Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Holiday Music, Indie Rock, Interviews, Live Reviews, Metal, Prog-rock, R&B, Rock, Shoegaze, Soul, Space Pop
By Keidra Chaney
Here we are at the end of the year, and while most music journalists will inflict their top-ten bands/albums/live shows of 2014 lists on their readers, I’ve decided to spare you. There’s still enough time, after all, to catch the best show of the year, or even check out a new band or album that might be your favorite. There have been two or three times that my favorite concert of a given year took place during the last six weeks on the calendar (I’m looking at you, St Vincent!). This is especially true with the holidays approaching; Chicago is fond of its Christmas and pre-New Year’s live music showcases and events. Either way, there’s still a lot going on in the city when it comes to live music. Here are a few standouts.
The Empty Bottle (1035 North Western) is all up in Christmas this month, with a whole slew of Christmas and Christmas-ish events to celebrate the holiday. On December 12, they’re throwing their second annual Bottle Hop to raise money for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. It’s an old-school rock ‘n’ roll/soul/R&B shindig, which makes it a perfect opportunity to dress kinda fancy. The lineup includes badass throwback soul band The Congregation (on the verge of very big things, I predict), fifties rockers The Tenders and western swing outfit The Chandelier Swingers. The show is $10 and starts at 9pm.
A week later, on December 19, space-y collaboration Quarter Mile Thunder throws a “Xmas psych party” (which also doubles as an album release party) with the Record Low. The following night features holiday-themed Chicago supergroup Snow Angels (comprising members of Mannequin Men, Johnny and The Limelites, Vee Dee and Automatic Stinging Machines), who reconvene for their annual holiday performance; they say it’s been twelve years since they started.
If that’s too much live music for you, the Bottle also hosts a pair of lunch-hour events in time for Christmas shopping: a poster sale on December 14 and a pop-up holiday market on December 20. Read the rest of this entry »
We’re in the age of single-named indie-pop chanteuses (i.e. Lorde, Kimbra). But L.A.-based singer-songwriter Banks (full name Jillian Banks) was a relatively unanticipated addition to the indie music buzz bin back in 2013 with her nineties trip-hop-influenced single “Before I Ever Met You.” Now on the heels of her debut release, “Goddess,” she’s garnering more comparisons, this time to indie R&B acts like The Weeknd. Read the rest of this entry »
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)
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)
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)
Blues, Chicago Artists, Classical, Country, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Folk, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Music 45, R&B, Rock, Soul
Photo: Joe Mazza of BraveLux
Chicago, you are a big, bold, beautiful city of infinite complexity. Your historical heritage, your social and political upheaval, your segregation, violence and corruption have birthed an incredible wealth of musical expression. It’s by virtue of these artists that our community confronts and escapes the mistakes of our metropolis. And so our publication listens intently, offering a nuanced dialogue with the musicians who craft our culture. Yet, once a year, we redirect our approach to the opposing swing of the pendulum. We zoom-out where we would normally zoom-in. This list offers a broad-stroke survey of those Chicago musicians whose current cultural currency is readily represented to the city and to the rest of the world, living artists whose quantifiable influence echoes their effect. Some big names are missing, some rankings seem arbitrary, but it’s toward these acts, firmly Chicagoan, that we look when we seek out the spirit of home. Where our words might fail, the music will not. (Kenneth Preski)
Music 45 was written by Kenneth Preski, Dennis Polkow, John Wilmes, Jessica Burg, Robert Szypko, Eric Lutz, Keidra Chaney, Reilly Gill, Corey Hall and Dave Cantor
All photos taken on location at The Hideout by Joe Mazza of BraveLux. Read the rest of this entry »
While the so-called “neo-soul” trend of the mid to late 1990s has come and gone, many of the artists who were categorized by the genre (Erykah Badu, Jill Scott) have gone on to establish their own unique places within a music industry that still doesn’t quite know what to do with black artists that don’t do hip-hop. On the other hand, performers like D’Angelo and Lauryn Hill have spent the last decade at a professional standstill, struggling with personal demons and creative roadblocks.
And in the middle of it all is Maxwell. After his 1996 debut “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite” established his reputation as both a songwriter and a sex symbol, the deeply private performer has been notorious for his long, mostly self-imposed hiatuses. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Photo: Bella Lieberberg
Sisters Danielle, Este and Alana Haim certainly earned the right to become 2013’s indie “it” girls. Along with drummer Dash Hutton, the fourth member of their band Haim (which rhymes with “time”), the climb to recognition started off steep. For four years they busted their humps all over the San Fernando Valley, often as an opening act. It wasn’t until a 2012 conquest of SXSW that folks started to respond to their music, and the buzz has spread with the release of their first full-length album “Days Are Gone.” Haim’s sound is refreshingly new and unlike everything else, yet can still somehow be attributed to a distinct variety of influences, notably classic rock, eighties pop and contemporary R&B. Their songs go in all kinds of directions, like a kite whirling in the wind. Read the rest of this entry »
There was a time when it was natural for show tunes to make their way to the pop realm—singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra all borrowed songs written for the stage and turned them into standards—including “On the Street Where You Live” (from “My Fair Lady”) recorded by Nat King Cole; “Luck Be a Lady” (from “Guys and Dolls”), a hit for Sinatra; ‘Till There Was You” (from “The Music Man”) famously covered by The Beatles; and of course “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” (from “Evita”), a tune overplayed even before Madonna got her hands on it.
Nowadays it is unlikely for such songs to contribute to the Hot 100 even with the help of heavyweights like Bono or Elton John—the business has just changed too dramatically for that to happen (do you really hear anyone belting out “Seasons of Love” from “Rent” at your local karaoke bar?). That doesn’t mean that some tunes don’t deserve to be heard by non-musical theater fans, and that is where Billy Porter comes in. Read the rest of this entry »