.”
The idea hung out there until early this year. Fans and record execs inquired about the LP’s anniversary; the original label dug up “International Pop Overthrow” and reissued it on April 5, with eight bonus tracks. Zelenko and Ansani revised their plan to what’s now on the IPO fest schedule, April 23 at the Abbey Pub: Billed as Material Reissue, Zelenko and Ansani will play the whole “International Pop Overthrow” album — with a new singer-guitarist, Phil Angotti.
Replacing Ellison was not an easy decision, even for one gig. That’s why this hasn’t happened for 15 years.
“The fact that someone died — it’s so permanent,” Zelenko said. “I joined the band when I was 18. We were kids. For 10 years the three of us learned how to be in a band together. We never played with anyone else. Whatever we formed as artists, we formed together. So when that ended, it was over. We moved on.”
Ansani said there was never any thought of continuing Material Issue without Ellison.
“I was married and had two kids already. I looked at it as an opportunity to step away from music completely,” said Ansani, now a bank manager. He didn’t completely cut the cord, though. After Material Issue, Ansani and Zelenko played together in a local band called Starball. Ansani created the Ted Ansani Project, and Zelenko has drummed for Green and the Ladies & Gentlemen.
“But now, with Facebook and such, we’re getting all kinds of inquiries about a reunion show. I was really hesitant to do it. Is anyone going to show up, is anyone going to care? But there’s been a lot of interest, and it looks like it’s close to selling out.”
Ellison was a powerful front man, though. How do you replace him?
“You can’t,” Zelenko said. “Jim was a larger-than-life character. You talk to people who knew him, and they say, ‘Jim Ellison, huh.’ Then there’s this silence, and a snicker. He was quite a personality, and everyone has a Jim story. Our idea, if we were going to do this, was not to have someone mimicking what Jim did. Just sing straightforward and play straightforward. To try and replicate Jim would be ridiculous.”
“I’m not Jim. I’m just there to sing his songs,” said Angotti, the singer-guitarist stand-in. “This is a little heavy. It helps to have Mike and Ted’s blessing, and I’ve had similar paths with these guys. We known each other and worked together a long time. I feel OK about it, but I also feel the weight to it.”
Angotti has been his own power-pop force in town for roughly the same period. Zelenko drummed in the Phil Angotti Band, and Angotti’s other group, the Idea, shared bills with Material Issue in the mid-’90s. Angotti and Ellison were fellow vintage guitar collectors and attended shows together. Angotti has his own solo set at IPO at 8 p.m. April 22 at the Abbey.
“I went to see Material Issue play … I want to say it was at the Metro, right after ‘International Pop Overthrow’ came out. It was a great night — they were really on top of their game, fresh off a tour, and the place was packed. I was floored by the energy and professionalism. … Jim’s a hard act to follow. His showmanship really put him above the rest. I’ll do my best to showcase his songs.”
Is this the start of a new power trio? “I don’t think so,” Ansani said. “We wanted to keep this to just the event promoting the reissue. Enough time has passed since Jim died that we feel, rather than it looking like we’re somehow trying to ride on the coattails, that we’re honoring and celebrating, not living off the past. We want to keep this a special thing.”