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Feature Thu Dec 27 2012

Ending the Year in Chicago Music

The year's almost over, and some of the Transmission staff have taken a moment to reminisce about their favorite (or at the very least, memorable) moments in Chicago music over 2012. With the cold and dreary weather upon us, we're warming our hearts with thoughts of the ways that music in Chicago can inspire and excite us, and we're definitely looking forward to what 2013 will bring.

endingtheyearinchicagomusic.jpg

Marc Fishman:

The best thing I heard this year in Chicago happened right on my own couch. I was lying down with my headphones plugged into the Chicago Independent Radio Project app on my phone. I had been researching questions for an interview with CHIRP about the new website they launched in late November, and I thought I might spend some time listening to the station as a way to get more familiar with it. The DJ was Matt Garmon. It was Tuesday, Nov. 27. The time was 2:41pm (I know all of this now because of the easily navigable playlist features on the new CHIRP website). Anyway, I heard Garmon play a few songs that were fine, but at 2:41pm, he played "Kehna Ghalat Ghalat To Chhupana Sahi Sahi" by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. No need to go into background about the song or musician because at 2:41pm, I had no idea what was going on. It was Sufi devotional music, but I didn't even know that at the time. All I knew was that I was hearing this droning, steady beat on hand drums that backed some increasingly rowdy and joyous male vocals. An entire choir of male vocals, really, but with a lead singer that would break out into passionate, nonsensical vocal expressions — more akin to an American soul or gospel freakout than to anything I would otherwise recognize as "Sufi devotional music." It kept going, too. It made me take for granted how long the song ended up being. Good songs usually end. This one, curiously, showed no end in sight. By the time the DJ came back on the air to name the last few songs he had played, it clocked in at 14 minutes flat. I wouldn't call this a normal radio-listening experience. How often do you turn on a radio station for about 20 minutes and hear only three songs? How often is the song that takes up 14 of those 20 minutes so engaging? I've listened to that song repeatedly since then, but I now know what to do if I ever need a few moments of unexpected awe at the hands of an independent radio DJ.


Abigail Covington:

2012 was a big year for Chicago artists and R&B artists alike but one local in particular embodied both these trends better than the rest — Logan Square resident, Tom Krell, aka, How to Dress Well. Krell's superb sophomore album, Total Loss, sits atop my Best of 2012 list because it's emotional without being emo. It creates a mood and a sensation with its form as opposed to its content. Instead of singing of heartbreak, Krell makes his songs sound like heartbreak and he does so within the confines of minimalist production. Krell is filling up the vapidness that too often plagues popular R&B with production that drips with feeling and assuaging the lovelorn and mourning with a silky, lilting falsetto all the while. For these reasons and a myriad of others, How to Dress Well is my favorite Chicagoan of 2012.


James Ziegenfus:

Radar Eyes stepped up their jangly melody-driven garage rock in 2012. They started the year with a sharp set at the Empty Bottle in February and then notched it up at the Bottle again in March prior to the release of their self-titled debut album. (Unfortunately, the album might be them at their dullest. Songs that bustle at shows are practically sedated on record and not terribly representative of how energetic they can be.) This wasn't quite the same band they'd been the last two years. This was a band finding their stride in a big way. They figured out what worked, emphasized it in their tunes, and stripped away what didn't. With each show they brought something new to the table, whether with songs, varying arrangements or even demeanor. At last week's show with Outer Minds and Bare Mutants, they introduced a few new songs that were heavy, more rollicking and featured some of their best songwriting yet. It's been a good year for them and 2013 looks bright, too. (Radar Eyes plays Lincoln Hall on January 10.)


Chris Sienko:

My favorite band, live event, record, and record label of 2012 all fit together as one thing, namely the full and triumphant resurgence of ONO, one of Chicago's finest musical treasures. Formed in 1980 by the core duo of P. Michael Grego and Travis (just Travis, if you please), the band has been described, for those who live and die by genre tags, as "Industrial Cabaret," due to P. Michael's throbbing, gristle-y bass and Travis's powerful vocals, which can wail high like Diamanda or sink deep like Robeson. Their only two albums, 1984's Machines That Kill People and 1986's Ennui, were released by the legendary but hopelessly obscure label Thermidor, and digging copies out of used bins even in their hometown has been a difficult endeavor. Though ONO (short for Onomatopoeia, not Yoko's surname) claimed they never broke up, they started appearing more frequently on bills around 2006, to the amazement of a literal new generation of listeners.

Though it's always fun to see ONO read the riot act in a grungy performance space, two shows in 2012 at the Mayne Stage (alongside prog-rock and industrial stalwarts Dot Dot Dot and Illusion of Safety) and The Empty Bottle pumped the band's best features through strong, clear sound systems, which made a world of difference. While the band pounded and chugged, Travis bellowed apocalyptically one moment and sighed gently into our ears the next (all the while looking fetching in his ball gown and elbow-length gloves), with covers ranging from the music from Blue Velvet to the Velvet Underground's "Heroin" to Roxy Music's "In Every Dream Home A Heartache." ONO has their own songs, but they work wonders with other people's materials, turning cacophony into gospel and vice-versa.

More astounding still is the release of Albino the first new ONO release in 26 years, by the Chicago-based Moniker Records. An LP-only release on white vinyl, Albino picks up as though the last record hadn't come out four presidencies ago. Featuring covers of the gospel standard "I Been Changed" and the VU's "All Tomorrow's Parties" alongside nasty, full-throated originals, Albino is every bit as vital and skin-tingling as the band's first fruits.

No description of the band will give you as much as seeing them live. Until they play next, check out these well-recorded youtube clips of the two shows mentioned.

Mayne Stage:



Empty Bottle:


Lisa White:

Best Live Performance, Yet Worst Show of the Year: Prince

I've more than covered my thoughts on the first night of Prince's run at United Center earlier this year. Even though time has passed, I'm still conflicted on my first time seeing the Purple One. I love Prince. I'll always love him no matter what. He's like some crazy family member that you don't really agree with on much anymore, but they still make you laugh and you always have a special place for them in your heart.

The problem was, and probably still is, my first Prince concert was about 20+ years too late. I wanted a different version of the artist that doesn't exist anymore. I wanted "Pussy Control" not sub-par cover songs. And I wanted a show, not a rehearsal. It happens. If I see Prince again, I won't go the first night. I've accepted it, I can listen to Prince without feeling any sadness or resentment. It's OK now Prince, we forgive you.

That said, I did get a glimpse of what greatness is during "Purple Rain," which was my favorite singular performance of the year. That one song, no matter what, made the whole bizarre experience worth it. I'm not a religious person, but that to me was church. I sung along, I felt the music in me, and I cried like a superfan as purple confetti fell all around me. The whole room vibrated with energy and sound, and Prince could feel it too, giving his all as he howled along with the crowd every chorus. It's those moments, even during a big let down, that remind you why the music means so much, and why no matter what you'll always have that special place in your heart.


Anne Holub:

I was helping out at the kids tent for Rock for Kids at the Hideout Block Party this year, when the perks of the afternoon were made clear: I got to also listen to amazing sets of live music by some talented artists out there while I painted snakes and butterflies on kids' faces. The Saturday I spent in a tiny plastic chair while listening to Kelly Hogan, The Corin Tucker Band, The Waco Brothers and the Lawrence Peters Outfit was positively lovely (nevermind the evening, where I also got to casually sip a beer and wander the crowd while rocking to Wye Oak and Wilco).

There's nothing, absolutely nothing, like the Hideout Block Party — where you always feel like you're at some illicit street party, but everybody's friendly and the beer and brats are flowing like a mountain stream. This little fest has gotten a bit bigger over the years, but they still keep it sensible, offering families a place to go with their little rockers in the afternoon (watching toddlers dance has got to melt the heart of even the most hard-core hipster) while also providing a thoughtfully curated festival poised to close out your summer with a stress-free weekend. With so many other fests on the calendar now (which each seem to grow bigger and more overwhelming to the average music-lover), the Hideout Block Party remains the one that I look forward to the most. Partly because it is just so down-home and comfortable, like an old car you just can't quite part with. Partly because you feel that the design of it is substance over size. Yes, it's in a parking lot beside a city fueling station and some dump trucks, but you make great memories every year, and you wouldn't trade it for anything.

The Hideout Block Party still features Chicago music prominently in the lineup every year, knowing that Chicagoans making music can be as big of a draw as imports. And people still buy tickets in droves, knowing that no matter the weather, it's going to be a good time. With every concert I've heard over the last year, I think no other memory brings a smile to my face like thoughts of that weekend — my hands covered in paint and glitter, the smell of grilled brats in the air, and a couple of days of some of the best entertainment you can find on a side street parking lot, or anywhere, for that matter.


Katie Karpowicz:

Here it comes. I'm going to start gushing about The Right Now again. I have the privilege of listening to many local releases every year and I'm even lucky enough to be able to say that the majority of them are quite good. However, the jazzy, funky bunch that call themselves The Right Now really outdid themselves with their sophomore album Gets Over You in 2012. Usually when bands and individual artists make an effort to sound "sexy" and "cool" it comes out sounding like a rejected Ke$ha b-side. These guys (and gal!) nailed it though.

Best thing I heard this year in the way of music news? That Wavefront Music Festival 2013 would be happening. The inaugural festival, held this past July on Montrose Beach, could have been one of the best events of the summer or it could have flopped horribly. The right balance of traditional house music and new-school DJs (not to mention the best festival location of them all) easily steered this all-electronic fest towards the former outcome. Very excited hear Wavefront will be back for more next summer.


Sarah Brooks:

This is a major toss up for me, because I feel that 2012 presented me with an unbelievable caliber of live music. However, a few acts stuck out in my mind as truly outstanding, visceral even, moments of music listening.

The Charles Bradley show at Pritzker Pavilion was featured on one of those sweltering Chicago summer days where one barely wanted to be outside for one minute, let alone for a two-hour concert. However, Bradley, the "screaming eagle of soul" kept the crowd grooving and hollering for more. He showed an energy and passion for soul music that is unparalleled in so many groups I've ever seen before, and made for a delightful show for the audience. It's not every day you see a soul legend hop off stage and give hugs to members of the audience while crooning a heartfelt ballad, but there's a first time for everything.

A more unconventional show in which individuals dressed up in festive wintry garb, Sufjan Stevens' holiday show was touted as "The Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant On Ice" Never until this night did I think I would sing holiday carols with a crowd and Sufjan Stevens in unison picked by a giant spinning wheel mounted to the stage, nor did I think I would see Sufjan dressed in a balloon-laden costume appearing as a Christmas unicorn. Both of these things occurred, and they were as awesome as they seemed. We also got to hear revered classics such as "Casimir Pulaski Day," the icing on top of the cake of an already magical evening.

One last show contributed even further to the love I feel for this city of ours. An act featuring three local groups, with Andrew Bird and Wilco as the headliners at a special concert at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, packed so much talent into one place that audience members seemed to be on cloud nine the entire evening. Andrew Bird captivated the crowd as usual with his whistling aficionado style, churning out old favorites blended with intricate instrumental numbers. Wilco simply pours Chicago heart and soul into each note they produce. You can't help but love this city a bit more upon listening to their music, and they hooked the audience for their near two-hour long set and multiple encores by playing classic ballads as well as notable "Via Chicago," and bringing out Andrew Bird to join them for more rarely played track "California Stars." This may reign as the top moment of the year for me — seeing two greats come together to play their stellar music for the enjoyment of Chicagoans was one thing I'll never forget. That, and the epic firework show that began while Wilco was still playing cemented it as close to perfection and euphoric in my mind.

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