Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Raw Material: The Best of 2014? Possibly Yet to Come

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Holiday Music, Indie Rock, Interviews, Live Reviews, Metal, Prog-rock, R&B, Rock, Shoegaze, Soul, Space Pop No Comments »
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Forgotten Species

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 »

Offbeat: Renée Fleming Reaches Out From Opera, Blind Boys Modernize Their Message

Blues, Chicago Artists, Classical, Country, Holiday Music, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Pop, Rock, Vocal Music No Comments »
Renée Fleming with KISS at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

Renée Fleming with KISS at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

By Dennis Polkow

It’s a busy holiday season for the “People’s Diva,” Renée Fleming: not only has the soprano released her first-ever Christmas album, “Christmas in New York” (Decca), but PBS has produced a television special on the making of the album. As if that weren’t enough, Fleming sang at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and is opening a new production of “The Merry Widow” at the Metropolitan Opera on New Year’s Eve, with Lyric Opera music director Sir Andrew Davis at the podium.

Christmas itself, however, Fleming admits, will remain a family affair. “My whole family sings like crazy,” says Fleming. “When we decorate the tree, my daughters and I have a major impromptu scat-singing festival.” It’s this spirit that informs the eclectic approach of “Christmas in New York,” on which Fleming performs with guest artists Wynton Marsalis, Gregory Porter, Kelli O’Hara, Chris Botti, Brad Mehldau, Rufus Wainwright and Chicago jazz singer Kurt Elling.

For those expecting a killer rendition of “O Holy Night” or “Ave Maria,” think again. “That was my expectation as well,” laughs Fleming. “I just assumed when I would finally do a Christmas album, it would be that Karajan-Vienna Philharmonic-Leontyne Price template. But this came together in a different way and Universal had a different idea about it.

“I stayed away from carols for the most part, except for ‘Stille, Stille, Stille.’ I also went to my collaborators and said, ‘What would you like to do?’ I took their lead in many cases. Since this took about nine months to really finish up, I worried for a while about it coming together in a way that would make it feel like a whole, but it did. There was enough variety on it to enable it to have that sense of different things coming together.” Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: Plenty of Live Music to Be Thankful For

Festivals, Holiday Music, Pop Punk, Post-punk, Rock, Soul No Comments »
omys

The O’My’s

By Keidra Chaney

For the musically inclined, the week of Thanksgiving can be a bit of a dead period. Since so many people head out of town for the week, many venues avoid booking shows during this time; in addition, they’re usually gearing up for whatever Christmas holiday events they might have planned. Bands try to squeeze in as many shows as they can before the holidays become a distraction for their followers, so traditionally it’s an uneven time for live music—unless you’re really keeping an eye out.

Which I’m here to do for you. And in terms of national acts, this Thanksgiving actually offers a pretty good weekend of options. The beloved Lucinda Williams comes to the Vic (3145 North Sheffield) on Friday, November 28, while her spiritual offspring Lydia Loveless is ironically playing Lincoln Hall (2424 North Lincoln) at roughly the same time. Saturday brings the gorgeous harmonies of Missouri roots rock band HaHa Tonka to Subterranean (2011 West North), and indie-rocker Angel Olsen (who once called Chicago home, albeit for a short time) returns to play Thalia Hall (1807 South Allport). Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: Never Mind CMJ, Get Your Buzz Right Here

Garage Rock, Krautrock, Psych pop, Punk, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »
Melkbelly

Melkbelly

Every year from late October to early November I suffer from a condition I call “CMJ Envy.” I spend all my time reading blogs and articles about the burgeoning bands and rising artists taking the stage at New York’s annual CMJ Music Marathon, and I wonder why Chicago can’t have similar events headlining new music. But in fact we do have something as cool; it happens every week in bars and small venues all across the city. But our regular music showcases don’t get nearly the attendance and press attention that big sexy events like CMJ get year after year. Part of that is on us, as live-music fans; we need to make the effort to show up and support local and touring bands before the critical buzz starts. With that in mind, here are some upcoming music events that are not only a good excuse to leave the house in the coming weeks, but also way more interesting than reading other people’s blog posts about the “next big thing.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Burger Records Caravan of Stars Tour/Logan Square Auditorium

Garage Rock, Punk No Comments »

burgerecords

RECOMMENDED

Burger Records has shaped the face of today’s growing garage and punk scenes while not overcapitalizing the bands it represents or cheapening the image it has largely created. The label was founded in Orange County in 2007 by Sean Bohrman and Lee Rickard of Thee Makeout Party. The label has had an insane seven years as a huge contributor of the increased popularity of cassette tapes and the epicenter of the garage sound that uses these tapes. At this point, though, they seem to be more of a driving force for the bands they represent to keep doing what they want than a controlling, stifling authority. “We’re just trying to nurture them [the bands], cater to all of them, and bring them together in one collective cooperative world where we can live happily and funnily,” Rickard told Vice magazine. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Dope Body/Township

Hardcore, Punk No Comments »

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RECOMMENDED

The first time I saw Dope Body was when they opened for Future Islands at Lincoln Hall in 2012 and I’ve been enamored with the band ever since. I’ll forget about them for a while, then one of their songs will come up when my iPod is on shuffle, and I am immediately transported back to the pure anarchistic joy I experienced listening to Rage Against the Machine for the first time in my older brother’s purple Mitsubishi Galant. Turn your nose up at Rage Against the Machine all you want, but I pity any reader that doesn’t know this feeling. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: King Tuff/Subterranean

Punk No Comments »

kingtuff

RECOMMENDED

King Tuff is touring to promote his new release “Black Moon Spell” on Sub Pop Records. This album is the ideal last fist-in-the-air for summer releases. It’s chock full of pump-up jams about LPs, sex, drugs, and embracing one’s own misfit status. This is the soundtrack to pre-gaming for a crazy night out in the kitchen with your best friends. Produced by Bobby Harlow, also known as the “Burger Guru,” a reference to the current Burger Records sound, and a huge player in the garage rock revival, “Black Moon Spell” is slightly lowbrow, but is such a fun listen and a solid release from beginning to end. Read the rest of this entry »

You Ought to Know: The Unrepentant Humanity of Montreal’s Ought

Emo, Indie Rock, Rock No Comments »
Photo: Victoria Davis

Photo: Victoria Davis

Ought’s debut LP, “More Than Any Other Day,” begins with a track called “Pleasant Heart” that’s led by an instrumental which inspires anything but its title. Its shaggy, stabby guitar and mathematically puzzling drumming take us to singer/guitarist Tim Beeler’s Kinsella-esque howling as the track unravels into a dissonant string-led soundscape.

But Ought manages to feel warm and familiar—endearing; cute, even—in their angst. A clarion of believable hope always emerges from its darkness. The band’s plainly existential lyrics and daring style have drawn easy comparisons to The Velvet Underground and Talking Heads, but it’s their charm which makes these similes most possible. Their character is big enough to mention them as carriers of a long, great, lively pop lineage.

It’s Ought’s humanity that stands tallest at the Empty Bottle on a Saturday night in September. As Beeler somehow balances the dual personalities of his voice and guitar, the crowd shuffles closer to the stage with air-hugs and smiles, like they’d just really like to have a beer with these fellows who anthemically shout about being “excited for the milk of human kindness.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Eternal Summers/Lincoln Hall

Indie Rock No Comments »

eternalsummers

RECOMMENDED

This Roanoke, Virginia trio provides a powerful combination of alternative, indie and jagged punky hooks—everything you could ever want to dance, drive or listen to. There is lush guitar foundations reminiscent sometimes of Radiohead, but the pulse of early Cure and the bounce of Pylon comes through in many of their songs. The Eternal Summers provide a great recipe of one chiming guitar, ironic, high-powered but not screaming, firm female vocals, and a tight pummeling backbeat duo that never lets things get out of control.

Their new album, “The Drop Beneath”—produced by Doug Gillard of Guided by Voices and Nada Surf—on Kanine records is excellent, but live, they let it all hang out and some of their earlier work, such as “Wonder” from “Correct Behavior,” are some of the best pop anthems of the last couple of years. They open for We Are Scientists and Surfer Blood at Lincoln Hall—but don’t be late or you might miss the best band on the bill. (Bart Lazar)

October 8 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 North Lincoln, (773)525-2508, 8pm, $20, 18+

Preview: Warpaint/Vic

Post-punk No Comments »

warpaint-press2010-608x402RECOMMENDED

Warpaint is the kind of band that indie-rock fans lose it over because they’ve got an original sound and solid songwriting but still fit within a very familiar musical aesthetic. In this case, it’s early eighties post-punk, in the vein of Siouxsie and the Banshees. The L.A. quartet’s 2014 self-titled release sees the band move into expanding their sound for their second album; in their recent singles “Disco/very” and “Keep it Healthy,” singer/guitarists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman chant like voices drone and twine together with a discoesque beat that’s reminiscent of CSS, then move into a dreamy, swirling guitar lullaby. Lately the band’s members have been in the press as much for their outspoken thoughts on feminism and rock as they are for their songs, but music is their primary message and the band is in their element when performing live. (Keidra Chaney)

October 5 at The Vic, 3145 North Sheffield, (773)472-0449. 8pm, $25, 18+