Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

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: 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 »

Live Review: DJ Spinn/Pitchfork Music Festival

Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Live Reviews No Comments »

Since the sudden passing of DJ Rashad, it’s been unclear how Chicago’s Teklife crew would move on, let alone fill his slot at this year’s festival. The group’s unequivocal response was an impassioned set that featured dozens of dancers and DJs on stage, and non-stop footwork music, save for a pause to honor their fallen comrade. It was an incredibly warming, moving experience, to dance along with the Teklife crew in their hometown at such a crucial moment. The performance was more a celebration than an occasion for mourning, and the crowd picked up on that, spontaneously breaking into dance circles, throwing up their arms and flailing along with carefree love and affection for the big beats and manic pace that left no choice but to move, and move on, with Teklife, even without DJ Rashad. No other moment at the Pitchfork Music Festival seemed as poignant or touching, DJ Spinn and the Teklife crew capturing the power and beauty of music’s possibilities, and redeeming Pitchfork for only choosing two Chicago acts to perform. At least they chose wisely. Rest in peace, DJ Rashad. (Kenneth Preski)

Live Review: Majical Cloudz/Pitchfork Music Festival

Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Live Reviews No Comments »

I was so engrossed with watching a group of presumably intoxicated festival goers staring at some sticks or ants or something, I didn’t make it to Majical Cloudz in time to be very close to the stage for the electronic duo’s set. No matter, because after the first song, a technical difficulty delayed the band’s performance. Singer Devon Welsh tried to stall with attempts at knock-knock jokes from fans, and beat-boxing, but then quickly moved to plan B, singing fan requests a capella, which was actually quite compelling, even after the lead singer forgot some of the words to a song and turned the mic over to a wobbly voiced but enthusiastic fan.

After fifteen minutes and two unaccompanied songs, a pared-down version of the set (sans the full suite of effects and patterns) was all Majical Cloudz could muster. It mostly worked; the songs are melancholy and sparse, and Welsh allowed himself to carry the set with his expressive vocals. Though fans attempts to be helpful by clapping along didn’t always go smoothly, he good-naturedly brought them back on track, and thanked the crowd for sticking around. Considering this is my worst nightmare as a musician, I must say Welsh handled a potential disaster with good humor and grace. (Keidra Chaney)

Live Review: Kelela/Pitchfork Music Festival

Ambient, Festivals, Live Reviews, R&B No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Of all the Saturday sets, Kelela’s was the couples skate, offering r&b romance for the masses. The audience at the Blue Stage was dominated by women, and Kelela was in absolute control of her rhythm and range, her vocals run through an effects setup manned by her DJ. Throughout the performance, Kelela was personable, offering insights into her craft, and singing well into her highest register with a practiced mastery. Many of Kelela’s tracks feature hand-clap samples, and the impulse was infectious. “Bank Head,” and a wonderful remix of “Keep It Cool” were the highlights, and of course Kelela’s teaser to follow her on Twitter and Instagram to find out where she’ll be performing at an after-show tonight. She let it slip that the venue has a capacity of one-hundred-and-fifty, but also offered to come outside and serenade anyone who doesn’t make it in. I’d take her up on it if I were you. (Kenneth Preski)

Live Review: Giorgio Moroder/Pitchfork Music Festival

Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Live Reviews No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Giorgio Moroder on stage was kind of like having your grandpa play DJ at the family BBQ, if your grandpa was one of the architects of seventies and eighties dance music. There was something endearing about watching the white-haired Moroder raise the roof from behind his MacBook Pro. Too bad the muddy sound made it difficult for those in the distance to parse out much except the throbbing four-on-the-floor beat throughout the set. The set itself was a mix of his greatest hits for those too young to remember Moroder’s body of work—a few hits from his muse Donna Summer, the theme to Flashdance, Blondie’s “Call Me”—with Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” slyly thrown in for good measure. The crowd ate it all up, singing along with giddy enthusiasm and little irony, with the exception of the one or two snarky remarks on Moroder’s stage show, which really did look like an iTunes visualizer. (Keidra Chaney)

Live Review: SZA/Pitchfork Music Festival

Ambient, Festivals, R&B No Comments »

I am all for a good slow jam, but you have to be in the right kind of mood for a set of mostly down-tempo songs, and after The Haxan Cloak, I was not in that mood. However, SZA and her band killed it; her sexy but bubbly stage presence was perfect for Pitchfork (she even took requests!) and she has a killer range (when she goes low, she sounds phenomenal). Her band is tight, not delivering a note-by-note re-creation of her hybrid ambient/r&b sound, but a groove-drenched translation that worked well live. The crowd seemed amped for it; but they probably didn’t see Haxan Cloak, and were in a better mood than I was. (Keidra Chaney)

Live Review: Neneh Cherry/Pitchfork Music Festival

Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Festivals, Funk, Live Reviews, R&B No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

It requires very little effort to fall deeply in love with Neneh Cherry when she’s performing on stage. Cherry’s complete dedication to delighting her audience was the saving grace of her second-ever performance in the United States (the first since 1992), as the gentlemen of RocketNumberNine were pushed to their maximum efforts, battling electronic failure and, one suspects, jet-lag in equal measure. No matter, Cherry was an absolute delight, playing cuts off her latest, and yes, closing with “Buffalo Stance,” albeit a version with subdued instrumentation. The set blossomed more than it banged, the crowd allowing easy access to the closer spots near the front, as much of the audience began picnicking in preparation for Sharon Van Etten on the adjacent stage. Yet there’s simply no denying Cherry’s infectious presence, her unflinching embrace of an unmatched exuberance; it had me almost wishing that she would do the entire set a cappella. If this turns out to be Cherry’s last ever performance in the United States, I’d still somehow feel satisfied. (Kenneth Preski)

Live Review: Factory Floor/Pitchfork Music Festival

Festivals, Industrial, Live Reviews No Comments »


Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

After the pleasant (but a bit too gentle for my tastes) electronica of Hundred Waters, Factory Floor was a dance-ready counterpoint, delivering a forty-five minute, stage-banter-free set of throwback industrial, layered with relentlessly throbbing bass, live drums and Nik Colk Void’s distorted, indecipherable vocals. For anyone even peripherally familiar with industrial, Factory Floor doesn’t do much to reinvent the wheel here, but they certainly get the job done for anyone eager to dance, even though much of the enthusiastic crowd didn’t quite seem ready. By the end of the set, however, at least two crowd-surfers and one line of synchronized dancers got into the mood, sunshine be damned. (Keidra Chaney)

Live Review: Hundred Waters/Pitchfork Music Festival

Ambient, Electro, Festivals, Indie Pop, Pop No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Make it through pungent smells of every type, past the army of flat-billed backwards baseball caps, and be welcomed to the 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival by Hundred Waters. Lead singer Nicole Miglis proudly announced her first-time festival presence in a natural voice, full of ease and grace, successfully leading her quartet through an ambient electro-pop hula-hoop; music for a pleasant picnic. No better way to start, and the start is the only place where Hundred Waters belongs, their set perhaps a bit too passive for some. In response to the lackadaisical afternoon, Miglis stretched her voice to the highest heights, melodies melting into shifting samples, until the fearless monster of digitized bass bottomed out a crowd ready to dance. Whether or not they actually did is beside the point, Hundred Waters is the archetype for a new generation of musicians, no longer interested in the strictly acoustic world of their elders. Or perhaps Neneh Cherry will prove that the kids have more to learn than they might think. (Kenneth Preski)