Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

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 »

Offbeat: Earth, Wind & Fire Comes Home to “Celebrate” Life of Founder

Afrobeat, Blues, Calypso, Chicago Artists, Classical, Experimental, Funk, In Memoriam, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Pop, R&B, Rock, Singer-Songwriter, Soul, Space Pop, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »
Verdine White (left) and Maurice White in 2005.

Verdine White (left) and Maurice White in 2005

By Dennis Polkow

When Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White died in his sleep on February 3 at the age of seventy-four after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, the accolades for the former Chicagoan were universal.

“We had talked the day before and I had seen him a few days before,” says Maurice’s brother, Chicago native and EWF bassist Verdine White, “so this was a huge surprise.” Verdine describes Maurice’s passing as a “transition” and says that he still “guides me, as he always has.” Although Maurice gave up performing with Earth, Wind & Fire in 1994, he remained a mentor to the band until his death.

It was Maurice who came up with the idea of a multi-genre band that would be an amalgam of styles at a time when, as Verdine puts it, “there was a revolution going on in music.” Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Downright R&B, Upright Art Rock

Alt-Rock, Blues, Chicago Artists, Experimental, Funk, Indie Rock, R&B, Record Reviews, Rock, Soul No Comments »

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By Robert Rodi

The new album by local soul outfit The Congregation is called “Record Collection,” which is exactly perfect, because every single cut sounds like something you had teetering in a waist-high stack of forty-fives in your bedroom circa 1972. (At least, if you’re as old as I am, you did.) The first, eponymous cut lays it all out: “You only love me for my record collection / You say you never felt a deeper connection / Nothing gets you goin’ like my Motown and Stax / Without the record spinnin’ would you like it like that?” I found myself actually picturing the Motown and Stax platter labels while I was listening—Atlantic, Epic and Mercury too.

This is about the point in a review where I usually say something about how the band in question brings a twenty-first century sensibility to an antique genre by a strategic infusion of self-aware blah blah blah. None of that here. The fact is, early seventies soul, funk and R&B form, collectively, such a staggering body of work that when people say they’re approaching it from a post-something-or-other perspective, it usually means they just can’t goddamn play as well as those old cats. But The Congregation is completely unafraid to meet the legends on level ground, without the protective cover of ironic distance—and even if they didn’t get points for sheer swagger, they’d get it for delivering the goods. This is a great album. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Strayhorn Fringe Festival/Old Town School of Folk Music

Bluegrass, Chicago Artists, Festivals, Funk, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Live Reviews, World Music No Comments »

Strayhorn-finalRECOMMENDED

This is Billy Strayhorn’s centenary, and it’s been heartening to see so much attention paid to a songwriter whose gifts are almost in inverse proportion to his fame—i.e. the former stratospheric, the latter microscopic. Part of the problem is that Strayhorn is so closely associated with Duke Ellington, who was one of the more flamboyantly extrovert of the past century’s geniuses. Another part is that Strayhorn himself was quite happy to reside in Ellington’s shadow. The result is that today people are surprised to learn that tunes indelibly associated with Ellington—such as “Lush Life,” “Chelsea Bridge” and “Take the ‘A’ Train”—are in fact Strayhorn’s compositions. It’s hard for us to think of them in a new way; they’re so bonded to our DNA. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Booty Movement Coalition/Mission Theater

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Dance Pop, Funk, Hip-Hop, Indie Pop, Jazz, R&B, Soul, World Music No Comments »
Ty&JQ

Typhanie Monique, JQ

RECOMMENDED

It makes perfect sense to book a band into a theater—at least when the band is Booty Movement Coalition (affectionately known by aficionados as BMC) and the theater is the Mission at the new iO (formerly the ImprovOlympic). If you expand the concept of improv beyond stand-up and sketch comedy to encompass all the live arts, you end up with a much wider performance palette; and that appears to be the Mission’s mission, as they’ve committed to an ongoing series of music Mondays. BMC, for its part, has the distinction of being a ten-to-fourteen-member band which since its founding in 2009 has never given the same performance twice—because every single note is improvised, on the spot. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Ed Motta/Mayne Stage

Funk, Neo-soul, Rock, Singer-Songwriter, Soul, World Music No Comments »

EdMottaRECOMMENDED

When Ed Motta began his career in the late eighties, critics and listeners were quick to compare his vocal style and his blend of funk, soul and Brazilian grooves with that of the late Tim Maia, one of the pioneers of the genre. That was no coincidence, after all he is Maia’s nephew–but his music evolved greatly from those early days with his Conexão Japeri band. Over the decades, he has collaborated with musicians as diverse as jazz greats Roy Ayers and Ivan Lins, fellow Rio-born songwriter Seu Jorge, and soul legend Chaka Khan, to name a few. Read the rest of this entry »

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)

Record Review: “From Brazil to New Orleans” by Charlie Dennard

Forró, Funk, Jazz, Latin, Record Reviews, Samba, World Music 1 Comment »

RECOMMENDEDFBTNO_cover

“The music, history, food and culture of Brazil and New Orleans have so much in common that it just seems logical to put them together,” writes keyboardist Charlie Dennard on the liner notes for the independently released “From Brazil to New Orleans.” The same has been said by various Crescent City musicians I have interviewed over the years, because the liveliness and musicality of cities like Rio de Janeiro and Salvador makes them feel right at home. Read the rest of this entry »

Chef’s Special: A New Course from Kelis

Funk, Interviews, Pop, R&B, Soul No Comments »
Photo: Laurent Levy

Photo: Laurent Levy

By Kenneth Preski

The best way to understand an artist is to meet them on their own terms, something that’s exceedingly difficult to do with Kelis, a musician who’s made a career out of defying definition. Check her track record: “Caught Out There” in 1999, “Milkshake” in 2003, “Bossy” in 2006, “Acapella” in 2010—a decade worth of hits to undermine any criticisms about her artistic vision. These songs resonate because of Kelis’ exceptional ability to layer vocal harmonies with a shifting timbre; striking a delicate balance between hard and soft, the opposing textures of her voice veering whichever way the mood shifts. Kelis has used the technique to create songs that are spiritual and sexual in equal measure, standout track “Floyd” off of her latest album “Food” emphasizing her skill in the endeavor, a heavenly refrain about being blown away. Through her music, Kelis is both sacred and profane in a world that can’t get enough of either. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings/The Vic

Funk, R&B, Soul No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDSharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

Soul songstress Sharon Jones’ latest tour is also a victory lap. After a tough battle with bile duct cancer sidelined an album release and tour plans in 2013, Jones returns this year with a clean bill of health and the release of “Give The People What They Want.” This is her first full tour with the Dap-Kings in two years. With more than thirty dates for the North American tour alone, Jones and the Dap-Kings are clearly making up for lost time after releasing a solid, unrepentant traditionalist R&B/funk album—and I mean that as a total compliment. “Give The People What They Want” features Daptone Records’ usual bold, wall-of-sound production fleshed out with groove-drenched songs like “Retreat!” and “People Don’t Get What They Deserve.” Read the rest of this entry »