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Transmission Wed Jan 04 2012
We sometimes like to wax nostalgic here at Transmission, and with the air grown colder, some of the staff recently took the time to huddle closer to the keyboard and write a bit about their favorite (and not so favorite) moments from Chicago's music scene in 2011.
Favorite Cover Songs Played at Chicago Shows in 2011
TV on the Radio - "Waiting Room" @ Pitchfork, 7/17
If a great cover is defined by the performer's ability to make it sound like their own, hearing how the source has been influential to them and the crowd's reaction upon recognition, this was prime because TV on the Radio owned it, it's not hard to hear Fugazi in their music and the crowd went mental for the opening notes.
The Sword - "Cheap Sunglasses" @ Reggies, 7/20
On one of the hottest days of the year, J.D. Cronise introduced this by talking about the desire to protect your eyes from the sun without spending a lot of money. It seemed pretty obvious from there that a Texas metal band would borrow from a Texas blues-rock band, and that they'd tackle it with gusto.
Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr - "We Almost Lost Detroit" @ Schubas, 3/25
Take a song about a partial nuclear meltdown in Detroit's suburbs but think about it in terms of the state of that city over the last couple decades. Take two guys who make music and live in Detroit. Have them punch up the chorus just a bit and somehow you have a really fun atmosphere about a potentially devastating subject.
Davila 666 - "Hanging on the Telephone" @ Empty Bottle, 10/24
The challenge of covering a power-pop song in a different language proved to be no trouble for Davila 666. They added a little grit and changed a few words to time the syllables correctly in Spanish when covering this classic by the Nerves.
The Concretes - "Johnny & Mary" @ Schubas, 1/15
I didn't think that the Concretes' latest album WYWH was very good, but their shift to a sleek pop sound made a lot of sense when hearing how well they covered this Robert Palmer track.
Top Chicago Releases (in alphabetical order)
It was another terrific year for Chicago bands. Cave and Great Society Mind Destroyers had albums full of heavy psychedelic rock jams punctuated by earworming rhythms and aural abuse. Disappears' krautpunk hybrid gained steam on one of 2011's best growers. (And to think I didn't like Guider much until their excellent Empty Bottle show in May.) The Atlas Moth turned in a tour de force of doom metal. And Tiger Bones' debut EP was a breath of fresh air (and now heightened expectations) of jangly surf-rock.
My Top 5 Live Music Moments of 2011
1. Foo Fighters playing "My Hero" in the pouring rain at Lollapalooza. If you can get an entire field and a slew of music writers to pump their fist and sing along like the world is ending, you are some of the most mightiest rock gods in the world.
2. Gobble Gobble (now Born Gold) at Schubas. The tutu and football helmet wearing band members danced with the crowd during the spastic set, which ended in a cover of the Pixies "Where Is My Mind?" while the crowd came together to turn a tarp into a giant balloon tent over us. It was chaotic and loud and I couldn't stop smiling for hours after the show.
3. The vocal power of Beth Gibbons. The sold out Portishead show was a favorite of the year, but the control and power that Gibbons exhibited in the delivery of each song was the true standout. Anyone that sounds that fantastic in the acoustic wasteland of the Aragon deserves a medal.
4. Tim Harrington of Les Savy Fav at Green Music Fest. The man rode a lawn chair over the audience, rolled around the top of an unstable table tent, all before running up a flight of stairs and hanging out of an apartment window of a lucky renter who lived next to the stage. You've got to respect a man that really gives it all at his job.
5. Questlove dj set at Smartbar. When you have a room soul shuffling, juking, and still moving at 4am in the cold dead of January, you know something is working right. His set of laid back soul spliced with pop hits and other surprise flourishes kicked my year off just right, and was one of the best DJ sets of the year for me (although I'm sure DJ Shadow would win that spot if Pitchfork had booked him at the correct time (anytime when sunlight is gone) and not had a Spinal Tap malfunction moment with his stage getup).
Top 5 Worst People/Biggest Jerks I Met at Festivals in 2011
1. Jumping on the porta-potty teen at North Coast. Yes, I know it's your first time rolling on E, and I know you are PUMPED to see Fatboy Slim even though you weren't even born during his prime, but you have to stop jumping on this guardrail and shaking the toilet. Because if this rail goes down I'll fall, and if this toilet flips over, I'm shoving your face in it. Also, when I finally convinced the kid to get down because people would trample if the security gate fell, he called me a few choice words and ran off. Oh youth.
2. Dudes that were jumping into VIP and almost knocked over a girl in a wheelchair at North Coast. Do you not see the man trying to lift a girl out of her wheelchair and into the bathroom? I guess not. At least you apologized to her after I grabbed you and yelled at you to watch out. But learn to look both ways folks.
3. White teenage boys that insist on yelling the N-word during every rap set at Pitchfork. Please look up the historical meaning of a word before you use it.
4. And on the same note, Tyler the Creator and the venomous way he yelled the word "bitch" during their Pitchfork Set. Regardless what anyone thinks about this band, the anger and pure hatred in the tone of that one word was unsettling enough for me. When a word feels like its going to reach out and attack me, I'm out.
5. The mud people of Lollapalooza. Yes, it rained. Yes, the ground is now a giant field of mud. But please do not destroy our park even more than the damage done. And you do not want to be rubbing and covering that mud all over your body. You don't know where it's been, but I'm pretty sure some of the dogs and bums of Chicago do know.
Ever heard the phrase, "Any publicity is good publicity"? It's that very notion that left unsuppressed smirks on the faces of ringleader Tyler, the Creator and the other 10+ members of Odd Future this summer when Between Friends, an anti-domestic violence activist group, protested the rap collective's performance at Pitchfork Festival. Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All's--Odd Future for short--unforgivingly crass raps about rape and other forms of violence against women have earned them backlash from groups like Between Friends all across the country, but this little uproar caused quite a stir in our city.
Not that I condone the types of behavior that the dudes (and sole lady) rap about in Odd Future, but one can't help but wonder, "I thought we were passed this whole 'blame the bad stuff on the people singing about it, not the ones actually doing it' thing." Still, Between Friends made their case and got the attention of what seemed like the whole city. NBC-5 and Rolling Stone's websites ran stories about the protest. Red Eye chose the story for its lead. Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis wrote about it. And to what end? Pitchfork appeased the protestors by inviting them into the festival and providing them booth space, but still gracefully refused their demands for Odd Future's removal from the fest's bill. The group still played as scheduled to a wildly receptive audience and, after all the press, Odd Future got a boost in their journey from underground buzzworthiness to mainstream sensation, quite the opposite of what Between Friends had intended.
What I found most curious about this entire ordeal was that few people seemed to find the irony in the fact that Eminem headlined Lollapalooza less than a month later. Once the undisputed target of activists groups like those that have since touted Odd Future as all that's wrong in the world, Slim's Saturday night Grant Park appearance caused considerably less controversy than Odd Future's 45-minute set at Pitchfork. This is especially surprising considering the sometimes hard to swallow verses on Eminem's most recent release, a split album with Royce da 5'9" (who appeared on stage alongside Em during his Lolla set) that hit stores earlier this year.
Top 3 Food & Music Experiences of 2011
1. A Chicago Soydairy vegan ice cream cone at Pitchfork. It was a "reward" system I created for myself to get through the blistering heat of this past summer's Pitchfork Music Festival. If I made it through three days of chatting, t-shirt hustling, and hanging out at the Gapers Block table at the CHIRP record fair, I would have a soy ice cream while watching Superchunk. I indeed (just barely) made it without passing out, and ate that ice cream like a bully was threatening to steal it from me. I'm not a vegan (far from it) but dang, that Chicago Soydairy booth is efficient, delicious, and always affordable.
2. Going For the foot long corndog at North Coast Fest. I was attending North Coast Festival this year with a trusty pair of Etymotic ear plugs, and an "observe but don't approach" plan for handling the native wildlife. Something about the Red Bull Grove stage just brought in this almost jungle atmosphere that, after watching Lotus, I wandered out of the trees and headed toward the delicious smells coming from the food tents. That stall on the end saved my life that night, I'm convinced. Nobody needs to eat that much corndog in one sitting, so it was shared, and heartily enjoyed. Half ketchup, half mustard. I'm not telling who chose what condiment.
3. Living the High Life in Springfield. My first trip down to Springfield was taken this summer in honor of nostalgia. I wanted to see the Saturday night double bill of Boys II Men and MC Hammer. We spent the afternoon wandering the fair grounds, eating from the multicultural stalls (gyros! How worldly!) and sampling from beer tents. When we finally got our fill of things served batter dipped (deep-fried brownie, I love you) and climbed to our stadium seats, we were greeted by the most delightful sight a concert-goer can see: cheap beer. That's right, tallboys of domestic, just $3. I have no idea how the fair can afford it, but after a long day of rides, heat, and crowds, that beer was the best thing I'd tasted in my life. And the show? Amazing. I sent my mom a phone's worth of blurry photos. 2 Legit 2 Quit, indeed.
Five R. Kelly Songs with Raindrop Sound FX I Discovered in 2011
This last year I dove deep into the pool of R. Kelly's music and discovered Kells is really obsessed with the sound of rain. It's become one of his most easily identifiable production tropes. This is where a water sports joke could go but here at Gapers Block we're going to keep it classy and celebrate Chicago's most liquid obsessed self-proclaimed King of R & B, Mr. Robert Kelly.
5. Raindrops. The Pied Piper lifts the melody to the childhood classic "Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head" to morph it into a sex positive ballad about encounters in rain soaked flowerbeds. In a passage the Bronte sisters would approve of Kells promises to make love that will ring wedding bells and conduct symphonies in your head.
4. Strip For You. In a rare moment of gender swapping R. Kells offers to get really freaky and strip for his sex partner.
3. Sex Planet. R. Kelly is in full Asimov mode here. He can make a rocket out of pure eros and will show you the galaxy. I only hope he registered the patients for his metaphysically powered technological advances described.
2. Sex in the Kitchen. Kells is just putting it out here in this song. He's looking for a Loveland partner capable of cooking while making love when the restaurants are closed. Ingredients listed for the mystery meal: buttered rolls, tomatoes, fruits, vegetables, and potatoes.
1. Trapped in the Closet. The raindrop is the only consistent element during the 22 chapters of twisting logic and rhymes about firearms, midgets, and breakfast foods.
Top 10 Music Genres of 2011