This Friday, Liverpool rockers Hot Club de Paris add a European touch to Hideout. Minimalistic in instrumentation, the trio nonetheless dish out enough melodic hooks to keep you staring at their MySpace page much longer than necessary. Listing influences as diverse as Cap'N Jazz, Black Flag, Don Caballero, and The Police, Hot Club de Paris sound like they're a very young Bloc Party (but maybe vocalist Matthew Smith just sounds like Kele Okereke?), with a member who keeps insisting that the band cover Love of Diagrams--while listening to enough Tokyo Police Club to have TPC's stuttered bass lines subconsciously rub off in tracks like "Your Face Looks All Wrong." The band -- who's members met while working part-time at a racetrack -- released their debut album Drop It 'Til It Pops on Moshi Moshi last year, with 2 more singles out this summer. Catchy, innovative, and from across the pond (so who knows when they'll be over again?), definitely try to get out to this show.
Some very, very late news for those of us uninitiated into the world of Urdu music: apparently, one of the biggest musical legends of Pakistan and India -- now an American -- lives in Chicago. Yesterday's episode of the public radio program "The World" profiled singer Munni Begum, a woman known for putting Urdu poems to music in songs called "ghazals". Listen to it here.
But while popular with those on the sub-continent, the next generation isn't impressed with this kind of music. Funniest lines from the story come from a 13 year old girl listening to Begum:
"Like in our car she'll be like oooooh, ahhhh for like the whole song. That's why you can't understand her because it's like ooooohs and ahhhs, haaas, whoos, blah, blah, blah."
Begum's own son, a high school student in Chicago, isn't really into ghazals either.
"My son, he don't like my song, my music. He like rap music."
Okay, Chicago Punk Rock 101 time. Anyone with a sense of this city's indie music history knows Naked Raygun. Formed in 1980, they were once this city's most formidable reps on the national punk scene, banging out their own brand of "blast furnace monomania" and influencing the sound of countless bands around the country. Strictly textbook, as they say. And by now, even the half-attentive know that the band has reunited "for good"--back in action for the past year or so, playing occasional in-town shows and doing a little touring from time to time.
This month Naked Raygun will be playing Riot Fest at the Congress Theater for the second year running, headlining on November 17. But next week sees the release of What Poor Gods We Make, a DVD overview of the band's history. An exclusive screening of the documentary will be held at Reggie's this Sunday evening, with copies of the two-disc set will be available for sale before the thing properly hits the streets on November 6. The band will reportedly be on hand for some hobnobbing, as well. An afterparty featuring a bunch of other noisy young things will follow. 2105 South State Street. 7pm. The screening is all ages, the afterparty is 18 and up. (312) 949-0125.
Chicago's own whistler extraordinaire Andrew Bird and longtime pals Dianogah have teamed up in the past to perform and are now in the process of recording some amazing new material. Head over to Daytrotter.com to check out some exclusive free mp3s of Bird performances. Of the five free songs, two are previously unreleased (including one of Bird's collaboration with Jay Ryan and Co., A Breaks B).
Dianogah and Bird will be collaborating on a new full-length that will be released by Southern Records sometime next Spring.
I’m not sure Schubas is going to be able to hold Film School. The band plays the kind of shimmering rock that threatens to explode into the galaxy at any moment and I only hope that the backroom of my favorite venue can hold out after a sure-to-be electric Halloween show. Their latest release, Hideout, features layered melodies awash in a wall of reverb and feedback and wistful romance, complete with a hard-charging rhythm section. Songs like “Lectric” balance a surprisingly danceable beat with a pair of blistering riffs, while “Two Kinds” exposes a more standard synth-driven pop love jam. All styles of Film School seem to work because the mood is kept playful and the bombast is kept to a minimum. Word on the street is that these cats totally kick ass live (and did I mention they’re playing on Halloween???????).
Film School is joined at Schubas by Land of Talk, a balls-to-the-wall rock’n’roll outfit from indie rock headquarters, Montreal. They fill the void where Rock meets Rock and are fronted by the daughter of North America’s first female alligator wrestler and backed by Montreal’s skinniest drummer and fattest bass player.
Schubas. Wednesday, October 31st and Thursday, November 1st. Film School. Land of Talk. Eulogies open. 9pm. $12. Rock’n’roll.
BONUS We're giving away two pairs of tickets to see Film School at Schubas. One pair for each night! Be one of the first 2 to write us at contests [at] gapersblock [dot] com with the subject "Schooled!", and tell us which night you'd prefer. First come, first served! Hurry up! Update: We're all done! Congrats to Liz and Congrats to Kate!
I have a thing for circus sideshow music. Music you might hear in a Wim Wenders film, something by David Lynch or maybe in a Jim Jarmusch movie. So it should come as no surprise that I was drawn to the music of Chicagoan Daniel Knox. In fact, Daniel Knox has a David Lynch connection. He played the organ before a London screening of Lynch's film Inland Empire. His new record, HP Johnson Presents Daniel Knox :: Disaster, was just released and is part of a planned trilogy.
"Lovesmoney" is a perfect example of the campy, Victorian-organ-grinder meets snake-oil-circus-barker style I was referring to above. You can buy Disasterhere directly from Daniel Knox.
All-ages early shows at the Metro are always kind of strange, an odd mix of random jaded hipsters, teenagers vibrating slightly with the excitement of their first show, lost-looking parents, and hardcore fans all thrown together and soaked in booze until the band appears and everyone unites for the briefest of instants before the house lights come up and scatters the crowd to the wind once again. The Weakerthans are an ideal band for such a moment, blending their punk cred with folk instrumentation, wordy singalong lyrics and a shy, almost bashful stage presence that invites the audience to be give as much to the performance as the band itself. This played out in myriad ways last night -- when singer John Samson forgot the words to "Left and Leaving," the crowd was already singing along at full blast, and the turnabout was so complete he handed ten dollars to a kid in the front row, calling it a "partial refund," and when the band came on for an encore they played several more songs than they had obviously intended.
I foolishly didn't take any notes last night, so I've drank away the setlist and other fun details -- instead I'm left with a general impression of warmth and affection. Considering how a packed house at the Metro seemed to spill onto Clark Street all at once and then vanish instantly, I'm convinced it's the right impression for a band that's made a living making intensely personal music that seems to speak to everyone.
“Oh, woe is me. I have no label. My fans love me, but my label won’t promote my new album.”
Sound like the latest indie-rock darling with pop sensibilities? Well, believe it or not, veteran hip-hop artists have that too. And a few of them showed up at the Abbey Pub last night.
Lasting three and a half hours, a packed Abbey Pub was treated to a rollicking show. The crowd reacted warmly to the two opening acts, both local artists with a ton of energy and sporadic DAT problems. Members of The Away Team, part of the Hall of Justus conglomerate which includes Little Brother, took to the stage before giving way to Evidence. In between sets, the DJ would spin classic hip-hop, enough to keep the crowd warmed up and loud.
Evidence, one-third of Dilated Peoples, embarked on a solo career earlier this year with The Weatherman LP. Dilated’s had more commercial success - their single “This Way”, produced by Kanye West, garnered them the most attention - but their credibility lies in the fact that they largely did things themselves and, to Capitol’s relief, within their extended family of other artists and producers. Read: cheaply. Last night, Evidence performed a few songs off his solo effort, including the single "Mr Slow Flow", as well as his parts off of Dilated hits like “This Way” and “Back Again”.
Little Brother performed a few tracks from Getback, as well as “Lovin It” from 2005’s The Minstrel Show. Big Pooh and Phonte gave the old fans “For You” from their first label release The Listening, which was a nice surprise. Interspersed throughout the performance was a lot of banter about misogyny, current events, and an age check call and response that quite plainly revealed that quite a few of their fans aren’t the college-age kids, but 25- and even 30-year olds. It was clear that they enjoyed giving a show, and the crowd enjoyed them for it.
If Chicagoans are familiar with the 48-year-old drummer Martin Atkins, it's probably for his traveling industrial rock collaborative ensemble Pigface, known for high-energy performances featuring a constantly changing roster of dozens of musicians playing at the same time both on stage and in the studio. Those familiar with punk history, however, know him first and foremost for his time in the early-'80s English punk band Public Image Limited, which was founded and lead by former Sex Pistols lead vocalist John Lydon (a.k.a. "Johnny Rotten"). In between, he has founded and collaborated with a multitude of bands including Brian Brain, Ministry and Murder, Inc. and also started the Chicago-based label Invisible Records to help push it all out into the music world.
This past year, Atkins has set his sights on the rock and pop scene in China, where he traveled in October of 2006 to record tracks and live shows from over a dozen bands performing at the D-22 Club in Beijing. Never before have the conditions been so favorable for Chinese pop: As the world's focus on China grows increasingly intense in the run up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, government officials seem to be slowly loosening up their censorship.
At once experimental, folk, country, rock, and more than a little bit of crazy, Castanets come into town this coming Monday for a night at the Empty Bottle. The group is essentially Raymond Rapos, supported by a revolving door of talent from other fine groups such as Pinback and Tristeza. Rapos' back-story involves testing out of high school (!) and traveling the country via Greyhound bus, before releasing his first album Cathedral in 2004. His latest work, In the Vines, is Castanets' third record, and was released Tuesday (10/23). Written after a year of depression and a mugging, Rapos is melancholy and desperate in In the Vines--features that stimulate his song-writing to new heights.
Also playing are Tunng (a group who's members got their musical start in soft-core porn and are commonly described as "futurefolk") and Deer Tick (the stage name for John McCauley and drummer Dennis Ryan who deliver an earnest brand of lo-fi folk rock). A well-matching line-up, it promises to be a memorable evening.
Castanets, Tunng, and Deer Tick @ Empty Bottle, 10/29, 9pm. 21+, $10 advance, $12 at door
Castanets - "A Song Is Not the Song of the World" (from First Light's Freeze in 2006)
This Sunday night sees a return performance from the Oakland noise-rock outfit D Yellow Swans as they roll through town in the course of their latest tour. It's been six years since the duo first started kicking up dust back at their initial home base in Portland, and in the intervening years they've released a beleaguering batch of material, with a back catalog of some 60 releases--many of them in very limited editions.
For the sake of sheer perversity, the group continually changes part of their name, having the "D" take a different form with each release (e.g., standing for Das, Die, Drowned, Dreamed, Detained, Dyad, Damned, etc etc). But if one thing about them has remained consistent, it's how they deliver tangled, surging masses of bottom-heavy noise--all churned out via guitar and a labyrinthine patchwork of mixers, effects units, and drum machines. As evidenced by Live During War Crimes II, a recent collection of their live material, D Yellow Swans’ sound involves a loose, improvised approach to whipping up a sonic maelstrom; one deeply indebted to the early industrial excursions of perennial faves Throbbing Gristle.
Certain genres of music seem to have typical trajectories for bands lifespans. The process of learning the tricks of the trade, paying your dues and hopefully making it big enough to at least muster a living via your band comes in various forms in all genres. In the jamband genre it is general procedure to cut an album every year or so, then tour feverishly, hawking the album and building up a fan base slowly as you go. After years of repeating this process, a tipping point will be reached and larger, more mainstream success will fall upon the band. And while Lotus is certainly part of the post-jam movement, their rise up the ladder of live musical entertainment has followed the tried and true jamband formula. Last year they played two comfortably full shows at Martyr's on a very tough Halloween weekend, returned in the spring the night before Easter and almost sold out the Abbey Pub. Logically a better and slightly bigger venue would await them when the tour rolled into town again. Playing at the Parkwest this Friday, Lotus' sound will resonate even better at a more modern and acoustical-minded venue. The band is no stranger to theater shows having played to packed and sold out crowds in Denver, San Fransisco and along the East Coast for a couple years now. And their popularity now spreading nationwide. With a new double disc live album, Escaping Sargasso Sea and the soon-to-be-released Copy/Paste/Repeat of Lotus songs remixed by the likes of Juan Maclean, DJ Harry and Lymbyc System, Lotus' catalog is expanding in sync with their fan base. If you are looking for an affordable, energetic music experience, Lotus' varied array of styles from electronic to post-rock is a sure thing. Minimalistic progressive rockers Unwed Sailor open around 9 p.m.
On a ceiling, on a Porsche of butter, say, I wanna leave, I wanna leave Bennigan's! The DOUBLE DOOR is having their Annual Halloween Bash This SATURDAY, OCTOBER 27 @ 9pm!
Ay yeeeeeeeeeahhhhhhhhh can you see dem? Round my porch, potato heeeeeeeeey! THE SLEEPERS are appearing as PEARL JAM this year! Boy, am I honored.
Yeah, uh huh huh. Yeah yeah yeah yeah! This show usually sells out FAST, so get tickets in advance at DOUBLE DOOR.
What the f**k is a babba. Shameon samfor a salad. Sane a lane for a pecan, ooooooooooohhh oooooh.......ooooooh! Lots of folks dress up, so put on a costume if you want! It's a Halloween Party! .
Aye Aye Aye Aye Aye Aye Aye Aye Aye yeahayyeahh! They're on SECOND so get there early.
Uh, huh. Uh, huh. Did you really think I wouldn't mention Ticketmaster in this email? They are a corporate regime known for having a monopoly on ticketing sales in the American Entertainment Industry. Their stranglehold on the control of large arena concerts makes it difficult for small companies to enter the non-existent competition of ticketing sales. We at Pearl Jam stand hard and strong against companies such as Ticketmaster, and look to perform at alternate venues to entertain our fanbase and provide an exhilarating concert experience without 'convenience charges.' Unfortunately, in our corporate, capitalistic, monopolistic society, we have been forced to succumb to said control of this entertainment industry and therefore have no choice but to allow Ticketmaster to sell tickets to our concerts over their internet-based web of corporate monopoly. Therefore, and heretofor, if you feel that the only way you may find yourself to attend the concert listed above as the DOUBLE DOOR HALLOWEEN BASH is through purchasing tickets through Ticketmaster, we will not judge you. Just don't let them make you pay for parking, because there are plenty of parking meters and free neighborhood spots. OK?
If that didn't convince you, maybe the rest of the Halloween Bash line-up will help. In addition to The Sleepers as Pearl Jam, Blackbox will play as Local H, The Midnight Shows as Boy George & Culture Club, Thunderwing w/Mike O'Connell will be The MC5, Catfish Haven will channel The Misfits, and The Last Vegas will appear as Alice Cooper. Tickets are just $12, and getting them in advance (via TicketMaster or at the DD box office) is a very good idea.
For three consecutive evenings in the second weekend of November, Plastic Crimewave and the Empty Bottle will be hosting the fourth annual installment of the Million Tongues Festival. That means three nights of "acid folk," New Weird Americana, and a cross-spectrum array of experimental music. As of Tuesday evening, the final roster for the festival has been announced, and it looks like (once again) some additonal support is being contributed by the folks at Arthur magazine.
We're passing along the full schedule below. Note that, due to an especially packed billing and some resulting spill-over, all shows start at 9pm at the AV-Aerie except the Valerie Project. Check the Empty Bottle's website for more information regarding scheduling and tickets.
I can offer very little insight into the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir as a band or as people. I’ve never seen them in concert, or shared omelets and tea with them at the Pick Me Up Café (but thankfully Tom Lynch has, and you can check out his great New City expose here). Truthfully, and I realize I’m venturing into uncharted waters here, I’ve never actually heard their music. I’m unfamiliar with the first record, I Bet You Say That To All the Boys, the self-released one before Matthew Kerstein left to form Brighton, MA. So as a result, I can only offer a newborn’s look at the SYGC world and their second album, the aptly title Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, out now on Bloodshot Records, and which I just picked up yesterday from my local record shop. What follows is my reaction.
Things get off to fast start with “Aspidistra”, a buoyant pop tune that concerns old days spent buying drugs, in which the narrator refuses to regret his past indulgences while focusing on current and future abstinence. A brilliant and fast opener, “Aspidistra” reaches its point of climax, its point of potential musical explosion, only to end abruptly. Immediately, the listener is left wanting more. It’s a neat device used throughout most of the album, where the songs feel like they’re going to erupt or deconstruct only to race to an early conclusion. The tracks of principal songwriter, Elia Einhorn, aren’t ditties despite their consistently short length; they’re fully formed stories breathed full of life and heart and emotion, traits increasingly unseen in today’s indie pop (in fact, I daresay that of all recent Chicago pop releases, this one has the most mettle). Soon-to-be crowd favorite, “I Never Thought I Could Feel This Way For a Boy”, bounces a schoolyard yarn about a young boy falling for another young boy, and the fear of chastisement from his other classmates. There is tenderness and joy here, balanced by terror and loneliness and the desire “to be loved by everyone at the end of the day”. It's this careful balance that helps provide the core of this record. But although Elia could easily lapse into misplaced melancholy, the album is not a downer but an uplifting look at fighting for comfort and love and a place to call home. “Broken Front Teeth” is a stunner that showcases the vocal and emotional range of cellist Ellen O’Hayer. A traditional-sounding folk ballad, it layers a simple acoustic guitar with a mournful accordion, while she peruses old photos that collect memories and fuel nostalgia. If there's a criticism to be made, it's with the closing gospel free-for-all, "Everything You Paid For", which doesn't quite go where I feel it needs to in order to unleash all of the sounds reigned in on the previous eight tracks. But that's an inconsequential quibble that more reflects my personal taste than the band's short-comings.
Just a couple of ticks below, we put the word out about a double shot (that's two nights worth!) of local label action at the Abbey Pub. Well, as a reward for starting your day with Transmission, the first to email us at contests (at) gapersblock.com with the subject "BOO"gets a pair of tickets to a night of their choice (this Friday or Saturday) full of music by Octopus Project, Appleseed Cast, Dreamend, and Enon. Bonus: You'll also get your very own extra special gift bag with some Halloween goodies, some albums and other extra special Graveface swag! You have to be 18+ to go, and they are encouraging the heck out of costumes. Update! We have a winner! Congrats to Sharada!
For the past few months, the rumor's been that the southside rap duo The Cool Kids were aiming to release their debut EP, Bake Sale, at some point in the unspecified future. Now the word goes out that the EP has been picked up for release by the crafty Chicago-based label Chocolate Industries. The hardcopy product of the EP is slated to hit the streets sometime in January.
In the meantime, the “Black Mags” single is due to drop sometime next month–which means it’ll start circulated while The Cool Kids are on tour opening for M.I.A. The tour arrives in Chicago for a pair of shows on November 21 and 23, at the House of Blues and Vic Theater, respectively.
Remember those childhood days of yesteryear, when your stay-at-home mother would prepare all sorts of goopy, scary, imaginative "feels" together, and you and your friends would pass the "witch's eyes" and "werewolf guts" around? Of course you don't. But lovely local label Graveface is doing their best imitation via a label showcase, passing around an Octopus Project (very melty), Appleseed Cast (safe - no razors in them!), Dreamend (alright, I'm out of clever analogies) and special guests Enon. The Abbey Pub is the venue, and costumes are the request — there will be gift bags for all in costume, as well as a contest. A haunted house and some vintage horror flicks will finish off the ambiance, for a final cost of 15 dollars. Sorry, young-uns: it's an 18+ event, so either get back to trick-or-treating or enjoy another awkward moment courtesy of your mid-teenage years.
Imagine my surprise when the ghostly pale woman two-fisting a drink 'n cig combo at the bar turned out to be the one and only Scout Niblett. To be honest, with her oversized camo jacket and dirty, disheveled blonde wig that she kept tugging down, she sort of looked like a methed-out version of my aunt. (Check out the wig here, as she cavorts with a skeletal - literally - Will Oldham.)
Call it a ruse to get attention or an attempt to blend in; either way Niblett managed to do both during her set Saturday, Oct. 20 at the Empty Bottle. She opened for the Stars of Track and Field, thus suffering that which plagues all opening acts: a loud audience. It's a shame, since Niblett deserves a certain amount of concentration to enjoy. She's not necessarily whisper-quiet, but she's a very deliberate singer/songwriter, and her music is simple enough to be drowned out amid chit-chatty scenesters.
Armed with a guitar and an accompanying drummer, Niblett began her set with tracks from her latest album, This Fool Can Die Now. The CD is slow, sweet, and full of love songs, and that's exactly how Niblett slid into her set. Interestingly, even when performing the lovely "Do You Want to Be Buried With My People," she still appears oddly fierce, singing through clenched teeth as if going for the jugular. But while This Fool waxes poetic, it still maintains some of the bite that gives color to her previous work; when she ripped into the discordant monster-stomper "Let Thine Heart Be Warmed," it temporarily shocked the gabbering audience into paying attention. Even the two girls next to me, stopped gossiping about who did what on Facebook. "Whoa," said one, her eyes wide.
Alas, as soon as she returned to softer works, she lost the the crowd again. Which was too bad -- her performance, though sometimes a little too simplistic, was incredibly powerful. By the time she closed with "Nevada," it was clear that both she -- and the audience, eager to see the headliner -- had had enough for the night.
Luke Temple's had some early successes in his career to date including a song selected for Grey's Anatomy and a notable word of praise from Sufjan Stevens. To my ears he wrote one of the great score-a-new-girlfriend mixtape songs with "Make Right With You" from his 2005 debut Hold A Match For A Gasoline World. I was expecting his new record, Snowbeast, to be a bit of concession to the hype, but instead he's made the most challenging record of his short career. It's some odd combination of Sufjanish indie folk together with lofi experimental bedroom pop. There's plenty of weird instrumentation, but the real surprise is the deep bass and Luke's upper registry vocals. All these elements combine to make one of the best records of the year. Snowbeast is available here through Mill Pond Records (owned by a former Sup Pop intern). Luke Temple joins Chuck Prophet for a 10pm show at Schubas on Oct. 27.
Oh yeah and the great Chuck Prophet is headlining. Even if you don't remember his band Green On Red from the late 80's/early 90's you should have come in contact with his recent string of solid solo records. He's perfected a kind of euro-trash americana soul sound. Here's the slinky "Freckle Song" from his new Yep Roc release Soap and Water.
On the same day that Radiohead released their newest studio album In Rainbows online at the always alluring whatever-you-feel-like price, a local group called The Lickets did the same. Through their captivatingly mysterious label International Corporation, the Chicago experimental outfit released not only their new album Journey In Caldecott online at consumer-decided prices, but their entire 4-disc discography. Set your own price here.
So just who are The Lickets? Spacey, other-worldy, and unsettling, theirs is the music that Alice would play on her iPod if she had remembered to grab it before heading into Wonderland. Journey In Caldecott is more than the name for this album, its also the concept. This is a trek, an epic journey through forgotten lands, emerald forests, and unholy temples. Tracks like "Jero" and "Rabbit Moon" emit Old World instrumentals and sensibilities, while remaining in the world of the fantastic. The band is made up of Mitch Greer and Rachel Smith, who "deploy a mini-orchestra violin, cello, guitar, double bass, flute, Farfisa, mellotron, vibraphone, Theremin, Mini-moog, chimes, xylophone, and percussion to create their thoroughly trippy travelogue."
For more fun, head to The Lickets' website to actually travel through Caldecott (it's sort of like a Victorian Myst).
The fine folks over at Regressive Films have recently released a trailer to their upcomming documentary "You Weren't There". The film closely examines the history of Chicago's criminally overlooked punk scene from 1977-1984, focusing in on Articles of Faith, Naked Raygun, The Effigies, Big Black, Strike Under and the rise of the legendary punk clubs and DIY show spaces that served as their battlegrounds.
The film is set to debut on November 24th at the Portage Theatre (4050 N. Milwaukee) with a suprise show following the film at the Beat Kitchen (details/lineup to be announced).
You can get the first sneak peak by checking out the official trailer here.
I was raised in the Methodist faith, which isn’t really a faith at all but a denomination of a faith; it’s actually more of a tradition. So I guess I was raised in the Methodist tradition, which is highly traditional and phenomenally boring. As my parents only listened to the radio and I didn’t have an older brother to teach me what was cool, music wasn’t an integral part of my upbringing. I shuffled through a hazy life supplemented by Christian hymns and early 90s R&B. At seventeen, I had a best friend who loved rock’n’roll and was willing to show me the ropes, so I broke free from Christianity and the radio and never looked back. Since then, it’s been all rock’n’roll all the time, but somehow it wasn’t until the Thermals released The Body, the Blood, the Machine last year that any music tapped in to how I personally feel about Christianity—that it provides hope for a great many people while serving as a powerful vehicle for our society’s constant state of fear. The third LP from this Portland pot-pop-punk trio, TBTBTM tells the story of a young couple who must flee a United States governed by faux-Christians. The loose concept album is fiercely critical of world that isn’t quite ours but that isn’t far off and it totally and completely rocks.
The Thermals don’t so much reinvent the punk rock form, as bitch slap it and make it their slave. “Here’s Your Future” opens with a droning organ and a classic riff while lead singer Hutch Harris plays the part of punk rock preacher (“God reached his hand down from the sky/ He flooded the land and he set in on fire”) before assaulting the senses with a full-on guitar bass drum attack. “A Pillar of Salt” is a catchy and frightening jam about running in terror away from the powers that be, to find a place where “we won’t have to die, we won’t have to deny our dirty god, our dirty bodies.” The whole approach of TBTBTM is simple and pure and by the end of its loud and loose 35 minutes, I usually go right back to the beginning. Live, the Thermals transform into a foursome of energy, while their boisterous crowds sing-a-long to every song. Chicago welcomes the Thermals back for the third time this calendar year, and it’s easy to see why we love them. This big city is comprised of a lot of folks from small Midwestern towns who can really get a behind a guy who screams, “I can’t believe I got so far with a head so empty.” We understand, because we can’t believe it either.
The Thermals rock the Logan Square Auditorium this Wednesday, October 24th. In an odd but inspired pairing, local pop favorites Chin Up Chin Up open. Show starts at 8:30pm and ticket info can be found here.
Mondays are difficult for live music venues. Going out on a Monday requires pacing because nobody wants to throw off their sleep schedule for an entire week right away. However, sometimes there's just a really strong pull to go out on a Monday and potentially lose some sleep in favor of having a great time. Bobby Conn is one of these pulls. His live shows are true performances filled with surprises. (The last show I saw featured absolutely scorching covers of Hot Chocolate's "Every 1's a Winner" and Sweet's "Action.") With a tight band comprised of musicians from a plethora of other Chicago acts, Bobby Conn's not just a gimmick either. His outlandish acts have by now been trumped by the fact that he's a savvy musician and songwriter. He's worth the late night out.
The Hideout hosts Bobby Conn for free at 9PM on Monday.
Hailing from Hamburg, Germany, Digitalism's arc has been like many other electronic rock acts of the last few years - popping up via remixes, releasing a single or three, developing a reputation as good live performers thanks to an array of visuals, and dropping a full-length album that amasses critical praise.
Friday was their second Smartbar show of 2007 and the first since Idealism's release. The stage area took up a large chunk of space to the right of the DJ booth and, thus, tightened quarters in the already small Smartbar. With condensation dripping from the ceiling and the floor packed with bodies, Digitalism took over from Dark Wave Disco residents at 1:30 a.m. Featuring a custom electronic drum kit, numerous pieces of Korg equipment, a sampler and a synth, and a Shure 55 series microphone, Jens Moelle and İsmail Tüfekçi churned out a rather tame set that sounded like a live mix of Idealism with minor variations from the record. They never strayed far from distortion and pounding beats, apparently preferring to stay in their wheelhouse. But it was crisp and clear during the 50-minute set. Only the extended "Homezone" got tiringly long, with most tunes mixing in and out of each other seamlessly. Despite the absence of a few of their better songs ("Pogo", for one), Digitalism shined (literally, due to the bright lighting) on this night as they worked Smartbar up into a frenzy into the early morning hours.
The Hideout has just announced that they have released additional tickets to the 6 Shellac shows slated for December. The additional tickets are only available at the bar itself on Tuesday between 7:00-2:00, Wednesday-Friday from 4:00-2:00, and Saturday from 7:00-3:00.
Nada Surf, once a major label darling (Elektra), has forged a new existence for themselves as an independent band rising again. While it may be impossible for the band to escape their unwarranted label as a "one hit wonder", Nada Surf is pushing forward the way few bands from the post-alternative era have. Slow and steady the band has rebuilt their fan base from the ground up connecting via an active touring schedule and on-line avenues. Now over 10 years after their smash hit Popular was an MTV anthem, Nada Surf continues with the quirky offerings like Popular, but has found meaningful songwriting and a memorable, energetic sound. Their album The Weight Is The Gift, produced by Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie) found a whole new generation digging the sounds of Nada Surf. Coming to Chicago for a two night stand with openers The Little Ones and Sea Wolf, the band's popularity precedes them as both shows at Schubas sold out weeks ago. With a new album in the works for the spring, Nada Surf will no doubt be back again and for Chicago's sake, hopefully at a bigger venue.
Both praises and curses be to the internets. Yes, it's a tool. It's the greatest innovation since Gutenberg gave the world movable type. And it's a marvelous series of tubes that yields no end of enlightenment, amusement and (perhaps) onanistic diversions. But let's face it: there are many out there who still harbor mixed feelings about the thing. Big Media hates the Tyranny of the Cascading Style Sheet because it has unleashed a poisonous over-democratization of information culture and eroded the foundations of editorial gatekeeping, rigorous fact-checking and all other things traditionally journalistic. Major record companies and the RIAA hate file sharing because it may mean that they'll have to charge less for CDs. And your boss hates the internet and private e-mail because of lost productivity in the workplace.
We here at Gapers Block, on the other hand, have a tendency to savor all of the forbidden fruits listed above — and many of us do so fully, frequently, wantonly. And we suspect that you do, too. (Otherwise you probably wouldn't be reading this.) So with that in mind, and in keeping with our ever-continuing endeavor to corrupt the cultural Leviathan, we bring you another round-up of some favorite Chicago-related music blogs of note. Some are the results of a collective labor by groups of individuals, while others — like most of those listed below — are the work of a sole, passionate individual. What follows is a selection of a few local music blogs and websites worth bookmarking.
ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra) stretches so far live that they often end up right back at the same place. From trance to reggae, their sound generally stays in the realm of danceable funk. ALO's live sound is certainly their forte and other acts have taken notice. Opening slots for Dave Matthews Band, Galactic and Jack Johnson (whose label their on) keeping coming and so do the fans. A sure theater sell-out on the West Coast, ALO is quickly winning over fans across the nation. Riding off the success of a spring release, Roses & Clover, ALO is making inroads here in Chicago. Catch them tonight at the Double Door with Dearborn.
Look at that picture. What do you think he sounds like? If you said some kind of cross between John Prine, Greg Brown and Steve Earl than you guessed right. It seems October 19 is turning into the best night of the year for roots music with at least two competing concerts to choose between. I already wrote about Chris Smither at the Beverly Arts Center but now I've just learned that Malcolm Holcombe is playing the extreme other side of Chicago at The Red Line Tap in the heart of Rogers Park (adjacent to Heartland Cafe).
Malcolm has been playing his brand of gloomy folk blues since the mid 80's, recording and self releasing cds and touring like a backwoods Medicine show hawker. In 2007/2008 he's hooked up with the new NC label Echo Mountain Records. Combine that with the fact that his weathered and parched voice has finally reached the perfect timbre (finally accumulating the right mix of alcohol and tobacco - think Tom Waits in the late 70's) and perhaps his songs will finally connect to at least a broader base than the folk circuit he presently travels in. Here's "Sparrows And Sparrows" from his acclaimed 2006 release Not Fogotten. Songs:Illinois (full disclosure - that's me) has a song from his new ep, Wager).
Throwing around a label like jazz super-group is a not something to do lightly. But with credentials like these we have no problem marking Rudder with that very label. Rudder is a four-piece from New York that includes Chris Cheek (saxophones), Henry Hey (keyboards), Tim Lefebvre (bass) and Keith Carlock. (Drums) A collective listing of their musically accomplishments easily reviles their inclusion in the stratosphere of jazz super-group. Credits include touring and recorded with everyone from Bill Evans, Harry Belafonte, PM Dawn, Bill Frisell, Phil Ramone, Blues Brothers, Steely Dan and Rod Stewart as well as works heard on The Apprentice, The Sopranos, Letterman, 30 Rock, Oceans 12 and 13 and Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle. Together the group plays an eclectic style of Nu-jazz fusing together electronic and jambands sounds, with jazzy undertones. Live shows are tour de force displays and although the band plays solely instrumental, the sound is strong. Catch them tonight at Martyr's with locals Crawl.
If you ever find yourself at a cocktail party discussing "intelligent design" with a fervent and well-versed fundamentalist, and you are getting increasingly frustrated and tongue tied, just whip out Chris Smither's song "Origin Of The Species". The song makes a bit of a mockery of several bible stories and "intelligent design" in particular with lines like, "the human race survived because all those brothers found wives but where they came from aint' nobody knows" and "then came the flood go figure, like New Orleans, only bigger". It's just one song in a long career of masterful storytelling combined with exquisite acoustic guitar playing. In fact Chris Smither is one of those musical rarities (joining the small club containing Richard Thompson) that is equally acclaimed for his writing/singing as he is for his incredible guitar playing.
"Origin of the Species" can be found on Chris' 2006 release Leave The Light On. Leave The Light On is Smither's 20th release since his debut record I'm A Stranger Too! that was released in 1970. Celebrate Chris Smither now as he's as relevant as ever and before he becomes an elder statesman of folk blues. Chris Smither plays the Beverly Arts Center at 2407 W. 111th St on October 19, more info here.
This week, and apparently coincidentally, two Grammy-nominated stars of the musical Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) world descend on Chicago for separate performances. Both women are also apparently here to show that Lusophones are hotter than the rest of us.
Sometimes I think indie rock has gotten way out of hand. A random list of indie band names reads like an exercise in hipster one-upsmanship (see Architecture in Helsinki, TV on the Radio, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir) and albums frequently receive a gross amount of over-production that gets in the way of the actual music. Oftentimes the simplest approach to rock’n’roll is the most expressive and exciting.
Take the Sharks, for example. On their first official release, Bridget Quits, these Logan Square locals blast through 16 minutes of loud, noisy, and loose rock’n’roll. The songs are about girls, and getting high, and staying out late—all the important shit. A browse of their website reveals a perversely hilarious “backstory” detailing their humble beginnings as an Islamic terrorist cell turned conventional rock band (so it’s nice to see they’re not taking themselves too seriously). And on first spin of the EP, it’s clear that they’re big fans of Pavement and Weezer, as they straddle the line between indifference and sincerity, while incorporating a healthy amount of vocal flourishes over top of some charming, reverbed guitar licks. But rather than acting as a tired retread of the mid-90s, the Sharks can stand on their own. “I am a man” is a refreshing little ditty that sounds like it was actually recorded in someone’s garage, and “blues call” is a stripped-down jam that features improvised soloing over a rumbling and jagged bass riff. And even though I can tell what the Sharks listened to when they were eighteen years old, their work is fresh and creative and tons of fun. They might only be playing rock’n’roll, but it’s refreshing to hear this kind of music again (frankly, I kinda missed it) and I hope they’re able to kick out the jams for years to come.
The Sharks celebrate the release of their first EP, Bridget Quits, this evening with a free show at the Empty Bottle. The release also marks the first offering from newly minted Chicago label, Comptroller Records. Doors open at 9pm. The Sharks play first followed by A Tundra and Scottish band Frightened Rabbit.
Sunday features an invasion from across the lake, and ground zero happens to be Schubas. A quick dossier on the combatants:
Saturday Looks Good to Me – more often than not compared to the Beach Boys – feature a run-through of quality Michigan indie acts. Frontman Fred Thomas (who now lives in Brooklyn I suppose, but I shall still push on with this Michigan theme) from Flashpapr and Lovesick, Erika Hoffmann of Godzuki, Risa Buburniak and Brooke Rossi of the Sparklers, and Chad Gilchrist of Outrageous Cherry and His Name Is Alive. The band released their first album in 2000, and their latest Fill Up the Room comes out 10/23. The band had this to say about the show: "An extended band and different instrumentation, still a party, but focusing more on our dreamier and experimental songs as well as the guitar solo freakouts. We'll be playing songs for these shows that have never been preformed live before…[the show] will be recorded professionally and then released in a deluxe double-live gatefold LP set sometime next year!!!"
Mason Proper makes their home in Ypsilanti, Michigan (originally calling themselves Patterns in Paris). They’ve most recently re-released their 2006 debut There Is a Moth in Your Chest in March 2007. Melancholy and experimental, Mason Proper sound most like the Arcade Fire or Death Cab for Cutie--even The Decemberists at a long stretch (but maybe that’s just cause frontman Jonathan Visgr looks like Colin Meloy).
Great Lakes Myth Society play a catchy brand of Americana/folk/indie-pop, even while adding a layer of eeriness (I suppose that's the "Myth Society" part). The band released their sophomore album Compass Rose Bouquet in July 2007 to high critical acclaim, and Michigan is definitely a major part of their music. With song titles like "Days of Apple Pies," "Summer Bonfire," and "The Gales of 1838," there’s a classic Midwest mystique in GLMS’ music that’s quite alluring. The band moniker says it all.
Don't have tickets to Spoon's sold out show tonight at the Riv? Don't fret. Today at noon, you can purchase tickets for Spoon's New Year eve extravaganza at the Metro, which is sure to sell out pretty soon also. Joined by some as-yet-unnamed special guests, Britt Daniel and Co. will grace the Windy City for the fourth time since their sixth full length album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga hit the streets this summer. 2007 may well prove to be the year of Spoon, as Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga debuted at an astonishing number 10 in July and had all of the critics falling backwards over themselves with praise. So if you don't work, haven't got a family, and love indie rock more than all things, get yourself a ticket. This show is not to be missed.
The Can Kickers seem to know just everybody. When I mention the band to any other touring group inevitably I get nodding heads of approval, if not looks of sheer astonishment. It helps that they live out of their van and tour constantly. It also helps that they are complete originals. They play a kind of punk-celtic-bluegrass-old-timey concoction, they add to that a 1950's era Communist streak that would have got them blacklisted by McCarthy.
I'm not sure if their energetic shows will ever translate onto disc, but their most recent release, Live At Lavazone, which captures a live show in Philly, comes close. Here's two from The Can Kickers who return to Chicago to play MoJoe's Hothouse at 2849 W. Belmont on Oct. 22.
There's a series of books out there called 33 1/3 which dedicates each volume to a particular seminal album. Though the series is mostly authored by writers and music critics (names you might recognize from alt-weeklies and Pitchfork bylines), some notable music makers have also turned 25,000+ words on an album, including singer-songwriter Joe Pernice, who sold The Smith's Meat is Murder, and head Decemberist Colin Meloy, who took on the Replacements' Let It Be. Anyway, one of my music writer friends was writing an article about the 33 1/3 series last year (he's also on deck to publish his own 33 1/3 entry on Fleetwood Mac's Tusk in 2008), when he asked others what album we'd throw down 25,000 words. The answer for me is an easy one: It's Mekons Rock 'n' Roll.
Local trailer-park donned act Catfish Haven resurface this Friday at Double Door. The roots band took most of the summer off to work on their sophomore full-length, seconding Tell Me which was released in September of 2006. After Friday they head to New York for CMJ. Never heard of them? Ever-melodic, Catfish Haven combine the twangy roots of the south (frontman George Hunter grew up in Missouri, the band is named for a trailer park there) and the smooth influences of the north (i.e. Chicago). Hunter's scratchy vocals fit perfectly over this mix...perhaps what Iron & Wine might sound like if Samuel Beam indulged in excessive amounts of drinking and smoking. In any case, the band loves a good time and their live shows are always a treat, not to mention the possibility of new tracks after a summer of song-writing.
Maybe you noticed in the Reader that some band you've never heard of (and who didn't even have a MySpace page), Reefer Duberland, was headlining the Empty Bottle on Thursday. And you thought, "Who is that?!" Well, it appears a lot of people wondered that because rumors were thrown around all Monday and Tuesday on the identity of the special "surprise" guest. Was it someone already town, possibly even playing another show that night? Was it a one-off? What was the story? For a while, it seemed so secretive that perhaps only the cooperation of international intelligence agencies would crack it. But as more and more possibilities were eliminated, the message must've become rather clear because now the $10 show is sold out. What Transmission would really like to know is where that alias came from. Although, we suppose it's at least better than playing a show under the name of Cuddleworthy.
Patrick Wolf plays The Metro tonight, and you could be there for free! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Who's Afraid?" -- the first to respond wins their name plus one on the guest list. UPDATE: We have a winner! Congrats, Bob!
Charged with performing a verse in a tribute to honorees Tribe Called Quest at last night's VH1 HipHop Honors show, Lupe went out...and forgot a quarter of the lyrics he was supposed to do. Compounding the disaster was the fact that he was performing for an audience full of people who knew the lyrics, and on stage with Pharrell WIlliams and Common apparently set the bar too high.
Afterwards, he blamed the incident on not growing up on Tribe's material and not having actually LISTENED to the albums Tribe's catalog is comprised of. What began as simply forgetting the lines at an awards show ballooned into a PR nightmare when one of hiphop's up-and-coming artists admitted not really giving a damn about it.
On Widow City, the sixth LP from brother-sister duo the Fiery Furnaces that lands today from Thrill Jockey, melodies, tempos and styles abruptly shift, extend, and double back. Tracks blend seamlessly together to create a giant long-form pop suite. With lyrics inspired by an imagined Ouija board and ads from women’s magazines of the early 1970s, the Furnaces take the listener on an intergalactic musical journey through the duplexes of the dead, consulting Egyptian grammars, and into the Cabaret of the Seven Devils. It’s impossible to predict where we’ll end up next, as fierce drum attacks mingle with fuzzed out guitars. The Chamberlain—a keyboard that triggers tape loops of other instruments to create a library of sound—crafts a barrage of strings, woodwinds and keys that weave in and out of the abstract song structures. The record is confusing and chaotic and requires maximum attention paid to catch all of the unique musical ideas.
Standout track “Navy Nurse” begins with a funky base, drum and guitar jam that gives way to light piano before leading a march with the repeated line, “If there’s anything I’ve had enough of, it’s today.” “Restorative Beer”, the closest thing to a single, mixes a blues riff with a rolling and tumbling vocal melody about wanting “to restore your beer to take my mind off these tears”. I salute the Fiery Furnaces for making a piece of work that is obtuse, that is difficult to listen to, that shies away from three-minute masterpieces when it’s clear that they possess an acute understanding of pop perfection. The Furnaces might be the most unique band on the planet and they refuse to take the easy way out, and this album is surprising and startling and weird.
But it’s long. Really long. Perhaps it’s unfair to criticize art for being too long (“it’s as long as it needs to be”, comes the counter-attack from the artist) but if I, as a music fan and sometime critic, sit around waiting for the album to end so I can pen my review or do the dishes, it’s too long. A little self-conscious weirdness goes a long way, and by the end of 16 tracks and 56 minutes, the genre-hopping travelogue of Widow City wears thin and I just want to go home.
The Fiery Furnaces have carved a nice niche for themselves in this pop landscape and they continually produce albums bursting forth with ideas, melodies, and strange behavior. But the music, as it relates to Widow City, doesn’t resonate. I’m never going to spin this disc at a party, or when I come home drunk and lonely, or as the soundtrack for a walk on the lakefront. I'm not asking for cheesy slow dance numbers or sappy cliches but I would like to hear some heart.
Writing a review of Patrick Wolf is an infuriating task -- his music is endearingly fucked up, but pretentiously enough you don't know if you want to recommend his work or punch him the face. Previous efforts, like 2005's Wind in the Wires, hinted at greatness, but contained failures so spectacular they're almost good -- like "Tristan," which I still find myself listening to in the faint hope that I won't want to strangle the nearest person with eye makeup on when Wolf sings the ridiculous chorus hook.
On this year's The Magic Position, however, Wolf seems to have abandoned the angsty emo darkness that was his stock-in-trade and put out a pretty happy 13-track record. This isn't an opaque transition, by any means -- the title track contains the lyric "It's you who puts me in the magic position [to do a number of trite things] in a major key." So apparently dude's getting some. Good for him, and good for us, because the results of Patrick Wolf getting his dingle played with are eminently listenable. Tracks like "Accident and Emergency" and "(Let's Go) Get Lost" are dangerously cute at times, with twee Nintendo synths and sound effects layered over some funtime drum machines, and mopey numbers like "Augustine" retain the overindulgent art-school charm that made those old records interesting without inspiring guyliner-related homicide.
The transition in subject matter didn't affect Wolf's stylistic tendencies -- he still over-pronounces every word with an annoyingly affected rasp (yes, we know, you smoke and drink! You bad boy.) and his lyrics are the kind of stuff that would go over really well in a Morrissey fan club meeting, but it's much more charming this time around, for some reason -- like you have a little brother who just went Goth or something. You know it's dumb, but fucked if you don't have a pair of ten-year-old knee-high boots and a black trench in the closet yourself -- so who are you to judge? The Magic Position is full of similar potential, a uniquely accessible effort wrapped up in the tropes of previous identities. Who knows, maybe next time we'll get skater punk.
Patrick Wolf plays tonight at The Metro with Bishi. Doors at 6, show at 630. $15, all-ages
In today's online music machine, finding quality, new music is easier then ever. Whether you are cruising around Myspace, checking out the blogs or getting a link to killer song from a friend via email, the Internet has made this generation the most exciting in music history. Word of mouth from people whose musical opinion you respect is the most effective way to find new bands in my mind. And that's exactly how I caught on to soon-to-be buzz band Dr. Dog, albeit in somewhat unconventional means. Some friends of mine are in a band called Lotus in Philadelphia. Last fall when they were on tour and came through Chicago they told me about another Philly band they were into called Dr. Dog. But they hadn't discovered them at a small club show, ran across an article in a local paper or even heard about Dr. Dog online. They discovered this off-the-wall group one night as they where leaving one of their apartments and heard an interesting sound coming from a house next door, a sound of a well-polished group of musicians. After introductions, one thing led to another and Lotus met Dr. dog and subsequently I started checking out clips and MP3s of theirs online.
Fast forward to February of this year and the release of Dr. Dog's fifth album, We All Belong. The follow up to the oft acclaimed Easy Beat and EP Takers And Leavers, Dr. Dog used their new found recognition for not and self produced the album but with better equipment then previous releases. What came of the sessions was a tighter, crisper sound but still some of the lo-fi feeling of their previous releases. Still crammed full of Sixties-era psychedelic pop, We All Belong doesn't delve as much into the flowery sounds as it does the oddities and abstractions of that genre, but the cheery aspects of the album are still evident. They bring their eclectic mash of sounds to the Empty Bottle tonight with equally psychedelic and varied in sound, Apollo Sunshine. Park The Van label mates The High Strung open.
Yesterday's Musicircus at the Chicago Cultural Center was an interesting and fun little festival featuring dozens of random musical groups, poets and dancers performing in different rooms from 12 - 4PM. Performers included everyone from members of the Chicago Youth Orchestra to avant-garde video art installations. Depending on the time they entered the building, visitors could heard the sounds of several groups leaking into the lobby at the same time and were free to roam wherever they wanted to seek them out.
It's too bad then that despite the large crowds on Michigan Avenue and in Millennium Park across the street, not too many people showed up.
Then head to Reckless Records in Wicker Park for a special performance from orchestral pop septet the 1900s. And then buy their new album Cold & Kind, recently released on Parasol Records. Set starts at 6pm. And it's free! And a little bird told me the band has conjured something unique for this instore.
Can't make it tonight? The 1900s hold down Intonation this Sunday at the MCA.
Matt Arbogast is essentially The Gunshy. When he hits the road in support of his new record for Latest Flame, There's No Love In This War, he'll be touring with a group of like minded musicians but it's Matt's songs and his intensity that will bring the show to life. The new disc (out October 30) is a concept record based on the letters his grandfather wrote back from World War II.
Like any great art dealing with war, these songs illuminate the horrors, banality and just sheer ridiculousness of such a thing. Matt's grandfather died of a heart attack at the age of 39 due mainly to the shrapnel still embedded in his chest from wounds received in Anzio in 1944. You'll be able to pre-order this release from Latest Flame on October 16. The full band will be playing Oct. 12 at Ronny's.
The Chicago Composers' Forum presents Musicircus this Sunday, a four-hour performance piece featuring hundreds of performers of many different genres, each one doing their act simultaneously, as specified by composer John Cage when he first put together a Musicircus performance at the University of Illinois in 1967.
From the official description, it's hard glean any more specific information about what this is all about, but the event has an entire philosophy behind it and it's all written there. Considering that it was advertised at this summer's Printer's Ball, which was busted by the police, it should prove to be a fun event.
The event runs from 12:00 to 4:00 PM at the Chicago Cultural Center, and the event is free and open to the public. Chicago Cultural Center: 78 E. Washington St. 773.418.0119 See the Musicircus Website for more (vague but intriguing) details.
We (and I mean Chicago) may not have Rachel Ries in our lives for long. On her new record, Without A Bird, she sings of either being in love with or at odds with her adopted hometown of Chicago. From one song to the next she's either coming or going depending on her level of heartbreak. In a city of millions, containing thousands of musicians, artists and writers, Rachel Ries stands out and apart. This is in part due to her unclassifiable style which contains elements of folk, jazz and swing. In part it's due to her unwavering aesthetic and the sheer beauty of her songs. All of these elements make her a bit of a musical outsider in the hyperkinetic, indie rock scene so prevalent in Chicago. Luckily "the city of big shoulders" has a number of world class venues where an artist with Rachel's unusual musical style and lyrical quality is made to feel at home. Rachel has been a recurring fixture at clubs like The Hideout, Schubas, Old Town School, Uncommon Ground and California Clipper over the last three years. Nationally she has played venerable clubs like Club Passim in Cambridge, Tin Angel in Philadelphia, Pete's Candy Store in NYC, and the famous Kerrville Folk Festival.
Rachel has had a pretty unconventional life to date. She was raised in Zaire and South Dakota by her Mennonite Missionary parents. She left Zaire at the age of 4 and moved to the plains of South Dakota. Life on the plains seems to be a fixture in her songs, as well as contributing to her MySpace motto of "prairie swing/city folk." She is a classically trained musician in voice, piano, violin and viola. Her 2005 debut record, For You Only, was picked up for distribution by Waterbug Records and left critics and fans a bit dumbstruck with its combination of early, stripped-down swing jazz combined with the folk blues of the American South, combined with her modern and contemporary lyrics. At the time Sing Out! proclaimed, "Without a doubt, Rachel Ries is one of the most talented young singer-songwriters of recent note. Lyrically, with her mostly-confessional, well-crafted, first-person songs, she reminds me of a young Joni Mitchell, but her inventive melodies seem much closer to older folk and jazz traditions." Acoustic Guitar Magazine said, "The album was recorded on vintage analog equipment, presumably to further capture a bygone sound. Some artists might need the boost in creating atmosphere, but Ries is well up to the task of invoking mood, memory, and nostalgia all on her own."
It’s nearly impossible to listen to Elvis Perkins without thinking of his unique and melancholy personal history. His father, actor Anthony Perkins, succumbed to AIDS in 1992. Almost exactly nine years later, his mother, noted photographer Berry Berenson, died on American Airlines Flight 11 on September 11, 2001. While his debut album Ash Wednesday isn’t strictly a biographer of his life, or a reaction to 9/11, these horrific losses completely inform the work without overwhelming it.
As a neo-folk troubadour, comparisons to Nick Drake, Van Morrison and especially Bob Dylan are apt and obvious, and there is a lot of religious iconography that suggest both Astral Weeks and John Wesley Harding, but I feel the music is powerful enough to stand on its own. Ash Wednesday has a classic and homespun feel, and while little of it is fresh or original, it’s just so damn good that none of that matters. Recorded in analog, live and mostly improvised, the album is broken into two distinct sides, as though it were a record that affords its listeners time to pause before flipping from one side to the other. Side One is filled with brighter, more up-tempo melodies and opens with “While You Were Sleeping”, an absolute stunner. Perkins’ raspy baritone sings over a light acoustic guitar, which is then layered slowly with an upright bass followed by brushed drums then strings and horns and a didgeridoo and a hand saw and soft female vocals. It’s a rolling, easy-going ode to his father that openly hints at an ocean of melancholy. “Ash Wednesday” serves as the de-facto Side Two starter with unholy wailing, haunting lyrics (“No one will survive Ash Wednesday”), and the slow drum beat of a death march; it’s a jarring shift that sets the tone for the more somber approach of the second half. According to Perkins himself, that song, “represents the dividing line between the songs written before and the songs written after the dark day (9/11).” The ballad style of the latter frame continues until the finale, “Good Friday”, which features the singer finding comfort in his songs, as if they too represented holy significance. The religiosity of the record, while overtly Christian, is teasingly ambiguous, as are the images of sleep and dreams, of heaven and love and nostalgia and missed opportunities. There is an astounding amount of sadness and loss etched within the cracks of these songs, but hope ultimately prevails, the idea that if we remain together (lovers and friends, parents and children, you and me, us and them) then we’ll all make it to the other side—wherever that may be. Ash Wednesday is a highly accomplished debut with hidden surprises, pitch perfect production, and the soul of a young man who has done enough living to sing about it.
Elvis Perkins in Dearland (his four-piece band) ease into Chicago this Sunday at the Lakeshore Theater for a Schubas’ sponsored show. The Lakeshore is a perfect venue for the band, as the amazing acoustics of the space promise a pristine clarity to showcase his layered tones. Brighton, MA (Chicago locals poised for a big breakout) opens. Show starts at 9pm. Tickets are a steal at $14.
On the surface this double bill of Eleni Mandell and Howe Gelb at the Old Town School seems like an odd one. Eleni is a fairly polished indie-lounge singer vis a vis Suzanne Vega. While Howe (leader of Giant Sand) is a diamond in the rough, an Arizona tumbleweed whose live shows with Giant Sand are more known for their lack of structure than anything else. Neither artist is particularly indebted to folk music (although, of the two, Howe's use of blues and gospel is more pronounced) and both are outsiders in their respective sub genres.
What they do share is a love of atmosphere in music. Howe's music makes the desert palpable and the dust stings your eyes, while Eleni brings us the musical version of the film "Barfly" replete with martini's and swanky nightclubs. There'll be plenty of sustain, distortion and reverb to go around at Old Town School of Folk Music this Saturday night at 8pm. More info here.
Brooklyn's Dirty on Purpose bring their shoegaze-infused lo-fi indie-pop (hyphen fun!) to the Empty Bottle this Friday. Achieving new levels of popularity and success from their 2006 release Hallelujah Sirens, the four-some excels at bittersweet bright (yet melancholy filled) melodies such as "My Summer Dress" or "Lake Effect." But the truly juicy tracks are ones like "Monument," purely instrumental tracks full of raging feedback and distortion, similar to what The Smashing Pumpkins might have sounded like if they were a My Bloody Valentine cover act. Following up Hallelujah Sirens, Dirty on Purpose will soon be releasing a new EP Like Bees. They'll be sure to pull out some new tracks for their show, so keep an ear pealed.
Tracy Letts is having a good year. His latest play, August:Osage County, was universally lauded by critics as the next great American masterpiece and will open at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway this month. Now, this Pulitzer Prize-nominated actor/playwright can add immortalized in song to his long list of credits.
You may find this video deplorable. I think it's hilarious and brilliant. Either way, it's a foul-mouthed hip-hop tribute to Mr. Letts and his total awesomeness by local comedy duo, The Southern Mothers.
Seriously, though. This video contains tons of cursing. If you have children, and don't want them to hear this language, send them away.
Lyric Opera of Chicago made international news last week when they sacked star soprano Angela Gheorghiu just a few days before the début performance of La Bohème last night for behaving too diva-ish. Gheorghiu missed 6 of 10 rehearsals, including both rehearsals with the first orchestra, and is apparently known (along with her opera singer husband) for throwing tantrums.
But this was great news for her understudy, Elaine Alvarez, who received a stellar review in the Chicago Tribune today. Before last night, she had never performed with a major opera company.
Boston natives Tulsa want you to be ever curious. Taking their name from a Larry Clark book of photographs, Tulsa describe their music as the pursuit of life, or "staying hungry for life, upholding that curiosity." Their debut EP I Was Submerged (released October 9th on Park the Van Records) carries with it some sort of trippy mist that’s so heavy it could break your back; yet so addictive you’ll never want to leave. There are layers of fear, anger, desperation, frustration, and awe built into every track, all coated with mystery that awaits your curiosity.
I first heard and saw Scottish band the Twilight Sad this past summer at Pitchfork Music Festival. They opened Saturday with a noisy half hour set to a handful of bemused and bewildered onlookers. It was probably the most inopportune time for them to be playing. The park opened later than expected that day, so most of the festival goers filed in after they finished. So not only did very few get to experience the set, it was approximately 85 degrees that day, and the Twilight Sad is not summer pop music. It’s for a rainy, lonely night after you break up with your significant other, or a long cab ride home after work, or a Thursday in October at the Empty Bottle.
Their debut album Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters opens with a piano key driving into oblivion and an acoustic guitar playing lamentably. As fuzzed out electrics rise and fall, strings hover over slowly pounding drums, and lead singer James Graham (in a full-on Scottish brogue) warbles about ruined plans and hotel rooms and someone’s (probably a lover’s) loss of manners. The noise crescendos to a furious pitch before coming back down, retreating into a corner, and leaving us once again with that lonely piano key. “Cold Days from the Birdhouse” initiates the sonic and emotional themes that mark most of the album. It’s loud and noisy, and they employ and layer a variety of different instruments to achieve their chaotic sound. The jangly glitter and soaring vocals openly hint at mournful regret for seasons long past, moments that will never be returned. The success of the Twilight Sad is that the music is at once familiar and unique, abrasive and lovely, abstract yet comforting.
The Twilight Sad do indeed play this Thursday, October 4th, at the Empty Bottle. Local bands Thin Hymns and Health and Beauty open. Show starts at 9pm. Tickets are $10 in advance, or $12 at the door. And it will be loud.
Look out Chicago, there's a new rock club in town. In fact, there's a new rock club/rock restaurant/rock record store that's ramping up this month with an amazing looking calendar of shows, including West Coast noise wunderkinds Health, Skin Graft's Pre, and indie dark lords Murder by Death! With a swank, iconic punk rock interior and Animal House-esque black tank-bus in check, Reggie's looks to be one of this season's most exciting additions to Chicago!