1 of 1500: A Ten-Year Poster Retrospective

(JDK/Higher Ground)

 

www.jdkdesign.com / www.highergroundmusic.com 

 

121 posters, 49 designers, 102 bands, 135 nights – let’s do
this! By now everyone knows that all those Fillmore-period concert posters,
featuring the eye-popping, brain-melting artwork of such psychedelicists as
Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelly and Rick Griffin, are not only viewed as significant
cultural artifacts but constitute high-ticket items on the memorabilia market,
too. In fact, pretty much any poster that pre-dates 1972 is greatly coveted by
collectors. The modern era probably hasn’t produced artists who can claim Great
Masters status alongside Mouse et al,
at least not yet, although it’s hard to say if that’s a shortcoming on the part
of the arts community or simply a reflection of the fact that in rock ‘n’ roll,
we tend to assign a value to an artifact according to which band it represents
(a Nirvana poster will fetch big bucks; one depicting, say,
popular-in-their-time-but-largely-forgotten-now Archers of Loaf, not so much)
as opposed to any intrinsic visual worth.

 

That’s a shame, however, for the artists of the near-past
and the contemporary milieu continue to produce provocative, eye-popping
designs every bit as memorable as their elders. Some of these artists are in fact
already considered iconic in certain underground quarters – Art Chantry, Derek
Hess, Frank Kozik, Coop, etc. – and it’s no surprise that the outsized cultural
imagery of the punk and garage scenes gave rise to many of these twisted
brush-wielders. (2004’s Sal Canzonieri-curated Electric Frankenstein poster book is a particularly outstanding
recent collection of images.)

 

1 of 1500 serves
up additional testimony via some 121 poster reproductions snatched off the
walls (figuratively speaking) of Burlington,
VT, concert venue Higher Ground.
The club opened in 1998 and this 6″x9″, 112-page volume serves as a ten-year
celebration of the club’s ongoing relationship with the with the Iskra Print
Collective and Jager Di Paola Kemp Design (JDK). Included are posters created
for Higher Ground shows by a who’s-who of the hipster world, among them Gov’t
Mule, My Morning Jacket, Feist, Beth Orton, Ween, The Dresden Dolls, Interpol,
Neko Case, Sonic Youth, Bright Eyes, Cat Power, Yo La Tengo, Kings of Leon,
Damien Rice, Rilo Kiley, Of Montreal, The Decemberists, Ryan Adams, Grace
Potter, Herbie Hancock, Dr. John, J.J. Cale, The Neville Brothers, Femi Kuti,
Mos Def, Jurassic 5, Ray La Montagne and more. It’s published in an edition of
– you guessed it – 1500, with each individual book numbered and boasting a
hand-silkscreened cover. (The one pictured on the Higher Ground site is red,
but my copy, numbered 892, had a blue swirl/marble design.) In a perfect world
the book would be printed in a size closer to the posters’ actual physical
dimensions, but one supposes a product clocking in at, say, 20″x20″ might be a
hard sell to retailers mindful of their available shelf space.

 

The foregoing laundry list of band names doesn’t convey the
visual impact here, however. Certainly, the posters themselves are arresting
enough in their own right. A 2000 Ozomatli concert poster by artist Randy
Ronquillo is designed like a Los Angeles street map grid and rendered as a
blueprint (it was originally printed on thin, unstable blueprint paper, in
fact, giving it an inherent collectible quality – if the collector is savvy
enough to store or display it properly); a 2006 Deerhoof/Fiery Furnaces gig is
commemorated by Erik Petersen with simple block lettering for the band names,
no other images, but the overlapping blues, greens, reds, yellows and oranges
make the letters pop out as if in 3D; and a stone(r) classic Ween poster from
’99, at the hands of Todd Wender, depicts a person, presumably a child,
standing in a bright yellow puddle of pee, which considering Ween’s frequent
forays into juvenile toilet humor, is rock ‘n’ roll self-referentiality at its
finest!

 

 

 

Giving the book additional clout is the inclusion of live
photos of some of the bands upon which the poster images are overlaid as insets.
A second Ween poster (by Mark Michaylira), this one displaying a childlike
ghost with, er, a big boner, joins a sweaty action shot of Ween; an ornate,
almost chaste Feist graphic (by Malcolm Buick of the Conscious Alliance), is
juxtaposed against a riotous photo of Feist crowded onstage by scores of
excited fans; a poster depicting an orange/red locomotive bearing the legend
Taj Mahal (by Steve Cousins) is accompanied by a shot of Taj, smiling, eyes
closed and playing his acoustic guitar, steady as a train.

 

Some of the pages contain short commentaries from the
designers as well as the bands themselves in order to provide more literal
context. The former give insights as to what inspired their particular designs,
while the latter offer their thoughts on the posters or memories of the actual
concerts. Feist, for example, reflects on her 2007 Higher Ground show, writing,
“I recall for some reason being seized with the desire to have the audience on
the stage with us, and so I asked them all up. Like being swallowed up by the
sea, it was a great feeling, but almost gave my tour manager a heart attack.
Sometimes seated theaters need to be messed with.”

 

 

 

Ultimately, what comes through the loudest – and I think
this applies to any particular musical period – is the psychic and
psychological relationships forged on canvas (or silkscreen or whatever the
medium) by the artists with their subjects. Journalist Pamela Polston, in her
introduction to the book, suggests exactly that when she discusses how the
downsizing of LP art in the CD era (and even further in the thumbnail/iPod era)
may have prompted a pushback from artists in the form of an uptick in concert
poster creation. “It’s no coincidence that most of the club’s posters are 15
inches square,” she writes. “Even for post-analog music fans, the shape is
iconic… Each of the posters in this book packs an idiosyncratic wallop –
created before the concerts they document, the images arose from the designers’
personal connection with their chosen bands.”

 

And that same sense of personal connection, of course, is
what makes all of us fans of the music we celebrate. Here’s a vote for
celebrating the artists such as those included in 1 of 1500 with equal gusto. FRED MILLS

 

[Images taken from HigherGroundMusic.com; ordering details
for the book are at the site]

 

 

 

 

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