Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: Chosen Few Picnic/Jackson Park

Chicago Artists, Disco, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, House, Live Reviews No Comments »
Wayne Williams

Wayne Williams

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In the late seventies and eighties, a group of local DJs—Wayne Williams, Jesse Saunders, Alan King, Tony Hatchett and Andre Hatchett—helped turn Chicago-style house music into an international phenomenon. In 1990, the by-now-self-christened Chosen Few Disco Corp. (self-esteem obviously not being a problem area for them) held a reunion picnic at Jackson Park, and rather than being a wistful, weren’t-the-old-days-great-please-pass-the-potato-salad affair, the party generated enough high-energy mojo to launch an entirely new phenomenon: an annual house-music festival that grew to incorporate live performances as well as epic-scale spinning. Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: A Freeman Family Affair, the Affairs of Natalie Myre

Alt-Country, Chicago Artists, Jazz, Record Reviews, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

AllInTheFamily3

By Robert Rodi

There are few musicians more fondly remembered in Chicago than tenor sax giant Von Freeman, who died in 2012. So when Freeman’s son, Chico, also a sax man, and brother George, a celebrated guitarist, came together to record for the first time, it was hard to avoid invoking Von’s memory… especially since they chose to call the album “All In the Family.” (Titling one of the cuts “Vonski” didn’t help, either.) But beyond the nod to their late relative’s legacy, the two surviving Freemans manage to make the music entirely their own. Comprising all-original compositions (with the exception of the haunting standard “Angel Eyes,” plus a smattering of very short improvised pieces that serve almost as amuse-bouches between the more substantial tunes), “All In the Family” plays like an intergenerational conversation between George’s burnished, impeccable guitar and Chico’s deft and energetic sax. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Joe Goodkin/Schubas

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Jam Band, Live Reviews, Rock No Comments »

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Chicago singer-songwriter Joe Goodkin is perhaps best known as the founder of the local indie band Paper Arrows. But his career took an interesting turn when he wrote a thirty-minute adaptation of “The Odyssey” for voice and guitar, which he ended up touring around the country to widespread acclaim. I’ve only heard excerpts, but there’s an aching plangency in the work that seems to give it a direct connection to the Bronze Age texts. Now Goodkin has emerged on the other side with a new EP, “Record of Life,” that comes across almost as an adaptation of his own earlier work—or more accurately, a commentary on it; a corrective of where it didn’t go far enough—as if all that time spent with Homer has given him the cojones to call bullshit on his previous, more timid self. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Guitar Center Union Benefit/Debonair Social Club

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Indie Rock, Live Reviews, Rock No Comments »
NonExotic

Non Exotic

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Rock ’n’ roll used to be a force for social change—and if the employees of megabucks retailer Guitar Center have their way, it will be again, goddammit. The workers unionized two years ago, and now find themselves fighting for a fair contract—meaning one that provides a living wage and affordable benefits. They stress how much they love their jobs, but lament that “we often have trouble making ends meet, thanks to low wages and fluctuating hours. We are asked to do many non-selling tasks which hurt our commissions. Sales workers do not receive sick days, health benefits are expensive and part timers are not even offered health benefits.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: She Rides Tigers/Quenchers Saloon

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Live Reviews, Psychedelic, Rock No Comments »

SRT

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Not sure what it is about the long-awaited arrival of summer in Chicago, but it invariably unleashes the urge to go out, cram oneself into a small club shoulder-to-shoulder with the demoniacally like-minded, and have one’s face melted by an unapologetically balls-out local rock band. Well, June is that month and She Rides Tigers is that band. In case the endlessly extended winter has eroded your belief in just how much noise a mere trio of human beings can make, Joe O’Leary (guitar, vocals), James Scott (bass, vocals) and Matt McGuire (drums) are happy to remind you. Read the rest of this entry »

Less Successful Numbers: The Money of Local Music

Chicago Artists, News and Dish 3 Comments »
Illustration: Ray Noland

Illustration: Ray Noland

By David Safran

I am a solo artist who performs live music in Chicago. Urban Dictionary, the summit of our English language, has a few definitions of “solo artist.” The second is fitting: a musician who works on “material/songs in a primarily solo state.” But I prefer the first definition: solo artists are musicians so skilled at masturbation that “they take it to the level of an art.”

At any rate, I write songs and perform them live. I use my own name—a tricky sell in 2015—and I hire musicians to accompany me on stage. These musicians are professional and skilled—and expensive. It’s a costly process, taking on a show. Each musician gets about $100-$150 for the performance. I reimburse the band for travel expenses. Sometimes they request separate payment for rehearsals. I also rent space for our practices. If I perform one local show, I need at least $450 to break even.

Occasionally I get offers to open for touring solo artists. Over the past couple of years, talent buyers have contacted me about support slots not because the music matched or the headliners (and their agents) were David Safran fans, but because I could “add heft in ticket sales.” Those headliners—all global and careered and acclaimed—were, for whatever reason, having a tough time selling tickets here. Per-show booking fees for artists I’ve supported have all been in the thousands. My guarantees have been meager. For example, City Winery paid me $300. Lincoln Hall paid me $200. In October, SPACE offered me $100 with the expectation to bring the crowd; the headliner had only sold twenty-five tickets. SPACE is a music room in the back of a suburban pizzeria. You’d think its talent buyer, Jake Samuels, was booking La Scala. Yet I couldn’t get a guarantee higher than $100. I turned down his show offer. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Kenji Bunch Makes Music From the Inside Out

Chicago Artists, Classical, Festivals, Interviews, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Pop, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »
Kenji Bunch / Photo: Erica Lyn

Kenji Bunch/Photo: Erica Lyn

By Dennis Polkow

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many composers have been attracted to the viola,” says violist and composer Kenji Bunch. Like Bach, who noted that he enjoyed playing viola because he was always “in the middle of the harmony,” Bunch observes that “it lets you experience music from the inside out and you really get a unique perspective on how things are put together.

“If you sing alto or tenor in a choir rather than soprano or bass, those are the hard parts to hear and be able to pick out the right notes for those funky inner lines rather than the more obvious top or bottom lines. I think the viola really finds you. It’s suited for a certain kind of personality that is interested in more offbeat things, literally offbeat things.”

Since the viola is a darker-colored instrument with less brilliance than its more popular cousin the violin, “we don’t have a lot of traditional repertoire written for our instrument, which means we violists usually gain exposure to twentieth century music a lot sooner than violinists or cellists do. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Songwriter Showcase/Elastic Arts

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Indie Rock, Live Reviews No Comments »
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Rebecca F.

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Nonprofit arts programming collective Homeroom returns with its Songwriter Showcase after a couple of months off. If singer-songwriter open mics tend to be the kind of thing that normally repels you, I urge you to give Homeroom’s take on such an event a try. There’s a lot more diversity than the usual “lone-singer-with-a-guitar” setup, a diversity of styles and genres and an opportunity to hear the artists talk about their songwriting and creative processes. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Wire’s DRILL Festival/The Hideout, Thalia Hall, Metro

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Indie Rock, Post-punk, Punk, Rock No Comments »
Wire

Wire / Photo: Marylene Mey

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Whether or not you believe Wire to be a seminal punk and post-punk band, you have to admire its insistence on evolution—from its minimalist beginnings in 1976 through its various genre-defying iterations. Which brings us to the new format for the band’s ongoing DRILL festivals: small, curated events built on artistic kinship across divergent musical styles, influences and generations. This version of the festival (with different supporting/collaborating artists) hit London earlier this year, and we have the privilege of being the only other host city on the agenda. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Shawn Maxwell’s Alliance/Jazz Showcase

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Live Reviews No Comments »

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As an aficionado who does a fair bit of proselytizing in an attempt to get people to listen to modern, improvised jazz, I hear a lot of resistance along the following lines: “It’s cerebral.” “It’s dissonant.” “It’s complex and hard to follow.” To which I always reply: “You say that like those are bad things.” But in a sense I understand; while there’s plenty of fire and ice in most new jazz, there’s not a lot of… friendliness, for lack of a better word—a welcoming hand, extended toward the listener to invite her onto an unfamiliar soundscape. Which is where Shawn Maxwell comes in. Read the rest of this entry »