Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

The Tip Sheet: Classical Music By—and For—the Good Guys

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Experimental, Jazz, Vocal Music No Comments »
Photography of Progress, Process, Studio Practice Documentation

Grant Wallace Band

By Seth Boustead

Close your eyes for a moment and picture this familiar scenario: A super-villain is sitting in a high-backed chair, fiendishly stroking a kitten while he tells a momentarily incapacitated super-spy and a handful of hapless goons his current plan for world domination. What music is he listening to as he does this? That’s right, he’s listening to classical music.

Given that this is one of the enduring images we who have chosen this field have had to deal with at least since Wagner, how disappointing was it to open up the newspaper the other day and read that that arch-fucker Vladimir Putin had decided to put on an open-air classical music concert in war-torn Syria featuring his good buddy and fellow one-percenter, and also decidedly mediocre cellist, Sergei Roldugin. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Jazz for Women/Southport & Irving

Jazz No Comments »

Elaine Dame


Elaine Dame, the captivating Chicago vocalist who last year produced a jazz benefit for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, is once again twining the tuneful with the entrepreneurial for a cause. “I have a goal to host a musical benefit yearly,” she confesses; and this year’s beneficiary is the Chicago Foundation for Women, an advocacy organization that focuses on work and economic security, freedom from violence and access to health. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: PUP/Subterranean

Punk, Rock No Comments »

Photo: Vanessa Hein


Toronto punks PUP crashed the rock scene in 2014 with their raucous self-titled debut, and won over critics and music lovers with their old-school punk ethos. Before their performance this month at Chicago’s Subterranean comes the release of their harder, more destructive and angrier second album, “The Dream Is Over.” Right out the gate, the songs “Familiar Patterns,” “Doubts,” and “Old Wounds” are more chaotic and abrasive than what came before. Things may be louder and newly aggressive, but the album is more focused and fine-tuned without losing its raw appeal. It shows the band’s growth as musicians and songwriters. Read the rest of this entry »

Knowledge Drop: At Midlife, Aesop Rock Sheds His Privacy

Hip-Hop, Rap No Comments »


By Craig Bechtel

The Shakespeare of hip-hop, Aesop Rock, turns forty this month (he shares a birthday with Kenny G, he notes on the track “TUFF”), and although he may be growing more contemplative as middle age approaches, he’s not slowing down. The rapper born Ian Matthias Bavitz has just released his seventh solo album, “The Impossible Kid” (Rhymesayers), but he’s also kept busy as a collaborator, being a member of the Weathermen and Two of Every Animal (both with rapper Cage), having worked with Kimya Dawson as The Uncluded and formed Hail Mary Mallon with Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz.

Given that he’s touring the West Coast (with the aforementioned Sonic) at press time, he provides some insights into the new record and where he’s “at” via email from an L.A. hotel room. Aesop says “The Impossible Kid” has received a great response, and the shows have been really good so far: “I never really know what to expect, but by and large it seems like the people are digging it.” Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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 »