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 »



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 »

Raw Material: The Best of 2014? Possibly Yet to Come

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Holiday Music, Indie Rock, Interviews, Live Reviews, Metal, Prog-rock, R&B, Rock, Shoegaze, Soul, Space Pop No Comments »

Forgotten Species

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 »

Live Review: Slowdive/Pitchfork Music Festival

Festivals, Live Reviews, Rock, Shoegaze 2 Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

For fans of the hazy 1990s British rock that came to be known as shoegaze, Slowdive was one of Pitchfork’s true must-see acts this year. Back together after a nineteen-year hiatus, the group sculpted pretty melodies out of its guitar notes during its set early Sunday evening, with Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell switching off on lead vocals, both sounding like they were lost in dreams. But then, as the chords churned around and around, the songs began to roar with an often fierce intensity—contrasting with the musicians’ calm, relaxed demeanor onstage. It’s hard to say whether any of them actually gazed at their shoes as they made that beautiful, blurry and buzzing noise, but it was beguiling. (Robert Loerzel)

Preview: Loop/Bottom Lounge

Krautrock, Psychedelic, Punk, Rock, Shoegaze No Comments »


It’s a nice treat that Loop has reunited to tour for the first time in twenty-three years. That the British band is making an appearance in Chicago is the cherry on top. The crew were contemporaries of Spacemen 3 in the late eighties, both bands played an unruly mix of psychedelic-punk-krautrock. These groups are the reason come-down music as beautiful as Slowdive exists, and why a shoegaze scene became a reality. Loop is known for being an incredibly loud and intense live act, which is easy to assume the moment any of their recordings are played; the urge to turn it up is overwhelming. Distorted electricity cascades down the back of a perfectly synced rhythm section, vocals blurring in and out of lushly layered guitars—“Heaven’s End” is right, this is the perfect blend of sacred and profane. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Slowbots/Old Town School of Folk Music

Chicago Artists, Experimental, Festivals, R&B, Rock, Shoegaze, Soul, World Music No Comments »


There’s a tendency to attach the catch-all label of “world music” to any artist or band with non-Western musical influences. Accurate? Not always. But it’s a simple description to categorize and define a band’s sound. That being said, to classify the music of Slowbots as “world music” or “multicultural” is to immediately confine it to labels that don’t fully reflect this Chicago music collective’s varied influences. Slowbots’ moody ballads owe as much to the Velvet Underground as they do to the traditional Urdu singing that vocalist Yasmin Ali was trained in. In Slowbots you can hear strains of shoegaze, trip-hop, and folk with spacey, fuzzed-out guitar lines weaving their way through the soulful vocals of Ali and Angela Salva’s plaintive violin, all anchored by the R&B-influenced percussion work of Katie Chow. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Disappears/Empty Bottle

Chicago Artists, Jam Band, Psychedelic, Shoegaze No Comments »


In three years Disappears has gone from a random assemblage of dudes who once performed with other bands to a group dispensing its own particular mélange of psych and pop run through garage’s sonic lens. Issuing two singles and a pair of full-lengths, the quartet hasn’t been developing at a rapid pace, but it still turns in concise rock songs, sporadically opting for fifteen-minute explorations of just a few notes. Adding in Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley behind the drum kit hasn’t hurt the band. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Ducktails/Subterranean

Indie Rock, Psychedelic, Rock, Shoegaze No Comments »


Matthew Mondanile is probably equally well known for performing as Ducktails as he is for being guitarist in the Woodsist-affiliated band Real Estate. Recording endeavors from both groups arrive with a breezy, tossed-off feel angling at nonchalance. Success at being another troupe of slacker musicians has been fully realized for both outfits even as Ducktails, since its first 2007 releases, moved slowly towards the normalcy of Real Estate’s rock escapades. Mondanile, not always touting lackadaisical New Jersey shoreline beach pop, began Ducktails with the mindset that creating loops from a handful of vintage, and sometimes African, recordings would serve as ample foundation for his spindly guitar noodling. It worked, pretty much from the start after dispensing with the ambient experiment “Dreams in Mirror Field.” From the 2009 self-titled disc on Los Angeles’ Not Not Fun, “Beach Point Pleasant” circulates a keyboard pattern and accompanying drum beat snatched from some Ethio-jazz offering and grants Mondanile almost four minutes worth of time to explore modes his guitar can fit to the aging melody. Improvising in such a fashion only lasted a short while, with the following albums, “Backyard” and “Landscapes,” beginning to incorporate a pop consciousness previously absent from Ducktails releases. Issuing “III: Arcade Dynamics” with tracks like “Don’t Make Plans” completed the sonic shift with Ducktails aping a summery pop confection not dissimilar from anything Real Estate and its brethren have dispensed. The music hasn’t improved or gotten worse. It’s utterly different, but holds onto enough low-fidelity ambience to get over. Of course, if you don’t catch Ducktails opening up for Wild Nothing on Friday, just wait until Sunday to see Mondanile perform with Real Estate. It’s pretty much the same thing at this point. (Dave Cantor)

July 15 at Subterranean, 2011 West North, (773)278-6600. 9:30pm. $15. 17+.

Preview: Asobi Seksu/Empty Bottle

Indie Pop, Noise, Rock, Shoegaze, Space Pop No Comments »


On the heels of their fifth full album, the Brooklyn shoegaze outfit bring their dreamy take on pop hooks over sonic jetwash to the Empty Bottle. “Flourescence,” released earlier this month, has the band moving towards bare-boned electronic post-punk territory, gravitating more towards Curve and My Bloody Valentine than Cocteau Twins on tracks like “Trails” and “Trance Out.” Yuki Chikudate’s soaring vocals still manage to surface above that expected cacophony of drone-noise, feedback and distortion, whether taking a distinctively retro sixties approach on “My Baby” or echoing as sonic texture on the epic “Leave the Drummer Out There.” Also wearing their influences on their cover sleeve, “Flourescence” showcases the distinctive style of classic 4AD Records to boot, with artist Vaughan Oliver supplying the look. And there, somewhere between the future and the past, eyes sometimes closed, keeping time with a finger on the keys and another shaking a maraca, Chikudate and Asobi Seksu don’t reinvent the wheel, but spin it well enough to trample over naysayers and trite, dead-genre revivalists. Hidden melodies, and surfacing beauty, textures upon sonic texture… if you like it, love it, you’re already there, and if you don’t, you already know. It’s why you never could get into the Jesus and Mary Chain or thought the first Raveonettes record sounded weird. But for the rest of us, we’ll see you there! (Duke Shin)

February 28 at The Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western, (773)276-3600, 9:30pm. $12.

Preview: Summer Sounds—Gard(en)Counter/Art Institute of Chicago

Chicago Artists, Disco, DJ, Electronic/Dance, Hip-Hop, House, IDM, Indie Pop, Indie Rock, Industrial, Post-punk, Post-Rock, Punk, Rock, Shoegaze, Space Pop No Comments »

Kid Color


The Art Institute of Chicago’s sleek, pristine Modern Wing is hosting the current Sound & Vision exhibit, which aims to explore “the symbiotic relationship between art and music, presenting humorous yet rigorous investigations in which the two do not connect in any synesthetic sense but rather come together via acts of transposition…” To this effect, the Art Institute, in conjunction with Metro/Smart Bar, present Gard(en)Counter, featuring Metro/Smart Bar in-house DJs Nate Manic, Bald E. and Kid Color, who’ll provide the gift of sound spanning 1982 to present day. As for the vision, we’re sure the multimedia exhibits and installations will fit perfectly like “blue, blue, electric blue.” (Duke Shin)

July 30, Pritzker Garden/Griffin Court at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan, (877)307-4242, 9pm-midnight, $8/$10.

Preview: Brian Jonestown Massacre/Metro

Garage Rock, Rock, Shoegaze No Comments »

San Francisco shoegaze-pyschedelic act Brian Jonestown Massacre isn’t for everyone–few have the patience to endure BJM’s current incarnation of endlessly droning jam sessions and repetitive waves of distortion. Nevertheless, for those who do have that patience, BJM makes for an intense, spacey trip, and those fans will easily sink into the band’s latest release, “Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?”,  which sees the band merging its usual “far-out” experimental aesthetic with fuzzy dance beats, holding tight to sounds long associated with drugs, space and the dance floor. Frontman Anton Newcombe’s supposed proficiency with more than eighty instruments–including the hurdy-gurdy, the samisen and the bagpipes–has naturally sent BJM into several interconnected genres, mostly successfully three Stones-esque garage rock albums in 1996, since recently sliding back into the neo-psychedelic racket. For fans with the time to delve into Newcombe’s deep, complex world, it’s surely rewarding; for everyone else, it’s best to just read the band’s killer song titles, like “Bring Me The Head of Paul McCartney on Heather Mill’s Wooden Peg (Dropping Bombs on the White House).” (Andy Seifert)

May 30 at Metro, 3730 North Clark, (773)549-0203, at 7pm. $21.