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Wednesday, December 13

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Feature Thu Dec 27 2007

The Best We Heard in 2007

Another year, another pile of pocket-creased ticket stubs from a set of shows we went to in Chicago. This time, instead of telling you what we thought the best albums of '07 were, we're taking a minute to reminisce about some of the best live shows that Chicago laid out for us.

January

Steinski and Afrika Bambaataa at SmartBar, January 18, 2007

There were plenty of good to decent shows in 2007, but the best concert or club event that I experienced all year was when both Steinski and Afrika Bambaataa were spinning at SmartBar back last January. Bambaataa entered the open booth all decked out in a silver cape and hood, which he soon shed as he settled into full-fledged godfather mode on the turntables. He played a long, tight, unfaltering set of block-party throwbacks--funk, hip-hop, some disco, and first-gen electro. It brought out a diverse crowd and lively that packed the dancefloor and kept it moving the entire night; with the throng frequently opening up to make room for spontaneous b-boy battles that kept breaking out. I danced so much and for so long that I was hurting from it for a few days afterward. And judging from the all of the activity in the club that night, I doubt that I was the only one.
-Graham Sanford


February

Bobby Conn at The Empty Bottle, February 17, 2007

Record release shows are often hit-or-miss events. Sometimes an artist presents the new material with intensity that one wishes were matched on the album. Sometimes it's clear that they are going through the motions. Luckily, a showman like Bobby Conn never phones it in and on this night he performed King for a Day in its entirety with varying arrangements. But just playing an album from beginning to end isn't terribly innovative, is it? What made this night memorable was the second set that featured interesting takes on covers like "Action" by Sweet, "You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone" by the Beach Boys and "Every 1's a Winner" by Hot Chocolate, along with a number of others. The variety in song selection and arrangement displayed Conn 's influences and proficiency for adaptation all while he remained wildly entertaining.
-James Ziegenfus


April

Lotus at The Abbey Pub, April 6, 2007

Anyone that follows my writing knows that I firmly believe Lotus is the best live band playing today. This April they proved it once again with a near capacity house at the Abbey Pub. Their largest venue in Chicago to date (in October they moved up to the Park West) the crowd was treated to a concert classic. There is always high energy at a Lotus show, but watching from the balcony for awhile during the second set, I could feel the intensity was just roaring around the room. When the band broke into a cover of the Chemical Brothers "Block Rockin' Beats", I knew this would probably be the best show I'd see all year.
-Brent Kado

The Decemberists at the Riviera, April 18-19, 2007 (at Millennium Park July 18, 2007 and at the Vic October 28, 2007)

The Decemberists have become Chicago's own "Ol' Faithful" in the last few years, and 2007 proved to be no different with a solidly consistent string of shows by that great indie band from Portland. They stopped over in the spring for a two-night stint, April 18-19, at the Riv, and brought their classic Decemberists selves with them. They played a solid set of fan favorites, made their quippy comments, and even got Chris Funk to wear a papier-mache whale.

Perhaps they got bored with the run-of-the-mill because they're next two Chicago stops were set up to be new, extraordinary Decemberists sets. The first at Millennium Park was a free show they hauled in the Grant Park orchestra to perform some accompaniment. They might have had some difficulty handling the formalities of the huge venue, and the new group of Grant Park Music Festival membership holders added to the crowd did not navigate quite as well, but the orchestral addition to the show accented so many nuances of the music not usually pulled out that the enthusiasm for what was going on soon followed.

And even when the Decemberists cancel a tour, they still manage to play their one stop for the kids of Chicago. "The Long and Short of It" tour was a bold experiment of set lists that everyone would have liked to see play out to competition. Unfortunately illness put an end to that, but not before playing the only two nights the tour saw in Chicago. Their first performance of "The Long of It" on 10/28/07 at the Vic Theatre showed they still had some kinks to work out of the system. With way too many overpowering numbers, I found myself wishing for just a little "July, July" to give us all a break from the greatness. But no one would actually say no to "The Crane Wife" (all three of 'em), "The Island", and "The Tain" all released in all their glory on the same night. We can only hope 2008 will bring this tour's reincarnation to give everyone a second chance.
-Emily Kaiser

Joseph Hammer at Odum, April 28, 2007

Best show of the year? Easy — Joseph Hammer at Odum (Lampo event #99). Using only the simplest tools — one loop of tape, a two-track reel to reel recorder, and a laptop to trigger sounds - Joe spun a sheer, gossamer web made from the tiniest fragments of sound, many of them sourced from songs that might be generously termed "Mellow Gold." Flits of Carole King, Neil Diamond, the Doobie Brothers and others rose and fell in the mix, causing ephemeral bubbles of sense-memory to rise and fall in time; lightning flashes of childhood, running around the front-room while mom and dad unwound after a long day. Oftentimes, you couldn't identify the song being sampled so much as you could simply feel the biological impulses that raced through your body when you first heard music that was warm and safe at an impressionable age. The performance was slow and visceral, unnerving and meditative, precise and emotional all at once, hitting you on the other side of the wall in your mind called logical analysis, getting deep into your emotional crevices and stimulating your mental associations, the sort of memory-flakes that scatter and dissolve any time you try to grasp and pin them down, feelings that can be triggered but not reconstructed, like the smell of a carnival, or the sound of your family's first car warming up in the driveway. It was an emotional overload that could honestly make a person cry. In fact, it did.
-Chris Sienko


May

Mando Diao at The Double Door, May 9, 2007

I went to a ton of shows this year, running the gamut from Lolla to a frenetic 1230am Rock Band jam session (with real cymbals!) in my apartment last weekend, so choosing one show for this list was basically impossible. How to evaluate? Ass-shakin' is ass-shakin', and I damn well shook that shit in double-oh-seven. So I was going to punt and pick The Twilight Singers at the Double Door, but of course that show was actually in late 2006, so even though it was life-changing it doesn't count, leaving me feeling like I should pick another Double Door show since I like that venue so much, and would you look at that — I really liked Mando Diao there in May. I remember it well, actually, which speaks volumes about any band I see while drinking: if you're good enough to stand out from the hazy blur of nameless faces and "angular" rock bands that defined rock clubs in 2007, you're more than good enough to be on this list. And it's more than true for Mando Diao — the boys from Sweden put on a hard-charging, furious rock set that led me to write things like "I want them to show Interpol how to play the guitar for realzies" in my notebook, and the Double Door crowd was all over it. Chicago likes its music straight-up, and while 2007 did its damndest to be The Year Irony Was Ironic, Mando Diao showed up and kicked you in the chest with rock'n'roll. How can you not put that on this list?
-Nilay Patel

Arcade Fire at The Chicago Theatre, May 20, 2007

There are very few ways to describe the impact Arcade Fire can make on a city such as ours. Arcade Fire does not tour enough for the hunger of their fans, and consequently their three-day gift to Chicago sold out in twenty minutes. Fans, more used to bars, had to navigate the foreign "seat' concept of the Chicago and, head-over-heels in love with Funeral had to navigate the foreign moods of the newly-released Neon Bible, but Arcade Fire never let go of our hands along the way, making sure we never got lost in the sheer velocity of their live performance. They overflowed the stage with their members (10 in all), unfamiliar instruments (a megaphone? A full-size organ?), and of course, a neon bible. They overflowed the theater with sound, playing a relatively even mix of songs from both albums, three of four "Neighborhoods", the toppling "Intervention" and "Black Mirror", and the quiet explosions of "Keep the Car Running" and "My Body is a Cage." Like the best (or worst) of drugs, no song will ever be as good as that first time you heard "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" live and in the transcendentally infectious manner of their playing, Arcade Fire from the moment of these shows on, have got you — probably dangerously, but not worrisomely — hooked.
-Emily Kaiser


July

Jenny Owen Youngs at Schubas, July 1, 2007

The music was good but the shtick—wry sarcasm tempered by a healthy dose of good-natured enthusiasm—was even better. Dressed in a short skirt (on purpose. she confessed to the audience, in attempt to woo them with her legs), with a yellow t-shirt and yellow Converse sneakers, Jenny Owen Youngs hit the Schubas stage with a bang. "Chicago is creepy," she noted, quick as a flash, upon being greeted by an awkwardly shy cheer. Decidedly more female in ratio, with a slew of lesbian couples, the audience was enthusiastic but in need of coaxing. Youngs took to the task with feverish aplomb—taking stabs at everything from Justin Timberlake to her own humiliating breakup (the mournful yet hilarious song, "Fuck Was I"). By the time she hit up her signature finale of Nelly's "It's Getting Hot in Herre," the audience was cheering wildly. "Chicago is the best place to play," Youngs announced happily. After the show, she made nice with each and every one of her adoring and Jenny Owen Youngs merchandise-purchasing fans. Although she hails from Mountclair, New Jersey, Youngs is clearly a Midwesterner at heart—honest, friendly, and easily pleased.
-Marla Seidell

B1g T1me at Simon's Tavern, July 8, 2007

Let me tell you, I did not set out on a hot Sunday in July to be wowed. I went around the corner to Simon's Tavern after the promise of free pizza from a friend's softball team. But the beer was cold and the company was great, so I stuck around the bar a little longer than I'd expected. What a surprise, then, for me that it was the very night selected for a show by Tom Waits-stylized/'80s hits cover band B1g T1me. It was full-on Waits-ian gravelly gold, I tell you. It was the perfect medicine for the steamy end to the weekend — full of bitterness and love and sex and alcohol (just like the '80s, really). They ran through Sir Mix-a-lot's "Baby Got Back", Tom Petty's "Don't Come Around Here No More" and Journey's "Wheel in the Sky" all the way to the absolute crowd favorite — Dio's "Holy Diver". You just haven't lived until the bar you're in has turned Dio into it's gospel. "Holy Diver!" "Hallelujah!" Amen.
-Anne Holub


August

Café Tacuba at Lollapalooza, August 5, 2007 (and at The Aragon Ballroom, November 23, 2007)

Considering the multimillion-dollar deal Pearl Jam inked to headline Lollapalooza, it's surprising that the promoters allowed another band to play opposite of them on Sunday. Yet there was Café Tacuba owning the few thousand who couldn't care less about reliving the early 1990s. Over their 18-year career they have refused to conform to genres or styles by consistently being innovative in developing their sound. And that philosophy has carried over into their live shows. Between the countering vocalists (Rubén and Meme), choreographed dances ("Déjate Caer") and ability to flow seamlessly between their eras, Café Tacuba energizes audiences in different ways each night. Their brief Lollapalooza set was essentially the greatest hits with an emphasis on Sino while the Aragon show in November was highlighted by the full Café Tacuba treatment including many ballads in the second half of the 140-minute set. What makes these performances so special is the emotion between the stage and the audience. When possibly the best Mexican rock band ever visits a city with an enormous Hispanic population, they are treated like royalty. And they return the favor by rewarding those loving crowds with phenomenal entertainment.
-James Ziegenfus

An afternoon at the Charleston bar

My pick for the best live Chicago offering in 2007 isn't specifically a concert, but more of a musical moment. Now I can't prove that this actually happened, there's no record to be found, except to say that I was there. One Sunday in late August at the Charleston bar in Bucktown, a group of grizzled veterans set up shop by the dilapidated piano and played a variety of country and western, early rock'n'roll tunes. I can only presume this occurs quite frequently as there was a comfort the band had with the bar and the patrons that suggested a regular rhythm. They were quite good and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them interpret some of the classics, from Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, to early Stones and the Band, as they tossed back beers and laughed with old friends, while I tossed back beers and laughed with friends of my own. Somewhere around midnight, when the alcohol in our brains and stomachs made us all talk a little louder and laugh a little freer, one of the regulars demanded to hear "Paint it Black" which, in case you didn't know, is the greatest song ever. Dutifully, to satisfy their customers, this nameless band began. There was, however, one problem: no drummer. So in lieu of actually mimicking the iconic swing of Charlie Watts, the regulars chimed in using bar stools and their own fists to pound out the drumbeat on the nearest flat surface (and yes, I realized the song was requested with such a purpose in mind). It started softly and unobtrusively, blending into the melody surprisingly well, before building to an earthy and un-holy roar of men banging furniture and moaning in unison, while my friends and I watched in terror and awe. It was primal and incredible and will, hopefully, never be captured again.
-Nick Ward


September

Bonde do Rolê at The Empty Bottle, September 21, 2007

On Bonde do Rolê's first US tour, Marina Ribatski famously dislocated her elbow in Chicago. When the trio returned to the Windy City for a show at the Empty Bottle this past September, it was encouraging to see that the theatrics and general onstage chaos hadn't been toned down. Bonde do Rolê banged through a frenetic performance beginning with Marina and Pedro spitting (fake) blood on themselves. (Later on Pedro looked on incredulously as he drew real blood.) While singing and screaming through their songs the way one might imagine a baile funk group who incorporates rock and metal samples to, they bounced into, wrestled and tackled each other with the vigor of high-strung siblings. It was far from the most musically impressive performance of the year, but it was certainly one of the most entertaining. (And now that Marina has left the group, it is unlikely to be duplicated.)
-James Ziegenfus

Hip Hop Honors Tour at The House of Blues, September 23, 2007

I've been to quite a few rock concerts this year, which are new and different for me. I've watched the hipsters sit around at !!!. I've gotten out of the way of twentysomethings moshing out with TV on the Radio. I've evacuated to safer areas of the floor when Dillinger Escape Plan started their set at Subterranean. For just an awesome musical experience, though, nothing was as live as the Hip-Hop Honors Tour at House of Blues. No one on the wall. No one not feeling it. No one acting like they were too cool to recite the words to Kool G Rap's "Men at Work" or rap along to the hits of honorees MC Lyte and Big Daddy Kane. The music was on point, the talent on display, the love was there, and the crowd loved it. Not much more you need in a show.
-Troy Hunter

The Mekons at Old Town School of Folk Music, September 28, 2007

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, veteran punk-rock pranksters The Mekons booked only a handful of acoustic shows around the country, with the tour ending in its adopted home base of Chicago in late September. It was my first time seeing one of my absolutefuckingfavorite bands in the whole wide world, but an acoustic show? At the Old Town School of Folk Music? I signed up to see The Mekons — a band whose live shows are, as the rock cliche plays out, "the stuff of legend" — not an episode of "VH1 Storytellers." However, The Mekons were charming as ever, and, as the night went on, a little drunk (on par for the course), as they sat in a semi-circle across the Old Town School's auditorium stage, playing from its asteroid-sized catalog of anthems, shanties, folk-ballads, pop songs, weird-half-spoken-word things, and rock-and-roll. The band had its graceful wit on showcase that night as well, as The Mekons are storytellers — just not the kind that will probably never be canonized by the likes of VH1. Which is a shame, really.
-JP Pfafflin


October

Of Montreal at The Metro, October 6, 2007

What happened when Of Montreal came to Chicago this past October? Outside the Metro the north side and the Cubs saw the end of their inspired and quickly deflated playoff run. Inside the Metro…I have no idea, and it was extraordinary. There was a man, Kevin Barnes, running around in fish net stockings and tiny tiny blue shorts. He sang at least four songs in a Jason mask painted gold with fake orange hair coming out the top. Various members of the band were positioned around a set of mesmerizing lights, a flashing catwalk of sorts, and a projecting screen displaying the horrible genius of Barnes translated in LSD-laced cartoon form. And there was a bird man in the corner? Yes, yes there was.

As fantastical and unbelievable as an attempted sane description of the Of Montreal set may seem, it in fact translates perfectly from the 2007 bombshell, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? Taking Of Montreal on a funk turn, the album's dance beats, wild melodies as sang by Kevin Barnes, make for show that bursts with life. The lyrics are really sad, but the tunes just so damn happy, dancing is really the only response to the beautiful contradiction.
-Emily Kaiser

The New Pornographers at The Metro, October 14, 2007

The New Pornographers are the indie world's big brother/sister: They are mature and respected and you can tell they've been doing this for awhile, but they are definitely you're first go-to when you want to have a simple but uniquely pure and fun experience.

With the power of this year's Challengers, all the Pornos finally got together for a night of sincerely good times felt by all, band and audience alike. Carl Newman, Neko Case, Daniel Bejar, and the rest of the gang blew fans away by the live performances of the Challengers tracks, a respectfully mature album whose no-frills songs made no jokes or round-about maneuvers to their excellence. They played some refreshing "oldies" off Mass Romantic, as well, showing they are, contrary to the "super group" persona often applied to them, just a really great band making really great music and performing it at really great shows.
-Emily Kaiser

Architecture in Helsinki at The Metro, October 16, 2007

I'm sure that somewhere in Architecture in Helsinki 's history there are a few good songs that don't have a ragtag sound as if they're a high school band at their first practice. Unfortunately, those weren't really on display when they played Metro in October. The Australian collective tried to infuse numerous rock and electronic genres as if they were proficient, but instead appeared rather shoddy as they failed to find any type of consistency among each other. Opening band Lo Fi Fnk was even worse with absolutely no structure holding up any of their music. Outside of playing games like "Who's the rich kid in the band?" and "What is their day job when not touring?", the evening was more or less a waste.
-James Ziegenfus

Andrew Bird (with Bright Eyes) at The Chicago Theatre, October 19, 2007

Touring in support for 2007's outrageous Armchair Apocryptha, Andrew Bird left the Chicago Theatre in silent, respectful awe when he ran around stage nonchalantly reproducing the album's awesome works. While he usually tours with a supporting band, fans had the unique opportunity to see him perform solo, playing and looping the various parts until it built to the song that simply knocks you over. Soft spoken and standing there only in socks, Andrew Bird awed the crowd by his ability to produce such beautiful noise. It was truly an honor to see just how the vast array of pedals and instruments he was switching on and off work their way into the various nuances and intricacies of his music. He gave the audience a truly superb insight into how he himself dissects the songs, from that first humble whistle to the huge crescendos at the end. Oh yeah, and Bright Eyes was good, too.
-Emily Kaiser

Mucca Pazza, Detholz! and Lord of the Yum Yum at The Empty Bottle, October 31, 2007

This year in live music was sort of odd. Normally hot weather means fun touring bands are afoot, but I feel like the choice of shows this summer was sort of dull. Thank goodness, cooler climes meant better shows. The Empty Bottle's Halloween show was intensely silly, super packed, and ridiculously fun. Whoever planned this perfect line-up needs to receive a hearty handshake: Lord of the Yum Yum's Bar Mitzvah-meets-beatboxing was astonishing (especially his spin on the heart-ripping-out scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), Detholz! led the masses in a rockin' self-improvement seminar, and Mucca Pazza's 26-piece marching band with a heavy punk-meets-circus aesthetic showed why they're one of the baddest live shows in Chicago.
-Kara Luger


November

Battles and Caribou at The Metro, November 8, 2007

This was a no-brainer for me. With my general concert attendance a bit lower than previous years, the chances of this winning my favorite concert award were about equal with the crowd at a sports game setting off the Yell-O-Meter. In a wonderful mingling of schedules, Battles and Caribou both hit our fair town of Chicago on the same evening. In another wonderful mingling of luck, they'd both happened to release top-ten caliber albums this year, and played tunes from them accordingly. Caribou electrified his psychedelic swoonings until they quintupled in size, rocking the rafters and burning retinas with an EAS-y on the eyes light show. Battles brought the house down with the best of three shows I'd seen them play this year — they always nail it, but sometimes you can just nail it — and the crowd let them know it. Definitely one of the best nights of the year — and hanging out backstage afterwards wasn't so bad either.
-Dan Morgridge

Baby Dee at The Hideout, November 15, 2007

I went to a show featuring performer Baby Dee knowing nothing about what awaited me. What I got was a rollicking two hours of fun: A sort of indie cabaret falling somewhere between Kiki and Herb and Tom Waits. Songs about Swedes or nothing in particular, Baby Dee can go from melancholy to outrageous in no time. Sometimes she'll forget what she just played and play it again. But that's a good thing.
-David Polk

sally at The Empty Bottle, November 18, 2007

You have to feel bad when a band plays its final show, no matter how positive and upbeat they are about their next steps. Witnessing a band's musical mastery in vintage form during that final show makes it even worse. sally's last concert didn't have any sort of baggage with it, just sadness that the band's life was over. The show started with something different in true sally fashion with a low-key vibe, everyone seated and no drummer. Slowly building up to an epic jam-royale finale, Derek from Aleks and the Drummer took the skins and frontman Charlie Deets dropped to his knees playing his final notes in sally like a prayer to the Gods of Rock.
-Brent Kado


December

Old Town School of Folk Music's 50th Anniversary Concert at The Auditorium Theatre, December 1, 2007

Musicians and venues come and go from year to year, but Chicago's cultural gem The Old Town School of Folk Music has stuck around for 50 years. To celebrate, a "really big gig" featuring dozens of musicians — some from Chicago, many from out of town, all of them good — played to a packed house at the Auditorium Theatre on December 1. The Sones de Mexico Ensemble performed "This Land is Your Land" in Spanish, Corky Siegel performed blues with Chicago bluesman Lonnie Brooks, Bela Fleck performed with Abigail Washburn, who sung in Mandarin and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy performed solo and with the school's own Wilco Ensemble. This event could have only happened in Chicago.
-David Polk

 
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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 »

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