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 »

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 »

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 »

Spins: Issues and Introspection from Chicago Singer-Songwriters Jessie Winslow and Andy Metz

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Folk-rock, Indie Rock, Record Reviews, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

Metz

By Robert Rodi

I miss the glory days of the protest song. Thanks to corporate ownership, these days the major labels are more interested in moving units than in moving society forward. But the fracturing of the market into a dizzying kaleidoscope has at least made it possible for possible heirs to Woody Guthrie to come up through the cracks. Chicago’s Andy Metz isn’t overtly political on his new album, “Delusions,” but he’s definitely the first artist I’ve come across, outside of hip-hop, to tackle the recent epidemic of gun violence. “Guns,” the tune in question, lashes into the macho pretensions of weapons owners with scalding ridicule: “Little Kyle thinks he needs a gun…Despite a sick pickup truck, he ain’t picking up much / Ladies don’t get him, no he’s just tough / So he strokes it every night, ’cause it’s all he’s got now / The only way he’s getting brain is click, click, pow.” Metz’s timing couldn’t be better; the so-called Oregon militia are basically acting out the music video for this tune. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: New Year’s Irresolution

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, New Wave, Rock No Comments »
nobunny_press_photo-2

Nobunny

By Keidra Chaney

What are you doing New Year’s Eve? Or the day before? Honestly, I have no clue if I myself am leaving the house yet, thanks to Lyft surge charges and the fact that it tends to bring out the binge drinkers in full force. Even so, there’s a ton of A-list choices, music-wise, for anyone who does actually want to venture out—more so than usual, so make your plans early.

If you love EDM and/or hip-hop, there’s really only one logical choice for you for New Year’s Eve, and that’s Reaction NYE, taking place on December 30 and 31 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont (5555 North River Road). The event is headlined by EDM faves deadmau5 and Skrillex, as well as Run the Jewels and Chvrches. There’s a pretty impressive Chicago showing as well, including Chance The Rapper (returning to the city after his headlining stint at Pitchfork over the summer), legendary house producer Green Velvet, hip-hop artist ProbCause and local remix artists Autograf. Tickets start at $89, and can be purchased at the Reaction NYE website. 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 »

a4263405670_10

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 »

Spins: Atomic Ragtime and Radiant Folk, Chicago Style

Alt-Rock, Blues, Chicago Artists, Folk, Folk-rock, Jazz, Record Reviews, Record Store Day, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

NoHotel_Claudettes

By Robert Rodi

I’m just a hair late to the party when it comes to “No Hotel,” the new album by Chicago’s own neo-vaudeville barnstormers, The Claudettes; but the album (which came out in September) is definitely one you should be spinning, streaming or otherwise ingesting whole. It’s the work of just three players—pianist Johnny Iguana, drummer Michael Caskey and (intermittently) vocalist Yana—but there’s enough energy going on to power your average Third World airport.

The opener, “Big Easy Women,” is full of a barreling, hyper-saloon piano banging, with a bridge that playfully evokes silent-movie peril. But it’s the second cut—“California, Here I Come”—that really makes you sit up and take notice. The Claudettes knock the hoary old Al Jolson tune into a minor key, transforming it into a wittily downbeat comment on the cruelty that so often accompanies the go-west-young-man dream. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: Horn of Not-Quite-Plenty

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Indie Rock, Jazz, Live Reviews, Rock No Comments »
Mark_Farina-

Mark Farina

It’s always a bit of a challenge scoping out shows around Thanksgiving because it’s a time period that seems to be overlooked for live music. The presumption is that everyone is out of town and/or spending time with family for the weekend. For those “Thanksgiving orphans” that stick around, or plan to head home early, there’s some good live music to look forward to in the coming weeks, as well as a few unusual and non-performance-based music events that are worth checking out.

Metro offshoot Smart Bar (3730 North Clark), early home of Frankie Knuckles and launching pad for Ministry, is approaching middle age. To celebrate, on Friday, November 20, Smart Bar cleverly celebrates its “33 1/3 Anniversary” with an A-list lineup of DJs and taking up both the Smart Bar and Metro spaces. The show includes Mark Farina, Colette, DJ Heather, Justin Long, Michael Serafini and Garrett David. Tickets are $24 in advance, $30 at the door. The 21+ show starts at 10pm at Smart Bar, 11pm at Metro. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: Post Festival Season, Local Acts Shine

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, New Wave, Pop, Rock No Comments »
roommate.jpgimagebyellengladish

Roommate

Once a chill gets in the air and many of us recover from our Halloween activities, there’s a bit of a lull in live music until the December holidays and New Year’s Eve. That’s OK, though; I think it’s a wonderful time to check out some of the bands, artists and venues that may not have gotten the love they deserved during the busy summer festival season, and there’s always plenty going on. When it comes to this month’s Raw Material, be sure to catch up with the art-pop ensemble Roommate at Burlington Bar (3425 West Fullerton) on Friday, November 6. The Kent Lambert-led project has endured for well over a decade with an evolving lineup, and released a full-length album, “Make Like,” in June of this year. This may or may not be the group’s last recording, but nonetheless Roommate has had a busy summer of performance, including a residency at the Hideout that culminated in a multimedia collaboration with Chicago Film Archives. Roommate’s Burlington set will be opened by Strange Weather Records labelmate Thomas Comerford and Minnesota-based singer-songwriter Luke Redfield. The free, twenty-one-plus show starts at 9pm. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Here We Go Magic/The Empty Bottle

Alt-Rock, Indie Rock, Live Reviews, Pop, Psychedelic No Comments »

here-we-go-magic

RECOMMENDED

I call it “needle-drop bliss”—that moment when you lower the tone arm onto an LP, and after the first few burps of vinyl, you hear something that induces immediate euphoria. That isn’t quite the case with Here We Go Magic’s new album, “Be Small”—the first cut is a thirty-second squall of feedback that sounds like a jet engine with a head cold—but when it snaps into “Stella,” you might as well sit down, wherever you are, because you’re not going anywhere soon. This is pure pop magic: a breezy, bouncing groove that churns happily away beneath a languorous melody line. And what lovely, evocative lyrics: “But if you trip on every fashion / Fall into every pile of bull / You’ll only smell of empty mansions / Once, maybe once you were full.” It’s a rare thing, to find a band that’s both lyrically and harmonically adventurous; and HWGM manages to sustain it throughout the length of the album. Read the rest of this entry »