Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Holiday Music, Indie Rock, Interviews, Live Reviews, Metal, Prog-rock, R&B, Rock, Shoegaze, Soul, Space Pop
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 »
By Keidra Chaney
Everyone loves a good rock ‘n’ roll success story. You know the one: the scrappy band of musicians, armed with nothing more than raw talent and dreams, hustle their way to nationwide, major-label success. But these days such stories are few and far between, and for every rock-star success story that’s told, there are always several, lesser-known stories of industry mainstays that get short shrift.
For example, Greg Fulton: active in the Chicago music scene since his days as a Columbia College student in the 1980s, Fulton is currently the founder, guitarist, and vocalist of Sweet Diezel Jenkins, a Chicago-based “party band” that does mashup-style covers of R & B and pop hits. Can you imagine a funk-infused mashup of Sisqo’s “Thong Song” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? Sweet Diezel Jenkins manages to pull it off with aplomb. SDJ has a regular gig at Red Line Tap in Rogers Park on most Wednesday nights, and the band regularly plays out at bars and festivals across the midwest, from Ohio to Michigan.
But little known to many, Fulton also represents a slice of Chicago heavy metal history, as the founding member of several metal bands: Znowhite, Cyclone Temple, and Rebels Without Applause. Znowhite, founded in 1982, was featured in a volume of the iconic “Metal Massacre” song compilation alongside a then-unknown Slayer. (Fulton is listed on Znowhite albums under his stage name, “Ian Tafoya.” He managed the band under his own name.) Read the rest of this entry »
“Metal” is a very broad term, roping together a sweeping mass of bands that do not necessarily belong in the same genre. Sleep falls into this category, stoner metal specifically, but denies the stereotypes that make metal as a whole sound shallow. Their songs are essentially full albums with well thought-out compositions. Sleep knows how to find a hook and blow it up tenfold into long, massive songs that fade into each other and make longer, more narrative pieces. It’s difficult to find parallels between Sleep and certain godfathers of metal because they have moved beyond the blueprints set up for them. Sleep is evidence that metal has almost untraceably evolved since its beginnings. Read the rest of this entry »
Helmet’s seminal 1994 release “Betty” came during a time when rock was going through some weird shifts in the mainstream. Grunge was its nadir and the industry glommed onto so-called “alternative” or “post grunge” rock bands like Candlebox and Offspring to fill the void. So when “Betty” was released it made an impact, even though the album was not as much of a commercial success as Helmet’s sophomore effort, “Meantime.” Some music fans view “Betty” as their mainstream entry point into underground post-hardcore and metal while some critics see it as the accidental template for the rise of the much maligned sub-genre of nu-metal and representative bands like Slipknot and Limp Bizkit. Regardless of where one falls in the debate on the historical influence of “Betty,” the album stands up on its own. The meaty down-tuned riffs at the intro of “Milquetoast” or the pulverizing bass of “Biscuits for Smut” still manage to inspire mosh-pit action, even if said mosh pit is slower and much more cautious than in 1994. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Robert Loerzel
And now for the only full-on metal act of this entire festival, the eagerly awaited (by some) Deafheaven. A lot of folks at the fest were clearly not ready for vocalist George Clarke’s gut-wrenching shrieks, but whatever. We will be back to indie rock mumbling and such soon enough.
A certain segment of metal critics/fans lost their collective shit for the band’s 2013 release, “Sunbather,” a wet dream for anyone who is equally enamored of both, say, Gorgoroth and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I have been largely unmoved by the band’s records, but I will say their shoegaze-y elements are much more stirring in a live setting. Also Clarke’s evil-German-film-studies grad-student vibe actually works live; he’s got a weird kind of sexy malevolence that fits their sound and is dynamic to watch. They debuted a new track,”From The Kettle Onto The Coil” with a nice chunky breakdown in the middle that appeals to my metal traditionalist sensibilities. You win this round, Deafheaven. Mostly because you guys are the only metal I’ll see all weekend. (Keidra Chaney)
Pig Destroyer is about as close to a household name as underground metal can get, to the point that some metal snobs consider the band to be “mainstream” in comparison to its younger, more extreme counterparts. (They probably wouldn’t pass the “does your mom know them?” test, unless your mom goes to Kuma’s regularly.) Of course musically, the band is no less savage than they’ve ever been. Their last full-length, 2012’s “Book Burner” was both unusually ambitious–with some of the best, most disturbing lyrical storytelling vocalist J.R. Hayes has ever written–while sounding younger and more punk than ever, thanks to primary songwriter/guitarist Scott Hull’s guiding hand. Read the rest of this entry »
The Dillinger Escape Plan is not every metal fan’s musical cup of tea. Some are put off by the frenzied, tempo-hopping riffage of guitarist/founding member Ben Weinman. The “no clean vocals” purist crowd doesn’t care much for vocalist Greg Puciato’s smoother vocal stylings. Even so, the mathcore quintet’s fan base seems to grow with each new release, despite an ever-changing lineup and a commitment to creating persistently alienating music. Their most recent album, “One of Us Is the Killer,” shows the band at their most artistically confident, marrying the incomprehensible technicality of Weinman’s guitar playing and Billy Rymer’s drums with melodic , dare I say, pop-influenced choruses. It’s all topped off with Puciato’s impressive vocal range, jumping from high-pitched shrieks to guttural bellows to R&B-tinged crooning, sometimes in one song. It’s a trip. Read the rest of this entry »
When Black Sabbath abandoned the name Earth, it was left for Dylan Carlson’s crew to assume two decades later. Earth’s mythology and music from the early nineties have proven to be equally formidable forces. Their seminal “Earth 2” is regarded as the first drone metal album, though their stint on Sub Pop is considered the beneficial byproduct of a close friendship with Kurt Cobain. Carlson and Cobain were former roommates, confidants and co-dependent drug users; their camaraderie culminating in Cobain’s suicide via a shotgun purchased in Carlson’s name. Two more albums were issued on Sub Pop, the epic distortion excursions of their genre-defining masterpiece tapered to shorter outbursts edging toward standard song length, replete with a Hendrix cover. And then, radio silence. In recent interviews, Carlson has credited this lost time to a continued struggle with drug addiction and depression, but by the mid-aughts, Earth had begun playing out again, revitalized by the inclusion of Carlson’s wife Adrienne Davies on drums, and supported by the successes of bands like Sunn O))) who owe much to the genre’s forebears. Read the rest of this entry »
Though Texan Scott H. Biram has released a number of well-received albums and has been performing for more than a decade (amassing a considerable following in that time period) his latest release from Bloodshot Records (“Nothin’ But Blood”) is bringing new fans out of the woodwork. Biram calls his music “the bastard child of punk, blues, country, hillbilly, bluegrass, chain gang, metal and classic rock,” and for once this is not an example of an artist over-selling himself. Despite the first track on his latest album implying that he’s taking it “Slow & Easy,” Biram still preaches as much hellfire as he does redemption with both his lyrics and musical style, following loud, fighting-angry metal tunes like “Church Point Girls” with easy listening bluegrass ballads like “I’m Troubled.” Seeing Biram take the stage alone with his signature trucker hat, the uninitiated may expect a fairly typical country singer-songwriter—but once he gets going, it becomes clear why he’s also known as “The Dirty Old One Man Band.” Read the rest of this entry »
What exactly is “post-metal?” Some fans swear by the term, others loathe it. It tends to be used in reference to bands that appeal to people who don’t have much use for heavy music in any other context. You can decide for yourself whether or not the description quite fits for Chicago’s Russian Circles, but anyone with an appreciation for the layered instrumentals of Explosions in the Sky, or the heavier riffing of Pelican will appreciate this band. Without a singer to tell stories through lyrics, the trio—guitarist Mike Sullivan, bassist Brian Cook, and drummer Dave Turncrantz—create musical narratives through finely crafted arrangements. Read the rest of this entry »