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Thursday, December 7

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Feature Thu Mar 22 2007

There Goes the Neighborhood: 5 Chicago Bands' Latest

This week's album releases calendar marks a special date for Chicagoans — on March 20th, Chi-town saw the release of five albums from either native sons and daughters of the Windy City, or artists whose labels had the good sense to set up shop here. From Andrew Bird's alternative to AAA to the Zincs' zeroed-in zeitgeist of wistful British pop revival, this group of Chicagoans, honorary or otherwise, showcase a diverse city as their backdrop. As such, while reviewing each album we'll also find their appropriate Chicagoland equivalent and explain what they have in common.


On our first stop of the Chicago musical tour, we start with the only band that currently both lives here and labels here — Thrill Jockey's The Zincs. So what if the lead singer happens to be British? James Elkington's a full transplant by now, another regular in the melting pot. For Black Pompadour — James' second time around with a backing band — Jim and his mates find their long hours on-stage and on the road together have caused them to gel. It's also given their sound a spookier edge. For this reason, Black Pompadour seems to share a kinship with Lincoln Park's Red Lion Pub.

Like the Zincs, The Red Lion has its roots in England, but it's feet in Chicago. And like the Red Lion, the Zincs have crafted a friendly exterior that only after time reveals the ghosts that reside in it — no less than eight apparitions are claimed to reside in the Red Lion, and few can forget that John Dillinger met his famous end across the street at the Biograph Theater. As for Black Pompadour, songs like the dirge-ish "Hamstrung and Juvenile" or the fast-paced but solemn "Finished In This Business" present catchy tunes that hold old souls underneath their charm. James and the gang have constructed a stalwart trove of pleasant tunes that boil away the saccharin but not the sweetness of a pure pop album.


The inestimable Andrew Bird has found a label home with Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe and currently Mississippi's Fat Possum Records, but the Illinois-born, Northwestern-educated, Hideout regular clearly bleeds white and blue with red six-pointed stars. After running around the musical block with his genius sloshing about on the Squirrel Nut Zippers and swing revival, Bird began to lead his Bowl of Fire project into a different direction. Bird picked up the cues he'd been laying for himself in his Fingerlings acoustic recordings and found introspective, gorgeous pop in a series of albums that led to the dissolution of the Bowl of Fire and and last year's breakthrough The Mysterious Production of Eggs. Riding high off this wave, Bird returns to an early buzz for Armchair Apocrypha from an exponentially growing mob of new listeners and fans.

A friend of mine once met Andrew Bird's girlfriend at Lula Cafe, and he himself has claimed in interviews that he frequents the cafe whenever he returns to town. It makes perfect sense, given their similarities. Just as Lula has an inventive chef who's been pleasing gentle hipster customers with vegetarian or otherwise healthy and inventive cuisine in a cramped little horseshoe around the Logan Square Auditorium, so has Andrew been playing genius melodies to the privileged few who can gain entry to his shows at venues like the Hideout. The menu at Lula will change at random — in the same vein, Bird has some pretty little gems like "Plasticites" or "Spare-ohs" that blossom into toe-tapping anthems (as is expected of a man who's playing for a bigger audience now), but side trips like "Simple X" with a dash of Anticon's Dosh show that he's still got that small-venue whimsy that endeared him so well to Chicagoans in the first place.


ADULT., Thrill Jockey's guests from Detroit, are debuting their second disc on Thrill Jockey as well - after years of releases on their TJ-distributed Ersatz Audio, Nicola and Adam decided to let someone else do the business so that they could get down to their business. With a start in electro that was hard, but still catchy enough to spawn a single that made it on the famous 2 Many Dj's "As Heard On Radio Soulwax" ("Hand To Phone") ADULT. has only furthered their sound. Shedding some of their earlier tendencies towards kitsch (no odes to furniture on this disc), and extra guitar players, Why Bother? finds the band honing their brutal guitar and synth assault to razor-like precision, and keeping a black sense of humor and snark that can only be equated to one venue in Chicago - Exit.

With the big black doors that dare you to come in, the bar that doesn't give a damn about holidays probably intimidates the onlookers just as much as a band who requires their already mildly-suggestive name to be spelled in caps and have a period at the end. Yet just as both will probably scare away the trixies and anyone's parents from ever dropping in on the party, they both reward the adventurous or faithful. The tracks off of Why Bother? set a pace not unlike Exit's weekly events schedule — elements of dance, sex, industrial and punk mixing together in various proportions for a particular but perfected form of entertainment. Check out the strange peaceful drone of "Harvest" and hear the starkly beautiful comedown from the sonic assaults that precedes it.


Possibly the biggest buzz of any of these bands has been for Bottle staples and Matador newbies The Ponys. After several line-up changes, a splinter forming locally promising Submarine Races, and an eventual contract from one of the best-respected indie labels in the country, the Ponys are building up strong buzz in both Chicago and national publications for "Turn The Lights Out".

Ultimately, the charms of the Ponys equal those of Bucktown in my mind. While decent venues and eateries can be found throughout, there's generally a lot more to be said about communities directly to the South or West of it. Similarly, the Ponys are in the right musical block, and chug out a few good solid rockers. "Poser Psychotic" rips out of the gate with crisp drums, guitar rhythms worthy of Daydream Nation, and a subdued and spooky vocal that somehow fits it. But diamonds like that are far outnumbered by clunkers like the title track, which seems to be happy building up into a glorified bar singalong, or "Harakiri", where the band revels in a sea of effects pedals they found from 1994. Bucktown, despite the many lovely people who live within its borders, also harbors an unruly amount of annoying bars and ex-frat boys who hold the extra-special distinction of holding themselves superior to the common meathead. These bad apples in Bucktown are also the tired techniques that the Ponys try to milk on "Turn The Lights Out" — just a few of them spoil the whole bunch.


Finishing up our quintet is an East Coast punker who landed on Chicago's venerable Touch n' Go earlier last year due to the demise of Lookout! Records — the one and only Ted Leo. With a CV including the likes of Citizen's Arrest and Chisel, Teddy was doing pretty well before he broke off on his own. After some solo efforts and a previously liquid supporting cast, the current Pharmacists have all been in place for three albums now, and sound like they're on quite the groove. Living With The Living finds Ted pushing his liberal, vegan agenda, per usual. However, Ted is still armed with his delicious guitar riffs, instantly-infectious melody, and his trademark Boston-Irish croon — enough weapons to get even Alan Keyes dancing along to the pointed jabs or scathing attacks of the military without knowing better.

Only the Bleeding Heart Bakery on Chicago could represent TL & Rx properly — both entities put such effort into their productions that usual turn-offs like political calls-to-arms or vegan baking techniques are lost in the wake delicious guitars or brownies (take your pick). Ted has consistently proven that he can have a song bridge from the chorus into a fit of fiddles and whistling and still end up with a perfect pop gem ("A Bottle of Buckie") or say, a reggae song ("The Unwanted Things"), and just like the first time you suspiciously bit into a dill and cheddar scone, your doubt ends when you experience the sensory result. Who knows? Maybe one day you'll wander into Bleeding Heart and find Mr. Leo himself acclimating to his new home away from home. To be blunt — that would be sweet.
-Dan Morgridge

The next chances to see your hometown heroes:

Ponys: March 21st @ Logan Square Auditorium

Zincs: April 7th @ Empty Bottle

Andrew Bird: April 20th @ Riviera Theatre

Ted Leo: April 28th @ Metro

ADULT.: May 4th @ Empty Bottle

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
Live Music Blog
Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


Abbey Pub
Andy's Jazz Club
Aragon Ballroom
Auditorium Theatre
Beat Kitchen
Bottom Lounge
Buddy Guy's Legends
The Burlington
California Clipper
Concord Music Hall
Congress Theater
Cubby Bear
Double Door
Elbo Room
Empty Bottle
Green Mill
The Hideout
Honky Tonk BBQ
House of Blues
Kingston Mines
Lincoln Hall
Logan Square Auditorium
Mayne Stage
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
The Promontory
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
Thalia Hall
The Shrine
Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

  Labels, Promoters
  & Shops:

Alligator Records
Beverly Records
Bloodshot Records
Dave's Records
Delmark Records
Drag City
Dusty Groove
Flameshovel Records
Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
Jam Productions
Jazz Record Mart
Kranky Records
Laurie's Planet of Sound
Minty Fresh
Numero Group
mP Shows
Permanent Records
Reckless Records
Smog Veil Records
Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records

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Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
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