Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

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 »


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 »

Photo: Dusdin Condren


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 »

Offbeat: Tobias Picker Does Not Live By Opera Alone, Peter Yarrow Still Hammering All Over This Land

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Folk, Folk-rock, Interviews, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Singer-Songwriter, Vocal Music No Comments »
Tobias Picker/Photo: Harry Heleotis

Tobias Picker/Photo: Harry Heleotis

By Dennis Polkow

“I bristle at being called an opera composer,” says Tobias Picker, whose “Thérèse Raquin” runs at Chicago Opera Theater this month. “There are composers today and in the past who basically only write operas: Verdi and Puccini, that’s mainly what they did, and Wagner, too. It doesn’t apply to me because the majority of music that I write is not opera.

“Right now, I’m writing a Concerto for Orchestra for the Kennedy Center for the National Symphony. Between my last two operas I wrote a new string quartet, my second, a new piano quintet and a ballet. And I wrote some piano music and some other things I don’t remember… The operas are the biggest art form so they get the most attention and notice because they incorporate every other art form. But my orchestral tone poem ‘Old and Lost Rivers’ is more famous, more performed and more known than any opera I ever wrote.” 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 »

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: Chicago Music 2015—You Read it Here

Folk-rock, Garage Rock, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Neo-soul, Post-metal No Comments »

Sidewalk Chalk

By Keidra Chaney
While recapping the musical highlights of the past year is satisfying, looking forward to the new year is even more fun. Speculation always runs rampant, but the great thing is never knowing what to expect from new bands, new shows, new trends. Sometimes the next big thing in Chicago music comes out of nowhere, or an older favorite manages to surprise. And of course, in Chicago, we approach the upcoming summer concert festival season like it’s a basketball draft. So yes, there’s a lot to look forward to in 2015. Here are a few January shows to start off the year right, along with a few unscientific predictions about what to expect in Chicago music for the new year. Or maybe it’s just a wish list. You decide.
Apparently January is a good month for anniversaries, and there are two pretty significant ones coming up at Metro (3730 North Clark). Chicago’s pride, Bloodshot Records, is celebrating its twentieth anniversary on January 10 with an impressive lineup: folk-rocker Ben Kweller, Lydia Loveless (wasn’t she just in town?), alt-country local Jon Langford, Bobby Bare Jr., and Nashville six-piece Banditos.  The 18+ show is $21 and starts at 7pm. On January 30, post-metal trio Russian Circles comes home for their tenth-anniversary tour. I’ve been a huge fan of the band since their 2008 full-length release “Station,” and their acclaim seems to increase with each passing year. I never thought I’d see the band (or any heavy local band, honestly) play Millennium Park, and yet last summer’s show at Pritzker Pavilion was one of my favorites of an already impressive summer. This is a better time than any to check out the band, as they’ve promised a lineup of “special guests” for their hometown. If you haven’t seen them live, you’re running out of excuses. The 18+ show is $18/$20 d.o.s., and starts at 9pm. Prediction: We may finally see Chicago heavy music get its due in more mainstream circles.

Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Matthew Santos/Schubas Tavern

Folk-rock, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »
In Studio Mabbo-3

Photo: Michael Mabbo


Whether playing solo or with a band, Matthew Santos has a way of capturing an audience’s attention. His soulful voice and acoustic singer-songwriter roots often fill the intimate settings where he tends to perform with good vibes from the first note to the final encore. The Minneapolis native first gained popularity with his contributions to numerous Lupe Fiasco tracks, including the Grammy-nominated single “Superstar,” but his repertoire runs the musical gamut. His recordings generally have an indie-rock/folk feel, with hints of alternative and soul thrown in for good measure. His performances are no different. Read the rest of this entry »

Live Review: Mutual Benefit/Pitchfork Music Festival

Festivals, Folk, Folk-rock, Indie Pop, Live Reviews No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Usually the easiest way to get me to exit a live music situation is by mentioning the word “folk.” Despite my bias, indie-folk outfit Mutual Benefit won me over with their shimmering synth and guitar textures, soaring violin and gorgeous male-and-female vocal harmonies. In addition to an unusually lovely honey-dripped tenor, bandleader Jordan Lee has jokes—lots of them. He kept the growing Green Stage crowd chuckling in-between songs with his wry humor. (“We’ve always dreamed of opening for Slowdive and Kendrick Lamar.”) Not a bad way to kick off Pitchfork’s final day. (Keidra Chaney)