Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Book Review: “The Empty Bottle” edited by John Dugan

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Folk-rock, Indie Rock, New Wave, News and Dish, Pop Punk, Post-punk, Post-Rock, Prog-rock, Protopunk, Psychedelic, Punk, Rock, Rockabilly, Shoegaze No Comments »

EmptyBottle

RECOMMENDED

I didn’t have high expectations for “The Empty Bottle: 21+ Years of Music / Friendly / Dancing” (especially with that grammatically awkward subtitle; yes, those are the famous call-outs emblazoned on the club’s awning, but in print they look like something translated into Mandarin and then back again). Histories of entertainment venues tend to skew either toward brain-numbing listicles or institutional hagiography. But in fact “The Empty Bottle,” edited by John Dugan, is pure delight; it’s a compendium of short tributes and memoirs by close to two dozen people who have worked, played or hung out at the club, and whose voices are wonderfully varied and engaging. Yes, there are the obligatory recollections of early dates by Nirvana and Arcade Fire, but the cumulative result is something much greater—in fact, a genuine and consistently beguiling social history. Like, if Studs Terkel had been born in 1980. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Songs About Gentrification and Euthanasia: Dance Early and Often with The Julie Ruin at Pitchfork

Alt-Rock, Disco, Electro, Festivals, Indie Rock, Post-punk, Rock No Comments »

Ajulie-ruin-sitting

By Bart Lazar

Music can be fun, danceable and meaningful; this is what The Julie Ruin teaches us. Originally formed as a solo project by Kathleen Hanna, the founder of the riot grrrl movement, The Julie Ruin combines pulsing disco, electro-clash and punk to provide the most danceable band you may find at Pitchfork, or anywhere else, this year—and the only one singing songs about gentrification and euthanasia.

Ken Mellman—keyboardist, vocalist and former member of the Obie-award winning drag cabaret duo Kiki and Herb—took time from recording The Julie Ruin’s second album to let us know a little bit about this veteran, artistic and activistic band, and why you should get to Pitchfork early on Sunday.

Tell me about The Julie Ruin.
Kathleen wanted to start a new band, so she systematically tricked each of us into joining her. She snagged her old bandmate from Bikini Kill, Kathi [Wilcox, bassist], who was just moving to New York from D.C., Sara Landeau [guitarist and proprietor of the Brooklyn Music Studio for Women and Girls], who she met when they both were volunteering for Girls Rock Camp, and Carmine Covelli [drummer], who had been Le Tigre’s tour tech guy. Kathleen had been a fan of my old act and we had been friends for years. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Wire’s DRILL Festival/The Hideout, Thalia Hall, Metro

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Indie Rock, Post-punk, Punk, Rock No Comments »
Wire

Wire / Photo: Marylene Mey

RECOMMENDED

Whether or not you believe Wire to be a seminal punk and post-punk band, you have to admire its insistence on evolution—from its minimalist beginnings in 1976 through its various genre-defying iterations. Which brings us to the new format for the band’s ongoing DRILL festivals: small, curated events built on artistic kinship across divergent musical styles, influences and generations. This version of the festival (with different supporting/collaborating artists) hit London earlier this year, and we have the privilege of being the only other host city on the agenda. 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 »

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+

The End of Journalism: New Ideas with Steve Albini

Chicago Artists, Interviews, Minimalism, Post-punk, Punk No Comments »
Steve Albini 1

Still from the documentary “Parallax Sounds”

By Kenneth Preski

Every critical outlet must justify its insights. The reasoning should extend beyond a simple citing of sources, should move past the seduction of poetic prose, and burrow down into the very tenets of knowledge that the writing seeks to embody. For a variety of equally abstract and profound reasons, this enterprise is in a badly confused state with respect to music journalism. What’s now required is a nuanced dialogue with musicians to re-appropriate the method, to re-envision the approach in favor of the artist and the audience. To that end, Steve Albini’s thoughts are invaluable. Beyond his work as a prolific sound engineer, Albini is a university-trained journalist and a seasoned musician. His band Shellac is on the eve of releasing “Dude Incredible” at a time when traditional operations for the music and publishing industries have been malformed by the internet. Now is the moment to re-strategize.

In an interview, it’s clear that the sea change has been on Albini’s mind. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: New Order/Aragon Ballroom

Electronic/Dance, New Wave, Post-punk, Rock No Comments »

New OrderRECOMMENDED

If it’s been awhile since you’ve caught up with New Order, and you happened to miss the reunion show in 2012, or their energetic set at Lolla last year, here’s what you need to know. New Order reemerged from yet another breakup in 2011 with a new lineup: keyboardist Gillian Gilbert returned to the band after taking time off to raise children, and Bad Lieutenant’s Tom Chapman assumed duties on bass. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Swans/Lincoln Hall

Experimental, Post-punk, Rock No Comments »

SwansRECOMMENDED

Legendary heavy experimental band Swans is headlining Lincoln Hall for what promises to be a terrifying and fascinating exposition of the adult haunted house that the band has been showcasing for the past thirty-two years. Their latest release “To Be Kind,” is their thirteenth studio album and is as intimidating as all of their releases in the past. The whole album, which is over two hours long, sounds like the soundtrack for a tour of a serial killer’s house. Swans has honed in on the aspects of doom and gloom that affect everyone, artfully crafting these elements together in a way that don’t give the listener even a hint of a break. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Iceage/Subterranean

Post-punk, Punk No Comments »
Photo: Kristian Emdal

Photo: Kristian Emdal

Danish punkers Iceage impressed the music blogger scene a couple of years ago with their debut full-length, “New Brigade,” and their electric live performances. For music fans, their brand of uncompromising punk rock is a breath of fresh air in a indie-rock world that seems to shy away from a real sense of abandon and danger. But the band’s troubling, continuous embrace of fascist images and references is impossible to ignore. Google the terms “Iceage and fascism” or “Iceage and racism” and you’ll find a laundry list of charges, among them the fact that more than one member has worn t-shirts and merch for the Norwegian black metal band Burzum, whose frontman, Varg Vikernes, was jailed for murder, and is an unsympathetic white supremacist and homophobe. Iceage’s band members initially remained evasive against the accusations, then later—and rather passively—denied them, claiming political ignorance and pointing out that one of their members is Jewish. Read the rest of this entry »