Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: Black and Brown Punk Show/Various venues

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Live Reviews, Punk No Comments »
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Moor Mother Goddess

RECOMMENDED

Back in 2013 I first wrote about the Black and Brown Punk Show; sadly my comments about Chicago’s diverse but largely segregated rock music scene pretty much still stand two years later. But I want to call attention to this year’s festival as it’s an overlooked gem of an event that our city has the honor of hosting annually.

Over two days, twenty-plus punk acts come to the city in an all-ages celebration of Chicago’s multiracial, DIY punk scene that is also a safe space for queer and trans folks of color. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Grant Park’s Carlos Kalmar Craves the New, Whether in Music or in Life

Chicago Artists, Classical, Festivals, Interviews, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Vocal Music No Comments »
Carlos and Raffaela Kalmar with newborn son Luca Pedro/Photo courtesy of Carlos Kalmar

Carlos and Raffaela Kalmar with newborn son Luca Pedro. Photo Courtesy of Carlos Kalmar

By Dennis Polkow

“He’s such a joy,” says proud father Carlos Kalmar of his son Luca Pedro, who was born on the last day of 2014. “It’s really great, I’m very happy. I don’t know if having a newborn makes you a bit more soft, that is for others to say. But it adds a component to life in general that is somehow reflected in your work when the occasion is given. In music, sometimes the depth of what we do may get even deeper. But who am I to judge?”

Kalmar has two children from a previous marriage and even a grandson. “I have started over,” he laughs. “I have two daughters who are twenty-seven and twenty-five. When you’re older, or to some extent older, I think the influence of children on you is amazing. I’m not talking about grandchildren, they are fantastic: I have one, but I don’t see him very often because he lives in Europe. But to have a child of your own when you’re older changes some things. And it’s all for the better.”

Renewal remains a virtual archetype for Kalmar, who thrives on new challenges and on learning, performing and introducing audiences to new pieces. For the closing weekend of the Grant Park Music Festival, for instance, Kalmar will conduct the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus with guest vocal soloists in a rare complete performance of Elgar’s oratorio “The Kingdom.” Read the rest of this entry »

Frozen in Time: Scott Hesse Trio Brings Stirring “Stillness” to Constellation

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Live Reviews, Record Reviews No Comments »

The Trio, 5-13-15

By Corey Hall

Envision the Aqua Tower, 225 North Columbus Drive, on its side in black and white. This image could be in motion but is actually frozen in time with a watery, wave-like feel, as created through photographer Scott Hesse’s lens. This image—complete with color and complementary crop by a graphic designer–is the cover art for Hesse’s trio’s new album, “The Stillness of Motion,” whose CD release party is on August 14 at Constellation.

Hesse, a Chicago-based jazz guitarist who has performed with Greg Ward, Dee Alexander and Ernest Dawkins, among many others, believes that recording music is similar to documenting life through photography. “This music is very fluid and always changing, but when you capture it on a recording, it freezes moments in time, like what happens in a picture,” says Hesse, who is joined on the album by bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Makaya McCraven. “You can definitely hear the movement and evolutions taking place… but it’s never going to be that way again.” Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago Music Legends: Kurt Elling

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Jazz No Comments »

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By Robert Rodi

This is the first in a series of profiles of Chicagoans who have enriched both the city’s and the country’s musical life. Succeeding entries will appear on an irregular basis.

Every baritone jazz singer has to stand comparison to Frank Sinatra, whose shadow looms over them so unremittingly, you want to take pity and just equip them all with miners’ helmets. And it’s true that in terms of sheer tonal beauty, Kurt Elling—the bari-jazzman of the moment—doesn’t quite match his famous forebear. Elling’s wiry, scrappy, middleweight-boxer of a voice, marked (or marred, depending on your point of view) by the occasional flatness of Chicago vowel sounds (he was born here in 1967), is an entirely different animal from Sinatra’s opulent, resonant, cello-like instrument. Sinatra’s voice is all roundness and legato; Elling’s, at its most characteristic, is serrated and staccato.

And yet the way in which Elling doesn’t quite measure up to Sinatra pales into insignificance next to the many ways in which he surpasses him. Elling’s range is an astonishing four octaves, double that of Sinatra’s, and his boundless facility for improvising is so far beyond anything Sinatra ever exhibited, there aren’t even analogous samples to set side by side for comparison. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday at Lolla: Hometown Heroes and Wild Weather

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Dance Pop, Festivals, Indie Rock, Live Reviews, Rock No Comments »
TwinPeaks

Twin Peaks

By Robert Rodi

Sunday afternoon I had my first concentrated dose of Twin Peaks. I’m not generally drawn to this kind of act—you reach a certain age, you find your appetite for brash young guitar bands has been satiated almost to the point of aversion—but I love a local success story, and these Chicago natives have had an amazing year since they slashed their way to stardom at Pitchfork last year. Their album “Wild Onion” became both a critical and commercial success, launching them on an extensive national tour, and now they’d returned home in triumph to play Lollapalooza.

It was easy to see they were stoked. Almost from the moment they took the stage, they were hurling themselves around like sock puppets. I’ve heard enough of “Wild Onion” to know that there are some wryly rueful and even mildly cerebral tunes in their repertoire, but for their Lolla set it was pretty much power-chord overload. Their fans—who were many—seemed to love it, and the guys fed on that energy so that their performance rapidly went from propulsive to convulsive. Seriously, there was so much thrashing and pounding and leaping around, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the entire Sprint stage had shifted a few inches during their set. Read the rest of this entry »

Lolla Day Two: Pedal to the Metal

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Hip-Hop, Live Reviews, Metal, Punk, Rock No Comments »
Photo: Brian Hieggelke

Mick Jenkins/Photo: Brian Hieggelke

By Craig Bechtel

One of the few hip-hop acts on the Lollapalooza bill this year, and the only one from Chicago, Mick Jenkins led the audience in a repeated chant to “drink more water,” dovetailing off the musical project he released last year entitled “The Water[s]”—which he told the rapt crowd (who mostly seemed to know the words) is a metaphor for truth. His verbal flow was just as fluid as water, and to Jenkins’ credit, his four-piece ensemble included a live, jazz-influenced drummer, along with the de rigueur backing man and DJ. But the proof was in the performance—as Jenkins put it at the end of one number, “all of this shit is perception.” Perception being what it is, he concluded his set with a reference to N.W.A.’s “Fuck Tha Police,” a pointed reference to the ongoing national controversies prompted by allegations of police brutality against African-Americans. The point was not lost on anyone. (A few hours later rapper Travis Scott would attempt to make a similar point at the beginning of his set on the Perry’s stage by telling the crowd to climb over the security barriers and rush the stage, shouting “We want rage!” According to published reports, the plug was pulled on his performance only five minutes in, and he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.) Read the rest of this entry »

My Lolla: Craig Bechtel

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Festivals, Garage Rock, Indie Rock, Live Reviews, Metal, Prog-rock, Rock No Comments »
1_DFA1979_Rough-Trade

Death from Above 1979

Lollapalooza started as a traveling “alternative” rock carnival, but today it’s a stationary event showcasing music that ranges from rock to hip-hop to pop to electronic. If that doesn’t seem like a tremendously wide range, it’s not just you. As Lollapalooza has evolved toward the mainstream, Riot Fest (based in Chicago, but now held around the country) has pulled away most of the possible punk edges, brought back some “legacy acts” with underground roots like No Doubt and Billy Idol and introduced actual carnival rides. Conversely, having recently completed its tenth rendition in Chicago’s Union Park, the Pitchfork Music Festival can’t be rivaled in terms of their indie cred, and they supplement their bread-and-butter indie rock with a fair amount of rap, electronic and even some retro-folk explorations too. Chicago is either blessed or cursed to host 300,000 Lollapalooza-goers the first weekend in August each year, depending on who you ask, but it’s still the granddaddy of all of these festival options, in terms of longevity, attendance and scope.

Compared to Pitchfork’s three color-named stages and fifty-odd acts, Lollapalooza boasts approximately 150 performances on six corporate-named stages, plus one for Kidzapalooza presented by Lifeway, and Perry’s—named for the founder, Perry Farrell (hopefully he didn’t have to pay himself anything for naming rights)—for DJs and dancing only. So how can you choose who to see and who to hear? Research and listen, and if it’s a tie, try to split the difference. Just try not to pass out when running between the stages in the hot, hot August heat.

FRIDAY

2:30pm-3:30pm
St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Bud Light

2:50pm-3:30pm
BadBadNotGood
Pepsi
Friday holds off on tough choices until the 2pm hour, when St. Paul & The Broken Bones has to compete with BadBadNotGood. If the latter had rapper Ghostface Killah in tow to perform numbers from their excellent collaboration, they would get the nod, but I’m afraid I’d rather hear some authentically-done soul singing as opposed to seventies-set experimental explorations. Since there’s bound to be an abundance of treacly, fake-soul offerings this weekend (I’m looking at you, Sam Smith), I’m going to have to give Paul Janeway and his Birmingham-bred brethren the edge here. Read the rest of this entry »

My Lolla: Dylan Peterson

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Festivals, Indie Rock, Rock No Comments »
saint-pepsi

Skylar Spence

I won’t be at Lolla this year; the following is a fictionalized daily schedule.

FRIDAY

2:00pm
You lock up your bike outside of the festival, wipe the sweat from your forehead, drink the rest of your water and start walking.

2:15pm-3:00pm
Glass Animals
Samsung Galaxy
Sex is the first thing on everyone’s mind at Lollapalooza, so it only makes sense to start off the festival experience with Glass Animals. This slinky, slow-rock band from the UK will set the mood for the rest of the weekend, whether it’s a gray, rainy day or a hot and humid 100 degrees. You’ll feel a groove either way.

3:00pm-3:45pm
Tove Lo
Sprint
Keep the sexy theme going here, with added pop hooks via Sweden. You’ve made some major eye contact with someone during Glass Animals, and now you’re a quick stroll away from getting to know that someone even better during “Talking Body.” (There’s no time to waste—when Tove Lo’s at the chorus you can’t be dancing by yourself.) Read the rest of this entry »

My Lolla: John Wilmes

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Festivals, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, Metal, Rock No Comments »
twin-peaks-band-cereal-killer-cafe-london-2015-750x422

Twin Peaks

Do you like it big? Big crowds, big sounds, big sensations? Lollapalooza, as it is wont to do, brings on every kind of big this summer. The annual festival is an excuse to indulge everything oversized, everything bloated (in the best sense) about the music world of now. Dive nose-first into the communal affair, and hold my hand if all the noisy fun and sweat start to scare you.

FRIDAY

4:30pm-5:30pm
Hot Chip
Bud Light
There is something ridiculously urgent about this band. The British synth-poppers make dancing seem like the most important thing in the world, with their slow-burn beats and the haunting lilt of singer Alexis Taylor. And who’s to say dancing isn’t so essential?

5:30pm- 6:30pm 
The War on Drugs
Palladia
It’s hard to find more finely-tuned rock schmaltz than what TWOD is churning out these days. Their chug of Americana and pretty tones was built to chain-smoke in front of when done live—if you’re into that sort of thing. Read the rest of this entry »

My Lolla: Jake Krzeczowski

Chicago Artists, Festivals No Comments »
FKA Twigs

FKA Twigs

Ah, Lollapalooza! Like an old friend you’ve grown apart from, the Lolla of today hardly resembles the festival I spent all my summer cash on as a teenager, to drink cheap vodka out of a water bottle and watch Kid Cudi. The Lollapalooza of 2015 is an aggressive beast that appears poised to burst its Grant Park confines and spill into the city at large—as indeed it does every night at 10pm during its three-day stretch.

If you can’t tell by now, I’m no longer the biggest fan of the fest. In a city where Pitchfork, North Coast, Riot Fest and Spring Awakening are realities, there honestly is little reason to attend Lolla unless you like long lines, sweating on the person next to you and catching the same headliner from two years ago. It’s the vanilla of the Chicago summer festival season, the Iggy Azalea if you will; it’s a great reason for teenagers to wear ill-fitting, high-waisted shorts and Crocs.

The only thing that has brought me to Grant Park the past few years has been the allure of local talent seeping into the festival giant’s lineup. Last year I showed up for Vic Mensa’s set on the BMI stage and hung around until Sunday to see Chance shut the place down with an epic headlining performance that won’t soon be forgotten. This year? It’s a mix, but I’ve got some tips to get you through.

FRIDAY

12:45pm-1:30pm 
SZA
Samsung Galaxy

2:15pm-3:00pm
Glass Animals
Samsung Galaxy
Read the rest of this entry »