Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Raw Material: The Best of 2014? Possibly Yet to Come

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Holiday Music, Indie Rock, Interviews, Live Reviews, Metal, Prog-rock, R&B, Rock, Shoegaze, Soul, Space Pop No Comments »
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Forgotten Species

By Keidra Chaney

Here we are at the end of the year, and while most music journalists will inflict their top-ten bands/albums/live shows of 2014 lists on their readers, I’ve decided to spare you. There’s still enough time, after all, to catch the best show of the year, or even check out a new band or album that might be your favorite. There have been two or three times that my favorite concert of a given year took place during the last six weeks on the calendar (I’m looking at you, St Vincent!). This is especially true with the holidays approaching; Chicago is fond of its Christmas and pre-New Year’s live music showcases and events. Either way, there’s still a lot going on in the city when it comes to live music. Here are a few standouts.

The Empty Bottle (1035 North Western) is all up in Christmas this month, with a whole slew of Christmas and Christmas-ish events to celebrate the holiday. On December 12, they’re throwing their second annual Bottle Hop to raise money for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. It’s an old-school rock ‘n’ roll/soul/R&B shindig, which makes it a perfect opportunity to dress kinda fancy. The lineup includes badass throwback soul band The Congregation (on the verge of very big things, I predict), fifties rockers The Tenders and western swing outfit The Chandelier Swingers. The show is $10 and starts at 9pm.

A week later, on December 19, space-y collaboration Quarter Mile Thunder throws a “Xmas psych party” (which also doubles as an album release party) with the Record Low. The following night features holiday-themed Chicago supergroup Snow Angels (comprising members of Mannequin Men, Johnny and The Limelites, Vee Dee and Automatic Stinging Machines), who reconvene for their annual holiday performance; they say it’s been twelve years since they started.

If that’s too much live music for you, the Bottle also hosts a pair of lunch-hour events in time for Christmas shopping: a poster sale on December 14 and a pop-up holiday market on December 20. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Renée Fleming Reaches Out From Opera, Blind Boys Modernize Their Message

Blues, Chicago Artists, Classical, Country, Holiday Music, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Pop, Rock, Vocal Music No Comments »
Renée Fleming with KISS at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

Renée Fleming with KISS at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

By Dennis Polkow

It’s a busy holiday season for the “People’s Diva,” Renée Fleming: not only has the soprano released her first-ever Christmas album, “Christmas in New York” (Decca), but PBS has produced a television special on the making of the album. As if that weren’t enough, Fleming sang at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and is opening a new production of “The Merry Widow” at the Metropolitan Opera on New Year’s Eve, with Lyric Opera music director Sir Andrew Davis at the podium.

Christmas itself, however, Fleming admits, will remain a family affair. “My whole family sings like crazy,” says Fleming. “When we decorate the tree, my daughters and I have a major impromptu scat-singing festival.” It’s this spirit that informs the eclectic approach of “Christmas in New York,” on which Fleming performs with guest artists Wynton Marsalis, Gregory Porter, Kelli O’Hara, Chris Botti, Brad Mehldau, Rufus Wainwright and Chicago jazz singer Kurt Elling.

For those expecting a killer rendition of “O Holy Night” or “Ave Maria,” think again. “That was my expectation as well,” laughs Fleming. “I just assumed when I would finally do a Christmas album, it would be that Karajan-Vienna Philharmonic-Leontyne Price template. But this came together in a different way and Universal had a different idea about it.

“I stayed away from carols for the most part, except for ‘Stille, Stille, Stille.’ I also went to my collaborators and said, ‘What would you like to do?’ I took their lead in many cases. Since this took about nine months to really finish up, I worried for a while about it coming together in a way that would make it feel like a whole, but it did. There was enough variety on it to enable it to have that sense of different things coming together.” Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Power Pop from My My My, Purring Swing from Rose Colella

Chicago Artists, Indie Pop, Jazz, Pop, Record Reviews No Comments »

By Robert Rodi

mymymy-tigersonthedancefloor

Let a hundred-thousand critics give their thoughts on My My My and there’s still one phrase you’ll never read: “stripped-down.” On the night I most recently saw them (November 21 at Double Door, the release party for their new album, “Tigers On the Dance Floor”) there were nine performers on the stage. Their sound—beautifully reproduced on the album—features complex rhythms, multilayered harmonies and a thick synth frosting; yet there’s nothing bloated or mannered or self-conscious about it. This is downright muscular pop music: driven, delirious and out for a goddamn good time.

The band is fronted by two vocalists, Russell Baylin and Sarah Snow, who also write all the lyrics. The music itself is a collaborative effort on the part of the entire group, which includes Ante Gelo on guitar and string synth, Jake Bartolone on bass and Moog, John Sorensen on drums, and John Szymanski on keys and percussion. The only members who don’t seem to do double duty are the backup vocalists, a.k.a. The Peoples, unless you count looking lethally glam while they sing as double duty.

Baylin and Snow are a great match: he growls, she howls, and in their solo numbers their sheer sonic majesty makes you stand up and take notice. But when they duet (as in “Sirens of Soft Persuasion”) they can lift you right off the floor and dangle you there. The tunes are incredibly polished and stuffed with so many hooks they’re like harmonic velcro. A few of them—like “Bleeding” and “When We Kiss”—perform that rarest feat of pop alchemy: sounding utterly fresh and yet also giving you the impression you’ve known and loved them for years—that they’re already bonded to your DNA. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Matthew Santos/Schubas Tavern

Folk-rock, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »
In Studio Mabbo-3

Photo: Michael Mabbo

RECOMMENDED

Whether playing solo or with a band, Matthew Santos has a way of capturing an audience’s attention. His soulful voice and acoustic singer-songwriter roots often fill the intimate settings where he tends to perform with good vibes from the first note to the final encore. The Minneapolis native first gained popularity with his contributions to numerous Lupe Fiasco tracks, including the Grammy-nominated single “Superstar,” but his repertoire runs the musical gamut. His recordings generally have an indie-rock/folk feel, with hints of alternative and soul thrown in for good measure. His performances are no different. Read the rest of this entry »

All I Want: Another Misanthropic Christmas Essay

Holiday Music No Comments »

spike-jones-xmas-spectacularBy Eric Lutz

The worst English-language song ever recorded—worse than the Brad Paisley/LL Cool J collaboration “Accidental Racist,” that U2 song about Joey Ramone, and the whole of the fun. catalogue—is a Christmas song called “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.”

Covered by numerous artists over the years, including noted musical genius Count von Count of Sesame Street, it was originally—and most famously—performed by Spike Jones and His City Slickers. Like all its iterations, Jones’ version of the holiday hit is willfully obnoxious, combining the grating sonic palette of the Chipmunks (who covered this crime against music in 1963) with the jejune comedic stylings of a bad Three Stooges flick (unsurprisingly, Larry, Curly and Moe recorded a version of the song as well). Opening with a brief skit in which the song’s protagonist is relieved of his incisors in a careless bicycle accident, trumpeter George Rock—singing as the toothless adolescent—laments his newfound inability to pronounce sibilants without whistling. It is a ridiculous song, and I hate it.

The first time I heard it, it was on this tape of Christmas music my grandfather had dubbed off the radio and his old, immaculately kept records. He played this tape every year and, more than snow, corner Santas and the mathematical elimination of the Bears from the NFL playoff picture, it signaled to me the arrival of the holiday season.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Gift That Keeps On Giving: Vinyl Me, Please Reinvents the Record-of-the-Month Club

News and Dish No Comments »

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When a friend told me about “the best damn record club out there” I was skeptical. After DJing in Chicago for twenty years, I thought, “I’ve got the record-collecting thing covered.” However, as Vinyl Me, Please shipments arrived each month, my skepticism gave way to excitement and appreciation.

You see, each record delivered from Vinyl Me, Please is painstakingly curated by obsessive music lovers—picture the staff from “High Fidelity”—who are passionate about how people listen to music.

Artists have an idea in mind when assembling an album and choosing the accompanying art and packaging. For all the benefits of streaming music (portability, accessibility), it undermines the experience of listening “exactly the way it was put together: start to finish,” asserts Tyler Barstow, co-founder of Vinyl Me, Please.

“Vinyl is, by far, the best format for that because it enforces it. It’s inherently inconvenient; it requires you to spend time with it, but allows you to give it that attention.” Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: Plenty of Live Music to Be Thankful For

Festivals, Holiday Music, Pop Punk, Post-punk, Rock, Soul No Comments »
omys

The O’My’s

By Keidra Chaney

For the musically inclined, the week of Thanksgiving can be a bit of a dead period. Since so many people head out of town for the week, many venues avoid booking shows during this time; in addition, they’re usually gearing up for whatever Christmas holiday events they might have planned. Bands try to squeeze in as many shows as they can before the holidays become a distraction for their followers, so traditionally it’s an uneven time for live music—unless you’re really keeping an eye out.

Which I’m here to do for you. And in terms of national acts, this Thanksgiving actually offers a pretty good weekend of options. The beloved Lucinda Williams comes to the Vic (3145 North Sheffield) on Friday, November 28, while her spiritual offspring Lydia Loveless is ironically playing Lincoln Hall (2424 North Lincoln) at roughly the same time. Saturday brings the gorgeous harmonies of Missouri roots rock band HaHa Tonka to Subterranean (2011 West North), and indie-rocker Angel Olsen (who once called Chicago home, albeit for a short time) returns to play Thalia Hall (1807 South Allport). Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Epic Holiday Treats from Turin, Joey DeFrancesco and Music of the Baroque

Blues, Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Holiday Music, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Orchestral, Vocal Music No Comments »
Gianandrea Noseda

Gianandrea Noseda

By Dennis Polkow

For the first time, Millennium Park’s Harris Theater is presenting an opera independent from Chicago Opera Theater, a mainstay of the venue since it opened more than a decade ago. The one-night-only event features a rare, complete concert performance of Rossini’s “William Tell” by Teatro Regio Torino (Turin, Italy), in the company’s North American debut. This is the first time an Italian opera house will tour a complete opera in North America. Chicago is one of only four stops on the tour, which also includes Carnegie Hall. Baritone Luca Salsi sings the title role, with soprano Angela Meade as Matilde and tenor John Osborn as Arnoldo. The Teatro Regio Torino orchestra and chorus is conducted by the company’s music director, Gianandrea Noseda, who was just chosen as Musical America’s 2015 Conductor of the Year.

“Grazie,” says Noseda, congratulated by phone in Munich, where at press time he was guest conductor at the Bavarian State Orchestra. Ironically, although Noseda’s season-long engagements with Teatro Regio Torino were never in question, reports had surfaced that he’d stepped aside as music director due to highly publicized artistic differences with the company’s general manager. “I am still there,” he reassures me. He calls the mutual striving for both sides to come to an understanding “a work in progress,” and adds, “There are new people coming in [to the company], who I think will make all the difference. We will find our way. At least that is my wish, my hope.” Read the rest of this entry »

In Memoriam: Gwen Pippin

Chicago Artists, In Memoriam, Vocal Music No Comments »
Gwen Pippin

Gwen Pippin

By Robert Rodi

On Sunday night Chicago’s music community lost Gwen Pippin, a mainstay of the city’s cabaret scene and a longtime vocal instructor at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

In her decades as a performer Gwen played virtually every club, lounge and piano bar in town; most recently she was the Saturday-night attraction at Davenport’s on Milwaukee Avenue, a gig she held from the venue’s opening in 1998.

But it was as a teacher that Gwen established her most lasting legacy. She was a fierce opponent of what I call the professionalization of singing. She was born into a world where people routinely gathered around the piano to make their own music, before the omnipresence of world-class singing on radio, LPs and TV intimidated the less gifted into silence. Gwen was not having that. She dedicated herself to helping ordinary people fulfill their need to sing—“and it is a need,” she would insist. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: Never Mind CMJ, Get Your Buzz Right Here

Garage Rock, Krautrock, Psych pop, Punk, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »
Melkbelly

Melkbelly

Every year from late October to early November I suffer from a condition I call “CMJ Envy.” I spend all my time reading blogs and articles about the burgeoning bands and rising artists taking the stage at New York’s annual CMJ Music Marathon, and I wonder why Chicago can’t have similar events headlining new music. But in fact we do have something as cool; it happens every week in bars and small venues all across the city. But our regular music showcases don’t get nearly the attendance and press attention that big sexy events like CMJ get year after year. Part of that is on us, as live-music fans; we need to make the effort to show up and support local and touring bands before the critical buzz starts. With that in mind, here are some upcoming music events that are not only a good excuse to leave the house in the coming weeks, but also way more interesting than reading other people’s blog posts about the “next big thing.” Read the rest of this entry »