Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Tuesday, May 21

Gapers Block

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Review Mon Dec 07 2015

From Jeremih, With Love

The front row of any show is reserved for an artist's die hard fans. It's a coveted spot that guarantees at least 10 likes and three retweets for the average social media user.

Using proper hashtags generate more feedback, and by sun-up, you'll wake up to an overwhelming amount of IG love and stacks-on-stacks of comments from close friends, frenemies and exes.

Now, getting there is only half the battle; the other requires patience.

If you're a pro, you know that timing is everything, and Jeremih put his most devoted fans to the test last night with a pop-up show at Double Door to promote Late Nights: The Album, a collection of songs that tell the classic tale of an R&B singer: a hopeless romantic who advantageously flirts with lust in search of finding love.

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F. Amanda Tugade

Review Mon Dec 07 2015

The Lonely Biscuits Metamorphose At Beat Kitchen


A hallmark of the most successful bands is a willingness and ability to change over time. Art always has a basis in context--whether it be societal mores or the artist's personal life--so for it to remain static suggests an ignorance of the terrifying drip of sand from the hourglass that unites all humanity. That's why artists who change tastefully, like Kanye West and The Beatles, transcend the moment, and that's why Nickelback has fallen so far from grace.

Watching The Lonely Biscuits perform at Beat Kitchen last night was an experience in seeing and hearing the process of change. The band is quite young--like me, they graduated from college in May--but they've already gone through a metamorphosis that they put on display for the fifty or so brave souls who conquered the Lazy Sunday vibes and the December chill to come out. Since the departure of vocalist/guitarist John Paterini earlier this year, they've shifted their style radically from the rap-rock hybrid of their early halcyon days to a more straightforward garage-y vibe that stays hard-edged enough not to drown itself in reverb. And in front of a very friendly crowd that was clearly expecting more of the former, the new material worked surprisingly well.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Fri Dec 04 2015

Twenty One Pilots Makes Young-Person Angst...Ecstatic?!


It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...and that mean's it's time for obligatory radio-sponsored holiday concerts to take over the city! Last night at the Aragon, WKQX hosted the first of its four "Nights We Stole Christmas," featuring Twenty One Pilots. The place was packed to bursting to see one of the hottest alternative acts in the country, a duo whose next tour has already sold out a June date at Allstate Arena.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Sat Nov 21 2015

With Just A Piano And Her Voice, Frances Held Up Her Own For James Bay


The Riviera's stage looked eerily empty with just a keyboard and a microphone set up front and center. A massive, Simba-like illustration of James Bay's face draped the back wall of the stage, indicating the young British singer/songwriter who most of the crowd had come to see. But it was the other young British songwriter opening for him, Frances, who spoke with me yesterday. The 21-year-old is on her first American tour (it's her first time in America, period) and already seems to be on the fast track to success--her most recent single, "Borrowed Time," was co-written with Disclosure's Howard Lawrence, and her standout tracks "Grow" and "Let it Out" have garnered her a wealth of critical praise and the opportunity to work with writers like Jimmy Napes and Iain Archer on her forthcoming debut album. I was interested to see how she'd hold the crowd's attention alone on stage.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Tue Nov 17 2015

Crown Larks Lead a Chaotic Rush of Rock at the Empty Bottle


One of the most interesting facets of Crown Larks' show the last two times I saw them, when they were opening for touring acts at Schubas, was that the band matched the milieu of the evening. Playing before Buke + Gase and Landlady, they allowed complex rhythms to dictate an uneven but sensical flow; playing before Yonatan Gat, they morphed into some raw, primal, shouting beast. So when they headlined The Empty Bottle's Free Monday last night, I knew I'd be hearing a different Crown Larks depending on the tone that had been set by the three preceding bands. But by the time they took the stage, there was no overarching tone, because each band that played dragged the evening in a totally new direction. The only common thread was some measure of devotion to progressive rock.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Mon Nov 09 2015

TesseracT Shows Why They're Progressive Metal Gods at Bottom Lounge


I've been to metal shows before, but last night at Bottom Lounge was my first time reviewing one. As it turns out, I had an important lesson to learn: trying to take notes in a mosh pit is pointless. You need your elbows for protection, and anything you attempt to scribble down comes out looking like a kindergartener's worst work. So I'm relying entirely on my memory to recount the events of TesseracT's show--fortunately, though, it was filled with memorable moments.

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Zach Blumenfeld / Comments (3)

Review Sun Nov 08 2015

Yo La Tengo Mixes Acoustic Country and Electric Noise at the Vic


Yo La Tengo is as known for their covers as their originals. Or at least when performing live, because with an acoustic set at the Vic the New Jersey group rumbled through classic songs, both popular and obscure, with enough twang and noise that their reinterpretations may have created new songs entirely.

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Colin Smith

Review Sat Nov 07 2015

Shakey Graves, the Consummate Austin Entertainer, Enthralls Thalia Hall


The last time I reviewed a show at Thalia Hall, they put me in the back right corner of the balcony. I got a great perspective of how large Noah Gundersen's crowd was but had to squint to see Gundersen himself. I figured that was just the designated media spot, and was therefore expecting something similar last night for the second of Shakey Graves' two sold-out shows. So you can imagine my surprise when I was directed to the lower left opera box, which I shared with Shakey's Chicago friends (pro tip: if you offer lodging to a band when they're playing Schubas and stay friends with them over the intervening years, it pays off). It was the best seat I've ever had for a concert, and I couldn't have picked much of a better show for it, as Shakey Graves put on an enrapturing performance.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Fri Nov 06 2015

The Features Earn Their Name At Subterranean


The Features knew why the crowd at Subterranean last night was there, and it wasn't to hear them talk. Some bands add substantially to their live performance with quirky asides or preachy messages between songs, but those moments need to be perfect to justify their existence. Maybe The Features don't think they could say anything interesting enough to justify breaking up the flow of their set. So aside from the occasional "thank you," they spent their hour-plus blazing through almost twenty fun songs, letting the crowd's energy provide all the auxiliary aspects of the show--and the crowd was bursting with energy.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Fri Nov 06 2015

Kendrick Lamar and the Company He Keeps

Kendrick Lamar and I have history. I was 20 when we first met. He, only 25.

I was new to adulthood, and I had just topped off the last two years of my teens with a list of senseless decisions, unwarranted consequences and only a handful of regrets that I won't admit out loud.

He, on the other hand, was "new" to the rap game. By that time, he had already released Overly Dedicated and Section.80, two mixtapes that secured his spot in XXL's Top 10 Freshman Class of 2011. A closer look, he had already mapped out for me what my early 20s would look like: chaotic, systematic and full of a hell of a lot of good times.

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F. Amanda Tugade

Review Tue Nov 03 2015

Mars and the Massacre Takes Subterranean's First Floor Up A Level


After getting the chance to interview Mars and the Massacre last week and checking out their YouTube material, I was fully prepared for anything as I walked into Subterranean. Anything, that is, except for the show taking place on the ground floor, which only began operating as a stage earlier this year. Lacking the overhanging balconies of the venue's classic stage, the first floor of Sub-T feels less cramped and more casual--one of those spaces that's more like a bar with music than music at a bar. By the end of the evening, though, Mars and the Massacre had done one of the hardest things a band can do at this type of venue: they had lured most of the patrons right up to the stage.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Mon Nov 02 2015

Lil Debbie and the Morning After

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned in college is that impulsively saying "yes" to an open party invitation could lead to either one of the best or worst nights ever, and only the morning after could determine that decision.

This Halloween was a true testament to that, and the night began in the same way that it ended -- at The Abbey.

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F. Amanda Tugade

Review Sun Nov 01 2015

The Front Bottoms Threw a Halloween Champagne Jam at Bottom Lounge

Cham•pagne Jam.

/Sham'pan Jam/


An event made up by the Front Bottoms during which each band member begins the concert with a full bottle of champagne. The show only ends when all the champagne bottles have been drained.

The Front Bottoms played their sold out Halloween show at Bottom Lounge in style last night dressed to the nines, with guitarist Ciaran O'Donnell in a soft serve onesie costume, bassist Tom Warren in a whipped cream onesie, drummer Mat Uychich dressed as a pink cupcake and lead singer Brian Sella as a sprinkle donut.

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Celeste Mallama / Comments (1)

Review Sat Oct 31 2015

MisterWives Rocks The Vic, May Be The Best Live Band In America


An amazing concert weaves a narrative of emotional moments. It isn't just a repetition of studio recordings played live--as moving as the songs themselves might be, the live atmosphere requires a different, more emotive form of storytelling.

MisterWives, just three years into its career, has proven to be masters of this art. Tied together by overt messages of self-love and compassion, their show at The Vic Theatre was not only an astounding musical performance, but also an unmatched, unforgettable interactive experience for the audience. Excuse me, because this might sound like hyperbole, but I haven't seen a better show this year, or perhaps ever. It deserves a blow-by-blow recap.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Fri Oct 30 2015

The Yawpers Revel In Patriotic Decay On New Album American Man


When you name your album American Man, it better damn well be representative of the country's current male psyche. There's the incessant teen angst that ties together generations; there's the bitter laughter at the silliness that consumes national politics; and, growing in strength, there's aching sincerity in the struggle for purpose and a better future. Denver blues-punk trio The Yawpers check off most of these boxes over the course of their second LP, released today through Chicago's Bloodshot Records.

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Zach Blumenfeld / Comments (2)

Review Fri Oct 30 2015

Ought Brought Their Best to Beat Kitchen

darcy ought.jpg
It's hard not to compare Ought to the myriad of bands that often come up when discussing their sound. Sure, if you like Talking Heads and Television, you're sure to like Ought. However, I think that Ought's music has quality that supersedes the comparisons, particularly due to Tim Darcy's enigmatic cadence. They take the comparisons in stride and are good enough to find a realm all to themselves. They more than proved that this summer with their intense set at Pitchfork, managing to garner a huge crowd despite behemoths Wilco playing at the same time. Earlier this week Ought filled up Beat Kitchen,continue to show just how intense and frantic their great performances can be.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Thu Oct 29 2015

Telekinesis Read Chicago's Mind on Wednesday

Michael Benjamin Lerner, aka Telekinesis, had a lot of love to give for Chicago on Wednesday night when he played Lincoln Hall.

"I really, really, love this place," he told the sparse (I know it was a Wednesday night, but there was a shamefully small crowd at the venue) audience. "You guys are seriously lucky to have this place. Everyone here is really wonderful to touring musicians. And we would know because we've been on tour for a long, looooong time. Give the crew here some applause."

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Celeste Mallama

Review Sun Oct 25 2015

Kurt Vile and the Violators were Pretty Pimpin' at Thalia Hall

kurtvile1.jpg One of the big upsets about Pitchfork Music Festival this year was the rainfall that cut a few sets short, including that of Kurt Vile and the Violators. I didn't get to see any of his three song set and felt a little distraught by that. Vile's folk rock that has some country credence to it sound would have been for the festival atmosphere. Luckily, with a new album b'lieve i'm goin down being released, I knew I would get a chance to hear him live relatively soon.This past weekend Vile brought his Violators, along with Waxahatchee and Luke Roberts, to Thalia Hall for two sold out shows. I was in attendance the first night and it was worth the wait.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Sun Oct 25 2015

I Probably Had Unreasonably High Expectations For CHVRCHES @ Metro


Frankly, I'm shocked that CHVRCHES was playing Metro last night. Nothing against the legendary club, of course--as ever, it's an amazing place to see a show, and Lauren Mayberry heaped praise upon it between songs. But given the success of the band's 2015 LP Every Open Eye, their show-stopping performance at Pitchfork in July, and their arena-friendly sound, I would have expected them to fill up a bigger venue.

That was probably just me over-hyping the band in my own mind, though. I went into the show ready to have my brain completely melted. Sometimes that anticipation is a self-fulfilling prophecy, but tonight it was a setup for a small letdown. CHVRCHES played an excellent set for the most part, but a few flaws gnawed at me as the show wore on and they stayed my ready stamp of unconditional approval.

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Zach Blumenfeld / Comments (2)

Review Sun Oct 25 2015

Review & Photos: Joanna Gruesome @ Schubas

Gapers JG3.jpg

It wasn't surprising that six-piece headliners Joanna Gruesome possessed a kind of frantic energy in the first night of their tour. What was much more astonishing was how tight they were considering this. The band has also had a couple of lineup changes in their relatively short time together but seems to be stronger than ever in both their sound and stage presence. The fact that none of them rammed into one another on stage was a feat in and of itself!

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Kirstie Shanley

Review Thu Oct 22 2015

Youth Lagoon was the Phantom of Thalia Hall's Opera House

IMG_1419.JPGYouth Lagoon's Trevor Powers whirled around Thalia Hall's opera house as if he was possessed. Whenever his backing band would fall into a groove, Powers would run across the stage, scrambling to the front of the crowd, and even tossing a keyboard onto the ground.

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Colin Smith

Review Thu Oct 22 2015

Chasing Skirts, Chasing Dreams: A Lesson From Dan Kanvis

Last Friday night felt all too familiar, and it started out the same way it always does -- one drink to hold you over while you're waiting, another to get the conversation going, and maybe a third just for Friday's sake.

Everyone who came through the door was searching for someone they knew. Tiny colorful lights twinkled from neat rows of arcade games at Emporium in Wicker Park, and guided its evening visitors to familiar faces. The evening was a complimentary alternative to the "new normal" of Netflix and chill.

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F. Amanda Tugade

Review Wed Oct 21 2015

Chicago Believes in a Thing Called Love

If you're a fan of glam rock, tattooed torsos, leather, guitar shredding and/or face melting, then I can only hope you were at the House of Blues yesterday for the Darkness.

You could tell it was going to be a great show from the get-go, when the group came onstage wearing the following: Hawkins in a pair of blue and white pin striped overalls, the straps of which he quickly shed to show off his tatted torso, guitarist Dan Hawkins in a leather jacket, and bassist Frankie Poullain in a seventies style pointy and gleaming suit with a bright red shirt underneath.

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Celeste Mallama

Review Mon Oct 19 2015

Lily & Madeleine and Shannon Hayden Left SPACE In Awe

I first stumbled upon Lily and Madeleine's voices in 2013 through Son Lux's "Lost It To Trying." In that song the sisters harmonize with Ryan Lott almost seamlessly, but the ethereal quality of their voices had them standing out as something different. I searched out their output, which at the time was The Weight of the Globe EP and their self titled debut. Their voices sounded even better when they were the focus of songs, melding together with a beauty that balanced fragility and strength throughout their songs. It has taken me nearly two years to see Lily and Madeleine perform and that is far too long. The sisters, along with Shannon Hayden, came up from Indianapolis to very packed SPACE, still one of my favorite venues, and showed off their engaging songs.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Sun Oct 18 2015

BRONCHO Goes Bananas At Lincoln Hall


Did I expect BRONCHO to rock? Oh yes. Did I expect frontman Ryan Lindsey to be so endearingly peculiar on stage? Not exactly. But it was fantastic.

Last night's Angry Orchard Bonnaroo Spotlight Series show at Lincoln Hall gave BRONCHO a convenient excuse to visit Chicago and prepare for another tour supporting their 2014 album Just Enough Hip to Be Woman. They put the exclamation point on an evening of carefree CBGB-type music, cheering up saddened Cubs fans and bringing out the blithely rebellious teen in every audience member.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Thu Oct 15 2015

Stars Glided Through Lincoln Hall

It's always interesting to see what genre musicians self-identify with, and even more interesting when they make up their own unique genres. It always makes me smile when I read Geographer's self-description of "soulful music from outer space." Nothing could be more fitting. Watching Michael Deni, tall, lanky and sincere, croon to the crowd while his back-up cello/guitar/drum-playing bandmates create these strange synthetic swirls of sound around him the description makes perfect sense.

The San Francisco based band warmed up the crowd at Lincoln Hall Wednesday evening, starting things off with "I'm Ready" from their 2015 release Ghost Modern following it up with "Too Much" from the same album. Moving into a phenomenal cover of Arthur Russel's "This is How We Walk the Moon" Deni's multi-instrumental talents were prominently displayed when he brought out a shining sax.

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Celeste Mallama

Review Wed Oct 14 2015

Widowspeak Floats Along Through The Chop Shop's 1st Ward


There was a huge green balloon on the loose at Chop Shop last night. I think I remember seeing it emerge from backstage at some point, a massive, bounding ball of latex the size of the moonshot Kyle Schwarber hit over Wrigley's right field scoreboard. Naturally, the audience did what the audience will do with a large inflated round object at a concert: hit it, watch it float like a buoy to touch the ceiling and then just as lazily and gracefully return to the waiting sea of hands. A few officers of the fun police tried in vain to hold down the balloon, but it always returned to the spotlight.

To me, the green balloon was a flawless representation of the music that Widowspeak provided for the rapt crowd--totally at ease with the ups and downs of life, floating along blithely no matter the circumstance, yet subtly full of vivacity and a pastoral joy.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Tue Oct 13 2015

An Informal Introduction to Kane West

DJ Kane West
The weather on an early October night in Chicago felt a little different from what I'm used to. It was just a little too warm, and the streets of Logan Square were more tame than usual, which made me question whether I was at the right place. I was standing slightly off of the corner of Milwaukee and Medill avenues, and I quickly double-checked the directions on my phone. Siri comfortingly reassured me that I was here -- at the East Room.

A black door embellished with indecipherable graffiti and musicians' marks lied against a seemingly vast brick wall. A glaring red light flickered right above the door, matching the rain that fell into a habit of turning on and off. The red light continued to haunt me, as I traveled up a narrow staircase, but a comforting, cozy darkness soon confronted me when I reached the last step. Tiny tea-light candles strategically placed on two-seater tables and booths provided a pathway to the bar.

The event was RSVP only, and the invite indicated the doors would open at 9pm. It didn't say when London-native DJ Kane West would perform, nor did it list who his special guests would be. A couple hours passed before small tight-knit groups traced the walls of the venue, leaving the dance floor open to anyone who dared to show off their moves.

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F. Amanda Tugade

Review Sun Oct 11 2015

How To Make The House Of Blues Feel Like A Basement, Featuring Catfish And The Bottlemen


Any time a band starts to get big, it's fascinating to see how their stage show translates from small venues to much larger ones. The last two non-Lollapalooza shows Catfish and the Bottlemen played in Chicago, for example, were at Schubas and Subterranean--the latter of which I attended, and which had that delightfully claustrophobic feel Subterranean always gives you because of the overhanging side balconies. Catfish came at that show like it was a raucous house party, impressing me enough that I went to see them at the far more spacious House of Blues last night. But instead of the venue changing the band, the band changed the venue. The concert felt like a basement gig--a steamy, sweaty, throbbing mass of high school basement gig--and that's an indication of the transformative power of Catfish and the Bottlemen's music.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Thu Oct 08 2015

Glass Animals Turns The Riviera Into A Jungle


It was a wild night on the North Side last night, and not just in the streets of Wrigleyville. Just a few stops away on the Red Line, British indie trip-rockers Glass Animals were dropping the Riviera Theatre into the middle of an Eden-esque jungle. Palm trees lined the edges of the stage, huge one-tentacled jellyfish lanterns hung from the ceiling, and the requisite rain forest humidity came from the sticky crowd that got down to every sexy song.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Wed Oct 07 2015

Big Fans and Big Sound for Mew

Sometimes at shows I wonder how many people in attendance consider the act on stage to be their favorite ever. It's just speculating for fun. But some nights it's easy to see, like Tuesday at Metro when there was zero doubt about who the #1 super fan was. Maybe the tip-off was the outstretched hallelujah arms, the barricade-hugging, the desire need to be recognized by the band, or all combined. While those actions alone shouldn't be disturbing, nobody wants to stand behind that package of grandiosity for an hour and a half. On the other hand, Mew hasn't played Chicago in six years, so that's a lot of pent-up excitement exploding at once.

Unlike many bands, Mew's singer Jonas Bjerre is perhaps its most laid-back member, allowing bassist Johan Wohlert to shine as the energetic one who banters with the crowd. But Bjerre doesn't need to bounce around to be the star. It's his voice, reaching an upper register that not even the 20-something girls next to me could hit, that gives Mew a big part of their identity. (And it was in top shape Tuesday.) However, another definer, the prog-rock elements that separate them from many alt-rock/dream-pop bands were a little muted, like on "Introducing Palace Players."

Still, the band was focused and crisp reeling off the hits mixed among new album songs. Standards "Special" and "156" were greeted with great applause, and closer "Comforting Sounds", an epic 9-minute progresser, brought the house down within its first few notes. For Mew, it was business as usual operating at a high level. For Chicago fans who haven't seen them in six years, even just casual fans, exuberance is maybe an understatement.

James Ziegenfus / Comments (1)

Review Mon Oct 05 2015

The Internet at Bottom Lounge: Bumpin' Some Warm Vibes On The First Chilly Weekend Of Fall


I didn't expect The Internet's Syd tha Kyd to be such a commanding presence on stage.

When you talk to her, as I did a few weeks ago for Transmission, she emanates a laid-back attitude that's matched by her sultry trip-hop vocal delivery on the album her band is supporting on this tour, Ego Death. I thought I was in for an evening of slow jamming, casual movements to subtle grooves, and hazy sensuality at Bottom Lounge. But the energy that the band brought to the stage lent the night a stunning vibrance that warmed the bones and the soul on a frosty Sunday evening.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Tue Sep 29 2015

A$AP Rocky Electrifies the Aragon Ballroom, 9/27


The hazy stage lights of the Aragon Ballroom shut on at 7 p.m. on Sunday, but fans began waiting outside the locked doors nearly 4 hours in advance. The colossal crowd pushing to get in the sold-out 3,200-capacity venue were lined upside the building, back through the alley, and spilling in front of the bars along Lawrence, forcing the manager of the neighboring Uptown Lounge to emerge shouting at event security to maintain the chaos.

This is a much different picture of pre-show excitement for A$AP Rocky in Chicago than the last show he headlined in 2012.

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Emily Ornberg / Comments (1)

Review Mon Sep 28 2015

Destroyer: Dark Lyrics and Bright Melodies in Thalia Hall's Old Opera House


Once Jennifer Castle stepped to the front of the stage, she strummed her hollow guitar and crowed in a country-inflected voice. The audience, sipping their Lagunita's or Oberons, filed into Thalia Hall's old and restored opera house, and at once quit talking. Castle set a calm tone for a Sunday night and brought the listeners back to a quieter time -- and she wouldn't have been out of place at Greenwich Village in the '60s.

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Colin Smith

Review Mon Sep 28 2015

Mad Decent Block Party in Review

Mad Decent Block Party 2015 (photos by Rena Naltsas)

"PROHIBITED ITEMS: Pacifiers; Unsealed tampons; Kandi bracelets; Masks of any kind; Stuffed animals or dolls; Laser pointers; Frisbees and/or any other projectile." Security guidelines for the touring Mad Decent Block Party in Cicero on Saturday were as strict an EDM version of airport TSA. Guests were patted down, clothes and bags were intensely searched, and shoes were sniffed out by a K-9 unit to prevent any illegal substances (or opened feminine products) to be snuck into the desolate parking lot of the Hawthorne Race Track. We've compiled a photo diary of the day, allowing you to take part in the electric energy present at Mad Decent Block Party.

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Emily Ornberg

Review Sat Sep 26 2015

Twin Peaks and Wavves Punked Out at the Vic


Twin Peaks was showing off their Chicago (I was about to write Chitown but then thought about that Gapers Block button...) pride last night at the Vic. The fivesome of Midwestern punk rockers had as backing on the stage a banner flaunting a (rather pot-bellied) Benny the Bull with the four blue Chicago stars arrayed above him and a sleepy-eyed sun saying "'sup dog?"

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Celeste Mallama / Comments (2)

Review Sat Sep 26 2015

Noah Gundersen At Thalia: Doubting Faith Was Never So Fun


Last night was Noah Gundersen's fourth time playing in Chicago, by his own count. And though his performances at North Park and SPACE and Lincoln Hall surely must have felt special at the time, Thalia Hall felt like a tailor-made home for his music. The cavernous main floor reflected the hollowness of Christianity in his eyes, and the artfully preserved decaying aesthetic that radiates from the room's flaky-looking walls seemed like a metaphor for the decaying faith that forms the backbone of most of Gundersen's music. But it's those very traits that make Thalia beautiful--perhaps the most beautiful venue in the city--and Gundersen's eighteen-song set matched its setting in anguished beauty.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Fri Sep 25 2015

The Fratellis Brought the Heat at the Vic

It must be somewhat odd for the Fratellis to come to Chicago. A discography dating back to 2006, almost a decade of touring together, a well established band with a well established catalog and yet they're most famous in Chicago for approximately 10 seconds of the opening lines of one song from 2007. Weird. Even after extensive research (aka I Wiki'ed it), and reading up on Rocky Wirtz's adoption of the song in 2010 as the Blackhawk's scoring song in order to attract a younger fan base, I still don't entirely understand how that happened.

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Celeste Mallama / Comments (2)

Review Thu Sep 24 2015

Man Man Got Weird with Lincoln Hall

I was having a conversation recently about lead singers who play unique instruments where the bass and the drums were cited as the most unusual instrument we'd ever seen a lead singer play. Lead singer Shilpa Ray who fronts the band of the same name blew that out of the water yesterday when she showed up on Lincoln Hall's stage pumping a harmonium.

Ray, who previously fronted the rock outfit Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers, brought her huge, haunting, scorching vocals to front stage as she opened for Man Man. It was a good pairing -- not only are the vocal stylings of the two groups somewhat similar, but Ray's style of singing gave her the stage presence necessary to be memorable -- not an easy task when you're followed by the onstage antics of Honus Honus.

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Celeste Mallama

Review Wed Sep 23 2015

Years and Years Electrifies Park West


The last time I saw Years and Years, the young British electro-pop trio was headlining legendary London club Heaven, their hit single "King" was about to top the UK charts, and they had never played a show in America. They had the look of a band that couldn't believe their rapid ascent to fame as frontman Olly Alexander breathlessly bounced around like a kid in a candy store. "This is the first time we've had lasers at our show," I remember him saying.

Six months later, the excitement is still there--this is Years and Years' first American tour--but the now-seasoned veterans of the stage have tamed the thrill and shaped it into a confident and enthralling performance. Last night, the atmosphere at the group's Park West show could only be described as brilliant pop ecstasy.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Mon Sep 21 2015

Yonatan Gat: A Ritualistic Experience at Schubas


My favorite part about seeing a show at Schubas Tavern is the pristine acoustics of the all-wooden room. The PA is placed perfectly to utilize the warmth of the space and any music you hear there, regardless of genre, takes on an audible glow around the edges. That is, so long as the band is playing from the stage.

Yonatan Gat doesn't roll like that. He and his trio set up their amps right in the middle of the floor and turned Schubas into an overgrown basement shrine to the roots of musicianship. The crowd enclosed them in a circle and for nearly an hour, everyone in attendance took part in Gat and his bandmates' private ritual, worshipping the balance between utter chaos and sensible melody.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Sun Sep 20 2015

UB40 Brought Us Back at Concord Music Hall


It's always interesting to me what kind of a crowd a throwback group is going to draw. Is it going to be the original fans or their kids? Are tickets going to be $20 or $200? Is this band even still making new music?

The answer to those questions for reggae band UB40, the British reggae/pop band formed in the 70's that brought us "Red Reeeed Wiiiiiiiiiine."

1) It was a combination - the ages of crowd members ranged from 20's to 50's.
2) Tickets were $40.
3) Yes indeed. The band's last album was released a mere 2 years ago.

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Celeste Mallama

Review Mon Aug 31 2015

The Mowgli's Bring the Heat of Love to Subterranean


It gets really hot inside Subterranean. The second-level balconies that line the walls make the main floor seem narrower than it actually is, and looking back from the middle of the fray it appears that people stretch back forever towards the bar. The music the huge, sweaty crowd is there to see holds the key to keeping them unified and distracted from what would otherwise be a horribly uncomfortable state. Fortunately, that's what The Mowgli's have made the theme of their career: sunny California love that brings people together and shines through all situations.

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Zach Blumenfeld / Comments (2)

Feature Wed Aug 26 2015

Playing Atop the Hotel Lincoln, Widowspeak Embraces The Serenity Of Nature


The J. Parker Rooftop at the Hotel Lincoln is packed at 6 o'clock. On an ordinary Tuesday evening, you'd probably see a few 20-somethings stopping by after work to drink up a stunning view of Lincoln Park, the lake, and the Near North Side skyline as well as a cocktail. But on this occasion, a PA system and a slew of microphones invade a square space at the east end of the roof, and people cluster in a semicircle around them, keeping up a garrulous chatter between glances at the makeshift stage.

At 6:30, a woman in a black top and floral skirt and a man with long dark hair, a massive beard, and denim from head to toe step up to the mics with acoustic guitars in hand. And after a quick introduction from the mustachioed event manager and some enthusiastic cheers, Brooklyn-based indie folksters Widowspeak smile and launch into an eight-song set with the greatest of the Great Lakes providing a stunning backdrop.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Tue Aug 25 2015

Love and Music Brought People Together at Sofar Sounds

sofarsounds.jpgThis past weekend I had the pleasure of attending one of Sofar Sounds' secret house shows. It was truly a unique experience, one that brought a genuine sense of community to the show. The group prides itself on creating this experience for the mutual benefit of the artist and audiences, placing the music on a pedestal it deserves. Upon walking up the venue, a beautiful apartment in Chicago, I had no idea of who was playing, whose home it was, or how anything would be set up. It was exhilarating and as I would quickly found out, incredibly fulfilling. Guests were greeted by Sofar Sounds volunteers, who handed a small sheet of paper detailing the evening's artists: The Kickback, Daniela Sloan, and Charlie Curtis-Beard.

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Julian Ramirez

Album Fri Aug 21 2015

Barrence Whitfield and the Savages Pump Out Retro Blues-Punk


Barrence Whitfield and the Savages sound just like their name; you'd be hard-pressed to find a more stereotypical soul-blues moniker than "Barrence," and the Savages who back him up play exactly the type of distorted, raucous riffs you'd expect. Putting the two together results in a band that makes like Marty McFly and pumps old-fashioned rock 'n roll into a high wattage garage-bred overdrive. The question is whether or not bringing The Sonics' style forward fifty years holds water in the present musical landscape. And though aspects of BW and the Savages' new album Under the Savage Sky feel dated, its energy is undeniable and timeless.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Fri Aug 21 2015

Sublime with Rome at Northerly Island: Relaxing But Uninspiring

Unlike many of those in attendance last night at First Merit Bank Pavilion, the only cannabis I had was printed images on my socks. I hoped they, in addition to the pungent haze resting above the crowd, would get me in the proper mood to enjoy Sublime with Rome and their legion of summery musical guests. In the end, though the concert satisfied the masses of grown-up '90s kids hearkening for a return to the heyday of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 and a few hours relaxing in the remnants of summer, I failed to find any new or deeper meaning in the band's music--and I don't think Bradley Nowell, Sublime's long-deceased lead singer, would have appreciated that.

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Zach Blumenfeld / Comments (2)

Review Wed Aug 05 2015

Buke and Gase and Landlady: A Primeval Movement of Human Spirit


Someone once told me that music is the language of the soul, and that's a mantra I've taken into every concert I've seen. Some aspects of the soul are neatly arranged, rational, mathematical. Others--the more primordial parts--seek to move in time to the irregular, chaotic nature of the universe. Last night at Schuba's, it was that latter half of the soul that was activated by Buke and Gase, Landlady, and Crown Larks. Although each band painted a vastly different soundscape, they all filled the chest with a Dionysian energy that reveled in the beauty of primal urge.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Tue Aug 04 2015

Record Review: Teen Cult's Melodic Cacophony

It's not often when cacophony is rhythmic and melodic. Local band Teen Cult released their self-titled album earlier this summer, and played before Longface's record debut last week. Both bands are off of the regional label Already Dead Tapes, which often specialize in the experimental and sometimes the absurd.

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Colin Smith

Review Fri Jul 31 2015

Review: The War on Drugs @ Metro, 7/30

Midway through Thursday night's War on Drugs show, singer and songwriter Adam Granduciel dropped a simple "Thanks for coming to see us" as if everyone at a jam-packed Metro just happened to be walking along Clark and thinking, "I feel like hearing some live music tonight. I wonder who's playing nearby."

If that actually was the case for anyone, like any of the numerous people "looking for 1" outside, they lucked into quite a show. It's not like the War on Drugs popped out of nowhere, but the year and a half since the release of their fawned over Lost in the Dream album has elevated them to the type of band who sells out Metro in minutes.

Their anthemic rock'n'roll songs with a heavy dollop of noise were alive on Thursday. Granduciel owned center stage, accompanied by a full band and a pedalboard larger than my kitchen table. But it all fit together perfectly as they ran through songs from throughout the band's decade-long history. By the time they reached "An Ocean in Between Waves", it was guitar solo city with no filler. Songs went long. Arrangements varied. Quality never dipped. Why end when everyone's having a good time? Why not keep pummeling ears with a barrage of guitar riffs and licks? It's not like what anyone's hearing on the album and it's not being duplicated tomorrow night. Roll with it. And that they did.

Around the 100-minute mark, the band wrapped things up to conclude a night with earworming melodies, blistering guitar solos and some of the best "woo!"s you've heard in years. And because of how good they sounded, you walk out thinking, "That's the smallest place I'll ever see them again." If that's the case, it'll be well deserved.

James Ziegenfus

Review Fri Jul 31 2015

A Communal Evening With Laura Marling

lauramarling.jpgThis past Wednesday, Laura Marling, Johnny Flynn, and Marika Hackman came to Lincoln Hall and did something special. Most shows are very typical affairs with the opener, middle, and headliner never actually connecting with one another. Just different bands playing and different times and that's that. Sometimes you'll see one member play with another, but it's rarely made into a big deal. That was not the case with this trio of musicians. They created a communal event where stories and jokes were peppered between collaborations, making for the truest and most entertaining folk show I've seen and heard.

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Julian Ramirez / Comments (1)

Review Wed Jul 29 2015

Yoni Wolf and Serengeti End Their Rap Tour at Schubas

yoniwolf.jpgYoni Wolf's musical output has consistently straddled the line between hip hop and indie rock. His band Why? is a great amalgamation of the two genres, never settling on either one. I was introduced to Wolf through acts like Greenthink and cLOUDEAD. Those groups definitely leaned heavier on the hip hop genre their influence is very apparent on Wolf's current work. So seeing him embark on a solo tour not only makes sense, it's a necessary treat. This weekend he brought the end of his tour with the Chicago favorite Serengeti to Schubas, where they put on a pair of crowd pleasing alternative hip hop sets.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Tue Jul 28 2015

Toro Y Moi Headlines Special Olympics Illinois Benefit

Lollapalooza aftershows can often be a blurry, stinky mess of sunburnt festgoers looking to continue the groove long after getting schwasted in Grant Park's massive mosh pit.
The annual aftershow called Nelarusky, however, takes a different approach.

Taking place before the festival--Wednesday, July 27--at Chicago's Metro, the 9th annual Nelarusky raises money to benefit Special Olympics Illinois.

Since its inception by young entrepreneur Lauren McClusky, then 17, Nelarusky has raised approximately $200,000 toward the organization. Over the years, Nelarusky has featured artists such as Imagine Dragons, Icona Pop, Alabama Shakes and First Aid Kit.

This year, Toro Y Moi will debut his fourth album What For? to Chicago.

Nelarusky will also feature sets by Young Buffalo and John Splithoff. Tickets are $25 for the show on July 29 at 8pm.

Emily Ornberg

Review Mon Jul 27 2015

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Relived Their Debut at Lincoln Hall

cyhsy2.jpgThere's no denying that Alec Ounsworth output has changed drastically since Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's self-titled album. Ounsworth has taken his band's sound into a much fuller and atmospheric realm, filling in any gaps that were originally there with synths textured ambiance. While the evolution of the band has been interesting and actually quite good, there is still something immensely interesting about jangly self-released debut. It rambled along with a rawness and genuineness that most releases fail to achieve. It's no surprise that the beloved album's tenth anniversary has prompted Ounsworth to play the album in its entirety, reminding fans of a simpler and time. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah came to Lincoln Hall this weekend and transported people back to where they were a decade ago; giving the crowd a performance they had been eagerly anticipating.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Mon Jul 27 2015

Wicker Park Fest - Sunday in Review


More people crowded the modest-sized streets of Milwaukee Avenue for Wicker Park Fest Sunday than the previous day. As the festival went on, the bands sounded a lot harder, especially with the headliners Deafheaven and Veruca Salt. Whereas Saturday had a fair share of R&B, hiphop, and indie rock, Sunday had a lot of cinematic sounding bands, with explosive drums, driving basslines, and emotive vocals.

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Colin Smith

Review Mon Jul 27 2015

Reelin' in the Years with Steely Dan at Ravinia

The cultural melange of the late 1960s contributed mightily to the history of rock music, producing out-size heroes and legends whose names we all recognize. But of the more durable acts is one whose longevity seems, on the face, somewhat surprising. Almost a month on from the pomp of the Grateful Dead's farewell blowout at Soldier Field, another odd artifact, Steely Dan, quietly sold out Ravinia's expansive grounds for a pair of concerts that served well to highlight other aspects of the 1960s and '70s music scene.

The creative engine of the group, the partnership between Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, was born when the two met at Bard College. After a stint in New York, the pair moved to LA, where work began on their debut album, Can't Buy A Thrill. With the success of that album, the Steely Dan partnership was cemented, and a unique sound was forged. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Steely Dan veered sharply away from the boogie based psychedelia and oft-indulgent noodling of other bands of similar vintage. In its place were multi¬layered melodies, intricate studio production, and hyper-literate, often inscrutable lyrics that wove seamy vignettes of '70s hustlers and hucksters. No pie-eyed longhairs twirling through these songs, but the weird guy in the corner at the party with the clench-jawed grin and leather jacket. It was a formula that worked well on record, and served the band as it transitioned to a purely studio act in the mid-'70s and released a string of successful records through 1980's Gaucho. The band was silent through the 1980s, but the '90s saw a trickle of new material and renewed focus on touring with top-notch pick up bands to back the band's core duo.

Saturday night's show at Ravinia seemed an appropriate for the band. Not necessarily known for on-stage pyrotechnics, it was a rock-solid revue of many of their major works throughout their career. The band turned in a consummately professional performance, with standout performances by drummer Keith Carlock and guitarist Jon Herington. Highlights of the classic-heavy set included spirited renditions of "Aja" and "Bhodisattva," and an interesting arrangement of "Show Biz Kids." The satisfied crowd of graying rockers shuffled to the lots, shuttles, and trains having enjoyed an act that has managed to stay vital and remain a touchstone to music's shared history.

Dan Snedigar / Comments (5)

Review Sun Jul 26 2015

Wicker Park Fest - Saturday in Review


Unlike Pitchfork last weekend, the sun shined during Wicker Park Fest during its Saturday lineup. Better yet, the festival is free (with the option of donating $5), offering plenty of opportunities to get up close to see some of the upcoming bands of tomorrow, and the classics of today.

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Colin Smith

Review Fri Jul 24 2015

Kansas Bible Company Totally Fills The Abbey


The biggest question on my mind as I walked into Irving Park's The Abbey last night was how Kansas Bible Company's twelve members would fit on the stage. The band functions as one big happy family--they drive a school bus-sized van to their shows and at one point they all lived in the same house in Nashville, their adopted hometown--so it went without saying that they would figure out a way to scrunch together for their hour-long set. Not only did they succeed in cramming five horn players, three guitarists, two drummers, a bassist and a keyboard player onto the same smallish square platform, but they also managed to meld these instruments together seamlessly into what can only be described as Phil Spector's fantasy: the perfect wall of sound.

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Zach Blumenfeld

Review Wed Jul 22 2015

Eleventh Dream Day Beats the Future in a Staring Contest with New Album

Eleventh Dream Day - Works For Tomorrow Cover - 395-CD 1600-300dpi.jpg

For a band that's fast approaching the thirty year anniversary of its debut release, Eleventh Dream Day still rules the Chicago alt-rock scene with the energetic, feedback-laced fist of a twenty-something. This is nothing new. But what's different about the band's latest release, Works for Tomorrow (available in stores July 24), is that there's the experience of an aging rocker added to the pre-existing defiance. Over the course of the album's ten songs, the five-piece group grounds its sound firmly in its tumultuous past but points confidently into the unknown future, spitting hypnotic, fuzzy riffs and rebellious words into the wind without regard for which way it's blowing.

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Zach Blumenfeld / Comments (1)

Review Fri Jul 17 2015

Xylouris White Quickly Captivated Schubas

xylouriswhite2.jpgEarlier this year I had the pleasure of seeing Jim White and Giorgos Xylouris perform earlier this year at Thalia Hall. It wasn't my first introduction to the two musicians. I was familiar with White's work with The Dirty Three and Xylouris' storied career with his musical family. However, that evening at Thalia Hall they were opening for Swan which resulted in more than a few people in the crowd being unsure of the duo's reputation. It took little time to see that Xylouris White were nothing short of astounding. Seeing them live was revelation even to me, completely blowing away my expectations derived from studio recordings. Their performance was , When they announced a show at the much more intimate Schubas, I knew it would be a must see show.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Tue Jul 14 2015

Bringing the Noise at Ruido Fest, 7/12


Café Tacuba

Early on Sunday afternoon, Argentinian-now-New Yorker Natalia Clavier was bantering with the crowd in English during her swanky soul/electro set when she tentatively asked, "Who here speaks Spanish?" The crowd erupted. She smiled. "Oh, all of you!" And she quickly switched to Spanish. Later on in the day nobody on stage was asking the crowd about language preferences or defaulting to English. Even acts singing in English were talking to the crowd in Spanish, though a couple threw in "thank you" alongside "muchas gracias." Play to the audience, right?


Callate Mark

On a crowded summer music festival slate it's difficult to carve out a niche. Ruido Fest's done it by culling acts that have always had a place in Chicago but haven't had a festival to call home. Some have been peppered into the summer festivals, but they've never been on one together. The audience for Latino alternative music has been running all over town to see their bands. Now they're in one place. And, oh boy, did that audience show up excited.

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James Ziegenfus

Review Wed Jul 08 2015

Kehlani Re-Invents Sultry R&B @ Lincoln Hall

"You guys know this is my first show right?!"

Under the stark spotlights at Lincoln Hall on July 7, a bubbly Kehlani smiled wide to a crowd of squealing fans, as if she had been waiting to ask that question for awhile.

Tonight, the sunny, soulful R&B up-and-comer is kicking off her inaugural headlining tour in Chicago to promote her impeccable new mixtape, You Should Be Here, featuring vulnerable ballads and confident kiss-offs. Bringing us on her emotional journey through relationships long lost, she provided her bright, cascading melodies, and breezy, shimmering synths to the eventful live show, proving there's a new 20-year-old face to the evolving genre.

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Emily Ornberg

Review Fri Jun 05 2015

Will Butler Classed Up the Joint at Lincoln Hall on Thursday Night


Will Butler is probably best known as little brother of Win Butler, lead singer for Arcade Fire, and fellow band member, but recently he's done quite a good job of breaking free of that moniker. In 2014 Butler was nominated for an academy award for his work on the music for the Joaquin Phoenix film Her, and then in May of this year he dropped his debut solo album Policy on Merge records.

The debut album is everything you'd expect from Will Butler - rambunctious, infectious, surprising, fun - and I'm happy to report that none of that is lost in the live setting.

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Celeste Mallama / Comments (1)

Review Sat May 30 2015

The Storied Vance Joy Rolled Through Metro on Friday Night

Vance Joy

Some people are natural born storytellers. Narrative and description rolls off their tongue with ease and they can entrance an audience at the drop of a hat. Vance Joy strikes me as one of those people.

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Celeste Mallama

Review Tue May 26 2015

Lincoln Hall Took a Swim with Surfer Blood and Alex Calder

surferblood2.jpgIf you're a fan of Surfer Blood, it can hard to get past the troubles that come along with the band. After their first amazing and still catchy album Astro Coast, Surfer Blood was signed to Warner Bros and released Pythons in 2013 to mixed reviews. Their shift to a major label didn't work out as well as they were dropped later that year. But the issue that has been most problematic is lead singer John Paul Pitts arrest for domestic battery in 2012. I don't mean to riddle this review with ethical dilemmas of separating the art from the artist, but I would be remiss not to mention the arrest and subsequent dismissal of the charges. Pitts, too, understands that this incident will follow him throughout his career. I will say, when warranted, I prefer to advocate against such abuses with an inclination toward rehabilitation rather than a complete ostracization.

Surfer Blood returned to the rawer DIY nature of their beginnings in hopes of finding themselves again with 1000 Palms . It sounds as though they succeed, creating songs that feel a lot closer to Astro Coast than Pythons. A few weeks before the release, Surfer Blood suffered another devastating hit in the form of a sarcoma diagnosis for guitarist Thomas Fekete. The tour for their album became a sounding board for their bandmate and friend as they began collecting donations for his treatment at the merch booth, which would unfortunately be stolen from their car while in Schaumberg the evening following the concert. Despite all the dilemmas, it seemed that everyone at Lincoln Hall this past weekend was able to find some good in the band's set.

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Julian Ramirez / Comments (1)

Review Tue May 26 2015

Girl At the Front: On Jessica Hopper's "First Collection"


The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic
by Jessica Hopper
Featherproof Books, 209 pp., $17.95

It's easy to forget how unpopular it was to take up arms against R. Kelly when allegations of his predation of teenage girls first were made public. For almost 15 years, former Sun-Times critic Jim DeRogatis, along with his colleague Abdon Pallasch, was the lone voice for a host of women whose upsetting stories were largely forgotten or ignored. For the majority of Kelly's audience, and for the critical establishment that propped him up, it was much easier to hum along to his songs without imagining where they likely came from.

When Jessica Hopper publicly came out in support of DeRogatis's stance in a published conversation with the former Sun-Times critic for the Village Voice, it seemed like the winds had finally begun to shift. A kind of critical mass had been reached in the run up to Kelly's headlining performance at Pitchfork's 2013 festival, and the dialogue between Hopper and DeRogatis was the catalyst to a much-needed reappraisal of Kelly's career and status as the "pied piper of R&B." A much-shared essay delving into the sordid details and public apathy surrounding Kelly's assorted affairs, the conversation between Hopper and DeRogatis remains one of the landmark pieces of either critic's careers, and it has been reprinted in full as a centerpiece within Hopper's newly published volume of her own critical essays, The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic.

Hopper will appear at Quimby's Bookstore, 1854 W. North Ave., to read from her new collection on May 29 at 7pm. Admission is free.

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Mike Bellis / Comments (1)

Review Mon May 25 2015

Torres Hit Her Stride at Empty Bottle

20150521_232948(0).jpgBefore this concert, I have missed every Torres show she's had in Chicago. Various goings on and last minute changes prevented me from seeing Mackenzie Scott perform songs off her first album and I was always devastated. Scott's lyrics and guitar work is incredibly affecting and instantly hypnotic. i could only imagine how great she would be live. Then she released "Sprinter" and my mind was made up. I needed to see her perform these new more elaborate songs. After seeing her this past week, I severely regret having missed those previous shows. Scott had a performance that every rock singer should aspire to put on at the Empty Bottle. It was a raw and powerful show that resolidified Scott as an amazing musician.

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Julian Ramirez / Comments (1)

Review Sat May 16 2015

Tame Impala Brings Hypnotic Grooves to Riviera

Though most 'psychedelic rock' music contains some of the most saturated and intricate production, the main ingredients are pretty much the same: some sort of brain-melting guitar, echoed cadences and reverberating bassline patterns combined to make a lengthy drug-infused jam session. The only question: is it a good trip, or bad trip?

Playing new material to a sold-out crowd at Riviera on Friday after a two-year hiatus, Aussie paisley-poppers Tame Impala concocted a hypnotizing whirlwind of hazy reverb and fuzzy guitar riffs into a blissfully nostalgic, constantly dazzling and undeniably groovy jaunt to wonderland.

"Sexy Chica-GO-ans!... is that how you say it? 'ChicaGOans?'" band frontman Kevin Parker sincerely asked the audience. "We've been here many-a-time... I think I'm going to dedicate my life to John Belushi."

The lanky, barefoot crooner Paker shook his shaggy mophead as his falsetto floated above thick, juicy waves of reverbed strings and glistening synthesizers through face-lifted favorites such as the heady "Why Won't You Make Up Your Mind?" and flowering "Apocalypse Dreams." Drummer Julien "Frenchie" Barbagallo punctured the beat, providing a military rumble that made a loopy sound effect like a scratched CD stuck on repeat.

Their new album Currents isn't due for two more months, but the five-piece rockers have already been released four singles, each track providing a slightly new avenue for Tame Impala to venture. "Cause I'm a Man" stands out as an oozing, sexual R&B track where Parker simultaneously apologizes and flirts--you know, 'cause he's a man. "Eventually" brings a more vulnerable side, with heavy church organs uplifting Parker's simple voice to a more emotional side. And the near-10-minute groove "Let it Happen," which they dared to start the show with, mutated into a beautiful mural of loops, pulls and drops, oozing with vibrant whirrs and melodies and prescribing the audience with their most pungent substance right off the bat.

Perhaps the most intoxicating part of their live show was their visuals--the group stood as silhouettes in front of a line of colored spotlights and a massive screen of interchanging shapes and textures that bled together to the beat of the music, pulling the audience into their hypnotic jaunt that brought the joys of an old paisley-pop record elevated by 21st century additives.

Emily Ornberg

Review Wed Apr 29 2015

Shy Girls and Young Ejecta Shined at Schubas

shygirls1.jpgRecently I've seen my fair share of minimalist musicians in a live setting and every time I'm blown away. The transition from the studio sounds to the live in person experience is massive. There is an added expansiveness to their sound, making the already emotive experience all the more affecting. Young Ejecta and Shy Girls were no exception at their Schubas show this past weekend. Both bands were completely different from what I was expecting, with Young Ejecta delivering more with fewer members and Shy Girls creating instant R&B classics with relative ease. They were a fantastic pairing that fed on the audience's energy, putting together a passionate show.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Tue Apr 28 2015

Lord Huron Went A-Wandering to the Vic Monday Night

Lord Huron

The modern world doesn't tend to be that full of tales of adventure and romance anymore. Those gentlemen of the road stories haven't really translated well into the modern era of texting and snapchat, which is why I like to think of Lord Huron as a precious commodity to their generation of music. They're doing something uniquely anachronistic and they're doing it so well that Chicagoans came out en masse on a Monday night to see them do it.

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Celeste Mallama

Review Tue Apr 21 2015

The Mountain Goats Continued Their Reign as Musical Champions at the Vic

John Keogh-werewolf-mountain-goats.jpg
The Mountain Goats Regional Heat Tour Poster "Werewolf Gimmick" by John Keogh

There is a certain level of trust gained after two decades and over a dozen records, and John Darnielle knows that. Halfway through his set this past Saturday at the Vic he remarked that very sentiment in regards to Beat the Champ, the grappling concept album that marks his 15th under the name The Mountain Goats. I doubt many artists would be able to get away with an album devoted entirely to wrestling, particularly the '70s and flashy '80s that Darnielle has set his focus on. Even fewer could find the emotional resonance and beauty within those songs. Darnielle noted that the album were not as universal as his previous efforts, but I think that The Mountain Goats were able to dig down and show off the ubiquitous depths of those songs and gave the audience at the Vic a good look at what wrasslin' can offer.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Sun Apr 19 2015

Record Store Day 2015 Recap

rsd 2015 small.jpgDespite the long lines,craziness, flippers, and stress that comes with Record Store Day there is still that sense of community with the record lover's holiday. The day continues to be a celebration of record stores and of the people that come together to talk and purchase the music they enjoy. Now that the third Saturday of April is behind us and a bit of the dust has settled, Emily Ornberg and I give our impressions on RSD 2015 with our experiences from waiting in line for great finds to some disappointments.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Fri Apr 17 2015

José González and Ólöf Arnalds Left A Beautiful Impression on Lincoln Hall

josegonzalez4.jpgThere something incredible in the simplicity of a beautiful voice imparting a story through a song. It may seem like an obvious observation, but when this deed is accomplished with as much passion and sincerity as José González and Ólöf Arnalds did this past Wednesday, it becomes a revelation. These two musicians craft their infinitely loving songs with full regard of their emotions; wearing them right on their sleeves and letting the listener take them in. They had a two sold out nights at Lincoln Hall and I was lucky enough see one of their performances that were completely filled with grace and life.

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Julian Ramirez

Hip Hop Fri Apr 17 2015

Kendrick Lamar Joins BJ The Chicago Kid "It's True" Remix

As hip-hop is the most adaptable genre, the sounds between the MCs' words are what induce the lyrics, pulling the listener to a different type of high.

This being said, the sounds of Motown crooner BJ The Chicago Kid — equal parts silky neo-soul, babymaking R&B and confessional hip-hop — offer an introspective depth and inherent Chicago color to any of his hip-hop features. Especially those with West Coast hip-hop collective Black Hippy, which includes Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock and Ab-Sol: BJ The Chicago Kid is consistently their music's outstanding dark horse.

The remix of BJ's hood tale-telling track "It's True" dropped April 13, taking a reflective look into the hardships of life on the streets. In addition to the original Schoolboy Q verse and smooth hook from BJ's latest mixtape The M.A.F.E. Project, the remix features a brand-new verse from Punch, president of indie label Top Dawg Entertainment, and the following bone-chilling bars from Kendrick Lamar:

"California economics, killer assignments
School test scores drop, murder rates climbin'
Scarface where you watch, try to reenact
And launched over the balcony, buck shots in our backs
Every day casualties got me losin' my sanity
Can this be within arm reach? I'm all panicky"

BJ has had an extensive career, mostly from behind the spotlight of major artists: penning songs for the likes of Mary J. Blige and Jill Scott and singing backup for artists such as Mary Mary, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Diddy-Dirty Money, Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar and that Tupac hologram at Coachella. His debut album, Pineapple Now-Laters, is heavily influenced by his Chicago roots, complete with his trademark sensual R&B grooves.

Check out the remix, below, or the the original music video, created by local production crew Verluxe:

Emily Ornberg

Review Wed Apr 15 2015

Beat Kitchen Rocked Out With Colleen Green and Upset

colleengreen.jpgWhen this show was first announced it was only the pairing of Collen Green and Upset, who had just released I Want to Grow Up and '76 EP respectively. The lineup for this show at Beat Kitchen slowly grew larger as the date crept up. Two local acts, Sam Vicari and Impulsive Hearts, were added to the already worthwhile show. Little did I know that I would walk away from this show with a couple new bands to follow and a greater appreciation of the ones I already loved.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Sun Apr 12 2015

Caribou Spent an Evening at the Metro


Dan Snaith just seems like a nice guy. It might be his low-key stage presence. It might be all the smiling he does onstage. It might be his innate Canadian-ness. Whatever it is, it immediately imbues whatever venue he's playing at with a comfortable, laid back, 'happy-to-be-here' vibe.

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Celeste Mallama

Review Sat Apr 11 2015

Dr. Dog Psyched Out Thalia Hall on Friday


Experiencing Dr. Dog live is a lot of things all at once. It's a blast of color. It's an inundation of lights. It's a dance party. It's a total treat for the mind, the ear and the eye. It's a completely communal and completely solitary experience all at once. It's a heck of a lot of fun.

The east coast psych rockers graced Chicago with three shows this weekend -- one at Thalia Hall, one at House of Blues, and one at Lincoln Hall -- and they kicked the weekend off right at Thalia Hall last night. Playing to a packed, super excitable, dance ready, sold-out crowd, the Pennsylvania natives brought their A-game and the material from their newest album Live From A Flamingo Hotel which they dropped at the beginning of this year.

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Celeste Mallama

Review Wed Apr 01 2015

Ibeyi and Flo Morrissey Connected with Lincoln Hall

ibeyi2.jpgThere is something really special about Ibeyi. Twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz imbue an abundance of culture into their music, finding just the right words to sing in English, French, and Yoruban. Their self-titled debut is a gorgeous collection of songs that cling to a beautiful and devastating history, looking at personal and universal conditions without ever faltering to platitudes. This past weekend Lincoln Hall was treated to an incredible performance by Ibeyi and Flo Morrissey, a singer-songwriter from the UK. These three performers are wise beyond their years. That seems like an overused descriptor of young and talented artists, but I assure you it applies to these three musicians.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Tue Mar 31 2015

Peeling Back the Layers of Earl Sweatshirt

Riding off the explosive release of his dynamic debut album Doris, Odd Future's rambunctious MC Earl Sweatshirt abruptly abandoned his worldwide tour, citing a "lack of self-maintenance" and confessing he wore himself down — physically and mentally — to the end of his rope.

Emerging from the shadows eight months later spiraling in bleak sincerity, Earl launched his introspective sophomore effort I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside on March 23. Now he's embarking on a colossal tour, aptly titled "Not Ready 2 Leave," which stopped at Chicago's Concord Music Hall on March 29.

The crowd received a fervid opening act from Chicago newbie Remy Banks — who proclaimed he was "too high" to perform (an irony not lost on audience members who were unable to sneak a puff of anything unless they wanted to be ejected by beefy security guards). He was followed by West Coast MC Vince Staples, who was unable to keep the energy burning, even in a Metallica T-shirt. That is, until Earl appeared.

"Y'all ready to have some fun?" A bulkier, khakied and afroed Earl invited the audience, "Cuz we 'bout to take it the gangsta route."

After the crowd settled in, Earl began to clear his throat as he hesitated to introduce his new material. As he admitted in recent interviews, I Don't Like Shit is the first album that he feels fully confident in its truthful expression. It's dark stuff, hollowed and empty, slowed flow and scratching self-production, but juxtaposed against his earlier, more commercial tracks, he's beginning to take off the mask and let us in.

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Emily Ornberg

Review Thu Mar 26 2015

TV on the Radio Gave the Metro a Strikingly Intense Night

TVOTR1.jpgTV on the Radio have been around for a little over a decade and they have been releasing the most unique albums I've ever heard. Their music grabs inspiration from such varied sources and are brought together in such innovative ways, it seems like they are forever destined to be ahead of their time. Last year they released Seeds, their first album since Gerard Smith's passing. As a huge fan of TV on the Radio, Smith's passing came at a time where it affected me greatly. It was a loss that certainly could have stopped TV on the Radio in its tracks, but instead it strengthened and encouraged the band to continue creating. Seeds feel like a beautiful tribute to Smith, featuring some of the brightest songs the group has written. It's a testament to their ability and fortitude to strive forward without forgetting of their past .This past Monday, TV on the Radio stopped by the Metro and showed their resilience and amazing showmanship to a sold out audience.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Mon Mar 23 2015

Schubas Was Entranced By Craft Spells

craftspelle.jpg Craft Spells, primarily the project of Justin Paul Vallesteros, started out with some instantly great electronic pop. But in the three years between his debut Idle Labor and last year's Nausea, there was a shift to a more organic sound. Vallesteros produced a more mature tone than his first album by bringing in live instrumentation and writing songs for the piano. It was a change that showed just how diverse Craft Spells and the genre he operates in can be. Last week, Craft Spells was joined by The Bilinda Butchers and Tiny Fireflies at Schubas, where the three bands showed off how varied and interesting dreamy pop can be.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Mon Mar 16 2015

Brazilian Girls Treated Thalia Hall to a Dance Party

braziliangirls2.jpgIt's been quite a while since Brazilian Girls have released an album together. Last year we got a little taste of the band through lead singer Sabina Sciubba's solo debut Toujours. But it's coming on seven years since New York City, the last album Brazilian Girls released together. It's strange not having the group's eclectic dance music buzzing around or a steady stream of their unbelievably fun live shows. Sciubba has a knack for combining theatrical antics to Brazilian Girls' performances. After years of random appearances, Brazilian Girls have finally returned in earnest. Last week, they foursome made a stop in Pilsen at the magnificent Thalia Hall with a few new songs and a promise in tow.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Tue Mar 03 2015

The Growlers Changed the Tides at Lincoln Hall

growlers1.jpg My cousin and I have been to dozens upon dozens of concerts and we have noticed something about Chicago crowds over the years. There was a time where the overarching generality about Chicago audiences was that we were a somber bunch, quietly dancing in place no matter how intense the band was. Recently, we've seen an upswing in energy. The tides have been changing. There is still reverence for shows when appropriate, but the rowdiness factor has certainly risen. There's more dancing, jumping, pushing, and people just let go to the music. An animated group of people can affect an experience, giving the atmosphere a more raucous note for better or worse. Luckily the wild mood of the crowd leaned towards the better for The Growlers and BRONCHO during the last night of two sold-out shows at Lincoln Hall.

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Julian Ramirez / Comments (2)

Review Fri Feb 27 2015

The Chicago Party Is the Place to Be

The best thing about Numero Group is that they are determined to give forgotten musicians their due. They carefully mull over the strangest and most obscure sections of musical history in order to curate amazing compilations. Over the past few months, the archival record label has set their sights on the late '70s and early '80s post-disco era of Chicago. There are so many acts that truly deserve attention from this time and Numero Group has been dolling out great releases

December saw four 45s from the time period including music from Universal Togetherness Band, Jesus Wayne, and Donnell Pitman. A larger more detailed compilation of Universal Togetherness Band gave a deeper look into the funk filled sounds that were sadly being left behind during the era. These releases were a primer for the centerpiece of this collection, Ultra High Frequencies: The Chicago Party. This music and video collection takes a look at content of "The Chicago Party," a more realistic and older-skewing version of Soul Train that aired for 23 Saturday nights on WCIU-TV during 1982.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Thu Feb 26 2015

Hozier Took the Riv to Church on Wednesday Night


2014 was a big year for Hozier. Along with dropping his From Eden EP and his self titled debut album in September, the Irish singer songwriter was also named Spotify's Top Viral Artist of 2014. But really every year has been a big one for Hozier since his career started, considering that it was just a little over a year ago in 2013 that the video for "Take Me to Church" went viral.

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Celeste Mallama

Review Tue Feb 24 2015

Swans Loudly Helped Thalia Hall Reach Transcendence

swansth.jpgIt's incredibly hard to prepare for a Swans concert. It makes no difference whether you're familiar with Swans' leader Michael Gira and his experimental post-rock or not. Their live show is consistently visceral experience that tests the very idea of the band and the creation of music. Swans' songs have never been easy to take in as they dredge down to some very scathing and torturous sounds. Despite the inherent harshness, there is a longing for love underlining their existence that somehow become incredibly rewarding the more you listen. It's a tumultuous back and forth that makes the band all the more interesting.

The closest one can get to being ready for a Swans show is to listen to their latest work. Their last two albums The Seer and To Be Kind clocked in over two hours a piece, indulging further into Gira's dark and inviting noises. These albums are the height of Gira and his current bandmates impressive collaboration. This weekend at Thalia Hall, Swans performed about six songs during their near non-stop two hour plus performance. It was one of the loudest and most transcendent concerts I've had the pleasure of attending.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Mon Feb 23 2015

An Evening of Rock Splendor @ House of Blues, 2/25

Alright, Chicagoans, it's time to step out of the arctic tundra that we live in currently, and treat yourself to something joyful this week. Defrost your heavy hearts and enjoy some quality music, something that reminds you of the happier times, the warmer times.

Wednesday evening at House of Blues presents us with a musical smorgasbord to feast on, laden with summery rock bands perfect for allowing us to pretend we are not in the throes of winter, just for one evening. Curated by 101WKQX, a station committed to introducing listeners to up-and-coming, fresh music with its Queued Up series, the Queued Up Artist Series show will feature four emerging bands to introduce fans new and old to their diverse and standout musical offerings.

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Sarah Brooks

Artist Mon Feb 23 2015

Greil Marcus: Legends in Words and Music at the Old Town School

Marcus, Langford and Timms.

Greil Marcus is a legend among music writers. He's one of the world's first rock and pop critics and author of more than a dozen books on music themes and musicians such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and The Doors. Thursday night he sat on stage at the Old Town School's comfy Maurer Hall to talk about his new book and listen to the music of two more legends, Chicagoans Jon Langford and Sally Timms, formerly of punk band The Mekons.

On a national book tour for his latest work, The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs (Yale University Press 2014), the evening was filled with Marcus' reading and reminiscences of our shared history in music, as well as live performances.

The 10 songs that Marcus uses to bind together our musical history are not the 10 you might think. No "Blue Suede Shoes," no "Purple Rain," no "Born to Run." Instead, Marcus writes about "songs that have traveled through time," gaining meaning as they are performed in different versions by many musicians.

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Nancy Bishop

Review Thu Feb 19 2015

Sleater-Kinney Reminds Chicago They're the Queens of Rock & Roll

sleaterkinneyriv.jpgBack in 2006, Sleater-Kinney announced an unelaborated and indefinite hiatus, leaving their fans with little to no hope of seeing the band together again. It may seem like an overreaction but that is at the very least how I felt as a burgeoning adult losing one of his favorite bands. Granted in the following years all the members continued making amazing music. Corin Tucker released a couple of albums that I gravitated to immediately. Drummer extraordinaire Janet Weiss played with nearly every other band I like including the Jicks, Quasi, and the Shins. Carrie Brownstein added writing and acting to her repertoire, all the while making more and more music. When Weiss joined Carrie Brownstein on Wild Flag, it was the closest thing to a Sleater-Kinney reunion most fans could clear see at the time.

Thankfully, with the release of their box set Start Together last year, new music emerged and a fully formed concept of the band returned. No Cities to Love, their first album in a decade, doesn't feel like a simple reunion album. I don't think Sleater-Kinney is capable of that. Every song on the album is a new classic that makes it seem like they never actually left. That was definitely the feeling at the Riviera, where the crowd jumped and sang along with Sleater-Kinney in an amazing show.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Sat Feb 14 2015

Chappo Led Schubas Down the Rabbit Hole on Friday, 2/13

Looking like a mythical bird creature, cosseted in feathers protruding from his shoulders, and with a painted eye coolly and majestically surveying the scene from his back, Alex Chappo of Brooklyn based psych-pop-garage-rock band Chappo led the crowd down the rabbit hole at Schubas on Friday evening.

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Celeste Mallama

Review Fri Feb 13 2015

Kaki King and Celine Neon Enthralled Lincoln Hall

Kaki King has been creating beautifully intricate songs for years. Her work is mostly wordless, letting her guitar work to speak for itself save for a few lovely lyrics in songs here and there. Recently she has taken this instrumental focus to a marvelous extreme with her multimedia art piece The Neck Is A Bridge To The Body, which King performed this past Wednesday at Lincoln Hall. The art piece is a collaboration between King's complex guitar work and Glowing Pictures' visual artists including Beth Wexler who was in control of the visuals. The whole production centers around King's white guitar as it transforms itself into a unique canvas for the ever evolving video art. The kaleidoscope of imagery was as strange and wonderful as it sounded coming through King's guitar.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Tue Feb 10 2015

Galactic Brings the Mardi Gras Party @ Concord, 2/6

"This is NOT a jam band," I insisted to my friend on Saturday evening at Concord Music Hall as we waited patiently for the show from revered New Orleans funk outfit Galactic to begin. No offense to those who prefer jam bands, I have just never been able to enjoy their music as much as I have tried. Though Galactic's own site description touts their identity as a funk and jazz jam band, their description is much more intricate as it is entwined with traditions of music that has emerged before their time, which created a one-of-a-kind experience for those in attendance.

San Francisco group Monophonics opened up the show with an energy-packed set. A musical army setting up camp onstage, the group ensemble featured vocals, drums, trumpet, saxophone, and more. Formed from three previous ensembles, the group began with a variety of live performances in the Bay area, and released their first album, self-produced, in 2006. Adding two more albums throughout their career, the Monophonics have built a loyal fan base and intriguing, ear-catching sounds. Lead vocalist Kelly Finnigan's voice is smooth and pristine, allowing for the emotion and force that comes with singing soul music. The heartache-ridden "Deception" was the standout moment of the set for me, when wailing vocals were complemented by careening horn backdrops. They ended their strong set with one of their most popular tunes, "Bang Bang," a dark and delectable crowd-pleaser.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Sat Jan 31 2015

Schubas Got Down with Saint Motel on Friday Night


It might've been chilly outside on Friday night in Chicago, but inside Schubas Tavern things were heating up -- fairy lights were twinkling, Panama hats were being sported, and a sold out crowd was getting down with LA indie popsters Saint Motel.

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Celeste Mallama

Review Fri Jan 30 2015

Bahamas Took Another Trip to Chicago


"I feel like a golfer at a PGA tournament" singer songwriter David McMillin joked to the sold out and reverently quiet crowd at Lincoln Hall on Thursday evening. McMillin (who was voted best folk, country, or Americana act by the Reader in 2008) moved between guitar and keyboard for his set, working his way through his solo material as well as tracks "White Roses" and "Plastic Hearts" from his Chicago based band Fort Frances. The singer-songwriter played beautiful Americana that ranged in style from upbeat folk to heart wrenching ballads, but he never took himself too seriously onstage, jokingly telling the crowd as he pulled on his harmonica: "I got my beard stuck in this last night. So you know it was a good excuse to clean myself up... although not too much obviously," as he pointed at his scruffy facial hair.

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Celeste Mallama

Review Fri Jan 23 2015

Fall in Love with the Universal Togetherness Band

Universal-Togetherness-Band.jpgThe Numero Group is easily the most well curated archival record label. They find a way of digging through decades of musical offerings and shining a light on forgotten or mishandled musicians, giving them the spotlight the always deserved. Their releases span the world with the label's hometown of Chicago being no exception.

Recently they have been looking a pretty obscure segment of Chicago history. During 23 weeks of 1982, "The Chicago Party" hit WCIU airways with a heavy dose of R&B, disco, funk, and soul. It was a more authentic and outrageous "Soul Train," embodying the Chicago South Side at the time. This week The Numero Group released a small collection of songs from one of those performers, Chicago's Universal Togetherness Band, a band that you didn't know you loved until now.

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Julian Ramirez

Tomorrow Never Knows Sun Jan 18 2015

Alvvays Bring Sunshine Vibes to Schubas, 11/17

The inventive Toronto five-piece Alvvays crafted one of my favorite releases of 2014. After swiftly building their fan base, their debut self-titled album featured summery rhythms, that infectious twee sound, and stunning vocals by lead singer Molly Rankin. Would the sugary melodies be too sweet in a live setting, or would they prove to decrease our winter blues just a little bit?

Carbon Tigers opened up the Tomorrow Never Knows Festival show at Schubas with their powerhouse ballads. I honestly think they could have headlined their own show with the spiritual-experience-inducing tunes. Begun in Chicago, their sound is unique and inventive, with lead vocalist Chris Wienke's commanding vocals drawing you in instantly. They dazzled the crowd with songs off of their first and second EPs, and off of their full length album being released this year. They shared their penchant for learning covers of their favorite songs, and played an exquisite version of Chris Isaak's hypnotizing "Wicked Game."

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Sarah Brooks

Review Sun Jan 11 2015

Bloodshot Records Toasted its 20th Anniversary at the Metro


While nobody was looking, Bloodshot Records turned 20. The iconic Chicago label, which has boasted the likes of Ryan Adams, Andrew Bird, and the Old 97's on their roster, took over the Metro on Saturday to toast the big birthday.

While the lineup for the night started out as Banditos, Bobby Bare Jr, Jon Langford, Lydia Loveless and Ben Kweller, it morphed unexpectedly throughout the night. Local favorites JC Brooks and the Uptown sound took the stage after Banditos much to the crowd's delight. With his normal flair and panache, JC Brooks strolled onstage in a brimmed black hat and a pair of huge sunglasses, and the band powered their way through a speedy mash-up of tracks off their 2013 album Howl. After the 10-minute montage, JC went off-stage for a quick wardrobe change, coming back on in a fringed cowboy jacket, absolutely appropriate as the band finished up with a cover of Ryan Adams' "To Be Young" off the 2000 masterpiece Heartbreaker and a perfect example of the insurgent country that Bloodshot brought to the forefront so many years ago (the track is covered by Blitzen Trapper on the label's 20th anniversary compilation disc).

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Celeste Mallama / Comments (2)

Review Sat Dec 06 2014

Wilco Winterlude: Night One in Review


20 years. That's how long influential indie rock band, Wilco, has been crafting their tunes together, with Jeff Tweedy at the helm of the group's influential journey. Much to the delight of their Chicago fans, they've decided to play six nights at Uptown's Riviera Theater, performing each song from their discography only once, and spanning their entire musical career.

We've seen them move from creating rockabilly Americana tunes on their earliest records Wilco A.M. and Being There, to moving into uncharted territory with their unique and visionary folk records Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, A Ghost is Born, and Sky Blue Sky, culminating in their newest records, Wilco and The Whole Love. As their craft becomes evolved, their core identity remains the same. Lush guitar backdrops, delicately created lyrics, and their pure folk sound stay unchanged and untarnished.

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Sarah Brooks / Comments (4)

Review Wed Dec 03 2014

Lincoln Hall Drifted Off With Allah-Las and Tashaki Miyaki

allahlas2.jpgThe past couple years have been good to Allah-Las. They have gotten better and better with every passing performance, honing their skills and building up a reputation of great shows. Their latest album, Worship the Sun has the band completely submersed in their music, becoming more than just another simple 60s psychedelic revival. Allah-Las embody the sound so well they seem displaced in time and we in the present are all the better for it. This past weekend Allah-Las returned to Chicago and took Lincoln Hall on a very satisfying musical journey.

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Julian Ramirez

Hip Hop Mon Dec 01 2014

Vic Mensa Rocks the Metro (Nov. 28)


I saw Chance the Rapper at the Riv at year. I think it was either the day before or the day after Thanksgiving. It was a sold out show, shortly after Acid Rap had come out and he was excellent. It was the performance of an emergence. As Chance juked around stage under the bright lights, rapping along with thousands of fans, you felt that something was happening. Coincidentally, this performance was the first time I saw Vic Mensa and the last time I saw DJ Rashad before he passed away.

Let me clarify. I'd seen Mensa once or twice before as the lead singer for Kids These Days and I'd heard his then recently released Innanetape mixtape, but watching Mensa cameo during "Cocoa Butter Kisses" during Chance's homecoming set was my first glimpse of seeing him as a solo artist. Fast forward almost exactly a year later. After touring around the world and releasing a series of singles, Vic Mensa returned to Chicago for a sold out homecoming show at the Metro, also during Thanksgiving.

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Justin Freeman

Review Mon Dec 01 2014

Death From Above 1979 Came Down on the Riviera

DFA1979.jpgThere is nearly a ten year gap between Death From Above 1979's You're a Woman, I'm a Machine and their second album The Physical World. One would think that with so much time having passed that Jesse F. Keeler and Sebastien Grainger would have lost a step or at the very least drifted to far from their initial sound. It's a fair concern considering how different the two member may be. Luckily, these notions could easily placed aside with the release of The Physical World. DFA1979 continues right where they left off by elevating the melodic undertones of their sound to the forefront while maintaining the heavy rock.They have been touring in support of their reformation and made their way to the Riviera last week for one of the loudest shows of the year.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Tue Nov 25 2014

Schubas Warmed Up with Kevin Barnes and Está Vivo

kevin barnes1.jpgThe first thing I think of when I hear Of Montreal is the rich imagination of Kevin Barnes. He has managed to create a dozen records filled with a surreal psychedelic pop that transport you increasingly magnificent locations. It was no surprise then when Barnes spoke and performed at Museum of Contempory Art Chicago for their David Bowie exhibit last Thursday. It's a combination that seems to have been made in heaven. Judging by his music and stage presence with Of Montreal, you can see the direct lineage from Bowie to Barnes. They both exude otherworldly attributes that enlighten and elevate you to their level. Even as Barnes was toned down from his exuberant theatrical Of Montreal persona, he was still able to invoke a powerful presence while performing a tender and intimate set for his astoundingly loyal fans for a sold out show at Schubas this past weekend.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Wed Nov 19 2014

Modern Baseball, Knuckle Puck, and Foxing Take Over the Bottom Lounge Nov. 15


Phrases like "emo revival" have become buzzwords often used to describe this current generation of bands who grew up listening to Taking Back Sunday, used Hawthorne Heights lyrics as away messages on AOL Instant Messenger away as proto-subtweets, and were thoroughly obsessed with almost anything that Equal Vision Records released. I really don't think that's accurate, though.

The mainstream may have lost its infatuation with the genre in the mid to late 2000's, roughly around when Sonny Moore transformed himself from the screamo savant of From First to Last to the EDM messiah Skrillex and when Fall Out Boy found themselves taking a quick break before going on a self imposed quest to "Save Rock and Roll," but the genre lived on as new brands emerged and older bands took on mentorship roles. This past Saturday at Bottom Lounge, I was able to see several of these emerging bands.

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Justin Freeman

Review Thu Nov 06 2014

The Riviera had a Lovely Day with Alt-J

altj1.jpgI didn't give Δ, pronounced alt-J, a fair chance when they released their initial EP and subsequent album An Awesome Wave. It was more than likely a combination of something just not clicking with the songs I had heard. Maybe it was the convolution of their name, the Mac key sequence to produce the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet that indicates change in mathematical equations. Whatever the reason, it wasn't until my sister Kayla insisted that they were indeed a good band and that I should take a second listen. My resistance to the band would ultimately not make sense considering how strange and inventive they turned out to be.

Since then I've been an advocate of Joe Newman's weird warbling voice and the band's complex compositions. Δ came to the Riviera this past weekend and reaffirmed my sister' assertions of quality. They played and 18-song set, touching upon everything one would hope for, and it was breathtaking.

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Julian Ramirez / Comments (1)

Review Wed Nov 05 2014

Slowdive & Low Flowed Steadily into The Vic

slowdivevi.jpgSlowdive made their return to music after nearly 20 years of absence. It says a lot that a band with only three albums to their name has ad as much attention and fervor associated with their reunion. You could chalk it up to nostalgia of a better time, but their sound has a much more eternal quality. I am almost certainly on the younger end of Slowdive fans considering my newborn status at the time of their formation, nonetheless I've been enchanted by their dreamy sound for years. Their return fills me with unfettered joy and stands a chance for their songs to get the due they richly deserve.

The reunion tour has placed Slowdive with a really apt pairing, placing Low's softer and mellower music as a lead in to Slowdive's more expansive wave of sound is one of those perfect transitions. This past week's show at the Vic was Slowdive's second time playing in Chicago this year, following up the amazing performance at Pitchfork Festival this summer. With a closed and more sound-pleasing venue, Slowdive simply couldn't, and didn't, disappoint.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Tue Nov 04 2014

Ben Frost Creates Panic at Constellation (10/31)

photo credit: Kelav Slavoran

As I left my apartment to see Ben Frost the other day, the weather shifted. The sky changed to a ominous shade of black. An inescapable coldness filled the air as flakes of snow fell from the sky, their luminous white color in stark contrast of the overwhelming darkness around them. It was beautiful.

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Justin Freeman

Review Sat Nov 01 2014

Dial In, Rasplyn & Brash Flair Shared Their Eclectic Sounds with Schubas

Sometimes it's better not knowing much about the musical acts you're going to see. It's an incredibly great feeling to be surprised and turned into a genuine fan of musicians that you were unfamiliar with. Such was the case this past week at Schubas, where I was met with an diverse and all around fantastic collection of local musicians. Originally I was expecting to see Gemma Ray, but her cancellation came far in advance and I was ready to experience what the Chicago music scene had to offer. Turns out I got way more than I was expecting from all three acts. The groove-able sounds of Brash Flair, the darky mystical Rasplyn, and the electronically inclined rock of Dial In delivered a great eclectic night of Chicago musicians at Schubas.

brash flair.jpgThe duo of Kristin Johnston and Joshua Wentz started off the evening as Brash Flair and they really impressed me. Their sound is really a complex assortment of beautifully arranged beats and keys cast beneath Johnston's unwavering voice. The music and vocals never fight for attention, rather melding together in a sonically satisfying array. Their songs are ambient electronic music that often finds itself spread across genres. There elements of glitch sewn into some song that end up experimenting with an almost modern hip hop beats. They created lush and dense soundscapes that rise up to these intricate highs that transcend the sum of the parts. "Good Morning" was a particularly powerful stand out in their set, showcasing Johnston's voice prominently. Johnston and Wentz continuously switched places behind their setup, taking control of every aspect of their flowing sound with an effortless grace. They ended their set by building up a song on the fly, a beautiful expression of how well the duo work together.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Wed Oct 29 2014

Hozier Takes Us to Church @ Metro, 10/26

Hozier is a name I've been hearing quite frequently lately, buzzing about my city, and surely beyond. Whether it is hearing his hit song, "Take Me To Church," on radio station after radio station, and music stream after music stream, or talking to my friends about his emotive, expressive rock sound infused with folk, I was overjoyed to see him perform his breakout album live to a sold out crowd at the Metro, with the show opened by the talented James Bay.

James Bay is a new force to be reckoned with. A London-based artist at only 23 years old, he is able to craft effortless folk music that entrances and captivates from the moment he sings his first lyric. He has released two EPs in the past two years, which have allowed him to attract a fan base to his deliberate musical style from both the UK and the US.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Sat Oct 25 2014

Open Mike Eagle and Serengeti Elevated Rap at Empty Bottle

openmikeeagle2.jpgThere are many names for alternative rap, the spectrum of hip hop that looks deeper into the craft of the verses and beats. Open Mike Eagle calls his version of the genre Art Rap and I couldn't imagine a better way to describe it. Eagle, along with Serengeti and Jeremiah Jae, create wordy and ultimately more fulfilling tracks, putting emphasis on characters and message while still putting up memorable tracks. Eagle's Dark Comedy and Serengeti's Sisyphus project and his forthcoming Kenny Dennis III are easily shaping up to be the best alternative rap albums of the year. This past week, the three rappers stopped by Empty Bottle and put on a solid rap show.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Tue Oct 21 2014

Schubas Swooned For John Mark Nelson and Kara Laudon

kara loudin.jpgThis past Friday I was supposed to go see Haley Bonar at Schubas. Earlier that morning on her Facebook page she announced that she would not be able to perform that evening due to laryngitis. With an upcoming tour in Europe, it made sense for her to rest up. While such news is usually a downer, Bonar had luckily announced that the show was going to be carried on by her opener John Mark Nelson and Kara Laudon. I was only slightly familiar with Nelson and Laudon's music, but after a second or two of hearing them perform I knew that Bonar had left Chicago in the amazing hands of two wonderful musicians

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Julian Ramirez

Review Sat Oct 18 2014

Owl John Tugged The Bottom Lounge's Heartstrings

Years ago I was given a copy of Frightened Rabbit's first album Sing the Greys and instantly knew that Scott Hutchison's songs would be something I would want to seek out. When The Midnight Organ Fight was released, it cemented Frightened Rabbit and Hutchison in my mind as one of the best modern bands. Every song simply grabbed me, leaving me aching for the same reason they ached. Hutchison's ability to capture little idiosyncratic moments into a universal understanding is uncanny. This past Wednesday Hutchison performed a lengthy set under his solo moniker Owl John at the Bottom Lounge, further showing his ability to captivate with his songs.

wedding dress.jpgChicago's Wedding Dress opened the night up quite well. The group is a nice collection of other Chicago area band including Maps & Atlases, Joan of Arc, and Suns. Together they create a dreamy indie rock sound that is accented with some interesting features. The slow and atmospheric build up to "Dangerous Living" had an almost post-rock quality to it before it submerged itself into the band's more identifiable sound. That's not to say that their music isn't filled with surprises, though. There is a bit of experimentation happening throughout their songs, particularly in when group blends in some interesting drums and keys into their work. The cover of Wild Beast's "The Devil's Crayon" fit the band quite well, really making it their own especially through Erin Elders vocals. They ended their set with "Simple Cords," which has the band at their most entertainingly folky.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Thu Oct 16 2014

Shuffling with Bombay Bicycle Club @ Park West, 10/14


Bombay Bicycle Club is a group I've always admired. Though their musical efforts have evolved immensely since their first release, they maintain their initial identity and make music infused with their own unique candor. Tuesday evening brought about a tour de force pairing of musical acts to showcase their unique talents at the intimate Park West venue: Luxley, Milo Greene, and the stars of the show, Bombay Bicycle Club.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Wed Oct 01 2014

WHY? Undoubtedly Wowed Lincoln Hall

why.jpgOriginally, Why? was the solo project of Yoni Wolf, but with the release of the Sanddollars E.P. and Elephant Eyelash, Why? became a full band project. The music became cohesive melding of hip hop and indie rock, always moving between the two without being held down by either of them. His songs are colorful and verbose, creating intense imagery that never fails to impress. Why? came to Lincoln Hall this weekend for a two night stint, which he announced would be made up of two completely different set lists. I had the opportunity to see him on the first night and was blown away.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Thu Sep 25 2014

James Murphy Hasn't Lost His Edge (DJ set at Smartbar, 9/18)


James Murphy has kept himself busy since the end of LCD Soundsystem a few years ago. He runs and curates the much respected DFA Records. He also travels around the world as a DJ who is highly sought after for his encyclopedic knowledge of all things groove and disco.

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Justin Freeman

Review Tue Sep 23 2014

Nellie McKay and Diana Lawrence Charm an Appreciative SPACE

nelliemckay.jpgI can still vividly remember walking into a big box store and purchasing a CD of Get Away From Me, the amazing double album debut of Nellie McKay. I had seen the album online on some random message board thread heralding the best albums of 2004. The cover's unlikely combination of visuals grabbed me. McKay, with her golden locks spilling out of her red hooded coat, looked completely out of place in front of the graffiti packed brick wall. Toward the bottom left corner of the cover laid the stark parental advisory warning. I couldn't understand how all these elements came together, but I needed to find out. I quickly walked out of the store and began playing the album in my father's car. I fell in love with the brilliant storytelling, beautiful instrumentation, and rapping ability of Nellie McKay. A mix of jazz, hip hop, blues and countless other genres appeared on McKay's oeuvre over the next decade and every one of them was gracefully mastered by her voice. This past weekend, Nellie McKay came to SPACE and showed every bit of her mastery.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Sat Sep 20 2014

Lincoln Hall Gets Weird With Tobacco

tobacco4.jpgTobacco is weird. Luckily, it's the kind of weird that offers up one of the most entertaining and abstract musical artists today. Thomas Fec, the man behind Tobacco and head of the psychedelic Black Moth Super Rainbow, has built an irreverent lore around himself. It's a haze of b-movie shocks, fuzzy statements, and recently some beard rubbing. Take the Nickelodeon commercial incident, where Fec feigned interest about his music being used without permission. That event actually had Fec reveling in the silliness surrounding it by using Nickelodeon-esque visuals for online promos and inserting the word scrote into the vernacular of his fan base. The half serious, half joking oddities revolving around his electronic pop fused with gnarring sounds enhance the experience of Tobaxxo, as its occasionally stylized. This week, Fec along with BMSR cohort The Seven Fields of Aphelion, Maureen Boyle, put on an amazing show at Lincoln Hall.

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Julian Ramirez / Comments (1)

Review Wed Sep 17 2014

Shabazz Palaces Experiments with Lincoln Hall

20140914_000519(1).jpgExperimental hip hop has on the rise recently; bringing influxes of strange and often thought to be counterintuitive elements into the hip hop world with great results. The experimentation with beats and flows has been reaching an tremendous peak over the last few years, with Shabazz Palaces being very close to the top. The group, consisting of Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire, meshes incredibly dense verses while reaching out for more obscure sounds from a number of genres including jazz, funk, and tribal music. The combination is at times off-putting, making more artistic hip hop than the usual party anthems. Shabazz Palaces fights their way through the norm and emerges with a complexity that few are capable of achieving. They put this complexity on full display at Lincoln Hall this past weekend.

Chicago's own Chandeliers set the tone for the night with their entrancing electronic sound. The songs they played had an impressive depth, layering both synthetic sounds and a live drum into the set. I wouldn't be surprised if a rapper repurposed Chandelier's compositions as beats they have an inherent hip hop quality, blurring the edge between the more ambient moments and the bass intense sections in their tracks. The trio, Chris Kalis, Harry Brenner, and Scott McGaughey, performed in a facing one another in what looked like a trance. Projected above them were equally absorbing visuals, reminding me of an endless tracking VHS copy of the stargate scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was easy to just let go and groove along with the band as they embodied the epitome of a late night vibe.

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Julian Ramirez / Comments (1)

Riot Fest Tue Sep 16 2014

Riot Fest 2014: Day 3

Blue Meanies 1.jpg
Blue Meanies by Katie Hovland

This year's Riot Fest was an amalgam of sights, sounds, and even weather conditions. From a brutal freezing rain that left sopping muddy grounds, to a blazing sun shining down without a cloud in the sky, this 10th anniversary celebration was definitely bringing all of the elements out for its many, many attendees. Luckily, the musical offerings were absolutely top-notch as we got to watch sets from emerging hopefuls complemented by powerhouse performances by legendary rockers in an incredible environment. As the festival grounds shifted and became bigger and better, so did the experience, as we were invited to watch the festival grow together, and we look forward to where it will be taken in the next 10 years.
Sarah Brooks

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Justin Freeman / Comments (1)

Riot Fest Sun Sep 14 2014

Riot Fest 2014: Day 2

Television by Katie Hovland

After Friday's rain, the situation at Humboldt Park remained incredibly muddy. Once again, this is not Riot Fest's fault as they certainly don't control the weather, but overwhelming patches of mud and deep puddles of collected rainwater were everywhere, making navigation a continued difficulty. Certain parts of the park appeared so bad, they seemed to be fenced off and quarantined. I found myself feeling kinda bad for the promoters of Riot Fest about the massive scope of damage -- the weather and the presences of thousands of concert goers had caused the park a lot of damage, and they're on the hook for park repairs. I've never seen damage this bad. I remember covering North Coast last year and it stormed so hard, they had to postpone opening the gates. It was pretty muddy but nowhere near as bad as what I've seen at Riot Fest this year. Large portions of what was once grass simply no longer exist and have been replaced with mud so thick, it snapped the heel of one of my boots off. It sucks, man. It's a bad hand to have been dealt. Thankfully the mud didn't prevent us from catching some pretty rad bands.
Justin Freeman

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Justin Freeman / Comments (1)

Riot Fest Sat Sep 13 2014

Riot Fest 2014: Day 1

One of the first thing you notice about Riot Fest is how large the festival has become. The second thing is the mud, but we'll get to that soon enough. During the previous two years, the festival took place in the smaller southern portion of Humboldt Park. Before that for the better part of a decade, it was scattered around town with shows happening at various clubs around the city. This year is Riot Fest's tenth anniversary and they've decided to go big in response.

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Justin Freeman

Review Fri Sep 12 2014

Jad Fair and Danielson Showed Schubas Their Solid Gold Heart

There is rarely a year where Jad Fair isn't a prolific and mesmerizing artist. 2014 is no different, seeing how he has released a new Half Japanese album Overjoyed and was named Joyful Noise Recordings' "Artist in Residence", which has Fair collaborating with four different artists to release four full length albums throughout the year. The most recent release, Solid Gold Heart, was made in conjunction with Daniel Smith of Danielson and the incredible Kramer. The album itself is a product only this grouping could make. It's a big and energetic display of pop songs at their most entertaining. They came to Schubas earlier this week to share the album with the Chicago crowd.

casey scott.jpgThe show started with Scott Ligon and Casey McDonough, members of the long running NRBQ. They both are great musicians with a wonderful handle on their instruments, which included a kazoo Ligon pulled out for a song or two. That being said, it was a bit surprising when they noted it was McDonough's first time playing the upright bass in public. There was no indication in his performance which was virtually flawless. The songs were a mix of NRBQ songs ad covers from a variety of artists including The Delmore Brothers and Roy Orbison. They even asked for a request, which came in the form of "Walk Right Back", originally recorded by The Everly Brothers, whose songs were covered quite a few times. "Bottom Buck", a song Ligon wrote with his brother in mind, was a nice bright spot of the set, which ended with a compassionate rendition of "Don't Blame Me". The duo garnered the approval of the audience and Jad Fair, who sat off to the side tapping his foot and applauding along with crowd.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Tue Sep 02 2014

North Coast: Day Three


Sunday was a rather chill day at North Coast. I started things off by catching some of Wild Belle, an indie band heavily influenced by Lee "Scratch" Perry and his stylings of reggae with pop sensibilities.

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Justin Freeman

North Coast Music Festival Sun Aug 31 2014

North Coast: Day Two

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I started the second day of North Coast with Future Islands, who I soon discovered are kinda captivating. I really didn't know much about them. I knew the name, I've heard a few random singles that I've enjoyed, and was about it. It was that in mind that I went to see them not quite knowing what to expect.

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Justin Freeman

Review Sat Aug 30 2014

The Dutchess and The Duke Return to the Empty Bottle

dutchessduke1.jpgIt's been four years since The Dutchess and The Duke, Kimberly Morrison and Jesse Lortz, were at the Empty Bottle for an epic and legendary show filled with stories about cowboy kisses and bar top dancing galore. A little after that the same year the duo called it quits, leaving behind two incredible albums, She's The Dutchess, He's The Duke and Sunset/Sunrise, drenched with warm memories of their lovely voices. Luckily the duo reunited this past Wednesday with a full band for a pair of Midwest shows, returning to an adoring crowd at the Empty Bottle.

Opening up the night was Brian Case of Disappears with a particularly interesting set consisting one uninterrupted study on sound. It definitely wasn't or everyone, but it's the sort of experimentation that I eagerly enjoy. Case played a slowly evolving drone, keeping it low and haunting as the deep bellows of the guitar would occasionally rise out, seemingly without warning. It was a very atmospheric performance, with Case's meditative rocking edging on transcendence, gently shifting the hum of his guitar for nearly 20 minutes.

The second opener diverged from Case's long dirge to incredibly short poppy songs of The Lemons. I would be surprised if any of the songs they performed clocked in longer than a couple minutes, which was really part of their charm. You know you're in for a treat with citrus centric stage names like John Lemon and Chris Twist are commonplace. The Lemon's rapid fire set was filled with just enough goofy cartoon voices from their drummer Juicy James and self-deprecating humor. "Is this our worst show?" they quietly quipped between some of the most enjoyable bubblegum pop I've heard in sometime. Their songs were danceable and instantly catchy, from the super sweet "My Candy Girl" to the cheerful "Best Day" that ended their set.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Sat Aug 30 2014

North Coast: Day One


It all started before I even walked into Union Park.

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Justin Freeman

Review Tue Aug 26 2014

Jeff Daniels Made SPACE Feel Like Home

jeffdanielsone.jpgThere is a pretty good chance you know Jeff Daniels from his acting roles. He has endlessly shown his acting proficiency, whether it's the nostalgically classic comedy Dumb and Dumber, his more serious turn in The Squid and the Whale, or roles that straddle the line between the two like in The Newsroom. What you may not know is that he is a very talented musician, playing guitar in a variety of genres including blues, jazz, folk, and a little bit country. He's been doing so for over well over a decade, taking his career as a musical artist as seriously as his acting. His ability to entertain as an actor spills over greatly into his music, making him even more of a storyteller than he already was. This past weekend, Jeff Daniels returned to SPACE for a sold out show.

Right off the bat one could tell the Jeff Daniels is incredibly comfortable on stage. He and his son's group, The Ben Daniels Band, began the show with a couple of songs before coming to Daniels first story of the night. It was the beginning of a great pattern, seamlessly transitioning from tales of his life to his wonderfully sincere songs. Through out the night he spoke of encounters with Jack Lemon, local pastors, and overstressed moms at malls with the same zeal. There was no pretense during his singing or storytelling. His performance honestly felt like it came from a different era, where a musician's relatability wasn't faked as it simply was cultivated by genuineness. It made the room feel like an inviting home with Daniels at the head of the table.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Mon Aug 25 2014

Robyn & Röyksopp Do It (Again) @ Millennium Park, 8/24

There's been a lot of hype over Robyn and Röyksopp's summer tour, but Robyn could tour with anyone and it'd draw well. It's only been a couple years since the doyenne of Swedish pop has played Chicago, though it's been a while longer since the Norwegian electronic duo's played here - at Metro in 2005. Unfortunately, the setup of a co-headlining show plus collaboration led to abbreviated sets from both acts. But what's important, quantity or quality?

Röyksopp's Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland walked out to a nice reception, dressed in neon chemical suits. The rest of the band was wisely decked out more appropriately for the humid weather during their 40-minute set. They reeled off a smattering of the band's singles and had a dazzling laser show through tunes that went from bouncy fun electro-pop ("Happy Up Here") to more serious techno ("Poor Leno"). To many in the crowd, it was just dance music and a warmup. But to fans, it was a good showcase of their broad talents after many years away.

Minutes after they were done, Robyn walked out to an eruption of applause. As always, her attire was outstanding - a soccer jersey, short shorts, thigh-high boots and an orange hoodie. Much of Robyn's music reaches back to early disco, with songs about heartbreak, identity and hope masked underneath pulsing beats and earworming rhythms. A lot of it's not exactly what you lovingly sing to your significant other, but instead the words you might mouth to the hottest person at a club or the one who got away. And, to that, it's important that the lyrics don't change when the musical arrangements are flipped. (How sick she must be of singing "Dancing On My Own" the same way every night for years now. The added dramatic pause let her cut at least one repeated chorus.) But through the changes ("Stars 4-Ever" with a late-era Motown vibe, "Call Your Girlfriend" getting the cheesy 80s treatment, etc.) she never let up on the energy. Although, it may be notable that she seemed brightest on the three new songs, especially the glitzy standout "Set Me Free." And, whether intentional or not, it was her oldest songs that sounded closest on Sunday to how they do recorded.

After a quick wardrobe change, Robyn and Röyksopp returned in silver masks for their collaborative set. Their Do It Again EP is generally more abstract than their most popular output and it didn't connect with the crowd, which led to a small exodus, especially during "Monument" when Robyn spent most of the song lying down. It's minimal, so more of a slow burn than the fist-pumping anthems that dominated the evening, but even those came back with the hypnotic "Do It Again" and 2009's "The Girl and the Robot" keeping people awake and reconsidering their choice to leave early. So was it the best show ever? No. But was it super fun and worth a few missteps? Absolutely.

James Ziegenfus

Review Fri Aug 22 2014

The Perfect SPACE for The Polyphonic Spree

polyphonic1.jpgThe Polyphonic Spree is a really big band. They often are made up of more then twenty members playing an impressive range of instruments. Although the band was pared down to around fifteen members for this showat SPACE in Evanston, it was very clear that the energy and talent was not scaled back at all. With no opener, The Polyphonic Spree played for a spectacular hour and forty five minutes. SPACE turned out to be the ideal venue for the band, big enough to house their still large numbers and enthusiasm, but intimate enough to create the perfect atmosphere for everyone at the show.

polyphonic2.jpgIt was near impossible upon entering the venue not to immediately notice the large white partition separating the crowd from the stage. It spanned across the room, attempting to obscure the plentiful colors and shiny streamers of the set display. Audience members, most of which were obviously die-hard fans of The Polyphonic Spree, would sneak glimpses from both ends of the divider, feeding their anticipation. That wait was infectious, spreading throughout Space till the moment the house lights went down and the soft blue beams lit up the opaque cloth followed by a steady plume of smoke. The wonderful droning of instruments was accompanied by faint hiss of a spray paint can that rose from behind the canvas, producing a decree written in reverse from the band's leader Tim DeLaughter. Every letter that appeared prompted a louder response than the last, ultimately convening the message: MAKE SOME ILLINOISE. The partition was brought down in quick flash, revealing the members of the night's Polyphonic Spree.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Thu Aug 21 2014

OK Go Charm Lincoln Hall


"It's so intimate in here. I can see everyone's faces. Does anyone have any questions?" asked OK Go vocalist Damian Kulash to a sold out crowd at Lincoln Hall last week. "Where the fuck have you been?!" someone from the crowd playfully shouted. "Dude. It takes us six months to make a video. I just wish we could make videos faster."

Flanked by a constantly evolving and intricate set of visuals which rivaled their infamous music videos, OK Go are currently on tour in support of their upcoming new album Hungry Ghosts. Singles such as "The Writing's on the Wall" ooze with New Order and Prince influences. "I Won't Let You Down" sounds like a b-side for Gap Band's "You Dropped a Bomb On Me" while "Turn up the Radio" sounds like a love letter to acts such as The Cars.

Throughout their performance, the band was charismatic as ever as they unleashed a literal torrent of white confetti which glimmered in the lights and visuals during many of the songs. They also waxed poetic of their time living here in Chicago. At one point, Damien came into the crowd to perform an acoustic version of "New Leaf" after which some equipment failed and the band sang a passage from Les Misérables as it was repaired.

"In the end, maybe it's better we focused on videos instead of posters. Cops don't hate us nearly as much as they used to," Damien mused out loud before ending with an encore of "Here it Goes Again" as more white confetti fell to the ground, finding color in the idiosyncratic visuals and lights.

Justin Freeman

Review Mon Aug 18 2014

Andrew Bird Shows Us Pulaski at Night

I've seen Andrew Bird in an array of settings. I've seen him at a smaller stage at Lollapalooza six years ago. Since then, I've had the pleasure of seeing him own his unique musical style nine more times. He's played for a hushed, watchful crowd huddling around a lone microphone at the Museum of Contemporary Art. He's played at Fourth Presbyterian Church amidst the serene and exquisite backdrop. He's played a variety of Chicago music halls. However, he had yet to play the delicate and divine Chicago Theatre until this past Saturday evening, which I found baffling due to his greatness. One of my favorite venues, with such pristine sound, was about to see a glorious appearance.

Springfield native Daniel Knox opened up the show. Unfamiliar with his music, I scanned the stage to see an unconventional array of instruments, including what looked like a musical saw, piano, guitar and drums. Knox, with a burly beard and dry wit akin to Nick Offerman, featured songs with hauntingly beautiful piano accompaniments along with lyrics from his husky vocals that are sardonic and smart. In "Ghostsong" off of his latest album, he states, When I come back to life, I'll find you / Push my thumbs into your eyes and blind you. This created a ripple of giggles and smirks amongst the crowd, delighting in the fact that such a gorgeous, serious musical backdrop could be laden with these lighthearted words. His voice then emitted a ghoulish wail, yet it was beautiful, distinct and heartstring-tugging. I felt as if I was in a trance for his brisk 30-minute set, in which the theater became a silent arena for Knox to showcase his very unique music. His next album will be coming out in February, and I can't wait to listen to the newest material, some of which he debuted at the Chicago Theatre for us lucky listeners.

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Sarah Brooks

Lollapalooza Tue Aug 05 2014

Run the Jewels are a Job Well Done at Double Door 08/02


As somewhat dated as this reference is becoming, Run the Jewels are the anti-Watch the Throne; two anarchist leaning savage bullies who'd gleefully kick in the windows of mansions only to break in and steal the Basquiat paintings belonging to rapper millionaires.

El-P and Killer Mike have have been doing their own things for awhile now. El-P ran the much respected alt rap label, Definitive Jux, before deciding to pursue a solo career. Killer Mike was a student of Outkast as well as a member of Atlanta's Dungeon Family. Killer Mike guest starred on El-P's latest album, Cancer 4 Cure for the single "Tougher Colder Killer." They realized they had chemistry and kept the partnership going. In 2013, they released their debut mixtape as a collective, the self titled Run the Jewels.

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Justin Freeman / Comments (1)

Review Sun Aug 03 2014

Courtney Barnett Gets Gritty @ Schubas, 7/30

Schubas was packed to the brim on Wednesday evening, the first of official Lollapalooza aftershows, which led Courtney Barnett and Varsity to lend their talents to a wide-eyed audience, hungry for musical consumption, for performances that would not be forgotten.

Varsity emerged to kick the evening off with their fuzzy yet indulgent garage rock tunes. Energized and upbeat, the crowd moved and delighted in the musical offering that they brought to the table. Take a listen for yourself to their Soundcloud page, where you can purchase their music by naming your price. Their lead singer has a powerhouse voice reminiscent of Tennis, with perfect intonation amidst a blazing backdrop of sound. Playing songs off of their Thanks For Nothing EP, Varsity was able to warm up the crowd and showcase their emerging tunes for an eager audience.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Mon Jul 21 2014

Review: Wild Beasts @ Lincoln Hall, 7/18

Late during Friday's Pitchfork aftershow, Wild Beasts conceded that all of their music falls into one of two categories: the kind you fuck to and the kind you fight to. The only thing about the comment that should have surprised fans was that it didn't end with "or both." Over four albums, Wild Beasts have never shied away from discussing sensuality and brutality. On this year's Present Tense, the music is a little lighter than the two previous albums, but the subject matter leans darker. Or is there nothing too off about smearing lipstick on someone and wiping away their drool?

Singers Hayden Thorpe and Tom Flemming don't quite give away which side of fuck-or-fight each song is on, but they do punctuate key lyrics live. ("Wanderlust"'s spiteful "Don't confuse me for someone who gives a fuck" and "Bed of Nails"'s "I would lie anywhere with you / Any old bed of nails would do" spring to mind.) Vocal interplay between Thorpe and Flemming, thumping bass lines and poppy synths dominated an hour-plus set that drew heavily from Present Tense but didn't ignore any of their albums, much to the audience's delight.

The juxtaposition of nearly ethereal music and haunting lyrics is nothing new. Wild Beasts just happen to be delivering it better than many others these days. And whether it's in near darkness at a club at 1:30 a.m. or in the sun at a festival at 2:30 p.m., they're getting their points across.

James Ziegenfus

Review Fri Jul 18 2014

Footwork Meets Tapework: RP Boo and Jason Lescalleet's Secret Collaboration

Sunday night at the Burlington was already a big deal for fans of experimental sound. Jason Lescalleet, a Maine-based tape loop manipulator and sound artist who had rattled the Burlington's bunker-like back room the year before, had been added to the schedule at the last minute. The 30 or so people that came out on that least rock night of the week got an unannounced and unexpected collaboration for the ages.

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Chris Sienko

Review Sat Jul 12 2014

Riff Raff and Chicago Sounds @ Millennium Park, 7/7

millenniumpark.jpgDowntown Sound Mondays are among my favorite Chicago summer music events. Each week brings about a new crop of bands, singer-songwriters, electronic artists, and more for complimentary enjoyment in spacious Millennium Park. Chicagoans band together as they sit amongst each other, sprawled out on the lawn enjoying drinks, snacks, and various other delectables of their choosing. It's community entertainment at its finest in Chicago's most renewing season.

This week's Downtown Sound series installment featured fledgling group Hurray For The Riff Raff, and veteran folk singer Joe Pug. The combination of the two artists together was absolute perfection in such a tranquil and sunlit setting, as each act illuminated Millennium Park with pure joy as we sat in reverence of their exquisite and effortless talent.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Mon Jul 07 2014

An Evening with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings

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Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings (Photos by Katie Hovland)

Since her debut album Revival, Gillian Welch has constantly had her musical partner Dave Rawlings by her side. It has become a little difficult to separate them from one another, seeing as every album that bares one of their names holds the other in tow. After an eight year absence from recording songs under Welch's name, the duo released The Harrow & The Harvest, one of the best folk albums in recent memory. This past Wednesday at the magnificent Thalia Hall, Welch and Rawlings presented their pairing with delightful sincerity.

They came out with no introduction and they certainly didn't need it. The night was set aside for just the two of them, no opener other than themselves. The crowd whooped and hollered with all the veracity of much more elaborate or gaudy show, when it was just Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch, their stringed instruments, and a few mics at center stage. The simplicity of having these two musicians stand tall in the middle of the stage amplified not only their talents but the majesty of Thalia Hall. It left everything out in the open, no fuss to distract from "Tear My Stillhouse Down", the first song of a very fulfilling night.

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Julian Ramirez / Comments (1)

Review Wed Jul 02 2014

A Night of Devastating Beauty with The Antlers

There are plenty of ways to look at death and loss, but rarely is it ever as deeply touching and beautiful as the way The Antlers look at it. Over the course of five albums, they have managed to successfully mine these issues for every bit of their emotion. The results have been amazing, creating sonically breathtaking and enjoyable works about some of the worst moments in life. This weekend at Lincoln Hall, The Antlers took the stage to show just how magnificently they can represent the saddest moments in our lives.

yellow ostrich.jpgThe show opened with Brooklyn's Yellow Ostrich. The band recently released Cosmos, which lead singer Alex Schaaf joked as being the soundtrack for the hit TV show. That sense of fun emanated throughout their much of their music, despite some more somber lyrics. "How Do You Do It" speaks of a someone who gets through countless failures, but the instrumentation felt joyous. However, there were moments where Yellow Ostrich matched their songs earnestness. The use of electronic drums on "Ghost" and Schaaf's tremendous guitar gave the song an epic feeling. The slow and lovely pace of "I Know You are Lost" was accompanied by a venue shaking bass that wrapped around the crowd. They ended their set with "Shade," which places Schaaf's fantastic vocals in the forefront.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Thu Jun 26 2014

Review: Bob Mould Has Our Attention at Downtown Sound, 6/23


This past week, Downtown Sound hosted Bob Mould, a founding member of the lauded rock bands Hüsker Dü and Sugar. Mould is in the midst of a tour supporting his great new solo release Beauty & Ruin. Each Monday, Downtown Sound hosts musical acts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, and it's one of the more exciting, albeit surreal, venues for a rock concert in the city. The bands that take the stage at Downtown Sound shows are more likely to be found headlining the Metro or the Riviera Theatre, and it's a marvel to be surrounded by the Chicago skyline and a fading sun, picnicking with friends, as you listen to bands you're more used to hearing through club speakers and seeing through dim, moody lighting.

Besides Mould on vocals and guitar, Verbow alumnus Jason Narducy handled bass duties and Jon Wurster of Superchunk and the Mountain Goats was behind the kit; the résumés of the three men onstage includes some of the best and most seismic indie rock of the past three decades. In addition to playing bass for Mould, Narducy opened the evening with his band Split Single. Narducy, along with the rest of the players in his band, hails from Chicago, and there was a large contingent of friends and supporters cheering them on near the front. The atmosphere was tantamount to a great, tight-knit club show played on one of the city's grandest stages.

As Mould's set commenced, the razor-wire combination of bombast and precision from Narducy and Wurster enabled him to smother the field of the Pavilion with frantic stabs of distorted open chords on his Stratocaster, amplified through an imposing Marshall stack. Mould's guitar playing is intense but rarely abrasive, and he can effortlessly wow you with his pyrotechnics without ever sacrificing the song itself.

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Pat Donachie

Review Wed Jun 18 2014

Empty Bottle Filled Up with Allah-Las' Psychedelia

Allah-Las (Photos by Cody Davis)

The resurgence of psychedelic rock should come as no surprise by now. The past few years have been filled with bands mining the genre that was most prevalent during 60s and 70s for inspiration. Many tend to fall too far into the sound for their own good, while the immersion for others works so well that it's hard to believe they aren't directly from that time period. California's Allah-Las easily fall into the latter. They have managed to replicate that old garage psychedelic rock without being tiresome or boring. They wholeheartedly embrace the sound, especially when playing live. Such was the case this past weekend at their sold out show at Empty Bottle.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Wed Jun 04 2014

Kishi Bashi & Busman's Holiday Joyfully Burst at the Metro

kishi bashi.jpgIndiana label Joyful Noise Recordings puts out some of the best records year in and year out. They have a fantastic stable of artists that are dedicated and place every bit of themselves in to their music, something few labels can attest to. This past Saturday at the Metro, the label was well represented as Busman's Holiday and Kishi Bashi came out to support their recently released albums A Long Goodbye and Lighght respectively.

busman's holiday.jpgBusman's Holiday is made up brothers Lewis and Addison Rogers. Together they create touching and tender songs that deal with love, space and the things in between. The brothers are natural storytellers, which was evident in both their songs and crowd interactions. They had an instant rapport with the audience at the Metro, always taking a moment between songs to recount their adventures and follies. They gleefully reminisce about petting rhinoceros at the Lincoln Park Zoo and accidentally wearing the same black shirt and red socks.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Tue Jun 03 2014

St. Paul & The Broken Bones and John & Jacob Energize SPACE

st paul.jpgThis past weekend, Space in Evanston hosted two substantially different bands from Birmingham, Alabama. It felt like showcase of the sounds of that city, showing just how diverse and ultimately unique the music scene there can be. John and Jacob took care of the rock and country side of things while St. Paul and The Broken Bones handled the soul. The energetic pairing had the sold out crowd dancing the entire night, far past the end of the show.

john and jacob.jpgJohn and Jacob were an interesting choice to open for St. Paul and the Broken Bones. They may be easily seen as a country act, but their music holds more weight than that. John Davidson and Jacob Bryant infuse their songs with elements from all ends of the rock spectrum. Elements of blues, rockabilly, hard rock, and even a little bit of 90's alternative can be heard in their music. They combine all these varied parts while retaining country music at the core.

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Julian Ramirez

Concert Fri May 30 2014

Photos: Conor Oberst and Dawes Rock the Metro

Touring for his latest album Upside Down Mountain, Conor Oberst hit the Metro stage last night along with Dawes. Our photographer Amanda Koellner was there to catch the action on film.

Conor Oberst with Dawes_By_Amanda_Koellner.jpg
Photos by Amanda Koellner

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Anne Holub

Concert Sun May 25 2014

Metronomy and Cloud Control Impress at Metro

Metronomy has gone through some massive growth spurts in its inception. Originally the group consisted solely of Joseph Mount creating experimental electronic music. Quickly he began adding members for live shows, expanding his music simultaneously. Eventually the group grew to a veer full-fledged band, much grander and substantially different from its origins. They've gone shifted through soundscapes, from the accessible The English Riviera to the surprisingly psych Love Letters. They came through Metro this past Wednesday, showing how far they gotten in recent years.

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Cloud Control, an Australian psych rock opened the night. While it's relatively easy to define them as a psych rockers, they tend to veer towards a very poppy version of it. A lot of the pop sensibilities could be attributed to the infectious energy that the band's vocalists exhibited. Heidi Lenffer's heavily modified voice on one of the songs was delightful. Alister Wright's voice was also incredibly versatile, gleefully transitioning from mannered vocals to high pitched snarls. The band is incredibly cohesive, with songs like "Promises" sounding similar to the Pixies in their prime.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Wed May 21 2014

Review: Elbow & John Grant @ House of Blues, 5/19

It's been six years since Elbow played Chicago. At the time, they were riding the wave of The Seldom Seen Kid, which took that year's Mercury Prize. Since then, the band have put out two albums and evolved their arty Britpop sound behind the strengths of Guy Garvey's heartfelt lyrics and vocals, and the band's growth as songwriters and performers. But on Monday, all that concerned the sold out House of Blues crowd was hearing the pristine pop that Elbow churns out in spades.

Early in the set, they went often to their recent The Take Off and Landing of Everything album. But once they got to older songs, things naturally began to click with the crowd, from "The Bones of You"'s sweeping chorus to the raw emotion in "Scattered Black and Whites" to the titanic "Grounds for Divorce" singalong. Between those, Garvey was talkative and charismatic, telling short stories that often punctuated points about the next song. To close, they went for "Lippy Kids" and their anthemic "One Day Like This", which a girl in the balcony had been yelling about the last 15 minutes. Even though the latter can be a little repetitive, Elbow's played it so often that they know how to keep it fresh with Garvey encouraging the crowd to sing boisterously.

John Grant may have been relatively unknown, but that may not last long. His imposing presence ingratiated himself to the crowd almost immediately. And it seems like he is taking frontman cues from Guy Garvey on this jaunt across America. His short set (barely a half-hour) featured a nice set of songs, mostly from last year's way underrated Pale Green Ghosts, that feature his best attributes as a writer. The lyrics paint pictures and, even when they're a little goofy, they tug at heartstrings with universal themes. There's a little Richard Buckner in his delivery, too. Unfortunately, the synths that stand out so much in his music came off a little flat on Monday, but it was all that kept his set from being top-notch.

James Ziegenfus

Concert Sun May 18 2014

Mirah, Loamlands, & Led To Sea Find Their Way to SPACE

Over the years, Brooklyn based Mirah has taken her music on an interesting journey. She has worked with a large assortment of musicians, from Phil Elvrum of The Microphones to Thao Nguyen. Mirah has progressed her music from her early and wonderfully lo-fi sound to a more polished and mature state. Mirah, along with Loamlands and Led to Sea, came to Space this past Wednesday in support of her latest album Changing Light.

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The first musician of the night was Led to Sea, consisting of the talented Alex Guy and her violin. The solo performance was absolutely astounding. There is something genuinely delightful about Guy's stage presence, whether elegantly bowing or gently plucking her violin. Her songs are infinitely absorbing, stemming from assessments of sometimes being a bad girlfriend and crashing bike into a BMW. Guy played a few new songs from a forthcoming album, which she teased throughout the night. She harmonized with her looped voice and instrument; a unison so well assembled that it sent verifiable chills across the room. Her set was short and sweet, a mere glimpse of her talent.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Thu May 15 2014

Review: Cartridge B-Sides, Aggro Control & Bluster @ Subterranean

The best things about being in the Chicago music scene are the nonstop opportunities to see new and upcoming bands perform. There are more than a few hidden gems out there that will satisfy your musical needs. It is imperative to seek out the types of shows that venues like Subterranean host, allowing local bands to grow and flourish. This past Sunday they hosted a nice grouping of punk and indie rock in the form of Bluster , Aggro Control, and the Cartridge B-Sides.

Bluster began the night with their eclectic sound, which times the felt like straight up rock before delving into more post punk territory. The singing was split between guitarist Mark and bassist Anne, who happened to be the only woman and mother playing on that lovely Mother's Day evening. Their songs have a catchy edge to them and while Bluster's status is particularly new, you can definitely see their cohesive talent. Bluster was quite fun, bantering with the crowd and chalking up a slight misstep to a necessity of rock and roll. They certainly hit a wonderful rocking high with their final two songs, especially with the ecstatic "Elegy" which best captures Bluster's energy.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Tue May 13 2014

Nickel Creek at Riviera, 5/9: Why The Fire Won't Die

I began listening to Nickel Creek when I was roughly eleven years old. I had just emerged from my 90s pop music phase, thankfully, when my dad put their self-titled debut on in the car one day. I was immediately captivated by the lush bluegrass riffs, and the sensibility of their vocals. It was a sound unlike anything I'd heard before, and I was immediately hooked by the unique and deliberate craft that was their sound.

Fast forward 12 years later, and I still hadn't seen this group live. That is due to the fact that Nickel Creek took a lengthy six and a half year hiatus to focus on solo projects for Chris Thile and Sara Watkins. Watkins branched out and delivered her own material, while Thile was all over the board, from solo material, to the group Punch Brothers, and even to recording with Yo-Yo Ma for The Goat Rodeo Sessions. As much as I adored their solo work, I so desperately wanted them to reunite.

Friday evening at The Riviera Theatre was like a dream for me and many other concertgoers who had not seen Nickel Creek in a live performance setting as of yet. I entered the concert hall eagerly at 8pm, and each seat and space on the large standing room floor had been occupied swiftly, with stray concertgoers checking for a seat with little to no avail.

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Sarah Brooks / Comments (1)

Review Sun May 11 2014

Review: Television @ Metro, 5/8

Television was somewhat of an outlier when they burst onto the New York punk scene in the mid-1970s. Rich guitaring was at the forefront of their sound, and it wasn't uncommon for "jazz" to pop up in reviews about their music. In some ways, they could be seen as punk's Grateful Dead. And that was certainly on display at Metro on Thursday. Unfortunately, some of the meandering improvisation that comes with Grateful Dead territory plagued segments of the 90-minute set.

Technically, they were very strong with founder Tom Verlaine and Jimmy Rip putting on a clinic between their guitaring precision. But a ton of time was spent on general noodling that eventually lost swaths of the audience. (I'm looking at you, "Persia.") And a band who came to prominence in the mid-70s doesn't exactly draw a crowd with short attention spans, so losing some people who've waited decades to see them live was a feat.

However, when they ran hot ("Little Johnny Jewel", "Marquee Moon", "Friction"), they sounded fresh and vibrant. Age was not at all a factor with their musicianship, even if Verlaine did need a solid crowd assist to fill in the "See No Evil" chorus. But you don't see Television to hear them sing. You see them because they created some fascinating tunes. And when they were locked in, there was no denying the strength of their music and why people continue to be captivated by it.

James Ziegenfus

Concert Fri May 09 2014

Finding a Freakout with the Nels Cline Singers @ SPACE

By Griffin Wenzler

Nels Cline is more fluent in music than you are with the English language. In fact, everyone in his ensemble, The Nels Cline Singers, speaks through their instruments with the eloquence and precision of America's greatest novelists. Tuesday night at Evanston's SPACE (1245 Chicago Ave.), the quartet rocked, jazzed, and freaked their way through two sets of the most soulful, energetic, human music I've heard in Chicago. The Singers, which consist of Trevor Dunn (bass), Scott Amendola (drums) and Cline (guitar) were joined by Brazilian percussionist and Cheshire Cat impressionist, Cyro Baptista.

Every time I walk away from a Singers show I feel younger and invigorated, inspired to do anything with as much passion as they put into their craft. Tuesday night I almost couldn't handle it. As they played, each song brought to mind different scenes and scenarios: a bubbly swamp, a smoky New Orleans pier, the western plains but with robots instead of cowboys. I was ready to take to the page and gush nonsense about the journey I had been taken on. But then I realized that I was imposing human order on the chaotic beauty of the natural world. That is what the Nels Cline Singers tap into. They play with such sincerity and joy that the songs are imbued with the ineffable quality of natural beauty. Baptista spent the night alternating between drumming on odds-n-ends and slinging odds-n-ends around his head as he mumbled gibberish into a vocal synth. Trevor Dunn's upright chops are other worldly. More than once, the people in front of me did cartoon double takes and stared at each other in a Bill and Ted "Excellent!" sort of way. Scott Amendola and Nels Cline shared "electronic freakout" duties alongside their doctorate level performances on drums and guitar.

The incredibly energetic performance was buttressed by the impeccable acoustics of SPACE. The owners have gone out of their way to ensure they run not just a world class performance venue for rock, but also a listening room for the jazz heads.

Nels Cline doesn't play in Chicago often, and it's too bad because his blend of experimental rock, noise, and jazz speak directly to this city's musical heart. He approaches songcraft with the joy of a child and through that his music offers something for fans of nearly any genre.


Review Thu May 08 2014

Chromeo Flaunts 'Fancy Footwork' at Lincoln Hall, 5/5


Hundreds of twenty-something funk seekers packed into Lincoln Hall for a sold-out Chromeo show on Monday night. Lucky for them, the Canadian electro duo was on point, bringing their '80s-reminicent beats, silly lyrics and sex appeal for a special show on Cinco de Mayo -- dubbed "CIN-CHRO de MEO" on their Twitter account.

Loud chants of "Chromeo...OOOOOH!" welcomed guitarist Dave 1 (David Macklovitch) and keyboardist P-Thugg (Patrick Gemayel) onto the stage as they sauntered over to their instruments while the "Intro" of the band's sophomore album, "Fancy Footwork," began to blare throughout the intimate venue.

Then they officially kicked things off with a couple of the most infectious songs from 2010's "Business Casual." Somewhere between "Night by Night" and "Host Mess," Dave 1 took the opportunity to show off an impressive talent. He stood in the middle of he stage, commanding all of the attention, as the almost unbearably incandescent strobe lights converged on his reflective guitar. But he really wowed everyone, including himself, when he directed one of the beams up to the disco ball, causing little lights to dance amongst the crowd.

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Brianna Kelly

Album Fri May 02 2014

Archie Powell & The Exports are Back in Black

Archie Powell & the Exports are no stranger to the indie rock music game. As a matter of fact, their third studio album, Back in Black, was released just this past week. Featuring Powell on the album cover, sulking amidst a dark backdrop but asserting a powerful gaze at the camera, the image projects how the group has grown and honed in on their sound over their years of making music together.

The themes of the group's new album emerge with the very first song, aptly titled "Everything's Fucked." Powell screams and wails his way through the beginning of the song, distressed about the aspects of every day life within the very first verse. An angsty ballad, the song propels the album forth with a vengeance. This isn't their first album, Skip Work; while still amazing, the material featured on this record is more summery and jubilant, with a darker yet more accessible tone. The subjects are wrought with authenticity while focused within their angst and pain, and seemingly, I identify with the songs more closely than previous material.

"Tattoo on My Brain" lightens the mood a bit and ushers in Archie Powell & The Exports' signature sound. However, the production is tighter and more cultivated than previous work. "Lean" promotes the further angsty feel to their sound, which I definitely wasn't anticipating. However, I didn't hate it, I welcomed it. "Scary Dream" took a detour to the oldest Archie Powells & The Exports material, the beachy, sunshine sound that we are accustomed to, however it is still darker and more reminiscent of a vengeful tempo, akin to that of Arctic Monkeys or the Hives.

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Sarah Brooks

Event Mon Apr 28 2014

Wax Idols: Navigating the 2014 CHIRP Record Fair's Delights


[Ed. note: Apologies for the delay!]

When I'd told a friend I was planning on visiting a record fair for an entire afternoon one Saturday, they were dumbfounded. You're excited at the prospect of sharing a room with a bunch of old white guys selling dusty records to even more old white guys for inflated prices and "posterity"? Seems like a recipe for boredom, or at least an empty wallet, no? I avoided the question, first because I knew, of course, that he was right, but second because I also knew there were certain indescribable elements and tiny excitements to an event like CHIRP's that I'd never be able to fully explain. I am not an old white man (yet), and since I count myself a member of a growing number of younger vinyl fans who love obsessively padding and curating their collections of old records, it's a culture, man, and I planned to get my fix! I won't stand for any naysayers in my tent.

So when my roommate and I got up early to head to CHIRP's 12th Annual Record Fair & Other Delights, we expected more than to cross off a few harder-to-find records off our respective punch lists. Arriving at the tail end of the early bird session (where diehards paid a bit extra to comb the stacks first), we noticed right away that my friend's quick stereotyping was way off: Women! Young people! Young people selling records to even younger women! I'd be lying if I said that the old white guy demographic wasn't well represented, too, but even at 10am the fair was filled with people of all shapes and stripes coming to browse the racks, ogle at strange Beatles ephemera, and learn a thing or two about a record or two. Fifty million Elvis fans can't be wrong, or something like that.

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Mike Bellis

Review Sat Apr 26 2014

S. Carey and White Hinterland Impress at Lincoln Hall

One might be more familiar with Sean Carey's work with others bands, specifically as the drummer and supporting vocalist of Bon Iver. It can be hard to look past the massive nature of that band to see Carey's amazing work, but after the release of All We Grow, it became a little easier to envision Carey as a fantastic solo artist. His sound similar to that Bon Iver, but likens itself to even softer and more ambient textures, making his sound a perfect fit with Lincoln Hall.

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Opening the night was White Hinterland. I've been a fan of White Hinterland since her debut under her own name Casey Dienel. ". Dienel's sound has change substantially since the opening notes of Wind-Up Canary. What was once a delicate piano behind a wonderful voice has transformed into the current White Hinterland, more intricate instrumentation fronted by a more complex and experimental voice. Playing by herself, Dienel used a variety of loops and pedal to create lovely and powerful songs such as "David" and "Baby". Dienel connected with the crowd with her funny patter, ranging from Seth Rogan induced sex dreams to an unyielding hope to attain Hannibal Buress' phone number. Her candor and delicate attitude made it a pleasure to follow her lead and sing along during a couple of songs, including "Ring the Bell". While the was was tentativeness from the crowd, they eventually gave in during her final song. Dienel left the stage through the crowd as they soft sang along with her, giving her as much love as she gave them.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Fri Apr 25 2014

Josh Ritter Charms The Crowd at City Winery, 4/23


Midway through Josh Ritter's set last Wednesday night at the City Winery, he mentioned that he'd gone to a Neil Young concert the night before, which was, as Ritter put it, "a curious choice" for a songwriter to make the night before their own show. Despite his modesty, one thing Ritter's show undoubtedly had over the previous evening was the intimacy of the venue and the attentiveness of the crowd; the audience at the Winery was hanging on each note. Ritter had promoted his two Chicago gigs as an opportunity to try out new material in front of audiences, and made good on the promise in spades. The new songs could be considered "more of the same" in the best possible sense of the phrase; they were bittersweet folk songs with well-crafted melodies and biting, beautiful lyrical passages. From what I could tell, the material traveled further down the road discovered on 2013's The Beast In Its Tracks, continuing to trace the unspoken oddities of romantic love.

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Pat Donachie / Comments (2)

Event Fri Apr 25 2014

Musicians, Global Citizens Make a Difference at The Vic


Photo by Ryan Gall, courtesy of The Global Poverty Project

Recording artists and activism aligned at The Vic, 3145 N Sheffield Ave, last night, for Global Citizen Nights; an event driven by the efforts of the Global Poverty Project to raise awareness of, and end extreme poverty by 2030. Neo-soul singer/songwriter, Aloe Blacc, was headliner to the evening, led by performances from Johnnyswim and The Main Squeeze.

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Ricardo Villarreal

Concert Tue Apr 22 2014

Blondes Groove Deep Into The Night at Smartbar 04/19


NYC's Blondes make blissfully distorted chill out electronica. Signed to the tastemaker label, RVNG Intl, Sam Haar and Zach Steinman have crafting beats since the early 2010's, releasing a steady amount of DJ mixes, EPs, and remixes to ever increasing notoriety. Their single, "Wine," with it's classic house arpeggio synth and hypnotically warbled vocals evoke a manic sensation which commands the listener's attention and compels that person to move and react. They're reminiscent of acts such as Teengirl Fantasy, Mount Kimbie and Laurel Halo. With this in mind, I went to see them a few days ago at Smartbar.

Cloaked in smoke and light, Blondes opened their set with a prolonged burst of shoegaze-esque disarray before delving into a set of deep house grooves and Kraftwerk inspired techno beats. Over the course of their set, the room became a patchwork of vastly diverse styles of dance. There was the woman who pranced throughout the dancefloor, often intensely gazing directly into the eyes of people in the crowd, with this weird yet smoothly jagged interpretive dance that looked like something Marina Abramović would do at MoMA in a Jay-Z video. There was the sharply dressed man who pop and locked with style and expert skill. There were the people who stood in the back near the speakers, minimalistically moving their bodies, getting a physical sensation from the bass. One of the things that I absolutely love about Smartbar is now unpretentious it is, how everyone is welcome and made to feel accepted. This past Friday at Smartbar was no exception, as Blondes pulsing beats kept the crowd moving deep into the night.

Opening and closing the night for Blondes were Smartbar affiliates, Kiddo and Antiphase, who played fervent sets of dark and decadent techno. Below is a recent mix by Kiddo which is somewhat similar to her set from a few days ago that's totally worth checking out.

Justin Freeman

Review Tue Apr 22 2014

Heritage and Heart: Regina Carter and Mavis Staples at Symphony Center, 4/18

The beautifully adorned Symphony Center found a packed house on Friday evening for a double bill of two great artists, Southern-folk violinist Regina Carter, and soul legend, Mavis Staples. The intimate venue and superb acoustics made it clear that this was an evening of music that would be unforgettable and irreplaceable.


Photo by Steve Stearns

Regina Carter emerged first, flanked by an accompaniment of accordion, guitar, an upright bass, and drums. She donned a bright outfit, and walked onstage completely barefoot. Regina Carter's set was focused on heritage through and through, in a beautiful way. After her first song, which contained a slightly fuzzy but extremely authentic recording from an old Southern tune, Carter delved into the methods she utilized to track her family ancestry. From anecdotes regarding her grandfather's time as a coal miner in Alabama, to divulging stories of growing up with several siblings, to sharing snapshots of old Southern folk tunes preserved in their original recorded setting, Carter was able to not only present us with examples of her expertly perfected musical craft, however, she was also able to further impact us with the connection to her rich heritage.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Mon Apr 21 2014

Review: The National Fits Their Sound Into Untitled


Last Wednesday, I was lucky enough to be in the room for a performance by The National in the lower levels of Untitled, a ritzy cocktail bar near Merchandise Mart. The band was in town all of last week for a sold-out four-night stand at the Chicago Theatre, but still found the time to play an abbreviated electric set in a room not much larger than the hall at Schubas.

In my conversations with friends who dislike The National, they've told me that the band's records strike them as being a bit too austere, lacking some indispensable irreverence that would mark the songs as rock music instead of museum exhibits. Admittedly, The National can be somewhat one-note on their albums, and for me, the power of those albums comes from my feeling that few bands play that particular note better or with more detail and intricacy. However, when playing live, The National strikes an altogether different pose. If the band's albums sound like someone's attempt to keep their anxieties and frailties at bay, the live show revels in how hysterical the characters in the songs threaten to become. The work of Aaron and Bryce Dessner (twin brothers and the two guitarists of the band) and the unwavering solidity of Bryan and Scott Devendorf (also brothers, on drums and bass respectively), keep the songs firmly on the rails, allowing lyricist and vocalist Matt Berninger to, for lack of a better term, completely lose his cool. His delivery, especially on the faster numbers, can become uncomfortably intense, as he ditches his typical baritone for a rabid dog of a scream.

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Pat Donachie / Comments (1)

Review Thu Apr 17 2014

Arc Iris and The Fruit Flies Dazzle at Schubas

Arc Iris is a well-crafted tornado of musical genres, taking considerable cues from all over the place. One song can have a country twange while the next is a frenzied folk song you've never could have imagined. Jocie Adams, the group's unfathomably talented leader, has been compared to Joanna Newsom, Bjork, and countless others. The comparisons do very little to full grasp what is going on with Arc Iris. Their sound moves around so much that there is no telling where they will go and that is certainly what makes Arc Iris such a please to listen to. I had previously seen the band open for Nicole Atkins and immediately knew that I had to see them again. Luckily, Arc Iris had their CD release party at Schubas.

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The Fruit Flies, a local Chicago duo Molly McCormick and Danni Parpan, started off the night quite nicely. I believe they were a late addition to the evening, so I was pleasantly surprised by their really catchy indie folk that one can't help but move along to. Songs like "Summer in the City" required a bit of crowd participation in the form of clapping throughout and It didn't take much convincing. The Fruit Flies have a fun stage presence, throwing out jokes at every possible opportunity. They are instantly lovable as they muse about being a package deal in McCormick's engagement or doing a comedy open mic later.

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Julian Ramirez

Concert Thu Apr 17 2014

The Men Create a Frenzied Spectacle at Empty Bottle 04/12


The Men appeared this past Saturday to a full house at Empty Bottle without a word. Drums cacophonously clattered, filling the air with tangible bass and impending doom. Thier guitars were loud, filling the room with curated noise and an overall sense of anticipation. It was only for a moment before seamlessly launching into their first song of the night, the incredibly anxious "Lotus." Those first few moments set a clear precedent for their rest of their performance; a frenzied spectacle.

The Men are a noise punk band from Brooklyn who have been gravitating towards no frills garage rock over the last few years. They create raucous anthems for the working class driven by loud guitars and thundering drums. They are the soundtrack to a night of drinking cheap beer and whiskey with your friends at questionable dive bars. As they played songs scattered throughout their discography, I looked around around the room and took in what I saw. Lovers held hands and danced the night away to the pounding rhythm of the drums. Friends laughed as they played pool and engaged in general revelry in tandem with the guitar riffs. Eventually, I found myself in the middle of the crowd as they played "If You Leave...," a song that has room to breathe while progressively building up to a violent and wordless chorus. It was exhilarating.

After a quick break, The Men returned and and wrapped things up with an unexpectedly gnarly cover of The Stooges "I Wanna Be Your Dog." Though it turned out to be a false alarm, The Men unexpectedly found themselves being the soundspace to this year's first summer-esque night and it was everything I wanted.

Unfortunately, I couldn't arrive in time to check out the opening act, Basic Cable. This bums me out, because I tried to catch them at Hideout's SXSW Send Party that we recently talked about, but something came up. I've heard nothing but good things about them. Our friends over at Loud Loop Press named them as one of the "14 Bands to Watch in 2014" and the folks over at Notes + Bolts interviewed them not too long ago. Listening to their album I'm Good to Drive reminds me of bands of Sub Pop past while simultaneously making me excited for their future. Check out a stream of it below.

Justin Freeman

Review Mon Apr 14 2014

Lotus Vibes Bloom at the Riv, 4/12


(Photos by Brianna Kelly)

After a severe thunderstorm briefly hit the northern suburbs Saturday afternoon, the sun came out in full force and brought forth the most glorious day Chicago has experienced so far this year.

To commemorate the inaugural patio sit of the season, I sipped margaritas and munched on chips and guacamole outside of a Mexican restaurant in Lakeview. That was followed by a good old barbeque because it was necessary to take full advantage of the warm weather.


And then to top it all off, I moseyed down to the Riviera Theatre with a happy belly to see one of the funkiest bands in the jam scene, Lotus. The show started at 8:30pm to allow two opening sets before the main attraction. Electronic music blared throughout the lobby, as Daedalus played his last couple of songs.

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Brianna Kelly

Review Sun Apr 13 2014

A Celebration of Sharon Jones @ The Vic, 4/11

The resurgence of soul music that emulates that of its 1960s predecessors can be frequently found with several stellar standout acts. From the wailing, impassioned Charles Bradley, to the emotional and funky sounds from Lee Fields & The Expressions, to the toe-tapping, energized rhythms from Raphael Saadiq, we have many options for quality soul music that is current and notable. However, there are few groups that are able to make us literally feel like we are in another decade. The possessors of this special gift present us with music that is indistinguishable from the style which they are emulating, as they are seemingly one in the same.


Photo by Joshua Mellin

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings are this kind of special soul outfit. They are able to make us feel like we have taken a ride in a time machine as we listen to them, featuring a seamless funk backing and Jones's perfect vocals, akin to honey dripping from a spoon, slow and steady and never losing its sweetness. They go to great lengths to make their music and their live performances as exact and accurate as possible, however, when seeing them perform, it suddenly appears effortless.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Wed Apr 09 2014

Taking Back Sunday and The Used Took Over The Concord


Its been a little under four years since the original lineup of Taking Back Sunday got back together. In the time since they've reunited, they've toured endlessly around the world in celebration of the 10 year anniversary of what is probably their finest hour; Tell All Your Friends. They've also released two new albums, 2010's self-titled reintroduction and Happiness Is, which came out early last month. Their new work sounds like what you would probably imagine a 30-something Warped Tour-era emo band sounds like, slightly less harsh and a bit more mellow overall as they wear the classic college radio rock influences of their youth boldly on their sleeves.

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Justin Freeman

Review Fri Apr 04 2014

Report: Mac Demarco Freaks Out the Neighborhood @ Empty Bottle


"Mannish Boy"-cum-groove-pop-troubadour Mac Demarco strolled through town on Wednesday night for two sold-out shows at the Empty Bottle, and we were there for the late show to take in the scene in all its buzzed-about and sullied-up glory. Opener and Captured Tracks labelmate Juan Wauters set the tone with some inspired lo-fi jams before jetting off for a quieter show uptown, and reports from the excellent Amen Dunes' set from the earlier show were positive, with Demarco and co. effusing nothing but praise to the Dunes throughout their set.

Appearing on the back of the just-released Salad Days, the newly long-haired Demarco and his equally shaggy band of mates graced the stage bedecked in over-sized shirts and thrift-store caps, laying down their mix of party-ready numbers and actually-sincere bedroom crooning ("Brother"). True to form (or at least satisfying the demands of his increasingly public persona), Demarco played the role of able maestro to the night's affairs, addressing the audience with a mix of slapdash confidence through sips of bourbon and coke (courtesy of the front row), potty humor (with help from touring bassist/ex-Makeout Videotape bandmate Pierce McGarry), and his by-now equally trademark "thank-you-ladies-and-gentleman" showmaster schtick. Contrasted against his goofy off-the-cuff covers of butt-rock jams like "Smoke On The Water," newcomers to the Demarco tent might have been thrown off by his ever-shifting persona onstage (polite vs. abrasive; slow-jamming gentleman vs. punk-ish agitator) but it's those same contradictions that often make the act (not to mention the songs) work as well as it has so far.

Demarco's spoken at length in recent interviews about trying to shed his unwashed-party-boy-next-door image in approaching a new plateau in his career, out of preference to a newer maturity in his songwriting and his own increasing ambition. While the band's on-stage attitude was nothing if not youthful, occasionally sloppy, and at times immature (read: fun), the newer songs spoke to the young songwriter's increasing focus on growth and adulthood: New standouts "Let Her Go" and "Chamber of Reflection" showcased Demarco's knack for easy melody and simple, direct subject matter in the wake of his rapid public ascent over the past two years. Smartly, Demarco and the band split the set between old favorites ("Rock 'n' Roll Nightclub," "The Stars Keep On Calling My Name," and the ubiquitous, smoke-laden "Ode to Viceroy") and newer material, occasionally fighting shrill feedback from the house system but maintaining a good-natured vibe through it all. You'd never guess Demarco's touring band didn't play on these records, either, where Demarco supposedly records every part himself; the band does such a good job of replicating the slow, slippery jams and vibrato guitar tones of tracks like "Cookin' Up Something Good" and "Viceroy" that you would never really know the difference. Luckily, the live band has its own feel (and reputation) at this point, and Demaraco's live act thrives all the better from its assured mix of loose spontaneity, tight showmanship, and jokes about cocaine.

By the time Demarco jumped into the crowd for a lengthy surf around the entirety of the Bottle's packed walls during a loose vamp in set closer "Still Together," the audience was as riled as it had been all night. It's probably a safe bet to assume Demarco will play to at least a crowd this size next time he's in town, as Wednesday night's crowd was only too eager to grab a piece of the guy while he was still willing and eager to pass them out.

Mike Bellis

Concert Wed Apr 02 2014

Dum Dum Girls, Blouse & Radar Eyes Fill Up Empty Bottle

I saw Dum Dum Girls open for Vampire Weekend a few years ago at Aragon. They were right on the heels of their first album I Will Be and the played well, their energy filling the venue quite well. Since then, members have come and gone and their music has matured. Their stage presence has also become more pronounced and fluid. It's no wonder that they, along with Radar Eyes and Blouse, quickly sold out the Empty Bottle.


The night at Empty Bottle started out with a great early crowd. It's a rare sight, seeing so many people come early to concert. They were lucky that the consistently entertaining Radar Eyes opened the show. The local Chicago rockers doled out their fuzz rock by the bucket. Anthony Cozzi sings over wonderful guitar noise than one could listen to for hours. Nithin Kalvakota, bassist for Marnie Stern, took over drumming duties for Radar Eyes after Shelley Zawadzki left the band and it was a great choice.There's a lot to like about Radar Eyes as they barreled through their quick, but satisfying set.

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Julian Ramirez

Concert Mon Mar 31 2014

How to Dress Well and Forest Swords Soothe Lincoln Hall

(Photo by Amanda Koellner)

Some of the most interesting bands truly transcend the genres and descriptions placed on them.They make music beyond the norm, in lieu of the confines that try to define them. Forest Swords and How to Dress Well embody this sentiment. Both have been bestowed as experimental and ambient R&B (or the ridiculous PBR&B). It would be easy to just stop there, but it would be a massive disservice to the immersive and incredible music they make. After a month of touring together, they ended their trek at Lincoln Hall and put on a unique show.

Forest Swords' music fills a room like no other. Almost instantly the crowd felt themselves swimming in Matthew Barnes' darkly toned music. He was accompanied by a bassist, whose sound intertwined with Barnes' soft electronic noise perfectly. Barnes minimal arrangements burst to grander and more intricate creations in this setting. Maniacal clanging offset the soothing beats that pulled the crowd in.The set was a hypnotic dream as Barnes' and his bassist played against a backdrop of images ranging from beatific flowers slowly falling to haunting burning patterns. Forest Swords played continuously, merging songs together for nearly the entire set, leaving few moments for the crowd to cheer and applaud. However, the crowd got the chance to show their approval after the dizzy array of images at the end of Forest Swords' set.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Fri Mar 28 2014

Future Islands Get Visionary @ Lincoln Hall, 3/26

I began listening to Future Islands four years ago, when a friend recommended them to me as a band he had been listening to quite frequently lately. I hadn't heard of them before, and chose "Vireo's Eye" to test the waters of their sound. As soon as the frenetic guitar strumming began, combined with the bass punctuating the opening chords and a synth backing, I was hooked. The singer's voice was also one of the most interesting I had heard as of late. I wasn't sure if I had heard anything quite like it before. Rapidly transforming from a gruff, hushed tone, to a strong and aggressive shout, Samuel T. Herring's voice is completely mesmerizing: so much so that I continued to listen to this album on repeat all that week, and the week after. I rejoiced when their 2011 release On The Water was just as beautifully crafted as their first and second albums, and was ecstatic to hear their creative album released this past Tuesday, Singles.

The charming aspect of Future Islands is their innovation and growth throughout the years; while some electro-pop groups grow stagnant with subsequent releases, Future Islands continues to morph their sound into one that is more fresh and visionary. They group has been recording music together since 2003, when they joined forces at East Carolina University's campus as they honed in on their unique sound. Singles marks their most fine-tuned and accessible record yet, however it doesn't lose the luster of their initial musical style.

Lincoln Hall found a completely packed house on Wednesday evening for the Future Islands set. Concertgoers eagerly flanked to all sides of the venue, including my perch from the stairs, where I got a great lateral view of Herring's onstage antics. Though I can't say my reaction to their sound was Letterman-esque, my goodness, it was close. Herring appeared onstage engaging in casual banter with the crowd as the band became acclimated with the venue. All of a sudden with the first words he sang, he swiftly transformed, and you could see that the music was not only a professional endeavor for this group, but a spiritual one, too. His voice arched over the crowd with such urgency and passion for the songs created, in that it made the lyrical stories being told all the more compelling. Now, as a music writer here, I clearly go to a lot of concerts. It's been a little while since I felt that extreme rush of hearing a song performed live that literally gives you chills and instills that concert euphoria within you. This Future Islands set was basically an hour and fifteen minutes of sheer musical bliss.

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Sarah Brooks

Concert Thu Mar 27 2014

Son Lux and Leverage Models Give It Their All at Schubas

Ryan Lott, the main component of Son Lux, creates post-rock songs infused with flashes of lush hip hop beats. It's this kind of genre bending that often fills me with curious glee. There are so many possibilities with this mix, so I had no idea how much I would end up enjoying and obsessing over Son Lux on my first listen. I had a similar experience with Leverage Models. I picked up their vinyl solely based on their album's cover and the touted connections with LCD Soundsystem and Sharon Van Etten. Both of these purchases were blind and I got more out of them than I ever expected. The sold out audience at Schubas certainly got more than they bargained for from the pair's fantastic show.


Leverage Models started out the night right as lead singer Shannon Fields spoke through a garbled and deeply distorted voice as drummer Max Jaffe wrapped a scarf around his head. Fields tore into the set, sounding demonic and speaking of Jordanville and Eleanor Roosevelt before uttering the name of the band. Fields' introduction was exactly want the band needed, it held a unique grandness over the packed crowd. It cast a surrealistic vibe around the set that only amplified the band's energetic and inspired performance.

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Julian Ramirez / Comments (2)

Concert Sun Mar 23 2014

The Love on Top Tour Throws a Dance Party at Schubas

I saw TOPS perform last year when opening for King Krule. I was immediately impressed with their pop driven songs. I honestly felt like they were old classics, songs I had heard countless times and still had not grown tired of them. As soon as this feeling would sink in, TOPS would change it up. They are not a simple retread of familiar sounds, but rather an evolution of them. It only makes sense that they are touring with their fellow Canadian Calvin Love, whose own music go towards a similar sense evolution, albeit via a different path. Together they form the Love on Top Tour as they passed through Schubas this past Thursday.


It is crucial emphasize how great it is to come on time to see openers, especially when they are as talented as Calvin Love. Love started his set to a very sparse crowd. Aside from a few very direct jokes about the latecomers, like dedicating "Waiting on You" to them, it didn't seem like Love cared. He played like he was in a full house. On his records, Love's music is a very dark and experimental version of the 80s synth that has come back into fashion. But when performing live he is filled with pure punk fury, which makes sense considering those are his roots. His croon is much grittier and his songs are faster. Luckily more and more people started coming into Schubas as "Cool", Love's most appropriately named song, sparked a dance party. I'm not saying the typical concert swaying and grooving, I mean full on across the room dancing. Even TOPS lead singer Jane Penny joined in as more than just a few rugs were cut during the second half of his set.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Fri Mar 21 2014

Childish Gambino's Deep Web Surprises Riviera

(Photos by Sara Pieper )

I think that at this point, we can get over the whole actor turned musician stigma that has followed Donald Glover around. Bringing it up now seems needless seeing as how he has left his most prominent acting presence, Community, for his Childish Gambino persona. But when you look at what he's doing now, the stigma has become an asset. It has been helping him mold this new venture. Even after his early releases proclaimed that he is just a rapper, this is not the case. A 72 page script, a short film that loosely follows said script, and a release of a "bootleg" vinyl of Because the Internet barely begin to describe the experience that he is attempting to create. Childish Gambino succeeded with an incredible show at the Riviera this past Wednesday.

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Julian Ramirez / Comments (1)

Concert Wed Mar 19 2014

Islands and Escondido Shine Bright in SPACE

Islands (Photos by Steve Sterns)

Before I get into the amazing performances, I have to applaud the atmosphere at SPACE. It is an extraordinary place to see a show. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of fantastic intimate venues all around the Chicagoland area, but SPACE in Evanston is a must see. SPACE feels like the clubs I imagined when I was younger, big enough to get a crowd but small enough for it to feel special. The sound travels nicely through the room, capturing the bands in the best way possible. It certainly didn't hurt that the groups were Islands and Escondido, whose sets were fantastically crafted and performed.

Escondido (Photos by Steve Sterns)

There's something really wonderful about Escondido. The openings to some of their songs sound like scores from old westerns filled with sweeping trumpets and gently strummed guitars. Their music is warm to the touch, a mixture of twang and straight up rock. Plenty of influences come to mind, but rarely overcome the band. Despite their name meaning hidden in Spanish, Escondido's sound and stage presence is anything but. They just have a unique aura about them that comes through in their music and lyrics, wrapping up whatever room they're in.

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Julian Ramirez

Concert Wed Mar 12 2014

Ice Balloons Popped at Empty Bottle

I doubt there is any way to fully describe the evening I had this past Monday at Empty Bottle. It was a collection of dark folk singers and punk madness. It didn't quite make sense to see Coins, Kyp Malone, and Ice Balloons on the same bill. Their individual styles are so different, running off to different sides of the musical spectrum. Nonetheless, it was great to see such diversity in one night. The grouping actually had an escalating effect, starting with calmer sounds before culminating in a frantic and obscenely loud set that straddled the line between lunacy and brilliance.

coins.jpgCoins started the night off with some hauntingly serene soundscapes. The local Chicago duo is quite a sight and sound to behold. Their brand of folk leans toward darker and slower tone, putting out a mesmerizing spell on the audience. You can definitely melt into their songs. Their lyrics are really fun and impactful, whether it's a depressing one about getting stuck by lightning or one about aliens. Angela Mullenhour's voice was strong and full while she gracefully played guitar, which at times dove into more rocking territory. Her laugh emanated through some the verses while Ellen Bunch's gentle keys carried the songs into a surprising sway, making their already likable style overflow. Coins are a great dark folk group that immediately grabbed the audience during their set.

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Julian Ramirez

Concert Thu Feb 27 2014

The Empty Bottle Hosts The Graveface Roadshow

Graveface Records is a wholly independent label, the brainchild of Ryan Graveface who plays for a few of the bands that call his label home. The extraordinary music that comes out of the Savannah, Georgia based outfit ranges from the psychedelic sounds of Black Moth Super Rainbow to the avant-garde Xiu Xiu. Recently they began a tour called The Graveface Roadshow ,featuring a compendium of the label's artists performing together. This past Monday they brought Dreamend , The Stargazer Lilies, and The Casket Girls to the Empty Bottle for a free show. Rarely does it get better than this.

Dream End.jpg Dreamend started their set a little later than the listed start time, which allowed for the late comers to enjoy the band's post-rock fuzz. Once the room had a decent crowd the band hit the ground running, delving straight into a heavy and absorbing song. Dreamend is main project of Ryan Graveface and it's definitely worthwhile. A barely visible video projected onto the stage as Graveface played off to the side behind a case with the words The Casket Girls written on the lid. He wore a balaclava like headgear the entire time he played guitar. The microphone attached to the front of the mask weighed it down, distorting Graveface's look into something twisted and surreal. The near childlike thank you toward the end of the set, seemingly the only time Graveface addressed the crowd, made me jump. It was a drastic shift from Graveface's deep droning singing voice. His presence onstage was a magnificent façade that worked well with the music, giving him a nice dreamlike appearance.

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Julian Ramirez

Concert Mon Feb 24 2014

Nicole Atkins Plays an Inviting Show at Beat Kitchen

I stumbled across Nicole Atkins' music when she appeared on the Ron and Fez show on SiruisXM. She was promoting her first album Neptune City, which was a great showcase of her voice and her quirkiness. Atkins was smart and engaging on what had to be one of her first nationwide shows. Since then her music has matured quite a bit and the comparisons to Roy Orbison multiplied, which is certainly not bad thing. She seems destined for the larger venues, so seeing her at a smaller place like Beat Kitchen was certainly a treat.

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First up on stage was Davey Horne, a soft spoken Scottish folk singer. He came off as charming. His accent clearly affected the crowd, with a few shouts proclaiming his attractiveness. He even joked about it being too thick. Luckily he was able to back up that response with a very good, albeit short, set. Horne completely personified the image of a traditional folk singer, right down to the harmonica around his neck during a few of the songs.

Arc Iris was up next and I was not prepared for their amazing performance. They certainly dressed to impress. Lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Jocie Adams wore a white leotard adorned with a splash of glitter. Cellist Robin Ryczek wore a sequined vest that mirrored keyboardist Zach Tenorio-Teller's shiny shirt. Drummer Ray Belli's white shirt and white pants made him look like a droog straight out of A Clockwork Orange. Their attire combined with the leafy vines adorning the stage created the effect of stumbling upon a group of musical faeries. It felt magical, especially since their music matched the scene.

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Julian Ramirez

Concert Sat Feb 22 2014

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks Jam Out at Lincoln Hall

I can safely say that Stephen Malkmus was one of the first musicians that captured my attention. During my early teens I was stuck in a desert of bad music, listening only to what friends and family listened to. It wasn't all bad, it just didn't grab me. Around 14 or 15 I was hit with a wave of incredibly great music with Pavement being one of the standouts. By that time they were no longer together, but Stephen Malkmus was still going strong with his new band the Jicks. I played that first solo-but-not-really-solo album nonstop. This was my first opportunity to see Stephen Malkmus after I missed the Pavement reunion shows in 2010, so I was incredibly excited.

Opening up the night at Lincoln Hall was Chicago band Disappears. Brian Case, lead singer and founding member of the group, quickly introduced the band though a haze of unintelligible reverb. It really suited the band as they started off mysteriously quiet, guitars and bass buzzing lightly. Drums came in a slow burn that eventually turned into a strong post rock sound. Disappears have a very laidback feel to them, especially Case as he rocks back and forth during the set. A near industrial screech filled the area between the heady songs, all while an array of geometric shapes projected behind them danced to and fro. The video started off slow, but much like the band it continued to transform at dizzying speed. The lines doubled and tripled until they looked as if they were an alien language, perfectly accompanying the Disappears sound.

Despite a slight technical difficulty with the patterned video at the end of the set, Disappears put on a incredible show with the highlight surely being Noah Leger's drumming. The four piece band has gone through numerous drummers over the years, each one offering something substantially different than the last. Leger showed what an incredible addition he is to the group. Toward the end of the set, Leger hit a grandiose peak, as he skillfully assaulted the translucent drum set to a surprisingly ethereal moment.

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Julian Ramirez

Review Thu Feb 20 2014

Band of Horses Acoustically Rock The Vic, 2/19

I've been a Band of Horses fan for a long time. So long, in fact, that the band's sound has grown synonymously with my own life, as I've been listening since the release of their sophomore album, Cease to Begin, back in 2007. I was immediately captivated by song "No One's Gonna Love You": the unique vocals of lead singer Ben Bridwell, the dreamy yet deliberate guitar backing, the poetic lyrics. They poured their talent into each of their songs as they did this one, and I was hooked.

So, I kept following, and kept learning. I listened through 2010's Infinite Arms, to 2012's Mirage Rock, and reverted back to a listen of their first album released in 2006, Everything All The Time. One thing they've always kept about them is an egregious, youthful sound that carries their appeal far. Their music is always fresh and inventive, infused with Americana rock flair all the while.

I've seen them three times before yesterday evening; once, at festival Farm Aid three years back, once at the Riviera Theatre in October of 2010, and once at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in the summer of 2012. All three concerts were extremely magical, and I've craved to see them another time. As their sound is extremely full-bodied, I was ecstatic to learn that their tour was going to be an all-acoustic set featuring the full band. I wondered how the moving "The First Song" would translate in such a capacity, or how high-octane songs like "Is There A Ghost" could possibly hold the same weight. However, the show was able to completely transform old styles of their recorded ballads, and morph them to fit the acoustic setting perfectly.

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Sarah Brooks / Comments (3)

Concert Sat Feb 15 2014

Linnea Olsson with Ane Brun @ Schubas 2/15/14

gapers l best.jpg

Linnea Olsson is remarkable. With just one album release so far, Ah, she already shows promise and a sense of accomplishment. Live, she lived up to the hopes of the sold out audience. Those there to see Ane Brun were quite pleasantly surprised with Olsson's talent as a songwriter. Those there to see Olsson primarily were not disappointed.

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Kirstie Shanley

Review Mon Feb 10 2014

The Black Angels and Roky Erickson Play In the Dark; Park West, 2/5

Roky Erickson's re-emergence on the touring scene has been a boon for devotees of the reclusive songwriter; plagued by mental health issues for decades, he's been performing more frequently in the past several years. While headliners The Black Angels have filled the role of Roky's backing band in the past, last Wednesday at Park West The Hounds of Baskerville did so capably. Particularly notable were the organ jabs from keyboardist Kaylie Bernhardt, as well as Roky's son Jegar, who filled in on background vocals and some intermittently visceral harmonica.

Roky's voice was surprisingly impervious to the wear and tear of age, but he seemed to encounter technical issues with his guitar throughout the set, and the band's sound through the speakers was often unintelligible. At times, this could work to their advantage; the muddiness of the sound was so encompassing that the clatter of a Telecaster lead or a yelp from Roky himself could cut through like a serrated blade, but if you were unfamiliar with the catalog the songs tended to blend together. Highlights included "Two Headed Dog" and "Slip Inside This House", but the biggest cheers came with set closer "You're Gonna Miss Me," the most famous track by the 13th Floor Elevators (Roky's first and most famous band), and one of those rightly celebrated, mythical garage rock 45s. The show proved that there was more to Roky's music than one hit, but it was still great to witness such a seminal tune played by the man who'd originally penned it.

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Pat Donachie

Concert Wed Feb 05 2014

Bass Drum of Death Search and Destroy the Empty Bottle

bass drum of death1.JPG

Photography credit - Rory O'Connor

Bass Drum of Death make swampy garage rock and they do it incredibly well. It makes sense then that they're from the depths of Mississippi where bluesmen such as RL Burnside call home. Started as solo project by former Fat Possum employee John Barrett, he recorded the album GB City off hours DIY style using simple tools such as a drum kit, a guitar and a USB microphone. The band has since filled out to include a touring drummer and guitarist. It was with this lineup that they played to a fervent sold out crowd at the Empty Bottle last Thursday.

bass drum of death10.JPG

Security had their hands full as people tried in vain to crowd surf while the room filled with the sounds of distorted guitars and warped vocals. Songs like "Bad Reputation" and "Nerve Jamming" took on a newfound form of intensity as massive mosh pits emerged within the crowd. Throughout it all, Barrett and his band kept the momentum up as they played a large amount of both of their albums to a completely enthralled crowd, occasionally punctuating songs with random onomatopoeic sounds yelped into his microphone with an echoing effect.

Before Bass Drum of Death took the stage, I was able to catch a set from Blasted Diplomats, a local garage rock quartet who just released their self titled album via BLVD Records and I really dig what I heard. Afterwards, I sought out some of their things on Bandcamp and it's been on regular rotation as of late. Both bands provided an excellent soundtrack to an evening of drinking and revelry amongst friends, and in the end this was all that was wanted.

Justin Freeman

Review Tue Feb 04 2014

Califone Comes Home to Chicago, 2/1

It's fitting that Califone originally hails from Chicago, as I feel their murky concoction of dissonant soundscapes with a folk/blues foundation has always been an appropriate soundtrack for a city as industrial and mysterious as this one. Chicago is arguably the largest city in the nation where you can still hear the old, weird America scratching at the backdoor, and Califone lives right at that intersection of modernity and antiquity. The band stopped at Lincoln Hall last Saturday in support of 2013's Stitches. It is the first Califone album Rutili has made outside of the Windy City, instead crafting it in Los Angeles and throughout the Southwest. He's also touring with a new lineup, including multi-instrumentalist Will Hendricks, and percussionists Joe Westerlund and Rachel Blumberg.

Califone is a kind of alien Americana. There is a rustic grime that settles on the songs (reinforced by Rutili's frequent use of a slide on his acoustic, evoking the haunt of early American blues), but these tropes are strengthened and challenged by the band's use of noise, found sound, and their unconventional approaches to conventional instruments. The thrill of their show emanates from these strange sounds, as you find yourself wondering how they are actually creating the music you're hearing onstage. At one point, Rutili was scratching out chords on his acoustic, and Hendricks was focused on his bass. Out of this murk came the twinkle of a decaying piano chord played in a high octave. I focused on the dual drummers, expecting one of them to be huddled over a keyboard or a trigger, only to see four hands focused on floor toms and percussion. The band eschews pre-recorded tracks, so I knew that wasn't a possibility; I felt like I was hearing things through the speakers that in no way correlated with what I saw on stage. It's this discordance between the visual of the band and the mystery behind the sounds they generate that make Califone such a compelling live act.

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Pat Donachie / Comments (1)

Concert Mon Feb 03 2014

Hugs and Love from Iron & Wine's Sam Beam @ Old Town School

By Amanda Koellner

Sam Beam Iron & Wine 2.jpg
Sam Beam (photos by Joshua Mellin)

About three quarters of the way through Sam Beam's set at the Old Town School of Folk Saturday night, a woman in the crowd yelled, "Can I hug you?" "I've been giving you spiritual hugs all evening," Beam replied matter-of-factly. Such was the tone of the singer's Saturday night show, a benefit concert for the school, during which he largely played whatever the small audience requested with only the help of his acoustic guitar, squeezing our spirits on a cold Chicago evening.

The Haden Triplets.jpg
The Haden Triplets (photos by Joshua Mellin)

Third Man Records artists The Haden Triplets opened the night with a handful of striped-down country tunes that sounded completely Coen Brothers approved, as if they could have been heard during an opening set for O Brother, Where Art Thou?'s Soggy Bottom Boys or at The Gaslight on the same night as Llewyn Davis. Although the sisters have been in music for a couple of decades (they're the daughters of revered jazz bassist Charlie Haden), they only recently united as a band. Rife with talent, the charming act's set featured covers like The Carters' "Single Girl, Married Girl" and Webb Pierce's "Slowly". When they gushed about the immense sound quality in Maurer Hall, violinist and most prominent of the singing sisters, Petra, said, "I can hear my heartbeat," appropriately capturing the Lincoln Square venue's crystal-clear acoustics.

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Review Sat Feb 01 2014

Lullabies and Loud Noises @ Schubas, 1/31


Photo by Steve Stearns

Friday evening saw a packed house at Schubas, as listeners anxiously awaited the sold out show for emergent Malaysian indie-pop songstress Yuna to perform. Gaining vast amounts of popularity over the past year, Yuna has honed her niche in the music world with her eccentric rhythms, lyrics seeped with wisdom, and vulnerability represented in her music. The Schubas show was the first stop on her 2014 US tour, which included opening act Jarell Perry.

I'm not going to lie, I hadn't heard of Jarell Perry or listened to his music before arriving at Schubas. The line to enter the venue's back room winded outside the front door, however, which signified to me that this musician must have a large following, as it's a good sign to have a completely packed house for an opener. With just Perry and a DJ onstage complemented by eccentric videos showing in the background (my personal favorite being a Mario Kart race), Perry's voice was immediately showcased as dynamic and powerful. Blending his smooth R&B vocals with sexy backing beats, Perry has a voice that is reminiscent of Frank Ocean, but is adjusted to become his own style completely.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Thu Jan 30 2014

Peacemaking Music: David Broza @ City Winery, 1/29

As a first-timer to City Winery, I was immediately entranced by the intimacy of the venue and its immediate warmth (literally and figuratively, as it is Chicago weather we're currently grappling with). Long tables dotted with tea light candles allowed the room to contain an effervescent glow, and I thought to myself that a very distinct caliber of musicians must play shows in such a gentle space. As my friend and I sat at a table with new friends, I overheard a gentleman say, "it's an old saying, when you speak from the heart, it goes straight to the heart. When you speak from the tongue, it stops there. David Broza, he speaks from the heart." I had not seen Broza perform live before, but I had the feeling after hearing this sentiment that it would be a beautiful concert.

image002.jpgIf you are unfamiliar with David Broza, he is touted as the Bruce Springsteen of Israel, and after seeing him perform, I understand the comparison. Charismatic and charming, you can tell that he is truly passionate about the music he creates as he commands the room with his ebullient energy. Native to Israel, Broza has also resided in Spain and England, forming an impressive melange of cultural backgrounds and insight. The richness of his cultural framework has allowed him to dabble in many musical styles as well, which permeate his musical style completely.

The beginning of the show featured an acoustic set by Broza, during which he walked onstage completely beaming. While singing songs in Hebrew, Spanish and English, the first two being languages that I do not speak, this fact didn't even matter as the emotion was easily conveyed through Broza's infectious spirit and I could sense the message that Broza intended to send with his music, without even knowing each of the words that were sung. Many of his songs involved his deep love of poetry, during which he incorporated the words of famous poems by Federico Garcia Lorca. Utilizing flamenco guitar flourishes and a low tenor voice, Broza was able to convey the romantic nature of the poems themselves easily as they were brought into musical form.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Tue Jan 28 2014

Review: Action Bronson @ Metro 1/24


Photo credit - Complex

"If there are any rappers in the building, you have to keep trying," Action Bronson says in between drags of a joint in front of a sold out crowd at the Metro this past Friday. "You're not going to make it off of your first mixtape. I mean, look at me. What the fuck?!" Large and imposing in his physique, Action Bronson is the embodiment of recently vintage 90's NYC rap. Raised in Queens, Ariyan Arslani grew up listening to rappers such as Nas, Mobb Deep, Cam'ron, Big Pun, DMX, and of course, the Wu Tang Clan. He grew up idolizing these artists, but never thought he'd be one of them. His intended path was something different, he wanted to be a chef.

The details are fuzzy, but it looks like he went to culinary school and worked various kitchen jobs while climbing his way up the ladder of the NYC food scene. According to various sources he was a sous chef at a steakhouse and worked as a cook for the New York Mets? Like I said, the details are kinda fuzzy. I personally dig the slightly mysterious aspect of his past, though. It make his persona more interesting to me. At some point, he started rapping. He gained traction with his music and found himself needing needed to choose between the mic or the kitchen. He chose the microphone. Several mixtapes and EPs later, he's finally arrived.

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Justin Freeman

Concert Fri Jan 24 2014

Review: Greensky Bluegrass @ Concord Music Hall 1/18

There's nothing quite like a little bluegrass to warm you up on a wintry Midwestern night. Between the polar vortexes and snowstorms, the fifth annual Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Festival was just what the doctor ordered. It continued for its second week at Concord Music Hall last Saturday night.

Dog1 and Escondido opened up the show for Greensky Bluegrass, as people filtered in gradually. It seemed that they took their time to arrive at the venue since there were three bands on the lineup. The overwhelming chatter during Escondido's down-tempo, folk tunes made it clear that the majority of the crowd was there for the high-energy quintet from Michigan.


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Brianna Kelly / Comments (1)

Concert Fri Jan 24 2014

Review: Perfect Pussy @ Schubas 1/22


Photo credit - The Guardian

Perfect Pussy created a little bit of a reputation for themselves with their chaotic shows during the CMJ music marathon last year. They parlayed that buzz into a well received EP, I Have Lost All Lost All Desire For Feeling. They were subsequently signed by the tastemaker label Captured Tracks, and tasked with recording a full length album and going on tour.

I arrived at Schubas on Wednesday around 8:30 to an increasingly full house. I grabbed a beer and made my way through the growing crowd. The band was already on stage setting up, and without much fanfare or warning, started playing around 8:45. The problem with that was they weren't supposed to start until 9.

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Justin Freeman / Comments (15)

Review Sun Jan 19 2014

Jake Bugg, Live from Studio X, 1/18

I was waiting outside Kingston Mines on Saturday, awaiting the set of fledgling indie folk darling Jake Bugg. The Live from Studio X show by WXRT was to feature the British musician for a short set and question and answer session, which I was delighted to attend. As I waited in line while watching the snow steadily fall, seemingly covering Halsted Street completely, suddenly Jake Bugg stepped out of a car and nonchalantly walked into the venue. With this action, the show was already different than most I had attended previously; it was already established that this show would be more intimate, carefree and casual than most, a change I certainly welcomed.

jake buggPatrons amassed quickly within the venue as Bugg played a quick song to soundcheck and fine tune the acoustics before the firm 3pm start time. I was immediately enchanted by the tenacity of his voice, which somehow sounded even better in a live setting than on record. It is difficult sometimes to remember that he is only 19 years old, as he sings with a maturity that rings out clearly as he is far wiser than his years.

Jake Bugg began the set with "Slumville Sunrise," off of his recently released album Shangri La, a raucous, rapid ballad that truly showcases the essence of his musical style, if it can even be pinned down. With a voice reminiscent of Bob Dylan and energized, deliberate guitar in the background, listeners truly got a sense of his style and why he is currently such a revered newcomer in the music industry not only for 2013, but beyond.

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Sarah Brooks

Tomorrow Never Knows Sun Jan 19 2014

Day Four: Tomorrow Never Knows - Superchunk, RoomRunner, Split Single @ Cabaret Metro 1/18/14

Gapers Super best.jpg

It's never a dull moment when Superchunk is in town! The four piece has rearranged itself a little without Laura Ballance accompanying the band for live tours but with more practice given the current lineup, they've become even tighter than when they played a stellar set at this year's Hideout Block Party, giving both their old favorites and their new songs from 2013's ironically entitled I Hate Music. The crowd emphatically knew the words to all of the songs they played and were almost as invigorated as the band seemed, echoing a sense of energy with moshers up front and center.

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Kirstie Shanley

Tomorrow Never Knows Sun Jan 19 2014

Day Three: Tomorrow Never Knows - Weekend, Bare Mutants @ Schubas, 1/17

tomorrowneverknows2014.jpgFriday night's Tomorrow Never Knows show at Schubas was headlined by Weekend, whose previous Chicago shows have arguably been upstagings of bill mates. Their fuzzy post-punk calls to mind a chugging My Bloody Valentine or, say, a Glasvegas with more oomph. Their two albums are solid efforts and 2013's Jinx shows evolution, but live they are another beast. Hypnotic percussion and pummeling guitars make them an aural delight. A song like "Oubliette" may have noisy pop hints of Slumberland labelmates the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, but it's the life that gets added to songs like "Mirror" and "July" where they're at their best. Singer Shaun Durkan thrashes on stage, sometimes just sitting down for half a song, but never falling out of step with everyone else as they punish chords. A 10-minute long closer that meandered but never bored built into a fury of noise as they left for the night.

Bare Mutants opened with a set mostly from their debut album, The Affliction. The Chicago band's developed over the last few years into something that has a little shoegaze but also borrows nicely from the Velvet Underground's more rock'n'roll years. Their best songs ("Without You," "Crying with Bob," etc.) tend to build to heavy last acts and earworm their way into your head. On Friday, they had a few new songs that fit perfectly with everything else. It seems they are in good shape for the near future and shouldn't be missed.

Read all our Tomorrow Never Knows coverage.

James Ziegenfus

Tomorrow Never Knows Sat Jan 18 2014

Day Two: Tomorrow Never Knows - Rural Alberta Advantage, Kopecki Family Band, Mutual Benefit at Lincoln Hall 1/17/14


If there was any previous doubt how much Chicagoans love The Rural Alberta Advantage, Friday night would put those thoughts to rest. The audience for the RAA was better than ever in their deeply felt love of all of the lyrics to the songs they knew by heart. It's a rare day in this jaded postmodern world when a band doesn't have to ask the audience to sing along and they just passionately feel so inclined as if they were fulfilling some deep aspect of their souls.

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Kirstie Shanley

Tomorrow Never Knows Fri Jan 17 2014

Day One: Tomorrow Never Knows Fest - Cayucas @ Lincoln Hall 1/15

tomorrowneverknows2014.jpgThe opening night of this year's Tomorrow Never Knows festival hinged upon opportunity. For not only were more established bands headlining at many of Chicago's most cherished venues, but also we were presented with bands beginning their careers and making their first appearances in Chicago, anticipating where their music will take them next.

On Wednesday evening, I was lucky enough to hear three bands showcase their talents for a completely packed house at Lincoln Hall, eagerly awaiting headliner Cayucas. Each band's sound was vastly different than the next, and the immense variety present kept listeners guessing as to what they would be welcomed with next.

Opener Bad Bad Hats played a short but sweet set that filled me and surely many other listeners in Lincoln Hall with pure, unadulterated joy. Minneapolis native duo Kerry Alexander and Chris Hoge combine their talents for the perfect musical chemistry, unabashed in the sweetness that their music possesses, but it is never saturated with too much. I had never heard their music before, though it felt like I was listening to a band I had followed for years as their sound was welcoming and jubilant. They opened with "9 AM," a track off of their early 2013 EP It Hurts, which is available for a free download via their Bandcamp page. The song immediately showcased their lyrical prowess; though the beats remain light, the lyrics find frequent moments of serendipitous wisdom that showcase their ballads as not only sweet, but smart. Kerry Alexander's voice is mature and soulful, and comprises a large vocal range, reminiscent of a Karen O and Bethany Cosentino vocal hybrid, with an additional zest that is all her own.

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Sarah Brooks

Concert Sat Jan 04 2014

Flosstradamus @ The Riv 12/30


It's been awhile since we checked in with Flosstradamus. The last time we saw one of their shows was at Lincoln Hall; coincidentally during New Year's Eve of 2010. Some things have changed in the last three years. Lead by producers such as Skrillex, a new generation of electronic music has exploded into the mainstream and Flosstradamus have found themselves performing to ever growing crowds around the world in between recording EPs and new mixes. We remember Flosstradamus playing small yet intense sets at dive bars, so we wanted to see how they would transition from that setting to an almost arena sized theater. It was with this in mind as we headed to The Riv on a snowy Monday night for the first of two sold out performances.

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Justin Freeman

Concert Thu Dec 12 2013

Review: Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger Acoustic Holiday Show


(Photos by Brianna Kelly)

Christmas spirit was all-aglow in Park West on Saturday night for the 11th Annual Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger Acoustic Holiday Show. The halls were decked from the venue's entrance to the stage. People in red and green, some donning festive hats and gaudy sweaters, eagerly filed in to find a spot and post up for the sold-out show that benefited The People's Music School.

The stage was converted into a makeshift family room, complete with all of the comforts of home. The two guitarists from local jam band Umphrey's McGee, Brendan and Jake, sat next to each other on a couch as they strummed away on their acoustic guitars. The atmosphere was very intimate, which paired nicely with the stripped-down tone of the performance.

They kicked off the show with a slew of unplugged Umphrey's originals. Some already featured acoustic guitars, like the melodious "The Pequod," and others did not, like the usually bass-heavy "Puppet Strings."

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Brianna Kelly

Review Tue Dec 10 2013

Cass McCombs Rode a Big Wheel to the Empty Bottle

Cass McCombs' has often been compared to Bob Dylan or Neil Young, but those comparisons seem a tad too simple. McCombs has the ability to summon a sense of anxiety, and even a touch of anarchy, into a style of music that can sometimes err on the side of being overly sedate. This was put front and center during his sold out show at the Empty Bottle last Friday.

Opening the evening was Baltimore band Arboretum. With a Rhodes keyboard accompanying a bass/drums/guitar setup, the sound emanating from the stage evoked raggedy Appalachian folk melodies backed by pulsating post-rock. The instrumentation was muscular, and surprisingly bass-heavy in contrast to the pinched twinge of Dave Heumann's vocals. His guitar playing was given ample time, as the songs stretched over minutes of instrumental breaks, and tentative guitar arpeggios and swells gave way to more conventional, searing leads.

McCombs and company took the stage and lumbered into "Big Wheel," the (sort of) title track off his newest release, Big Wheel and Others. The tune's circular guitar riff was accompanied by a hypnotizing drumbeat, with the stuttering rumble of the toms reverberating throughout the room. It drew my focus towards Joe Russo, the man behind the kit; I was hooked on his playing all night as he expertly balanced intricate beats while maintaining the spare dignity so many of McCombs' songs generate.

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Pat Donachie

Review Sun Dec 08 2013

Chance the Rapper Rocks The Riv

Image via Time Out Chicago

Chance the Rapper just may be the new American Dream. A product of the city's south side, Chancelor Bennett found himself sometimes ridiculed by his peers and teachers for dreaming big and being told instead to have more sensible aspirations. Bennett rejected these notions and somehow got himself suspended from school for ten days. In reaction, he holed up in the Harold Washington Library's digital media lab, YOUmedia, and recorded his debut mixtape 10 Day. This was barely two years ago. In the time since, everyone has seen tremendous growth from him. I've seen him transform from a promising upstart at small clubs to a charismatic performer at larger venues, but none as large as the almost arena sized Riviera Theatre. Would he be able to captivate such a large audience and make the leap to the next level? The answer to that turned out to be unequivocally yes.

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Justin Freeman

Review Wed Nov 27 2013

InnerVisionists Share Their Vision: An EP in Review

The first time I saw an InnerVisionists live show was this past summer, at a dive bar a few blocks away from my apartment. As I headed over there, I honestly didn't know what to expect pertaining to their sound, as honestly sometimes I prefer to listen to a new group without hearing their music prior. There are no preconceived notions as to how I will react to the sound, or what I will think. I'm merely submerged by the sound, as I let it wash over me and fade out.

Hearing InnerVisionists' unique sound for the first time absolutely stunned me. Their sound is a blend of many different musical styles, subverting the notion of a band needing to fit into one unique category. Their sound was merely unable to be typecast, as they jaunted from hip hop with elements of jazz, to funk, to rock, and back again. The crowd that was once seated in booths and not fully engaged with the music prior was now attentive and watchful, with many members of the audience dancing and tapping their feet along to the new sound present before them. The duration of their set flew by, and it ended with grins plastered to the faces of many audience members; Innervisionists had gained some new fans.

Their self-defined genre description includes "whatever we feel," and honestly, that is perfectly stated. Two separate listens to two different songs and one could wonder, "is this the same band?" and I mean this in an extremely positive way. To clarify, they don't lose their sound at all. They keep their sound fresh, lively, and not once is it boring. Innovative sounds and styles are utilized to their fullest, as they mix it up and keep listeners on their toes.

As a fledgling local group, they're one of the strongest and most eccentric that I've heard in some time. I was overjoyed to have the opportunity to review their new EP, which they are having a release party for this Friday.

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Sarah Brooks

Concert Fri Nov 15 2013

Albert Hammond, Jr. and Rathborne Knockout Double Door

Photo courtesy Rathbourne's Facebook page

Double Door has a long storied past. The smallish venue has hosted some of the biggest names in music, ranging from a secret Rolling Stones show to a Sonic Youth fronted Lollapalooza after party. The venue's countless events have cemented its reputation and iconic status, but for last night's opening band Rathborne, nobody has ever come closer to embodying fictional DD band Sonic Death Monkey (now Barry Jive & The Uptown Five) and Rob Gordon's DJing. The High Fidelity reference fell flat for some of the audience, (with quite a few asking who are Sonic Death Monkey?) but that didn't stop the bands' consistently fun interaction with the crowd.


Rathborne, an incredibly polished four piece band out of New York City, opened up the night very at ease.They played like they were right at home, which isn't that much of a stretch as Luke Rathborne shared a story about almost going to Columbia College, only to drop out when he saw crumpled up school pamphlets after missing the orientation and realizing his father would no longer be paying the tab. It was a fun soliloquy between songs that fit perfectly with the band's attitude. Jokes about a fake Tecate sponsorship and syth/guitar player Jimmy Gianopoulos' "Here's the Beef" shirt only added to their playfulness. There never seemed to be a misstep from the band, always playing to the crowd with an intensely confident swagger as Luke Rathborne occasionally shredded at the edge of the stage.

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Julian Ramirez / Comments (1)

Review Thu Nov 14 2013

The Singer Addresses His Audience: Colin Meloy @ Park West, 11/11

Colin Meloy is an individual that has an immediate presence when he walks into a room. An innate sense of calm surrounds him, a notion that the words that come out of his mouth will be engulfed with wisdom. A prophet of modern music, Meloy has weaved his way through the music industry by dabbling in many different forays; from working with fledgling group Tarkio, to founding revered indie folk outfit The Decemberists, to spurning his own solo career, there has never been a dull moment for him as he has consistently evolved and shaped his sound into a genre all his own, one that keeps fans returning time and time again.

Meloy displayed his immense talent Monday evening at Park West, where he appeared to a packed house. Eleanor Friedberger opened the show; with swift, stripped down acoustic numbers, her voice dispersed throughout the venue, diminishing any sound to a quiet whisper as the notes set the tone for the evening's feel.

As Meloy stepped on stage, the crowd grew elated. Wearing a casual outfit and donning his signature specs, Meloy beamed as he took a swig from his glass of red wine, the bottle left on a table beside him. It truly felt like an overdue reunion, as many of these fans, including myself, have been listening to Meloy's music for more than a decade now. Growing with an artist is an experience one can never forget, as we watch them shape their craft into something heightened and evolved each time we see them.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Tue Nov 12 2013

Sleigh Bells Wind Up the Crowd at Metro

By Patrick Donachie

Sleigh Bells' sold-out show at the Metro last Sunday was their fourth at the club, and vocalist Alexis Krauss noted it from the stage. "When are you guys gonna get sick of us?" she asked after expressing her thanks to the venue for continuously having them back. If the reaction of the crowd is any indication, both the venue and the band's fan base are unlikely to turn on them anytime soon. The audience gave as good as they got throughout the high-energy performance, not content to merely offer polite applause during the breaks; they were there to equal the band's high-wire enthusiasm.

The night began with Doldrums, an electronic trio based out of Montreal. Their sinewy arrangements fluctuated between hard-hitting bass and synth attacks and more serene mood-setters, often within the same song. Considering the excitement of the crowd, it seems likely they left with more than a few new converts. Shortly thereafter, the lights dimmed, the smoke machines turned on, and enough strobe lights flashed to risk a seizure. Guitarist Ryan Primack and drummer Chris Maggio appeared first (Sleigh Bells is utilizing a live drummer for the first time on this tour), followed by guitarist and producer Derek Miller. Finally Krauss, clad in a boxer's robe emblazoned with her initials, came onstage to massive applause. The band crashed into "Minnie," a track off their new record Bitter Rivals, and by the end of the song the boxer's robe had been tossed to the side. Krauss engaged the crowd from the first note to the last, not content to let the musical performance do all the work.

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Review Mon Nov 11 2013

Review: Kavinsky @ Metro 11/07

As I walked towards the Metro on a chilly Thursday night, I was greeted by the bass. A loud pulsing beat vibrated the air around me as I smoked a cigarette and walked closer to the building. The sound grew more intense as I made my way inside. Bodies were thrashing rhythmically in tune with the beat I as I climbed the stairs. As I approached the main room, the creators of this controlled mayhem became clear; Simian Mobile Disco.

Simian Mobile Disco is a duo of electronica producers from London who have recorded several albums of original material and have worked with bands such the Arctic Monkeys and Klaxons, either producing albums or remixing singles for them. Thursday night was a DJ set from them as they played a mix of mainly Chicago / Detroit house and UK garage. Samples of Julio Bashmore and Falty DL met samples of Green Velvet and Jimmy Edgar throughout the night as the crowd grew both in size and in anticipation for the evening's main event.

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Justin Freeman / Comments (1)

Review Mon Nov 11 2013

Review: Destroyer Inspires @ Old Town School

By Stuart Ross

I missed Destroyer at Pitchfork in 2011. Though disappointed, I knew he'd eventually be back in town, and in a more breathable setting than dusty Union Park in the soupy July heat. That's because Destroyer's music demands a darkened, climate-controlled space, with dimmed floor lights. There, I told myself, is where his inwardness would burn brightest, with only an acoustic guitar and microphone to amplify his coal-fired voice.

Chirp Radio knew this too, because they secured the ideal venue for last Thursday's show: the Old Town School of Folk Music.

The show began with a Thax Douglas poem about a confused flower. Destroyer (aka Dan Bejar) ambled in from stage right, wearing charcoal-gray slacks and a laundered peasant's blouse, the stage floor carpet muffling the footfalls of his boots. Destroyer is tall, a shade-producing height, and very neat, not a thick hair misplaced in his spiral curl updo. He was greeted with mannered applause from the equally well-dressed crowd.

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Transmission / Comments (1)

Review Thu Nov 07 2013

Review: Sparks @ Lincoln Hall, 11/6

Sparks may not be the household name that they could have or should have been. Over the last forty years, the Mael brothers have been all over the map between big hits, critical praise, some missteps and a little bad luck all while churning out an eclectic selection of pop music to a cultish audience. Their electronic angle has kept them progressive and their clever wordplay has always been rightly admired.

In 2013, the Mael brothers are on the road on their own -- Ron on keys and Russell with the microphone. They're playing 20+ songs ranging from the early days to one written specifically for this tour. The set's stripped down without a band, but that comes with its own benefits. Ron's musicianship shines on the altered arrangements of longtime favorites. Big glossy productions have a warmth and even a delicateness that sometimes gets lost on recordings. With the minimalist approach, Russell's impressive vocal range stands out more than ever. At 65, he's barely lost any ability to hit his terrific falsetto. And he still bops around the stage like he's 20 years younger. (Even the reserved Ron got a little dancing in for "No. 1 Song in Heaven" near the end.)

For an older and forgiving crowd who seemed delighted that Sparks even play live anymore, the brothers had a freedom to dig deep and get a little experimental, especially with a medley from 2009's The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman. At times, though, the duo seemed on cruise control. They've been doing this show for months and the performance was lively, but always in check. However, the music at the forefront was still pretty flawless and refreshing.

Sparks are at Lincoln Hall again tonight. The show is $30, 21+ and starts at 8pm -- and last night they were on stage right at 8, ending just after 9:30. (So you can still get over to Metro for Kavinsky and Simian Mobile Disco in plenty of time.)

James Ziegenfus

Review Thu Nov 07 2013

Review: ICE plays John Zorn @ MCA

ICE Zorn
Michael Nicolas (cello) and Cory Smythe (piano) perform John Zorn's 'Occam's Razor'

As I settled in to my seat, eager for the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) to begin their performance of a half-dozen compositions by John Zorn at the MCA, I thought about the years I've spent listening to John Zorn's records, both written and improvised, wondering what these through-written pieces would sound like, when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a familiar site. A man dressed in a very familiar pair of camouflage cargo pants and a zippered hoodie popped out of a side door to have a quick glance at the stage. The most comfortably-dressed man in modern composition was here tonight! It added a hot spark to the anticipation knowing that Zorn himself would be watching from the wings.

Considering the breadth (and, in many cases, extremity) of Zorn's work, I came in expecting ear-bleed and grinding teeth from start to finish, but was surprised to hear not just his tender side, but also his beautifully classicist nature. The opening piece, a work for solo clarinet based on Herman Hesse's novel "Steppenwolf," was a long, lyrical work that sounded like the 1930s as inhabited by early modernist pioneers like Charles Ives and Henry Cowell, using abstraction as a way to color the mind and the mood, building to a dazzling sequence where clarinetist Joshua Rubin cleared intervallic jumps like he was playing hopscotch. To use Anthony Braxton's terminology, the gravallic weight of this piece was off the charts. The fireworks evoked, however, never overpowered the sheer lyrical beauty of the composition and Rubin's masterful handling of it.

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Chris Sienko

Concert Wed Nov 06 2013

My Bloody Valentine @ Aragon 11/03


Several years ago, I saw a performance by the avant-garde composer, Roc Jimenez de Cisneros. The piece was entitled "Tetralemma + Tetrafluoroethane" and was written for computer and air horns. To make the piece work, Cisneros meticulously altered a batch of air horns so that each one had a different pitch and key. Some horns were loud and sharp, while others were surprisingly subtle and sombre. The majority of the horns, though, occupied an ambiguous grey area between noise and melody. Over a sparse ambient skeleton produced by the composer's laptop, he and his makeshift orchestra started to use the various horns. Different horns of different sounds were used for different amounts of time at different locations throughout the performance space. One horn would create a loud droning sound while others created subtle bursts seemingly all around you. Things appeared to be a maddening mess, but slowly a pattern emerged. Engulfed by this odd wall of sound, a sense of catharsis took over as once familiar individual objects and noises found themselves transformed into a union of weirdness. It was an abrasive and experimental work, making the point that there is a kind of beauty in extremity.

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Justin Freeman / Comments (1)

Concert Tue Oct 29 2013

Review: King Louie @ Reggies, 10/24

Chicago is a city in transition, transforming into a central force in hip-hop before our very eyes. In between the meteoric rise of Chance the Rapper and the relentlessly confrontational presence of Chief Keef, Chicago plays host to a slew of artists who are on the verge of making it. This past Thursday at Reggies, I was able to witness one of those on the cusp artists; King Louie.

You may recognize King Louie from his appearance on Kanye's latest album Yeezus, where Louie raps the first verse and chorus on "Send it Up." Perhaps you recall seeing his Basquiat-inspired promo stickers all over town a year or so ago. Maybe you're into the local rap scene and are already familiar with him and his impressive lineup of mixtapes. The point of this is that knowingly or not, you probably at least have a passing knowledge of the man and his work.

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Justin Freeman

Review Sat Oct 26 2013

Review: Disclosure Brings Down the HOUSE of Blues 10/24


It's an hour and half into the show and Disclosure is nowhere in sight. Inhibitions are being shaved alongside layers of clothing as the mishmash of sweaty, dancing bodies on the ground level thickens. The opener, T. Williams, is busy priming the crowd into an 808-induced tizzy, while a few of the 9-5ers are wondering when, if ever, Disclosure will take the stage. Then with no prior warning, T. Williams power downs his set and the curtains are re-drawn. Disclosure's arrival is nigh and the crowd is howling their name. The stage is prepped with octagonal LCD displays and a slew of tables, tablets, laptops, and keyboards are set up on opposite sides of the stage.

After everything is in place, the fresh-faced duo bustles out onto the stage and mans their respective musical stations. These two wide-eyed and unassuming young men are Disclosure. House music's latest darlings from across the pond. Armed with an album chock full of fan favorites, Guy Howard counts the duo into the first song of the night, "F For You." But this isn't just any old "F For You." This is "F For You" in Chicago - the international home of House, a title the brothers rightfully acknowledge midway through the show. Perhaps sensing the stakes were higher, Disclosure delivered each track with utmost precision and creativity. "F For You" 's 15-second stretch of standalone beats turned into a 30-second stretch of isolated snare snaps. "When A Fire Starts To Burn" was slowed down, sped up and peppered with live bass licks and cymbal strokes. And somehow the live rendition of "Boiling" was not weakened by the lack of live vocals from Sinead Harnett.

On deck was more music from 2013's Settle, kicked off by a rollicking rendition of "You and Me" that rolled over the crowd like an incoming wave. Five songs deep and the crowd had devolved into a mass of visceral movements. The audience, limbs akimbo, danced recklessly throughout an extended version of "January," while Disclosure's signature outlined faces appeared on the LCD displays above and mouthed the words to the music. The entire show was both a feast for the ears and eyes. The visuals heightened already euphoric, sonic moments. And the faces, in all their Zordon-likeness, watched over the crowd like benevolent dictators whose only request of their subjects was to dance, dance, dance. And danced we did through the remaining dispatches from Settle and its accompanying pastiches of mid-90s synth, early-90s isolated beats, and late-90s neo-soul.

On a night full of highs, the show's low moments were few and far between. In fact, to find any a critic would have to nitpick, so here goes: Though it was a nice gesture, the tidbits of live contributions from the brothers felt arbitrary. The majority of the music was pre-recorded and when the boys drummed on their drum pads, or slang bass it was largely indistinguishable from the backing track. Save for a blink-and-you'll-miss-it drum solo from older brother, Guy (kid's no Keith Moon), the live moments were largely forgettable. Again though, this was only a small setback and the gesture still warrants minor applause if only for all of the multi-tasking it required.

After an hour of many build-ups with very few breakdowns, the twins paused and offered the crowd a brief respite from the mania. Guy then took his phone out and screamed, "Smile Chicago!" as he snapped an Instagram of the crowd. In doing so he revealed himself as the Millennial that he truly is, equally taken with his fandom as his fans are with him. From this point of mutual affection sprung a techno-infused teaser of "Latch" and moments later came the full version. It was a fitting climax, a desperately needed explosion of energy after 3 hours of boom and bass that left the crowd in a state of blissful exasperation. With no material left to play, Disclosure thanked the crowd and humbly exited the stage as the audience, still buzzing from the after effects of all the propulsive drumming, stumbled towards the exit.

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Abigail Covington

Review Thu Oct 24 2013

Review: Thee Oh Sees, OBN IIIs, Blind Shake @ Empty Bottle, 10/22

It takes a nice bit of confidence to tour with not one but two opening acts with the potential to upstage on any night. It's no surprise that one band that'd be up for that challenge is Thee Oh Sees. The San Francisco band tours constantly and their garage rock, punk and terrific noise almost always result in an entertaining live show. And it was no different on Tuesday night at the Bottle when they headlined with an 80-minute set full of what anyone who's seen them has come to expect. They played the favorites like "Block of Ice", "Minotaur" and "Toe Cutter - Thumb Buster" punctuated by a freneticism that was mirrored in the crowd. As soon as they started, the middle of the room was already pogoing and bouncing off one another. Despite upsetting some showgoers on the pit's fringes, it appeared to be all in good fun. But it's not just how tight they are or their top-notch melodies underneath the noise that draws people in. It's that, while they may have predictable setlists, they give it all their all every night and know what the fans want.

On this night, however, it wasn't just about the headliner. Austin's OBN IIIs opened with a rousing set of garage rock. They were loud, brash and energetic. Their singer was out in the crowd, weaving the mic through his shirt, on the floor and generally a solid entertainer out of the Iggy Pop school of frontmen. They never lost steam and always looked like they wouldn't rather be anywhere else. And whether it was some strange showmanship or just forgetfulness, handing set lists out to the rest of the band 3 songs in was sort of funny. If there were one complaint, though, it's that their songs are really long for fast-paced garage rock. Also, it appeared that a dad and son were having a great time during their set. I can't say I see too many fathers and sons hanging out at the Bottle, so that was pretty cool.

The Twin Cities' Blind Shake opened the evening with a high energy set of garage/surf-rock. A little Man or Astroman is prevalent in their sound, and even sort of their look with duct-taped symbols on matching black shirts and all 3 band members with shaved heads. (That's some dedication.) They were pretty much all business and their short songs packed a punch that definitely perked the ears of early arrivers.

James Ziegenfus

Review Sat Oct 12 2013

Review: Franz Ferdinand @ the Vic, 10/10

Some bands are just effortlessly cool. They ooze charisma. They charm audiences immediately. They encapsulate all of the best reasons why people fantasize about being rock stars. And when they have the tunes to back it up, they're practically unstoppable, which leads us to Franz Ferdinand.

Since popping on the scene nearly ten years ago, the Glasgow band has had a lot of hits and very few misses. Thursday's sold out show at the Vic was in line with their career. They started out with "Bullet" from their latest Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action and moved along to old favorites "The Dark of the Matinée" and "Do You Want To" before circling back to the new album to play the single, "Right Action." Throughout the evening, it sounded as if many new songs were harder than the angular dance music that they've churned out in the past, but it couldn't stop a rabid crowd from wearing down their shoe soles and singing along at top volume.

From the time they walked on stage, the foursome was aggressive, confident and tight. They peppered three quarters of the new album in an hour and a half among an array of the hits. "Can't Stop Feeling" with Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" injected in the middle, along with the torrid "This Fire" were certainly highlights and the energy flowed, but still it's their breakout "Take Me Out" that brought the house down and electrified the Vic - even in the balcony. Oddly and unfortunately, though, it was the encore where they lost steam. A full band drum solo and a downtempo closer, "Goodbye Lovers & Friends" - an appropriately titled low-key sendoff, felt anticlimactic. But taking the show down a grade for that misstep would be short-sighted since the 75 minutes preceding it was everything you could ever ask for at a rock show.

James Ziegenfus

Review Fri Oct 11 2013

Review: Atoms for Peace @ UIC Pavilion, 10/2

*Writer apologizes for delay in this review, due to malfunctioning and unresponsive laptop.

Atoms for Peace at first glance is an interesting hybrid. What do you get when you take the ingenuity and forward-thinking musicality of Thom Yorke, and blend it with the talented, energized rock of Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers? Add in the musical production of Nigel Godrich and percussion of Mauro Refosco and Joey Waronker. Does that combination work when placed side by side? Honestly, it does. The juxtaposition of the two musical styles forms this awesome mix of high-octane, rhythmic rock that leaves you energized and hypnotized, unable to take your eyes off of the performers in front of you and the music that they create.

This concert was long awaited from the group's creation, way back in 2009. They fuddled with their name, calling themselves ????? for show advertisements and not settling on a name, until they officially marked themselves Atoms for Peace, partially a nod to Thom Yorke's song off of his solo album, The Eraser. Shrouded in mystery, the hype for Atoms for Peace grew, especially for fans of Radiohead and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Though they had been recording for years, their first official album, Amok, was released this past February.

The show was a nod to their first set of recorded material, but also it was an affirmation of the group's status. No longer were they deliberating a name, or spending time recording without outputting a release. Here they were, concept formed and music style honed in on. This came to life throughout their set, as they were clearly in their element.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Mon Oct 07 2013

Singing Dark Doo Wop With MS MR, 9/30

*Writer apologizes for the delay of this review, caused by unresponsive and malfunctioning laptop.

Gaining popularity this year immensely, it's likely you've heard MS MR's music, even if you don't know it. Featured in TV show promos and episodes, if you're an avid Game of Thrones, Pretty Little Liars, or Grey's Anatomy fan, you've inadvertently heard their music before. Friends have told me to listen to their dynamic first single, "Hurricane." The beat resonates in my mind as a sample of one of 2013's best releases thus far. Just looking at that in itself speaks for the wide fan base that MS MR's music caters to. MS MR: The MS, lead singer Lizzy Plapinger, and the MR, Max Hershenow. Both unique musicians, brought together by their alma mater, Vassar College. Graduating in 2010, the indie pop duo MS MR went on to create their first studio album, Secondhand Rapture, just this year after releasing their first EP, Candy Bar Creep Show, in 2012. Playing a set at Lollapalooza, and then a sold out set on Monday evening at Lincoln Hall, MS MR proved their staying power by showcasing their unique musicality.

Wildcat! Wildcat! opened up the show. Hailing from Los Angeles, the group is on its way to becoming a breakout group of 2013. They produced their first, self-titled EP in their home studio just this year. They played a set at SXSW this year as well, gaining a fledgling fan base. Their sound is inventive and rhythmic; depending on the beats that are created, and blending them with crystal clear pitch, Wildcat! Wildcat! creates a pleasant tone that I honestly cannot compare to other groups out there right now. Though only four songs, their EP is an excellent culmination into their sound. Almost trancelike, the melody line created by the rhythms they produce are lilting and float throughout the sound waves. The vocal range is vast, which creates an interesting sound and effects for the group to present to listeners. They conveyed this sense of uniqueness to the crowd on Monday evening. Executing rhythms and pitches almost perfectly, I couldn't help but sway to the music even a little bit. They sounded extremely on point, and no doubt gained some new fans in the process.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Mon Oct 07 2013

You'll Want to Know More About Betty Who

Standing 6'2", with a cropped coif of white-blond hair, there was no missing Betty Who as she marched into Schubas on Saturday night and promptly went to the bar to grab a drink before her show. Who, an Australian native, New York resident, Berklee School of Music student, and most recently, the happy and surprised beneficiary of a
viral video in which her song is featured, made Schubas feel as cozy as a living room and as charged as a headlining arena tour.

There's something to say about seeing an artist in a tiny, 200-person club. Proximity aside, it's really up to artists to make a show feel intimate to all involved. Who, who was gabbing with fans by the side of the stage before her grand entrance, was clearly no novice in the crowd-pleasing department. Her soaring, '80s-style synth pop filled the room as she launched into "You're in Love," one of the songs on her The Movement EP.

"Chicago is one of my favorite cities in the world," Who said after her leadoff song, pandering to the crowd in the best way possible. "I only have four songs," the singer joked, "So I'm going to play some new ones."

Who played a new, as-of-yet unreleased single "Heartbreak Dream," to great effect, as well as a slowed-down version of Taylor Swift's "22" (it was her birthday) that convinced me and probably everyone else that this was the way the song was meant to be sung.

Clearly at home on the stage, Who danced, smiled, and belted her songs while rarely missing a note, and looked to be having 100% as much fun as each audience member. Between laughing with her band, all of whom were decked out in WHO CREW t-shirts, poking fun at her own love life ("This must be a theme in my life...the next song is called 'Alone Again'"), Who was an unaffected and relatable performer who effortlessly worked the crowd into a lather. Speaking as if she was surrounded by her closest friends, she alternated between confident performer and self-deprecating, regaling the audience with funny stories and personal tidbits. Who came off as just another 22-year-old stumbling through the follies of love and growing up like the rest of us, resulting in a rare camaraderie between artist and fan that felt sincere and reciprocal.

Who's lack of self-consciousness seeped into the audience, each of whom in my vicinity were dancing as goofily and joyfully as if no one were watching for the entire show. She sang the hell out of Miguel's "Use Me," apologizing to her parents in the audience afterward for singing the line in the song that goes, "Defiiiiiiiiiile me." Another highlight involved her bringing a member of the audience on stage for a "twerk-off," luckily with a very game member of the crowd which resulted in hilarity for all.

For all her relatable asides and friendly demeanor, there is no doubt Who is serious about being a pop star — and stands an excellent chance. At present, she occupies a unique step in the career of a musician: She is poised on the brink of "making it," (with a little help from a viral video — it is 2013, after all), but still possesses the humble nature and grind of a new artist. With the energy level at a 10 for nearly the entire 45 minute set, hooks worthy of Katy Perry, and a loyal and raucous (albeit small for now) fan base, my guess is Who won't be waiting very long, and all 200 people at her Schubas show will soon have a great story to tell about the early days of a great pop star.

Emma Gase

Review Sat Oct 05 2013

Ólafur Arnalds @ Constellation 10/03

Thursday in Chicago was an introspective day. The sky was an ominous shade of grey and a thick fog filled the air. As the day progressed, it started to rain. The city found itself temporarily transformed by the weather into a state of melancholy. It was the perfect weather to experience Ólafur Arnalds and his fantastic set of ambient modern classical.

Ólafur Arnalds played two sets on Thursday at the new jazz club, Constellation. I saw the later show at 9pm. Constellation opened in April on Western Avenue on the edge of Roscoe Village taking the space of the former Viaduct Theater. Founded by local jazz stalwart, Mike Reed, Constellation has taken on the mission of "present[ing] progressive performance and forward-thinking music with a focus on jazz, improvisation and contemporary classical." It's a really nice looking place and they're already booked an impressive lineup ranging from the aggressively avant-garde Peter Brötzmann to the master percussionist Hamid Drake.


The room in which we saw Ólafur Arnalds perform was a small minimalist area that embodied a sense of warmth and belonging. At one point during his set, Arnalds commented on this saying something to the point of, "It feels like I'm playing a private concert in the living room of my house. I do that for friends." He then smirked and further commented with his subtle wit, "It almost doesn't feel like you paid money to see me," before starting to play the baroque "Brim."

On stage, Ólafur was accompanied by a trio of musicians; vocalist Arnór Dan, violinist Viktor Orri Árnason and cellist Rubin Kodheli. Arnalds played the piano and handled sound manipulation with his assortment of devices. They played a set that leaned heavily towards the recently released album, For Now I Am Winter. Pieces like the aforementioned "Brim," and the Steve Reich inspired "New Skin" came alive with a sort of creative kineticism.

About halfway through the set, violinist Viktor Orri Árnason, performed an exhilarating and highly emotive solo. He played so intensely, his bow started to fracture yet he continued on and finished his performance. It was breathtaking. Afterwards, Ólafur commented with his subtle and charming wit, "Well...I guess I have to buy him a new bow."

He ended his set with a tribute to his grandmother, "Lag Fyrir Ömmu," a beautiful and haunting minimalist piece for piano and violin. "I owe my love of Chopin and all things non death-metal to her," he said before he began to play. As the piece reached its crescendo, an unseen violin suddenly played at the same intensity in tandem with the piano before both instruments slowly winded down to silence. The performance as a whole was a beautiful reminder of the subtle joys and subtle sorrows that life can sometimes provide.

Justin Freeman

Review Thu Oct 03 2013

Atlas Genius @ House of Blues 10/01

Atlas Genius was greeted by a sold out crowd as they took the stage at the House of Blues Tuesday night. The band looked visibly shaken but equally surprised and humbled at the large gathering of people there to hear them perform. As they started to play, I looked around for a moment and found myself a bit surprised at how varied their fanbase is. Q101 refugees stood side by side with NPR devotees in a temporary brotherhood as they sang along in tandem as the band played their current single, "If So."


Atlas Genius have always sounded very influenced by Phoenix, especially their albums Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and It's Never Been Like That. This admiration was clear throughout the night, and was most apparent when they played their song "Back Seat" in a slick and charismatic manner. Keith Jeffery, guitarist and singer, stepped into the crowd for a solo during an extended breakdown as the rest of the band encouraged the audience to clap and dance before leading the song to it's conclusion.

They then jammed for a little bit before moving on to the next song. This is a theme that was continued throughout the night; play a song and then jam for a few minutes before moving on. I get it. The album is only a little over thirty minutes long and they had a hour long set to fill. However, they're talented musicians who knew at least to keep the jamming interesting and somewhat brief, so I was fine with it for the most part. The musical interludes were interesting, in the post-rock stylings of Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai. All of that said, I wouldn't have minded a cover or two.

They played a few more songs from their album When it Was Now before playing their big crowd pleaser, "Trojans." The band seemed to build an increasingly confident swagger throughout the night and it reached a crescendo with their final song, the pulsing and arena rock ready "Electric." As they performed these two tracks, it seemed like practice for the bigger stages they will likely soon be playing.

"Thanks for selling us out," Atlas Genius earnestly yelled at some point during the night. "I think we play this city more than any other." If they continue at this rate they'll be back soon, quite possibly at the larger venues the bands they admire play.

Justin Freeman

Review Tue Oct 01 2013

American Bonfires and Dancing Bottles: Ballroom Boxer in Review

One of my favorite aspects of the Chicago music scene is its effortless ability to cultivate fledgling bands into big name talent. With such a vibrant and diverse scene, you can easily catch a show at a plethora of small music venues, huddled amongst other music fanatics, and spot a glimpse of an act that will grow over time due to Chicago's strong local fan base and the pride it takes in its music culture. Watching these bands cultivate their sound and harbor a local fan base at the same time is an amazing feeling, as you follow them from their start.

I've seen Ballroom Boxer grow immensely since their opening debut just two summers ago, with their album release titled Summer Mixes & Backseat Dreams. They've played sets at SXSW and at numerous Chicago venues since its advent, all the while preparing for the release of their second album. Their debut recalls a feeling of wistful nostalgia, peppered with upbeat, summery numbers laden with heavy rock flair. Though cohesive and well-produced, the album definitely gives leeway for growth in the future, as the group was still finding their footing, potential just seeping from the stereo as the record is played. The direction a band can take with their second release is crucial; did they produce a solid album on their first jaunt, and are they now unable to replicate this formula? Do they take their sound in an unprecedented direction that is not as well received?

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Sarah Brooks

Review Thu Sep 26 2013

Review: No Joy, Hand Practices & Alex Calder @ Schubas 9/14

By Julian Ramirez

When it comes to smaller venues, people tend to trickle in at inconsistent rates. Opening bands end up playing for less than half empty rooms. More often than not, one ends up missing a gem of a band that can hold their own just as well as the headliner.

Such was the case at Schubas when last minute addition Alex Calder and his band began playing. Calder's sound, very much indebted to the '60s pop, truly deserved a bigger audience. The songs played a little quicker and a little heavier than I thought they would, almost as if taking a quick detour through '90s alternative to get to the show. A larger crowd would have definitely added to the energy as Calder's guitar work contained several moments of brilliance. Calder's set was short but incredibly good; the band was determined to set up a night of psychedelic sound. Thankfully, they succeeded.

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Review Thu Sep 26 2013

Arctic Monkeys Show That They Wanna Be Ours

The Riviera Theater saw a full house on Monday evening; edges of the venue were packed to the brim with attendees looking to catch a glimpse of Arctic Monkeys. The evening brought about two hours of unabashed, daring rock n' roll that surely kept everyone on their toes; literally, as everyone in the venue was up standing, swaying and dancing to the music.

Twin Peaks opened the show; though not necessarily my cup of tea, their fuzzy garage rock style kept everyone's attention. Lead singer Cadien commanded the stage with energy and unapologetic sass. They played material off of their first full-length album released this year, Sunken, and while keeping the energy high throughout the duration of the set, proved that they are going to be a force to watch in the next few years. Emphasizing their youth, they brought energy to the stage with their carefree, laidback dynamics throughout their set.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Wed Sep 25 2013

Review: Brother Ali and Immortal Technique @ Metro, 9/22

"We're here in the name of hip-hop," host Poison Pen declared, as the diverse throng of people inside of the Metro cheered. Even on a Sunday night, a rowdy crowd was packed in from the front to back of the venue.

After a somewhat brief performance by Poison Pen, Hasan Salaam was the first rapper on the bill to hit the stage. He announced that 100 percent of the profits made by his most recent album, Music is my Weapon, go toward funding a school, well and clinic in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa.

He asked the audience, "If America was a woman would you date her?" A large handful of people in the crowd yelled back, "F*** no!" Then Hasan played "Miss America," a song about the hypocrisy of American democracy.

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Brianna Kelly / Comments (1)

Review Tue Sep 17 2013

Review: Rocket From the Crypt @ Double Door, 9/14

On Saturday night, Rocket From the Crypt returned to Chicago after a 10-year break. (Their "last" show was in 2005, but they hadn't toured for a couple years prior to that.) The San Diego rock'n'roll band had its highs in the mid-90s with the much-heralded Scream, Dracula, Scream and the equally heralded (yet harder-to-find until a re-release many years later) Hot Charity, but never really had any low points through their career. And I've never heard of anyone who saw them that had anything less than great to say about their performance. So could they continue to impress after a long hiatus?

From the start, it was clear that John Reis (a.k.a. Speedo) didn't miss a beat as the jovial frontman whose over-the-top stage banter always carried a wink and a smile. When they launched into "Dollar", it also became clear that the band's musicianship hadn't deteriorated. Now, it wasn't perfect, but it's also rock'n'roll and has some license to be a little raw. They tore through all eras of their discography, from 1992's "Don't Darlene" to 2002's "I'm Not Invisible" and hits like "On a Rope" to the lesser-known "Jumper K Balls."

As Reis pointed out late in the show, though, it's not just about what's happening on stage. Yes, he's the star of the show with tall tales of awe in seeing an elevated train for the first time, coming from a fishing village to impress Chicagoans, guitarist ND having cancer of the foot because he was in a walking boot from twisting an ankle, etc. But the joy and enthusiasm of the crowd added immensely with the entire front half of Double Door singing along, dancing, hanging on every word from Reis and rocking out through each song. RFTC's performances tend to bring out the best in crowds. And when any band feels the love that was exuded on Saturday, it's hard for them to not be at the top of their game. After an hour and a half and nearing 2:30 a.m., the show came to a close on a rousing "Come See, Come Saw" that left no doubt that RFTC's not lost any ground in the rock'n'roll hierarchy.

James Ziegenfus / Comments (1)

Riot Fest Mon Sep 16 2013

Riot Fest 2013: Sunday Review

Replacements 1 by Katie Hovland Gapers.jpg

The Replacements by Katie Hovland

Despite the cold soggy weather and fields of mud, Riot Fest rounded out the weekend and ended on a high note with some of the most anticipated sets of the weekend from The Replacements and Pixies. A little mud or rain only dampened mohawks but not spirits of the considerably older and friendlier crowd that huddled to keep warm in Humboldt Park. -Lisa White

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Lisa White

Riot Fest Sun Sep 15 2013

Riot Fest 2013: Saturday Review

Radkey 1 by Katie Hovland Gapers.jpg

Radkey by Katie Hovland

Logistically, things are starting to crumble at Riot Fest as the second day was marred with more sound issues, security issues, transit problems and injuries as a considerably much larger crowd trudged along in Humboldt Park. And the city woke Sunday morning to a chilly constant drizzle of rain, so one can only hope that the weekend can pull it off and end on a high note with the odds stacked against them. -Lisa White

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Lisa White / Comments (2)

Riot Fest Sat Sep 14 2013

Riot Fest 2013: Friday Review

Smoking Popes 5 by Katie Hovland Gapers.jpg

Smoking Popes crowd by Katie Hovland

It was the perfect black hoodie and leather studded jacket weather Friday in Humboldt Park, as a noticeably much larger than last year crowd descended on the park for this year's Riot Fest. With one of the most impressive lineups of this years festival season, the growth in attendance is no surprise. And although it made for some major logistical hiccups (long will call lines, confusion with park layout and lack of schedule posting, troubles with transit to and from the festival) the crowd didn't seem to mind once the music started. -Lisa White

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Lisa White

Concert Fri Sep 13 2013

Youth Lagoon Puts On a Show to Remember, Pure X a Show to Forget

Doing my homework before seeing opening band Pure X, a group from Austin, TX., would have clued me into what I was about to experience. For one thing, I would have found their Tumblr, Mellow Thrasher. I'm still debating whether or not that fully encompasses their "vibe." To start, not once did any of the four band members make eye contact with the audience, nor acknowledge that we were there. For an hour, we listened to the lead singer whine about something. (I'm not sure what, the filter on his mic was so thick I couldn't understand the words coming out of his mouth.) On top of that, his face was so constricted, the look of udder pain on my face undoubtedly rivaled his. The music was a bad marriage between the worst kind of emo and the most awkward kind of adult contemporary. Of their 2012 appearance at SXSW, Pitchfork tactfully wrote that Pure X was "adept at conjuring six-string clouds of lazy-day nothingness."

I was still traumatized when Youth Lagoon came on stage to save the day. But thankfully, Trevor Powers immediately connected with the audience and even called out some "bro" who urged him to chug his drink, getting a rise out of the crowd in solidarity against bro-dom. United we progressed, with Powers as our leader guiding us back to music sanity.

The vibe of the show was very much in line with the inspiration behind Youth Lagoon's sophomore album, Wondrous Bughouse. Powers refers to the music as an exploration of "the human psyche and where spiritual meets the physical world." The set was pretty awesome — a backdrop of multicolored waves and lighting that created a band of silhouetted shadows, setting the stage for a mysteriously seductive ambience. The change in energy was palpable and the audience grooved with the Youth Lagoon in a much more united front. The separation of band and audience was no longer, it was one group navigating various expressions of electronic pop music.

Rarely was there much, if any, pause between songs, with the band flowing from one crowd-pleaser to another, slightly favoring songs from their 2010 debut album The Year of Hibernation, with songs such as "17" and "Cannons," but the audience responded well to newcomers "Mute" and "Dropla."

Overall, Youth Lagoon put on a great show that showcased the bands balance of experimental electronic and pop sound. But I will never see Pure X again. Like, ever.

Kelly Williams / Comments (1)

North Coast Music Festival Mon Sep 02 2013

North Coast Music Festival (Day 3)


Crowd at North Coast by Steve Stearns

Sunday was the final day of this year's North Coast festival and certainly one of the most anticipated. Crowds at the fronts gates swelled into the hundreds as people waited to get inside Union Park for a last day of music and dancing. Helping to bring this anticipation to it's crescendo were the headliners of the entire festival, the iconic Wu-Tang Clan. A palpable energy filled the air as questions were asked; are they actually going to show up? If so, how many of them? What are they going to do about ODB's verses since, you know, he died a few years ago? Will the rumored hologram ODB make an appearance?! (They are seriously trying to get an ODB hologram to "perform" at the Rock the Bells festival next month.) But these questions would have to wait a few hours as myself and the crowd walked into the gates one last time. - Justin Freeman

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Justin Freeman

North Coast Music Festival Sun Sep 01 2013

North Coast Music Festival (Day 2)

Since the music was cut short on Friday, the second day of North Coast Music Festival came with fairly high expectations. Everyone was praying for blue skies and smooth sailing to make up for the torrential storm that momentarily shut down the party the night before. - Brianna Kelly

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Justin Freeman / Comments (2)

North Coast Music Festival Sat Aug 31 2013

North Coast Music Festival (Day 1)


North Coast evacuees seeking shelter by Steve Stearns

Yesterday marked the return of the North Coast Music Festival, the Labor Day weekend event that takes over Union Park for three days of music and dancing. Usually, it goes smoothly and good times are had all around. Sometimes though, things happen that can make your experience at the festival less than fun, and yesterday was one of those days. Most of us know that it rained here in Chicago Friday. At around 6pm, a rainstorm took over the city. Lightning flashed in the sky, torrential rain and strong winds rocked against buildings, people leaving work suddenly found themselves drenched and major outdoor concerts around the city were evacuated. -Justin Freeman

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Justin Freeman

Concert Mon Jul 22 2013

Pearl Jam Rocks Wrigley Despite Rain Delay


The wind was blowing out on a hot and humid Friday afternoon at the corner of Clark and Addison, which always is a perfect recipe for a lot of hits. With the Cubs in Colorado, playing the Rockies, the hits came from grunge-era rockers Pearl Jam, who made their debut in the Friendly Confines.

The iconic band, which has played together for the past 20-plus years, has seen it all, playing in legendary venues from The Offramp in Seattle to Soldier Field. It only was a matter of time before they rocked it out in front of the ivy.

Though hailing from Seattle, front man Eddie Vedder was born and raised in Evanston, and grew up rooting on the northsiders back when "Mr. Cub," Ron Santo and Billy Williams were gracing the covers of programs. So needless to say, the anticipation of hearing classic 90s hits such as "Alive," "Even Flow," and "Spin The Black Circle;" Mr. Vedder's homecoming; a beautiful sunset in a gem of a ballpark made for a perfect storm in what was to be a night to remember. That's right when the wind began to shift from the west and cloud cover began to set in.

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Jim Crago

Pitchfork Music Festival Sat Jul 20 2013

Pitchfork Music Festival 2013: Friday


Pitchfork Crowd by Joshua Mellin

Only Bjork and her Tesla coil could whip up a storm so savage that it shut down Pitchfork Festival early Friday night. The Icelandic nymph closed out the night after a breezy but hot kickoff to the weekend activities. Water lines were long throughout the day and many people were napping in the field during Joanna Newsom's set to muster up some much needed energy to last until the finish line of the Friday. The weather made us miss some of Bjork, but it will at least bring much appreciated cooler temperatures for the rest of the festival weekend. -Lisa White

Though the first day of Pitchfork was eventually defined by the expected-but-somehow-out-of-nowhere downpour of rain that called an early halt to Bjork's headlining set, the rest of the day was marked by a strong set of (mostly) laid back afternoon jams, with audiences slow-roasting under the intense summer sun. While we can only hope that last night's storm killed this past week's heat wave, we know we can expect to see more un-ironic Nirvana T-shirts, stylish undercuts and Lennon-gazing bottle sunglasses as the current love for '90s signifiers roars back in full force.

Like in previous years, the festival divided its acts across three stages and, also just like every other year, crowds sought refuge more often than not in the shaded, 15-degrees-cooler Blue Stage, the smallest of the three and placed in the corner of Union Park tucked behind the long row of beverage tents, Port-O-Potties, and local food vendors. -Mike Bellis

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Lisa White / Comments (1)

Review Sat Jul 20 2013

Review: Savages & Sky Ferreira @ Lincoln Hall, 7/19

There are usually two ways things can go when opening acts bring the bar down. One, the headliner can seem incredible by comparison to what preceded them; two, it can just wear out an audience. Friday night for Savages' Pitchfork aftershow at Lincoln Hall, it seemed things would head in the latter direction for much of the night. But you never know for sure until the end.

Sky Ferreira kicked off the evening with a delightful set that ran from intimate, downtempo Americana-ish tracks to practically synthpop. Her voice worked with everything she sang, but she had more fun on the uptempo songs when the crowd showed some life. For a young performer, she had a very strong stage presence and appeared to know exactly what she wanted out of her music. At one point, she stopped her guitarist to have him play slower and then started the song all over again to get it right from the start. Her full-length isn't due until 2014, but she has the makeup to break out once it comes around.

As good as her set was, though, what came next was sort of a mess. Björk played a predictably off-beat set of music from her iPhone and Johnny Hostile played 20 minutes of guitar noise followed by ten minutes of atmospherics. Before Savages went on at 12:45, pockets of the crowd had already left and more were grumbling.

Three songs into Savages, it seemed like everyone was on fumes because the band wasn't really connecting with the audience. But then it came together midway through. Jehnny Beth's Ian Curtis-like tics became endearing. Gemma Thompson's intense guitar-playing shined. And the rhythm section was completely in synch on their angular post-punk. The back half from "No Face" until "Husbands" gave the indications that Savages' immense hype isn't overblown. Beth paced the stage, went all in on her Siouxsie Sioux-like vocals and played to the pogoing carousers. When Savages suddenly came to a stop after playing nearly all of their music in 45 minutes, it seemed like they were on the verge of stepping into the next gear. But I guess they left something in the tank for Union Park.

James Ziegenfus / Comments (1)

Album Tue Jul 02 2013

Andrew Mason's Hardly Workin': Music for the Office

andrew mason hardly workin'If you hadn't heard, Andrew Mason, founder and former CEO of Groupon, recorded an album of "music to help people get ahead in the workplace," called Hardly Workin', which was released late Monday night in the iTunes Music Store. I downloaded Hardly Workin' and listened to it carefully a couple times in order to share with you some initial thoughts, track by track.

1. Look No Further - The EP leads off with a contemporary country song about finding business inspiration in the world around you. Managing to rhyme Money, Fellini and day while also tossing in "the birthing of great octopi," its message could be as broad as any inspirational song if not for the references to Jack Welch and shareholder value.

2. The Way to Work - This track leads off with a reference to "Cruisin' down the Avenue Grand," reflecting on the work issues of recent days as he heads to work on his Vespa. The music recalls '80s rock, with a chugging beat and soaring chorus. The ride to work lets Mason clear his mind (who doesn't zone out on the way to the office?), and by the end of the song, he's resolved an HR problem that's been bugging him.

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Andrew Huff

Review Fri Jun 28 2013

Review: Lower @ Empty Bottle, 5/21/13

As Lower prepared to take the stage last Friday night at Empty Bottle, small groups of people were scattered across the floor and at the bar having conversations and drinks. The place was about a quarter full at most, but it seemed better that way. It was a rather mellow and communal affair. I looked at the stage and saw a swath of guitar distortion pedals being meticulously set up by a member of the band who was wearing a crisp shirt and crisp slacks with a disheveled haircut. This was a fitting, albeit subtle, introduction to the band.

Lower is a no-wave punk quartet based out of Copenhagen. They are affiliated with the Danish label, Escho, which is the same label that Iceage is signed to. They formed in 2009 and have been steadily recording and touring around Denmark. Their debut full-length album is scheduled to be released this fall if everything goes according to plan.

After a few minutes of setup, they arrived on stage appearing cold and emotionless. Without a word, they created a turbulent sea of aural feedback and launched into the relentless "Craver." As I soon discovered, Lower plays everything with a stylish sense of urgency. Similar to bands such as Joy Division and DIIV, the bass was a bleak and meancing driving force while vocalist Adrian Toubro manically pranced around stage and screamed out in a panic "Without him, you're nothing" during "Another Life."

To the appreciation of the crowd, they played a few songs from their acclaimed EP, Walk on Heads, as well as things from their recent 7 inch. Songs such as "But There Has to Be More" came alive with a vicious wall of sonic brutalism. They wrapped up their set with their ode to paranoia, "Someone's Got it In For Me." It was a short set, clocking in at a little over half an hour. I'm not complaining though. Everything they played was focused and poignant. Word is that this is their first US tour and I think they're off to a great start.

In closing, I'm reminded of something that drummer, Anton Rothstein, said during an interview with Pitchfork last year. "All of our shows have been static as fuck: no movement, no blood, nothing. It should be that way. There is no reason to dance or fuck around in a pit."

Justin Freeman

Review Wed Jun 26 2013

Letting It Sway with Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin @ Schubas, 6/24

When glancing at this group's name, one might not presume that a band named after Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first president, would materialize into a fresh indie rock band full of summery rhythms and a light sound. However, this unique flair works for the group Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. They're quirky, and it works in their favor to further their identity, beloved by a strong following. Fans packed Schubas to the brim on Monday evening, amounting to a surprisingly packed crowd despite the time slot competition of the final game in the Stanley Cup series (YEAH, HAWKS!!! ...Okay, I'm done for now).

Sunjacket opened for the group, local Chicago band without any album material released thus far. You can take a listen to their Bandcamp page for a feel for their dynamic sound. A dark guitar intro would lead into a frenetic, energized guitar jam session amongst all members of the group, as seen in song "Two Parades." Haunting at points, the song bends and shifts its rhythmic patterns, holding your attention all the while. They also played a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon," a good choice to fit the mood of the crowd as they delved into their intriguing sound, many new fans listening for the first time.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Wed Jun 19 2013

Review: Daniel Lanois and Brokeback Get Cinematic at Millennium Park, 6/17

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Photos by Kirstie Shanley

In one of the more curious selections at the City of Chicago's Downtown Sound Series on Monday night, Thrill Jockey mainstays Brokeback opened for Canadian record producer and solo artist Daniel Lanois at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

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Marc Fishman / Comments (3)

Review Tue Jun 18 2013

Taste of Randolph: A Weekend in Review

For those of you who didn't make it to Taste of Randolph Fest this year, you should probably consider going next time it rolls through town. As a first-timer to the fest, my limited expectations were expanded beyond their belief. The delicious food I encountered (those Belly Q tacos were basically life-changing) was further enhanced by the stellar lineup of musical acts that brought the talent all throughout the weekend, creating beautiful noise in an otherwise industrial space as the city skyline glittered in the background.


Photos by Sarah Brooks

JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound
Friday evening brought out high-caliber acts straight from the get-go, as the fest began on an extremely energetic note. If you are from Chicago and haven't heard of JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound yet, you're in for a real treat when you take your first listen. I first caught onto the group in 2011 when they released their first full-length album, Want More. The opening chords of the title track immediately hooked me. I did want more: more of the tight rhythms, the Motown spirit, and JC Brooks' crystal-clear voice. Unique soul music infused with retrograde funk, JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound create music that you simply need to move to. At their live shows, it's even more apparent; it's actually quite impossible not to tap your toes, sway a little, or completely break it down like many members of the crowd were doing the second the first beat rose from the speakers. From the toddler with the oversized knit sweater twirling his sleeves to the funky beats, to the couple mouthing every word and jumping up and down to basically every song, JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound have created quite the following for themselves, that is only going to continue to amass over time.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Tue Jun 11 2013

Review: The Field @ The Empty Bottle, 6/5/13

The last time I saw The Field play at the Empty Bottle, it felt more like a house party in somebody's basement than a music venue. Axel Willner, the chief architect behind The Field, had a backing band of a drummer and bassist with him as he played well crafted minimalist mid tempo electronica to an enthused packed house. Last Wednesday night was...different. And I personally mean that in the best way possible, but we'll get to that momentarily.

First up was the opening act, was Chicago's own When Clouds Attack. I've seen the name around town and they're opened for some people I'm really into (Teengirl Fantasy, Supreme Cuts), so I'm glad I finally got a chance to see who they are. When Clouds Attack are a chillwave trio comprised of a drummer, guitarist, and keyboardist, and although I only caught about the last half of their set, I enjoyed what I heard.

As we've already established, The Field is the nom de plume of Swedish electronic composer Axel Wilner. He's been making beats since 2003 and has released three albums so far. In the last few years, he's been travelling with a band to give his compositions a bit more depth. He played Empty Bottle in late 2011 and Pitchfork in 2012 with this lineup. For this tour, he left the band behind for a solo performance which left some at the Empty Bottle last Wednesday night annoyed and confused, but left most of the crowd surprisingly delighted.

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Justin Freeman

Review Thu Jun 06 2013

Sharon Van Etten Teaches us to Love More @ Millennium Park, 6/3

Monday evening at Millennium Park brought about Chicagoans looking to experience the Downtown Sound series for the first time this nice(r) weather, that is. The first installment the week prior featured gloomy weather that seemed unshakeable. The sunshine and temperate climate on Monday brought out herds of Chicagoans looking to experience Speck Mountain and Sharon Van Etten's music in this beautiful city we call home.

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Photo by Kirstie Shanley

Speck Mountain opened the show with a relaxed yet emotive set, perfectly staged with a city skyline backdrop. Their fuzzy space rock and slight shoegaze style echoed out into the crowd, furrowing into our senses as the chords reverberated beautifully from the guitar and vocal conversations. Emerging onto the scene in 2005 and playing many songs off of their recent album Badwater, Speck Mountain has an interesting quality of blending dreamy female vocals with an atmospheric background. Both combined create an amalgam of an ambient landscape, serene and visionary. Evoking a different era, their psychadelic riffs were the perfect way to open up Monday's Millennium Park show, as the sun sunk below the buildings we faced. It almost felt like I was in a mesmerized state, listening to the soundtrack of a hazy dream. A local group as well, hailing from Brooklyn but settling in Chicago, Speck Mountain has made quite the name for themselves in this city, and will only continue to develop with time.

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Photo by Kirstie Shanley

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Sarah Brooks

Review Wed May 15 2013

Review: Kurt Vile & the Violators Stomp Through Chicago on a Pretty Day


Photos by Sara Pieper

There was no Bulls theme song playing over the loud speakers when Kurt Vile & the Violators took the stage at Lincoln Hall on Tuesday--but there might as well have been. Vile and his crew emerged from backstage looking very much like a team as they proceeded to stomp through songs from their new album, Wakin' On a Pretty Daze, with fierce discipline, emotion, and an added heft. Hell, even some of band members looked a little bit like Joakim Noah.

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Marc Fishman

Review Tue May 07 2013

Report: Bill Callahan @ Garfield Park Conservatory

"I have to get up early tomorrow," Bill Callahan said before playing his last song of the evening. He paused, the crowd silent, and then continued: "Not quite as early as you, though."

Callahan seems to live by these kinds of quips. Standing on a modest stage surrounded by onlookers, various types of flora, and underneath a clear glass ceiling dotted with green lights, his set on Monday night was certainly a unique event, no doubt in part to the verdant confines of the Garfield Conservatory's Horticultural Hall. It was a sort of treat just to see live music there in the first place, let alone Callahan's, and you got the feeling that he felt treated to be there, too.

Callahan's blend of wry, subtle humor works wonders against the slow stoicism of his songs and commanding baritone, as if each movement or word exists as a singular gesture in itself. He seems to know he has this effect, and so he moves slowly, purposefully, with the occasional flash of a mischievous grin or joke acting as relief against his deeply evocative songwriting. Callahan has always been deliberate, to be sure, but his songs are relatively welcoming and simple, meandering at their own pace while painting rich portraits of a distinctly American landscape. Covers by late country legend George Jones ("Old Blue") and Percy Mayfield's well-worn standard "Please Send Me Someone To Love" fit snugly between Callahan's own slow, country-tinged ballads like "Drover" and "Too Many Birds," already invoking worlds of their own each time they're played..

"Sycamore," from 2007's Woke On A Whaleheart, opened the night in a fittingly pastoral tone, with the sunset still visible through the room's transparent walls. There's a distinct Western-ness to Callahan's sound, particularly in the open-ranged and dust-flecked material from Apocalypse, and it became clear as the night moved on that the intimate Hall lent even his older cuts a natural heaviness that only added to their romantic, reflective mood. Longer jogs like "Riding For the Feeling" and "One Fine Morning" seemed to breathe, each word (or the flare-gun "poof" in "Universal Applicant") punctuating a deep silence between chords or words, where even a dropped pin might've spoiled the suspense. The audience of several hundred stood transfixed, watching Callahan, guitarist Matt Kinsey and bassist Brian Beattie wind through each song's tumbleweed passages at seemingly undefined lengths, choosing to move to the next chord only once the tension had reached its height.

It would be hard to picture a more perfect venue to be immersed in Callahan's naturally pastoral songs. Monday night's set marked a relatively rare appearance for the enigmatic troubadour, and the Horticultural Hall offered a unique setting that gave his songs a kind of undiscovered depth. But just as quickly as Callahan appeared he was gone again, a mere hour and a half later, leaving the rest of us calmed by a new, country kind of silence.

Mike Bellis

Review Mon May 06 2013

Review: James Blake @ Metro 5/2

When James Blake stepped onstage Thursday evening, the energy at the Metro immediately changed. A hush fell over the crowd, as if an idol had just appeared to a group of loyal followers, watching, waiting, for the first evidence of their deity to speak. I honestly had no idea what to expect as I wandered over to the venue, but I can admit I was a tad worried that James Blake's effortless, stripped down numbers would have their purity distorted by bass effects and the cheers of adoring fans. Luckily, Blake had crafted his show with a precision so exact that his purest numbers were not washed out by bass-splitting, light show dance parties. Those two categories filtered into musical moments, though starkly different, worked in harmony together throughout the show, which allowed us to see that he has only matured and honed his craft from the onset of his debut album spanning to his most recent release, Overgrown.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Thu May 02 2013

Review: Palma Violets & Guards @ Schubas, 5/1


Palma Violets (All photos by Sara Pieper)

If a hype man were to inject himself into personal conversations between bands and compare people who stay toward the back to anyone who stood outside the Upper Room during the Last Supper, you might not think they'd be on tour with a young British garage/punk band. (Also, I'm pretty sure the Last Supper wasn't an open invitation.)


Over the last many months, the Palma Violets have emerged from the British music media machine with a hit single, well-received album and much praise for their live shows. Their jangly Brit-obvious garage-rock recalls more Libertines than others, but they aren't just copying a schtick. At Schubas last night, the band glided through 40 minutes that had moments displaying why they were signed to Rough Trade based solely on their show. The catchiness of "Best of Friends" and "Step Up for the Cool Cats" was undeniable and the band's enthusiasm amped up as the crowd naturally came around. The only real drawback was the organ's drop in prominence from where it is on the album. On 180, it plays a crucial role to keep the music loose, but last night it was like it'd been demoted. In fact, by the time Palma Violets closed with "14", both the organist and bassist had abandoned their instruments to join the dozen or so people from the crowd that'd made their way on stage to dance. Still, in a long line of bands coming from the British music factory, these fellows might just be onto something if they can harness what's gotten them this far.

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James Ziegenfus

Review Sat Apr 27 2013

Review: Hem @ Old Town, 4/19

Hem's been under the radar for a while. They're on their first tour in six years and their latest album comes after a hiatus that most fans presumed would lead to a split. However, Departure & Farewell, while perhaps not the most optimistic title for a band that's recently gone through what they have, is a strong effort highlighted by the smart ethereal folk music that they were built on.

After getting their breakthrough "Half Acre" and latest single "Tourniquet" out of the way at last week's Old Town show, Sally Ellyson casually mentioned that they were moving on to the divorce section of the set list, at which point she not-so-subtly pointed to the band's main songwriters as the ones with the experience to write such songs. Then a funny thing happened for me: a song that, for years, I've heard as sweet took on a whole new meaning as I realized that a misheard lyric and an outside factor (i.e., association with a particular romantic partner) had led me to hearing it all wrong. Strangely, I wasn't nearly as a broken up when the death section of the set list led to a similar revelation.

For a band that'd supposedly been on rocky terrain, they were wonderfully in synch. Ellyson's voice, as always, was sublime. The music carried their usual folky sound, but they dropped in elements of gospel, chamber-pop and country to add a richness that isn't heard on the albums. Ellyson spoke often to add anecdotes about songs or how the band got to a point with their music. Only once did she meander and it led to a fit of giggles interrupting her cue on "Lazy Eye." The requisite Old Town sing-along became a hum-along and the show wound down with a flurry of requests and a rousing 3-song encore that led most in the crowd to think, "This band can't break up. They're killing it."

James Ziegenfus / Comments (1)

Review Mon Apr 22 2013

The Besnard Lakes Kick Up a Storm @ Schubas, 4/20

You might imagine that music critics and live show reviewers get some sort of coveted access at concerts that allows them the perfect vantage point from which to report what happened that night in their reviews for the next day. I often imagine Greg Kot, for example, in some secret, birds-eye perch at music venues around town, quietly taking notes before flying back to the Tribune Tower at night, unseen, not a single tall person in his way.

Wouldn't that be nice.

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Marc Fishman / Comments (1)

Event Tue Apr 16 2013

Yours To Keep: Dispatches from The CHIRP Record Fair

Walking into the bright-lit auditorium of The Chicago Journeymen Plumber's Union, its stage playing host to a series of DJs spinning rare vinyl, its walls adorned with all manner of music ephemera long past their sell-by date, and its floors teeming with record collectors eager to share their collections with any and all passersby, was admittedly a bit overwhelming. The scent of dust that hung in the air was unavoidable, the result of the hundreds of cardboard boxes lining each vendor's table and, of course, the hundreds of pieces of vinyl that lay within each box. The effect was dizzying. When a friend asked me how many individual pieces of vinyl might be housed in this one room at any given point, I said that there had to be hundreds of thousands, if not more, on the right side of the room alone. This fact, combined with the constant, colorful barrage of organizers, small labels, "Flip Your Wig" Beatles board games, Dead-head vendors and greenhorn collectors, had me quickly ditching my punch list of desired titles, and what awaited me instead last Saturday afternoon at the Eleventh Annual CHIRP Record Fair was a lot more than the search for a few stray John Cale records.


The morning began at 10am (and even earlier for the dedicated, pre-admitted few) and lasted until just after 7pm, with hundreds of people filing in and out of the auditorium to get their vinyl fix. Local roasters Dark Matter and brewers Goose Island were on hand to keep people buzzed in one way or another, with food from local restaurants Irazu and Handlebar keeping people fueled if fatigue ever set in. The assembled dozens of vinyl vendors ranged from the casual two-man label to major collections from shuttered record-store owners, and even a handful of scrappy independent enthusiasts (one of whom found me an old copy of Europe '72, and another I spotted hawking beer as a vendor at the Cubs game the next day). Everyone was eager to help find whatever was being sought by whoever was seeking it out an all seemed to know their massive collections like the back of their hand.

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Mike Bellis / Comments (1)

Review Sun Apr 14 2013

Phosphorescent Cheers Up the Heavy Songs at Lincoln Hall, 4/13

It's hard for me to gripe about a band not sounding the same live as they do on record. One of the greatest draws of live music is the possibility that a band can breathe new life into songs that on any other day have to be heard the same way over and over again in their officially-released form. Bands that approach live shows with room for spontaneity rather than with the intention of replicating the album as closely as possible are often the most satisfying bands to see live.

Unfortunately, this approach doesn't always work in a band's favor, and it frustratingly didn't during Phosphorescent's sold-out show at Lincoln Hall on Saturday.

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Marc Fishman

Review Fri Apr 12 2013

Review: Rhye @ Schubas, 4/11

Before Rhye even went on stage at Schubas last night, there were numerous announcements that the music room's bar would close for the performance and to refrain from talking loudly during the show. Why this announcement isn't made before every show is a mystery. However, surprisingly, it did seem to do some good at first. Similarly, dozens of "NO PHOTOS" signs were effective.

Rhye's moody downtempo R&B-influenced sound doesn't necessitate silence from listeners, but it does help to appreciate singer Mike Milosh's pristine near-falsetto voice when there isn't babbling about an ex-boyfriend over your shoulder. On the debut album, Woman, Rhye is Milosh and Robin Hannibal. Live, though, the music takes on a different life with altered arrangements by a five-piece band that doesn't include Hannibal. They're completely in synch with Milosh and he took advantage of their prowess, in part by improvising and even joking about keeping band members guessing where he was leading a song.

Turning "Last Dance" into a heavy groover that peaked with a trombone solo put some life into a hushed crowd that apparently didn't want to be shamed if caught chatting or having any fun. A back-to-back punch of "Open" and "Hunger" (also featuring a terrific trombone solo) showed off some of the best of Rhye with Milosh's ethereal vocals over simmering tension and space-aged jazzy funk, respectively. In a way, the restraint that Milosh shows reminds me of Jessie Ware because you know there is another gear, but it shouldn't be overdone. Whereas Ware let loose at Lincoln Hall in January, Milosh didn't really get to the extra gear and let the quietness make the impact, most notably while ending on the appropriately titled "It's Over" where the instruments faded out and he kept singing the chorus while getting farther from the mic before motioning with his hands that he was done.

James Ziegenfus

Concert Wed Apr 10 2013

Jamie Lidell brought down the (Chicago) House at Lincoln Hall


"You know, I love to play house in Chicago, and I've been looking forward to this date the whole tour" an elated Jamie Lidell exclaimed to his sold out audience at Lincoln Hall last Saturday night. Any fan of Lidell knows his love of funk, soul, and electronic, so it was no surprise that his set was chocked full of homage and honor to the Chicago house style that he loves as a fan himself. Weaving together a set of new tunes, soul crooners and house style, his one man set-up showcased Lidell at his finest form. Like a kid fiddling knobs in his basement, elated with joy at the creation of his art, he spent the night tucked behind at minimum six mixing boards and dancing along with the audience until the very end.

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Lisa White

Review Fri Apr 05 2013

Review: Andrew McMahon @ Lincoln Hall, 4/4/13

All photos by Katie Karpowicz

Earlier this year Buzzfeed published a tribute piece on Something Corporate's "legendary" emo anthem "Konstantine" in light of the fact that the song has now been around for 10 years. Being mentioned on a website that typically worships A-list mainstream idols like Beyonce and Ryan Gosling truly put the song's pervasiveness into perspective. If you were a high schooler or college student in the early to mid-2000s, there's a serious chance you heard this song at some point -- despite the fact that it never actually made it onto any of Something Corporate's albums.

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Katie Karpowicz

Review Tue Apr 02 2013

Review: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds @ Chicago Theatre, 4/1

Imagine a person's only knowledge of Nick Cave is his latest album with the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away. It's a relatively strong album that's mellow yet lush and hints at Cave's exquisite talent for storytelling through compelling characters. At last night's show, this person would have been pleased to hear the album's opening track "We No Who U R" faithfully adapted, but they may have been jarred from there until the end.

Push the Sky Away is not necessarily representative of what Cave is like as a performer, especially when enraptured fans, with their hero's permission, descend to the orchestra pit, claw their way toward the stage and move temporary seating to the exit aisles. A raucous "Jubilee Street" made clear very quickly that, just because the new album is sort of mellow, the show wouldn't be. Cave bounded all over the stage with unquenched vigor. He teetered on the brink of madness, teeming with tension and rage as he stared down spectators and screamed lyrics. At the height of "Higgs Boson Blues," he pulled raised hands from the front against his chest and spewed "Can you feel my heartbeat?" repeatedly.

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James Ziegenfus

Concert Sun Mar 24 2013

Review: Las Guitarras de España @ City Winery, 3/21

"The Guitars of Spain" had guitar-like instruments from at least three other countries besides Spain on stage with them last Thursday by the end of their performance at City Winery.

But even from the start of the set, bandleader Carlo Basile's namesake flamenco guitar was merely the accompaniment, as a sitar-like Indian veena introduced clear Indian influences into Las Guitarras de España's globe-trotting set of Spanish-langauge world music. By the last two songs of the evening, not only were the flamenco guitar and veena plucking along together, but a special guest from Senegal appeared, adding his own contribution to the stringed instrument fanfare with a 21-stringed west-African kora. Colin Bunn, of openers Los Hombres Perdidos, rounded it all out with a good 'ol American hollow-body jazz guitar for good measure.

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Marc Fishman

Review Sun Mar 17 2013

Review: Anberlin, Bottom Lounge 3/14

Stephen Christian is obviously tired of singing older Anberlin songs. This makes sense given the fact he's performed songs off the band's breakout album Never Take Friendship Personal like "Paperthin Hymn" hundreds upon hundreds of times over the last eight years. I get the sense that he's hasn't necessarily turned his back on them. He just seems a bit bored. On Thursday, during Anberlin's headlining show at the Bottom Lounge he sang matured songs like opener "The Resistance" and the aforementioned "Paperthin Hymn" with almost total disregard for their original vocal melodies -- changing keys and octaves unexpectedly. I love when bands diverge a bit from recordings during their live performances, but at times it was a bit much.

On the other hand, Christian sounded outstanding on more recent tracks, most notably songs off the band's 2012 release Vital. Given the album's most complex sound to date for the band, he was clearly happier with the challenges that songs like "Self-Starter" and the incredibly moving "Other Side" present.

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Katie Karpowicz

Review Sun Mar 03 2013

REVIEW: Major Lazer @ the Congress Theater


(Photo by Steve Stearns)


(Photo by Steve Stearns)

It didn't take long for Diplo to show us his balls on Saturday night.

Don't worry, I'm not talking about anything graphic. About 15 minutes into Major Lazer's set at the Congress Theater, the dancehall/dubstep DJ collective brought two giant human hamster balls to the stage, proceeded to climb inside and surf the crowd. It's not the first time an artist has done something like this during their show, but it was still super fun to watch.

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Katie Karpowicz / Comments (1)

Concert Sun Mar 03 2013

Review: Tea Leaf Green Jams at Lincoln Hall

After seeing Tea Leaf Green at the 10,000 Lakes Festival in 2009, I was happy to have the chance to catch them again, this time at Lincoln Hall on February 23. After an opening set by Tumbleweed Wanderers, Tea Leaf Green came out jamming. They included some beautiful build-ups to lead into transitioning songs. The guitarist, Josh Clark, can absolutely shred. Keyboardist Trevor Garrod is borderline impish. He has a glimmer in his eyes like he's up to something wonderfully mischievous and long, flowing blonde locks. With those two things combined he could easily be mistaken for an elf from Middle-earth. His voice is raw and smoothly at the same time. He sings like he plays the keys, in a manner that demands attention, but still maintains much grace.

Tea Leaf Green's Trevor Garrod (Photos by Brianna Kelly)

One of the best things about Tea Leaf Green is that it has two drummers on the roster. Drums are completely underrated. Having an extra kit in the mix really adds a whole different layer to a band's sound. There's even a fun and playful dynamic between the bassist and guitarist. They have all the necessary ingredients of a successful jam band. But their sound is still more polished than improvisational.

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Brianna Kelly / Comments (1)

Review Sun Feb 24 2013

Review: Hong Chulki and Choi Joonyung @ Graham Foundation (Lampo)


Hong Chulki and Choi Joonyung. Photo by Lampo.

Hong Chulki and Choi Joonyung, performing two Saturdays ago as part of the Winter/Spring 2013 Lampo series, created a rare moment in modern experimental music, the type of things we read about and hope to witness naturally one day: a genuine split of opinion.

My first clue that friction was coming was the unusual crowd, stuffed beyond comfort. The Graham Foundation's ample upper-level auditorium room, though usually fully accommodated, has never (that I've seen) been packed to standing-room only. Given that the city's academically-inclined experimental music community likely hasn't doubled in the past few weeks, Chulki and Joonyung were clearly going to be playing to people other than the choir. These days, experimental music belongs to the converted, or at least those at least willing to try to be converted. Say what you like about your roommate that rolled his eyes when you dragged him to see Prurient or your parent who blanched when you played them Masonna: most audiences for avant garde music are, for good or ill, either in on the game or not ready to give the roars of disapproval once afforded Charles Ives, Edgard Varese, or the Berlin Dadaists. Yet who of us, having witnessed their 23rd straight performance of heroic, virtuosic free improvisation, hasn't yearned to see someone get so agitated that they tore their own clothes or threw a chair?

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Chris Sienko / Comments (1)

Review Wed Feb 13 2013

Review: Ty Segall and Ex-Cult (Early Show) @ Empty Bottle 2/9

The Empty Bottle was already packed by 7pm last Saturday night when Trin Tran, a ski-masked fellow and Drag City one-man garage band/disco curiosity, played his first song with the help of no less than two synth pads, a guitar, an electronic kick pedal and a homemade snare pedal that looked something like a baseball bat hitting a go-kart steering wheel. The fact that he was doing this all by himself made the crowd slightly less anxious to be listening to his baffling blend of deconstructed basement jams, riding both sides of the line between perfect pop and fried-out chaos. This wasn't Trin Tran's party, to be fair, though he seemed perfectly content to be crashing it. The audience, who was still trickling in, seemed perfectly happy to share in his reverie. It was a great warm up to what was sure to be a lights-out night of tunes. And everyone knew the night really belonged to Ty Segall, reigning garage-rock wunderkind, who would play a few hours later (and then a few hours later after that.) This was only the early set for Segall's twice-sold-out stand of two shows (early and late) at the Bottle, his first time in Chicago since the last time we saw him, but everyone seemed plenty awake.

Segall is already somewhat of a legend in certain circles due to his prolific output in recent years and ascendant songwriting muse (having one of the best working garage bands around doesn't hurt things either). So it turned some heads when Segall opted to produce the debut LP for Memphis punks Sex Cult last year. A quick burst of sessions in San Francisco, a cease-and-desist letter prompting a name change to Ex-Cult, and a little over six months later, they had an album. And, now, they also have a tour: The Memphis punks have been on the road with Segall and his band since mid-January, criss-crossing the States and putting in some serious miles both on-stage and off. And when Ex-Cult hit the stage next, you could tell they were battle-tested.

On stage, Ex-Cult frontman Chris Shaw is a dead ringer for Ron Reyes or even a younger Glenn Danzig, and it suits the band's hybrid of classic California hardcore and Oblivians-obsessed Southern punk well. Combing through tracks from their Segall-produced LP, Ex-Cult, the band was locked-in from the start, shooting out blasts of sound across their well-honed and worn-in hardcore tunes. It was a throwback sound (and temperament, if anything can be assumed by their classical-style hardcore band logo), to be sure, but blended in the space-chamber dinginess of modern-day San Francisco acts like Thee Oh Sees and The Fresh & Onlys nicely. More importantly, it became immediately clear that these guys were the real deal and had no problem demonstrating that to everyone in the room. The crowd, few of which seemed to be familiar with the group before their set, was converted in no more than 30 minutes. Ex-Cult killed it, and they knew it. And they'd be back a few hours later to prove it again.

Ty Segall took to the stage moments later, unassumingly testing out his guitars with the band for minutes on end before his set while people hung out in the front rows looking up at him. Once the band was assembled and a few line-checks were made, Segall said hello and cranked into a hopped-up version of Twins standout "Thank God For The Sinners". The band, which includes ascendant garage peer Mikal Cronin on bass and the perpetually badass Emily Rose Epstein on drums, sounded red-hot, blasting through tunes from across Segall's already vast catalogue. Mostly, they focused on standout tracks from his more recent albums, playing fan favorites like Slaughterhouse's "Wave Goodbye" and "I Bought My Eyes" or Twins' "The Hill". Throughout the hour-plus set, Segall proved again his effortless knack for writing inspired past-leaning and playful songs and even made a serious case for his skills as a guitar player, no doubt. Minor technical problems aside (a bum cable or two), Segall was a true showman, mostly all business if not noticeably quite polite and seemingly happy to be there. No encores here, though — the guy has to remember to save at least some of his energy for the next set.

Mike Bellis

Review Sun Feb 03 2013

A First Person Account of Big Freedia at the Empty Bottle, 2/1

On Friday, while the rest of Chicago was a buzz over the bumping and grinding that would be going down at Pitchfork Festival this summer, I was a little more concerned with the abundant bumpin' that would be happening at the Empty Bottle on that cold, snowy night.

Here's what I knew about Big Freedia upon walking in: She's actually a he -- real name Freddie Ross. She's the biggest face in New Orleans' "bounce music." The genre is best explained during her NPR interview but, essentially, it's a bass heavy, booty-bouncing-inducing, lyrically minimal, quick tempo-ed version of rap. I also, realized that i would probably be making a fool of myself dancing along -- but new experiences are better when embraced.

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Katie Karpowicz / Comments (4)

Tomorrow Never Knows Mon Jan 21 2013

Review: Freelance Whales @ Lincoln Hall, 1/19

When you are a lover of music festivals, the day, to hours, to minutes winding down to the end is always the hardest part. We enter a world of exuberant bliss, an alternate reality, a bubble-esque respite from our usual routine. We celebrate the sets of seasoned favorites, while catching on to a new artist and falling in love with our next favorite band. It's magical. However, magic has to end. This year's Tomorrow Never Knows festival was filled with acts we revered, with fresh talent also added to the mix in an ample supply. Saturday night featured a blend of both of these aspects; new acts Snowmine and Hundred Waters meshed perfectly with celebrated act Freelance Whales for a night of electronic indie-pop fusion.

Opener Snowmine combined their futuristic, big sound with an eclectic video feed of themselves on stage, the colors obscured and inverted. For some reason, this combination made sense for their performance and identity. Trippy backgrounds complemented the dreamy, atmospheric sounds that emanated from the stage. Lead singer Grayson Sanders's voice floated above the crowd, as each member in the band jolted to the reverberating beats they were creating. It was a great way to start the show off; they've only been on the scene for a little over two years now, but they've made quite the initial impression as they hooked the audience's attention for the entirety of their set.

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Sarah Brooks

Tomorrow Never Knows Sun Jan 20 2013

TNK Fest Recap: Night 3 - Free Energy @ Schubas, 1/18

"Free Energy" is such a great band name. Whether the phrase evokes an open offer for fun or a thermodynamics concept, it all pretty much describes what happens when you listen to the band's music or see them live.

On Friday night, cozy little Schubas turned into a sold-out celebration of pure, dumb rock and roll, thanks only in part to Free Energy's unapologetically feel-good set. I don't know about all of the other five venues that had music on night three of Tomorrow Never Knows Fest, but I'm going to guess that Schubas had the rowdiest bill. With a solid lineup split between two local and two non-local acts, the people at Schubas were in for a night of increasingly building energy, in which glowsticks abounded and where there were at least two different instances of band members leaping up onto stacks of amps around the stage, turning Schubas into as much of an arena-rock jungle gym as possible.

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Marc Fishman

Tomorrow Never Knows Sun Jan 20 2013

Review/Photos: Tomorrow Never Knows - Chelsea Wolfe, The Amazing, King Dude & Sabers @ Schubas Tavern 1/19/13

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Chelsea Wolfe wasn't just the most unusual musician playing in a night of quite varied and unique bands but she might very well be one of the strangest and most intriguing musicians in the entire world at large. She is striking in her very tall, thin stature and she seems like she comes from a totally different time and place, like the silent film era for instance. Wolfe possesses the kind of eyes that make her seem irreconcilably lost. Her music is typically experimental and distorted as in the case of her second full length album Ἀποκάλυψις, which is also referred to as Apokalypsis. She has become known for a sound that is unpredictable and as wild as it is strange so this reviewer wasn't quite sure how a more acoustic set was going to work.

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Kirstie Shanley

Review Sat Jan 19 2013

Review: The Walkmen & Father John Misty @ the Vic, 1/18


The Walkmen (All photos by Sara Pieper)

Have you ever stood next to someone at a show who jabbered on and on about how big a fan they were of the next band and then continued talking into that band's set as if they were, say, your deadbeat uncle's Steve Miller cover band? That's sort of how it felt on the first platform at the Vic on Friday for Father John Misty and the Walkmen. Luckily, though, the Walkmen are better than some of the chatterboxes who adore them. They bring an air of professionalism to a forum that sometimes lacks it. They dress to impress, always play at a high level and respect audiences with humility. (To the last point, at the end of the show, singer Hamilton Leithauser jumped from the stage and made his way through the crowd. As someone next to me helped him over a railing, he asked no one in particular, "Everything sound ok? Good show tonight?")

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James Ziegenfus

Review Mon Jan 14 2013

Review: Chicago Psych Fest IV (Saturday)

"There is no other day
Let's try it another way
You'll lose your mind and play..."

--"See Emily Play," Pink Floyd (1967)

Billed as a night "Into the 4th Dimension" to mark the homespun fest's fourth year, night two of the Chicago Psych Fest boasted an eclectic mix of artists each staking out claims in their own corners of the city's flourishing psych scene. While headliners Outer Minds may have been the biggest draw to look at Saturday night's lineup, Pysch Fest, carefully curated in all aspects from artist selection to venue choice (at the "perfect place for a freak-out" in The Hideout) to poster design, remains mainly a gathering of the tribes, where psych-freaks young and old assemble in celebration of some wonderfully weird music.

Saturday night built off Friday night's sets by Plastic Crimewave Syndicate and Energy Gown, continuing the mesmerizing mid-set video displays programmed live by artists Nick Barner and Nick Ciontea. DJs Psychedalex and Psyche Prissy Pie played tons of deep cuts, but made sure to phone in some old favorites for the crowd (with the most enthusiastic response given to the Pink Floyd classic "See Emily Play"). The merch booth, meanwhile, was flush with psychedelic swag, ranging from new vinyl releases from the night's acts to back issues of lauded psych zine Ugly Things, and even had event posters printed onto discarded discs of vinyl. Bending time and space even further, select band and audience members even dressed in full-on Haight-Ashbury garb, boasting fringe jackets, beads, and some very inspired facial hair. For some, it could have been mid-summer in 1967 as much as a cold night in early 2013.

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Mike Bellis

Review Mon Dec 31 2012

Review: Lotus @ The Riv, 12/28

As a huge fan of jam bands, I often have reasonably high expectations of the set list diversity at a live show. I expect a band to bring something new to the table every time I see them play. Each show should be different from the last. I frown on artists that play the same songs at every show because simply repeating the same material over and over doesn't require too much talent in my opinion. This is exactly why I despise Top 40 radio. I may be a little picky with my musical tastes, but I certainly know what I like. And quite frankly I feel a little spoiled to have stumbled on some of the talented bands that I so closely follow.

One of those bands is Lotus. It's a five-piece instrumental group, amply labeled as "jamtronica," which continues to bend genres and create a distinguishable sound though a combination of rock and electronic elements. Their music has many layers to it, through the use of traditional instruments, distortion pedals and computer programs. Lotus has all of the important aspects of a great band: they switch up their set lists, they can jam and segue nicely into songs and they have interesting visuals.

They kicked off their official New Year's run at the Rivieria Theatre on Dec. 27 and 28, where they played some new songs in anticipation of the release of their new album, Build, on Feb. 19 and, of course, many old favorites.

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Brianna Kelly

Event Tue Dec 18 2012

Review: Outer Minds, Bare Mutants, Radar Eyes and Blizzard Babies @ Empty Bottle

For what promised to be one of the better local outings for Chicago independent rock this year, garage-rock upstarts Outer Minds more than made good on the heaps of positive attention surrounding their pair of 2012 releases at Saturday night's stacked quadruple-bill at the Empty Bottle. Enlisting local peers Bare Mutants and Radar Eyes as openers, each of whom have been making noise of their own as of late, Saturday marked a celebration of the physical release of Outer Minds' latest LP, Behind The Mirror.

Blizzard Babies, a ukulele-toting punk outfit, set the night off at 10pm, blasting through a tightly coiled set of tunes indebted to "New York in the sixties, England in the seventies, New Zealand in the eighties, the Northwest in the nineties" according to the Babies themselves. Taking liberally from the punk/surf/garage feel of everyone from X to The Cramps to Vivian Girls, the group served as the perfect opener for a night of drunken stage banter, affectionately sloppy introductions and killer hooks.

Radar Eyes were next, affixing their Clean-indebted rock to the rafters and effectively raising the volume knob for the remainder of the night. Hitting a sweet spot between the Kilgour brothers' legendary washed-out jangle and the fangs-out power-punk of Jay Reatard, Radar Eyes had the place totally packed by 11pm. Standing (or gently moshing) shoulder to shoulder, the crowd was never too rowdy, as many were undoubtedly transfixed by the psyched-out barrage of sound coming from the stage. With earplugs readily available behind the bar, the Eyes' set gave more than a few reasons to snag a pair (this writer included.)

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Mike Bellis

Review Tue Dec 18 2012

Review: Sufjan Stevens @ The Metro, 12/15

Being a fan of Sufjan Stevens for many years, I knew any show he played would not be ordinary. There would be an ornate, whimsical stage set-up, surprises would be in store for the audience, and Sufjan would likely bring out all the bells and whistles (literally). This special show, this past Saturday night at The Metro, dubbed "The Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant On Ice" lived up to my heightened expectations; a title implying combustion of chaos, light-heartedness, and holiday cheer transformed the disjointed audience into a watchful crowd, hinging onto Sufjan Stevens' last note until his voice faded away.

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Photo by Kirstie Shanley

Sufjan's earlier work, featured on albums Come On Feel The Illinoise and Michigan mainly consist of simple, sweet, and haunting ballads that showcase his incredible vocal range, and effortless ability to twist a simple melody into an insistent string of notes that wind through the soul and into the senses, touching the heart and mind. The music transforms from stunningly beautiful, to eerie and melancholy, though never mundane. Over time, Sufjan has adapted his unique creativity and musical genius to become more innovative and zany, as shown by the 25-minute-long electronica epic "Impossible Soul" featured on recent concept album, The Age of Adz, and two full-length holiday albums, spanning from classic tunes such as "Sleigh Ride," to the bizarre, as showcased by 15-minute-long "Christmas Unicorn" (yep, it's actually about a unicorn - but we'll get to that later).

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Sarah Brooks

Review Fri Dec 14 2012

Review: The Faint @ Metro, 12/12

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(All photos by Steve Stearns)

The first time I saw the Faint they were touring on Danse Macabre. They played to maybe a hundred people in a cafeteria at Carnegie Mellon University. Nearly 11 years later they're selling out Metro and playing Danse Macabre in full. Even though playing an album in its entirety live is a popular move for bands who've been around a while, nobody seems to do it the same way. They've been done sequentially, non-sequentially, true to the album arrangements, tinkered with enough to question recognition, as the entirety of a set, as a portion of the set, etc. It might be fair to say the novelty is wearing off, but it doesn't mean good full album performances are losing much luster. On Wednesday, the Faint started like they would any other show. After warming up with a few old songs (highlighted by "Desperate Guys") and giving the crowd a taste of what was to come of their electro-infused new wave/punk, they launched into Danse Macabre. It's the middle of their concept albums (complementing 1999's sex-obsessed Blank-Wave Arcade and 2004's self-explanatory Wet From Birth) and, arguably, their best.

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"Agenda Suicide" and certainly "Glass Danse" got the ball rolling right away with faithful renditions amped up just a bit. It was sort of like a switch had been flipped when Danse Macabre began. The video screens were turned on. Singer Todd Fink hit a higher gear. The crowd was more rambunctious. Dancing (or, at least movement) was practically universal. Singalongs were prevalent, and mortality-themed lyrics never sounded so good as when sung by a thousand people in unison. As with many albums, though, it's front-loaded to capture a listener. And, of course, the dynamics of listening to an album at home and in a crowd at a show are very different. After the initial euphoria and straight-up bangers (e.g., "Let the Poison Spill From Your Throat"), the set was bound to hit a weak spot, right? When Fink mentioned that they'd never played "Violent" live before this tour, it didn't exactly come across as a vote of confidence. But over the last month of playing it every night, it sounded right at home and the band never lost a step.

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James Ziegenfus

Review Tue Dec 11 2012

Review: ICE's "Passará" at the Museum of Contemporary Photography

One of the great strengths of Chicago's International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) is their versatility in response to unusual performance opportunities. They can rage with the power of a large ensemble when roaring through Xenakis' Èchange at the MCA theater, or shrink to the size of a small circle of friends at the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MOCP), as they did this past Saturday. ICE Artistic Director Claire Chase (flute and alto flute) joined with her fellow flutist Eric Lamb (bass flute) and horn player David Byrd-Marrow in performing five pieces by four Brazilian composers. One of the composers, Columbia College's Marcos Balter, hosted the evening's performances.

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Chris Sienko

Hip Hop Fri Dec 07 2012

Review: Return of the Mecca Don & Chocolate Boy Wonder

Keeping the rhythm of its recent rally of bringing some of the most prolific faces and sounds of hip-hop and R&B to the city, The Shrine upped the volume once more last Friday, by welcoming a duo that practically epitomizes an era; Pete Rock & CL Smooth.

Pete Rock & CL Smooth at The Shrine. Photo by Ricardo Villarreal

Celebrating twenty years since the release of their debut LP, Mecca and the Soul Brother, the originators were set to perform the album in its entirety. They took to the stage with all the command and comfort of a veteran, but the energy and excitement of a pair of performers in their prime. Pete Rock excelled behind the decks, as a master of his craft would, at interluding and blending his tracks with their samples, and even including some classics off of the pair's 1991 EP, All Souled Out. CL Smooth's lyrical performance was complimented by his physical one, as he moved and grooved through every beat of every track, making it clear that the birth of the "hype man" marked the decline of the real emcee.

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The two performed together as though they had never stopped, and provided, as promised, a momentary cure and escape, or "medicine", as CL Smooth called it, for the currently troubled times. They took the room back to '92, or rather, the golden age of hip-hop that Millennials imagine it to be, with the music, and the moves, and the mood they set with a flawless live rendition of their masterpiece. The album may as well have been recorded in that room that night, because the perfection that boomed through the speakers equaled that of the LP.

Pete Rock & CL Smooth at The Shrine. Photo by Ricardo Villarreal

Wrapping up the night with their most known, respected, and most magnificent track, T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You), carried all the power that an ode to a fallen friend would, but it also blared with a reminiscence of the music, and the feeling that comes with thoughts of "the good ol' days," and everyone's varied recollection of them. It was nostalgia at its finest, channeled through legends in their truest form.

Ricardo Villarreal

Review Mon Nov 26 2012

Review: Adventures in Punk Patriotism with Titus Andronicus @ Metro

What does American patriotism look like in 2012? It depends who you ask, but I'm pretty sure Patrick Stickles, frontman of New Jersey punks Titus Andronicus, has a few ideas.

Since their start in 2005, Titus Andronicus have tapped into a new way of channeling the American spirit via the true-believer punk of Fugazi and a little Springsteen guitar glory. Where the bands last release, 2010's excellent The Monitor, was a collection of Civil War-inspired epics that transformed the Emancipation Proclamation into a pogo-ready soundtrack, the band has since turned hyper-local — perhaps more than a little inspired by the Occupy protests of late — for this year's Local Business. A lot's happened in the past two years, and while the ghost of Lincoln is certainly still in the air — and if Sunday night's show at the Metro is any indication — Stickles seems to have moved on to Reconstruction.

With locals Coffin Pricks and Ceremony getting the night off to an excellent and fuzzed-out start, Stickles and co. hit the stage at 10pm sharp to chants of "USA! USA!" from the packed audience apparently ready to indulge the band's punk populism. Stickles was clean-shaven (having ditched his Lincoln-esque beard for a more business-forward look for the new election/record cycle), rallying the band's three-guitar attack with a "Ready, fellas?" before flying into Local Business standout "In A Big City." The newer, more condensed tracks from Business sounded just as punchy if not quite as epic as the band's earlier work, and mark a shift in Stickles songwriting style toward a more classic rock feel that puts the band closer to Cheap Trick or even The Knack, albeit with the band's trademark fury intact.

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Mike Bellis

Review Mon Nov 26 2012

Review: Rock for Kids Charity Jam @ Empty Bottle 11/25

rockforkids_charityjam.jpgAnyone who feels overwhelmed by Chicago's music scene had the opportunity to hear a nicely curated lineup of some of the city's best bands all in one place last night at the Rock for Kids Charity Jam at the Empty Bottle. It's just a shame that it was the Sunday night of a long holiday weekend because few people were willing to defy the dread of Monday morning to go see some loud music. Seven local bands played, comprising a total of 23 musicians, which very likely made up more than half of the attendance last night.

But that didn't stop Gapers Block, and this reviewer was on hand to provide coverage of as many bands as he could during the Charity Jam's slightly long but solid lineup of Chicago-only bands benefiting Rock For Kids, a local organization that exposes underserved children to music education, creativity, and critical thinking.

While each of the bands showcased last night are "Chicago rock bands" in the broadest category, there was plenty of variation between sets. The impressive thing, and the one that attests most the strength of Chicago's local music scene, is that none of these bands were bad. Some were better than others, but all of them were strong. Here's a brief recap:

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Marc Fishman

Review Mon Nov 19 2012

Review: Menahan Street Band @ the Double Door 11/16

Unlike most shows where the doors open and a crowd waits around aimlessly for a band to come on, there had already been a good two and a half hours of dancing before anyone walked onto the stage at the Double Door this past Friday for the Menahan Street Band's performance at Chicago's monthly Soul Summit dance party. In fact, it was unclear whether people were even there specifically to see the band or if they had just come for the dancing in general, live band or not. But at around a quarter to midnight, you had to wonder what exactly the Menahan Street Band was going to contribute. Weren't people going to get tired? Was a live guest even necessary?

As a band with plenty of musical cred to its name (guitarist Thomas Brenneck and other members once recorded with Amy Winehouse, for example), and as the "house band" for one of the premier soul revival labels on the market, the Menahan Street Band has a lot of tricks up its sleeve. They let them all out at the Double Door last Friday, and the Soul Summit dance party was all the better for it.

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Marc Fishman

Review Fri Nov 16 2012

Review: Nas/Lauryn Hill @ The Congress Theater

When word came down through the grapevine that Nas and Lauryn Hill would be playing at the Congress Theater together it prompted two obvious questions from anyone interested in attending: Would they be performing their famous collaboration "If I Ruled the World" together? And how late would Ms. Hill be to take the stage?

The first answer came early in the night. Three songs into Nas' eighty minute set, the opening croons of "If I Ruled..." wafted through the speakers but they weren't being sung by Lauryn. Instead Nas' backup vocalist of choice (whom he later revealed to be a descendant of Nat King Cole) took over the song's chorus. While 9:15pm was an extremely unreasonable time to expect the notoriously erratic and infamously tardy Hill to take the stage -- let alone for a single song -- there was still a visible slump in the collective shoulders of the packed crowd when it became clear that the beloved hit would be performed without its original singer.

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Katie Karpowicz / Comments (4)

Review Sun Nov 04 2012

Review: Joe Pug @ Lincoln Hall, 11/3

One of the wonderful things about this city of Chicago that so many of us call home is our diverse music scene; opportunities to see musicians representing a spectrum featuring all genres, in venues that are comprised of different personalities and vibes. Dive bars housing packed shows mingle with refined theater venues. Cavernous, arena-like spaces that allow electronic and dance music to thrive are juxtaposed against more intimate spaces attuned to folk music's husky yet delicate sound. Lincoln Hall is one such space that features folk music effortlessly; cozy and comfortable, it allows for the superb acoustics of the space to move to the forefront of the reasons for this particular venue's charm. Saturday night's show featured two artists, Amy Cook and Joe Pug, who utilized this venue's acoustic setup to their advantage as they impressed listeners with their strong folk sounds.

Amy Cook appeared first, gracious for the audience's welcome and casually dressed. She could have stepped off stage and blended in perfectly with the crowd standing in front of her, all hinging upon the first guitar chords she strummed. A California native, Amy now resides in Austin, Texas, showcased by her mellow, peaceful vibe. However, her voice was in no sense casual or ordinary; her booming voice reverberated from the walls of Lincoln Hall with crystal clear intonation, captivating the audience instantly. Summer Skin, released this past year, features her strong vocals with guest spots by some of the greats including Patty Griffin and Robert Plant. Her voice is a mix of the smoky Stevie Nicks vocal quality, Ellie Goulding's range, and Brandi Carlile's emotional intensity, which packs one heck of a punch.

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Sarah Brooks

Concert Fri Nov 02 2012

Review: Beats Antique @ Park West, 10/31

There's truly nothing better than going to a concert on Halloween. It's a giant costume party with live music and dancing. What could be more fun?

Wednesday night the Park West was packed with seemingly every character, creature and celebrity imaginable for Beats Antique's sold-out show. People decked out in costumes from head to toe were ready to get weird. The Michelin Man, Pikachu, bananas, Smurfs, and aliens gathered together under the disco ball and got their groove on. Breaking Bad's Walter and Jesse made an appearance — there was even a group of friends dressed as Adventure Time characters.

The Coop, dressed up as Johnny Depp characters, from Jack Sparrow to Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, opened the show with a short and notably electronic set. Their sound has moved further away from the typical jam band sound and is becoming increasingly more influenced by electronic dance music. It seems to be working for them because the crowd keeps on dancing.

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Brianna Kelly

Event Thu Nov 01 2012

Exhuming the Dead with Father John Misty @ Lincoln Hall, 10/30

Halloween, among other things, is one of the only times in the year where taking on a new persona is accepted without question. Artifice and affect are celebrated, and even expected. So it was especially appropriate that ex-Fleet Foxes drummer and journeyman songwriter Josh Tillman's latest hat, Father John Misty, rolled through Chicago Tuesday at Lincoln Hall, in the middle of the city's Halloween frenzy. Luckily, costume or not, Tillman wears his new role well.

Openers Jeffertitti's Nile were the most seasonally appropriate act of the night, with their psychedelic trash-rock offering the perfect soundtrack for the "eve of Satan's reign," as Tillman later pointed out. The more low-profile but no less excellent outfit was led by Tillman's bassist Jeffertitti and actually included Tillman on drums (introduced by Jeffertitti as "L. Ron Hubbard.") Jeffertitti even had a funny rant imploring to the crowd to "maybe not use so much plastic and weird stuff like that" (a comment on Hurricane Sandy?), all the while looking like a hybrid of Ariel Pink and a young Dave Pirner with his long, stringy hair and sparkling blazer.

Next was La Sera, the latest project from Vivian Girls' "Kickball" Katy Goodman, mixing in plenty of surf-inspired tracks alongside her more straight-ahead garage-pop ballads. Goodman, who is something like the Drew Barrymore of indie rock, was all smiles throughout her set, gently swaying along as her voiced cooed along to tracks from her newest LP, Sees the Light, like "Break My Heart." There were even some revealing moments of insight: When asked by a random member of the crowd why she goes by "Kickball" Katy, she paused, went into another song, then responded matter-of-factly that she used to play kickball in college. And now we know!

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Mike Bellis

Review Thu Nov 01 2012

Review: Knife Party's Haunted House Tour @ Congress Theater

When several thousand people make it out from all corners of a city to enjoy the same music in the same room in front of the the same stage, it can be a really incredible thing. When the overwhelming majority of those thousands show up in costume -- ranging from the hilarious to the scanty -- ready to dance, there can also be something undeniably ridiculous about it.

As I've probably hinted at through my other articles on Gapers Block, I'm a fan of electronic music. It's a cool amalgamation of the burgeoning rave scene of the '90s, the breakthrough of rap and other beat-focused music to suburban households and the evolution of the hardcore rock scene. Seriously, listen to some of the tight, low octave breakdowns of mid-2000s hardcore or "metal" bands and you'll find plenty of similarities between the "drops" that dominate popular electronic dance music. It's no coincidence that Skrillex -- the unofficial "king of dubstep" -- started in a Florida screamo band.

More so than a culture study though, Saturday night was simply a Halloween party set to music.

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Katie Karpowicz

Review Tue Oct 30 2012

Review: Saint Etienne @ Lincoln Hall, 10/29

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Photos by Kirstie Shanley

If it is every music critic's dream to play music half as good as what they want to hear in their head when they critique, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs have it made. The former writers have headed up the instrumentation behind Saint Etienne for over twenty years. The London-based electronic pop group's sugary tunes combined with the sultry vocals of Sarah Cracknell have been a winning combination. Stepping onto the stage at Lincoln Hall last night, it was immediately clear who the star is. Stanley and Wiggs were obstructed by their mountains of gear. Backup singer Debsey Wykes blended into the backdrop in a dark dress. And Cracknell... well, she shined out front in a white glittery dress and feather boa.

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On their latest album, Words And Music By Saint Etienne, from which they drew a third of the set list, the trio's written what amounts to a love letter to music. "Popular" references numerous charting singles (and video projections showed images of popular groups from the late 1970s). "Tonight" is about the joy of seeing a great band live. "Haunted Jukebox" and "When I Was Seventeen" are bittersweet looks back on music's impact when you're young. Despite these songs going over well, especially "Haunted Jukebox", the band was practically apologizing for playing new tunes instead of pulling more from their history.

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James Ziegenfus / Comments (1)

Review Tue Oct 30 2012

Album Review: Jess Godwin

jess godwinLocal singer/songwriter Jess Godwin is looking for her big break. She is a fiery redhead with a multidimensional voice that at one moment is soft and sweet, then strong and powerful at the next. The simple, vocal-heavy pop songs on her new self-titled EP create a sound that can easily be received by a wide variety of listeners. They're especially inspirational to women because they speak to common feminine plight. Both her soulful, up-tempo beats and the lyrics of her songs are very catchy, making it hard to resist singing along.

It's apparent that Godwin's lyrics are reflective of challenges she has faced in her life. The first two songs on the EP seem to be inspired by the harsh realities she has faced while trying to get her foot in the door of the highly competitive music industry. She has released three EPs in the past three years, and is still searching for a label. Her musical focus has evolved slightly from her original R&B sound to more marketable pop tunes.

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Brianna Kelly / Comments (1)

Review Mon Oct 29 2012

Getting Down at the Numero Group's Eccentric Soul Omnibus Release Show @ The Hideout

Not that anyone needed another excuse to hit the town in costume last Saturday night, but the Numero Group's Eccentric Soul Omnibus release party at The Hideout certainly made a case for dancing around to old soul in full hallows garb as one of the best options you're likely to find. From midnight until just short of 3am, Numero staff spun records from their latest compilation of long-lost soul 45s, the Eccentric Soul Omnibus. Billed as "the mother of all rare 45 compilations," the box sets each come with a unique selection of 45 individual 45s from within the Numero archives, all neatly wrapped in a deluxe box with metal fasteners and a vinyl-wrapped exterior. Whether it was worth its $200 asking price is up to the soul collector die-hards — as for me, I was happy enough just kicking my two left feet around to unknown gems like The Intentions and The Procedures underneath the Hideout's string-lit rafters.

Along with the always helpful Hideout staff, label employees were on hand throughout the night to offer helpful information about the box set, offer tidbits about what we were hearing, and provide slow-dancing tips where necessary. Seeing as the event doubled as much as a standard Saturday night dance party as a proper release show, really it was an opportunity to get down in full costume to the Numero staff's carefully curated picks. And oh, did they get down — I never thought I'd see Pippi Longstocking and a replacement referee dance like that before, let alone together. But 'tis the season for soul, I guess, at least around these parts.

The event also served as a warm-up for the label's upcoming trip out to the East Coast for round two of the Eccentric Soul Omnibus release party in Williamsburg on November 1st, hurricanes be damned. Costumes optional.

Mike Bellis

Review Sat Oct 27 2012

Review: The Presets @ Metro, 10/25

I'm a compulsive wristwatch/clock glancer. I'm well aware it's a bad habit. But it's become a sort of gauge for entertainment. The less I look at the time, the better I consider the entertainment. Any time longer than 20 minutes not looking at my watch is a victory. So when I casually glanced at it on Thursday and noticed I hadn't peeked in nearly an hour, I was floored. And the credit goes to the Presets (because it certainly doesn't go to the crowd who surrounded me). But I shouldn't've been too surprised because the Sydney duo's stage show has always showcased them at their best and made time fly.

A non-stop flood of strobes, colorful lighting and abstract animated images accompanied the band through almost an hour and a half of their high energy electronic/club synth-heavy pop. Singer Julian Hamilton, decked out in the type of glittery grey jacket that only a musician could pull off, ran the crowd while drummer Kim Moyes spent much of the show behind the kit only to emerge to assist on keys and synths occasionally. Unlike many other duos, the Presets take care of everything without the aid of other musicians. It's a pleasant surprise in a time when bands whose gimmick is their size end up playing live with extras. With nearly half of the set consisting of songs from their new Pacifica album, the older tunes were a little too infrequent for some longtime fans, but the band still made the most of them. Singles like "The Girl & the Sea" and especially their monster "This Boy's In Love" got everyone cheering and dancing like maniacs. A brief encore of "Surrender" and "Talk Like That" closed out the night with a bang - hands in the air, yelling lyrics and dancing like lives depended on it.

James Ziegenfus

Concert Wed Oct 24 2012

Opening Acts Set Bar High at Heartless Bastards Show

It's a rarity when a supporting act's performance rivals that of the headliner. So it must be an anomaly when there are two openers that give the featured band a run for its money. Well, it most certainly happened Monday night at the Metro. The crowd that came out to the treasured Wrigleyville venue to see Heartless Bastards was in for a long night, with three bands scheduled to play.

Luckily, the four musicians that compose the soulful garage rock group have impeccable taste in music. Not only can they play it, they can pick it too. The two opening acts that were chosen to play before Heartless Bastards had both sounds and styles that complimented each other eminently well.

Dana Falconberry (Photos by Brianna Kelly)

At 9 o'clock sharp Dana Falconberry and her eclectic folk band took to the stage. Each of the six musicians had their own distinct, unique look. Falconberry looked like a country western star from the '60s in a classy vintage dress and cowboy boots, while the banjo player, Gina Dvorak, looked like she had just returned from a photo shoot from an American Apparel ad, with red lipstick and glasses with thick frames.

Gina Dvorak (Photos by Brianna Kelly)

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Brianna Kelly

Review Mon Oct 22 2012

Review: Ben Folds Five at The Chicago Theatre 9/30/2012

Ben Folds (photo by Stephanie Griffin)

Earlier this month the Chicago Theater welcomed the much anticipated return of Ben Folds Five, 12 years after the band originally split. The thing about this reunion is that it feels like the band were never gone at all. Ben Folds went on to release a multitude of solo albums that all sound a good deal like his material with the Five, plus he never shied away from playing the old material in his live performances. I'd seen Ben Folds live a handful of times but never with the rest of the band. Would the addition of Darren Jessee and Robert Sledge make that much of a difference?

The band's break-up had been amicable. There had been no drama, no big ego explosions, no drug addictions. They didn't suffer from on-stage tension like we see in many reunion acts that have had a more tumultous past. These three guys are actually friends with each other and had remained so even through the years apart. It showed in their performance. There's a real camaraderie present, and they're not faking it. They were lively on stage and you could tell they were having a good time.

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Stephanie Griffin

Concert Tue Oct 16 2012

Review: Calexico @ Lincoln Hall 10/15

"It's great to be back home in Chicago," said Joey Burns, lead singer of Calexico -- a band that hails from Tuscon, AZ. This was just before Calexico walked off the stage after their last song of the set on Monday night, and the sudden declaration that this was actually homecoming show for them took me by surprise. Even other people around me in the sold-out Lincoln Hall crowd were asking themselves what the Chicago connection could be.

It turns out the Chicago connection is through the band's longtime record label Quarterstick, a sublabel of the Chicago-based Touch and Go Records. But really, all you even had to do was take a quick look at the band's Instagram posts from earlier that day to see how much fun they had roaming the city and how that might have contributed to them being so on top of their game later that night.

One thing is immediately clear when you see Calexico live: this band's love affair with Southwestern music is not a shtick. It's simply the form in which the band operates, and you can tell just by how solid they are as a band that they take it seriously.

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Marc Fishman

Review Tue Oct 09 2012

Review: Tilly and the Wall @ Lincoln Hall 10/8

By Abigail Covington

Tilly and the Wall is a great band and Lincoln Hall is a marvelous modern venue, but when your sound guy is messing around on his iPhone during sets, it doesn't matter if you are Bruce Springsteen at the Sydney Opera House, the concert will be fraught with errors. From start to finish Tilly and the Wall's run at Lincoln Hall on Monday night was bogged down by unfortunate events. There was the inattentive sound guy who took a reactive rather than proactive approach to level setting. There was the overly emotional and sauced fanboy who clawed his way onto the stage, hugged Neely Jenkins and Kianna Alarid, and then sketchily lingered among the band members. There were the off-key harmonies and the breaking voices among the band. There were some issues, OK?

However, there was also tap dancing and rhythm that rocked the placid crowd from the bottom of their feet to the crowns of their heads. At first, I felt full of promise when the band thundered onto the stage with a rousing call and response of "When we say oh, you say fuck," backed by some Nebraska-style step dancing, but my hopes were quickly dashed when they then tore into their yet-to-be-perfected live rendition of "Love Riot" the first track off of their new album, Heavy Mood. The song is cacophonous and noisy in nature, but what was emitting from the speakers sounded more like misfired strums and hums than artful distortion. Thankfully, the volumes on the lead guitar came back from the outer spheres of the universe and towards earth where the other instruments held steady during the second song, making "Alligator Skin" much more balanced and enjoyable than the opener.

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Review Wed Oct 03 2012

Review: Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall @ Logan Square Auditorium 9/28

By Mike Bellis

There's something about the Logan Square Auditorium that somehow lends a loose, battle-of-the-bands feel — its open stage and lack of any sort of fourth wall means it works just as well for a packed punk show as it might a senior prom. That its notoriously awful acoustics give it the same, airy charm (or frustration, you choose) you might expect from a DJ spinning tunes for couples dancing on a cleared-out basketball court helps, too. It's probably no surprise, then, that bands like Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall — bands that thrive on lack of pretense, absence of razor-sharp fidelity and that might actually prefer physically engaging with their fans — might love playing a place like Logan. And on a night where sound checks and guitar tune-ups bled into the beginnings of songs (and even sets), Friday's marquee double bill of San Francisco scuzz-rock's finest fit right in.

Alternating headlining slots between the earlier all-ages and later 18+ shows, Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall make the kind of freewheeling grooves so packed with energy and noise that you might not notice they've been throwing pop-perfect hooks your way the entire night. I showed up just as the younger scenesters from the night's first show started to file out, all sweat-drenched and out of breath from Ty Segall's bill-topping set minutes before. With Thee Oh Sees at the height of their national visibility and Ty Segall in the midst of a whirlwind year that has already seen two full releases in the fuzzed-out Hair and Stooges ode Slaughterhouse with a third, Twins, hitting shelves in a matter of weeks, Friday night's show caught two very vital acts at the peak of their powers. More importantly, they played like it, too.

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Review Wed Oct 03 2012

Review: ZZ Top @ Chicago Theatre, 10/2

There are not many bands who can open a show with what's essentially a movie trailer featuring themselves and a girl with plenty of curves in the right places. But there also aren't many bands who've branded themselves like ZZ Top has over their 43-year career. Is there anyone who follows rock music who can't pick out the trio with the bearded guitarists and non-bearded drummer from a lineup? The images that the band's produced, especially with the aid of MTV, were featured prominently at the Chicago Theatre on Tuesday with retrospective videos projected in the background.

An opening series of songs sequenced into each other closed with the obviously popular "Jesus Just Left Chicago" that had the crowd singing along. Frontmen Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill played off that momentum with some of the band's signature choreography of side-stepping and showboating during guitar soloing. But it was the followup "Pincushion" that displayed their talent with some of their best guitar work of the night. Hill did some fancy two-handed tapping and Gibbons went to autopilot for a long solo. (They've been playing the same set night after night, so it's pretty much automatic by now.) In a comical move for a band with so much material, Gibbons asked permission to play a song from their new album. Then they followed with a charged "Gimme All Your Lovin'."

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James Ziegenfus / Comments (3)

Review Fri Sep 28 2012

Review: Dirty Three @ Lincoln Hall

It's a sharp, uncharacterisitc night in Lincoln Park. Chillingly cold, and emptier than normal, as if it was three in the morning and not 8:30 at night. The sounds of people I can't see give the streets an eerie feeling. I'm on my way to see the Dirty Three, a band that originated in Australia in the '90s but now forms only when its three members travel from their respective continents to play a show like this one at Lincoln Hall. The music they play is hard to classify. The sound is rock-and-roll, but the structure is jazz, by which I mean loose. A violin, guitar, and drums could be the lineup for a celtic trio or a bashful folk artist, but there's absolutely nothing sparse or demure about the Dirty Three.

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Timothy Schuler

Review Wed Sep 26 2012

Review: Prince @ United Center, 9/25

The complex nature of an eccentric personality rarely ceases to amaze, for better or worse. By all reports, Monday's Welcome 2 Chicago show was a debacle for Prince, his band, and anyone in attendance. But Prince is a known commodity. A performer doesn't reach his stature by regularly disappointing 20,000 people. Unfortunately, Monday was one of those nights. Fortunately (for me and many others), Tuesday was not; and Prince delivered on expectations.

At 8:30pm, the house lights dimmed, smoke rose from around the love symbol stage and the sounds of rolling thunder filled the United Center. From the center of the stage, Prince elevated with a guitar strapped to his back. He walked to each cardinal direction, received requisite cheers and then pulled his Telecaster around to launch into "Let's Go Crazy." In the middle of it, he dropped in "Delirious" before returning to "Let's Go Crazy," and followed up with "1999." Start a show with three monsters like that and a crowd's going to be energized immediately. Add Prince's flair when he knows he's bringing heat and it was clear the night was well on its way to not disappointing.

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James Ziegenfus

Concert Tue Sep 25 2012

Review: Prince @ United Center, 9/24/12


There is an elephant in the room that will be addressed, but let's start with something positive in regards to the strange set Monday night from Prince at United Center. His performance of "Purple Rain" was hands down one of the best musical performances I've ever seen live. And there is no denying that in that moment, the crowd saw truly how amazing of a performer, writer, and artist Prince truly is. I sung along with everyone, was moved to tears, and it was an incredible moment. But, it was a bittersweet reminder of what I missed out on by not seeing Prince years ago, as his set Monday night was full of tease and confusion, and a poor example of what the artist really is about.

Now, back to that elephant in the room, which is the now infamous third encore situation Monday night. After playing a second encore of snippets of hits ("Girlfriend," "When Doves Cry," "Kiss") Prince said goodnight, exited the stage, and the house lights stayed off as crew members swept purple confetti off the stage. The stage still lit and lights off, fans sat for 40 minutes anticipating a return, when suddenly the house lights went up. The crowd erupted, booing and shaking heads abound, as we waited about 10 more minutes before the staff at the United Center started asking us to leave the building. After a 40-minute tease, the show was over. Or so everyone thought. As I sat on the #20 bus reflecting on my conflicted feelings of the show, I saw on Twitter that about an hour after leaving the stage, Prince returned to the small crowd still left and performed "1999" and "Red Corvette." I was stunned, an artist usually so dedicated to his craft and fans totally dropped the ball and simply fell flat as he ended an already mixed show.

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Lisa White / Comments (17)

Review Mon Sep 24 2012

Review: Bobby Womack @ Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements, 9/23/12

Bobby Womack (photos by Josh Mellin)

Bobby Womack knows how to please a crowd. Sunday's finale at Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements was hit after hit after hit of R&B and soul. The rapturous crowd ate it up and loved every minute. Womack came out swinging immediately with "Across 110th Street", moved along to "Nobody Wants You When You're Down And Out" and capped off the 1973 trifecta with "Harry Hippie." The cheers for each were more thunderous than the last. Decked out in a red suit, black t-shirt, field cap and sunglasses, the 68-year old owned the Riverfront for 70 minutes. He schmoozed with the crowd, shook hands and was in control.

Over the last couple years, Womack's battled pneumonia and colon cancer. Seeing him perform hammers home luck and determination. Anyone who's been through what he has probably doesn't take their days (and success) for granted. Seeing a few thousand people lose their mind to his music must provide seem ease and satisfaction. The set list was essentially a best-of and clearly for the fans, whether new or old. Last week at shows in New York, Womack reeled off tracks from his new album, The Bravest Man in the Universe. Yet there was nary a mention of it on Sunday in favor of the classics. Whether it was a song from his first band the Valentinos ("Lookin' for a Love"), a '70s smash ("Woman's Gotta Have It") or a later hit ("If You Think You're Lonely Now"), opening notes created hysteria. A woman in front of me flung her hands up in delight once she recognized a tune (usually within ten seconds, even when the band toyed with an arrangement) while the man next to her stomped on the floorboards. Similar scenes were repeated all through the seating area.

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James Ziegenfus

Review Mon Sep 24 2012

Review: Conor Oberst @ Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements: 9/22/12

Conor Oberst. Photo by Joshua Mellin.

With circus performances, music acts and comedians, Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements certainly is a peculiar little music festival. I attended the three-day event last year and had a fantastic time, but what the fest lacked were attendees. That all changed this year, thanks to the devoted fan base of Conor Oberst. Saturday night was the first sold out performance of the festival. I arrived about half an hour before the show started and the place was already packed.

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Stephanie Griffin

Review Mon Sep 24 2012

Review: The Lumineers @ Logan Square Auditorium, 9/21/12

The Logan Square Auditorium is not an audacious, fancy space; while walking up the long (and, slightly precarious) line of stairs before me with masses of other attendees, I was reminded of a house party, a secret pop-up show that was more intimate, less available to the outside world. The venue has a historic look and feel - the high, vaulted ceilings with decorative moldings and a more cramped floor space made me ponder what other shows and events had taken place where I had stood years before. These accumulated characteristics actually made this venue the perfect place to see The Lumineers this Friday evening for a personal, heartwarming show.

Openers The Comettes presented an interesting formula; a lead singer with an hybrid sound, resembling the blend between Maps & Atlases and Young The Giant, backed by futuristic synth-rock sounds. Upon my arrival, the crowd's attention was not fully present. Shuffling around the venue grabbing beverages and waiting excitedly for the Lumineers made watching The Comettes with their full attention a secondary priority. However, as time moved forward, The Comettes began to hook the audience. The crowd really began to warm up to them when they took a folk style approach to their set. They do not have any released album material as of yet, but their album is planned for December. Playing "Whiskey In The Dark," a folk ditty they used to play with The Lumineers, the group's talent potential shone through. They may still need to develop their live presence a bit, but they are well on their way to becoming a strong act all their own.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Sat Sep 22 2012

Review: John Cale @ Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements 9/21/12

John Cale (photos by Josh Mellin)

It's unrealistic to think that icons can deliver on the expectations of 40+ years of music during one performance. But it doesn't seem too crazy that a musician even with a career as rich as John Cale's might play something from the early days that he's well known for. Unfortunately, that was not really the case at the first night of this year's Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements. Friday's set was a little short on fan favorites and a little long elsewhere. It began with "Captain Hook" from 1979's Sabotage/Live recorded at CBGB, but Cale appeared distracted and made repeated puzzled looks toward a guitarist and the stage-left monitor engineers. The Riverfront generally doesn't put on rock music (and even with Cale's genre-hopping history, he and his band mostly did stick to straight rock'n'roll), so the sound wasn't perfect, but still acceptable. (Later on, Cale made light of having trouble with keyboard settings.)

From there, the set became much more contemporary. Most of 2011's Extra Playful EP was in there, but many people sort of shrugged at each other during those selections. Songs featured a lot of guitar noodling that toed the line of being excessive or not. Midway through the set, Cale moved from keyboards to guitar for the first time and dropped in a highlight of "Helen of Troy" that energized some of the crowd that'd been unenthusiastic about the set. That was followed by a string of songs from the upcoming Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood album, including the funky single with Danger Mouse, "I Wanna Talk 2 U." (No, not a Prince cover.) Judging from recent set lists, this is par for the course. But that's not exactly what people had in mind when they bought tickets for a John Cale show. Expectations should not have been centered around hearing his Velvet Underground songs split with the classic Vintage Violence. But it was a tease when he introduced a song by saying "This is an oldie" and it turned out to be from the 1980s.

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James Ziegenfus / Comments (2)

Riot Fest Tue Sep 18 2012

Riot Fest Day Three: Up the Punx

White Mystery-by Katie Hovland GB.jpg
White Mystery (photo by Katie Hovland)

My biggest issue with Riot Fest on Sunday was that the line-up was too perfect. With most other festivals, I end up with only a handful of bands I really want to see and am able to space out my day accordingly. This time around, I was looking forward to almost every single act. I ended up running from stage to stage with little opportunity to sit down and take a break for a second. I barely even had the chance to take faux-artsy Instagrams of carnival rides! And I still wasn't able to catch every band I had been hoping to see. To the fine people that run Riot Fest: Please consider adding a few crappy bands to your line-up next year so I don't have so many painstakingly difficult decisions to make.
- Stephanie Griffin

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Katie Karpowicz

Hideout Block Party Tue Sep 18 2012

Hideout Block Party & A.V. Fest: Day Two Review

Day 2
Photo by Joshua Mellin

Day two of the Hideout Block Party and A.V. Fest. Seventy-five degrees and sunny, the sky wide and blue, like in those ads for Montana. I arrived at 11:30 a.m. when doors opened, and killed time in the VIP lounge with free bottles of Fred water, which aren't round but flat like a flask, and so resemble liquor that during his set Lawrence Peters looked out at the crowd and said it looked like we were all drinking straight vodka.

Given that this is Chicago, Wilco was always going to be the weekend's main deal. Friday night's headliner, Iron & Wine, is great, and folks swarmed Millennium Park last summer when they played a free show at the Pritzker Pavilion. But Wilco is Chicago royalty. Cooler than Rahm, nicer than Kanye, more loyal than Oprah. Plus, the band has made no secret of the fact that they love the Hideout, and vice versa. Until Wilco, though, Saturday was a day of kick-ass women -- Corin Tucker, Jenn Wasner, Kelly Hogan, Natalie Bergman (who, along with her wolfman brother, Elliot, easily won Sexiest Brother/Sister Act).

The main thing to know about the Hideout Block Party is that to enjoy it, you really have to appreciate music. It's not a place to dance -- electronic, hip hop, and rap are noticeably absent from the lineup -- and the acts usually aren't trending on Twitter. You either have to love good music or really enjoy the act of trading things for other things. Your bike for a valet ticket. Your bag for another. Your PIN number for cash, your cash for beer tickets, and those beer tickets for beer. You trade your place up by the stage for a seat in the shade and give that up when you want to see the next band. The cycle ends only after the final note soaks into the pavement, and you reclaim your bag and bike with empty pockets and sail down Elston, like a grifter into the night.
-Timothy Schuler

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Sarah Brooks / Comments (1)

Hideout Block Party Mon Sep 17 2012

Hideout Block Party & A.V. Fest: Day One Review

Photo by Joshua Mellin

At 6p on Friday, while commuters were bumper-to-bumper on 90/94 just two blocks west of the Hideout, a band called CAVE took the Hideout's outdoor stage. I didn't know much about them; they're local — by way of Columbia, Missouri — but until Friday, I hadn't run across them. What I was doing on Sept. 15 last year, when the Krautrockers were playing a show from the back of a flatbed truck cruising down Milwaukee? (Not at the Hideout Block Party, I found out — it was later in September last year).

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Sarah Brooks

Riot Fest Sun Sep 16 2012

Riot Fest Day Two: The Carnival Begins

Andrew W.K. Photo by Katie Hovland

If nothing else, 2012 will go down as the year of the outdoor festival in Chicago. With the inclusion of several new large-scale music festivals -- including the conversion of the Saturday and Sunday portions of Riot Fest into an outdoor, all-day carnival -- and more street fests popping up than you can shake an ear of corn on a stick at, planning out your summer calendar has become more trying than ever.

After attending and/or covering many of these festivals this summer for Gapers Block, things almost seemed a bit stale going into Riot Fest yesterday. But, I have to say, what a wonderfully enjoyable experience it was. We've seen a huge growth in electronic music just in the last year in Chicago and most of the bigger music fests have catered specifically to that genre. As much as I've enjoyed them, it was refreshing to get away from the bass drops, the molly-seekers, the Jason-mask-wearing Pikachus hoisted up on poles and get back to my roots, the music I grew up with.
-Katie Karpowicz

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Stephanie Griffin

Riot Fest Sat Sep 15 2012

Riot Fest Day One: The Offspring, Neon Trees

Photo by Stephanie Griffin

Before we all head off to the new incarnation of Riot Fest this weekend, the festival kicked off with some familiar territory -- the fest's old stomping ground, Congress Theater. Saturday and Sunday we head to Chicago's first outdoor Riot Fest, complete with a carnival and luchadores, over in Humboldt Park. Friday night had no frills, just a great line-up of bands playing a dark, grimy club with plenty of mosh pit space. This is the Riot Fest I am used to.

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Stephanie Griffin / Comments (1)

North Coast Music Festival Sat Sep 01 2012

North Coast Music Festival: Friday


North Coast by Steve Stearns

Maybe I'm getting older or maybe it's a case of having to be on the same drugs, but each year I tend to get more baffled by the crowd at North Coast, mesmerized by the fashion, behavior, and dedication these fans bring to Union Park each summer. Blinded by neon and/or a stray glow stick flying at your face, the three day festival is a true testament to the popularity of dance music, all while throwing in a good dose of jam, hip hop, and rock. So grab some funnel cake, expect to be covered in body glitter, and rave the night away. -Lisa White

One of my favorite things about this festival is its absolute dedication to diversity. At first glance, you could claim that North Coast is nothing more than a bunch of DJs, some jams bands and a couple choice rappers. For the most part though, each artist offers a sound unique and independent from the last. My first day at NCMF '12 went from funky to crunk to crazy to mellow to dance-arific in the span of a mere five hours. -Katie Karpowicz

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Lisa White

Review Tue Aug 28 2012

Review: Lindsey Buckingham @ Chicago's City Winery (and a Look at the New Venue)

City Winery Chicago exterior -credit John Zomot.jpg
Chicago's City Winery (photo by John Zomot, courtesy of City Winery)

The Chicago outpost of New York's City Winery has sort of been slowly rolling out the welcome mat over the past three weeks with a flurry of soft-opening and press events, a week's worth of Lewis Black shows, and a few musical acts to break in the venue. Last night, the second of two sold-out shows by legendary guitarist Lindsey Buckingham provided a great opportunity to really see how the new venue is settling into Chicago's musical landscape.

First, the venue itself. Chicago's iteration of City Winery represents the "2.0" version of New York's City Winery, the creation of Michael Dorf, founder and long-time CEO of legendary jazz and rock venue The Knitting Factory. Building on the success of the New York outpost, Dorf brought the concept to Chicago, where it has been fully realized in a very heavily re-purposed warehouse space on Randolph Street, just west of that area's burgeoning restaurant zone. Intended to be something of a one-stop shop for your nightlife needs, City Winery incorporates a large restaurant, several informal lounge areas, various spaces that are intended to serve as flexible private areas, and a functioning winery that will soon take its first delivery of grapes and begin serving its own house wines early next year. Attached to the attractive public spaces is a roughly 300-seat well designed "listening room" that will feature mostly musical acts, booked by Old Town School alum Colleen Miller. While the restaurant, lounge, and winery spaces are perfectly nice, it is the venue that makes City Winery unique in Chicago, and in this way, it is less filling a niche in a town with an already vibrant musical scene, than finding its own way.

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Dan Snedigar

Review Mon Aug 27 2012

Review: Gotye, Missy Higgins @ Charter One Pavilion, 8/24

It was an all-Australian cast on Northerly Island Friday night. Openers Jonti and Missy Higgins paved the way for radio darling Gotye and his band on a night filled with moonlight and lake breezes. Just a few days into his second North American tour of 2012, the crowds amassing were part curiosity seekers and part bargain hunters who'd scored a deal on tickets through Groupon. Attention spans were diminished, to be sure, but while there may have been some "concert tourism" going on in the stands, there was nothing but earnest professionalism coming from the stage.

Sound crafter Jonti opened up the night right on time with loops and sonic spins from an array of (perhaps homemade?) equipment on the stage. A lone figure in the fading light of the sunset, he didn't conjure much attention from the post-work crowd who'd snugged in close to the stage for prime spots. The second opener, Missy Higgins, fared much better with the crowd, which at least had some experience with her music. The stage lights were just warming up when Missy hit the stage and for three or four songs, her band seemed lost in a half-glow of stage lights that seemed an afterthought. By the end of her set, however, both the lighting and the crowd had warmed up to this wee singer. Backed by a band filled with fine harmonizing singers, and some great bass playing from fellow Aussie, Butterfly Boucher (who the local camera guys seemed to find very interesting, indeed), Missy did an all-around solid job of weaving through her hits and her new album. I wanted her songs to be a little harder, a little more in-your-face with emotion, but I don't think that's really Missy's style. She was sweet and charming and perfectly sing-a-long-able. I think her best qualities were likely lost on a crowd set against the backdrop of a Great Lake, and she'd do better in smaller venues with more wood paneling and hushed ambiance. Still, Missy did a fine job making the crowd her new best friends, and kept everyone fixated on the stage, wondering what was still to come from the headliner who followed her.

After what seemed like an eternity of focusing each individual light by the band's obviously perfectionist light designer, the main attraction finally took the stage. When I'd spoken with Gotye earlier, he remarked that the band was bringing redesigned visual accompaniment with them on tour. Having never seen the show, I expected some lighting swirls and maybe a few scrims. What I was confronted with, however, was much much more than that. Gotye's live show is an auditory and visual assault on the senses. Each song is paired with a perfectly synced music video of sorts, displayed on a large screen running the length and width of the back of the stage. Ranging from nightmarish cartoons, to ink swirls in tanks of water, each song comes with its own visual narration to pair with the words and music performed on stage. It reminded me of the very best of MTV before the network went all reality show, all the time. The utter synchronicity of the images with the live performances was an accomplishment in itself, but the fact that these visuals seemed to add a deeper quality to the narrative, even to songs that didn't have lyrics, was a treat for everyone in attendance.

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Anne Holub

Review Sat Aug 25 2012

Review: Sam Moore @ City Winery, 8/24

Sam Moore came to fame in the legendary Atlantic/Stax duo Sam & Dave with Dave Prater in the early 1960s. They had a slew of R&B and soul hits. His solo career has had its peaks and valleys. It hasn't quite reached the highs that Sam & Dave did, but he's picked up numerous accolades and kept his voice in very good shape. At Friday's show at City Winery, the 76-year old showcased that pure tenor by flying through his hits and a handful of covers. Getting the ball rolling was a long "Hold On, I'm Comin'" that began with his backup singers singing "Hold on, Sam's coming." Following that was the duet version of Eddie Floyd's "Knock on Wood" and Allen Touissant's "Get Out of My Life, Woman" that Moore playfully directed to a lady in the front.

Before Friday, the only time I'd seen footage of Sam Moore had been via the Stax/Volt European tour videos (here). I'm realistic enough to know that he's not the same as he was 45 years ago, but through the first half-hour he barely moved when not singing. That changed later on as he interacted with the crowd more. There were calls and responses. There were conversations with people in the front. The man is charming. Ray Charles' "I've Got News For You" and Ann Peebles' "I Can't Stand the Rain", especially the latter, got some excitement rolling through the crowd. Then a cover of Billy Preston's "You Are So Beautiful" brought things down a notch and also displayed the drawback of City Winery as a music venue. There are some people who go specifically to hear music. But like any music venue that serves meals, there're others who want to eat, converse and have music in the background. These crowds obviously do not get along. So a quieter song opens the door for shushers. And that's not fun for anyone. (Although, everything else about City Winery is really nice. Sightlines are clear; even the pillar in the music room doesn't block anyone's view. The sound is terrific.)

Once the tempo jumped up, the mood in the room improved. A rousing "I Thank You" led into "Soul Man" to get a majority of the crowd to stand from their comfortable seats. To close out the night, Moore's wife, Joyce, walked on stage to ask demand that he play "Sweet Home Chicago." At first, he seemed surprised at the request, but fulfilled it. Midway through, he joked with someone up front about singing with him. When a woman with real pipes busted through to join him on stage, Moore was stunned by her bluesy voice. (I suspected she was a ringer. So did the people next to me.) She improvised a little before giving the show back to the star who wrapped it up neatly. Coming in under an hour, the set was a little short, but people got what they wanted.

James Ziegenfus / Comments (4)

Review Sat Aug 18 2012

Review: The Very Best @ Lincoln Hall, 8/17

"Africa is the future," stated t-shirt worn by The Very Best Malawian vocalist Esau Mwamwaya. After listening to last night's performance by The Very Best, duo Mwamwaya and London producer Johan Hugo, this statement translated for African dance pop music may very well be true, as Lincoln Hall packed a fun, energized set of acts for concertgoers on Friday night.

The first opener of the evening, Chicago native rapper Kid Static, sauntered onstage, hovered over the microphone and announced that he had literally just traveled to Lincoln Hall after de-boarding a plane. As his opening song began, I was honestly a bit nervous as he was still lingering around the microphone with little movement, but this rapidly changed gears. Kid Static amped up his set, packed with intricate rap numbers comprised of a deliberate flow and catchy hooks. He would frequently interact with the crowd, by hopping offstage and walking through the audience, never missing a beat. At one point he even walked to the back of the crowd, out the door to Lincoln Hall's bar area, and back around through the other side, never letting the song get off track. Kid Static's "World Goes Round" became a highlight of the set for audience members, which began with a lush string intro and developed into an interesting sample for the track. His set was a fun way to start the night off for some great music ahead.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Mon Aug 13 2012

The Smallest, Craziest Weekend Fest You Didn't Go To

By Timothy A. Schuler

The sun was still high and traffic on Western Avenue still thick, yet the Empty Bottle was filling up, octogenarians clumping around the few tall tables, millennials ordering pints of Green Line from the cash-only bar. By 4:50pm, when 98.7s WFMT's Relevant Tones program went live from the stage, the venue was nearing the capacity of a Friday night punk show.

Despite the club's 20 years bringing noteworthy bands to Ukrainian Village, this was the first live radio broadcast from the Empty Bottle, though it'll be a surprise if this doesn't plant a seed or two in the heads of other Chicago producers. The Thirsty Ear Festival, hosted by Relevant Tones' Seth Boustead, a Chicago composer and founder of education and advocacy group Access Contemporary Music (ACM), was, judging by the performances and the crowd's response and Boustead's own admission at the close of the show, a huge success. Which means the organizers' goal of making it an annual affair is most likely guaranteed.


As this city does so well, Thirsty Ear was really a celebration of Chicago. A person connecting the dots of Chicago's classical scene would quickly make an intricate web, and that was evident on Saturday. Not only were performers local, but so were many of the featured composers. Everything the Chicago Q Ensemble played was written by a Chicagoan. The Maverick Ensemble's Jason Raynovich slipped an original into the program, as did Boustead actually. Clarinetist James Falzone's set was a single, self-authored composed improvisation (more on that paradox in a minute). And the finale — the Boustead piece — also celebrated contemporary Chicago through visual art. "Three for Zhou B." is a three-part rumination on a trio of paintings done by Bridgeport artists Shan Zuo and DaHuang Zhou.

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Review Fri Aug 10 2012

Review: Rufus Wainwright @ Vic, 8/8

Rufus Wainwright (photos by Cody Davis)

Midway through Wednesday's show at the Vic, Rufus Wainwright said that he'd spent the afternoon watching documentaries about Vivien Leigh when he was forced inside by the afternoon's rain showers. Prior to the next song, he mentioned watching videos of Gene Tierney on Youtube. Following that, he talked about Liza Minnelli's dismissal of his Judy Garland covers... before performing "The Man Who Got Away." If all that talk about gay icons is what drives Rufus Wainwright to be the performer he was last night, people seeing him later on this tour should flood his inbox with Marlene Dietrich clips.

During a nearly 2-hour performance, Wainwright's tenor voice was in top-notch condition and his band sounded very strong. A dazzling "April Fools" came up early, followed by "Song of You" that prompted him to note that it was a "good point of the show to find out how the rest of the set will go." Based on the crowd's reaction, the answer would have to be "quite well." Even though Wainwright's latest album, the Mark Ronson-produced Out of the Game, is a step back to pop music after a few years dabbling in other interests, old songs didn't necessarily take on new arrangements. And new ones didn't exactly have the Ronson touch either. The ones that'd work in a lounge still sounded swanky and those with some muscle didn't lose a beat. The band shuffled between each genre effortlessly and their leader's showmanship led the way. However, after a rocking "The One You Love", the set unfortunately hit a snag when Wainwright turned things over for a few songs from the upcoming Sing Me The Songs That Say I Love You film featuring his mother's music. Now, Teddy Thompson and Krystle Warren are both nice talents (and Kate McGarrigle's music is a treat), but it was a Rufus Wainwright show and his departure from the stage was a cue for everyone to use phones for five minutes.

Rufus Wainwright (photos by Cody Davis)

But the show quickly got back on track with his return. His flamboyance picked up. The audience came alive. Strangely, a take on his father's "One Man Guy" drew one of the largest recognition applauses of the night. "The Art Teacher" and "Going to a Town" followed to build terrific momentum. Before the latter, Wainwright remarked on the "fabulous job" that Mitt Romney's doing. During the encore, opener Adam Cohen walked out for an inevitable duet of one of his father's songs. Wainwright, who's covered the elder Cohen plenty, declared that he's sick of "Hallelujah" and opted instead for "Chelsea Hotel No. 2." As a big fan of Leonard Cohen, I'm not about to heap praise upon it, but it definitely had its moments and Wainwright's cadence offered an interesting take. (The son soured me immediately during his opening set, but he was tolerable in this role.) A rousing "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" closed out the encore, but the crowd's enthusiasm brought Wainwright out for "Poses" and he delivered remarkably on his own at the piano.

James Ziegenfus

Review Sat Jul 28 2012

Review: Refused @ Congress, 7/26

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Refused (photos by Katie Hovland)

Wednesday night I had two dreams about Refused. In the first, they played a short listless set to a 1/10th full Congress Theater. In the other, I drove around Hollywood Hills looking for the show for virtually hours before being told it'd been cancelled. Neither scenario was anything close to my prior experience with Refused live, but I still spent much of Thursday unsure about the evening's show. Questions popped into my head. Would the band be tired on the last date of a US tour? Would it be empty?

First and foremost, the Congress' forthcoming renovation needs to include air conditioning. The heat and humidity were brutal. 4,000 bodies (so much for it being empty) didn't make it better. By the time Refused went on, it was like a sauna. Yet it really didn't seem to affect the energy in the room, at first. A surge of fans plowed toward the front, fists were pumped and lyrics screamed. Frontman Dennis Lyxzén took it all in while bouncing around the stage on adrenaline. For a hardcore punk band, even one that's legitimately seminal, Refused's music has a complexity that doesn't exactly lend itself to guitarists jumping from amplifier stacks. That's where Lyxzén picked up the slack; stacking and climbing atop stage monitors to jump at an opportune moment, mimicking Iggy Pop's iconic crowd walk, creatively abusing microphones, etc. He fed off the crowd through highlights like "Rather Be Dead" and "Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine" before the momentum dipped. Strangely, even a digression for Black Flag's "Police Story" and "Nervous Breakdown" (with opener Off!'s Keith Morris, of course) didn't really stimulate the crowd. Lyxzén then remarked that the next song was called "Refused Are Fucking Dead" ... of heatstroke.

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James Ziegenfus

Review Thu Jul 19 2012

Review: Charles Bradley @ Pritzker Pavilion, 7/16

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Charles Bradley at Millennium Park (photos by Steve Stearns)

Chicago is a bustling city all year round, but it seems that this city feels most alive during the summertime. Everyone steps outside to greet the sunshine's warmth post-intense winter doldrums, and the options for sightseeing and free attractions (especially music) abound. Monday's Downtown Sound installment at Millennium Park unfortunately was featured on one of those summer days that most Chicagoans would want to remain inside for; the sticky, thick heat was unbearable, and the oppressive sun beat down on concertgoers flanking all ends of the Pritzker Pavilion. However, the unpleasant weather didn't stop these swarms of individuals from staking their claim for a front row seat to see both Abigail Washburn and Charles Bradley. Arriving mighty early for a 6:30pm show, excitement buzzed in the air to see the screaming eagle of soul himself, with many a devoted fan awaiting Abigail Washburn's unique set.

Washburn opened the show, and stepped onstage in a flouncy floral dress, positively beaming at the audience. Her light and playful appearance was juxtaposed by the intense jazz style that emanated from her voice, as she sang her version of "Keys to the Kingdom." The entire audience was so hushed that a pin could have dropped and everyone would have noticed, as concertgoers became captivated by her sultry, lounge jazz vocals. Slowly her hauntingly stunning pitches were backed by the light pizzicato from a violin and the hushed whisper of a trumpet, gradually increasing the ballad's intensity. Beyond playing a range of genres, she dotted her set with quirky anecdotes that exposed extremely raw and personal aspects of her life, from spending time in China, to details of her family history, who actually owned a roller rink in nearby Evanston.

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Abigail Washburn at Millennium Park (photos by Steve Stearns)

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Sarah Brooks

Concert Thu Jul 12 2012

Review: The Shams Band Kicks Off Schubas Monday Night Residency

By Davis Inman

The Shams Band (photo by Laura Brown)

The Shams Band is kind of like the Chicago alt-rock tradition squeezed into a joyful country-folk setting. On Monday night, the band kicked off their July residency at Schubas with Charleston, South Carolina's Shovels & Rope and Chicago's Jeremy David Miller. The headlining Shams mixed up their set with older tunes and new ones from the just-released Cold City.The hillbilly banjo romp "Travel By Sea," on which Paul Gulyas turns his guitar into something more akin to a skronking Appalachian fiddle, started like a tune straight from the Bill Monroe songbook but ended more in the vein of hardcore.

In a different decade, "Breadwinner" could have been a raunchy Southside blues jam, while the pensive walk-down of "Cause You Can" and its last line ("this whole sad city full of fools, just waiting to be your man") recalls the songwriting from Dylan's Nashville period. The Shams know how to twist a good joke out of a country song — just like Gram Parsons did 40 years ago — but they also have a knack for heartfelt sing-alongs. The album's title track has one line in particular that all Chicagoans should keep dear to their heart next winter: "You dream of California and I dream of Chicago." Kind of says it all for this town.

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Concert Mon Jul 02 2012

Review: Fitzgerald's American Music Festival, 6/29/12

By Davis Inman

Bill Fitzgerald is still reeling from when John Prine sprung a surprise visit to his club last Sunday for the Earl of Old Town tribute show. He pulled out his smartphone to show a picture he took of his wife basking in the great man's glory.

John Prine. The name conjures up images of the best of Chicago's folk music history — the scene Fitzgerald's has helped foster and promote for 32 years. Incidentally, that's the same number of years they've been putting on the annual American Music Festival.

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Fitzgerald's American Music Festival (photos by Davis Inman)

In keeping with the patriotic theme, American flags dotted almost every inch of Fitzgerald's during the pre-Fourth of July celebration. Nearly every hand cradled a red, white, and blue can of High Life beer.

Modeled in part on the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Fitzgerald's has long brought Louisiana acts like Marcia Ball to the fest. Caterer Tom Cimm's "cochon de lait" po' boy might even rival the real thing.

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Review Mon Jul 02 2012

Review: Brendan Benson @ Lincoln Hall, 6/28

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Brendan Benson (photos by Steve Stearns)

Over his career, Brendan Benson has transformed from a raw power-pop rocker to more of a traditional rock'n'roll singer/songwriter. But he hasn't forgotten what initially made him popular. Twenty minutes into Thursday's set at Lincoln Hall, Benson had played songs from each of his five albums and dropped in a Raconteurs tune, too. It's a far cry from some acts who don't stretch further back than one album live anymore. And it seemed like he knew what people wanted to hear, based on the cheers of recognition for older songs. Perhaps as a consequence of trying to appeal to everyone, though, the set list was pretty generic. Benson's released ten singles over his career. Eight made it into the short set. (Seriously, under an hour for someone with five albums?) That kept the evening sort of predictable and light on pleasant surprises. (When he played Schubas in 2009, an unexpected cover of Superdrag's "Sucked Out" was a highlight.)

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James Ziegenfus

Review Sun Jul 01 2012

Review: The Hives @ Vic, 6/30

Aside from the Hives, I can't recall ever seeing a punk/garage rock band play while dressed in white tie. To support each album, the Swedish band has been attired in a different set of formal wear. For their latest, Lex Hives, they've added top hats and tailcoats. (Interestingly, white tie is still the preferred dress code for some Swedish academic elites. Is it more about just looking good for the Hives?) But it wasn't the clothing that made the Vic rock on Saturday. It was the ferocious and catchy tunes that made a full house become fervid. It was frontman Howlin' Pelle's hilarious banter and antics. It was a band on their last night of a tour leaving everything on stage, and an audience not letting one ounce of energy be wasted. (As Pelle put it, they'd need to be put on stretchers to get back home.)

The Hives have never had a problem amping up a crowd. Once they hit a stage, they go 100% until the show's over. For an hour and a half from "Come On!" through "Patrolling Days", they played raw and aggressively. There were short trips into the crowd, jumps off the bass drum and amplifiers, microphones (and stands) tossed in the air and, of course, a lot of chatter from their singer. While roadie ninjas set the scene between songs, Howlin' Pelle entertained. Many of his tangents ended with some type of call and response. Most displayed fun-loving hubris and hyperbole related to how great the Hives are. However, along with that arrogance came a remarkable reverence for the audience. Much of what Pelle said (apart from non-sensical diatribes, like Chicago not having enough oxygen) could be boiled down to "You should love us because we're putting on a great show, but we could only put on this show by feeding off of your energy." Late in the show, he commented, "You're still here, which means our job is not quite done." Of course, soon after, he then said that CPD proclaimed there was a potential fire hazard because the band on stage was too hot. (The last time I saw the Hives was in Sweden where, obviously, they spoke their native language. Since my Swedish is very basic, it was very frustrating to not be able to understand Pelle's banter.)

But what about the music? Well, the Hives have a nice catalog of punchy tunes that can be both abrasive and appealing. They played about half of their new album (including "I Want More", seemingly inspired by Joan Jett's "I Love Rock'n'Roll") and scattered in hits from the past, like "Main Offender" and "Walk Idiot Walk" that riled up an already rowdy floor. As usual, the older songs were the highlights with everyone screaming the lyrics. But the new ones didn't lag much since they aren't too far off the Hives' wheelhouse. "Tick Tick Boom" became an audience participation clusterfuck with Pelle asking everyone on the floor level to sit (and everyone in the balcony to stand). It's a song they play almost every night and have more or less perfected with the long static pause and timed rise to feet. Holding off on the new single, "Go Right Ahead" (with a charged riff close to ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down"), until the encore was a good way to energize a crowd late. But it still paled in comparison to the "Hate to Say I Told You So" followup, which was jokingly preceded by a comment about it being the national anthem. It may be the Hives' most popular song and it was certainly one of the most chaotic. Oddly, they then ended with a new tune, "Patrolling Days", that's uptempo and frenzied but not recognized as well for a closer. Still, a minor complaint to a wild night.

James Ziegenfus

Review Sun Jun 24 2012

Review: Billy Bragg @ Old Town School of Folk Music, 6/22


(Photos by Joshua Mellin)

I am generally turned off by musicians who spend more time chatting than singing at shows. But I could've listened to at least another hour of Billy Bragg talking about Woody Guthrie (now a century old) at Old Town School of Folk Music on Friday. On his current tour, Bragg is splitting shows with Guthrie's songs (many of which he recorded with Wilco during the Mermaid Avenue sessions) followed by his own material. Armed with only an acoustic guitar at the start, Bragg spent as much time playing Guthrie's songs as talking about the legendary folk singer, his impact on successors and the process of putting music to words left on thousands of pages. He noted early on that Guthrie, like himself, wasn't trained as a music writer. (At this point, Bragg said that he can read a lyric he wrote as a teenager and instantly recall how he wanted it to sound.) Guthrie's lyrical layouts and footnotes were guides, but Bragg's melodies are still guesses. Lost are the tunes passed down through generations, from those that his grandmother taught him ("The Unwelcome Ghost") to what he learned by osmosis while scraping by in the Texas panhandle ("Don't You Marry", which was jokingly implied to have been learned from Robert Johnson) to others with unknown origins ("Black Wind Blowing"). But every story was a history lesson that captivated the audience. He talked about Jay Bennett's extensive influence on Mermaid Avenue, especially on "Another Man's Done Gone" (presumably written while Guthrie knew death was inevitable) with Jeff Tweedy pumping raw emotion into the vocals. When he mentioned that a particular line was the catalyst for wanting to record a song (or to research the song's origins further), it was almost like everyone made a mental note for when he sang the line. It was fascinating to hear him present songs and stories for which he's very passionate about, and for them to be received so warmly.

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James Ziegenfus / Comments (1)

Review Mon Jun 18 2012

Spring Awakening Music Festival, Day Two: Whisper to a Wobble


(Photo by Steve Stearns)

If day one of Spring Awakening was a party, day two was an all-out rager. Saturday's lineup was a nice, even spread of buzz worthy acts across the day but Sunday packed some of the festival's biggest names like Diplo, Wolfgang Gartner, Flux Pavilion and Moby all into a 120-minute time slot. The temperature was hotter. The energy was higher. The beats were heavier. If you were there yesterday and you're not feeling it today, you must have done something wrong.

I knew I'd be traversing around Soldier Field and its surrounding grounds all night at breakneck speed so I decided to hang back in the morning. When I did show up later in the afternoon, I was pretty much instantly drawn to the beats coming from Da Drive Stage. Shermanology is a group that, until yesterday, I knew little about but in the midst of a festival with dozens of artists trapped behind the decks, it was refreshing and simply fun to have both a hype man and a hype lady out in front of the DJ booth getting the crowd into it and actually adding some real, live, un-prerecorded vocals to the jams the three-piece's DJ was spinning.


Shermanology (Photo by Katie Karpowicz)

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Katie Karpowicz / Comments (1)

Review Sun Jun 17 2012

Spring Awakening Music Festival, Day One: Binkies, Bass and Not a Whole Lot of Benny


(Photo by Steve Stearns)

Bass, I've concluded, is essentially like the wind. Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it's not there. Now, I'm not talking about that box in the dude sitting next to you in traffic's car that makes his trunk rumble. Nor about that thing that Flea plays. I'm talking about the kind of bass that was heard, felt and, yes, dropped an innumerable amount of times during day one of Spring Awakening Music Festival yesterday.

Despite the fact that this young festival is just in its first year of existence, I believe it's safe to say this festival is a keeper. I doubt the twenty-some-odd thousand people that crammed into Soldier Field last night for headliner Skrillex would care to argue that point. Like most festivals, music is at the center of Spring Awakening, but the experience is just as important. That's why I made some notes yesterday along with my artist reviews that I hope will provide a better feel for the festival. Enjoy.


(Photo by Steve Stearns)

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Katie Karpowicz

Review Fri Jun 15 2012

Review: Battles @ Bottom Lounge

I didn't know quite what to expect going into Battles' headlining show at the Bottom Lounge last night. I'm not oblivious to the ever-growing cultish following the three-piece has here in Chicago though. So when the show was resceduled from June 2 and my evening was free I jumped at the chance to finally check them out live. I wasn't quite sure what to expect going into the show and I left not quite know how to describe it.

At first glance, Battles' live set up is a simple one. The only thing on stage that seems superfluous is drummer John Stanier's crash cymbal that sits atop a six-foot-tall stand. But you only think that until the beanstalk of a guy in front of you steps out the way and you realize that Ian Willams' keyboard artillery is a little more intense than you first thought. Then you notice the cowbell stashed in the corner. Then the lights go down and the two black rectangular spaceholders sitting behind the band's instruments come alive as full LED screens, swirling with flashes of color and images. Guitarist/bassist Dave Konopka starts interchanging four- and six-string guitars every few minutes. And, all along, everything is ridiculously coordinated, right down to the hits on that six-foot-tall cymbal.

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Katie Karpowicz

Concert Thu Jun 14 2012

Review: Deer Tick @ Metro, 6/9

Something was building in intensity Saturday night at the Metro: a raucous, debauchery laden atmosphere that communicated to everyone in the place, this concert is going to be a celebratory event. Though my spirits were briefly defeated by the standard concertgoers that somehow manage to find their way right next to me at each show, from the individuals who became far too intoxicated before the show to the point that I'm pretty sure the woman next to me fell asleep standing up, or the unknowingly tone deaf man behind me who insisted on singing every word to each song, the Metro's lively atmosphere was translated from the stage, as each band who played a set brought a dynamic, energized presence to the Metro, allowing me to forget what was going on around me.

First to play a set was group Scott Lucas & The Married Men. The band contrasted with the casual concertgoers, as they appeared wearing coordinated and dressy attire. This complimented their sound; with loud, powerful bass riffs, and sounds suitable for a stadium audience, Scott Lucas & The Married Men brought the energy to the Metro and kept it coming. Highlights of their set included dropping in segments from The Beatles number "I've Got A Feeling," and their end ballad which featured a lengthy, dark guitar solo and lead singer Scott Lucas wailing into the mic.

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Sarah Brooks / Comments (1)

Review Mon Jun 11 2012

Review: Boy Dirt Car, Eric Lunde, Jason Soliday, Karl Paloucek @ Empty Bottle

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Boy Dirt Car | photo by Blake Edwards

The day after my preview post went live, I was gently chided by Karl Paloucek for my anachronistic use of "the 'I' word." Apart from the fact that the title was lifted from the name of a venerable reissue label, I was unaware that Industrial as a genre designation had been put on the no-fly list. No matter...after a night with these four acts, I understood what Paloucek meant. As a description for the night of outré sonics on hand, Industrial as a term wasn't antiquated; it was merely inadequate.

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Chris Sienko / Comments (1)

Classical Thu Jun 07 2012

Review: Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass Quintet @ St. James Cathedral 6/5/12

by Elliot Mandel

Standing at the back of the nave of St. James Cathedral, Chicago Symphony Orchestra trumpeters Christopher Martin and Tage Larsen heralded a new season of Rush Hour concerts Tuesday evening, belting out Jean-Baptiste Lully's March Royale with pinpoint articulation and bell-like incantation. Sitting once again under J. Neville Stent's stenciled patterns of the cathedral's Arts-and-Crafts ceiling, one is reminded just how good a deal this is: 30 minutes of free music from some of the best musicians in town.

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Photo by Colin Knapp/Rush Hour Concerts

Martin and Larsen joined their CSO colleagues — hornist David Griffin, trombonist Michael Mulcahy, and tubist Gene Pokorny — onstage to complete the brass quintet for J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in C Major. Bach's knack for making any instrument sound like an organ was easily apparent as the quintet's volume rose with each fugal riff. The cathedral worked against the low brass, the live acoustics muddling Pokorny's solo passages; but with the entire ensemble, the high ceiling amplified the sound which was likely to be heard by passersby outside.

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Concert Wed Jun 06 2012

Review: Jonathan Richman @ Pritzker Pavilion, 6/4

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Jonathan Richman (photos by Kirstie Shanley)

The best thing about seeing a concert at the Pritzker Pavilion is the people watching: the young woman who somehow pulled off a pair of high-waisted jeans that would have made the rest of us look like sausages; the teeny tiny babies being worn on their parents backs and stomachs; and the sun-darkened, shirtless man in a necktie standing near the west ramp, dancing to music coming through a pair of earphones.

At a youthful 61 years old, Jonathan Richman looked tiny on the enormous stage with only his guitar, drummer Tommy Larkins, and a drum kit. With his trademark worried expression on his face, Richman began the set with a song that opened with the lyrics: "We had a fight last night." He moved into multilingual territory with a song sung half in French, half in English, translating for the audience like an instructor of a massive impromptu language lesson, pausing to say "Let's hear what Tommy's up to," and breaking into some crowd-pleasing dance moves while Larkins performed a solo.

French was only the beginning of the multilingualism Richman brought to the show. "If this song seems like it's in Italian don't worry, it's just 17 different ways of saying 'it's a great party.'" (Which he pronounced "pahty," in the manner of those Boston-born.) He then moved to Hebrew and Arabic, with the same intro: "if this song seems like it's in Hebrew don't worry, it's just 18 different ways of saying 'it's a great party.'"

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Jonathan Richman (photos by Kirstie Shanley)

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J.H. Palmer / Comments (1)

Review Thu May 17 2012

Review: The Polyphonic Spree @ Park West, 5/16


Photos by Sara Pieper

The Polyphonic Spree is a spectacle to be witnessed: numerous robed singers and musicians, an assortment of instruments (cello, an array of horns, various percussion, etc.) and an outlook that can make any dreary day sunny. But this is live music, and just looking good doesn't cut it. Where the Spree earn their accolades and separate themselves from many other large pop-oriented ensembles is in the full presentation when 14 people (the smallest I've seen them, actually) are completely in synch with each other. There are moments when it seems like everyone in the band is functioning off of one brain. It'd be easy for Tim DeLaughter's symphonic choral rock band to come off as a gimmick. But a lot of their songs would still sound good if by a standard 3-piece band. The extras just sweeten the deal.

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James Ziegenfus

Concert Tue May 15 2012

Review: Andrew Bird @ The Auditorium Theatre, 5/12/12

Excitement was in the air Saturday night as concertgoers eagerly awaited Andrew Bird to step onstage. Bird hasn't been backed by a full band during his Chicago tour stops over the past few years, as he lent his talents to unconventional and extraordinary venues, such as his 2011 show at the Museum of Contemporary Art introducing his innovative exhibit collaboration with Ian Schneller, or 2009 and 2010 when he played intimate, magnificently beautiful sets at Fourth Presbyterian Church. Having attended each of those shows, I was unsure of how the acoustics would travel in such a large venue as The Auditorium Theatre, but I knew somehow it would exceed my expectations.

Mucca Pazza opened the show, and until you see them perform, you won't truly understand the scope of their musical efforts. Andrew Bird put it perfectly during his set when he complimented them and described them as "30 people all committed to the same idea," while their website pegs them as being an "astounding circus-punk marching band," if that's something you can even hone in on as a genre.

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Sarah Brooks

Review Mon May 14 2012

Review: A Concert Gets "Dastardly" @ Subterranean, 5/10/12

The Subterranean was packed Thursday night with fans of three diverse bands, as The Dirty Feathers, The Shams Band, and Dastardly all played sets. What I like most about the Subterranean is how intimate a venue it is, where the space is small but comfortable. Everyone enjoys the music together like they're in the company of old friends, dancing and swaying to the music. Chicago-native bands The Shams Band and Dastardly co-headlined the show, where comedic and obscure antics played out as The Shams Band and Dastardly set out to resolve their longstanding "battle."

Opening up the evening was Chicago-local band, The Dirty Feathers. Hailing from Champaign, their sound is gritty and bold, with electrifying guitar solos peppering their set. Frequently the lead singer would wail emphatically as Wolfmother-esque guitar riffs ascended in the background. This five-person ensemble is well on its way to perfecting their Southern grunge rock sound, and were a great way to start off the show.


Photo by Tiela Halpin

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Sarah Brooks / Comments (4)

Concert Sun May 13 2012

Review: Pearl and the Beard @ Schubas

It is easy to pre-judge bands. One look at the thick-framed-glasses-wearing, happy-fun-time-haired, trio of Pearl and the Beard, and I had already labeled them HIPSTER is bold, judgmental letters. I mean they are from Brooklyn for Christ's sake. But, being a huge fan of their 2011 album "Killing the Darlings," I also knew they were really effin' talented. As I headed into Schubas on Saturday night for their sold-out show, I was prepared for a night of solid jams with a hint of the traditional detached coolness hipster affect.

But Pearl and the Beard is one of those bands that makes you eat all of your stupidly preconceived notions and wash it all down with a healthy non-ironic gulp of PBR. They were warm, friendly and really freaking funny on stage in addition to just looking really freaking cool in those thick-framed glasses. They also immediately engaged the crowd. Halfway through the second song, the audience was already out of traditional stand-and-stare mode, and was clapping along with "Sweetness."

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Niki Fritz / Comments (1)

Concert Tue May 08 2012

Review: The Weeknd @ Lincoln Hall, 5/3/12

I remember sitting in music business classes while our professors assured us that you can't make it in the music industry if you give away your music for free. No matter how radical our new thoughts (at the time) were that you could, they refused to budge. Well, years later I finally have a perfect case study to refute their claims in The Weeknd. Sure, other bands have given away their music for free (the almighty Radiohead) and most bands now find it standard to give away music, but few have had the trajectory from obscurity to having a choir of fans. The Weeknd has done just that. With three free releases under his belt, and only a handful of shows, he sold out his Lincoln Hall show in nine minutes. It's a different industry than most people visioned, but clearly it works.

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Lisa White

Concert Tue May 01 2012

Review: Gauntlet Hair and A Lull @ Schubas 4/29/12

The rambunctious duo, Craig Nice and Andy R. of Gauntlet Hair (Dead Oceans Records), may seem like two typical, young, and energetic mid-western gentlemen, but their onstage demeanor draws an opposite conclusion. Praised in the local grunge scene, Gauntlet Hair drew quite the crowd at Schubas Sunday night, where they headlined with tour mates and fellow Chicago natives, A Lull.

A Lull (photos by Sara Pieper)

The duo that make up Gauntlet Hair, now-Denver dwellers, are familiar with the names, faces and places of Chicago. The audience was filled with friends and family, and Gauntlet Hair gave shout outs to Mom and Dad. Oh, the sweet adoring families doting on their offspring on stage — a truly heart-melting occasion. Sentiment aside, the duo made sure this fact was known: their undeniable stage presence is a force to be reckoned with. Chicago is their home turf and it would have been a damn shame not to witness them in full-unabashed fervor.

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Album Mon Apr 16 2012

Album Review: Justin Townes Earle's Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now

[This review comes to us from reader Sarah Brooks.]

The moment I started listening to Justin Townes Earle's latest album, Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now (Bloodshot Records), I knew it was going to be on "replay" for a while on my stereo.


Nashville native Justin Townes Earle has gradually carved out his own name for himself in the music scene. Son of legendary musician Steve Earle and named after songwriter Townes Van Zandt, it was basically predestined for Justin Townes Earle to mature into the dynamic country/folk musician he is now. Earle's tumultuous early life was spent wrestling drug addiction and playing short-lived stints with a variety of bands before setting off on a solo career. This path allowed him to hone in on a mature sound and create an intimacy in his music that is unprecedented in the songs of many other country/folk musicians. The struggles brought pain to Earle's early life also created raw emotion that he pumps into his music with every song.

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Concert Sun Apr 15 2012

Review: Screaming Females @ Subterranean, 4/12/12

[This review comes to us from reader Jason Duarte.]

New Brunswick, NJ's Screaming Females are not just another three-piece punk band. It would be unfair and inaccurate to pigeonhole their sound as simply punk, garage or indie because it's all too vague. If you threw indie, garage, punk, noise, pop and a dash of darkness into a blender and set it to high, walked out of the kitchen, forgot about the blender, then came back an hour later, you'd come back to a huge mess, blended to perfection. Soak it up, wring it into a glass, introduce some radiation from your microwave and then you have Screaming Females.

Screamales, as the band's fans refer to them, played the Subterranean in Wicker Park Thursday night in support of its new fifth studio full length; the Steve Albini-engineered Ugly, out on Don Giovanni Records. Screaming Females' vocalist/guitarist Marissa Paternoster has a voice that carries the Riot Grrl torch. It isn't "pretty;" actually, it's quite an acquired taste, but once the taste graces the palate, a Screamales song to a fan is the bell to Pavlov's dog.

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Review Sat Apr 14 2012

Review: Preservation Hall Jazz Band @ S.P.A.C.E. 4/10


Preservation Hall Jazz Band © Shannon Brinkman

Anyone who's considered the option of aging gracefully needs to spend an evening in close proximity to Charlie Gabriel, the 79 year-old clarinetist and saxophonist who plays with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and has a penchant for shaking his booty onstage. Gabriel's family has been playing music since the 1850's, and Gabriel himself has played with jazz luminary Lionel Hampton, among others.

Tuesday's lineup of PHJB musicians read like a who's-who of New Orleans Jazz: trumpeter Mark Braud; the aforementioned Charlie Gabriel; trombonist Freddie Lonzo (who's bio omits his birth-date, stating simply that he was "Born in New Orleans, Louisiana;") pianist Rickie Monie; clarinetist and vocalist Clint Maedgen; drummer Joe "Little Joe" Lastie, Jr.; and tuba player Ron Johnson. The group, whose members number at least in the teens, appeared at S.P.A.C.E. in Evanston as part of their 50-year celebration tour. They will continue to tour through mid-August, playing in venues from coast to coast, and internationally in Canada, Brazil, and Argentina.

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J.H. Palmer

Review Mon Apr 09 2012

Review: Say Anything @ House of Blues

Say Anything-34.jpg

(Photos by Lindsay Stayton)

It happens to every band fortunate enough to make it past its second album. The act of compiling a set list when it's time to tour becomes a sheer balancing act--deciding what new songs to debut on tour but still mixing in enough old fan favorites to keep audiences appeased.

This was what I was afraid of when I went to see Say Anything last Wednesday (April 4). Fresh off the release of their fourth album, Anarchy, My Dear--and factoring the double-disc element of their sophomore release, Say Anything have quite the arsenal of songs to select from. Despite my instant affinity for Anarchy and the well-deserved attention the album's been getting from publications like SPIN and Rolling Stone, I was still hopeful to hear hear some old gems at the pop punkers' headlining show at House of Blues.

Say Anything-66.jpg

(Photos by Lindsay Stayton)

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Katie Karpowicz

Review Fri Apr 06 2012

Review: Wild Flag, Hospitality @ Metro, 4/5

There has been a lot written over the years about second acts in American lives, or the lack thereof. Many musicians have tried to follow up great success with different success. Some have triumphed. Others have crashed and burned. While it might be silly to some people to suggest that Wild Flag, born from the ashes of Sleater-Kinney, Helium and the Minders, could somehow live up to the sum of those acts, perhaps nobody told that to the ladies in Wild Flag. They have a fresh approach, unlike anyone who'd be cashing in on past successes with a phoned-in product. On their self-titled debut, the guitars are aggressive, the keys add pop and Janet Weiss' drumming is frenetic, as always.

At last night's sold out Metro show, the band was top-notch performing most of their debut, as well as new tracks and a few surprises. They began with "Electric Band", which is as close to a theme as they'll get without something called "The Wild Flag Song." Once the crowd settled after a couple familiar tracks, the band dropped in a few new songs that stayed consistent with their fiery tempo; one even coming across with a little Gang of Four-like angular sound. The set was front-loaded with Mary Timony-led songs that inspired her to strike rock star poses as she wailed, as long as they didn't interfere with her and Carrie Brownstein's little kicks. (At one point, Brownstein commented about the Nationals/Cubs game across the street and appeared shocked by the boos from many White Sox fans in attendance.)

Even though most of the album tracks didn't stray much from the record, "Glass Tambourine" and "Racehorse" featured significant diversions with a little psych-rock influence before falling back into place. A frenzied "Romance" closed out the main set to wild cheers from a mostly respectful crowd. For the encore, Wild Flag went to one of their hidden strengths in three covers - Television's "See No Evil", Bobby Freeman's "Do You Wanna Dance?" (closer to the Ramones' version) and Fugazi's "Margin Walker." They may never be revered like the bands the members are best known for, but that doesn't seem like their objective. Writing good songs, being entertaining, having a hell of a lot of fun? That's more like it. And they're certainly getting that done.

Hospitality opened with a set of catchy yet conventional indie-rock songs that sounded like if Camera Obscura had a bit more bite but less melody. Their set was also plagued with a strange mix in which the vocals took a while to get right and the bass guitar dominated, which led to one of the few times I've ever heard an audience member yell, "Turn it down."

James Ziegenfus / Comments (1)

Review Tue Apr 03 2012

Review: Feed Me @ Congress Theater

The Congress Theater housed a UK dubstep invasion on Saturday night. If you kept reading past the word "dupstep," I'll now attempt to review just what that show was like. However, I feel that given the recent rumblings surrounding the Congress as of late, it's definitely worth addressing the differences that I noticed in the Logan Square venue since it was slapped with an April 17 Deleterious Impact/Public Nuisance Hearing at City Hall.

But first, let's talk about Feed Me. Now, I'm just like a lot of you, Chicago. I came from the land of the two to five hundred-person rock show. So seeing several thousand furry-boot-wearing, pacifier-sucking twenty-somethings bum rush a stage that doesn't actually hold a single instrument is not the norm for me either.

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Katie Karpowicz / Comments (1)

Concert Mon Apr 02 2012

Review: Of Monsters and Men @ Park West, 3/30/12

The first time I heard the Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men, it was instant love. They are not a band you have to listen to over and over to "get;" Of Monsters and Men are a solid septet of Icelanders supplying memorable melodies, thoughtful lyrics and general good vibes. Looking over the sold-out, packed-in crowd at Park West on Friday night, I got the sense that Of Monsters and Men has that effect on a wide range of people.

From hoodies to button-ups to flannels, the social genres blended together in the standing room only space at Park West. The band gave enough beat and energy for an occasional fist pump and enough pensive lyrics for a romantic sway or two.

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Of Monsters and Men at the Park West (photos by Steve Stearns)

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Niki Fritz

Concert Fri Mar 30 2012

Review: Bowerbirds @ Lincoln Hall, 3/29

[This review and photos come to us from reader Rachel Angres.]


Following the energetic set by opening band Dry The River, there was a sense of disjointedness as Bowerbirds began. The stage was somber — in mood and lighting. The first few songs were hurried; Beth switched from keys to accordion as if it was a game of "capture the flag." Phil sang in his own timing, as the percussion rushed the songs into an abrupt ending.

Eventually, seemingly after realizing how loyal and forgiving the fans were, all five members of Bowerbirds loosened up and began to sing and play in synchronic bliss. Their faces relaxed and their eyes closed slightly. It felt as if the band had a need to share their emotional tie with each song, a longing to express their life stories through music. The enchanting harmonics of Beth Tacular's voice, soothed the rugged tenor of her counterpart — and real-life love — Phillip Moore was as beguiling as it was symphonic.

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Anne Holub / Comments (2)

Concert Wed Mar 28 2012

Review: Kimya Dawson @ Old Town School of Folk Music 3/25

Clyde Petersen performs "God Speed John Glen."

Clyde Petersen of Your Heart Breaks opened for Kimya Dawson at Sunday's show at the Old Town School of Folk Music, introducing his first song with: "This is a song about sneaking out of your parent's house to smoke weed in high school." It was like listening to my kid brother jam out on his guitar... if I had a kid brother, and if he was a musician. Like Dawson, Petersen is from Washington State, and had positive things to say about his visit to Chicago: "I like the bean, I enjoy your bean," he said, and: "I like that there are a lot of animators in your town who are cool ladies."

Petersen's songs ran the emotional spectrum from teenage nostalgia, to finding his way in the world as a transgender person. Dawson joined Petersen in a song dedicated to the memory of a deceased transgender activist; her metallic, animal-print leggings and halo of hair contrasting with Petersen's dressed-down aesthetic.

Petersen ended his set with an amazing piece titled "God Speed John Glen" about the 1961 space race between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. that included recorded feedback loops of his own guitar playing, acting out both parts of a conversation between an astronaut and ground control, and a nod to both Elton John and David Bowie in the lyrics: "I think it's going to be a long long time... ground control to Major Tom."

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J.H. Palmer

Review Tue Mar 27 2012

Review: Protest The Hero @ Bottom Lounge

Protest The Hero shows are a rare breed. Typically, a show's energy starts off strong and, if it's good, that energy--both the band's and the audience's--continues to build momentum throughout the set. If it's its bad that energy tends to trickle out of the venue and by mid-set it's clear that everyone is simply counting down to the final song. Protest The Hero's music, however, puts their shows into a narrow category. The overall upbeat, fast, and aggressive nature of this Canadian metal act's songs leads one to believe that the crowd would respond to them with nonstop movement--be it in the form of moshing, fist pumping or serious head banging.

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Photo by Steve Stearns

The problem is that Protest The Hero's songs are also persistently complex. There's barely time to recover from each tempo change before the next one hits. It's nearly impossible to be concerned with rocking out when you're eye locked on guitarists Tim Millar's and Luke Hoskin's fancy finger work. The rhythmic synthesis of bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi and drummer Moe Carlson is almost too impeccably tight to believe without visual confirmation. The problem with Protest The Hero is not that they are not fun to watch. It's that they are nearly impossible to take your eyes off of.

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Katie Karpowicz

Review Mon Mar 26 2012

Review: Andrew WK @ Riviera, 3/25

Ten years ago I saw Andrew WK at Laga in Pittsburgh. Half of the crowd (those there to see Lost Prophets, mostly) had no idea what to make of him. Strange looks like "Who is this guy to have fun with metal?" and "He must be a joke" came from all corners of the room. Of course, those of us who knew what we were in for had a grand old time. People screamed the lyrics. They jumped on stage. They moshed and pogoed. A kid who sat in front of me in an Internet law class ended up on Andrew WK's shoulders. It was all great fun with a party leader who created energy for everyone else to feed from. Even some of the early scoffers jumped on the bandwagon.

Now it's 10 years later. Andrew WK's headlining the Riviera and he doesn't have to win over anybody. He can be looser with a friendly audience. Feel like playing your first album front-to-back and interrupting it to show off your classical music training with some "Rhapsody in Blue"? No problem. Need four guitarists? Sure. Get the crowd to chant "Pizza"? Why not? Like anyone at this level of success, there's not much of a challenge anymore. He still preaches about having fun and making the most out of every second alive, but there's no one in the back corner having an epiphany and thinking, "This guy's right!" Devotees dressed in his signature white t-shirt and jeans were everywhere. A girl did her makeup to mirror I Get Wet's album cover. A kid with "Party Hard" written all over a cycling cap crowdsurfed at least a half-dozen times. Only Morrissey sees more people trying to join him on stage. With that hysteria surrounding him, the energy never stops.

Andrew WK, his wife and a backing band of six churned out chunky riffs that wouldn't be out of place in hair metal, fist-pumped until they physically couldn't, encouraged circle pits that'd level towns if they were made of water instead of people and sang/screamed with tremendous gusto. (Andrew WK's a little hoarse.) A complete performance of I Get Wet (with "I Love Illinois" substituted for "I Love NYC"), clearly the highlight to most everyone in the crowd, was followed by some scattered hits from later albums. An encore of "We Want Fun" produced absolute chaos on the floor. Was it the most musically proficient show? Not exactly. But is it hard to top as far as entertainment? For sure.

James Ziegenfus

Review Fri Mar 23 2012

Review: A Place To Bury Strangers @ Empty Bottle, 3/21/12

[This review and photos come to us from reader Rachel Angres.]


After an abbreviated performance by DJ Brady, The Big Sleep, a Brooklyn based noise-psych band, opened the show Wednesday night at The Empty Bottle. The crowd trickled in as local group APTEKA played a short but lively set. Within 20 minutes, the entire venue was packed. People shoved each other to get to the front and catch a glimpse of A Place To Bury Strangers members setting up for their performance. "I love their pedals. I want to take them apart and create something even more crazy with them," said an audience member, motioning towards the homemade creations splayed along the stage floor.

A Place To Bury Strangers' lead singer and guitarist, Oliver Ackermann, sang with a calm and buzzing tenor. He dragged the neck and body of his off-white, rusted guitar across the ceiling and dropped it down to the floor. One of Ackermann's signature techniques is to experiment with the instruments while on stage. In one instance, he placed the guitar directly in front of the floor amp, creating aching and abrasive feedback. The bassist, Dion Lunadon, sang eloquently and shredded it on the bass. Lunadon was by far the hit of the evening — with fog and fluorescents flickering, his frame luminous and stoic. His fingers frantically manipulated the strings with fervent perfection.

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Transmission / Comments (3)

Review Thu Mar 22 2012

Review: Narrows, All Pigs Must Die @ Subterranean

[This review comes to us from reader Brian Kutanovski.]

The sign outside Subterranean last night read "All Pigs Must Die," which gave a distinct feeling that inside was a punk rock show. Not meant in a purely derogatory sense toward police exactly, lead singer Kevin Baker mentioned in an interview with The New York Times that the band's name regarded "a pig" as "anyone who is irreversibly corrupt." Even with an antagonistically political band name on the bill, the All Pigs Must Die set itself was light-hearted and doused with practical jokes. The much anticipated band had a shoulder-to-shoulder Sub-T crowd chanting along to "God is War," (a track from their latest album of the same name), but the hostile dirges didn't translate into a hostile show attitude. It was more like an old family reunion.

Co-headlining were San Diego-based hardcore rockers, Narrows, promoting their latest album, Painted. With unrelenting fist-pumping speed playing to feedback-filled breakdowns, Narrows set the tone for a show of what would be a crusty chomp of distortion with intervals of noise and cock-rock guitar riffs. "From a venue that looks like it should be a brothel, it sounds more like a basement," said Narrows lead singer Dave Verellen into the microphone during their set. Considering it was the last show of their month-long tour (both bands appeared at SXSW last week), the concert was treated as a somewhat legitimate basement party. During the end of Narrows set, a member of All Pigs Must Die stage dived pantsless onto Verellen and was thrown into the crowd. From then on, the crowd participated in consecutive stage dives and piggy-back rides, all in good fun. These two bands are relatively new popular acts, yet all veterans in the hardcore scene since the '90s (the two bands' members also played in Converge, Botch, and The Hope Conspiracy), ended their sets with hugs and ear-to-ear grins.

The opening band was Pittsburgh youngsters, Code Orange Kids, who also made an appearance at SXSW, stomped the hell out of the stage with their short-shorts and slip-ons while the drummer threw haymakers into his floor tom during a song. Their female guitarist had the deepest growl by any vocalist last night, and their volatile energy was intensely cathartic.

Even after more than two decades of near-consistent world-wide touring, the old-hand members of Narrows and All Pigs Must Die seem to never quit their assault in the American hardcore scene. They certainly proved this point last night in Chicago.

-Brian Kutanovski


Concert Tue Mar 20 2012

Fiona Apple Soothes Sold Out Masses @ Lincoln Hall

Fiona Apple at Lincoln Hall Monday night (photos by Stephanie Griffin)

Fiona Apple probably only needed to show up and stand on the stage with her tank top, long skirt, and combat boots and a sea of adoring fans would have been pretty content. What the packed house at Lincoln Hall was treated to on Monday night, however, was an intimate (though brief) show by the emotional singer. Apple played for just under an hour, but she hit almost every high point from her last three albums, while providing some glimpses into her upcoming new one, The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do (Epic - release date TBA).

Armored in her classic mid-'90s outfit (she could have been keeping it in storage since 1996 when Tidal came out) and rocking some seriously enviable arm muscles, Apple wrapped some of her long hair up off her face and half-engaged, half-ignored (half hid from?) the sea of eager fans at her feet. Her openers "Fast As You Can," "On the Bound" and "Paper Bag" wound the crowd up and brought out some professions of love (which the songstress politely acknowledged and demurred). The sing-a-longs continued through "Mistake" and then came to a hushed halt (quite literally) when Apple went into the first of three new songs, "Anything We Want," with a length of copper pipe in her hand as supplemental percussion. Her next song was a very quiet number (more loud "SHHHH"'s from the audience who demanded full attention from their neighbors) titled "Valentine" which has a haunting refrain, "I root for you / I love you," that's still stuck in my head.

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Anne Holub

Concert Thu Mar 08 2012

Unicycle Loves You (Yes, YOU)

Unicycle FailureJust in time to usher in days of sunshine and warmer weather, local trio Unicycle Loves You conjures a collection of tracks worthy of a season of beer-soaked house parties. Their third and latest album, Failure, finds the group (singer/guitarist Jim Carroll, singer/bassist Nicole Vitale, and drummer J.T. Baker) furthering their already-established sound: dreamy boy/girl vocals buried under a blanket of jangly guitar and loopy keyboard flourishes, typically with a earworm-catchy '90s feel reminiscent of everything from Guided by Voices and Dinosaur Jr. to My Bloody Valentine. (Even their video for "Piranha" smacks of a 120 Minutes vibe.)

Whereas their second album, 2010's Mirror, Mirror, was decidedly more relaxed, tapping a space pop-meets-Belle and Sebastian vibe, new songs like the opener "Garbage Dump" and "Wow Wave Cinema" are revved up and angular. The first half of Failure focuses on the party-party, while the second half winds down into something a bit more calm bordering on dawdling. But with a track like the breathy, make-out sleepy "Brand New Pillow," it turns out that the lull is just fine.

Unicycle Loves You is playing at the SXSW Send Off Party on Saturday, March 10, at the Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia). The show features gobs of bands including Kids These Days, In Tall Buildings, Musikanto, Hollywood Holt, The Waco Brothers, Outer Minds, Cains & Abels, Redgrave, Unicycle Loves You, Football, and Paper Thick Walls, is only $10, and starts at 1 p.m. Tickets are only available at the door.

Kara Luger

Concert Wed Mar 07 2012

Review: Punch Brothers @ Park West, 3/1/12

[This review comes to us from reader Sarah Brooks.]

An avid fan for years, I bought my ticket to see Punch Brothers months ago, though they're not just loved by me, but clearly Chicago, too. I make this statement based on the sold out crowd that packed Park West Thursday night, eager to see the Brothers perform. Having recently released their third studio album, Who's Feeling Young Now? in February, Punch Brothers have gained steady momentum since the release of their debut album, Punch, in 2008. It's easy to see why — Chris Thile, lead vocalist and talented instrumentalist, has been a notable figure within the music world for years, from his time in inventive country-bluegrass-folk hybrid outfit Nickel Creek, to numerous solo releases, and even an instrumental collaborative side project with Yo-Yo Ma titled The Goat Rodeo Sessions. With five different instruments comprising the group and a stellar lineup of talent, it's not surprising that the Punch Brothers attracted such a crowd.

Punch Brothers at Park West (photos by Sarah Brooks)

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Transmission / Comments (1)

Review Sun Feb 12 2012

Review: The Darkness @ Metro, 2/11

When the Darkness arrived on the scene in 2003, a common question among casual listeners and even industry folks was, "Are they for real?" With songs that sounded 30 years old and a look to match, it wasn't hard to see why some people were skeptical from the start. Music and fashion popularity may be cyclical, but the Darkness' supposed schtick wasn't in line with the mainstream. Their homages to the hard rock and metal of the 70s and 80s even came across with a wink and a smile. NME lauded them, especially their live performances, and that fervor carried across the pond where people continued to ask, "Are they for real?" But the more important question is always, "Are they good?" After last night, it'd be hard to say no.

Following a hiatus on the heels of a less than successful sophomore album, the Darkness are back. They played a sold out Metro on Saturday where the crowd consisted of all types from the diehards catching multiple shows (of a static set list) to the reluctant significant others who caved in to hype. Singer and guitarist Justin Hawkins emerged on stage with Snidely Whiplashesque facial hair and a red, white and blue vest with matching pants. (His trademark open-chest unitard followed midway through the set.) Over the first few songs, he gave the crowd a hint of his excellent vocal range - from numerous high notes to exaggerated wails. But it was on a cover of Radiohead's "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" where Hawkins' vocals really rose for the occasion when he belted out the chorus. A 10-minute "Love On the Rocks With No Ice" also featured his impressive falsetto at its best. His and brother Dan's guitaring was top-notch, taking us to riff city and harking back to solos that're only imaginable in hair metal. You see, underneath all of the ridiculous hype, their debut album Permission to Land actually is a pretty rich music product instead of the expected schlock rock. But it's also tongue-in-cheek, like on "Get Your Hands Off My Woman" or, as it was re-titled by Hawkins toward some gentlemen in the audience, "Get Your Hands Out of My Grandmother's Wardrobe."

The promise of an entertaining live show certainly didn't fall short with handstands, jumpkicks, air splits and attire changes from Hawkins, who's clearly seen a lot of David Lee Roth and Freddie Mercury at their peaks. Through a 100-minute set (featuring all of Permission to Land and a slew of new songs), the band joked with each other, engaged the crowd and delivered the type of rock'n'roll show that's just plain exciting to be a part of. Between the busted relationships and substance abuse suffered by members of the Darkness, it seemed like a relief to just be able to play live for adoring fans again. (Speaking of fans, how did all of the rowdy folks end up on the right side? I saw numerous shoving matches and beer dumped on people who wouldn't step aside for stage rushers. But I also noticed wild exuberance, dancing and singing along to every song. It was even enough for Hawkins to comment. By comparison, the left side was dead.) Closing out the night, Hawkins played guitar on a victory lap around the floor on a security guard's shoulders and then took a dive from a PA stack into outstretched hands. Now, that's entertainment (and commitment).

James Ziegenfus / Comments (1)

Review Sat Feb 11 2012

Review: Dance Floor Plans @ Martyrs'


One of my favorite things about writing for Gapers Block is that I'm often introduced to bands that I otherwise might never ever known about. As was the case this week. It took about 20 seconds of listening to "Already Mine" (see below) for me to jump at the chance to check out Dance Floor Plans' show at Martyrs' last night.

Already Mine MASTER by Dance Floor Plans

Lately it seems like there's been a resurgance of funk and soul music in Chicago. Bands like JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound and The Right Now are gaining some national attention and other talented local gems like Dance Floor Plans keep popping up on the scene.

Despite the fact that DFP are a fairly new act, last night they sounded like they've been grooving for years. That's probably because in many of the band members' cases, they have. Guitarist/vocalist James Johnston spent years in Chicago's similar sounding Bumpus. Singer Tina Howell claims in her lyrics that shes a "simple woman," but her voice is anything but simple. Her velvety croon and Johnston's rich tenor created a unique harmony that drove the band's robust instrumental department.

Dance Floor Plans finds the balance between funk and soul, giving members a chance to showcase their talents--shout out to trumpet player Ethan Bulak for whipping out an electric clarinet mid-set. Was that a Whammy pedal you were playing it through?--and keep the flow of the songs moving. Yes, dancing is obviously their end game and I was amazed to see so many folks cutting loose so early in the night.

Sadly, a previous engagement forced me to leave towards the end of Dance Floor Plans' set, but I literally stopped half-way to the exit, turned around and rushed back to the front of the stage when I heard the opening notes of Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" blast through the sound system. An excellent rendition further proved that Dance Floor Plans deserve some attention.

Katie Karpowicz

Review Sat Jan 28 2012

Review: Jack's Mannequin @ HOB, 1/25

I've already scrapped what I had written for this review twice. I started writing my first draft about Jack's Mannequin's frontman Andrew McMahon, where he's come since his years fronting Something Corporate nearly a decade ago and his effect on the Drive-Thru Records generation. Not long after I decided to start over, I came across this article, written just one day after I saw Jack's Mannequin play at House of Blues on Wednesday and took it as a sign that surely I'm not the only one that still remembers the golden era of pop punk.

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Photo by Steve Stearns

Much like many of the bands that came from the same beginnings as McMahon--Dashboard Confessional, New Found Glory, Midtown--I can't help but feel that Jack's Mannequin has been overlooked because their California-sun-kissed songs' appeal to a polo-wearing, lite-beer-drinking college crowd. But as I watched Andrew McMahon--who's fronted two successful bands, written five albums, toured the world over before his 30th birthday and survived a bout with leukemia--on stage the other night, it's hard to think that he's not doing something right.

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Katie Karpowicz

Review Sun Jan 22 2012

Review: STS9 "Great Cycle Spectacles" @ the Congress Theater

The cab-ride discussion on the way to Congress Theater on Friday focused mostly on what sort of "stops" Sound Tribe Sector 9 would be pulling out for the first of their two-night "Great Cycle Spectacles" series, one that the band promised to be a "one of a kind performance celebrating a spectacle of music, art and imagination." My friends and I didn't quite know what to expect.


Photo by Mike Ferguson

I've seen some stuff in my days of concert going. I've also already seen this band a handful of times. So, I was a little skeptical that this would be anymore that just an average STS9 show--which, for the record, is one hell of a show.

Spoiler alert: if you've ever seen this band play live before, you knew what to expect. I can't stress enough that this is not necessarily a bad thing. The light show was pure eye candy--an LED backdrop shaped like an Aztec pyramid to reinforce the fact that these shows were indeed a tribute to the end of the world. The sets were still awesomely long--a combined total of close to three hours.

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Katie Karpowicz

Concert Tue Jan 17 2012

Review: Active Child & Tycho @ Lincoln Hall 1/12/12

On Thursday night Active Child and Tycho played at Lincoln Hall as part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival. Both acts performed sets of hazy electronic music that fit the growing winter wonderland outside.

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Active Child (photo by Andy Keil)

Active Child quickly filled the air with a characteristically exceptional set of modern chamber pop. Singer Pat Grossi's celestial voice soared over the accompanying classically tinged sun warped electronic pop. For an hour Lincoln Hall fell into natures hidden web and was transported to an elaborate Elven courtship ritual. Active Child performed almost the entirety of their recently re-released debut album You Are All I See to a receptive crowd.

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Jason Olexa / Comments (2)

Review Sun Jan 15 2012

Review: the Soil & the Sun @ Sub-T

I think we can all agree that pleasant surprises really are awesome, right? That's exactly how I felt last spring when I made it out to Audiotree's launch party, headlined by Portugal. The Man (also awesome). I got there early enough to snag some free sliders and mini tacos, but also early enough to catch the opening set from a sweet little band out of Grand Rapids call the Soil & the Sun.

I didn't know much about these guys and gals, but by the end of their set I was lined up at their merch booth to pick up copies of their EPs. So, when I found out they were headlining last night at Subterranean, I jumped at the chance to go.

There's so much music out there right now. This means that there are more options than ever for listeners, but it also means there's a lot more crap that we have to sift through in order to find the good stuff. Amidst the sea of up and coming bands, here's what the Soil & the Sun are doing right:

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Katie Karpowicz

Concert Sat Nov 19 2011

Review: M83 @ Lincoln Hall, 11/17

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M83 photos by Kirstie Shanley

There is a certain perfect energy when you see a band on the steady rise in popularity. They attack each set with a fierce and primal sense of urgency and passion, as their life and success is finally being recognized on a larger scale. Couple in the fact that the band is known for conjuring up nostalgia with their sound, and you've got a dance floor full of adults that are probably dreaming of a not so far off youth. M83 dosed out their version of a perfect past Thursday night to two sold out audiences at Lincoln Hall.

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Lisa White / Comments (1)

Review Fri Nov 11 2011

Powa Incarnate: Tune-yards @ Lincoln Hall 11/9

Merrill Garbus of Tune-yards (photos by Steve Stearns)

Make no mistake about it: Merrill Garbus a force to be reckoned with.

At the Tune-yards concert on Wednesday, Nov. 9, (the first of two sold-out shows at Lincoln Hall), the audience fairly vibrated while waiting for the band to appear. Snippets of conversation could be heard from all direction, fans describing to friends Garbus' mad-scientist methodology. In the restroom, two girls applied colorful face paint to each other's cheeks in emulation of the Tune-yards founder and front woman.

Chicago has been all a-swoon over the band ever since Tune-yard's raucous performance at this year's Pitchfork Music Festival. Appearances on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" and other shows have only boosted their visibility. Not bad for a gal whose first album, Bird-Brains, was self-taped with only a handheld voice recorder.

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Kara Luger / Comments (1)

Concert Tue Nov 01 2011

JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound, White Mystery Play No Tricks, Only Treats

JC Brooks (photos by Andy Keil)

It was a blustery night starting out a long Halloween weekend, but there was no pretending for neo-soul outfit JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound as they celebrated their newest album release for Want More (Bloodshot). The band started with playing hits off the album to a nearly sold-out crowd at the Double Door Friday night and rocked the socks off of all of those present. Occasionally adding on a pair of energetic, tambourine tapping sirens in the form of two backup singers, Brooks commanded the stage with a striking white jacket and red scarf, replete with gold chain. With a mohawked 'do and a smile that can only be eclipsed by his happy smile up on stage, Brooks and the band seemed to be having just a little bit of a party in front of a few hundred friends and well-wishers.

JC Brooks (photos by Andy Keil)

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Anne Holub / Comments (2)

Concert Tue Nov 01 2011

Review: Gauntlet Hair with Unknown Mortal Orchestra @ The Empty Bottle, 10/27

If lineups were made on performance alone, Gauntlet Hair would have headlined the show at the Empty Bottle Thursday night. The Denver-via-Chicago quartet play projectile jams of billowing reverb somehow wrangled into neat, tight hooks.

Their 7" on Forest Family records last year, I Was Thinking..., is as good of an explosive pop jam as you're likely to hear, though they came to the Bottle in support of their recently released self-titled debut LP. The record illustrates the difficulty of pulling off this massive sound—for every dynamite hook there's another seemingly lifeless moment that gets tripped up by its own gratuitous reverb. At some points, they may as well be playing chillwave.

But what gets lost on record gets found on the stage, and their show finds the lively presence in each song by turning the whole thing up very, very loud. Each of their selections benefitted greatly from expanded volume, and really it was only set closer "I Was Thinking..." that seemed to drag underneath a weak guitar mix.

While the most identifiable parts of Gauntlet Hair's sound are the glistening guitars and yodeling vocals, the most important part might be the drums. The bedrock rhythms help ground the spacious treble, and do a better job of it the louder they are. That's the story with everything in Gauntlet Hair's set—proficiency through volume—and to nobody's surprise, it yielded more than a couple broken guitar strings.

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Kyle Sparks / Comments (1)

Review Fri Oct 28 2011

Review: Thrice/La Dispute @ the Metro

Chicago set a gloomy stage for last night's sold-out Thrice show at the Metro. Just as the night's first opening act O'Brother prepared to take the stage, a nagging drizzle began to douse the bearded and plaid-clad 20-somethings that flocked through Wrigleyville towards the venue's doors. As a whole, the night's entire lineup--O'Brother, Moving Mountains, La Dispute and illustrious headliners Thrice--could be tossed into several genres: melodic hardcore, prog rock, heck, some might even tag this bill as "emo," but I feel like we should just agree on "rock." Last night was a rock show, and this should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen any of these bands before.


Dustin Kensrue of Thrice (Photo by Katie Karpowicz)

Last night was undoubtedly a Thrice show, however it would be an injustice to go without mentioning La Dispute's overwhelming representation in the crowd. Two weeks off the release of their second album Wildlife, this five-piece from the nearby Grand Rapids, Michigan has been developing a following in Chicago at an unbelievable rate over the past several years. Their last Chicago appearance in May was a sold-out headlining show at the Beat Kitchen and a hint that this band will only continue to gain momentum.

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Katie Karpowicz

Review Wed Oct 19 2011

Review: Zola Jesus @ Lincoln Hall, 10/12

A hush settled over Lincoln Hall as the assembled mass of neo-gothic Blade Runner enthusiasts counted backwards through Zola Jesus' intro instrumental. Singer Nika Danilova strode out draped in a white photo-reflective shawl flashback recalling of Jarodowski's Holy Mountain psychedelia come horror dystopia. The audience was held rapt by the singer stare as her cheeked reddened and a smile spread across her face. "Thank you, Chicago" the elven singer whispered before the pressure dropped and her mile wide voice rode across Chicago's north side as she opened up "Hikikomori" the first song of the night.

Zola Jesus laid heavily on the white light urban futurism of the recently released Conatus. The new songs expanded and shone brighter live. Nika's backing band continues to prove itself that last summers Pitchfork Festival performance was not a fluke. Her backing band consisting of producer/keyboardist Alex DeGroot, drummer Nick Johnson, and keyboardists Nick Turco and Shane Verwey bring the sonic tide in to mach Nika's expansive voice. The band projected foam tipped waves of sound to break upon an audience. Gone was the awkward muddy Zola Jesus of last year, replacing them was a collection of reborn star children projecting charisma.

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Jason Olexa

Concert Sat Oct 15 2011

Review: Dum Dum Girls @ Empty Bottle, 10/14

Slowly but surely, I think Dee Dee is finally figuring out that nobody really cares about the Dum Dum Girls all that much. The black-haired songwriter whose real name is Kristen Gundred has gently eased her band's way into our collective consciousness with a slew of 7"s and EPs over the last three years, acting as a reluctant pioneer for the surge in lady-fronted bands that create glimmering '60s ballads with a hefty dose of elbow grease over the same time span. But while bands like Vivian Girls, Best Coast, and Puro Instinct are all losing favor for their own reasons, everything for the Dum Dum Girls has come to a head now. The quartet sold out the Empty Bottle Friday night, and their new LP, Only In Dreams, has cast away most of the complaints anyone might have had about the complexity of their performance.

Dum Dum Girls' back catalog is an impressive collection of quick, loose hooks and shy, charming vocals; but Only In Dreams is a mostly slow-burning affair between Dee Dee's powerful vocals and instrumentation that seems to shy away from its intimidating presence. Like, where the hell did that come from?

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Kyle Sparks

Concert Fri Oct 14 2011

Review: Portishead @ Aragon Ballroom, 10/12


Portishead photos courtesy of Portishead

There are some things in life that are worth the wait. Yes, I wish I would have seen Portishead before now and yes I wish they put out albums more frequently, but if that was the case, would I love and respect their work as much as I do? Clearly their craft is a labor of love, each album carefully worked on until they see perfection in their vision, and the same can be said for their live show. Production wise it was near perfect, from the lighting to the quality of the sound (amazing since the Aragon is usually plagued with horrible acoustics) to the spot on perfection of each musician's part all set to a background of a perfect mix of visuals.

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Lisa White

Review Thu Oct 13 2011

Review: Minus the Bear @ the Metro


Photo by Katie Karpowicz

Ten years ago, five seasoned Seattle musicians got together to form the group that would soon be known as Minus the Bear. Nine years ago, that band released their debut album Highly Refined Pirates. On Tuesday night Minus the Bear celebrated their ten-year anniversary and performed Pirates from front to back in front of a sold-out crowd at the Metro.

While further releases from Minus the Bear have taken the band's sound in a darker, more isolated direction--their third album was aptly named Planet of Ice--the band's performance of Pirates brought the members back to a poppier era of their career. However, the classic Minus the Bear song structure was still very much present on stage. The songs were intricate and highly technical but still maintained easy listenability and evoked a packed room of bobbing heads.

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Katie Karpowicz

Review Wed Oct 12 2011

Review: Bryan Ferry @ Civic Opera House, 10/11

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(all photos by Rory O'Connor)

After a concert, chatter is usually in the neighborhood of "That was really good" as the euphoria settles. After Bryan Ferry's show at the Civic Opera House, the first three people I overheard said some variation of "The sound here is terrible." Muddy sound and key instruments buried in the mix plagued 100 minutes of Ferry and his six-piece band rolling through songs from all eras of his career. For 40 years, he's had a hand in glam-rock, pop and new wave. He's also been a significant influence on many bands who've created an aesthetic brand. (And, my goodness, does he ooze style.) But what looked like a great show last night didn't always sound the part.

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Ferry and his 4 backing vocalists came off unclear at times and Jorja Chalmers' saxophone began the night drowned out, especially during "If There Is Something", which Ferry introduced by saying it would "test some of [the audience]." Following that was his version of Bob Dylan's oft-covered "Make You Feel My Love." In his solo career (and even occasionally with Roxy Music), one of Ferry's strengths has been arranging covers and owning them to a point where a listener thinks, "So this really wasn't written specifically for him?" But he seemed flat for much of the relatively tame first act, coasting through tunes that he's had much better command of in the past. However, that first act ended on encouraging notes with Roxy Music's standout "Oh Yeah" (backed by images of a road trip from inside a Mercedes Benz, of course) and an epic take on Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane" that, while without Young's trademark guitar sound all over it, featured dynamic solos from all-star session guitarist Chris Spedding. (Ferry's other guitarist, Oliver Thompson, didn't return for the second act. A very capable Spedding had no trouble picking up the slack.)

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James Ziegenfus / Comments (1)

Review Wed Oct 12 2011

Review: Red Bull Riot Fest 2011

The Flatliners. All photos by Katie Hovland.

Riot Fest returned to Chicago for its seventh year this past weekend, for a full five days of heavy hitting punk rock, some metal, and a bit of power pop. This year Riot Fest brought us sets from X, Danzig, All, Social Distortion, Descendents, and Weezer. I was able to catch the two big shows at the Congress Theater Saturday and Sunday. Riot Fest has gotten a bit of flack for adding "Red Bull" to the title of the festival, with many fans saying it was a sell-out move. However, I was surprised to see that there seemed to be much less advertising as a whole at Riot Fest this year, as I had not gotten bombarded with various booths upon entering the Congress Theater as I have in years past.

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Stephanie Griffin

Review Sun Oct 09 2011

Review: Man Or Astroman? @ Metro, 10/8

It'd be understandable for a person to initially raise an eyebrow when someone says, "Hey, I'm going to see a (mostly) instrumental surf rock band from Auburn, Alabama." On the surface, that doesn't sound terribly exciting. However, the fear that it'll be dull should be quelled before the band in question even plays. You see, Man or Astroman performs on a stage that looks like a punk rock astronaut's workspace - a mishmash of neon tubes, spinning lights, hexagonal and triangular screens, a Tesla coil and theremin (that were used within minutes of each other to close out the night), a half-orb covering floor lighting and too many pieces of computer equipment to name. (This is also a band who collected television sets on a tour. If I recall correctly, donating a television over 25" wide got you into a show for free.)

Now, it should also be noted that Man or Astroman's been on and off for the last few years - playing a handful of shows, but never touring much. And it showed in some songs where they sounded raw and even borderline proficient. A few times they stopped to fix gear, get in the right key or make other adjustments. Sometimes they simply weren't on the same page at all. But when they were on and that muscle memory kicked in on songs they've been playing for nearly 20 years, it didn't sound like they'd been off. (They hardly played anything from the last few albums that divided fans, instead digging way back for almost all of their 60-minute set.) The surf/punk/new wave hybrid that they developed, which some other bands tried to gank and never quite got right, has a lot of energy embedded in it. While the band members aren't as spastic as they once were they're still pretty energetic, especially Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard (not his real name, actually) on bass. He's the one who talks most and seems to be the funniest. Whether it's scoffing at linear time or talking about cryogenic freezing, Coco always stays in character and appears to be having a blast.

In a tribute to Steve Jobs, Coco wheeled out an Imagewriter II to perform the technological marvel "A Simple Text File", even miming drum fills. Also highlighted in the second half was a cover of the Rezillos' "Destination Venus." It's a perfect cover for them, seeing as how it's already fast-paced and space-related. However, of all of the audio clips to skip (and they played just about every clip from every other song), that one just happens to be one of my favorites as a girl asks Venetians about their stay on Earth in some daytime talk show parody. Also, incredulously, they missed an opportunity to use the vocals of new female member, Avona Nova, during the Fay Fife parts of its chorus. But these are small gripes because, even if I've seen them better numerous times, they still bring a tremendous life to their music and rile up a crowd that's at times literally listening to manipulated Star Wars sound effects and some Ventures-like guitars in a punk aesthetic.

James Ziegenfus

Review Thu Oct 06 2011

Review: Jens Lekman @ Lincoln Hall 10/3/11

There are some musicians whose physical look and presence live shocks you based on their studio sound. Jens Lekman is not one of those people. He looks exactly like the soft-spoken indie pop Swede I imagined. This was perfectly lovely for me and the indie crowd who packed the Lincoln Hall on Monday night with a their disproportionate amount of black-rimmed glasses and flannel.

Like all truly great Scandinavian indie-pop-singing storytellers, Jens has maintained a moderately sized and loyal U.S. following despite only releasing one five- track EP since 2007. His fan base has grown large enough to sell out Lincoln Hall on a Monday night with the space even filling up for a not well-known Australian opener, Geoffrey O'Connor.

Geoffrey O'Connor (photos by Scott Mason)

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Niki Fritz

Concert Wed Oct 05 2011

Review: Adventures in Modern Music @ Empty Bottle, 10/2/11

[This review comes to us from Jason P. Olexa. He can be found on Twitter at @TacoHugsPHD.]

"We are a fucking triumphant band" is the house creed of Chicago post-everything guitar army Pelican. They occupy the borderlands between the foggy mountainous kingdom of post-rock and the Viking strewn hills of the tribal metal warlords. Pelican has launched daring goat riding barbarian raids into both neighboring territories and grown into a thundering bombast of metal sinking into the psychedelic haze of post-rock.

Sunday was Wire Magazine's yearly Adventures in Modern music at the Empty Bottle. Headliners Pelican took the stage for their first hometown show in more than a year. In the time since we've last seen them guitar wizard Trevor de Brauw has retreated into the mists with his power ambient ensemble Chord, fellow guitarist Laurent Schroeder-Lebec has been crafting the bar at Big Star into a beer spewing monster, and the brothers Herweg have relocated to LA.

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Concert Mon Oct 03 2011

Review: Joan of Arc @ The Hideout, 9/30/11

[This review comes to us from writer Dave O'Connor.]

Waves battered the seawall along Lake Shore Drive in the lead up to Friday night's Joan of Arc show, sending sprays of liquid fireworks ten feet in the air and higher, mother nature's sharpest proclamation yet that indeed summer is over. Meanwhile, an equally emotional riptide and another ending of sorts rolled through the Hideout Friday night.

"I believe in this calendar year, this is our 113th show as a band," said Joan of Arc lead singer, Tim Kinsella no earlier than midnight, three quarters of the way through their headlining set. He followed this observation with a more ominous update one song later: "this will be our last show for a really long time."

Friday's rich and steady hour-plus set could have easily been dubbed "accidental retrospective" as Kinsella pulled out dusty, decades old staples and newer jams alike; among them "Anyone Can Have a Good Time," from Owls, which drew one of the evening's many instantaneous and gutteral applauses.

Throughout the show, Kinsella's signature tumbling guitar scales popped with conviction and whispered an admiring reference to his former outfit with brother Mike Kinsella, American Football, but way more ferocious. The drum lines snapped relentlessly from start to finish, with noteworthy praise on a few complicated time changes nailed down with poise. Victor Villarreal's throbbing rhythmic backup guitar, which at times could have easily been mistaken for an electric organ, soared playfully around Kinsella's more vocal guitar angles. Combined, this sometimes sweet, always schizophrenic force ripped forth from the stage in near perfect unison.

The Hideout's tiny, no frills back room transformed into someone's parent's basement Friday night. Joan of Arc found a perfectly intimate setting for Kinsella to bring longtime loyalists together for what sounded the unit's last hurrah, at least for the foreseeable future. One can only hope it will be just another momentary pause in Joan of Arc's marathon lifespan.

-Dave O'Connor


Concert Mon Oct 03 2011

Review: This Must Be The Band @ The Vic, 9/30/11

It may not have been the actual Talking Heads on stage last night but it was hard to tell the difference. This Must Be the Band burned down the house (so to speak) Friday night with their recreation of the live concert film (and album) Stop Making Sense at the Vic. The recreation was so on point it was hard to tell the difference between the film and concert. As he mentioned after the show, it was obvious Charlie Otto watched the movie everyday for a month.

The crowd was full of Talking Heads fans young and old, toddlers to grandmothers (yes, I saw a grandmother and a toddler at the show). No matter how old they were, everyone enjoyed themselves dancing and singing at the top of their lungs. Just like the film, the show began slowly with "David Byrne" (aka Charlie Otto) singing "Psycho Killer" with his acoustic guitar and a boombox. The rest of the band was slowly brought in through the remainder of the show and soon the entire house was rocking to "This Must Be The Place."

Once the band finished their recreation of the film they came right back on stage to continue playing until they were "kicked out" of the Vic. Ad-libbing the entire rest of the show by taking requests from the audience couldn't have made a better ending to the night. It was clear the real Talking Heads fans appreciated This Must Be The Band's dedication to bringing to life a band everyone enjoys.

Breeann Tuch

Concert Thu Sep 29 2011

Beirut Shines, Shows Mature Side @ Congress Theater

Beirut at the Congress Theater (photos by Andy Keil)

Ah, how time flies. No more the 17-year-old Sante Fe-based wunderkind piecing together an album in his bedroom, Beirut frontman Zach Condon has grown into his own, and nowhere was this more apparent than at their show at the Congress Theater on Monday night. Where before Condon was a bit gawky and awkward onstage, he is now a self-assured, 25-year-old trumpet-playing crooner who knows how to keep an audience captivated.

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Kara Luger

Concert Tue Sep 27 2011

Hideout Block Party 2011 Rocks the Lot


Hideout Block Party 2011 (photos by Steve Stearns)

My thoughts on the success of the Hideout Block Party this past weekend depends on when you asked me. If it was while I was enjoying food truck fare, sitting in the sunshine, while a lazy crowd milled about during Booker T.'s killer set, then I would have given a resounding two thumbs up. If you asked after the food and beer ran out, when the lines to go anywhere (inside the Hideout, inside a toilet) stretched far and wide, and I was freezing as the temperatures dipped, then I might have growled. Weather aside, I was surprised at the lack of organization, but given the fact the actual party has been on hiatus a few years (The Mad Decent Crew and Bloodshot Records took over for a bit), I'll chalk it up to being a bit rusty and hope that next year they don't run out of beer or food.


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Lisa White / Comments (4)

Review Mon Sep 26 2011

Review: The Dodos, The Luyas, Grandkids @ Pygmalion Music Festival, 9/23

There's a strangely sparse yet full atmosphere in Grandkids' music that sounds partly like a band making conscious efforts to stay reserved and partly finding the right recipe. It's not difficult to hear the influences of current indie-folk, but there are all sorts of random hints bubbling underneath their music from a little garage-rock to some avant-garde stuff that reminded me of Imperial f.f.r.r. to 60s girl-pop and beyond. With a cello as a bass substitute, the foursome has some interesting room to explore by bringing it out from just being a rhythmic device. Even though this college band has a lot of promise in their songs, their greatest asset might be the spirited fans who crowded the chapel at the Channing-Murray Foundation, which actually reminded me of the defunct Epiphany, though without awesome steel supports. (Grandkids will be at the Fireside Bowl next Saturday, the 4th.)

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The Luyas (all photos by Rory O'Connor)

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James Ziegenfus

Concert Mon Sep 26 2011

Review: They Might Be Giants @ The Vic, 9/23/11

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They Might Be Giants' John Flansburgh (photos by Steve Stearns)

I never expected the 1972 song "A Horse With No Name" to get stuck in my head after Friday night's They Might Be Giants show at the Vic, but when I woke up Saturday morning there it was — it's unimaginative two-chord self fixed into my eardrums. Midway through the show John Flansburgh and John Linnell invited the entire Onion AV Club onstage, acoustic guitars in hand, for the purpose of playing a song that has only two chords in it. "Join in, don't act like you don't know the words," Linnell called into the mic, prompting the sold-out audience to sing along to what is possibly the most boring song ever written, and transforming it into a wryly humorous piece that only TMBG could pull off.

The show was full of such playful moments — the audience dance contest, for example, with one lucky fan winning a vinyl copy of TMBG's latest album, "Join Us", and three other not-so-lucky fans that came away with booby prizes like a copy of a Rick Springfield LP. At one point the band went backstage, appearing on a giant screen in the form of sock puppets reporting "live from London", in order to appease their newest sponsor, "Epic Fail Bologna Sandwiches." And in a moment of playful hilarity, they broke into the chorus of the 1997 Chumbawamba earworm "Tubthumping," with lively audience participation.

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J.H. Palmer

Review Sun Sep 25 2011

Review: [a lot of bands] @ Pygmalion Music Festival, 9/24

The showcase event at this year's Pygmalion Music Festival was the Polyvinyl 15th Anniversary show that took place in a parking lot behind the Highdive on Saturday. Despite less than favorable weather (chilly, sporadic drizzling), a large crowd showed up to celebrate the Champaign label that's heralded numerous acts from our backyard to Sweden and Australia, from hardcore to ambient.

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Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (all photos by Rory O'Connor)

Now, I must begin by admitting that I cannot take Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin seriously because of their name. (See also: Let's Get Out of This Terrible Sandwich Shop, Natalie Portman's Shaved Head, Does It Offend You, Yeah?, et al.) Even when they described a rather serious song about three missing girls, I couldn't get past their name. And it turns out they're really just safe indie-rock with a few punchy hooks.

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Asobi Seksu

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James Ziegenfus

Concert Sun Sep 25 2011

Review: Japandroids @ Schubas, 9/23/11

[This review comes to us from writer Kyle Sparks.]

It's an awkward time to see Japandroids. It's been two years since the two-piece garage-rock group from Vancouver, British Columbia, dropped their debut LP, Post-Nothing, and we've heard nothing but a trio of 7" records last year to remind us that they even exist. Their forthcoming record is all but done, but nobody's heard any part of it. So the entire atmosphere behind their show at Schubas Friday night was a collective state of bated breath for what comes next.

That's a pretty complicated question for Japandroids, because it would seem that immaturity is a cornerstone of their success. Post-Nothing was a brilliant concoction of pop songs teeming with youthful vigor, and perhaps the best way of describing Japandroids to the uninitiated is "boyish." Brian King and David Prowse are like two energetic puppies, incapable of sitting still long enough not to play extra-rowdy renditions of their inspired rock 'n' roll gems. For roughly an hour, the duo ran through the majority of their catalog like there was nothing else in the entire world that mattered near as much. There's hardly a person at a Japandroids show who enjoys their set more than they do, though there were those who came close. The onslaught made a lot of middle-aged concertgoers get rowdy like they were kids again, and made this 22-year-old think twice about his plans to go straight home after the show.

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Review Sun Sep 25 2011

Review: The Bottle Rockets, Marshall Crenshaw @ Old Town School of Folk Music

I happened to run into Bottle Rockets drummer Mark Ortmann in the lobby of the Old Town School of Folk Music as they waited to go on for an encore with Marshall Crenshaw at the earlier of their two shows Friday night. Exchanging a pleasantry, I complimented him on the show, and he smiled and thanked me, commenting that "This tour is so much fun." I was glad to hear it, but I don't think I needed the confirmation, as the performances of both The Bottle Rockets and Marshall Crenshaw were consistent with good artists having a good time plying their trade.

Temporarily reduced to a three-piece as guitarist John Horton attended to a newborn at home, the remaining Bottle Rockets, guitarist and vocalist Brian Henneman, drummer Ortmann and bass player Kieth Voegele opened the show with an acoustic set that included many of their classics such as "1000 Dollar Car" and "Kit Kat Clock". The acoustic versions hew closer to the songs' origins, and brought into sharp relief the quality of the band's songwriting, exploring various aspects of Joe Six-Pack existence. Even with stripped down instrumentation and a shorthanded band, songs packed emotional depth while managing to remain light, often weaving dark themes with levity as in "Lucky Break", about spending time on workman's comp.

Finishing their set and coming back in rock band mode, The Bottle Rockets returned to support Marshall Crenshaw as he led the attentive audience through a retrospective of his thirty year career. Crenshaw dipped into his vast repertoire, playing a variety of songs from all stages of his career, as well as some choice covers including Richard Thompson's "Valerie", and Buddy Holly's "Cryin', Waitin', Hopin'" and "Rave On". Wielding a disconcertingly shiny candy-apple red Strat, Crenshaw played songs written with writing partners stretching from his teen years to more contemporary collaborations with artists such as Dan Bern.

In fact, if there was anything wrong with the show, it was somewhat mirrored in the pristine finish of Crenshaw's guitar. Under the plain white lighting of the Old Town's stage, and in front of an attentive but subdued audience, the performance occasionally felt a little too sterile, at times seeming more like a workshop on what a show should look like than a living, breathing show. Though the room itself seemed a little flat at times, it's ultimately hard to argue with the success of the night's lineup. A stage full of tested musicians having a good time is never a bad thing.

Dan Snedigar

Review Sat Sep 24 2011

Review: Cut Copy, Washed Out @ Pygmalion Music Festival, 9/23

It was just over two months ago that Cut Copy dominated a late afternoon set at Pitchfork. (And it was just this past Tuesday that they played a packed Riviera on the last leg of US touring.) They've come a long way from the band they used to be even three years ago - ditching t-shirts and jeans for dress shirts and trousers, using lighting more efficiently and scaling back when appropriate. It took a couple songs for them and the crowd to warm up at the Canopy Club on Friday night, but soon enough everyone got their bearings.

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Cut Copy (photos by Rory O'Connor)

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James Ziegenfus

Review Thu Sep 22 2011

Review: Explosions in the Sky, Viva Voce, Common Loon @ Pygmalion Music Festival, 9/21

First nights of music festivals, even established ones with stellar lineups, can be a mixed bag with the culmination of months of planning, little hiccups and the sense of anticipation jumbled together. On Wednesday, the 7th year of Champaign's Pygmalion Music Festival kicked off with Common Loon, Viva Voce and Explosions in the Sky at the Canopy Club. It wasn't perfect, but the flaws weren't major and the anticipation is clearly warranted.

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Viva Voce (photos by Rory O'Connor)

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James Ziegenfus

Concert Wed Sep 21 2011

Review: Freelance Whales @ The Empty Bottle

[This review comes to us from writer Davis Inman.]

Freelance Whales at the Empty Bottle (photo courtesy Eventbrite)

On Saturday night, Chicago was part of a simultaneous five-city, five-concert series put on by the San Francisco-based event ticketing start-up, Eventbrite. While The Hold Steady rocked The Beekman Beer Garden in New York and Wavves played L.A.'s The Troubadour, the indie-pop quintet Freelance Whales took the stage at Chicago's Empty Bottle.

The New York-based Whales drew a respectable crowd, and what the fans lacked in numbers, they made up for in enthusiasm, singing and dancing along with the band's multiharmonied baroque pop gems. The band opened with the song "Generator First Floor," a catchy ode to a haunted house, which also scored a spot in Twitter's quirky site redesign video. The group displayed plenty of musical dexterity with a stage full of instruments — guitar, banjo, synth, glockenspiel, harmonium, mandolin — which members seemed to trade between each song. Frontman Judah Dadone came out on banjo, but throughout the evening also played acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and a small synth at the front of the stage. The band's "bassist" Doris Cellar sometimes did double-duty (mid-song!) on harmonium, which Dadone joked was on its last leg after tipping over during one particularly raucous jam-out.

The free show was also a benefit for local charity Rock For Kids, which provides music education programs for underserved kids in the Chicagoland area. The band, who are not currently touring and had driven all the way from New York to play the show, were clearly excited by the opportunity to support a good cause, encouraging audience members to donate. Eventbrite's Vanessa Hope Schneider says the five concerts were a huge success. "A hundred percent of the money we collected will be going straight to the charities," she said.

-Davis Inman


Concert Tue Sep 20 2011

Review: Weedeater @ Reggie's 9/18

[This review comes to us from writer Jason P. Olexa. He can be found on Twitter at @TacoHugsPHD.]

"Dixie" Dave Collins strode onto the stage of Reggie's Rock Club in Chicago's south side with his bass slung low. He braced his legs into a perfect sea captain's stance and directed his steely glare across the mass assembled to see his band, Weedeater, perform. After taking a long draw from his tall-boy of Old Style, Dixie smiled, revealing a mouth of gold, and lead his band of warriors into "Hammer Handle," the first crushing reverie from Weedeater's newest album Jason... The Dragon (Southern Lord, 2011). Drummer "Keko" Keith Kirkum and Dixie annexed large swaths of sonic low end in their quest to find the perfect rollicking laid back beer-in-a-paper-bag rock groove. Dave "Shep" Shepherd's guitar amp spit purple fog as the words of Dr. Stephen Strange from Marvel Team-Up, Volume One, Issue 21 flashed across his mind "There are few things in the infinite cosmos that are far beyond my power to command". Shep conjured a psychedelic metal riff from the ether that slithered its way onto the audience's amygdalae. Dixie lolled his head back, feeling the groove roll over him and hunched over the mic ready to deliver. The spirit of Bon Scott was called back to this level of existence through Dixie's whiskey soaked vocal chords. The gathered Chicago metal warlocks raised their hands in elaborate eldritch claws and rasped the lyrics into the rapidly shrinking space between the audience and the performers. The assembled spell casters with precognitive abilities knew this was the beginning of another masterful display of muscular southern metal from Weedeater. In the dim corners of the rock club one began to imagine a gathering of spirit animals taking shape and tapping a keg for one hell of a cosmic party.

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Review Mon Sep 19 2011

Review: Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements

Bomba Estéreo (photo by Kirstie Shanley)

Last weekend welcomed the inaugural Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements festival to West Town's Eckhart Park, a combination carnival/music festival/circus/vaudeville show. The park was separated with two tents — the Criss/Cross Tent with live music and the Magic City Tent with several circus and cabaret acts. Between the tents lie an assortment of carnival games and rides, a smaller version of the Renegade Craft Fair, and a few wandering jugglers and other performers.

Brilliant Corners certainly didn't lack in entertainment, but was strangely absent in attendees. The crowd was sparse throughout the entire weekend, and Sunday's rain showers certainly didn't help. Over the course of the weekend I mentioned the festival to several people I know who would probably enjoy seeing Shellac or Dan Deacon or School of Seven Bells in a circus tent, and not one person had even heard of it. The festival had two entrances off Chicago Ave, but I did not see any sort of sign facing the street that a festival was going on inside the park.

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Stephanie Griffin

Review Mon Sep 19 2011

Lost in a Church Together: A travelogue of Active Child, Chad Valley, and Magic Key @ Schubas 9/17/11

[This review comes to us from writer Jason P. Olexa. He can be followed on Twitter @TacohugsPHD.]

Bass rumbles and spits from my breathing regulator as I was deep under the sea in some gear that makes me look relevant to a goth's steampunk fantasies. Trying hard to focus on the reason I'm in this Batman wet dream get-up to find the long hidden entrance to Atlantis. My attention kept drifting to the species of aquatic life striped in colors humanity didn't even know existed. A deep-sea dub beat explodes and I find myself straddled on a Pegasus lifting me high out of the ocean, climbing effortlessly through the air. We're talking post skyscraper high, post supaman high, post rainbow high. As my vision adjusts to the brilliant light I make out St. Peter, Pimp C, and the metaphysical spirit of the Jodeci album Mad Band given human form in a candy colored hot tub. A clean-cut young man on a harp is dropping these R. Kelly romance jams straight out his vocal cords. I'm taking it in. I'm smiling. I'm in heaven and even if that Pegasus takes me back down to earth I have a new goal. This whole heaven deal seems all right with me and I'd like to spend more time.

The Pegasus taps the dulcet toned harpist on the shoulder and informs him of an earthly engagement. As a man who can't stop moving, partially due to the bends induced by my rapid accent into the metaphysical cosmos, I key in on the cut of The Pegasus' jib and hitch a ride back down to earth. I find myself in a candlelit neo-Gothic tavern named Schubas as my partner in travels hoists his harp onto the stage. Two fellow members of his sonic clergy on bass and drums join him; he introduces himself as Pat Grossi and his band is Active Child. Led by a rumbling bass tone, they launch into their fist song and I'm back at that heavenly poolside party.

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Transmission / Comments (1)

Concert Fri Sep 16 2011

Review: Marissa Nadler, James Vincent McMorrow @ The Hideout 9/15

[This review comes to us from writer Davis Inman.]

Last night at The Hideout, with summer all but gone, James Vincent McMorrow and Marissa Nadler were speaking in fall tones. Even sans one of Tim Tuten's legendary band introductions, the sold-out concert got off without a hitch.

Marissa Nadler, a singer-songwriter from Boston, draws on the haunted minor key dirges of Gillian Welch with some of the atmosphere of Kate Bush. But with long black hair, a white dress, and black stockings, singing songs about loss and death, she could also be the ghost of Joan Baez, ca. 1963.

Nadler pulled mostly from songs from her new self-titled, self-released album. Whereas album versions feature weeping steel lines and occasional synths, on stage it was Nadler, alone. It's hard to be entertaining in a quiet room these days, but it helps to have a great voice or great songs, and Nadler has both.

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Review Mon Sep 05 2011

Review: Sleeping in the Aviary, Dastardly, Paper Thick Walls @ Schubas

There is this unique phenomenon at smaller music venues in Chicago. Promoters smash together random bands (usually all under the general "indie" category) and see what happens. Sometimes the Frankenstein created is hideous, but other times, like Friday night's "Orange Tree" music video premiere at Schubas, it is legendary.

The line-up for the night was odd and seemingly backwards in intensity. It started with the energy and fury of Sleeping in the Aviary, moved to the rock-infused bluegrass of Dastardly, and ended with the sweetly catchy pop of Paper Thick Walls. But the sequence worked for the Schubas crowed, who got riled up with Sleeping in the Aviary and rode the buzz through the video premiere.

I was initially drawn to Friday's show because of a familiar name. Sleeping in the Aviary was a hit Madison-based screamo band (in the best sense of the word) when I was a Badger (back in good ole 2008). I was jazzed for a piece of college-life nostalgia even if SITA is now officially a Minneapolis band. I was pleasantly surprised to find the band has matured from emotionally-fueled rockers to a more ridiculous, less serious and more varied rock group. SITA jammed from classic indie rock to '60s pop with barely time for a key change in between. The band seems to have learned growing up right means letting go of the angst and embarrassing the insane. To start their opening set, lead singer Elliott Kozel, took off his shoes and threw them at (not into) the crowd. With his feet free, Kozel, along with the rest of the band, jammed on stage heavy with bass and guitar with an occasional touch accordion and plenty of rock n' roll antics. SITA gave show reminiscent of a classic rock era with a strange familiarity to a drunk '70s prom band. The set could only have been better if it ended with a pantless encore.

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Niki Fritz / Comments (3)

North Coast Music Festival Sun Sep 04 2011

North Coast Music Festival: Saturday


Rusko by Andy Keil

Oh, North Coast. A stoner's oasis. An epileptic's worst nightmare. While Day One started off slow and steady, Saturday seemed to go from zero to sixty in a matter of minutes. Union Park remained almost eerily barren through the first couple rounds of acts Saturday afternoon--too much raging on Friday night, I suppose--but once the rain started around 2:30pm, festheads started pouring into the park like moths to a flame.

What followed was a bit of sensory overload. Bass thumping from three stages simultaneously at almost all times; strobes, lasers and glowsticks everywhere you looked; the overwhelming scent of a certain, ahem, herb in the air; and a day and night-long battle between waves of sweat and rain made for quite the experience on Saturday. I'm honestly amazed at the relentless energy Coasters were still able to produce though despite the natural and chemical elements that, in the end, helped turned Saturday into the ten-hour party that it was. -Katie Karpowicz

My Saturday at North Coast involved a lot of soggy kids tripping on a variety of things, yelling at a kid who almost tipped over a toilet while dancing on it, yelling at some other kids who almost toppled over a girl in a wheelchair, and watching a bunch of kids buy nitrous balloons from some sketchy guys on a corner. Needless to say Saturday got a little rude and sloppy, but it didn't stop the artists from giving it their all to the more than entertaining crowd. -Lisa White

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Lisa White

Concert Sat Sep 03 2011

North Coast Music Festival: Friday

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North Coast crowd by Katie Karpowicz

Well, we avoided the rain on Day One of 2011's North Coast Music Festival, but fest goers still suffered through a sweltering September evening. Things got sweaty once the bass started bumping throughout Union Park. Organizers of this year's NorCo fest organizers admittedly bulked up on electronic acts and DJ performers--an effort that was already noticeable after just one day with acts like SBTRKT, Wolfgang Gartner and headliner David Guetta all hitting the stage on Friday. -Katie Karpowicz

Before I even hit the festival grounds, I received a simple text from a friend that "this crowd is an odd mix." Her sentiment was spot on, since North Coast brings together a mash of ravers, hippies, hip-hop heads and everything in between. It's your best bet for seeing a guy wearing high end Nikes next to a girl wearing fairy wings while hooping. Yet one thing is obvious by the enthusiastic demeanor of the crowd; they came here to dance. -Lisa White

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Lisa White / Comments (1)

Lollapalooza Mon Aug 08 2011

Lollapalooza Day 3: Rain, Mud, and Rock 'n' Roll

Around The Park by Jack Edinger

Muddy Fans by Jack Edinger for Lollapalooza

If you hear anything about Lollapalooza on Sunday, I'm sure it will be that it
rained..twice..hard. But the true brilliance of the rain, was the ingenuity of
Lollapalooza goers to adapt to the torrential downpour. From stacking tables on
top of each other to rooting up fencing to take shelter, fans everywhere seemed
to construct make shift forts to wait out the rains. And after the rain abated, fans
rallied, soaked but ready to take in the last day of Lolla. When the second wave
of storms hit in the middle of Foo Fighters, the field was a mud pit but fans rocked
away with impressive dedication. -Niki Fritz

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Lisa White / Comments (4)

Lollapalooza Sun Aug 07 2011

Lollapalooza Day 2: Massive crowds, Mad Max Cee Lo, and Eminem

Around The Park by Steve Wrubel

Lollapalooza crowd by Steve Wrubel for Lollapalooza

Saturday was off to a difficult start before I even got inside Lollapalooza. I was wedged next to a guy trying to get into the overcrowded Monroe entrance, his toe torn open and bloodied. Not a good sign of things to come, as temperatures crept up and some of the crowd was whiny and clearly on edge. I did appreciate the brutal honesty of the guy out front, who I assumed was selling tickets but instead asked me "do you have a blunt I could buy?" while standing less than two feet from a Chicago police officer. Lollapalooza; where all manners and human intelligence tends to fall to the wayside. Meanwhile Niki Fritz also encountered some problems upon entering the grounds.

On Saturday afternoon, the 20th anniversary wristbands that Lolla organizers no
doubt spent months designing, failed to do the one thing they needed to do: work. A
large majority of wristbands failed to scan. Instead of allowing wristband wearers,
fans $200 invested in Lolla, to pass, they made swarms of hot wet fans wait while
two employees jogged from one entrance to the next scanning people in manually.
-Niki Fritz

Keep reading to learn how the rest of the day went, and keep checking back for more coverage from Lollapalooza.

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Lisa White

Lollapalooza Sat Aug 06 2011

Lollapalooza Day 1: Half days at work, lobster corn dogs, and a little band called Muse

Around The Park by Steve Wrubel

Gateway by Steve Wrubel for Lollapalooza

I kicked off day one like many Chicagoans going to Lollapalooza, heading to my regular day job in business casual festival attire before trekking down to Grant Park after an early exit to jumpstart my Lolla weekend. I'll be reporting all things Lollaplooza this weekend for Gapers Block, along with contributions from writer Niki Fritz. Keep reading for more about Friday at the festival, and keep checking back all weekend for more Lollapalooza coverage from Gapers Block.

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Lisa White / Comments (1)

Review Fri Aug 05 2011

Alkaline Trio Sweat it Out @ the Metro

It's amazing what people will endure for the sake of nostalgia — 90 plus degree temps, oppressive humidity, noticeably absent a/c, short people jammed into taller peoples' armpits, random sprays of liquids (sweat in the worst case beer in the best case). According to the Metro crowd, it was all worth it when the first deep beats of Alkaline Trio's Derek Grant's kick drum pounded over the heat or when Dan Andriano's bass line commanded head convulsions. The hometown punk trio ran through an athletic 22 song set, including one Violent Femmes cover, in front of their signature skulled heart, awash in aggressive red lighting.

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Alkaline Trio on Monday night at the Metro (Photos by Katie Hovland)

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Bonnie Page

Concert Thu Jul 28 2011

Review: The Decemberists, The Head and the Heart @ The Aragon, 7/25/11

[This review comes to us from writer Niki Fritz.]

The last time The Decemberists rocked our fair city in February, snowmageddon had just howled through Chicago, forcing concert-goers to dig their way to the Riv. The Portland-based band was greeted on Monday night with a slightly different scene, as thousands of sweaty Chicago fans packed into the Aragon, bringing summer energy and a fair share of pit stains. From sold-out concerts in the snow trap of Chicago winter to sold-out concerts in the heat pit of Chicago summer, Decemberists fans prove they are willing to bundle up or strip down to hear the melodious indie rock band sing songs, weave stories and rock out in full suits.

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Transmission / Comments (1)

Review Tue Jul 26 2011

Review: Ted Leo & Pharmacists @ Millennium Park, 7/25

Ted Leo (photos by Kirstie Shanley)

Ten years ago Ted Leo released his first real solo album, The Tyranny of Distance. (That Tej Leo thing shouldn't count.) To commemorate it this summer he's played it front-to-back a couple times on the east coast. Early Monday afternoon, he tweeted that he was considering playing it again at the summer's last New Music Monday concert at Millennium Park. A few people replied that it would be perfectly satisfactory with them for him to do so. And so when he and his longtime band walked out on stage, he quickly confirmed it. But before that, they'd need to warm up with a few other songs. Kicking off with perhaps his biggest hit, the Specials-inspired "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?", he got the crowd jazzed up from the get-go. From there it was onto "Me & Mia" and a handful of songs from his latest 2 albums. Even with a banged up knee, Leo bounded around the stage with the enthusiasm that's been a staple of his live shows forever.

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James Canty on guitar (photos by Kirstie Shanley)

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James Ziegenfus / Comments (1)

Review Fri Jul 22 2011

Review: Bela Fleck and the Flecktones at The Vic, 7/21

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones concerts always seem to draw a diverse crowd, and last night's show at The Vic Theater was certainly no exception. Middle aged couples in dress casual stood elbow to elbow with aspiring teen Deadheads in tie dyes and cargo shorts. The crowd is telling, however, when one considers the wide gamut of musical styles that bubble up in a typical Bela Fleck show. Fleck's two sets evidenced his mastery both of his chosen instrument, the banjo, and the sometimes odd, yet usually fantastic stew of different genres that he has turned into his signature sound.

Fleck is currently touring with a throwback Flecktones lineup that includes Chicago local Howard Levy, who was a founding member of the band, but left in 1992 only to return in the past year. The remaining lineup remains unchanged, with standout bassist Vic Wooten and his brother, percussionist Roy "Futureman" Wooten forming a dynamic rhythm launchpad for Fleck and Levy's explorations of sound.

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Dan Snedigar

Pitchfork Music Festival Thu Jul 21 2011

Pitchfork Festival: Final Thoughts and Sunday


Photo by Stephanie Bassos

We've had the week to share some of our interviews from Pitchfork Festival with you, and some time to wash all the Union Park dust off and apply aloe to our sunburns. Now we wrap things up with Bonnie Page's thoughts on the last day along with more lovely photos by Stephanie Bassos. We here at Gapers Block hope you enjoyed your Pitchfork Festival 2011, and we'll see you next year. -Lisa White

Off to a sweltering start, the Sunday Pitchfork crowd was noticeably sparse and more inclined to sit on the sidelines if that meant shade rather than sweating it out under the sun. There were a number of festival-goers that started out their day with the garage/power pop rhythms of San Francisco band The Fresh & Onlys. The foursome, lead by tie-dye clad singer Tim Cohen, played clear and classic sounding guitar riffs for the crowd during "Waterfall" then added some throw back country twang in "Strange Disposition," accompanied by lo-fi vocals. It wasn't enough to get many people moving, but it was day three after all. -Bonnie Page

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Lisa White

Review Tue Jul 19 2011

Review: Make Do and Mend/Heartsounds @ Beat Kitchen

With regards to a wide and varied assortment of past experiences, there are few things that spell out "summer" more than being pressed against a thigh-high stage in a dark club, breathing in air that's almost too thick to pass through your lungs and screaming along to whatever band is assaulting that stage with sounds and sweat. Last night, Make Do and Mend played the first non-basement show in Chicago proper of their five-year career at the Beat Kitchen and things definitely felt summery.

Before the East Coast hardcore pros hit the stage though Heartsounds, hailing from the other side of the States, played what could have easily been a headlining set. Formed after the members of a now defunct San Francisco-area heavy metal act decided to return to the core roots of punk rock, Heartsounds has been quickly fostering a dedicated following since the release of their debut album Until We Surrender last year. The band's sound is punk rock done right. None of that oversimplified three-chord nonsense. Guitarists Ben Murrary and Laura Nichol can shred and, after watching their set last night, that statement applies to both the record and the stage. The quick-fingered licks on bass and a sweaty massacre of the drum kit that the other half of the band contributed would have kept things sweltering in the Beat Kitchen even without the 93-degree temperature outside.

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Katie Karpowicz

Pitchfork Music Festival Sun Jul 17 2011

Pitchfork Festival: Saturday, Part 2


Photo by Stephanie Bassos

Easing out of the heaviness of Cold Cave, Wild Nothing and Radio Department lulled the 4pm-6:45pm hours. The one-man band of Wild Nothing (with the addition of a touring live band) came out in full plaid and ray ban glasses, giving off a sorta clean-cut '50s feel. They eased right into the smooth sounds of "Chinatown" and "Gemini." Wild Nothing was the perfect mix of dreamy electronic sounds and hazy vocals for the shady Blue Stage. Radio Department, with the same dream pop sound, made for a good follow up right after. -Bonnie Page

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Lisa White

Pitchfork Music Festival Sun Jul 17 2011

Pitchfork Festival: Saturday, Part 1


Wild Nothing guitar by Stephanie Bassos

Saturday at Pitchfork meant interviews all day for myself; meanwhile Bonnie caught a good mix of acts gracing the stage at the festival. The day kicked off with weather warnings from festival officials, and they installed two cooling buses, passed out free water to the first 6,000 attendees, and had the security barricades stocked with water to hand out and pour on the packed crowds. Heat or not, it didn't hold back artists from dishing out a day of solid sets.

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Lisa White

Pitchfork Music Festival Sat Jul 16 2011

Pitchfork Festival 2011: Friday, Part 2


Photo by Stephanie Bassos

It was time for a little bit of a palate cleanse after Moore's earnest introspective set, so I moved to something a lot more lighthearted: the Brooklyn trio of hip-hop jokesters, Das Racist. The group rose to Internet fame with their 2008 song "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell," so obviously these guys definitely don't take themselves too seriously. They've been downplayed by some, but they show smart rhymes and a tongue-in-cheek style humor that pokes fun of pop culture. For instance, the song "Fake Patios" talks about the authenticity of rappers, pointing the finger at a number of "authentic" hip-hop artists who use fake accents and massive production. All the while they sing the track with an obvious fake Jamaican accent and autotune. They opened up their set with "Who's That? Broooown," the dirty beats stretched to match the elongated chorus line while a sitar and Casiotone noises add to the lazy yet catchy delivery style. -Bonnie Page

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Lisa White

Pitchfork Music Festival Sat Jul 16 2011

Pitchfork Festival 2011: Friday, Part 1

We've got some interviews with artist coming up this weekend at Gapers Block, but Friday we kicked things off by enjoying the first day of Pitchfork Festival with a handful of veteran acts, much buzzed about bands, and Animal Collective.

Gapers Block writer Bonnie Page and I, along with our photographer, Stephanie Bassos, will be bringing you coverage of the fest, interviews, and photos all weekend long. Keep checking back all weekend for more Pitchfork Festival 2011 coverage. Now onward to our part one coverage of Friday!

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Lisa White / Comments (1)

Review Tue Jul 12 2011

Review: Sundowner @ Bottom Lounge


Photo by Katie Karpowicz

In 2007 local label Red Scare digitally released Four One Five Two, a twelve-track debut from artist Sundowner. Four One Five Two was full of acoustic tracks ranging from whimsical jaunts to self-deprecating wallows, but the most notable element of this release was the voice that accompanied the music. The man behind this album was Chris McCaughan, guitarist and co-frontman of Chicago punk favorites The Lawrence Arms.

On Saturday, more than four years later, Sundowner aka McCaughan celebrated the vinyl release of Four One Five Two with a show in the intimate upstairs bar area of the Bottom Lounge.

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Katie Karpowicz

Dave Matthews Band Caravan Mon Jul 11 2011

DMB Caravan Sunday: In Which We Finish Country, Strong

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Photo by Rory O'Connor

Emmylou Harris is a goddamn national treasure.

On the final day of the Dave Matthews Band Caravan, the 64-year-old country legend played her afternoon set on the smallest of three stages, acceding to the vagaries of popular taste, but she stood out as by far the most historically significant artist of the weekend.

tx_at_dmbcaravan.jpg"One of my personal heroes," Dave Matthews said in a brief introduction before she took the stage Sunday, and it was hard to disagree after Harris and her superb backing band, the Red Dirt Boys, rolled through an inspired selection of bluegrass and gospel favorites with a few songs from her new album.

They might have been the oldest band at the festival, but we saw only the benefits of those 40 years of experience: Emmylou's easy command of the stage and rapport with the crowd, and the impeccable work by her bandmates on guitar, bass, drums, mandolin, violin, piano and accordion.

While some bands this weekend struggled to hold the audience's attention whenever the tempo slowed, Emmylou's clear, soaring voice was more than enough to keep fans from wandering off to the craft beer tent between Rickie Simpkins' virtuoso fiddle runs.

After the opening shuffle of "Six White Cadillacs," the set was loaded with haunting ballads, from Gillian Welch's "Orphan Girl" to the Carter Family's "Hello Stranger" and the gospel standard "Green Pastures." The best of a strong bunch was "My Name is Emmett Till," an appropriately stark and powerful ballad about the Chicago teenager murdered in Mississippi in 1955.

Simpkins' mandolin riff on the bouncing closer "Get Up John" was still echoing in my brain as I headed over to the main stage to check out David Gray. I was ripe for a rude awakening.

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Jim Reedy / Comments (3)

Dave Matthews Band Caravan Mon Jul 11 2011

DMB Caravan Saturday: In Which I Attempt Physical Activity

I'll admit, I've never been the biggest Dave Matthews Band fan, but with a handful of not-to-be-missed artists (namely, The Flaming Lips covering Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety), I've been looking forward to the DMB Caravan more than any other music festival this summer. Still, I had my apprehensions.

Upon arriving Saturday afternoon, the first thing I noticed was the dirt. There wasn't any grass to be found, anywhere. Not that music festivals are known for their cleanliness, but large, sharp rocks scattered among the dirt made walking uncomfortable and sitting nearly impossible. The area directly in front of each stage was covered in wood chips, but if you wanted to relax further away from the stage, there were hardly any options, save a bench or two in the middle of the field.

The advantage DMB Caravan has over the other big summer music festivals in Chicago is space. I never had any issue whatsoever walking from one stage to the next in 10 minutes or less. The large festival grounds also afforded room for a plethora of non-music related activities, from the giant ferris wheel in the center of the festival to some sort of off-roading track at the side of the grounds.

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Stephanie Griffin / Comments (1)

Dave Matthews Band Caravan Sun Jul 10 2011

DMB Caravan Saturday: In Which We Question the Future of This Musical Venue

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Photos by Rory O'Connor

The weather has been good, the music has been great and the mango Starfruit with blueberries has been a revelation. But after two days at the Dave Matthews Band Caravan, it's clear Chicago has major work to do if it's going to host more massive events at the former site of the U.S. Steel South Works.

tx_at_dmbcaravan.jpgOne problem is the fairgrounds themselves: a dusty dirt field, half-covered in mulch and scrub brush, strewn with rocks, tree roots and stumps and lingering bits of steel wire. It's potentially dangerous and inescapably filthy, especially with no running water available to clean yourself up. But this is the inaugural event, and that all can be fixed for next time with a little effort.

No, the major problem is getting to and from the site. It's not the raw number of concertgoers; we handle 30,000 or 40,000 people all the time without much fuss. It's the massive difficulty the Chicago Transit Authority has had getting to the show whatever large percentage of the crowd is using public transportation.

Whether their arrivals are staggered throughout the afternoon or they're leaving en masse at the end of the night, fans at the DMB Caravan have seen huge wait times both on the Red Line and the inexplicably-not-free shuttle buses running loops from the 87th Street station to the festival grounds. It's tens of thousands of people pinned in by the lake with only one escape route.

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Jim Reedy

Dave Matthews Band Caravan Sat Jul 09 2011

DMB Caravan Friday: In Which Some of Us Have Real Jobs

I've never entirely understood the animosity so many people have for Dave Matthews Band.

Ten-plus years past their chart-topping peak, they are loved by a core of diehard fans, enjoyed by a few, and virulently scorned by just about anyone else who follows popular culture even slightly. If you don't like them enough to buy a ticket to one of their concerts, you wouldn't be caught dead at one.

tx_at_dmbcaravan.jpgMaybe you never saw the appeal, and grew to hate Dave Matthews Band as they became inescapably popular in the late-90s.

Maybe you never cared much, but used to be a fan, buying their CDs and going to a show every summer because that's what everyone in your high school did.

Maybe you loved them deeply and passionately for a few years and now feel vaguely embarrassed, as their music stands in for everything you can't believe you liked when you were too young to know better.

So it is that I wince whenever it's revealed -- because no, I don't broadcast it -- that Dave Matthews Band always was and still remains my favorite band. I'm right now fighting off the urge to deflect with a joke along the lines of "Feel free to disregard everything I ever write about music."

My usual response, or at least my instinctive, screaming desire, is to make sure the person to whom I've revealed this shameful secret understands that I'm not one of those DMB fans:

I'm real. I'm authentic. I'm more sophisticated and savvy and worldly than I was as a suburban teenager in the mid- and late-90s, and you just don't understand, man. It's great music, and hey, if you don't like it, that's fine. Just give it a chance.

But if you're typically annoyed by bros in ball caps and cargo shorts, preps in boat shoes and polo shirts or willowy girls in long, flowsy dresses, steer clear of the South Side Lakefront this weekend. The Dave Matthews Band Caravan rolled into town yesterday for three full days of rock/country/pop/folk/blues at the vast former site of the U.S. Steel South Works plant, and yes, most of the usual suspects are out in force.

The festival kicked off Friday with 14 acts, most of which Transmission missed entirely because Friday is a weekday, even in July, and we have Actual Work Obligations. But stay tuned for full coverage of Saturday and Sunday, during which I will be joined by colleagues who will help me suppress the urge to burden you with 3,000 words on Carter Beauford's drum kit.

Jim Reedy

Concert Tue Jul 05 2011

Review: Low, Glen Hansard @ Downtown Sound: New Music Mondays, 6/27

[This review comes to us from regular GB photographer, Rory O'Connor.]

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Downtown Sound crowd, June 27th (photos by Rory O'Connor)

It was an unlikely pairing at the June 27th installment of Downtown Sound: New Music Mondays at Pritzker Pavilion; one which may have taken more than a few people by surprise depending on their reasons for attending the evening's event.

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Glen Hansard (photos by Rory O'Connor)

Glen Hansard got things started off, as he walked out on stage armed with only a worn out acoustic guitar and a bit of Irish wit. Hansard, perhaps best known as lead singer of the band the Frames and half of the Swell Season, proceeded to treat the crowd to a spirited 45+ minute set, which included a rousing rendition of Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks." Shortly before delving into the cover, Hansard delivered a quick tale about learning his trade by performing on the street and one could see how his humble start had paid off. Hansard appeared completely at ease with his guitar on the pavilion's spacious stage, working the crowd with a bit of humor between songs. His easy manner kept the performance light, even among some of the sadder numbers. Hansard also delivered on what a large contingent were presumably there to hear, when he performed his most well known song "Falling Slowly," for which he won an Academy Award.

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Transmission / Comments (1)

Review Mon Jun 27 2011

Review: Junior Boys @ Metro, 6/24/11

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Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan (photos by Steve Stearns)

The Canadian electro-pop duo (Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemous) that is Junior Boys brought their cold romanticism through Chicago's Metro on Friday night. The pair is currently on tour in support of their fourth album release It's All True, but their Metro show was culmination of their eight year career, with a heavier focus on past versus present material.

The non-nonsense duo went straight to work with set opener "Parallel Lines" (from third album Begone Dull Care) and didn't take time out for much else 'til curtain close. The cold "Parallel Lines" took percussive beats from a slew of sources while Greenspan's characteristically whispered vocals floated in falsetto above, ironically speaking to final amends. Greenspan himself never became attached to the emotion behind the lyrics he whispered. The detachment of "Parallel Lines" defrosted with crystalline organ-synth to warm it (and the crowd's dancing feet) up before blue lights aided the imagery of the bereft nostalgia of "Please Don't Touch". The latter song's bouncing beats and snare effects contrasted the desolation of the lyrics: common objects, with their lived-in comfort, held sentimental history. Greenspan, seated behind his keyboard, begged through the chorus that the sentiments not be altered ("Please, please don't touch").

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Junior Boys' Matt Didemous (photos by Steve Stearns)

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Bonnie Page

Review Sun Jun 26 2011

Review: Les Savy Fav @ Subterranean, 6/25 & Green Music Fest, 6/26

Far too many people claim that far too many bands must be seen live to be fully appreciated. Now, there are a lot of bands who use their live performances to add respectably to their recorded catalogs and are usually very good on stage. However, few are actually entertaining enough to be must-sees night after night. But Les Savy Fav is one of those. And we've been lucky in Chicago to see them often over the years. Neither Saturday at Subterranean nor Sunday at Green Music Fest were exceptions.

For as much as people talk about Tim Harrington's antics as the main draw, the band behind him is totally underrated. Like Jon Spencer, Drive-By Truckers and anything with John Reis, Les Savy Fav figures out how to turn studio weaknesses into live strengths. Post-punk hooks that don't stand out on a record come across monstrous. Choruses that should be anthemic find life. Now, don't get me wrong, it's unlikely many people go to Les Savy Fav shows to hear some riff pop out, but it's not uncommon to see a lot of heads faced toward the stage no matter where Tim Harrington ends up. But he'll always be the star.

On Saturday evening, Harrington walked out in a wig, a woman's red shirt, striped shorts and he'd taken some liberties with eye black. He doled out Ritz crackers like holy wafers (and then spit a chewed one into a fan's mouth), adjusted the lighting rig, hung upside down on the spiral staircase, drank a beer poured to him from the balcony (though it mostly ended up on his chest), used every available inch of microphone cord in a 10-block radius, walked to street level, made his way to the soundboard a few times, lost clothing at regular intervals and on and on. After a lengthy delay on Sunday, he emerged from backstage looking pretty dirty (though we've seen him dirtier) in a knitted poncho, a Paisley-patterned shirt and normal pants. His first order of business was pulling two ropes from the mobile stage corners, tying them together and using them to balance on the barrier railing and leaning over the crowd. The ropes held, but not for long. Soon enough, he was in the crowd, encouraging Moshing 101, dogsitting, ending a song on top of a tent, crowdsurfing in a chair (though no competition to crowdsurfing in a garbage can), smearing eye black (again) all over his body, finding his way to a 2nd-floor apartment and Lord knows what else on street level that could only be seen by immediate bystanders.

Through it all, the band plowed through their set and treated Tim as if he were just a large child who gets crazy sometimes but will always work his way out of trouble. They know what they're in for and look like nothing he'd do would surprise them. The same probably goes for most people who've seen them a few times. Yet they still command attention like few bands and always leave people shaking their heads and saying, "I've never seen that at a show before." Of course they didn't. They're a must-see for a reason.

James Ziegenfus

Review Tue Jun 14 2011

Neon Marshmallow Night 3 wrapup: The Day the Grumpy Old Man Liked Everyone

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Night 3. It's all over. While it's clear that I was far from enthused with everything that passed their year's Neon Marshmallow stage, Sunday was the kind of straight flush seen maybe one or twice in a poker player's life. Everybody on tonight's lineup kept the crowd on its toes, and the usual night three exhaustion didn't seem to creep in as it did last year.

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Chris Sienko / Comments (6)

Review Sun Jun 12 2011

Review: Booker T @ Old Town School of Folk Music, 6/11

Booker T Jones was a musical prodigy who got his start at Stax in Memphis while still in high school. That was nearly 50 years ago and his career shows no signs of ending. Saturday night he was at the Old Town School of Folk Music for two shows. Playing in support of a new album, The Road From Memphis, it was no surprise when the early set began with two of its tracks - "Harlem House" and "Down in Memphis." The former was a nice introduction that showcased some of Booker T's absolutely sick skills on a Hammond organ. The latter was a rather pedestrian bluesy number.

But then the fun began with "Green Onions", one of the most iconic instrumental songs of all-time. It wasn't completely faithful to the version everyone's heard a hundred times, though. A few guitar licks differed and the tempo was just barely slower. But if you figure Booker T plays it at every show, the man's allowed some leeway. At any rate, it certainly excited the crowd. That trend would continue on numerous songs with freestyling and improvisation peppering music that's been in his repertoire for years and even some that's new. After the first of three from 1968's Soul Limbo album ("Born Under a Bad Sign"), Booker T (now on guitar) and his backing band rolled through covers of "Take Me to the River", "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" and "Ain't No Sunshine."

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James Ziegenfus

Review Sun Jun 12 2011

Neon Marshmallow Night 2 wrapup: Night of a thousand neck-mics

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Now that the second full night of the Neon Marshmallow Fest has come and gone, it's becoming easier to chart the peaks and valleys of the festival, its overall feel, and the tenor of the crowds. Because of the reduced number of acts from last year, the flow from act to act becomes more pronounced and concentrated, and bands with vastly different methodologies are even more pronounced by their proximity. What I mean by all of this was that I really liked the stuff I liked, and for the other stuff, well, there's always the pool room.

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Chris Sienko

Review Sat Jun 11 2011

Neon Marshmallow Night 1 wrapup: The Lord Of The Dance

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One-third of the 2011 Neon Marshmallow Fest has already come and gone, and with a new venue and a new emphasis on different types of artists, there's plenty to talk about, so let's get started.

First off, the Empty Bottle was able, as ever, to accomodate a wide range of sonic and visual requirements. Slide projectors and LCD projectors are scattered through various rooms, projecting curated images on the walls -- tonight's visuals were by Loo Tapes, and they ranged from washed out slides to viscous purple and green washes of computerized texture. There was also a giant print of a cat's head on the wall near the bar that was reproduced, ad nauseum, hundreds of times all of the walls of the Bottle's (ad nauseous) bathroom.

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Chris Sienko

Review Fri Jun 10 2011

Review: Gruff Rhys, Y Niwl @ Schubas, 6/9

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Gruff Rhys (Photo by Kirstie Shanley)

Frontmen's solo efforts can be a mixed bag of why-didn't-you-use-these-songs-on-your-band's-album and this-is-dreadful. Gruff Rhys' solo albums are not exactly an intercontinental flight away from his day job at Super Furry Animals, but they can run on a path far from that highway. Rarely is there anything dreadful about them, though. His latest, Hotel Shampoo, sounds at times like a laid-back SFA with keyboards often leading the way. Thursday's set at Schubas began with the album's closer "Rubble Rubble" and Rhys deadpanning that "not many people have reached the song." From there he moved onto selections from 2007's Candylion, a few from 2005's Yr Atal Genhedlaeth and even from the weird 2010 collaboration with a person named Tony Da Gatorra while playing piano, guitar, digital air drum sticks and using a turntable as accompaniment for sound effects.

A half-hour into a 100-minute set, he reeled off a slew of Hotel Shampoo songs that were rather faithful to their recorded versions. While they were received with nice applause, all night it was the Candylion songs like "The Court of King Arthur" and "Cycle of Violence" that received the biggest hands. When Rhys last came through Chicago to play those, it was a simple acoustic affair. But with a full band, those tunes were fleshed out and showcased from psychedelic to straight poppy rock.

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James Ziegenfus

Review Wed Jun 08 2011

Iron and Wine @ Downtown Sound: New Music Mondays in Millenium Park

It wouldn't be Summer in Chicago without free music Monday in Millenium Park; it wouldn't be free music Monday without having to battling wine sipping afterwork types, suburban transplants and a smattering of hipsters for lawn space (or in the case of this past Monday night, concrete space). To give you an idea of the expansiveness of the crowd who came out for headliner Iron and Wine and opener Head and the Heart: people spilled off the lawn onto the concrete sidewalks and all of the tree filled areas surrounding the pavilion. But, once (and if), a spot was found, snacks were passed around and wine opened, the hassle of getting to that point evaporated like sweat on skin. If, however, you were unfortunate enough to arrive post-5:30 pm there wasn't a plot of grass to be sat upon. There's just no such thing as a free lunch, or concert, as the case may be.

Monday night started out with the Seattle based Head and the Heart (much, much beloved in their Western state of Washington). The warm, folk-rock band played a brief 5 song set, which featured strong vocal harmonies and popular track "Lost in My Mind". The song perfectly paired with Iron and Wine's indie-folk sung tales. Notably, Iron and Wine's (also short 60 minute set) was a lot more up-tempo with a full-band, and a lot less lo-fi, bedroom recording sound the band is known for - but this jives with the band's album progression. Iron and Wine's latest albums Kiss Each Other Clean, and preceding Shepard's Dog feature layered and texturized instrumentation, full bands and projected versus whispered vocals. Iron and Wine lived this statement with Monday night with opening song "Rabbit Will Run"; a rhythmically layered track. And the crowd may have been glad to see Sam Beam's breathy vocals give way to something with more projection. Otherwise, his lyrical story tales may have been lost in the expansively hot Chicago night, amid wine and conversation. That plus Pritzker's great sound system and the full band held their attention, for the most part.

Bonnie Page

Review Mon Jun 06 2011

The Bouncing Souls @ Reggies 6/9 - 6/12

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Photo by Katie Hovland

The Bouncing Souls are performing four consecutive nights at Reggie's Rock Club - 2105 South State Street - June 9th through the 12th. Each night they'll play two albums from start to finish, beginning with their first record and concluding with their most recent full-length. Thursday, 6/9 gets underway with The Good, the Bad and the Argyle and Maniacal Laughter, with supporting bands The Flatliners and Old Man Markley. On Friday, 6/10 it's their self-titled album and Hopeless Romantic, while The Arrivals and The Brokedowns open. Saturday, 6/11 will feature How I Spent My Summer Vacation and Anchors Away, and The Falcon and Night Brigade play first. Lastly, The Gold Record and Ghosts on the Boardwalk will be performed on Sunday, 6/12, with opening acts The Copyrights and The Reaganomics. All shows start at 7:00 PM and are all-ages. Tickets cost $18 in advance / $20 day of show and can be purchased here.

Katie Hovland

Review Mon Jun 06 2011

Review: Ozomatli @ Congress Theater

For two hours Friday night, Ozomatli was exuberance personified.

That's been their game since they emerged from Los Angeles in the late '90s: an only-in-L.A. brew of rock, salsa and hip-hop tossed with an earnest message of social consciousness and a high-energy show sure to punch through the ironic detachment and cynicism of the most jaded Pitchfork reader.

They turned the Congress Theater into a summer block party with a potent seven-man attack featuring trumpet, saxophone, guitar, bass, drums and loads of percussion. The horn blasts and rock riffs of "Saturday Night" and "City of Angels" got the crowd moving, and salsa favorites like "Chango" and "Cumbia De Los Muertos" had them shaking their hips.

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Jim Reedy

Review Tue May 31 2011

Review: Justin Townes Earle @ Jay Pritzker Pavilion

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Justin Townes Earle (photos by Kirstie Shanley)

Justin Townes Earle's slender frame looked tiny as he walked out onto the stage last night at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion as part of the Downtown Sounds series running all summer at Millennium Park. However, as soon as the Nashville-born singer/songwriter opened his mouth any vacant space was immediately occupied by Earle's silky Southern croon.

Earle serenaded Millennium Park while its occupants celebrated what truly felt like the first day of summer and the musical backdrop he provided could not have been more appropriate. Joined onstage by two lovely female backup musicians — providing fiddle and acoustic bass sounds — and his acoustic guitar, his set dallied between playful blues tunes and soft, sometimes even somber, lullaby-like melodies including a heartfelt ode to his mother, "Mama's Eyes." His music captured the enthusiasm of the day as we finally caught a glimpse of the light at the end of the never ending tunnel that is the Chicago winter and also the dreamy qualities of lazy summer evenings.

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Katie Karpowicz

Review Wed May 25 2011

Review: Lykke Li @ Metro 5/23

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Lykke Li (photos by Steve Stearns)

Supporting musicians, half hidden behind black draperies, half hidden by the disorienting strobe light's negative space who sound tracked heavy percussive beats under pre-recorded industrial noises held the Metro audience in a state of suspension for a solid 3 minutes before black robed singer Lykke Li made her dramatic appearance. The Swedish singer wasted no seconds before getting into the equally dramatic song "Jerome"; a troubled love song which evoked Dolly Parton's "Jolene" but in a much darker, almost pagan kind of way.

Like the Metro show, Li's newest album Wounded Rhymes, varies from dance tunes to tribal beats. And, as album title suggests, it's a mature, and darker, take on subject matter similar to that of 2008 release Youth Novels. That subject matter being matters of the heart. Li used repeating bass lines and hard hitting drum beats to emphasize her angry, wounded heart in the aggressive "Youth Knows No Pain" and the furious rapid-fire drumming of "Rich Kid Blues". The latter song's mood further set by harsh red lights. Each of these three songs were in vast contrast to the breathy, bubble-pop song "Lil Bit" (from Youth Novels), played mid set, where Li revealed that she may be "a lil bit in love".

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(photos by Steve Stearns)

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Bonnie Page

Review Mon May 23 2011

Review: Death Cab For Cutie @ Metro

Ben Gibbard (Photos by Steve Stearns)

In anticipation of their upcoming album, Codes and Keys, Seattle indie rock heavyweights Death Cab For Cutie embarked on a small tour of much smaller venues than the band has been accustomed. In a show that sold out almost instantly, the band swung by Metro Friday night to debut their new tracks and play some old favorites. The last few times they've come through our fair city, Death Cab played Aragon and Lollapalooza, making this night at Metro a rare experience for fans.

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Stephanie Griffin / Comments (1)

Review Mon May 23 2011

Review: CSS @ Metro 5/21

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Lovefoxxx (Photos by Kirstie Shanley)

Most nights you can walk into a venue and gauge what's coming from a band based on the appearance of its fans. This canon did not hold true Saturday night at the Metro. The crowd was all over the place: electro glam rockers, tall model types, young hipsters and drunk married couples. Their attire spanned from high heels to converse, lumberjack plaid to androgynous hot pants - you get the idea. The uniting principle: people came to dance! It almost goes without saying that this principle included Brazilian electro, rock band CSS.

CSS is an acronym for the Portugese phrase Cansei De Ser Sexy and translates into "got tired of being sexy", but they should seriously consider renaming themselves "Richard Simmons Turned into Rockstar And Went on a Sugar Binge", whatever that translates into. Because, when translated into physical action, CSS meant an hour long, sweat-inducing conglomeration of heavy bass, electro rock, disco beats and glam punk references spanning the band's two album history. For 60 minutes not a body on the main floor stood still. Including curiously face-painted rock star and lead vocalist, Lovefoxxx.

Throughout the night, Lovefoxxx made the most of her cheeky Brazilian charm and her salacious lyrics were highlighted by the Metro's shocking pink lights; she was the PERFORMER. She erratically jumped around to the heavy guitar riff intro of Blondie-esq "Music is my Hot Hot Sex", got all hardcore in the electro-glam "ArtBitch" and bob-jumped along with the chorus "I ain't no Artist /I'm an Artbitch/lick lick lick my arttit".

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Lovefoxxx (Photos by Kirstie Shanley)

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Bonnie Page / Comments (1)

Review Thu May 19 2011

Review: The Airborne Toxic Event @ The Metro

"You know, when I wrote that I really meant it," remarked The Airborne Toxic Event's frontman Mikel Jollett after singing the opening lines to "Happiness Is Overrated" ("And speaking of little miss Catherine. I feel swell, oh well...") during last night's performance, the first of a two-night residency at the Metro. Maybe that's what happens when two (plus) years and a mountain of surpassed expectations separates a songwriter from his earliest songs. Maybe the songs begin to feel less like intimate artistic expressions and more like the products of just another performance.

Last night The Airborne Toxic Event played a perfectly executed 18-song set...but unfortunately that's about all they did. It wasn't until the second to last song of the encore performance, the whimsical "Missy" off the band's self-titled debut, that The Airborne Toxic Event chose to incorporate any instrumental elaborations or even decided to appear passionate about the words and sounds pouring through the speakers. For a lyricist known for his tendency to dissect singular moments down to their most intimate qualities, Jollett let songs like the rambunctious "Doesn't Mean A Thing" come and go without as much as a pang of uniquely personal emotion in his voice.

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Katie Karpowicz / Comments (8)

Review Thu May 19 2011

Review: Blue Ribbon Glee Club and Mortified @ Fizz


The BRGC rocks the house at Fizz as part of Mortified Turns Bright Pink, a fundraiser for the women's health organization Bright Pink.

The Blue Ribbon Glee Club, an a capella group that performs covers of classic punk rock songs, opened Tuesday's Mortified show at Fizz with what I eventually realized was "Where Eagles Dare" by The Misfits. It took me a verse or two to figure it out, but when I heard the lyrics "I ain't no goddamn son of a bitch, you better think about it baby," being sung in sweet, four part harmony, I knew my instincts were right.

The Mortified reading series, in which willing participants read ephemera from their youth, teamed up with BRGC for a benefit show, raising $1,070 for Bright Pink, an organization that provides education and support to young women who are at high risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

If there's anything more incongruous than an a capella singing group using curse words, it's a fully grown woman reading a diary entry that she wrote at age nine that includes the phrase "don't pull my dick, bitch". I can't think of a more apt pairing than BRGC to set into words and music the angsty and awkward real-life moments that were shared onstage by brave women who, in their own words, read about struggles with weight loss, aspirations of becoming the next Christian rock pop star, being boy crazy, and being sent to bed without any dinner, to name a few.

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J.H. Palmer / Comments (1)

Review Tue May 17 2011

Pretty Swans "We Got Hot & Died"

phr25cover.jpgToday marks the official release of the debut full-length album from Pretty Swans. The album is entitled We Got Hot & Died (Pattern Hungry Records), and is based on the Chicago fire of 1871. As you can image it is not the most upbeat album, but it is unique listening experience. The album combines several style from simple acoustic melodies, to the heavy and lazy fuzz of "Go Die in a Car Fire". The album really touches the a full scale of sounds, there are slowed down beautiful melodies, and scorching tracks filled with flames and an array of instruments. This is the latest project from Russ Woods (aka Tinyfolk).

My favorite track is "You Fell Over" with its looping and almost frantic guitar line-up working in director opposition to everything else in this song. It is a perfect juxtaposition, and just one of many in this album.

Jason Behrends

Review Tue May 17 2011

Review: US Air Guitar Championships Chicago Regionals @ Double Door 5/12

Chicago crowned a champion Thursday night at the Double Door. Twenty contestants took the stage, strapped on their air guitars and shredded for greatness, but only one could could take home the title of Chicago's air guitar god.

And in the end, it was a familiar deity: Three-time Chicago champion Nordic Thunder will once again represent his home turf when the National Finals rock the Metro July 23 after a near-perfect score in the first round. But in the process the crowd met some amazing air guitarists, and fell in love with a worthy rival to Nordic Thunder's greatness -- a manimal by the name of Dry Ice.

2011 US Air Guitar Championships - Chicago Regionals
Nordic Thunder - photo by Chris Foresman

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Andrew Huff / Comments (1)

Concert Mon May 16 2011

Of Vinyl and Koalas

While it's an old hip-hop trope to cajole the audience to raise their hands in the ay-yer, I can safely say that Kid Koala's show at the Abbey Pub last Saturday was the first time I've seen an entire audience of adults stretch their hands to the ceiling to emulate growing bean stalks.

From the get-go, Kid Koala, aka Montreal-based turntablist Eric San, made it clear that the night was going to take an interesting turn. "I want to get away from the dance floor," he said, referencing his career, which certainly hasn't followed a normal house DJ trajectory. While he's certainly capable of weaving unlikely samples together into a riotous dance fest, he tends to veer toward unlikely caches, including brassy jazz, swampy bayou blues, shredder guitar rock, and atmospheric space trips. He opened his set with slides from his graphic novel, animated storyboards from a breakdance cartoon he's illustrating, and previews of other musical projects.

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Kara Luger

Review Wed May 11 2011

Review: Here We Go Magic, AroarA @ Schubas

There's not much of a chance that the band Here We Go Magic won't have fun shows. There's pogo-ing, head to toe bobbing, hip shimmying, and overall glee (and that was just the folks on stage). The group brought their joy to the intimate confines of Schubas Tavern Monday night and wowed an eager group of fans new and old.

Lead singer Luke Temple, guitarist Michael Bloch, bassist Jennifer Turner, and drummer Peter Hale were all rocking out in Chicago, with keyboardist Kristina Lieberson absent, her role was filled by the extremely capable hands of Andrew Whiteman (Broken Social Scene, Apostle of Hustle) and wife Ariel Engle. The duo also formed the opening act, AroarA which came off at first as a bit of a performance piece, but with their remarkable singing and interesting percussion experimentation, it was actually a fine intro to the night's entertainment.

Celebrating a kind of pre-release night for their new release The January EP (available as of yesterday from Secretly Canadian), the band seemed at once polished and still grooving in experimentalism. Not afraid to take some risks, their songs, new and old, range from the straight ahead songs of love and loss, to hooting, looping riffs that take you right off the cliff and into the ocean. It's not a surprise that they're spending part of this tour with tUnE-yArDs (sadly, not this stop) who also thrive on risk taking and vocal interplay with their music.

The band rang through it's past two albums with great ease and grace, hitting songs like "Collector" (with its orchestral sweeps of guitar) and "Fangela" (hand claps!) out of the park with the audience. They played some of the best tracks from last year's Pigeons including the lamenting "Casual" and "Surprise" as well as songs from the band's self-titled debut, and a few from the new EP including the (downloadable) "Hands In The Sky". I really liked what they did with "Hibernation," as they slowed it down and made it lower, funkier, with a stronger bass line which took the '80s throwback tone out and made it much more like a revamped reggae song. The loops and sibilance, whispered through the background of "Tunnelvision" were mesmerizing, and the band encored with "Only Pieces" to the crowd's sheer joy.

All in all, the crowd that ventured out on Monday got exactly the kind of auditory cornucopia that Here We Go Magic can provide so well. The band will do well to keep bringing their big sound to venues where art students and dance freaks can get groovy, though I wouldn't be surprised to see them at an outside festival this summer, where a guy or gal could get their twirl on, spinning around the grass.

Anne Holub

Review Tue May 10 2011

Review: ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead & Surfer Blood

Gongs rang and unearthly voices chanted eerily over unseen speakers, filling the air over an empty Bottom Lounge stage. Four guys entered stage left and the noise stopped; silence for two seconds. "That was pretty fucking awesome!" screams ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of the Dead's Jason Reece. The band brawled into the guitar builds of "Strange News From Another Planet". And that is how Saturday night began.

Of all the things which could be written about Trail of the Dead, the one thing that could not be written about the band is that they are boring subject matter. They are not one of those bands that stands there and just plays their instruments. Frontman Conrad Keely lamented into the microphone, jugular veins popping, open mouthed and face scrunched, Jamie Miller's cymbals didn't come up for air, and Reece jumped and swung his arms around the strings of his guitar. The band doesn't write boring songs either. Their second song, "Spinal Jetty," was a dark Alice in Wonderland meets Chronicles of Narnia journey of "falling down through a hole in the ground/let[ting] the minute men carry you back to the winter queen's home". The song is not lyrically sparse on the band's new release Tao of the Dead, but it seemed to be so live as the three stringed members rocked out to one another for extended periods of time. All three moving back to their microphones only scream choruses into them in unison.

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Bonnie Page

Review Sun May 08 2011

Review: The Felice Brothers @ Lincoln Hall

scrap•py/ˈskrapē/Adjective: Consisting of disorganized, untidy, or incomplete parts; Fragmented; Full of fighting spirit. There is no other word which more accurately summates The Felice Brothers set Friday night at Lincoln Hall; from the musical arrangements, to the plaid shirts and shaggy haircuts. The down-home five piece, consisting of a pair of Catskill raised brothers surnamed Felice, a former traveling diceman and two close friends, can't help but make authentic, backcountry folk-rock music. But as down-home as that may sound, they are most certainly not just another backporch washboard band. They took their root sound and disjointed and dirtied it up with an old-world like accordion, 808's, trumpets, samples and synthesizers (yes, synthesizers).

The ragtag bunch took the stage, to an almost full house, lead by the Dylan-like vocals of Ian Felice (guitar/vocals) and supported by James Felice (accordion/keyboards/part-time vocals), Christmas Clapton (bass/part-time vocals/former diceman), Greg Farley (fiddle/drum machine/part-time drummer) and Dave Turbeville (full-time drums). They've gained a certain notoriety over the past five years, particularly due to a Newport Folk Fest set in which they played acoustically because of a weather induced power outage, but also for getting their start as subway musicians and recording their first three albums in chicken coops — Like I said, scrappy. After a few warm up songs, the recognition was obvious and on lips of the front row Lincoln Hall crowd — most of them repeated lyrics back to the band while dancing in a disorganized manner.

Felice Brothers (photos by Ryan Bourque)

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Bonnie Page

Concert Sun May 08 2011

Review: Yelle @ Bottom Lounge, 5/6

Yelle (photos by Kirstie Shanley)

"Do you speak French Chicago?" purrs Yelle to her sold out audience Friday at the Bottom Lounge. The crowd chimes back an immediate and ecstatic "Oui," but language isn't really a barrier when your music clearly exist for the sole purpose of dancing, fun, and sex.

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Lisa White

Review Sun May 08 2011

Review: Of Montreal @ The Vic

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Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes (photos by Rory O'Connor)

For anyone that's ever seen Of Montreal perform before the typical questions when seeing this band the next time aren't "Will they play a good set?" or "What will the encore song be?" The questions on return customers minds are probably more along the lines of "What types of circus-like antics will Of Montreal bring to the stage this time?" and "How many wardrobe changes will lead singer Kevin Barnes incorporate into his performance?"

Three. That's the answer to the later question in regards to Thursday night's show at The Vic. Of Montreal strive to be more than just bodies on a stage, strumming guitars and plunking keys on a keyboard. Every song is a theatrical production for this band and attending one of their concerts is akin to taking a psychedelic journey into the minds of Barnes and his bandmates. Thursday night's musical voyage was accompanied by an eight-piece band, two giant video screens serving up tasty neon images, and fat suits. For real.

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Of Montreal (photos by Rory O'Connor)

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Katie Karpowicz / Comments (1)

Review Fri May 06 2011

Review: Face to Face @ Bottom Lounge, 5/5

It can't be easy for a band to celebrate 20 years on the road. Everyone in every city only wants to hear old songs and new material essentially needs permission to be played. But this isn't Face to Face's first rodeo. (Remember, this is a band who had a "farewell" tour in 2004.) They know they owe their successes to the fans, so they're prepared to give the fans what they want. And, oh my, was Thursday's show at the Bottom Lounge ever for fans of old songs. Other than three new tunes that were almost begrudgingly accepted and one from 2002's How to Ruin Everything, the set list could've been lifted from a show in 1996. Ten seconds into opener "You Lied", the crowd was singing, pogoing and moshing (or, at least, something resembling it) along to the punk power riffs and angsty lyrics that've defined Face to Face.

Aside from singer Trever Keith being a little ill and his voice lagging a bit, Face to Face sounded top-notch with tight guitaring as the highlight. (Longtime bassist Scott Shiflett, guitarist Chad Yaro and a drummer I didn't recognize filled out the band.) Some of the songs from last night have been kicking around for 20 years and most of them live mirror the recorded versions everyone's heard hundreds (thousands?) of times, but they still pack just the right punch. Rarely did they stray. From "Struggle" to "Pastel" to "Complicated", the crowd was engaged and energized; singing along to every word, hurling fists in the air, picking up strangers who couldn't keep balance and blocking out moshers so that someone could find a dropped Blackberry. Even though they do have a new album coming out in a couple weeks (Laugh Now, Laugh Later), last night felt more like a greatest hits show with a band probably past their prime but far from over. And if they continue in that vein, no one'll be complaining.

James Ziegenfus

Review Sat Apr 23 2011

Review: Greek Fire/AM Taxi @ Cubby Bear

Last night Cubby Bear played host to Q101's new music series, "The Q-Up Show" featuring St. Louis, MO breakout act Greek Fire and Chicago's own AM Taxi. The few of us in attendance that didn't overindulge in overpriced Bud Light woke up this morning with the fresh memory of an excellent show.

Pieced together by members of St. Louis's veteran alternative act Story of the Year and other local musicians, Greek Fire's intense on-stage energy and its ability to transcend typical alternative rock conventions have caused a lot of buzz within the band's own local music scene. Judging by crowd's reception of Greek Fire last night, that buzz is starting to filter out nationally.

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Katie Karpowicz

Review Tue Apr 12 2011

Review: Sharon Van Etten @ Lincoln Hall, 4/9/11


"I write moments," says Sharon Van Etten. Judging by her lyrics, Sharon Van Etten has had many heavy-hearted moments. On Saturday night at Lincoln Hall, she let the audience in on those moments as she sang the universal feelings of frustration, betrayal, obsession and the let down that comes with love that isn't, doesn't and just can't work. She does it all with minimal instrumentation and an emotively sweet folk sound.

Symbolically, Sharon Van Etten opened her Lincoln Hall set alone. There were no backup singers, no costumes, no displays of multi-colored lights, no smoke; just Sharon and her slow electric guitar strums. With which, she beautifully portrayed her feelings of anguish and frustration in "Consolation Prize" from the album Because I was in Love. The moral of the story was: no one wants to be a consolation prize. And Lincoln Hall stood silently letting the message fall over them.

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Bonnie Page / Comments (3)

Review Fri Apr 08 2011

Review: The Raveonettes, Tamaryn @ Lincoln Hall, 4/6

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Tamryn (photo by Rory O'Connor)

Based on recent hype, it wouldn't've been surprising to see a full house (instead of a stream of late arrivers) for Tamaryn on Wednesday at Lincoln Hall. Her debut album The Waves has been fawned over for its ethereal shoegaze sound, something like a very laid-back Jesus & Mary Chain. However, it never veers far from that airy comfort zone of distortion. And that's why, despite Tamaryn's lovely soothing voice, her show simply isn't very exciting. The Waves is fantastic as white noise; not so much as a performance.

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(photo by Rory O'Connor)

Projections of oceans and deserts fit the music perfectly. Songs vary slightly in tempo, but almost never in aesthetic. Tamaryn spent the first half of her 40-minute set obstructing her face and singing through her hair. She never said a word to the audience. That behavior is understandable as mystique, but there has to be a good reason for it. (Although, I suppose everyone has to start somewhere.) Her 3-piece band sounded fine while they rolled through the majority (if not all) of The Waves. Yes, there were some great moments like "Mild Confusion" and the upbeat "Love Fade", but too few.

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James Ziegenfus

Review Tue Apr 05 2011

Review: Brendan Kelly @ The Beat Kitchen, 4/3/11

Brendan Kelly (Photo by Katie Karpowicz)

Let's face it, if Chicagoans have bragging rights in one area (aside from our unfair ratio of cold to warm-weather months) it's our punk scene. With loads of local labels, venues, festivals and artists, in addition to a constant influx of national acts, it's not hard to find a good show around the city on any given night. As was the case Sunday night at the Beat Kitchen. Red Scare put together yet another great lineup combining both local great Brendan Kelly and national bands White Wives and The Haverchucks.

The Haverchucks, native to Richmond, VA, celebrated their first ever Chicago show last night. Judging by the sounds off their free demo and the sights at last night's show, The 'Chucks aren't reinventing the wheel when it comes to pop punk, but they're certainly staying on par with other up and comers in the genre. The band rocked their way through a fast-paced set and didn't seem to have much trouble getting the few dozen folks who showed up early to take notice.

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Katie Karpowicz

Concert Thu Mar 31 2011

Review: Destroyer @ Lincoln Hall, 3/29/11

[This review was contributed by Gapers Block: Tailgate writer Brian Lauvray.]

It's about 20 minutes since Dan Bejar and his revolving cast of musicians that he and we call Destroyer have left the stage. He's outside crouched and cramming instruments into the tour bus. "Bejar, do you need a hand?" I shout. "No, I'm OK, man. Thanks for coming out." We chat for a few minutes about the times I've seen Destroyer in Chicago — in 2005 as an opener for The New Pornographers, in 2006 as a solo act at the Abbey Pub, '06 again at Pitchfork, '08 at the Logan Square Auditorium, '09 (solo) at the Empty Bottle and now, tonight, at Lincoln Hall.

Every Destroyer show is a great show. The sound engineering, the tunings, the aural roar and the measured silences are amazing. From a technical standpoint, the proficiency of the sound engineers, the musicians, even Bejar's patented slurring, sliding and "La-la-la-la-la-ing" his way through his songs, were all top-notch, exactly what one expects for a Destroyer show. The venues are the non-constant in this equation, and the venues are more often than not the culprit. This evening — and caveat, oh, please, caveats, dear reader — the rote predictability of the venue, the audience, the set list, me bitching about "rote predictability" all converged to make for merely an "OK" Destroyer show.

Bear in mind, this isn't a bad thing necessarily. An OK Destroyer show still batters the ever-loving stuffing from most shows, it was just, y'know, a relatively sterile venue jam-packed with holier-than-thou college kids (yes, in 2001 when Streethawk: A Seduction came out, I, too, was a holier-than-thou college kid.) The set list, consisting nearly entirely of Destroyer's latest Kaputt, was simply just not enough to showcase the voluminous back catalog of Bejar. Nor, did it highlight the uniqueness of the musicians as in shows past — typically there have been impossibly stripped down versions of (Bejar solo) or jazzed, tweaked, and more "rocktacular" versions of originally bare songs. There were a few moments like that, the version of "It's Gonna Take An Airplane" was unbelievably cranked up and rocked out version that bore little resemblance to the barren, acoustic version from Your Blues.

Still, the setlist, the ambience, the crowd — it mattered little when able to witness the sly and winking lyrics of Bejar converge so perfectly with such a tight band. An OK Destroyer show was more than enough on a random Tuesday night in March.

Brian Lauvray

Review Sun Mar 27 2011

Review: Godspeed You Black Emperor @ Metro, 3/26/11

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Godspeed You Black Emperor (photos by Kirstie Shanley)

Godspeed You Black Emperor's hiatus has done wonders for their publicity. This weekend's Metro shows sold out six months ahead of time and the queue snaked around Gingerman before doors had opened. And all of this for a band who, in my experience, basically has contempt for the type of people who'd pay money to see them perform. (Let's just say I was not pleased when I last saw them eight years ago minus a week. Though, while I have an aside, the first time I saw them is one of the best performances I've ever heard.)

The 8-person collective (3 on guitar, 2 on bass, 2 on percussion, 1 on violin) took the stage one by one shortly after 10PM and built into "Hope Drone", a low-key drone while "Hope" flashed on a screen. (Good title, right?) From there they transitioned into compositions spanning their career, from sections of their debut F♯ A♯ ∞ to two lengthy parts of their breakout Lift Your Skinny Fists... and their last official release Yanqui U.X.O. They even dropped in something that never made it to an album. And the evening closed with both sides of their brilliant Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada EP. They excelled with crescendos and were absolutely enthralling when the tempo picked up, and even sometimes when it didn't and their dense brooding style tugged at emotions.

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Godspeed You Black Emperor (photos by Kirstie Shanley)

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James Ziegenfus

Review Sun Mar 27 2011

Review: Chapel Club @ Double Door, 3/23/11

There are a few things that I was expecting from London's Chapel Club at the Double Door on Wednesday: polished new wave sounds and a certain knee quivering baritone that can't help but hint at Ian Curtis or Jim Morrison. What I wasn't expecting was five oh-so-humble-and-endearing yet really young looking twenty-somethings.

The five members of Chapel Club took the stage with anthemic guitar soundscapes of "Five Trees" set to blue house lights. The stringed instruments controlled most of the groups short set. Aside from Bowman graciously thanking the crowd, the most endearing aspect may have been lead singer Lewis Bowman's baritone vocals. Bowman introduced "Bodies" as a pleasant little love song before richly lingering over each song's lyrics. Most of the previously mentioned knee quivers occurred during the stripped down choruses of "Bodies". The only complaint about the song was that the vocals needed to be turned up.

From there, the group played the leisurely "Paper Thin" off the group's debut release, Palace. Bowman lightly held the microphone while breathing over the lyrics to "Window" and contemplated life choices, like either settling down or messing around with someone else's wife . They went into "O Maybe I", finally ending the set with the pop-y "Eastern Girls". While there was nothing ground-breaking about the set, as a longtime sucker for a baritone, I had nothing to complain about.

Bonnie Page / Comments (1)

Review Wed Mar 23 2011

Review: Wanda Jackson @ Lincoln Hall, 3/22

Thankfully, in music, unlike monarchies, people are not simply born with royal titles; they earn them over decades of success. Last night at Lincoln Hall, it didn't take a genius to figure out why Wanda Jackson's been dubbed the Queen of Rockabilly. The 73-year old Oklahoman has been performing over 50 years, is a major influence on countless women in rock'n'roll and country music and has a thorough arsenal of hits.

Of course, being a queen also means there's a little bit of drama involved. She missed rehearsal for her first night with Nashville's Hi-Dollars, forgot lyrics and cues, rambled on tangents, lost her trains of thought, etc. Her signature growl is still in good shape and she was very animated and gracious, but the 70-minute set rarely built any momentum. She roared out of the gate with the Lieber/Stoller classic "Riot in Cell Block #9" and then gave a lengthy introduction that was followed up with two Elvis Presley songs, notably a rambunctious "Heartbreak Hotel."

From there she lauded Jack White for pulling her from the verge of retirement and played 4 songs from her latest album, The Party Ain't Over. She had amusing stories for each before getting back to some of what initially made her famous with "Fujiyama Mama." (I always thought it was crazy that that song was a phenomenon in Japan with lyrics like "I've been to Nagasaki [and] Hiroshima too. The same I did to them, baby, I can do to you.") An endorsement of the Lord almost completely lost the crowd, but "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" revived us. She ended the set with her smash "Let's Have a Party" before returning for a medley of hits as an encore. When she was performing from her regular repertoire, she was a tour de force. But when she ventured outside of her wheelhouse, results were a bit more mixed. Since last night was the first night of the tour, hopefully, those kinks get worked out.

James Ziegenfus / Comments (1)

Review Mon Mar 14 2011

Review: OMD @ Park West, 3/12

Andy McCluskey
Photos by Dave Knapik

Despite the wishes of their most ardent fans and even the band themselves, no discussion of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark is complete without mentioning "If You Leave". Although OMD had a string of brilliant, and far superior, songs prior to appearing on the soundtrack to John Hughes' 1986 film "Pretty in Pink", "If You Leave" catapulted them into Stateside stardom. Success can be a double-edged sword, however, and as the song became an icon in its own right, it quickly eclipsed much of their other work. It came as little surprise then that Andy McCluskey introduced it on Saturday night at the Park West as the song that nearly ended their career. The earnestness with which they performed it, however, proved that the best way to face the parts of the past you like least is by embracing them.

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Dave Knapik

Review Sun Mar 13 2011

Review: Obits @ Empty Bottle, 3/12

Obits have often been quoted as saying, "We're not into innovation as a band." The Brooklyn foursome's debut album was a full-on rock'n'roll powerhouse and the forthcoming Moody, Standard & Poor is no different. Singer/guitarist Rick Froberg (Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes, et al.) pulls from a similar vein as his other projects with a distinct wail as the calling card over a pummeling rhythm section and ominous surf-rockish guitars. Saturday's set at a packed Empty Bottle began with a few new tracks that were received with the typical applause and whoops of unheard music from a trusted source, but it wasn't until they dropped in known tunes ("SUD", followed by "Widow of My Dreams") that the crowd came around with manic cheers and hollers.

From there, Obits indulged the fervent audience with recognizable songs mixed with new ones. As evidence of how new some of them are, even guitarist Sohrab Habibion muffed a title, to the amused chagrin of Froberg. But who really needs to know song titles when the musicianship is so spot-on? Obits barely missed a beat, which shouldn't be surprising for a band that supposedly rehearsed for a couple years before their first live show. What's remarkable about Obits is that, on the surface, nothing they do seems like it isn't being done by a thousand other bands right now. Yet they pool their ingredients in a way that no one else does and come across harder and leaner than nearly anyone.

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James Ziegenfus / Comments (1)

Review Sun Mar 13 2011

Review: The Get Up Kids @ the Bottom Lounge

Audience members reaction to The Get Up Kids' set Friday night at the Bottom Lounge was as expected: eruptive excitement during any pre-breakup tune and respectful tolerance of anything off their first post-reunion full-length, 2011's There Are Rules. This can be expected of almost any band touring after a post-reunion release. Even the most loyal and accepting fans are still most likely in attendance to hear the songs that they waited years to hear again, not the ones that have only been around for few months.

After an awkward opening song — "Tithe" off the aforementioned TAR — things took a definite turn for a better when the opening chords of Something To Write Home About's "Action and Action" came blaring through the speakers. This pattern persisted throughout the night. Crowd members raged with excitement during songs off Four Minute Mile and Guilt Show, and kept conversation to a dull murmur during songs off the band's most recent release. To their credit, The Get Up Kids put on a great show and did a fair job of rotating new and old tracks.

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Katie Karpowicz

Review Fri Mar 11 2011

Review: Portugal. The Man @ Lincoln Hall

Sporadic bursts of synthetic smoke, strobe-like lighting effects, five-minute bluesy breakdowns. All in a night's work for Portugal. The Man, a band that has come a long way since its origins in the unlikely town of Wasilla, Alaska to its recent major label signing with Atlantic Records.

Last night the quirky foursome was the guest of honor at one of Chicago's newest record labels, Audio Tree's, official launch party, hosted by Lincoln Hall. Openers included The Soil & the Sun and Audio Tree's first signed act, Kellen & Me.

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Katie Karpowicz

Review Mon Mar 07 2011

Review: Girl Talk @ Congress Theater 3/5/11

Photos by Steve Stearns

Greg Gillis has a sweet gig and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone to argue that point. Every night is a party for Gillis —performing under the pseudonym Girl Talk — and he's always at the center of it. Gillis has been dominating the world of mash-up — a genre that he helped to create — for almost 7 years now. On Nov. 15, 2010, Girl Talk surprised everyone in the best way by releasing All Day, the DJs newest album — released for free download (via Illegal Art) with no prior advertising.

This weekend Girl Talk made his triumphant return to Chicago. GT has played some legendary shows here in the past, so it's no surprise that he was able to sell out the 4,000-person-capacity Congress Theater two nights in a row.

Photos by Steve Stearns

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Katie Karpowicz / Comments (1)

Review Thu Mar 03 2011

Review: Cheap Time, Zoobombs, Ramma Lamma @ Empty Bottle, 3/2

Cheap Time and Ramma Lamma bookended a very rock'n'roll night at the Empty Bottle with tight sets leaning toward garage rock. Ramma Lamma's male/female vocals are always good for wailing and the short songs keep their momentum humming. Cheap Time's catchiness fits perfectly in with other current gritty rock bands leaning toward power-pop. Though their new record Fantastic Explanations (and Similar Situations) doesn't pack the same jolt as their self-titled debut, its songs came across lively and the band, like Ramma Lamma, left little room for chatter in a brief set. Perhaps as a statement to living in the now (after some personnel changes), they relied mostly on Fantastic Explanations for the set and only played "Glitter & Gold" from their first LP.

But it was Zoobombs who brought the spectacle. The Japanese foursome plowed through psych-rock, punk, a little metal and a lot of noise. Singer Don Matsuo flailed around the stage, spastically playing his guitar, smacking the keyboards and using whomever's microphone he was closest to. He sang, he screamed, he yelped. When Zoobombs rocked, they did so with gusto much like a Jon Spencer. (I guess they learned something while on the road with him.) Although their highs were the highest of the evening, their lows were the lowest. Seemingly endless noise - meandering organs, guitar feedback, intermittent percussion - broke up songs that had been chugging along. The sparse crowd took it as breaks to amble between the bar and a comfortable distance from the stage. But when they had focus, they brought the heat and that certainly outweighed the lulls.

James Ziegenfus

Review Wed Mar 02 2011

Review: Asobi Seksu and BRAHMS @ Empty Bottle

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Yuki Chikudate of Asobi Seksu (photos by Steve Stearns)

It's been said that Asobi Seksu Asobi Seksu is plays somewhere in the dreamy pop realm of ambient shoegaze — or something like that. While it's easy to see why singer/keyboardist/cute front girl Yuki Chikudate would fit those sorts of descriptions with her soft and often operatic soprano, at Empty Bottle on Monday night those descriptors just didn't fit. Asobi Seksu may have released shoe gaze albums in the past, but Monday there was just too much noise (of the really fantastic variety). Asobi Seksu seems to be pushing the experimental envelope, and while not completely leaving shoegaze behind, they took it to harder places on Monday night.

Generally, it is Chikudate's vocals that are at the forefront of the groups tracks, but as song "Put the Drummer in Front" suggests, that isn't necessarily the case all of the time. Throughout the set guitarist James Hanna wailed out thunderous guitar riffs which sounded more punk-like, with their rowdy tempos, than anything shoegazey (although Hanna did look at his shoes a lot). While Hanna was gazing, drummer Larry Gorman's sticks flew across his kit with heavy hits so fast that it looked like Empty Bottle had a strobe light on him — they didn't, he's just really fast.

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James Hanna (photos by Steve Stearns)

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Bonnie Page / Comments (1)

Review Mon Feb 28 2011

Review: Dropkick Murphys/Naked Raygun @ Congress Theater

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Al Barr of Dropkick Murphys (Photos by Katie Hovland)

It doesn't take much urging for Chicagoans to boast their Irish pride, love for good music ans appreciation of cold beer. The same can be said for Boston-based punk rockers the Dropkick Murphys. So it's no surprise that these two collectives meshed Saturday night at the Congress Theater. Celebrating the release of their seventh studio album, Going Out In Style, this Tuesday and more than 15 years of being a band, Dropkick Murphys plowed through a 90-minute set with relentless energy.

But before the spectacle that was the Dropkick Murphys took the stage, attendees were graced with a performance from iconic members of the Chicago punk scene Naked Raygun. Since Naked Raygun's official reunion in 2006, fans that first fell in love with the band thirty years ago have been given another chance to see and hear classics like "Surf Combat" and "Wonder Beer" played live.

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Naked Raygun's Jeff Pezzati (Photos by Katie Hovland)

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Katie Karpowicz

Review Sat Feb 26 2011

Review: Dum Dum Girls @ Empty Bottle 2/24

Dum Dum Girls bassist Bambi (Photos by Dave Knapik)

There's an obvious formula to girl groups: a few attractive females plus revealing clothing and any sort of gimmicky feature equals record company cash. For the most part, it's played out. The Dum Dum Girls, however, manage to pull off girl group without it feeling formulaic. Even though the Dum Dum Girls are four good-looking females, in a band, they strummed the girly-goody-goodiness out of their guitars (or beat it out of their drum kit) at the sold out Empty Bottle show Thursday night.

The Girl's ability to dodge formula may also have something to do with the fact that the group's album I Will Be was born out of lead singer Dee Dee as a bedroom solo-project. Dee Dee combined a buzz sawed up garage-pop sound with dark lyrical themes and dressed them up with sweet sounding harmonies and '60s girl group "baby baby" choruses. Adding band mates, Jules (guitar and vocals), Bambi (bass), and Sandy (drums and vocals), for live purposes. They are often lumped with other in vogue retro bands like Best Coast, but they are much darker, even though both write about drugs and boys.

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Bonnie Page

Review Tue Feb 22 2011

Review: Dismemberment Plan @ Metro 2/20

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Dismemberment Plan (Photos by Katie Hovland)

"The only thing worse than bad memories/ Is no memories at all" goes the Dismemberment Plan song "Spider in the Snow". If that's how The Plan felt, then Sunday's Metro crowd would probably rephrase that lyric slightly to match their collective feeling: "The only thing worse than the breakup of your favorite mid-'90s indie band is no reunion tour". The post-punk band, known for their math-rockish arrangements, broke up in 2003 leaving many an angsty-early-adulter to find their relatable angst rock elsewhere. Now a bit older, the typical Dismemberment Plan fan, piled into the Metro Sunday night for day 2 of 2nd of the Dismemberment Plan's Chicago shows.

Interestingly, Dismemberment Plan named themselves after a phrase spoken by the insurance salesman in the movie Ground Hog Day. The Ground Hog Day tribute seems to suit the quartet's sense of humor and they manage to work it into their straight forward lyrical style the quirky and ironic (such as "Do the Standing Still" and "Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich") which were interspersed between the more emotional of their Sunday night songs. And they've always highly regarded for the goofy, feel-good energy of their live shows. Sunday night was no different.

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Bonnie Page / Comments (1)

Review Sun Feb 20 2011

Review: Future Islands @ Empty Bottle 2/19


Some things are just hard to describe. Like trying to describe the torment and intensity inside of Future Island's front man Sam Herring. Or Herring's theatrical command over Empty Bottle on Saturday night. Or like trying to describe the genre Future Islands fits into. Luckily, Future Islands has already solved the issue of trying to describe their sound by creating their own genre; they call it post-wave. It's something like a heavily texturized post-punk slash new-wave set to growling, howling vocals. The Saturday night show was a little harder to depict. It was like the moody, jarring and distorted saga of the band's album In Evening Air (plus a few new tracks) were taken over and re-enacted by Herring with irrepressible drama.

Herring commandeered the Empty Bottle from the second he took the stage. With an ominous eyeball he isolated and stared down the individuals in front of him before stepping further into character and growling into opening track "The Great Fire". Herring, balanced out by stoic band mates J. Gerrit Welmers (keyboard) and William Cashion (bass/guitar), proceeded with two more unreleased tracks before getting into the reverbed, industrial noise that opens up beat driven "An Apology". The song won instant recognition from the Bottle crowd. Following the song, Herring stepped out of character for a minute, to exclaim "I am so fucking happy to be in Chicago! Goddamn!".

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Bonnie Page

Review Sat Feb 12 2011

Review: Hollerado and Gang of Four at Metro 2/11

To Encyclopedia Britannica "Gang of Four" is a notorious faction of the counter-revolutionary forces to the Chinese Communist Party who were responsible for massive societal chaos. To a Friday night Metro crowd "Gang of Four" is THE politically motivated post-punk band from the late '70's early '80s who were responsible for an hour and a half set of fervor- inducing, hard-angled music.

Despite their graying hair and softened bellies, the remaining two of the original Gang of Four members, singer Jon King and guitarist Andy Gill, reassured the packed house that they haven't lost their edges and angles. Leather outfitted King jerked around the stage with almost reckless abandon, gyrating against the microphone, arms crossed overhead. Antithesis to the antics of King was Gill's deadpan backing vocals, steely persona, and familiar, aggressive staccato.

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Bonnie Page

Review Wed Feb 09 2011

Review: The Radio Dept. @ Empty Bottle, 2/8

I should mention up top that I went to this show in place of another Transmissioner who was under the weather. However, until Tuesday's early gig, I hadn't consciously heard the Radio Dept. in nearly 7 years because [name redacted] adored their first album, listened to it often and then ended our relationship in a brutal manner. After that their presence just sort of eroded in my memory. But every band deserves a second shot, even if the people who introduce them to you don't.

The Radio Dept. once came off as a Jesus & Mary Chain soundalike that happened to incorporate electronic beats. Over the years they've flipped it to where the focus appears to be the electronics. (They even ditched the live drummer.) Distorted guitars still play a major role, but now the band sounds like a noisy male-led Saint Etienne with elements of jangly C86 music. Songs become recognizable on the beats and then bring in guitars and vocals like clockwork. The Swedish trio eased into their set thanks to each tune's reception of hoots, hollers and excited applause (and requests for "Bad Reputation") from a clearly rabid audience.

Once they fell into their groove, they plowed through 45 minutes that hit across the stages of their career. From their most shoegaze-like "Why Won't You Talk About It?" to the recent "David" sounding like the Junior Boys to numerous other songs between those styles. (A guy standing behind me said he only knew them from Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, so I don't feel too bad about forgetting some song titles.) With every song clocking in under 5 minutes and the night being on a timer, it wasn't a surprise that the band ended early to the disappointment of the crowd. They got on stage, played well, cracked a joke about it being too early to be drunk and made their exit. How about it for Swedes and their efficiency?

James Ziegenfus

Review Fri Feb 04 2011

Review: Less Than Jake @ the Bottom Lounge

Four years ago, longtime ska-punk scene members Less Than Jake were granted a release from their contract with Warner Bros. imprint Sire Records and began their own label, Sleep It Off Records. This was arguably one of the best moves the band has made throughout the course of its nearly 20-year career.

Fan's reaction to LTJ's final record with Sire, 2006's Out With The In Crowd, was painfully dismal. As the band continued to drift further and further away from its ska roots, even longtime fans began to remark that it might be time for Less Than Jake to throw in the towel.

If it weren't for the resilience of these ska-punk veterans, last night's show at the Bottom Lounge would not have been such a good time. Not long after LTJ's departure from Sire the band began replacing Warner Bros.-produced singles with older catalogue selections during touring cycles and recording what would become 2008's GNV FLA, an homage to the band's beginnings in Gainesville, Florida. Less Than Jake fans wanted the old Less Than Jake back and that's what the band was finally giving them.

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Katie Karpowicz

Review Fri Feb 04 2011

Review: Steve Dawson @ The Hideout, 1/28/11

[Reviews and photo submitted by reader Rob Reid.]

The last year was a good one for Steve Dawson's current project, a collaboration with a tremendous backing band — Frank Rosaly on drums, Jason Roebke on bass, and Jason Adasiewicz on vibes. In May of 2010 they celebrated the release of Dawson's second solo album, the organic and emotive I Will Miss the Trumpets and the Drums with a release party at the Old Town School of Folk Music, and followed up with regular gigs at city and regional venues. Last weekend's show at the Hideout (a venue whose sepia tones befit the alt country scene) — where they were joined by Alton Smith on keyboard and accordion — is evidence that they're only getting better. While on the surface it might seem like the jazz cats in Dawson's group would be overqualified to play singer/songwriter fare, this group not only excels at weaving an emotional fabric around Dawson's expressive vocal and guitar lines, but also sneaks in free jazz style jams throughout the set. This is a group that clearly has fun on stage, and likewise is fun to watch.

Following a lively and engaging set by Melanie Budd, one of Dawson's overachieving songwriting students at the Old Town School of Folk Music, Dawson's band gently eased into "The Monkey Mind is on the Prowl." Murmurs in the crowd revealed that the strange keyboard instrument that Diane Christiansen (Dawson's wife and Dolly Varden collaborator) blew into was a melodica. Patiently building the set, Dawson's band followed with his fingerstyle gem "Long Overdue." This tune — performed with only bare guitar and vocals on the album — was given a little extra kick from the band's shuffling groove. It wasn't until the third song that Dawson picked up the energy with the anthemic "Obsidian," followed by a cover of Buck Owens' "Your Tender Loving Care."


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Review Mon Jan 31 2011

Review: Tapes n' Tapes & Oberhofer @ Lincoln Hall 1/29/11

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Tapes n' Tapes (photos by Steve Stearns)

Josh Grier's black Sturgis slogan'd t-shirt was a fitting choice; Sturgis tends to represent a rough and tough rock n' roll crowd. The same kind of raw energy that Greir's Minnesota-based indie-rock band Tapes n' Tapes pounded down on Saturday night's Lincoln Hall crowd. The quartet, framed by Erik Appelwick's visceral, fuzzy bass lines and Jeremy Hanson's insistent drum beats, compelled the crowd into a jerked dance motion from the first chords of "I'll Leave the Light On" to the house lights coming down after critically acclaimed "Insistor" and every song in between.

T-shirted Grier complimented his shaggy hair and '70s throwback mustache with plenty of hints of hazy Southern rock as the band, to percolating crowd fervor, intermixed songs from 2005's The Loon and 2011's The Outsider. The Outsider hasn't received the same critic fanfare afforded to their earlier release, but it's hard to follow up genius. Overall, tracks from The Outsider are softer, poppier and less stylized. The album also lacks the emotion and drama of the band's debut. Not one of those adjectives, however, applied to the band's Lincoln Hall show. The show could be described as hard hitting, jammed out rock n' roll anthems texturized by Matt Kretzmann's horns and keys plus a dramatic echo'd vocals — a straight up rock show, never mind the indie part.

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Bonnie Page / Comments (3)

Review Sun Jan 30 2011

Review: Banner Pilot @ Beat Kitchen

Photo Credit: Kelly Lone

The best of shows are the ones that are just as enjoyable for the performers as the audience. Luckily for attendees of Saturday night's Banner Pilot show at the Beat Kitchen, such a balance was struck and the result was just plain fun.

As the late show headliner, Banner Pilot kicked off just before 11:30pm in front of a wildly receptive crowd. Of course, it's no wonder that Chicagoans would be drawn like moths to a flame to a band that cites both Alkaline Trio and the Lawrence Arms as direct influences. What ensued next was forty minutes of fist pumping, hand clapping, anthemic punk rock.

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Katie Karpowicz

Review Mon Jan 24 2011

Review: Felix Da Housecat @ The Mid 1/22/11

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Saturday night was a juxtaposition of elements. It was old to new, experience to inexperience, Chicago legend to Chicago's latest club, Felix Da Housecat to The Mid. Felix is no newbie. The Detroit-born / Chicago native / L.A. relocated DJ started making house music in the middle of Chicago's second wave house scene at 15 years old (his first track "Phantasy Girl" blew up in Chicago in the summer of '87). And his 20+ years of throwing down is no joke.

Pre-Felix the Mid was primarily seated or hanging by the bar. As soon as he hit the decks the Chicago native took the Mid on a Rocket Ride. Post-Felix everyone from the Felix fans to the kids who just showed up were up, shaking with their arms waving overhead. As for the music, most people would have expected Felix to drop his usual catchy electro-clash-pop (see acclaimed Kittenz in the Glitz ), but on Saturday Felix focused on a more electronic sound, throwing in an eclectic mix of Chicago house classics and in-your-face-disco. Proof that "House music doesn't go anywhere, they just give it different names" (in an interview at Real Detroit Weeky ). It was a mix all two-stories could get down to.

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Bonnie Page

Review Sun Jan 16 2011

Review: The Concretes & Seapony @ Schubas, 1/15

tnkSponHeader.jpg The Concretes' latest album WYWH is a bit of a departure from the style that most people would associate them with. It's much more reliant on electronic beats than any of the organic indie-pop that they've released over the years. For that reason, their set list on Saturday sounded as if it had been picked from two entirely different bands. On one hand were non-WYWH songs where guitars led the way and on the other hand were WYWH jams that sounded as if their origin was based out of a drum machine. (This clearly was not a bother to the proud drunk who sauntered on stage uninvited and sloppily danced during one of WYWH's more upbeat songs, inciting her friends to scream approvingly.) Years ago there would've been no reason for two sets of keys/synths at a Concretes show. Now those instruments are used for nearly half of their songs.

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Concretes vocalist Lisa Milberg (Photos by Kirstie Shanley)

Fans can split into two separate groups when a band A) loses the dynamic vocalist that led them to initial fame; B) alters their musical style: 1) carry on as if it's no big deal and be open to the change (AC/DC effect); 2) mope about it not even being the same band and deride new material (Genesis effect). While WYWH songs weren't heckled or anything, it seemed clear that most people at Schubas fit into the latter category and saved the biggest applause for old songs like "Say Something New" and "You Can't Hurry Love" (played with almost a garage-rock dirtiness) from their first album. Singer Lisa Milberg's voice may not carry the same weight as Victoria Bergsman's did, but she handles herself well and lets the music pick up slack. Covers of Robert Palmer's "Johnny & Mary" and the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" showed the band having a little fun with their new disco-influenced sound.

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Concretes bassist Martin Hansson (Photos by Kirstie Shanley)

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James Ziegenfus

Concert Sat Jan 15 2011

Review: Freddie Gibbs @ Metro, 1/14


In the world of Gangsta rap, where stereotypes abound, the weed smoking rising and the misogynistic lyricism coupled with the constant chanting of "Fuck Police" during Friday night's Freddie Gibbs show might only perpetuate these ideas. But all the negative stereotypes fall to the wayside when you look at the raw talent the charismatic (and easy on the eyes) Gibbs possesses. The Gary, IN native had a bit of a homecoming party, the stage packed with an entourage milling about, while the simply monikered MC G hyped up the crowd with songs about kush and gunfire.

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Lisa White

Concert Fri Jan 14 2011

Review: The Besnard Lakes @ Lincoln Hall, 1/13


There are some shows you just don't want to end. The Besnard Lakes last night at Lincoln Hall was of those performances. Their ethereal albums are hypnotizing enough, but live everything is bigger, louder and more wicked. To look at the husband and wife team of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, you may expect flower power folk; instead you get a wallop of psych rock with modern electric touches.

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The Besnard Lakes' Lasek and Goreas (Photos by Kirstie Shanley)

Last summer the Montreal pair opened Millennium Park's Downtown Sound series at the open air Pritzker Pavilion. It seemed the most fitting way to hear the group, under the night's sky, but last night being up close and personal was that much more powerful — a different but equally compelling feeling. Their set got underway almost a half hour earlier than their scheduled 11 o'clock time since opening girl-group Frankie Rose & the Outs played for only 20 minutes. As the room filled up, the band hit full stride by "Land of the Living Skies". It was at times a transcendent experience, juxtaposed by the casual banter and stories from the band (including one about being compared to David Koresh!). We got plenty of Lasek's mighty falsetto on songs like "Chicago Train" and "This Is What We Call Progress", and he brought out a captivating white 12 string electric guitar for "Albatross", on which wife Goreas takes the lead on vocals. The contrasting sweetness of "Albatross" made the following song, "Like The Ocean", all the more haunting.

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Michelle Meywes

Review Thu Jan 13 2011

Review: The Helio Sequence, California Wives @ Lincoln Hall, 1/12

tnkSponHeader.jpg It'd been almost two years since the Helio Sequence played Chicago. Back then it was opening for Keane at the Aragon. Last night they were at the friendlier-sounding Lincoln Hall for the first night of Tomorrow Never Knows Fest. After a lengthy delay between sets, guitarist Brandon Summers and drummer Benjamin Weikel emerged from behind the curtain and immediately put forth an engaging performance highlighted by Weikel's energetic and chaotic drumming. The Portland duo have made a career of blending the raw Pacific Northwest indie-rock sound with ambient music and some psychedelic leanings. Take a little Quasi, a bit of Tristeza, some American Football and you'll eventually get the Helio Sequence.

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Helio Sequence drummer Benjamin Weikel (Photos by Kirstie Shanley)

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James Ziegenfus

Concert Sat Jan 01 2011

Review: Flosstradamus NYE @ Lincoln Hall, 12/31


Photo by Clayton Hauk

Hordes of lurching shoeless drunk girls shivering in tiny dresses, boys covered in glitter and sweat, and a dance floor littered with popped balloons and an air of bad decisions is just another typical New Year's Eve in Chicago. Maybe it was the unseasonably warm weather or maybe people were just ready to say good riddance to 2010, but the crowd packed into the Flosstradamus New Year's Eve party at Lincoln Hall were not content with just standing on the sidelines; they came to dance.

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Lisa White

Review Fri Dec 17 2010

Review: Tim Kasher @ The Vic Theatre with Minus the Bear


"You and I will be having words, sir," Tim Kasher called out to a heckler last night at the Vic Theatre. Kasher's one hour set at the Vic last night began with a nearly antagonistic audience. Murmurs of animosity rose from the audience Thursday night. Whether staged or actual, the shaky beginning of Kasher's set may have left many to believe that the mounting agitation of the crowd was planned in advance as a means of theatricality. Given Kasher's penchant for the dour and melancholy, this wouldn't have been a stretch.

However, Kasher seemed to be rollicking in the awkwardness of it all, and would often stop between his songs to add more self-flagellation to his already self-deprecating songs with statements like "It's true; I'm no good." Though Kasher immediately veered into deeply anguished territory, he just as quickly regained the audience he initially lost. Perhaps sensing that his audience, mostly 20-somethings, were disconnected from his unfolding suburban midlife crisis, he prefaced one song as being "the most slow and painful thing I will put you through at the Minus the Bear show." However, Kasher masterfully revived the audience back in time for Minus the Bear's set by pulling out old favorites like "Bloody Murderer" from the hugely successful Cursive album The Ugly Organ. But before Kasher played, the Canadian alt-country pop rockers Rah Rah opened with their danceable country-infused rock.

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Moises Montenegro

Review Sat Dec 04 2010

Review: Emergency Room @ Subterranean 12/2

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Emergency Room's Dan Andriano (photo by Katie Hovland)

"His voice sounds familiar; I feel like I've heard it somewhere before" says a girl at Subterranean as Dan Andriano's distinctive voice strained to reach a note. Andriano sounds so familiar because (a) his voice is so unique — vocal power builds from his stomach and mutedly emanates from somewhere in the middle of his throat for the climaxes while lisping over the chorus lines, and (b) because Adriano is, and has been, the bassist/singer for Chicago punk rock band Alkaline Trio since 1997. Aside from the comfortable familiarity of Andriano's voice, his Emergency Room side project is distinctly different from Alkaline Trio — it's all acoustic. And, while some of Andriano's angst seems to have softened over the past 13 years, his songwriting still expresses the same somber futilities of being.

Each of Emergency Room's songs felt like it was written alone, at a small table in a half-lit hotel room after days on the road. Fittingly, Andriano was on stage alone; just a mic and a guitar. "It's Gonna Rain All Day" and "September" were the first of the night to convey the theme. Underlining the lyrics, Andriano wailed out the AAAA AAAA's with his eyes closed and mouth wide open to the ceiling in "September". Later on Andriano weaved "Me and Denver" and "This Light" into the set. It was about waking up alone in hotel rooms, staring at the ceiling (It's Gonna Rain All Day") and missing and praying to get home soon ("Me and Denver"). It was about awkward silences over long distance discussions and being asked to come home ("This Light"). Emphasizing the message, Andriano even added a raspy cover of the Carole King song "So Far Away" (Doesn't anyone stay in one place anymore?).

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Bonnie Page / Comments (1)

Review Thu Nov 25 2010

Review: The Hood Internet @ The Metro, 11/24

The Hood Internet's set at last night's One Night Stand's Wobble Wobble Wobble (held at The Metro) didn't actually start until this morning--12:11 a.m. to be exact--making it the most enjoyable show I've ever attended on Thanksgiving. Alright, so I don't think I've ever been to another concert on Thanksgiving Day. Still, superlatives aside, it was awesome.

Reviewing any DJ set is difficult, mostly because the experience feels more like a giant party than a live show. Immediately following a set by fellow Chicago DJ duo Team Bayside High, one half of The Hood Internet, Steve Reidell aka STV SLV, took over the booth and kept the party raging for the entirety of his hour-long set.

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Katie Karpowicz / Comments (1)

Review Tue Nov 23 2010

Review: No Age @ Lincoln Hall 11/21

No Age's Randy Randall (photo by Rory O'Connor)

Sometimes you leave a show wishing you'd kept the $15.00 ticket price in your pocket. That feeling is especially disappointing if you went in expecting an hour or more of abandoned gyration to charged noise slash pop-punk and all you got was diluted pop-punk slash garage rock. Unfortunately, that was the general feeling after the (much anticipated) No Age show at Lincoln Hall on Sunday night.

The stripped down duo of Randy Randall (guitar) and Dean Allen Spunt (drums/vocals) stepped out from behind a white-sheet-made-projection-screen, clamped onto Lincoln Hall's normal black curtains, to an amped up, mostly wristband-less, crowd. Under pink lights (and to an inexplicable absence of fog), Randall strapped himself into his guitar and Spunt took a center-stage seat behind his drum set. The first spurts of feedback and heavy drum beats to "Life Prowler" (from latest album Everything in Between) incited instant mosh-pitting amongst the more angst-ridden members of the crowd and headbanging from the 21+'ers in the rows behind them. But as the set progressed, the collective mood averaged out to a dull boredom.

No Age's Dean Spunt (left) and Randy Randall (photo by Rory O'Connor)

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Bonnie Page / Comments (3)

Concert Mon Nov 22 2010

Review: Dastardly @ Metro 11/12

Although emerging Chicago band Dastardly has rightfully received some early critical acclaim for its unique blend of melodic roots with quasi-angstful experimentation, the band's self-description is as accurate as any: "Hear a man croon and howl about death, booze and love over a band that seems to understand what he's going on about; harmonious voices and instruments of the past collide with a confused and desperate present." Despite the early successes of his band, front man Gabe Liebowitz was jittery about their breakthrough first gig at the revered Metro. During the days leading up to the show, friends of the band's Facebook page could follow the charming chronicle of his pre-gig nightmares ("showing up onstage naked and our drummer puking during the first song. Have at it, aspiring psychologists!") and dreams ("I was hired by the Chicago Trolley Company as chief Muppet advisor...").

When showtime arrived, Liebowitz may have still been nervous, but he had no trouble transferring his nervous energy to a more productive and outwardly frenetic state. The opening track "Villains" began as gently and melodically as a 1930s country ballad, gradually introducing vocal harmonies by accordionist Sarah Morgan, before Andy Taylor's drum rolls thundered the piece to a higher energy as John Humbracht's banjo bled into the mix. The lyrical message wrapped up early in the song ("So I think you should gather yourself another hero/'cause I tried but if you really know me you'd be horrified") just as the electric instruments — Patrick Lyons' guitar and August Sheehy's bass — kicked up the intensity with straight time riffs. By now Liebowitz began to resemble a distant relative of Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson — hopping around the stage and up to the drummer's platform, transferring his energy first to his bandmates and then to the audience. The song built to an instrumental crescendo, before settling into one of the band's signatures — a subdued four part vocal harmony ending a capella.

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Album Mon Nov 22 2010

Kanye Joins The Perfect Ten Club

The critics have started speaking on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and so far it's been straight A's across the board. Not least of all is the weigh-in from Pitchfork, who awarded their first non-reissue perfect ten score since fellow Chicagoans Wilco released Yankee Hotel Foxtrot some eight years ago.

The interwebs predictably have some choice snark on hand about the rating.

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Dan Morgridge

Review Thu Nov 18 2010

Review: Delorean @ Lincoln Hall, 11/17

Delorean's strength is also a glaring weakness. The Barcelona electronic quartet has carved out a nice career over the last decade with gliding synths, pulsing beats, sturdy rhythms, long builds, and bridges galore. They sound at times like Cut Copy (or another synth-heavy rock band) in Ibiza. Their latest album, Subiza, is full of atmosphere with carefully constructed layers. It's a sonic marvel showing tremendous progression in their sound. But it has a flaw - sticking to the template too closely. Even though Subiza is one of my favorite albums of 2010, I have trouble differentiating between tracks and often hear it as background music. That's something a band can get away with on a record, though.

At Delorean's Chicago shows earlier this year (opening for Miike Snow at Metro in April, Pitchfork Music Festival/Empty Bottle in July) they displayed edginess under the guise of a rock band. They were loud and abrasive, relying on guitar hooks as well as synthesizers. At Wednesday's sold out show at Lincoln Hall, however, they appeared much more comfortable as a straight electronic outfit verging with rave/house. Programmed blips and bloops dominated the night. The guitar was audible, but not overwhelming. Even the vocals were a secondary element. Each song began soft and slowly built to a mid-range tempo. At some point, it'd inevitably break down and then shoot back up. Sometimes it ended with a cool down, other times with a hard stop or seguing into the next song. Rinse and repeat. Yet still it was entertaining. Delorean's music is extremely danceable and even the chatterboxes were at least tapping their feet, if not busting a move or two. (The same can't be said for those who were dragged along by a significant other.) An hour-long set flew by and the band sounded great for what it is they do best, even if it was a bit repetitive. But why fix what isn't broken, right?

James Ziegenfus / Comments (1)

Review Mon Nov 15 2010

Afterthoughts on The Blow at Empty Bottle, 11/13

Do I look like a pop star, Khaela Maricich asks, posing with a chin up, a back arched, a leg forward. She flips her new long hair over her shoulder. She is on stage all by herself, like, she just gets up there without a band or anything--just Melissa Dyne running the music offstage--and the performance is entirely minimalistic yet engaging. Do I look like a world famous lesbian, Khaela asks. To signal a comeback, Khaela throws up flame arms in one of her anecdotes between songs. I wish I had a capture of her repeating this gesture. It's great. She is great.

Khaela Maricich faces a blow of indoor wind and hot light.

The narrative told by The Blow on Saturday night is a love story, as always it is about love, and when you listen to songs about love being a fortress and couples making a pair of parentheses and Khaela dedicating a brand new song to her girlfriend in the back of the room somewhere, what else can you in the audience feel but this impatience to fall in love, if you are not already experiencing it at the moment.

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Vicky Lim / Comments (1)

Review Sun Nov 14 2010

Review: Twin Shadow and Glasser @ Lincoln Hall 11/13

Brooklyn based Twin Shadow and L.A. based Glasser are sort of like the odd couple as far as concert pairings go. Twin Shadow is the "Wonder Years" set to velvety new wave vocals and dreamy '80s synthesizer. Glasser is more like "Dark Shadows" set to bewitching Enya meets Fever Ray vocals and complicated layers of instrumentation. The only common element between the two musician's sets was an overachieving fog machine. But Felix and Oscar made it work and the Lincoln Hall crowd seemed to think that Twin Shadow and Glasser did too.

Silhouetted in a red-lit cloud of smoke, Twin Shadow's George Lewis, Jr. entered the stage and launched into a set that sounded like flipping through a photo album to a new wave soundtrack. In a golden haze, the four piece band took the crowd back to secret handshakes and bike riding suburban cul-de-sacs with warm synth supported vocals in "Yellow Balloon". And then, with throbbing drum beats, flipped ahead to pre-pubescent crushes in "Tyrant Destroyer". Lewis' sincere whisper lured the crowd into his muted adolescent longings ("As if it wasn't enough to hear you speak / They had to give you lips like that"). Finally, frustrated with the whole thing, Lewis insisted in "Slow" that he "doesn't want to believe or be in love" in a high anathematic chorus sung over electric guitar riffs building to his dramatic finish.

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Bonnie Page / Comments (1)

Review Sun Nov 14 2010

Review: Robyn @ Metro, 11/13

2010 is shaping up to be Robyn's year. After too long being unhappy with the politics of the music industry, Robyn is now making and distributing music her way. This year's Body Talk EPs are more cohesive than her self-titled album; they tackle love, heartache and power directly and carry enough punch that the lyrics can't be just glossed over. Although she might not be on top of the pop charts, she's definitely found an audience. Saturday's Metro show sold out almost as soon as it went on sale and the crowd was eating out of her hands immediately.

As soon as she walked on stage, Robyn was pumping up the audience going back and forth from left to right sides. She is a ball of energy, constantly in motion and clearly having a blast. Even in ridiculous thick platform boots, she had the best moves all night. (Then again, it was so crowded hardly anyone had a chance to really show off.) The set was heavily skewed toward newer songs with grooving electronic hooks. Three of the first four were from Body Talk, Pt. 1; the highlight being "Dancing On My Own", a devastating electropop floorburner about watching your ex with their new squeeze. If it wasn't so upbeat, the protagonist would be considered psychotic. The soaring chorus had the masses in hysteria. "We Dance to the Beat" followed up to cool everyone down (and Robyn had a chance to eat a banana), but it wasn't long until the BPMs got a bump with "Love Kills" and the Royksopp collaboration "The Girl and the Robot." Her latest single "Indestructible" and "Dream On", one of only two cuts from her self-titled album, led into the Kleerup collaboration "With Every Heartbeat" that again had the crowd bouncing all over the room.

Where Robyn succeeds as a performer is not just in having good source material, but in being the life of the party. Only rarely and for dramatic effect does she not look like that stage is the only place for her. She playfully toys with the crowd, laughs with band members, dials up the appropriate campiness and generally appears like the happiest person ever because people are singing along to her music. (There was a great moment at the end of "Konichiwa Bitches" in the first encore where without a cue the entire crowd yelled, "You is a punk." Her joyous reaction displayed everything you'd need to know about the delight of a musician knowing their music is loved.) Only a tease of the first verse of ABBA's "Dancing Queen" felt a little generic (pandering to the crowd a bit?) before she ended with a very downtempo "Show Me Love" accompanied only by keys. If anything's to be gleaned from Saturday's show, it's that Robyn's on the way up and there ain't no stopping her now.

James Ziegenfus

Review Sat Nov 13 2010

Review: Ben Folds at the Riv 11/5/10


I don't think it is possible to see Ben Folds live and have a bad time. Between his goofy songs, exuberant audience sing-a-longs, dorky sweaters, mopped hair and glasses, he never fails to be entertaining. Ben had a piano and backing band in tow for Friday night's performance at The Riv, and as usual, he delivered.

With Ben playing piano with his feet and constantly joking around with the audience, typically a Ben Folds show is not terribly serious. However, usually he sends away the backing band for a few songs to slow it down with a short solo performance. Friday night's show lacked any such break, with his standard fast-paced piano thrashing dominating the set, so much so that when Ben left the stage at the end of the night, I was completely surprised that it was already over. For me it felt like the show had just begun. While I am not saying that every one of his concerts needs to be formatted in the same fashion, possibly throwing in "The Luckiest" or "Boxing" or any one of his more emotion-filled tracks could have helped break up the set a bit.

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Stephanie Griffin

Review Sat Nov 13 2010

Review: Aloe Blacc @ Schubas, 11/12

Aloe Blacc's latest album Good Things is basically about anything but. It harks back to the R&B and soul of the early 70s where money's tight and times are generally tough. That era was responsible for mounds of progressive and socially conscious R&B. And with many of the same economic issues in the news today, it's by no means a stretch to drop the same themes into current music. Blacc's "I Need a Dollar" ('The boss man let me go / He said, I'm sorry but I won't be needing your help no more') and "Life So Hard" ('Families on the street with nothing to eat / Baby boys and girls, no shoes on their feet') capture narratives of difficult lives. His smooth baritone adds depth far beyond his years. (He's in his early 30s.) The mostly mid-tempo R&B is reminiscent of simmering southern soul music. It's all very aware of its roots and it's all put together very well.

At Friday's sold out show at Schubas, backed by the Grand Scheme (in matching letterman jackets), Blacc veered from the down-on-his-luck singer toward more of a strict entertainer. Between chunks of Good Things as full songs or in limiting medleys, a trio of covers (to punctuate that soul comes in many forms) and an old song, he spoke at length about performing, making the audience a part of the show and the Church of Love and Happiness (in a sea of tunes about the opposite). Often he rambled on so long that he lost the crowd's attention. (Even through my earplugs the chatter was loud.) What's worse is, based on reviews from other cities, it's been the same exact banter each night. However, when Blacc's actually performing, instead of name dropping or something, he's pretty good. He never really cuts loose, but he can put on a show. When he cedes some control to the musicians and just sings, he's finally the performer he talks about being and, thanfully, the one that most people want to see. If he ever learns to trim the fat and make an hour-long set even close to an hour of music, he'll be in good shape.

James Ziegenfus / Comments (1)

Concert Thu Nov 04 2010

Static in my attic

Bas van Koolwijk and Gert-Jan Prins are...SYNCRONATOR

It's a musical duo, it's a DVD, it's a device, it's an investigation into audio/video interfaces in's SYNCHRONATOR! Sound artist Gert-Jan Prins and visual/video artist Bas van Koowijk have unveiled a device of their own making, an unassuming-looking box with three audio inputs and one video output, allowing the user to turn three channels of audio directly into a video signal.

The Synchronator DVD displays the process via ten short films ranging from a minute-and-a-half to six. The audio that drives these pieces is almost uniformly low-end and buzzy, sounding as much like a badly-grounded speaker cable as anything you'd associate with music, the multiple streams of sound nonetheless combine in the synchronator box, spitting out rhythmic, slightly hallucinatory patterns and effects onto the TV. Although 90% of the DVD is black and white, the Synchronator is also wired for color, as each of the three inputs controls the Red, Green, and Blue on the screen.

Is the Synchronator for you? First of all, be aware that the DVD, while being a region 0 DVD is also shown in PAL, so you will need some sort of all-region player to play or (or a laptop, possibly). If that's no impediment, then this disc is recommend to fans of The Flicker, the films of Viking Eggeling, the Paper Rad collective of Providence, RI, and the 2003 video by LoVid, who will also be playing Lampo in about a month.

swp continuum from synchronator on Vimeo.

(This Saturday, Lampo's Fall season continues with the duo of Gert-Jan Prins and Bas van Koolwijk, performing with the Synchronator at the Graham Foundation's Madlener House, 4 W. Burton Place in Chicago. The event is sold out, but click here to get added to the waiting list)

Chris Sienko

Review Wed Nov 03 2010

Review: Daedelus @ Double Door, 10/29

[This review was submitted by Chicago freelance writer Nathalie Lagerfeld.]

Heavy bass is something you feel in your body as much as you hear it with your ears. It reverberates in all your hollow spaces — your throat, chest, your Eustachian tubes. It rustles the hair on your arms and neck. Really, it was no surprise to feel these effects at this Friday's show at the Double Door, where three of the four artists who performed were signed to dubstep pioneer Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder label. But one of these artists was monome maestro and wannabe Victorian dandy Daedelus (aka Alfred Darlington), who's better known for his fanciful costumes than he is for throbbing beats.

Daedelus had ten full-length solo albums under his belt before he came to Brainfeeder, and none of them sound very much like dubstep. His songs have eclectic influences, but they're mostly light and upbeat; for instance, he once put out an album built mostly around samples of children's TV soundtracks. Even his album with Brainfeeder, 2010's Righteous Fists of Harmony, tempers its thumps and drones with bossa nova influences, cello samples, and dreamy guest vocals. Daedelus has always seemed unable to commit to one single style or set of influences; he's always trying out new things instead of deepening his engagement with old ones, a trait that can leave his albums feeling frustratingly unfocused.

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Review Sun Oct 31 2010

Review: The Vaselines @ Lincoln Hall 10/28

Eugene Kelly of the Vaselines (photos by Dave Knapik)

The Vaselines have long been known as 1980's/1990's obscure ghosts of inspiration, an unknown then broken up duo made famous mostly by another band that no longer exists. When music is poured out in to the world by others, it might be difficult to gauge the authenticity of appreciation. That was back in the 90s, now the hype of another's love for the Glaswegian band has died down considerably and all the ears in the room at Thursday's Lincoln Hall show were for The Vaselines only with no memories of how most of us first discovered this band.

The pace of the room was calmer than could be expected. Granted, the band toured last year getting out a lot of pent up excitement for the then recent reformation, but the vibe filling the room was best described as excited chill, people coming together to celebrate the music that got them through high school and remembering that we are still having the good old days right now in this moment. That is one of the strengths of this band, to be able to live in both worlds.

The set started out just like the feeling in the room, only with a a little more oomph as cheers indicated that the band was taking their places and quickly played "Oliver Twisted" as an energetic and classic opener to the marathon set.

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Aharona Ament

Review Thu Oct 28 2010

Review: Gary Numan @ Metro, 10/26

Gary Numan (photos by Dave Knapik)

It's perplexing to think that Gary Numan supposedly didn't appreciate The Pleasure Principle for years. While it wasn't exactly the first of its kind, it's definitely in the conversation for catalysts of the synth-pop explosion in the early 1980s. Luckily, he's come to his (and everyone else's) senses by warming up to the album and playing it live in its entirety to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Its songs were originally written for guitar with the Tubeway Army before Numan's fascination with synthesizers took over. And to look at the stage at Metro on Tuesday, that fascination is still alive and well. Four synth setups were accompanied by drums and bass guitar. Although the drums were ridiculously high in the mix (and Numan's vocals were often low from where I stood), there was no question that the synths were running the show.


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James Ziegenfus

Concert Tue Oct 26 2010

Review: k-os @ Lincoln Hall, 10/23


"I'm gonna sing to this girl right here, and I know you've got a boyfriend but I don't give a fuck," croons Kevin Brereton, better known as rapper k-os, one of the smoothest performers in hip-hop today. With a backing catalog sampling everything from Joni Mitchell to Ozzy Osbourne and a flirtatious and confident stage persona that could make any girl swoon, k-os offered up a solid set to a crowd of devoted fans Saturday night at Lincoln Hall.

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Lisa White

Concert Thu Oct 21 2010

Review: Sufjan Stevens @ The Chicago Theater 10/15

This story was submitted by freelance writer Mia DiMeo, who writes for Art Slant Chicago.

Midway through his almost two hour set at the Chicago Theater, Sufjan Stevens paused to apologize to the sold out crowd for any bewilderment concerning the lack of banjo on his new album, The Age of Adz. Five years since the release of the folk-orchestral masterwork, Sufjan Stevens Invites You To: Come on and Feel the Illinoise, there have been mixed feelings, understandably, about Stevens' latest portrait of Americana, that, on Friday night came complete with Auto-tune, a laser light show, and backup dancers dressed in gold lamé.

Stevens' fragile falsetto and skeletal plucks began the show with the haunting intro to "Seven Swans," the quiet prologue to the apocalyptic dance party to come. Under red lights, the band thundered into the song, as Stevens sang his way into the new material with the old favorite and a serious intensity, "If you run/He will chase you/'cause He is the Lord."

Spirituality isn't uncharted territory for Stevens, and neither are synthesizers. Live, it is clear he is just building on the bleeps and glitches in 2001's, Enjoy Your Rabbit with a seasoned sophistication that is closer to the epic nature of Illinoise.

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Review Mon Oct 18 2010

Riot Fest 2010 Wrap-Up

The Lawrence Arms. All photos by Katie Hovland.

For any fan of punk music, Riot Fest is a mecca. If it is not the world's largest punk festival, it is certainly up there, and each year they somehow continue to expand and bring in even more exceptional acts. Now that we've had a full week to recover from Riot Fest (and I've had a week to recover from the massive flu I somehow caught at the festival), let's take a look back at the memorable moments at this year's explosive fest.

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Stephanie Griffin

Review Mon Oct 18 2010

Review: Devotchka, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, Angus & Julia Stone @ Lincoln Hall 10/15

[Review and photos by Steve Stearns.]

Scottland Yard Gospel Choir_2.jpg
Scotland Yard Gospel Choir's Mary Ralph (photo by Steve Stearns)

On Friday night, Lincoln Hall celebrated their first anniversary as a Chicago concert venue and to mark the occasion in style they found an ideal line up for this intimate venue. The night opened with an energetic performance by Chicago's own Scotland Yard Gospel Choir. If you don't know them from their music, you may have heard about them from the terrible accident they had just over a year ago when their van rolled over on the way to Cincinnati. While the pain and debt of that accident may still linger, the band puts on a great show with no signs that anything ever went wrong.

Scotland Yard Gospel Choir's music is ripe with dark comedy featuring lyrics like, "I hope that you catch syphilis and die alone," and, "Oh my god, my life is so fucked up." Those lyrics are then mixed with wonderfully energetic instrumentals that practically compel you to dance and sing along. Overall they are a bit reminiscent of Morissey for his knack for blending seemingly a seemingly happy sound with cynical lyrics, but they have a far more humorous quality that really shines in concert.

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Transmission / Comments (2)

Review Sun Oct 17 2010

Review: Tristan Perich @ Lampo


Photo by Dave Knapik

Tristan Perich plugged in his latest composition, flipped the switch, and...pow! Just like that, a shower of blipping tones rained down on the crowd in the darkened hall at the Graham Foundation's Madlener House (one of the locations currently hosting Lampo events regularly) and looking at a row of five small black and white TVs. His 1-Bit Symphony looks like a CD, but is actually an electronic device. Mounted inside a clear CD jewel case is a small microchip, some machinery to actuate the microchip's "idea," an on/off switch, and a headphone jack.

While the "CD" ran its course, Perich returned to his seat at the side of the crowd, his fingers sliding elegantly over five separate sets of receptors and tiny circuits. As he manipulated each one, light patterns began to scroll across the screen. First, it was just lines, left to right, a few screens still blank, others in motion. Sometimes, it would seem as if a pattern would "jump" from one screen to the next, as if it were a long snake sliding through the row of TVs. Soon, more complex patterns began to form -- honeycomb textures, visual 'noise' that seemed to be trying to spell out words, and ziggurat-like sawtooths. The patterns always cycled from left to right, forcing you to either choose between looking at all five screens as a whole or focus on each screen's repeated motifs. The effects were created by Perich's homemade system of electronic gadgets that were controlling the cathode guns in the TVs, treating the TV's picture tube like an un-tagged subway car.

The music itself sliced the air with a sharp crystalline edge. The blipping, high-velocity runs and controlled forays into white static were not random patterns, but nuanced, emotionally stimulating compositions -- in fact, it would not be hard to imagine "1-Bit Symphony," with its lightning-fast arpeggios and mournful bass pedals scored for an especially dexterous organist -- but the execution on a set of electronics that sounds like the beeps and buzzes an Atari 2600 cartridge would make when it overheated made the harmonic and melodic complexity all the more affecting. Like Nancarrow's player piano pieces, the medium is always a factor -- you do tend to think about the mind (and hand) that had the idea to punch all those tiny holes in order to make this deeply alien music, but it only enhances the listening experience.

The first performance of Lampo's Fall 2010 season looks like an inspiring set of performers -- all four programs emphasize creative and/or "wrong" uses of low-cost electronic equipment to achieve amazing ends. It's a reminder that waiting to experiment until you've saved up enough to get a "decent rig" is time needlessly wasted.

Chris Sienko

Review Fri Oct 15 2010

Review: Four Tet, Matthew Dear, John Hopkins @ Metro 10/14

Triple bills on a weekday night are always a tough lot for the opener. Once, a Canadian rap-rock group named Kazzer opened for The Roots at the House of Blues — the audience was stone silent through some uneventful rapping and pseudo-breakdancing, causing the lead singer to shout "Who likes beer!? Who likes the Roots!?" in between songs. The audience declined to answer.

Luckily for Jon Hopkins, he held the fortunate advantage of some lead-in popularity (collaborations with Brian Eno on a score and album) as well as being a fine match to the performers following him. With tunes displayed Pet Shop Boys-pastorality to the thwomping bass of MSTRKRFT, Hopkins utilized three KAOSS pads to great dramatic effect, showing the energy of a drummer instead of a man squinting at a laptop.

Matthew Dear (photo by Steve Stearns)

Matthew Dear and band came up next — their Black City logo had been hanging behind Hopkins forebodingly, but they looked all smiles and blazers upon entry. Dear's blazer and cropped hair looked Chris Issak, but his sexy was tinged by sinister. "You Put A Smell On Me" found Dear channeling his best Sign O' The Times-era Prince — a goofy synth line and 4/4 high-hat acting as background for the lustful sneer of "little red nightgown" ad nauseum. Tracks like "Monkey" showed more Bowie-like pop, and a trumpet and double cowbell came out for a spirited rendition of "Little People", which the crowd danced to with approval.

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Dan Morgridge

Review Thu Oct 14 2010

Review: Miike Snow @ The Riv, 10/11

Photos by Steve Stearns

If the large, dancing panda in the middle of the Riviera Theatre was any indication of how Monday night's Miike Snow concert went, it was very wild indeed. Of course there wasn't a real panda — although who could tell the difference amidst the abundance of strobe lights — but instead a 20-something bopping around in full-on costume on the ground floor.

Opener Étienne de Crécy started the night with a strong DJ set, deliving an insanely catchy remix of "Make It Pop" by Diplo & Don Diablo. The French producer took turns experimenting with some ambient noise, at one point mixing in what sounded like a distorted laugh track. I was frightened.

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Dee Fabbricatore

Review Tue Oct 12 2010

Review: Belle & Sebastian @ Chicago Theatre, 10/11

Four and a half years after their last visit to Chicago, Belle & Sebastian returned on the eve of their new album's release. Considering the long break, the fervent audience and the middling early reviews for Write About Love, the set was loaded with older songs. And that was just fine with everyone at the Chicago Theatre on Monday for a "sold out" show. (I'm using the quotation marks because it's what the marquee said, but there were dozens of people selling tickets outside and there were numerous empty patches in the seating.)

Even though 2002 and 2003 were pivotal years for Belle & Sebastian, due to the departure of a founding band member and the introduction of a slicker recording style, it's clear that the band has no regrets about the direction that those moves have resulted in. Where they were once reserved and revering of a lo-fi pop sound, they've embraced the clean and upbeat. "I'm a Cuckoo" and "Step Into My Office, Baby" from 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress were early reminders that what was once practically treason to die hard fans is now well-accepted. Both songs were received loudly, and played impeccably. (The strings added nice depth to a lot of songs.)

Belle & Sebastian's strength as a live band revolves around singer Stuart Murdoch. When he's on his game, their dynamic is hard to beat. They play loosely, have fun and everyone in the crowd knows it. But when he goes through the motions or loses interest outright, they lose a chunk of appeal. Luckily, those moments are short and far between. They only included some of the banter between songs (accounting for far too much dead time) and most of the audience participation. (If you're pulled on stage to dance, you'd better cut a mean rug. Don't just mug for 3,500+ people.) Otherwise, he was very engaging and respectfully patronizing of Chicago.

As with any band that's mastered set list construction, there came a point when it was obvious that the finale was under way. On Monday, the infectious and summery "There's Too Much Love" began it. From there they moved on to fan favorite "The Boy With the Arab Strap" that persuaded some folks even in the balcony to stand up and dance. But then a few technical issues arose as Murdoch's microphone cut out for half of "If You Find Yourself Caught In Love" and pianist Sarah Martin appeared to have trouble with the Wurlitzer organ. As professional musicians, they got around it for "Simple Things" and a knockout "Sleep the Clock Around." After a rapturous applause, they returned for an encore of "Judy and the Dream of Horses" and "Me and the Major." What's striking about Belle & Sebastian is that they seem to know precisely what their audience wants and they deliver it seemingly effortlessly. If you're going to make an event out of such rare appearances, you might as well excel at them. And that's exactly what they did on Monday.

James Ziegenfus

Review Mon Oct 11 2010

Review: Nick Lowe @ Old Town School of Folk Music, 10/10

It's been a decade since Nick Lowe toured with a full band. The British singer/songwriter's recently toured as a solo musician, just him and a guitar churning out best-of sets sprinkled heavily with songs from his last few albums. Now, Lowe is completely capable of entertaining a crowd on his own, but Sunday's full band show at Old Town School of Folk Music was a perfect example of how valuable a backing band should be.

Lowe's first three songs, including "Heart", were solo and totally acceptable. But when his all-star band joined him, it was a whole different show. They filled in the gaps where Lowe's solo performances have occasionally lacked and accentuated his wide-ranging appeal. There's only so much that can be done with an acoustic guitar. Once drums, bass, keys and a second guitar were added to the mix, then they were cooking with gas. From the country-influenced songs ("Lately I've Let Things Slide") to the R&B slow burners ("The Other Side of the Coin" in tribute to Solomon Burke) to the straight-up rockers ("Cruel to Be Kind") to the jazzy numbers ("You Inspire Me") and on and on, the band's versatility was key in showcasing that Lowe's songwriting prowess has extended beyond the pub rock, new wave, and pop that he's often associated with.

Nick Lowe's been in the music business for a long time. He's seen numerous trends appear and fade. He's not exactly doing the same things that he once did when he was in Brinsley Schwarz or Rockpile, but he's not too far off from it. He's just kinda mellowed out a bit while exploring his options. Nobody puts together such an arsenal of catchy hooks without getting a little outside of their comfort zone every now and then. (As good as he is, he's simply been widening that zone.) And it was all on display last night for an enthusiastic crowd. The only negatives were the anticlimactic closings - a tranquil "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" following a roaring "I Knew the Bride" to end the main set, then a cover of "Go 'way, Hound Dog" after a brilliant "When I Write the Book" in the encore. It was equivalent to a fireworks show ending on wimpy comets. Minor quibbles, though, because it was pretty fantastic getting pummelled by great songwriting for an hour and a half.

James Ziegenfus

Review Thu Oct 07 2010

Review: Swans @ Bottom Lounge 10/05

Michael Gira of Swans (photos by Dave Knapik)

If there were ever any doubts that Swans has made some of the most illustrious experimental music in recent years, all were shattered after last night's show at the Bottom Lounge. The band, an ever changing gang lead by Michael Gira gave a strong performance that was rich with both new and older material as well as a testing of the audience's generous patience. You can gage a band's legendary status by the level of entitlement the audience has and Swans are well beyond this level. The fans needed to suck every morsel of sound and be as close to the stage as they could. Many were determined to get their way no matter how many people they had to squeeze through to get closer. It is a sweet testament for a large group of fans to show love for a band with a history as rich as Swans, you just don't want to get caught in the middle.

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Aharona Ament

Review Tue Oct 05 2010

Review: The Smoking Popes at AAA 10/1/10

Photos by Katie Hovland

Riot Fest doesn't kick off until Wednesday, but the unofficial "secret" start to the festival began last Friday, when Chicago's own Smoking Popes played to a randomly chosen invitation-only select crowd of Riot Fest pass holders. The show took place at tiny Wicker Park venue AAA, complete with an unfinished ceiling and a stage made of plywood that wobbled as the band jumped and rocked out. The environment was reminiscent of the barnyard punk shows of my suburban youth, fitting for a band I've been listening to since grade school.

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Stephanie Griffin

Concert Sun Oct 03 2010

Review: Broken Social Scene @ The Riv, 10/2

Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene by Sandor Weisz

Everything was alright until Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew made me cry. At least it was a good cry, a cathartic one. And as I stood alone with tears rolling down my cheeks, feeling like the biggest asshole in the room, I felt like Broken Social Scene were patting me on the back and saying "there there, everything will be ok." I have a feeling I wasn't the only person wiping away some tears Saturday night when Broken Social Scene stopped at The Riviera Theatre for their show promoting their latest album Forgiveness Rock Record. It wasn't all stark realizations that made your lip quiver, but Broken Social Scene (specifically masterminds Drew and Canning) have a knack for writing the words that you wish you could say, then putting them against the backdrop of crashing melodies that sweep you up and away. But just as much as the downtrodden is gut wrenching, the lighter fare is uplifting and romanticizing, and the band showcased both sides Saturday night.

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Lisa White

Review Fri Oct 01 2010

Review: GAYNGS @ Metro 9/29

GAYNGS (photos by Katie Hovland)

The line outside the Metro at 7:50 was a quiet affair — a boy and girl stood by their lonesomes behind the barricades, watching four spiders have what appeared to be a domestic dispute. Perhaps the 18+ limit kept all the potential young Justin Vernon swooners at home, or maybe on a Thursday everyone was just going to take it slow and smooth. Regardless, by the time Glasser was wrapping up their set, the crowd was dense and active, ready for more after singer Cameron Mesirow's rich Bjork-like timbre had cast its spell.

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Dan Morgridge / Comments (1)

Review Tue Sep 28 2010

Review: of Montreal @ The Riviera 9/25/10

of Montreal's Kevin Barnes (photos by Andy Keil)

Let's pretend Skeletal Lamping never happened. Last time of Montreal was in town, band leader Kevin Barnes gave a phoned-in, lackluster performance behind the release of the schizophrenic album. It appeared that the self proclaimed indie star had given up, no longer having fun on stage and recording an entire album of sexed up, completely self indulgent, pieces of songs. But their Saturday night show at the very same venue and the recent release of False Priest was a complete turnaround. "I was hoping tonight would feel just like this," he said in the middle of the show. So were we. Kevin Barnes is back.

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Michelle Meywes

Review Mon Sep 27 2010

Review: Van Dyke Parks, Clare and the Reasons @ Schubas, 9/26

Throughout his esteemed career, Van Dyke Parks has been known more as a collaborator and accompanist than a star. A handful of solo records, most notably the lauded Song Cycle, have reached a cult-like status, but the bulk of his work has been behind the scenes as an orchestral arranger and producer. This tour with Clare and the Reasons is his first ever, and Sunday's stop at Schubas was his only performance in Chicago since 1964.

With that in mind, it wasn't terribly surprising to see the 67-year old pianist a bit off as the main attraction. He (along with Clare's Reasons) began the set with tracks from the Uncle Remus and Br'er Rabbit-inspired Jump album. Before continuing, he rambled about the demise of popular culture and not wanting his photograph taken. (When was the last time you went to a show where nobody took a picture?) From there he wove through folk (tipping his cap to Phil Ochs after a tirade on oil spills for "Black Gold"), bluegrass (with a brief story about the fiddler John Hartford), romantic piano composition (along with a history lesson about Louis Moreau Gottschalk), chamber music and pop. The biggest applauses of the evening were reserved for the Song Cycle tunes ("The Attic" and "The All Golden") and three that'll forever link him with Brian Wilson ("Heroes & Villains" and the first two tracks from their 1995 collaboration Orange Crate Art).

The knock against Van Dyke Parks is that his music is too complex only for the sake of being so, but on Sunday the simple setup (he on piano, the Reasons on strings) kept songs from becoming too heavy. Even with tweaked arrangements throughout the night, nothing was so far from its original version that it was unrecognizable. As a display in songcraft, it was masterful.

Clare and the Reasons opened with a full musical cabinet - bass, cello, clarinet, French horn, guitar, kazoos, keyboard, recorder, trombone, violin and washboard. (And I may have missed something.) They ran through a 40-minute set covering both of their albums evenly and included covers of Genesis' "That's All" (with that earworm hook played on trombone) and Harry Nilsson's "He Needs Me." For only seven people onstage, they sounded much bigger; as if a symphony were crammed in a back corner.

James Ziegenfus

Concert Mon Sep 27 2010

Deerhunter Kicks It Under the River

[This review and photos come to us from Taleen Kalenderian.]


It was May of 2007 the first time I saw Atlanta-based noise rockers Deerhunter. The band was opening for Chicago's own The Ponys for their headlining slot at The Echo in Los Angeles. Cryptograms had been released that January, but I was really into The Ponys' droning garage jams then and couldn't wait to see them for the first time. Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox towered over the stage wearing a flora print mini-dress that night, singing with mic-in-mouth gripped by his teeth. He jolted around the stage along to Cryptograms' more angular tracks, putting everyone in a daze that thoroughly upstaged The Ponys' following set.

Saturday's free Deerhunter show was less about noise-making and more about fanservice and clever publicity, but that didn't make it any less entrancing. Hundreds of fans showed up early to the Chicago River underpass at 560 W. Grand, a location disclosed only a few days beforehand as part of Levi's + Urban Outfitters Secret Generator Series. Deerhunter previewed most of their new songs for the first time in advance of their third full-length album, Halycon Digest (out tomorrow).

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Review Sun Sep 26 2010

Review: Aashish Khan, Alam Khan, Swapan Chaudhuri @ Cultural Center


Most attendees at Friday's concert (part of the Chicago World Music Festival) at the Chicago Cultural Center, a Hidustani classical performance between iconic musicians Aashish Khan (son of the world-famous Ali Akbar Khan), his younger brother Alam Khan, and tabla accompanist Swapan Chaudhuri, seemed to be seasoned veterans. Scanning the room, it was easy to see listeners transitioning with the musicians to the various sections of the ragas, applauding at natural ends to solos, and the occasional nod of recognition as titles of rags were announced. It was a crowd that understood the caliber of musicianship and emotion it was getting, absorbing every nuance, every call-and-response. It was not, by all accounts, the type of audience that was "waiting for the part when the drums kick in." We were here to exist in the presence of a historical continuum of master musicians reaching back to Mian Tansen (b. 1493), one in which the previous two generations pushed forward not just musical skill, but compositional innovation for the entire art. The emcee described Baba Allauddin Khan (Aashish and Alam's grandfather) as "The Mozart of Indian Classical Music," only stopping himself to note that, "That might not actually be expansive enough."

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Chris Sienko

Review Wed Sep 22 2010

Notes on Shonen Knife's performance @ Schubas, 9/21

1. I like Shonen Knife as a band name a lot. They are a trio of women from Osaka, Japan who walked on stage by 11pm, waving at the crowd, then for like an hour, they directed genuine fun rock toward us, which the positivity was necessary for me personally, having traveled toward Schubas under a light drizzle and white-purple lightning flashes in the sky, which gave me anxiety. Plus I was alone last night.

2. Naoko Yamano, lead guitarist and vocals, is the only original member of the band left. I'm estimating that she might be in her 50s right now since the band started in the early 80s. My mother is nearly 50, but I would never be able to imagine my mother onstage with the smiles and energy of Yamano, who was playing this glitter blue electric guitar, rocking her long black hair up and down like I would do in my bedroom to get dizzy and drop down. It was great, too, because Yamano and Ritsuko Taneda, the glitter pink bass player, would synchronize their hair rocking to conclude some of the songs.

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Vicky Lim

Concert Tue Sep 21 2010

Review: Matt and Kim @ Metro, 9/19

Matt of Matt and Kim (photo by Katie Hovland)

I've got a curse with Matt and Kim. Despite trying to see the band multiple times, something has always happened last minute, preventing me from witnessing the saccharine sweet pop duo live. I've always been a fan of their stripped down bouncy brand of pop, their videos, and they're two of the nicest people I've ever sat down and interviewed. So Sunday night was a big night for me, as I was finally able to break my Matt and Kim curse (barely).

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Lisa White / Comments (3)

Concert Fri Sep 17 2010

Review: Nylon Music Tour @ Double Door, 9/11

Spending the night with a bunch of drunk people having an electro dance-off while a shirtless dashing man acts as your ringleader isn't a bad way to spend a Saturday night. Last weekend the Nylon Magazine music tour rolled into town at Double Door, bringing along with them a bill of synth happy bands with headliner Kele (of Bloc Party fame).

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Lisa White

Review Fri Sep 17 2010

Review: Rangda @ Empty Bottle / Appleblim, Cosmin TRG @ Smart Bar, 9/10

Chris Corsano

Chris Corsano of Rangda (photos by Dave Knapik)

Late September is traditionally quite an exciting time for Chicago experimental music lovers, as it is when one of the most revered publications for the genre, UK-based magazine The Wire, brings its Adventures in Modern Music festival to the Empty Bottle. When it was first announced that Chicago would host its own version of Barcelona's Sónar festival this September, many were left wondering if it would conflict with Adventures in Modern Music, and if so, what that would mean for one of the city's most unique celebrations of far out sounds. Of course everyone involved found the perfect solution by simply joining forces to make it all one big party. Ironically, Sleep was one of the first gigs of the festival, but it would be in short supply the rest of the weekend for any die-hard fan unable to imagine missing a beat.

Drag City artists Rangda headlined Friday night's Empty Bottle line-up. An experimental supergroup comprised of Sun City Girls' Sir Richard Bishop, Six Organs of Admittance's Ben Chasny and frequent collaborator with the stars, Chris Corsano, Rangda faced the challenge of waking up a crowd already weary from several days of live music. Their fast-paced freakouts proved more than fit for the job, as the tight three-piece frenetically ripped their way through the first portion of their set.

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Dave Knapik

Review Wed Sep 15 2010

Review: Ben Frost @ Chicago Cultural Center, 9/11


Ben Frost (photo by Dave Knapik)

When Sónar Chicago first announced that Ben Frost would be on its inaugural line-up, their commitment to innovative electronic music became clear. This wasn't going to be a watered-down sibling to their annual Barcelona event, rather it would present dance music and experimental sounds in equal measure. Frost was an ideal candidate for bridging this gap, as his uncompromising ambient noise explorations were introduced to dubstep fans on Mary-Anne Hobbs' 2008 compilation Evangeline. That appearance, coupled with powerful recent releases like 2007's Theory of Machines and last year's By the Throat, ensured this would be one of the most eagerly anticipated performances of the entire festival.

One look around the Chicago Cultural Center on Saturday night was all it took to see that this anticipation was not idle, as the Claudia Cassidy Theater could not contain everyone that hoped to see Frost deliver his ambient epics live. Fortunately, an adjacent overspill room had been arranged to accommodate everyone not lucky enough to fit into the main venue. Whether you watched his image projected onto a screen or shared the room with the man himself, hearing the hour-long set provided exactly what every great gig should: a sizable leap beyond what can be reproduced at home with a CD.

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Dave Knapik

Concert Wed Sep 15 2010

Review: Pavement @ Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, 9/13

Pavement's Stephen Malkmus (photos by Katie Hovland)

Pavement was never a sentimental band. Sarcastic, dry, and annoyed, but never sentimental. As the saying goes though "time heals all wounds," and maybe that was the case Monday night, as the band took the stage in front of a very nostalgic audience. The crowd was smaller than I expected, the seated area sparse in places and the lawn spread out. I'm guessing the curious Pavement fans got their fix at Pitchfork Festival. The kids that grew up listening to Pavement in the late 90s/early 00s, discovering them long after the breakup, paid respect at the festival as they headed out after catching some of Sleigh Bells, probably quipping "oh, so that's Pavement, this reunion is big, I guess I should stick around for a song or two." There was none of this sentiment Monday night, as the crowd sung along to a good portion of the 28 song set, the median age looked to be mostly people that were 20-somethings during the height of Pavement's fame. The familiar feeling of the crowd seemed to rub off on the band, who seemed fully relaxed, throwing jokes and jabs back and forth, and overall happy to be there.

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Lisa White / Comments (1)

Review Tue Sep 14 2010

Sonar Chicago @ Pritzker Pavilion, 9/9


Martyn (photos by Dave Knapik)

Although summer is slowly slipping away, festival season in Chicago carries on. The first annual Sónar Chicago kicked off on Thursday at Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion, starting the weekend early for electronic music lovers, curious downtown office workers and passing tourists. Whatever brought you to the first day of Sónar, you arrived at a rock gig, a dubstep club night and a live electro breakdown all rolled up into one.

The evening started at 5 pm with the soft sounds of Spain's Bradien. A three-piece combo incorporating guitar, synthesizers, melodica, trumpet and a single snare drum, Bradien's dub exotica provided a gentle ease into an action-packed weekend. Hailing from Sónar's native city of Barcelona, the band were put into the position of sonic ambassadors, underlining the fact that Sónar was as much a cultural exchange program as it was a music festival.

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Dave Knapik / Comments (3)

Concert Mon Sep 13 2010

Review: Sleep @ Logan Square Auditorium, 9/9


When more than 50% of a crowd is wearing earplugs, and building walls vibrate even before you enter an venue, you know you're in for an impressive show. Such was the case when Sleep took the stage at Logan Square Auditorium last Thursday as part of the Adventures in Modern Music and Sonar Festival.

Sleep made some of the most prolific stoner metal albums, the 1992 Holy Mountain being one of the defining examples of genre, as a trio in the early 90s. The band parted ways, mainly after problems with their label regarding their album Dopesmoker, which is one continuous song that last over an hour. The band members worked on similar endeavors (High on Fire and Om) before deciding to reunite for various dates starting last year with the ATP festival in England.

For anyone that loves a dark and murky tone, music that you can smoke out and nod your head along to in time, then Sleep is your band. Traces of 70s Black Sabbath style metal shine through at times, when guitarist Matt Pike isn't building up a massive wall of sound with a few chords for 10 minutes straight before exploding in abrasive visceral noise. If dragging a heavy object through thick wet mud had a sound, it would be this band.

There was no witty banter between songs, just three men playing some of the loudest music I've ever heard, so loud I could feel the vibrations in my teeth. Pike, shirtless with long strings of hair hanging down in front of his face, would teeter on the edge of the stage, as metal fists and devil horns raised high towards him from the audience. The crowd was mostly outfitted in black, a large amount of men sporting longer locks banged their heads in time. Pike and bassist Al Cisneros were completely entrancing as they slowly cultivated a build and vibrating crescendo of sound, especially on standout tracks like "Dragonaut." The music was heavy and abrasive, but the crowd polite and enthusiastic, the mostly male crowd even moving a bit to allow me a to move forward for a better view, showing that metal guys are some of the nicest dudes around. The show was dark and angry, yet still the artistry of each musician, whether building a dissonant tone or providing a driving back beat, was evident from the start. From the crowd to the ringing in my ear (despite wearing industrial strength earplugs) that lasted a few hours after, it was exactly what I expected (and hoped) this show would be.

Check back for more reviews of acts this past weekend at Adventures in Modern Music and Sonar Festival here in Gapers Block.

Lisa White

Concert Thu Sep 09 2010

North Coast Festival Review: Sunday


All photos (unless noted) by George Aye

The last day of North Coast was heavy on the hip-hop, with a nice dose of dance and some curve balls of soul and folk pop thrown in the mix. Our feet were a bit tired but our spirits high as we started the last day of the last big summer festival in Chicago. George caught some of local outfit Maps & Atlases as he entered the fest, as seen above. I meanwhile caught duo Phantogram, who churned out dreamy electronic infused pop, like a darker less drone version of Beach House, very ethereal and stylized, a great warm-up to the day.

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Lisa White

Concert Tue Sep 07 2010

North Coast Festival Review: Saturday

Grace Potter

All photos by George Aye

Another beautiful Chicago day kicked off North Coast on Saturday as our photographer George headed out early into the field and caught the beautiful shot of rocker Grace Potter above, and also was able to grab Daedalus, who filled in for Benga when he had some problems at Customs, for a quick portrait session backstage.


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Lisa White

Concert Tue Sep 07 2010

North Coast Festival Review: Friday

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All photos by George Aye

Fairy wings, furry boots, whippets, and enough glow sticks to light a small country took over Union Park this past weekend for North Coast Festival, dubbed "Summer's Last Stand," three days of electronic, hip-hop, and jam acts all in one place. Upon walking up to festival grounds Friday night, you knew a good portion of the weekend would be spent dancing, the heavy thumping beats from every stage flooding onto Ashland and Lake. Being the first year of the festival, there were some glitches (huge lines at an understaffed will call, confusion with security on what passes accessed what area, a lot of gate crashers, no water refill stations), but none that weren't a good lesson for organizers to learn from for future years. Overall security was friendly (as was the crowd, sober or not), and the festival got a break with amazing weather all weekend, cutting down on what could have otherwise been a lot of dehydrated sweaty fans. Click through and continue reading about my weekend at North Coast, and some thoughts from Gapers Block Tailgate Editor Brian Lauvray as well.

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Lisa White

Concert Thu Aug 26 2010

Review: Stone Temple Pilots, Charter One Pavillion 8/20

[Review submitted by reader Brennan Stacker, photos by Andy Keil]

After releasing their self-titled album in May, Stone Temple Pilots performed at Chicago's Charter One Pavilion at Northerly Island, on August 20th, and they proved that, after 20+ years, their music intoxicates more than a single generation of fans. The album debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200, giving the band a renewed presence on the stage and validating their position in modern rock.

Scott Weiland of STP (photos by Andy Keil)

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Transmission / Comments (1)

Concert Mon Aug 23 2010

Neon Marshmallow Festival - Day Four wrapup

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It's all over, folks. After four days, 90-some-odd acts, and persistent exposure to just about every frequency on the sound spectrum audible to human ears, the Neon Marshmallow Festival departs the Viaduct Theatre, leavings the concertgoers fatigued, overstimulated, and slightly depressed about the prospect of returning to the real world, where things seldom get louder than a tepid hum.

This is the day of the fest where you get to razz me for being an old man — I arrived late, left early, and missed (by all accounts) some crucial sets. However, I didn't miss it all. Here's my last report before I return to my anechoic chamber:

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Chris Sienko

Concert Sun Aug 22 2010

Review: Slayer @ UIC Pavillion, 8/20/10

[Review and pictures by Brian Leli]

Slayer's Kerry King (photos by Brian Leli).

As a teenager battling teen age in the 1990s, there were some things I felt I'd never be without: anger, sadness, the hours to fill and the endless conflicts that they ignited...etc. And I was right. If your teenage years were somehow spent without these things, I'm sorry. I don't know how else one might find a place to put them, a use for them. I found my way down many damaged roads, but I also found my way to music. Very early on, I discovered that I could store my sadness in a sad song--the same way one might turn into a skid to move out of it. I learned I could do the same with my anger: The simple anger that comes when one sees another throwing their trash on the ground, or the more complex anger that comes on around birth and eventually seeks roads the size of continents down which to run.

For this anger, there is Slayer.

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Concert Sun Aug 22 2010

Neon Marshmallow Festival - Day Three wrapup

Neon Ball.jpg

Day three of the Neon Marshmallow Fest at the Viaduct Theater, the most endurance-defying yet, has come and gone. Starting at noon and going well into the 3 a.m. hour with only an hour break for dinner, it was die-on-your-feet-or-live-slumped-in-theater-seating, and, by night's end, certain shows turned into little slumber parties, with people soaking up the electronic waves from a prone position. Some of the best performances of the fest happened today (sez me), and one loathsome event marred the night permanently. Read on....

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Chris Sienko / Comments (1)

Review Sat Aug 21 2010

Review: Autolux @ Bottom Lounge 8/20

Autolux is the most amazing band to have ever made music anywhere in the universe. This was the feeling last night at at Bottom Lounge when they played to a packed house. The band released their second album, Transit Transit ealier this month. Six years ago they released Future Perfect. The time in between the two albums might have been too great for fans and the release of energy was prominent and well known as the audience made various animal sounds, cheered non stop and paid respect with the groovin' head bop with no indifferent stares. There were smiles all over these hipster faces.

Local band Allá opened the night and then Space-Drone superstars This Will Destroy You played a set that was perfect in time. I was worried that a band with such an epic sound would ruin the mood of seeing Autolux as too much post rock can be like eating too much cheesecake, an extremely rich experience that will turn you off for awhile. But the band gave us just enough to appreciate their sound and promised to return to Chicago soon.

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Aharona Ament / Comments (2)

Concert Sat Aug 21 2010

Neon Marshmallow Festival - Day Two wrapup

Neon Ball.jpg

Back again with a day two wrapup from the Neon Marshmallow Festival at the Viaduct Theater (tickets still available for two shows today and one tomorrow). Friday was less consistent than Thursday, with a few great, unforgettable sets and, well, a few more forgettable ones.

I missed the first handful of sets — my apologies to Flower Man and Rust Worship — so that I could write up night one, and also so I could log a few extra hours in my sleep bank; me and three hours sleep are not a winning mixture. So, we pick up the story in progress...

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Chris Sienko / Comments (3)

Review Fri Aug 20 2010

Neon Marshmallow Festival - Day One wrapup

Neon Ball.jpg

We're only one day in, and already, the Neon Marshmallow Festival (Friday through Sunday at the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western) is off to a terrific start. Despite the quick pace of set-up and break-down between sets, just about every set last night fit snugly into its spot, with only a tiny handful of acts overlapping others. The rooms were sufficiently isolated from each other that little bleedthrough occurred, save for events with extreme volume differences, like Greg Kelley's ultra-quiet trumpet improvisations were backed by Slither's low-end booms in the next room. This was an exception, though. For all my concerns, it seems like the formula works, for the time being.

Here's everything my mind (currently running on three hours sleep) can remember:

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Chris Sienko / Comments (2)

Review Thu Aug 19 2010

Review: My Morning Jacket @ Charter One Pavilion, 8/17

My Morning Jacket (photos by Andy Keil)

My Morning Jacket has always put on shows appropriate for the large venues and audiences that've finally caught up to them. Back when they were plowing through mid-sized venues like Metro, their performances looked like arena rock shows. It wasn't in the lights or the backdrops, but the presence. Every time they played it felt like an event, like you couldn't imagine how anyone in the vicinity could have better plans for the evening. They naturally command attention in showing that there's nowhere they'd rather be than on that stage right then.

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James Ziegenfus / Comments (1)

Concert Mon Aug 16 2010

Review: Interpol @ The Vic, 8/15


Sometimes you have to go back to the start to find yourself again. Interpol is doing just that on their forthcoming self-titled album, which they showcased alongside their classic material last night at The Vic.

Interpol is in a period of change, with the departure of longtime bassist Carlos D, and the label switch back to Matador. After the glossy and forced major label debut, Our Love to Admire, it seemed that many fans yearned for the original direction of the band. Live, the band is clearly allegiant to their early material, as their set list was comprised of 68% of tracks off of Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics. Not that fans seemed to mind. The standards are just as crisp and tight sounding as ever, singer Paul Bank's voice deadpan and unwavering as always. Standouts of the night was the wall of sound "NARC" which is still just as heavy and sleek as the first time I heard it live. Also the one-two punch of "Say Hello To The Angels" and "C'mere" got the crowd moving, shimmering in sound and the perfect soundtrack to the warm intensity of the lighting that Interpol always utilizes live.

The new live additions to the band, former Slint guitarist Dave Pajo on bass and keys and vocal addition Brandon Curtis from The Secret Machines, work in perfectly to the mix. And fans wishing for a departure from the previous album can rejoice, the new tracks following the original sound, as evident when they showcased three Sunday night ("Success," "Summer Well," and "Lights"). You can check out the video for the first single off the new album below.

It feels like a homecoming for the band, after a long departure from what they originally were. Nothing feels forced and strained, and live the band seems to not only be refreshed but having fun with both the new and old material. As they ended on a fan favorites, "NYC" and "Stella Was a Diver And She Was Always Down," the crowd sang along, and it felt fitting that the band is right back where they started from.

Interpol plays The Vic tonight, August 16th, at 7:30pm with special guests Twin Tigers. Tickets are $31.50 (about $40 with fees) and are available through The Vic's website.

Lisa White / Comments (3)

Review Sat Aug 14 2010

Review: Boris & Russian Circles @ Metro, 8/13

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Russian Circles (photos by Katie Hovland)

With so much history attacking so many different styles of music over their career, it's nearly impossible to predict what can be expected at any Boris show. They could go balls out with heavy metal, make the room vibrate with sludgy drone music or deliver a completely experimental set. But, luckily, it's mostly some combination. And on Friday at Metro it was a well-constructed setlist of peaks and valleys that pulled selections from across their varied history.

PINK's "Farewell" got things started, sounding like a shoegaze/metal hybrid, before moving onto the relatively calm "Rainbow" with guitarist Wata on vocals. The straining psychedelic guitar solo in "Rainbow" (from Ghost's Michio Kurihara) was the first moment of the 90-minute set that drew wild cheers from an enthusiastic crowd, and with good reason. From there the music ranged all over - hitting highs with pummeling epic riffs ("Korosu") and bringing it down a notch with entrancing soundscapes ("16:47:52"). What it appears some people don't realize, though, is that Boris' history as an experimental band is just as critical as their history as a metal band. Some of the innovative guitar play on their quieter songs is as integral to them as the so-called facemelters. Every song has a purpose: balancing out a set to appeal to all types of Boris fans. But a lot of those quieter songs became a time for conversation in the crowd, as if just because it's quiet enough to chat means it's appropriate to. (What is this, Lollapalooza?)

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James Ziegenfus / Comments (1)

Review Mon Aug 09 2010

Review: The National @ House of Blues, 8/7

There was a time just a few years ago when the National were a wildly sporadic live band. They'd play a show that left audiences dragging their jaws out of the gig, but the next night (and maybe the one after that, too) would leave people scratching their heads thinking, "What's the big deal with these guys?" However, it appears that they have finally learned how to deliver consistently powerful performances.

Even from a relatively soft starter like "Runaway" it was clear that the musicians were in their comfort zone. The Dessner brothers looked relaxed but locked in on their guitars while the Devendorf brothers carried a stunning rhythm section. Longtime accompanist Padma Newsome, Arcade Fire's Richard Parry and two extras on horns, percussion and guitar rounded out the top-notch musicians. The National's wildcard, though, is singer Matt Berninger. When he's on, there are few frontmen who can match his intensity. Through the first half of Saturday's Lollapalooza aftershow, Berninger was in fine form. But "Squalor Victoria" was the turning point. His searing calmness exploded as he screamed the title over and over. On the only pre-Alligator song of the night, he wailed "Available"'s 'why did you dress me down, and liquor me up!?' with startling conviction. And he didn't even need to sing "Abel"'s most famous line, but eclipsed the audience singalong with pure pandemonium.

In some High Violet press it's been discussed that there is bit of a divide between Berninger and the rest of the band during the recording process. But none of that is evident on stage where their camaraderie shines. On Saturday they joked about depressing subject matter in raging songs, Berninger giggling through them, and established musicians who "are never going to get anywhere as a musician in a band" (in regard to Parry being late). When a band has such fun on stage, the feeling trickles into the audience to a point where only ridiculously drunk kids with enormous backpacks can dampen the enjoyment. (Luckily, HOB's utilitarian security took care of business.)

A majestic "Fake Empire" closed the initial set before the band returned with a 4-song encore highlighted by Berninger treating speakers like the Matterhorn during "Mr November." They ended the evening on a "Terrible Love" that put the recorded version to shame. The riffs were punchy (4 guitars!) and the percussion was abrasive. If a band's going to close a show with an album opener, they'd better do it the right way. From now on, I won't be doubting the National on such matters.

James Ziegenfus / Comments (1)

Concert Sun Aug 08 2010

Review: Devo and Dirty Projectors @ The Congress, 8/5

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Devo fans wait (photos by Katie Hovland)

A chorus of "Boo" is one of the saddest sounds in live music. Nothing is more depressing then an angry crowd that have been standing around 2+ hours waiting for the band they love. Sadly this was the case Thursday night at the Congress, before Dirty Projectors or Devo took the stage. Have no fear, the sweet sounds of Devo saved the day in the end, but things were off to a rocky start.

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Devo (photos by Katie Hovland)

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Lisa White / Comments (1)

Concert Sun Aug 01 2010

Review: The Dead Weather @ The Congress Theater, 7/30

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The Dead Weather perform at the Congress Theatre (photos by Andy Keil)

Any day that ends with getting to see Jack White play guitar is a good day in my book. And a packed house was treated to just that Friday night, when White and his latest incarnation of a band, The Dead Weather, rolled into The Congress. Always a man of many talents, White actually plays the drums this time around, alongside members of The Raconteurs, Queens of the Stone Age, and The Kills. The band doles out a sultry brand of blues rock, and from the moment they took the stage the temperature rose, and it wasn't due to the faulty air conditioning in The Congress.

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Lisa White / Comments (2)

DJ / Dance Sat Jul 31 2010

Loose Change Dance Party @ Wicker Park Fest, 7/31


Photo of Moneypenny courtesy of Joe Reyes

If the idea of a hot, sweaty, nine-hour, outdoor, shoulder-to-shoulder dance party doesn't exhaust you just to think about, if in fact it sounds like your typical evening out, then Wicker Park Fest is where you'll want to be tonight. Moneypenny, a DJ duo with the Loose Change music collective, has chosen a lineup of house and club DJs -- including LA Riots, Kid Color and Team Bayside High (no appearance by A.C. Slater, Kelly Kapowski or anyone else from the gang, unfortunately) -- who will be playing the Fest's center stage from 1 to 10pm on July 31.

Moneypenny will play a set itself at 9pm, and if you're still not done bumping and grinding with hundreds of other people when 10 o'clock rolls around, there will also be an after-party at Metro. The event is combined with the Metro's monthly 18 and over dance party, and it'll feature still more DJs, including Jokers of the Scene, from Ottawa, Canada, and a second set by Moneypenny. Cost to get in is $10 at 923 N. Rush St., and don't forget to bring your dancing shoes. Better yet, bring a couple pairs.

Geoff George

Review Wed Jul 28 2010

Review: The Faint @ Metro, 7/23

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The Faint (photos by Katie Hovland)

The Faint are known for their electric stage show, but what impressed me most when they came through town Friday night at Metro was the dedication of my fellow concertgoers. These past few weeks in the city have been fairly humid, and Friday was no exception. With the huge crowd, it was probably a good ten degrees hotter inside Metro than outside the venue, but that didn't stop anyone from dancing their butts off and crowding up front. I, on the other hand, had been boiling hot and, in an effort to keep myself from fainting (no pun intended), ended up situating myself all the way at the back wall with no one around me. I'd been bested.

The band walked on stage and ripped through the best of every one of their albums, from "Mirror Error" to "Worked Up So Sexual" to "Take Me to the Hospital". Besides an occasional thank you to the crowd and a dedication to Lindsay Lohan, the band hardly took a break between songs, instead providing a non-stop dance party revved up by their melodic synths and singer Todd Fink's magnetic stage presence. They ended the night with crowd favorites "The Geeks Were Right" and "Glass Danse", and if the crowd was at all exhausted in the sweltering heat, they sure didn't show it.

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The Faint (photos by Katie Hovland)

Even if the band had been terrible, the spectacle on stage might have been entertainment enough to make the show enjoyable. The stage was adorned with around twelve giant alien figurines, hanging off speakers and standing on stage like they were members of the band. Of course it wouldn't be The Faint without an insane light show, and in combination with the looming aliens, we might as well have been partying with the Martians.

Luckily, when the show let out, the city was immersed in a refreshing downpour. Did I mention how hot it was in there?

Stephanie Griffin

Review Wed Jul 28 2010

Review: Gaslight Anthem @ House of Blues, 7/27

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Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon (photos by Katie Hovland)

When the Gaslight Anthem played Bottom Lounge last April, singer Brian Fallon's vocals were a mess. (But he was pretty sick, as they cancelled the next couple shows.) When they came back around in August, it was my turn to be sick. (I barely made it through Constantines that night.) On Tuesday at House of Blues, though, everybody was in good health. Even if they weren't, they probably still had a good time.

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Gaslight Anthem's Alex Levine (photos by Katie Hovland)

Touring in support of their latest album, American Slang, Gaslight Anthem was firing on all cylinders with a 90-minute set that featured sizable chunks from all three full-lengths. The show began with the new record's title track that quickly built up into their Americana-tinged punk with chunky hooks and Fallon's working class stories. From the onset the sold out audience was completely enthralled. After two more newer songs, the band went back a couple years for perhaps their most popular song, "The '59 Sound." It's a bold move to bust out your hit so early, but Gaslight Anthem clearly have the confidence in their other tunes to not let it be their peak. And soon enough they were pacing themselves (and the audience) by dropping the tempo with "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" and "Miles Davis & The Cool" before playing songs from their debut album seamlessly mixed in with some American Slang.

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Gaslight Anthem's Alex Rosamilia (photos by Katie Hovland)

Three albums (and some EPs) into their career, each release has taken on a different angle of their malleable sound, so it's not a strain to hear songs from years ago alongside ones released last month. With that being said, a risk runs in songs sounding too much alike. Late in the show I twice thought they started a song they'd already played. Only when lyrics began did I realize my mistake. Of course, a strong majority of the audience were never in doubt as they screamed along to nearly every word Fallon sang. (Only "Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts" from a 2008 EP and a cover of Lucero's "The War" tripped up the most vocal.) With such devotion, it's hardly a surprise that Gaslight Anthem's popularity has swelled. The way things are going, I wouldn't expect a dropoff either.

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Brian Fallon (photos by Katie Hovland)

James Ziegenfus / Comments (2)

Review Tue Jul 20 2010

Review: Kid Sister @ Pritzker 7/19

Kid Sister purple.jpg"I been all arou