Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

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 »

EmptyBottle

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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 »

Music Top 5: Summer 2016

Alt-Rock, Bluegrass, Blues, Festivals, Folk, Folk-rock, Metal, Rock, World Music No Comments »
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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.

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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 »

Preview: Martin Barre Band/Martyrs’

Folk-rock, Live Reviews, Rock No Comments »

Martin_Barre0124

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“The thing that pleases me is melody,” says Martin Barre, lead guitarist for British folk-progressive rockers Jethro Tull from their 1969 “Stand Up” LP through the group’s dissolution. “If I can come up with some nice chords and a really melodic top line, that gives me great satisfaction.”

Since that band ceased operations, Barre has taken the opportunity to kick-start his long-nascent solo career. “I didn’t get the opportunity to start doing solo material until 1983, when we all decided to take a year off.” Of going solo full time in 2014, Barre says: “I started to learn very late, but maybe that’s a good thing. I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is great. I’m really inventing my career as a musician.’ And I’ve been happy—really, really happy—ever since.” Read the rest of this entry »

Liz Phair, Steve Albini & Me: The True Story of 1993, the Greatest Goddamn Year in Chicago Rock History

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Folk-rock, Funk, Garage Rock, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, Industrial, New Wave, Post-punk, Prog-rock, Rock 6 Comments »
Liz Phair 1993/Photo: Lloyd DeGrane

Liz Phair 1993/Photo: Lloyd DeGrane

By Bill Wyman

Every few years, it comes back.

Back in 1994, I had a weekly music column called “Hitsville” in The Chicago Reader. In early January of that year, I put together a top-ten list of albums from 1993 with an accompanying essay. It was all maybe 700 words. Strikingly, two entries by Chicago acts—Liz Phair’s debut, “Exile in Guyville,” and Urge Overkill’s first record for Geffen, “Saturation”—topped my list.

Steve Albini, then as now, was an iconoclastic music producer on the underground rock scene. He was pissed off by the piece; and in full dyspeptic mode he sent a letter to the paper. It was printed under the headline, “Three Pandering Sluts and their Music Press Stooge.”

The pandering sluts—his words—were the two acts I just mentioned and another Chicago outfit, the Smashing Pumpkins.

I was the stooge!

The letter was long and vituperative and hilarious: “You only think they are noteworthy now because some paid publicist has told you they are, and you, fulfilling your obligation as part of the publicity engine that drives the music industry, spurt about them on cue.”

Back then, the Reader was a huge institution. The paper came out on Thursday, stacked like bricks in walls three-feet high in stores and cafes. “Hitsville” was on the front page of Section Three. Albini’s little missive set off a letters war of seemingly unending scorn and heat that played out week after week in the paper, with rafts of responses, insults, counter-responses and counter-counter-responses.

In later years, after the Internet took hold, the letter was endlessly cited in adoring profiles of Albini, or histories of the Chicago music scene of the time. Ten years later, Ana Marie Cox wrote a hefty piece about it for the Reader itself, and just a few weeks ago—twenty-two years later!—the Reader’s music editor, Philip Montoro, brought it all up again amid news that the Pumpkins and Phair were going out on the road together. (They’re playing the Civic Opera House April 14.). Albini’s letter, he said, had torn me a new orifice. And he concurred with Albini’s judgment that I was there to promote popular bands: “Like many music writers, Wyman clearly considered the size of his potential audience when deciding which artists to cover.”

On examination, I was grateful to se that I had the requisite number of orifices, but even so, Montoro’s column got me feeling all misty. I started to remember what the scene was like back then. Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Issues and Introspection from Chicago Singer-Songwriters Jessie Winslow and Andy Metz

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Folk-rock, Indie Rock, Record Reviews, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

Metz

By Robert Rodi

I miss the glory days of the protest song. Thanks to corporate ownership, these days the major labels are more interested in moving units than in moving society forward. But the fracturing of the market into a dizzying kaleidoscope has at least made it possible for possible heirs to Woody Guthrie to come up through the cracks. Chicago’s Andy Metz isn’t overtly political on his new album, “Delusions,” but he’s definitely the first artist I’ve come across, outside of hip-hop, to tackle the recent epidemic of gun violence. “Guns,” the tune in question, lashes into the macho pretensions of weapons owners with scalding ridicule: “Little Kyle thinks he needs a gun…Despite a sick pickup truck, he ain’t picking up much / Ladies don’t get him, no he’s just tough / So he strokes it every night, ’cause it’s all he’s got now / The only way he’s getting brain is click, click, pow.” Metz’s timing couldn’t be better; the so-called Oregon militia are basically acting out the music video for this tune. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: The Ides of March Are Bearing Gifts for Christmas

Chicago Artists, Folk-rock, Holiday Music, In Memoriam, Interviews, News and Dish, Pop, Prog-rock, Record Reviews, Rock, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

The Ides of March

By Dennis Polkow

“There is something lacking in a lot of current Christmas music,” admits legendary Chicago singer-songwriter-guitarist Jim Peterik. “A simple thing called spirituality. When it’s only about mistletoe and eggnog, it kind of misses the point. I don’t mind fun Christmas songs, believe me, but there also has to be some substance.”

Peterik’s longtime band, the Ides of March, has released two Christmas albums over the years, and this year, is releasing its third, “The Meaning of Christmas.” “Are we forgetting the meaning of Christmas in all the hoopla? That’s the whole idea: where did Christmas start? Why do we celebrate it? That’s my goal, really. And they’re not all religious or spiritual songs but there’s a thread that’s running through them: let’s not forget the meaning of Christmas.” Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Atomic Ragtime and Radiant Folk, Chicago Style

Alt-Rock, Blues, Chicago Artists, Folk, Folk-rock, Jazz, Record Reviews, Record Store Day, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

NoHotel_Claudettes

By Robert Rodi

I’m just a hair late to the party when it comes to “No Hotel,” the new album by Chicago’s own neo-vaudeville barnstormers, The Claudettes; but the album (which came out in September) is definitely one you should be spinning, streaming or otherwise ingesting whole. It’s the work of just three players—pianist Johnny Iguana, drummer Michael Caskey and (intermittently) vocalist Yana—but there’s enough energy going on to power your average Third World airport.

The opener, “Big Easy Women,” is full of a barreling, hyper-saloon piano banging, with a bridge that playfully evokes silent-movie peril. But it’s the second cut—“California, Here I Come”—that really makes you sit up and take notice. The Claudettes knock the hoary old Al Jolson tune into a minor key, transforming it into a wittily downbeat comment on the cruelty that so often accompanies the go-west-young-man dream. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Ryley Walker/Subterranean

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Folk-rock, Indie Rock, Rock No Comments »
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Photo: Dusdin Condren

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It may be a good marketing move for an artist to invite comparisons to Van Morrison, Nick Drake and Richard Thompson. The only problem is that people will then, go figure, compare you to Van Morrison, Nick Drake and Richard Thompson. So before you take that leap, be sure you can measure up. Fortunately for Chicago singer-songwriter Ryley Walker, the title track of his new album, “Primrose Green,” is one of those shimmeringly perfect folk-rock tunes that only comes along every dozen years or so. (It easily stands next to Morrison’s “Moondance,” despite being nothing like it.) Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Lang Lang Dresses Up and Down for Chicago, Sixties Rockers Hold Summit for Musician’s Musician

Blues, Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Country, Folk, Folk-rock, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Pop, Prog-rock, Psychedelic, R&B, Rock, Singer-Songwriter, Soul No Comments »
Lang Lang  Photo: Neale Haynes

Lang Lang

By Dennis Polkow

Although Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang is calling from London, where he’s just given a recital at Royal Albert Hall, he is thinking ahead to Chicago. “I need to buy a new suit, I had my big breakthrough there,” he recalls, a reference to when, at conductor Christoph Eschenbach’s encouragement, he stepped in as a last-minute, unknown replacement for an indisposed Andre Watts at a 1999 Ravinia Festival Chicago Symphony Orchestra Gala, and became an overnight sensation at the ripe old age of seventeen.

Eschenbach, then Ravinia music director, was a mentor to Lang Lang, as was then-CSO music director Daniel Barenboim, so that Chicago was like a second home. He was the first artist to offer a piano recital at the Civic Opera House in 2012, and was so impressed with the sound of the venue, that he returns there this month. “When you see such a big hall, you always worry about, ‘what is the sound like?’ But it has perfect sound. I remember last time, I was playing Mozart, it was so beautiful, so precise, so intimate. It’s a miracle to see such a big space have such an intimate sound.” 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 »