Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Raw Material: Horn of Not-Quite-Plenty

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

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 »


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 »



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 »

Preview: Kurt Vile/Thalia Hall

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



Kurt Vile takes his time. His last two Chicago concerts were Pitchfork’s rain-shortened fifteen-minute endeavor, and Riot Fest’s insane thirty-minute time slot. But KV still locked into his lazy, shimmery, stoner groove for seven minutes; if it was going to be a three- or four-song set, at least each song would have the chance to fully inhale, hold and exhale. Kurt Vile also likes to repeat himself, lyrically, harmonically and thematically. For his new album “b’lieve i’m Goin’ down,” Kurt turns on his own language; phrases like, “I woke up this morning (and) didn’t recognize the man in the mirror,” “give it some time” and (on the pre-release single) “believe I’m going down” are drawled repetitively, but—like stories told by disoriented people—as if being communicated for the first time. Each repetition is altered, as if the words or riffs are being played entirely anew, or for a new purpose. Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: State-of-the-Art Genre Bending from Two Chicago Acts

Alt-Country, Alt-Rock, Bluegrass, Chicago Artists, Country, Country folk, Indie Pop, Indie Rock, New Wave, Pop, Pop Punk, Rock No Comments »


By Robert Rodi

Marrow calls its new album “The Gold Standard,” which for sheer chutzpah just about jumps the shark; maybe it’s a surly old music-critic thing, but my knee-jerk reaction was, “I’ll be the judge of that, children.” But in fact I was won over; I wouldn’t quite call “The Gold Standard” the gold standard, but given the way the band seems intent on synthesizing the various genres of their callow youth into something entirely distinctive, they’re probably inventing some new kind of currency anyway. Singer-songwriters Macie Stewart (who plays keys) and Liam Kazar (guitar) are ably abetted by bassist Lane Beckstrom and drummer Matt Carroll. The album’s opener, “She Chose You,” is a pretty sweet introduction to the quartet; it’s jangly and infectious, one of those gorgeously up-tempo tunes about misery and heartache that are the hallmark of postwar pop. “Toll to train underwater / Selfish savage, try to dream her happy,” Kazar sings, with the kind of white-boy-catch-in-the-throat Kurt Cobain added to the rock singer’s repertoire, especially when he follows up by actually groaning, “Without you,” like he’d forgotten he was in the middle of a song or something. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Slim Twig/The Empty Bottle

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

Photo: Carly Sioux


One of the problems that comes with being a music critic of a certain age, is that when a young twenty-something artist starts impressing you with similarities to seventies-era acts like The Beatles, David Bowie and T. Rex, you can’t be sure whether it’s because those acts are still that influential, or whether they’re just still influencing you. But after getting deeper into Slim Twig’s new album, “Thank You For Stickin’ With Twig,” it’s pretty clear that the former is the case. Hell, one of his tunes, “A Woman’s Touch,” is actually about The Beatles—or rather, about the role (decisive yet disrespected) of the mop-tops’ women in their success. “The wives became the enemies,” Twig sings, “Of screaming fans who never ceased / While holed up down at Abbey Road / The boys were baring rubber souls / So who wrote the songs? / Who dressed the men? / How did they know what to do then? / It’s the only story told.” The sound recalls the deliberately low-fi, analogue sonics of the Fab Four’s later years, but that feminist angle turns the tune straight-up postmillennial. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: Riot Fest and the Summer Wrap-up

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, EDM, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Garage Rock, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, Rock No Comments »


By Keidra Chaney

Lollapalooza is the juggernaut and Pitchfork the tastemaker’s favorite, but for me Riot Fest is the best music festival in town. As a rocker at heart, I’ll cop to a strong bias: the festival started as a multi-venue underground punk and metal showcase, and it’s currently one of the few festivals to stay (for the most part) true to its rock roots over the years. But there’s a lot more live music to check out in the next couple of weeks outside of Riot Fest, including North Coast Festival, if hip-hop, EDM and jam bands are more your speed, and an eclectic group of DJs and musicians paying tribute to Kate Bush.

Before the festival season wraps in Chicago, on September 3 at Beat Kitchen (2100 West Belmont) there’s a sucker punch of peppy garage punk with the city’s own Swimsuit Addition opening for St. Louis duo Bruiser Queen. Their 2014 full-length “Wretched Pinups” is like listening to nineties riot grrrl bands, surf-punk, eighties new wave and a little sixties girl group mixed in a sonic blender. (You can also check out a new remix of their single “Talk is Cheap” on their Bandcamp page.) Show starts at 9pm and is 17+; tickets are $8. Read the rest of this entry »

Lolla Day 3: Riders On the Storm

Alt-Rock, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, Pop, Rap, Rock, Uncategorized No Comments »
Photo: Brian Hieggelke

Photo: Brian Hieggelke

By Craig Bechtel

Festivalgoers receive their tickets and passes with the caveat that the shows will go on “rain or shine.” But there’s always the caveat that if high winds and lightning pop up on the radar, all bets are off, and attendees of Lollapalooza Day 3 had to wrestle with the forces of Mother Nature, not once, but twice.

Sunday started hot and humid, and skies were sunny as Australian trio DMA’s treated those in attendance at the Pepsi stage to their jangly, echoey guitar pop. DMA’s are clearly inspired by the mid-nineties Britpop tradition, à la Oasis, Blur, Happy Mondays, etc., who themselves were born of NME C86 influences like The Mighty Lemon Drops, The Shop Assistants and The Wedding Present. Whether this was apparent to the crowds enjoying their set at the Pepsi stage was unclear—they may have been there based on the strength of the band’s “Laced” single, which has garnered some airplay on local AOR radio station WXRT, was a song of the week for KEXP and garnered a review in Entertainment Weekly last fall. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday at Lolla: Hometown Heroes and Wild Weather

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Dance Pop, Festivals, Indie Rock, Live Reviews, Rock No Comments »

Twin Peaks

By Robert Rodi

Sunday afternoon I had my first concentrated dose of Twin Peaks. I’m not generally drawn to this kind of act—you reach a certain age, you find your appetite for brash young guitar bands has been satiated almost to the point of aversion—but I love a local success story, and these Chicago natives have had an amazing year since they slashed their way to stardom at Pitchfork last year. Their album “Wild Onion” became both a critical and commercial success, launching them on an extensive national tour, and now they’d returned home in triumph to play Lollapalooza.

It was easy to see they were stoked. Almost from the moment they took the stage, they were hurling themselves around like sock puppets. I’ve heard enough of “Wild Onion” to know that there are some wryly rueful and even mildly cerebral tunes in their repertoire, but for their Lolla set it was pretty much power-chord overload. Their fans—who were many—seemed to love it, and the guys fed on that energy so that their performance rapidly went from propulsive to convulsive. Seriously, there was so much thrashing and pounding and leaping around, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the entire Sprint stage had shifted a few inches during their set. Read the rest of this entry »

My Lolla: Craig Bechtel

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Festivals, Garage Rock, Indie Rock, Live Reviews, Metal, Prog-rock, Rock No Comments »

Death from Above 1979

Lollapalooza started as a traveling “alternative” rock carnival, but today it’s a stationary event showcasing music that ranges from rock to hip-hop to pop to electronic. If that doesn’t seem like a tremendously wide range, it’s not just you. As Lollapalooza has evolved toward the mainstream, Riot Fest (based in Chicago, but now held around the country) has pulled away most of the possible punk edges, brought back some “legacy acts” with underground roots like No Doubt and Billy Idol and introduced actual carnival rides. Conversely, having recently completed its tenth rendition in Chicago’s Union Park, the Pitchfork Music Festival can’t be rivaled in terms of their indie cred, and they supplement their bread-and-butter indie rock with a fair amount of rap, electronic and even some retro-folk explorations too. Chicago is either blessed or cursed to host 300,000 Lollapalooza-goers the first weekend in August each year, depending on who you ask, but it’s still the granddaddy of all of these festival options, in terms of longevity, attendance and scope.

Compared to Pitchfork’s three color-named stages and fifty-odd acts, Lollapalooza boasts approximately 150 performances on six corporate-named stages, plus one for Kidzapalooza presented by Lifeway, and Perry’s—named for the founder, Perry Farrell (hopefully he didn’t have to pay himself anything for naming rights)—for DJs and dancing only. So how can you choose who to see and who to hear? Research and listen, and if it’s a tie, try to split the difference. Just try not to pass out when running between the stages in the hot, hot August heat.


St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Bud Light

Friday holds off on tough choices until the 2pm hour, when St. Paul & The Broken Bones has to compete with BadBadNotGood. If the latter had rapper Ghostface Killah in tow to perform numbers from their excellent collaboration, they would get the nod, but I’m afraid I’d rather hear some authentically-done soul singing as opposed to seventies-set experimental explorations. Since there’s bound to be an abundance of treacly, fake-soul offerings this weekend (I’m looking at you, Sam Smith), I’m going to have to give Paul Janeway and his Birmingham-bred brethren the edge here. Read the rest of this entry »