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

RECOMMENDED

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.

1
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 »

Con Brio: Veteran Jazzer Wayne Shorter Finds the Eternal in the Everyday

Experimental, Interviews, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Rock No Comments »
Wayne Shorter Photo: Robert Ascroft

Photo: Robert Ascroft

By Dennis Polkow

“There’s something emerging about the unexpected,” says veteran jazz composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. “I think the whole world is in kind of a situation where no one can put their finger on what’s going to transpire tomorrow, even to the next moment.

“We were invited to the research lab at Stanford University by some astrophysicists when we played in San Francisco; they wanted to talk about improvisation and what happens when you do something without a so-called plan. They don’t want to separate science from art now. Not only that, but they were talking about that collider in Switzerland, the Big Bang thing, they call it the unfolding.

“I think they’re getting closer to this no-beginning, no-end perception. No real beginning. Like the word beginning might be a temporary crutch until we find out that there’s no word for that, it’s more of a continuance. They’re seeing also another kind of multiverse where it seems like there are no laws that resemble the laws here in this universe. They’re finding that there are multiverses and the possibility that there is another kind of multiverse where what we call time is backwards.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Material” by Blaqk Audio

Electronic/Dance, Punk, Record Reviews No Comments »

Material

RECOMMENDED

Davey Havok and Jade Puget are better known for their work in punk-rock outfit AFI. In 2007, the duo moved away from gang vocals and blazing guitars to explore their synthpop side. They took a break after 2012’s “Bright Black Heaven,” but are back with an album that further dives into their electronic and dance impulses.

The duo keep things simple on this long-awaited third release. They stick with the electro/synth format they’ve established on their previous efforts almost to a fault; the album doesn’t get exciting until the second or third listen. Songs like the New Orderesque title track and the eerie “To Be Alone” initially sound too familiar. “Ceremonial” and “You Will Hate Me” are generic dance music better suited for a Rihanna song. The album follows their standard format of dark, brooding songs and one unfitting sugary synthpop tune (“Graphic Violence”). Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Martin Barre Band/Martyrs’

Folk-rock, Live Reviews, Rock No Comments »

Martin_Barre0124

RECOMMENDED

“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 »

Preview: HIDE/The Empty Bottle

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Glam, Hardcore, Rock No Comments »

HIDE

RECOMMENDED

If you haven’t already heard, Heather Gabel of HIDE is the dark demoness dominating the stages of Chicago’s underground. In a very short time, HIDE has become the best goth-tinged, industrial-inspired act around, winning the heavy hearts of all the doom-and-gloom-loving noise freaks of this fine city. Gabel, an accomplished visual artist and vocalist, is also sort of a big name on the local art scene. 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 »

Raw Material: Warming Trends On Winter’s Live Music Scene

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, EDM, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Festivals, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, R&B, Rap, Rock 1 Comment »
Lume

Lume

By Keidra Chaney

Now is a decent time to get back into the live-music swing of things this winter, with upcoming album releases, the return of monthly live music events and more.

Definitely bring your earplugs to check out Chicago’s three-piece Lume when they come to Subterranean (2011 West North) on February 19 to celebrate the release of their album, “Perennial Phase.” (You can also preview and purchase the album on Bandcamp.) If you’re into brooding, rough slowcore then you’ll be into Lume; they combine fuzzy riffs, melodic, understated vocals and lush production. The seven-minute opus “Rattleback” is the new album’s centerpiece; it floats from an alternating loud-soft dichotomy to a dark, almost dreamy breakdown that builds up into a chaotic, feedback-laden outro. It’s a song that will definitely translate well live, since Lume has been known to bring an intensity to their stage shows that doesn’t always come through in recordings. Check them out on the heels of their Southern U.S. tour, with fellow feedback slingers Estates, Sough, Droughts as openers. Tickets are $7 and the show starts at 10pm. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Philip Glass Comes Home to Chicago

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Indian Classical, Interviews, Minimalism, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Rock, World Music No Comments »
Philip Glass (left) and David Bowie, 1992

Philip Glass (left) and David Bowie, 1992

By Dennis Polkow

Composer Philip Glass is coming home. Well, sort of. The high priest of Minimalism, a term Glass has always loathed, will be in residence at the University of Chicago this month. Although it is not the first time Glass has been back to his Hyde Park alma mater, where he was once a mathematics and philosophy major, this is his first official residency there as a Presidential Arts Fellow.

Glass’ residency will include a University of Chicago Presents concert where he and others will perform his Piano Etudes, a screening of the film “Mishima” which Glass scored and will discuss, a free public talk on artistic collaboration and various conversations with students and faculty from across the university.

Chicago was where Glass originally realized—while practicing piano pieces of Charles Ives and Anton Webern—that he wanted to become a composer, although he would head to Juilliard to begin to accomplish that goal. Read the rest of this entry »