Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Book Review: “The Empty Bottle” edited by John Dugan

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Folk-rock, Indie Rock, New Wave, News and Dish, Pop Punk, Post-punk, Post-Rock, Prog-rock, Protopunk, Psychedelic, Punk, Rock, Rockabilly, Shoegaze No Comments »



I didn’t have high expectations for “The Empty Bottle: 21+ Years of Music / Friendly / Dancing” (especially with that grammatically awkward subtitle; yes, those are the famous call-outs emblazoned on the club’s awning, but in print they look like something translated into Mandarin and then back again). Histories of entertainment venues tend to skew either toward brain-numbing listicles or institutional hagiography. But in fact “The Empty Bottle,” edited by John Dugan, is pure delight; it’s a compendium of short tributes and memoirs by close to two dozen people who have worked, played or hung out at the club, and whose voices are wonderfully varied and engaging. Yes, there are the obligatory recollections of early dates by Nirvana and Arcade Fire, but the cumulative result is something much greater—in fact, a genuine and consistently beguiling social history. Like, if Studs Terkel had been born in 1980. Read the rest of this entry »

Con Brio: Baroque Band to Disband After “L’Arte del Violino”

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, News and Dish, Orchestral No Comments »
Garry Clarke

Garry Clarke

Nine years is a relatively long time for a period-instrument orchestra in Chicago: some twenty-five years ago, the City Musick only made it to six seasons. It’s not that we don’t have the performers and the audience for early music, but lining them up with unified artistic vision and managerial leadership for the long term has thus far remained an elusive formula. Even Music of the Baroque, a modern-instrument ensemble with a long history, managed to survive only after a coup more than a decade-and-a-half ago when its founder was unceremoniously dumped by his own board.

Baroque Band was founded by UK violinist Garry Clarke with the hope of beating the odds, and in its prime, its future looked promising. Clarke and company became the pit band for Chicago Opera Theater’s Baroque operas, all but a memory since the departure of Brian Dickie, but having regrouped somewhat in Haymarket Opera. As it happens, a defection of key players from Baroque Band to Haymarket Opera, and the need to bring in players from the East Coast for BB concerts to compensate, likely contributed to making the current model financially unsustainable. Read the rest of this entry »

Music Top 5: Summer 2016

Alt-Rock, Bluegrass, Blues, Festivals, Folk, Folk-rock, Metal, Rock, World Music No Comments »

Northalsted Market Days

By Robert Rodi

There’s no denying the attraction of the big lakefront music festivals—Pitchfork and Lollapalooza, Jazz Fest and Blues Fest, Ruido and Riot Fest, yada  yada yada—but I’ve got to confess a weakness for the smaller-scale festivals…the ones that offer a sense of community that’s at least as potent as the music. My recommendations are entirely subjective and personal; that said, I’m right about all of them, and you should trust me implicitly.

Square Roots Fest
All year long, you see musicians lugging instruments into and out of the Old Town School of Folk Music in Lincoln Square. Well, for three days in high summer, those players burst out into the open air and take over the entire block, including a significant chunk of Welles Park. The Square Roots festival hosts more than sixty acts on four stages, including jams, bluegrass, world music artists and other varieties of enchanting, inspiring performances that wouldn’t make it through the turnstile at the blockbuster venues. Long story short, it’s a festival for people who love making music as much as listening to it.
July 8, 9 and 10 on Lincoln between Montrose and Wilson Read the rest of this entry »

Con Brio: Veteran Jazzer Wayne Shorter Finds the Eternal in the Everyday

Experimental, Interviews, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Rock No Comments »
Wayne Shorter Photo: Robert Ascroft

Photo: Robert Ascroft

By Dennis Polkow

“There’s something emerging about the unexpected,” says veteran jazz composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. “I think the whole world is in kind of a situation where no one can put their finger on what’s going to transpire tomorrow, even to the next moment.

“We were invited to the research lab at Stanford University by some astrophysicists when we played in San Francisco; they wanted to talk about improvisation and what happens when you do something without a so-called plan. They don’t want to separate science from art now. Not only that, but they were talking about that collider in Switzerland, the Big Bang thing, they call it the unfolding.

“I think they’re getting closer to this no-beginning, no-end perception. No real beginning. Like the word beginning might be a temporary crutch until we find out that there’s no word for that, it’s more of a continuance. They’re seeing also another kind of multiverse where it seems like there are no laws that resemble the laws here in this universe. They’re finding that there are multiverses and the possibility that there is another kind of multiverse where what we call time is backwards.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Music Top 5: May 16-31, 2016

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Cyndi Lauper/Photo: Gavin Bond

(Chicago Theatre)
From “She Bop” to “Kinky Boots,” girl’s got the decades-in-the-making diva thing down cold. And the pipes are still pipin’ hot.
May 16 Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Material” by Blaqk Audio

Electronic/Dance, Punk, Record Reviews No Comments »



Davey Havok and Jade Puget are better known for their work in punk-rock outfit AFI. In 2007, the duo moved away from gang vocals and blazing guitars to explore their synthpop side. They took a break after 2012’s “Bright Black Heaven,” but are back with an album that further dives into their electronic and dance impulses.

The duo keep things simple on this long-awaited third release. They stick with the electro/synth format they’ve established on their previous efforts almost to a fault; the album doesn’t get exciting until the second or third listen. Songs like the New Orderesque title track and the eerie “To Be Alone” initially sound too familiar. “Ceremonial” and “You Will Hate Me” are generic dance music better suited for a Rihanna song. The album follows their standard format of dark, brooding songs and one unfitting sugary synthpop tune (“Graphic Violence”). Read the rest of this entry »

The Tip Sheet: Pulitzer Reflections and Some Prize Performances

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Jazz, Orchestral No Comments »

Henry Threadgill

By Seth Boustead

French artist and curator Jean Dubuffet coined a term he called art brut, which he defined as “works produced by persons unscathed by artistic culture, where mimicry plays little or no part. These artists derive everything from their own depths and not from the conventions of classical or fashionable art.”

In art brut the expressive content was more important than a glossy finished product; practitioners of art brut walked to the beat of their own drum and never gave a thought as to how their artistic vision fit into larger trends. Art brut would later become known as outsider art, a movement to which Chicago has contributed plenty. Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Chicago-style Jazz by Twin Talk & Dave Gordon Sextet

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Record Reviews No Comments »

cover copy

By Robert Rodi

Twin Talk is a bit of a smirky name for a trio; fortunately there’s nothing at all coy or adorable about these three very accomplished young jazz musicians. Dustin Laurenzi (sax), Katie Ernst (bass/vocals) and Andrew Green (drums) have achieved the kind of stylistic and tonal integration that usually comes after players have been working together a decade or more; it’s a true collaboration, a real conversation—though in many cases, while listening to their eponymous new album, I found the group’s dynamic to be more visual than verbal.

Take the opening cut, “Colorwheel.” A light but determined sax evokes the title artifact turning in a breeze; the breeze dies—the bass sniffs the air—then it all starts up again, with increased speed and exhilaration. Very effective image-painting here. Read the rest of this entry »

Knowledge Drop: The Evolution of Del the Funky Homosapien

Hip-Hop No Comments »


By Craig Bechtel

Hip-hop fans in Chicago have one responsibility on May 12: see Del the Funky Homosapien. Teren Delvon Jones has been around for a long time; he was born and raised in Oakland and was writing rhymes for his cousin Ice Cube’s crew, Da Lench Mob, at the tender age of seventeen.

In contrast to the extant “gangsta rap” forces at the time, on his first two records, “I Wish My Brother George Was Here” (1991) and “No Need For Alarm” (1993), Del Tha Funkee Homosapien (as it was then spelled) revealed himself to be a philosophical rhyme-sayer who possessed not only his cousin’s forthright strength on the mic, but also questioned and skewered reality and popular culture. Read the rest of this entry »

Music Top 5: May 1-May 15, 2016

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(Lincoln Hall)
With his wit, brio and relentlessly infectious hooks, Sean Tillmann is completely rewriting the rules for being a pop star.
May 14 Read the rest of this entry »