Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Still Facing East: AACM Celebrates Fifty Years of Great Black Music

Chicago Artists, Classical, Festivals, Interviews, Jazz, Orchestral, R&B, Soul No Comments »
Mosley one

Dushun Mosley

By Corey Hall

Silently, the musicians in the Chicago-born Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) stand and face east before a single note is expressed. This, according to Muhal Richard Abrams, the Association’s co-founder, is because all life originates in the east. If any evil energies exist in a performance space, the musicians must wear war paint and masks for protection. This tradition has characterized AACM presentations since 1965.

The organization celebrates its golden anniversary this month, beginning on April 22 with a performance by the Hanah Jon Taylor Artet at The Promontory and culminating in a collaborative finale, “Together: A Power Stronger Than Itself,” at Mandel Hall on April 26, in which fifty AACM members perform as one. In between are recitals and concerts at various venues around town, by artists such as Saalik’s Epoch Zed, cellist Tomeka Reid and The Colson Group.

Drummer Dushun Mosley and violist Renée Baker—two AACM members who are participating in multiple performances during the celebration—recently spoke about why this cooperative association still matters. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: Indie Music Gears Up for Spring

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Festivals, Indie Rock, News and Dish, Record Store Day, Record Stores, Rock No Comments »
StarsAlign-McGillMullenhour

Cameron McGill, Angela Mullenhour

By Keidra Chaney

It’s hard to believe we’re already four months into 2015. It’s particularly unbelievable that—at least to me—it’s so far been a pretty uneventful year for indie music, local or otherwise. Of course the weather’s been in a pretty soul-killing state until very recently, which has made going out for live music a bit more of a chore, but there’s also been something of a demo drought in my neck of the woods. There’s plenty of time to catch up, and Chicago tends to be at its best in spring and summer, so it’s my hope that the next few months will make up for a rather barren winter of music news and events.

That’s not to say that there’s not some good live music to check out in the next few weeks. I mentioned the Gapers Block-sponsored “Stars Align” series several columns ago; it features two musicians from different local bands collaborating for a one-night-only live performance. This month’s show, on April 16, promises to be a special one, because instead of performing covers or each other’s tunes, singer-songwriters Cameron McGill and Angela Mullenhour (of the band Coins) will perform newly co-written original songs at GMan Tavern (3740 North Clark). The show’s free, as usual for the series, and starts at 7:30pm. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Pacifica Explores WWI’s Impact on Music; a Monument to a Beloved Critic

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Festivals, In Memoriam, Interviews, New Music, News and Dish No Comments »
Pacifica Quartet: Masumi Per Rostad, Sibbi Bernhardsson, Simin Ganatra, Brandon Vamos

Pacifica Quartet: Masumi Per Rostad, Sibbi Bernhardsson, Simin Ganatra, Brandon Vamos

By Dennis Polkow

The diversity of music that was composed during the First World War will be spotlighted during a special Pacifica Quartet-conceived University of Chicago Presents festival called “Centenary Weekend: The Crossroads of World War I and Music,” which will include six concerts across a single weekend.

“We did a recording eight years ago called ‘Declarations’ which was music written between the wars,” explains Pacifica violinist Sibbi Bernhardsson. “One of the things we have been talking about a lot was that the early part of the twentieth century was perhaps the most varied time when it came to different types of great music being written, different styles and idioms when there was so much going on. Entering into the centennial of World War I, we thought it would be interesting to make a festival where we highlighted exactly that.” Read the rest of this entry »

Art > Commerce @ SXSW 2015: A Survivor’s Story

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Dance Pop, EDM, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Folk-rock, Garage Rock, Indie Pop, Live Reviews, Post-Rock, Rock No Comments »
Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks

By Bart Lazar

“To hell with poverty,” Gang of Four tells us, “we’ll get drunk on cheap wine.” The only problem is that the band is playing at SXSW on a stage sponsored by dozens of global megabrands and funded by tens of thousands of trade show attendees, each of whom has shelled out thousands of dollars to attend. But just like the song, SXSW has an irresistible beat you can dance to, so that art, entertainment and fun ultimately trump commerce. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: Chicago at SXSW, SXSW in Chicago

Festivals No Comments »
zariganis

Zarigani$ at Japan Nite. 3/22 at Double Door.

By Keidra Chaney

By the time this column runs, South By Southwest Music Festival will be in full swing in Austin, Texas. As usual, Chicago has a pretty sizable showing this year, with a few dozen hometown bands performing at both official and unofficial showcases. Some local favorites mentioned in previous columns—including Twin Peaks, Sidewalk Chalk, White Mystery and Jon Langford—will be performing throughout the week. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: For Live Music, a Not-So-Bleak Midwinter

Alt-Country, Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Folk-rock, Indie Pop, Indie Rock No Comments »

July Talk

By Keidra Chaney

It’s an interesting time of year for live music in Chicago; it’s right before the spring and summer concert season, so many of us are preoccupied with summer-festival-lineup announcements or buying tickets for recently announced shows taking place in the upcoming months. At the same time, it’s smack dab in the middle of the worst part of winter, so many of us are suffering from major cabin fever and eager to leave the house for anything remotely interesting. Chicago’s musicians and venues often approach this time of year in novel and creative ways.

The 2015 Dunn Dunn Fest returns to Chicago February 19-21. In an indie-rock-heavy festival scene, Dunn Dunn Fest has traditionally stood out from the crowd by focusing more on American, folk and roots acts. Six venues will host this year’s event, including The Hideout (1354 West Wabansia), Subterranean (2011 West North) and Beat Kitchen (2100 West Belmont). While Dunn Dunn Fest started in 2013 as an intimate festival focused primarily on Americana, a closer look at the lineup this year reveals a much larger and more diverse list of forty-plus bands that don’t fall so neatly into that category. On February 19, Toronto alt-rock band July Talk plays Subterranean (8pm, $10) and on February 20 sunny indie-poppers Save the Clocktower play the Hideout ($10, 10pm). For more information on the full lineup, venues, times and ticket prices go to the Harmonica Dunn website. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: All You Need to Know About Tomorrow Never Knows

Alt-Rock, Festivals, Folk-rock, Hip-Hop, Indie Pop, Indie Rock, Pop, Rock No Comments »
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Zola Jesus

By Keidra Chaney

As of this writing, tickets for the Tomorrow Never Knows Festival (January 14-18) are still available. You can get a five-day pass for $100, and most individual shows run from $15 to $30. TNK added a comedy lineup to the festival a few years ago, but since I’m the last person you should be asking about comedy recs, I’ll stick to my picks for the music shows you should consider leaving the house for in the next few days.

TNK kicks off on January 14, and while Aimee Mann and Ted Leo’s fun folk-rock collaboration, The Both, is likely to draw a crowd, I recommend checking out the synth-pop project from Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner, called Operators, at Schubas (3159 North Southport). Indie rockers doing dance pop appears to be a thing now (not that I’m complaining, as a rock fan with a jones for synth) and Operators sound about as you’d expect: very eighties-tinged and chock full of hooks. It’s pop music the way indie rockers seem to be embracing it unabashedly now, and I think it’s worth checking out. The $15 show is 18+ and starts at 8pm, with Mister Suit, Lowell and Lia Ices opening. 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 »

A Neighborhood Celebration of Sound: A Preview of the Englewood Jazz Festival

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Jazz No Comments »
Ernest Dawkins

Ernest Dawkins

By Corey Hall

For fifteen consecutive years, Englewood resident Ernest Dawkins has coordinated a free, six-hour outdoor celebration of sound as a contribution to his community. This celebration, officially called the Englewood Jazz Festival, is sponsored by the Live the Spirit Residency, a nonprofit organization Dawkins founded in 2006. He presented the first three Englewood Jazz Festivals through a grant from nonprofit Meet the Composer (now called New Music USA) and, when this grant ended, Dawkins supported the next three festivals with his own funds before establishing Live the Spirit.

“This community has multiple economic difficulties and has been ignored by the arts community for too long,” Dawkins said in a recent conversation. “I did this festival to try and institutionalize the music and arts in this underserved community and, in the future, I plan to branch out to Roseland or the West Side. I want this to get bigger.” Read the rest of this entry »

Still Punk and political: A Conversation with Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers

Festivals, Punk No Comments »

stifflittlefingers
By Bart Lazar

Stiff Little Fingers is a punk band originally from Belfast, Ireland that has been around since the second  UK punk wave—they formed just six months after the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned.  Some of SLF’s best known work—”Tin Soldiers,” “Nobody’s Hero” and “Alternative Ulster”—-contains lyrics that hate hate:  advocating against war, violence, oppression, racial prejudice and class hatred.  Stiff Little Fingers’ influence lives on in more commercially successful descendants such as Green Day, The Offspring and Bad Religion.

Today, the band still exists with two of its four original members and recently released “No Going Back,” its first album in eleven years. The album just hit the charts in the UK at number fourteen, the band’s best performing material since the early eighties.

Jake Burns, the original snarling/shouting lead singer is now a Chicagoan–making the band twenty-five-percent local.  He discussed  the band’s history, relevance today and playing at Riot Fest in a recent interview.

How would you describe SLF to someone who is going to Riot Fest, and has never heard of you or your music?
We are a punk band that’s been doing it for thirty-seven years. We have always tried to play music that entertains, but means something in terms of social commentary.  Sometimes we are called a “Political” band, but I would say “political” with a small “p.” Certainly, we don’t play a lot of love songs.

Have the driving themes of your music changed over the years?
The themes we focus on—class distinctions, caring for one another, racism—are consistent. Those are the things that concern me most and those are the things that we can change. We can’t cure cancer. We live in America, where there are people sleeping in cardboard boxes. They are all things that offend my sense of justice. This is fixable!

Are you more optimistic about the world than you were back in 1978?
I don’t think so to be honest. People really are polarized. People that have things want to hold on to them.The “Greed is Good” mentality has come back again. That kind of selfishness is pretty dismaying.

You have seen touring bands that you influenced—Green Day, Offspring, Pennywise and Bad Religion. How does that feel?
It is very flattering. Green Day had us open their tour in Australia, and it was amazing to see them standing on the side of the stage watching our whole show. One of the guys from Pennywise told us he got his first fake ID so he could get into one of our shows. That’s some kind of influence.

What can old punks teach new generations?
When we started, the music was seen as outside of the mainstream, sort of “rebel” music, and we were not all about pleasing the public or selling anything.  Now punk rock, for better than not, has become part of the entertainment industry. And most “punk rockers” today are more about making party songs. At the end of the day, we are there to entertain people, we are not university lecturers—ultimately. But we can show people that the words are more important and older punks are not shy about saying things.

What can you say about the longevity of punk rock?
As the Clash said in “Complete Control” about what was said about punk and them—”They Ain’t Gonna Last.” One truism we’ve discovered is that it [punk] never goes away. Punk rock really does seem to be a life choice. It’s not just another t-shirt. You are buying a whole set of principles, and after you get past the outward appearances, I have found “punks” to be some of the most honest, gentle, solid, nice and polite people you will ever meet.

With a new record out, at Riotfest should we expect to hear the new album or your punk standards?
Riot Fest is one of the best festivals, and I am glad to play again before a hometown crowd. Because it is a festival it is more of a celebration, sets are shorter and although some may have come to see us, people are not necessarily coming only to hear us play and some may not even be aware of us at all—so it is not the platform to play the new record. We may play one new song, but we will focus on the Riot Fest theme and play more of our older material.

Stiff Little Fingers performs at Riot Fest in Humboldt Park and an aftershow with Cock Sparrer at Concord Hall at 9:30pm on Friday September 12.