Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: Burnside & Hooker/Double Door

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Indie Rock, Rock, Rockabilly No Comments »

BH2015 3

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Rachel Bonacquisti is just a slip of a girl, but she belongs to that mighty tradition of tiny women—Edith Piaf, Dinah Washington, Janis Joplin—who open their mouths and stop the earth grinding on its axis. She’s the vocalist for Burnside & Hooker, who celebrate the release of their new CD, “All the Way to the Devil,” this month at Double Door. The album ranges pretty far afield, pulling in influences from just about every goddamn genre you can name, with the possible exceptions of polka and J-pop; what binds them together is Bonacquisti’s dominating presence. It takes a certain kind of woman to put across lyrics like, “Stop making me the bad guy / Stop making me the fool / Stop saying that I tie you down and lock you up / And then send me back to your room,” and Bonacquisti is absolutely that woman. Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Soul Diva Lili K. Offers Up a Gem

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, R&B, Record Reviews, Soul No Comments »

Ruby
Chicago singer-songwriter Lili K. first galvanized me with the debut single off her new album, “Ruby.” The tune—“Tommy”—is such a polished, pitch-perfect soul ballad, I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn it had come out in the seventies. “I got a man, he’s as sweet as pecan pie,” the singer croons seductively at the outset, against a backdrop of sultry trumpets; and by the bridge (which will get in your brain so deep major surgery may be required to remove it), she’s enlisted a trio of backup singers to help declaim the super-fineness of her guy (“Tommy / You’re like a book of poetry / Tommy / Your words alone excite me / Tommy / Don’t you ever let go of me”). It wasn’t till I saw the video that I got Lili K.’s utterly modern playfulness. Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: A Tale of Two Voices—One Dark, One Light

Chicago Artists, Indie Rock, Jazz, Record Reviews, Rock No Comments »

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By Robert Rodi

Haley Fohr is very young—just twenty-five—but she sounds like some ancient oracle. Her rich, resonant female baritone has a lower range that rumbles ominously, like plate tectonics, and an upper that’s so dizzyingly perched, it can induce vertigo. On pure vocal fireworks alone, the new album by her brainchild, Circuit des Yeux, is a galvanizing listen; but it’s got much more than that going for it. Less a collection of songs than a trek across her sonic headspace, “In Plain Speech” is a remarkable document of a budding composer’s development. And lest that come off as condescending, let me just add that she’s already leagues ahead of many singer-songwriters twice her age. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Jesus and Mary Chain/The Riviera

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J&M Chain

William and Jim Reid

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For thirty years (with the exception of a nearly nine-year hiatus because of a brothers’ spat), The Jesus and Mary Chain have produced an extremely beautiful and powerful mess. It’s hard to hot-tub back to 1985, when dance music was defined by Wham! and classic rock by Foreigner; but that’s when the Jesus and Mary Chain showed up, with a punk ethos, black leather jackets and sunglasses. On top of the image, brothers Jim and William Reid from East Kilbride, Scotland, came fully equipped with a new sound they’d developed—a haystack of feedback, Velvet Underground haze and Phil Spectoresque wall-of-noise, shrouding a pulsing beat and shiny melodies. It’s the sound that launched a thousand shoegaze bands. 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 »

Raw Material: Indie Music Gears Up for Spring

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Festivals, Indie Rock, News and Dish, Record Store Day, Record Stores, Rock No Comments »
StarsAlign-McGillMullenhour

Cameron McGill, Angela Mullenhour

By Keidra Chaney

It’s hard to believe we’re already four months into 2015. It’s particularly unbelievable that—at least to me—it’s so far been a pretty uneventful year for indie music, local or otherwise. Of course the weather’s been in a pretty soul-killing state until very recently, which has made going out for live music a bit more of a chore, but there’s also been something of a demo drought in my neck of the woods. There’s plenty of time to catch up, and Chicago tends to be at its best in spring and summer, so it’s my hope that the next few months will make up for a rather barren winter of music news and events.

That’s not to say that there’s not some good live music to check out in the next few weeks. I mentioned the Gapers Block-sponsored “Stars Align” series several columns ago; it features two musicians from different local bands collaborating for a one-night-only live performance. This month’s show, on April 16, promises to be a special one, because instead of performing covers or each other’s tunes, singer-songwriters Cameron McGill and Angela Mullenhour (of the band Coins) will perform newly co-written original songs at GMan Tavern (3740 North Clark). The show’s free, as usual for the series, and starts at 7:30pm. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Booty Movement Coalition/Mission Theater

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Ty&JQ

Typhanie Monique, JQ

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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 »

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 »

Spins: Surpassing Singer-Songwriters Little Dave Merriman and Daniel Knox

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cover copy
By Robert Rodi

It’s hard to imagine it now, but a mere fifty years ago there were very few singer-songwriters beyond the folk milieu. Bob Dylan was still a relatively new phenomenon, and he not only owned the genre, he pretty much was the genre. These days, of course, you can’t swing a dead cat without thwacking half a dozen guitar-slinging bards (while Dylan, go figure, is covering Sinatra). On any given night, in clubs and pubs across America, countless brave-hearted balladeers climb atop stools and compete for the attention of the congenitally inattentive. And people say stand-up comedy is rough; try breaking through the noise of a bar in full clamor when you’re warbling about your last big breakup.

But, here’s the thing: a lot of these troubadours are pretty freaking fine. And in Chicago, I’m happy to report, we’ve got more than our fair share of them. A pair of recent releases prove my point: they’re both melodically original and lyrically ingenious, yet each one is a standout original.

Little Dave Merriman has long been a fixture on the scene, chiefly as a guitarist and vocalist for The Arrivals. “Odd Bird” is his first solo album—and when I say solo, I’m being almost entirely literal. He not only wrote all the tunes, he plays nearly every instrument as well. And these aren’t breathy, spare arrangements either; they’re full-throttle rock-band material—the better to support Merriman’s raggedly bravura, another-whiskey-will-kill-me-but-so-what vocals. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Swami John Reis and The Blind Shake/The Empty Bottle

Garage Rock, Rock No Comments »

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Jimi Hendrix once famously said,”You’ll never hear surf music again,” presumably meaning that his brand of blisteringly complex guitar-god rock would put an end to twangy California valentines forever. You have to wonder what he would’ve made of the mongrel genius of the twenty-first century, and of the nascent genre known as dark surf. If that’s a new term to you, all the more reason to check out the collaboration by garage-punk guru John Reis and the Minneapolis trio The Blind Shake, who are coming to town to support their new album, “Modern Surf Classics.” This is dense, muscular, high-velocity stuff, with multiple guitars crashing through rolling, nasal-inflected hooks—like the surf music you grew up with, after washing down steroids with a twelve-pack of Red Bull. Read the rest of this entry »