Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: John Cale/Old Town School of Folk Music

Experimental, Folk, New Music, Pop, Punk, Rock, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »


Every list of John Cale’s achievements begins by cementing Cale’s role as a founding member of the Velvet Underground. At the onset of the group, Cale’s avant-garde and contemporary classical credentials lent a grounding circuit to the proceedings, with songwriting credits second only to Lou Reed. The spark in a song like “Venus in Furs” was summoned forth via his viola flourishes, or by his piano playing in “I’m Waiting for the Man.” Cale has continued to be a ceaseless experimenter, ever curious, always listening, and dead set on playing his own version of what’s next. The method has yielded a storied collection of recordings, with some unforgettable songs, including “Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend,” an anxiety twitch of a tune that sounds good no matter who sings it. Read the rest of this entry »

Private Access to Public Personas: Cutting Loose with Basic Cable

Chicago Artists, Interviews, Punk, Rock No Comments »

By Kenneth Preski

Photo: Sarah Hess

Photo: Sarah Hess

Maintaining a sense of journalistic objectivity about Basic Cable is impossible. Beyond band duties, bassist Luca Cimarusti is the music listings coordinator at the Chicago Reader, and drummer Ryan Duggan is a prolific designer whose work includes last fall’s “Art 50″ cover for Newcity. The group’s reward for being so intimately involved in Chicago’s music scene has been a local press vacuum for their latest project. Highfalutin ideals are fine fodder for fools and philosophers, and being a bit of both presented the perfect opportunity for me to defy all proper notions of my profession. In short: if local publications must ignore their own for fear of impropriety, then it’s the fool’s duty to challenge the philosophical framework preventing profoundly relevant artists from being properly covered. No problem playing the fool here, I have much experience in this regard with the men of Basic Cable. Two members and me share a hometown. I’ve known Luca as Luke since I was fourteen and bummed rides off of him to local punk shows. I’ve know Michael John Grant, guitarist and primary vocalist, as MJ since around the same time. Knowing what I know, I made sure to eat an early dinner before sitting down for an interview with the group. These guys can drink. Read the rest of this entry »

Fast Riffs on Fast Food: The Orwells’ Race Against Time

Chicago Artists, Garage Rock, Interviews, Punk, Rock No Comments »

By Rob Szypkoorwells_band_photo

On a Thursday evening in March, the green room at the Bowery Ballroom in New York is stuffed with people, but The Orwells, the band of teenage hellraisers from the suburbs of Chicago, stick out like a sore thumb. In one corner, a photographer announces to the bearded or salt-and-pepper-haired managers around him that he needs to step out to meet up with his ex-wife and son, who happen to live right down the street. In the other corner, members of The Orwells discuss Chapstick addiction, and then lead singer Mario Cuomo, aged twenty, shares pictures of longboard baby strollers on his smartphone.

There they are, the young guys. But the five members of The Orwells carry a sense of urgency that belies the number of years they have ahead of them. “Once you’re past twenty-five or something, your time in rock ‘n’ roll, if you haven’t made it then, is kind of up,” guitarist Matt O’Keefe, aged nineteen, says. “If I were twenty-five and I were living off of Wendy’s or McDonald’s, I would be very depressed with my life. But as a nineteen-year-old I couldn’t be more excited about it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Scott H. Biram/Reggies Rock Club

Bluegrass, Blues, Country, Metal, Punk, Rock No Comments »


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 »

Preview: Meat Wave/Subterranean

Chicago Artists, Post-punk, Punk, Rock No Comments »


This recommendation writes itself. You should go see local punk trio Meat Wave at Subterranean because they are so good the venue booked them for two shows in twenty days. It’s not a residency, and for a punk band to play twice at the same place in so short a time means they are worth the money to the venue. Understanding why is easy—their self-recorded debut tape (soon to be slab of vinyl) offers a near live snapshot of the group as genuinely graceful performers, if such a thing can be said about a punk band. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Perfect Pussy/Schubas

Hardcore, Punk, Rock No Comments »


What’s in a name? Perfect Pussy are not the first band to evoke the female anatomy using that particular nomenclature, nor the most shocking, though their use may be the most meaningful. Meaning, truth, honesty, these are the hallmarks of singer/screamer Meredith Graves, who derived the name as an antagonistic form of optimism—a rejection of gender specific self-criticism. Her lyrics follow suit, a platform for feelings on interpersonal relationships, on sex, on internal peace. Confrontation via explicit language is not a new tool for an American artist to employ, yet Graves and company have found themselves on the receiving end of some powerful publicity anyway. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Filmage/Lincoln Hall

Hardcore, Pop Punk, Punk No Comments »


As much as anything else, this is the story of Bill Stevenson. He’s a drummer. And from all the praise dropped at his feet during this newly released ninety-minute film, it would seem that he’s a pretty good one. If Descendents isn’t a familiar name—and it should be—maybe Black Flag summons some sort of recognition. If not, “Filmage” has all the talking heads one’d need to get informed. Keith Morris crops up. Mike Watt, too. And it would seem that Dave Grohl is becoming the new millennium’s Ian MacKaye, replacing that D.C. stalwart in punk documentaries. Watching those famous faces flit across the screen narrating the development of Descendents doesn’t get tiresome, though. The issue with films like this is that frequently the story winds up being more gripping than the music. No pop punk resurrection is set for the immediate future, yet early cuts from Descendents—with Milo Aukerman on vocals—isn’t surpassed by too much else in the music world. Read the rest of this entry »

In Memoriam: Lorna Donley of DA!, 1960-2013

Chicago Artists, Post-punk, Punk, Rock No Comments »

“In that nighttime world,DA1
I conquered each day,
but the light would always come,
and take us away.”

Lorna Donley was an artist whose spirit cannot be distilled into words on a page. No eulogy will be sufficient enough to capture her essence. Hers was a rare flame, one bound to alight again in some lesser form at our culture’s periphery, while her work here in Chicago will burn forever, a bright beacon for the perpetual next generation.

Donley’s creative output as the bassist and singer of post-punk progenitors DA! proves what she knew all along: “Time Will Be Kind.” To her legacy, it has been. DA! didn’t sound like any other band in Chicago when they formed in 1978. They didn’t sound like any other band at all. Their contemporaries (The Effigies, Naked Raygun, Strike Under) may have gone on to achieve greater notoriety, but the “Dark Rooms/White Castles” seven-inch single, and the “Time Will Be Kind” twelve-inch EP that comprised their discography—up until a recently released rarities “Exclamation Point” LP—offer a remarkable glimpse into Donley’s pioneering sense of expression. Read the rest of this entry »

Hard Logic: Leaving Home with Holograms

Punk, Rock No Comments »

holograms1By Dave Cantor

The maturation of rock ’n’ roll hasn’t happened in any noticeable form over the last thirty-five years. Even back then, it was really just a regression to primeval tendencies that’d been glossed over amid blowin’ rails with some West Coast A&R man.

Sweden’s Holograms haven’t revolutionized the genre, but the quartet’s been at work trying to inject punk and its satellite musics with even a twinge of immediacy. They’ve succeeded sporadically on “Forever,” a follow-up to last year’s self-titled debut.

“It’s a lot of philosophical questions about life,” Andreas Lagerström, the ensemble’s frontman, says of his new work’s lyrical penchant. Most listeners would be able to guess that after pushing through the most pensive track “Rush” and its manic proclamations of how difficult it is to spark fire at the ocean’s bottom. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Fake Limbs/Hideout

Chicago Artists, Punk, Rock No Comments »


Is there a steadier formation in rock music than the power trio? History has proven that the primal pull of bass, drums and a guitar is unquestionably preferred above any other lineup. Even Led Zeppelin added Robert Plant as an afterthought. Make it a four-piece and the results will bristle. On local boys Fake Limbs’ sophomore effort, the forthcoming “The Power of Patrician Upbringing,” it’s hard to discern the lead vocalist. Is it Stephen Sowley, the guy actually tasked with singing, or Bryan Gleason, the guitarist who refuses to be outshone? The two are at each other’s throats for the duration of the record, trading screams for solos and barks for feedback. The rhythm section, Mat Biscan on bass and Nick Smalkowski on drums, pummel their instruments to keep up, but to no avail. The effect is irrepressible, wild, unkempt—something like a 5am drunken walk home alone, which is incidentally the subject matter for lead track “Green Chartreuse.” Read the rest of this entry »