Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Still Punk and political: A Conversation with Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers

Festivals, Punk No Comments »

stifflittlefingers
By Bart Lazar

Stiff Little Fingers is a punk band originally from Belfast, Ireland that has been around since the second  UK punk wave—they formed just six months after the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned.  Some of SLF’s best known work—”Tin Soldiers,” “Nobody’s Hero” and “Alternative Ulster”—-contains lyrics that hate hate:  advocating against war, violence, oppression, racial prejudice and class hatred.  Stiff Little Fingers’ influence lives on in more commercially successful descendants such as Green Day, The Offspring and Bad Religion.

Today, the band still exists with two of its four original members and recently released “No Going Back,” its first album in eleven years. The album just hit the charts in the UK at number fourteen, the band’s best performing material since the early eighties.

Jake Burns, the original snarling/shouting lead singer is now a Chicagoan–making the band twenty-five-percent local.  He discussed  the band’s history, relevance today and playing at Riot Fest in a recent interview.

How would you describe SLF to someone who is going to Riot Fest, and has never heard of you or your music?
We are a punk band that’s been doing it for thirty-seven years. We have always tried to play music that entertains, but means something in terms of social commentary.  Sometimes we are called a “Political” band, but I would say “political” with a small “p.” Certainly, we don’t play a lot of love songs.

Have the driving themes of your music changed over the years?
The themes we focus on—class distinctions, caring for one another, racism—are consistent. Those are the things that concern me most and those are the things that we can change. We can’t cure cancer. We live in America, where there are people sleeping in cardboard boxes. They are all things that offend my sense of justice. This is fixable!

Are you more optimistic about the world than you were back in 1978?
I don’t think so to be honest. People really are polarized. People that have things want to hold on to them.The “Greed is Good” mentality has come back again. That kind of selfishness is pretty dismaying.

You have seen touring bands that you influenced—Green Day, Offspring, Pennywise and Bad Religion. How does that feel?
It is very flattering. Green Day had us open their tour in Australia, and it was amazing to see them standing on the side of the stage watching our whole show. One of the guys from Pennywise told us he got his first fake ID so he could get into one of our shows. That’s some kind of influence.

What can old punks teach new generations?
When we started, the music was seen as outside of the mainstream, sort of “rebel” music, and we were not all about pleasing the public or selling anything.  Now punk rock, for better than not, has become part of the entertainment industry. And most “punk rockers” today are more about making party songs. At the end of the day, we are there to entertain people, we are not university lecturers—ultimately. But we can show people that the words are more important and older punks are not shy about saying things.

What can you say about the longevity of punk rock?
As the Clash said in “Complete Control” about what was said about punk and them—”They Ain’t Gonna Last.” One truism we’ve discovered is that it [punk] never goes away. Punk rock really does seem to be a life choice. It’s not just another t-shirt. You are buying a whole set of principles, and after you get past the outward appearances, I have found “punks” to be some of the most honest, gentle, solid, nice and polite people you will ever meet.

With a new record out, at Riotfest should we expect to hear the new album or your punk standards?
Riot Fest is one of the best festivals, and I am glad to play again before a hometown crowd. Because it is a festival it is more of a celebration, sets are shorter and although some may have come to see us, people are not necessarily coming only to hear us play and some may not even be aware of us at all—so it is not the platform to play the new record. We may play one new song, but we will focus on the Riot Fest theme and play more of our older material.

Stiff Little Fingers performs at Riot Fest in Humboldt Park and an aftershow with Cock Sparrer at Concord Hall at 9:30pm on Friday September 12.

Preview: Vieux Farka Toure/Chicago World Music Festival

Afrobeat, Blues, Festivals, Genre, World Music No Comments »

Vieux_Farka_Touré

RECOMMENDED

This Malian guitarist, singer and songwriter has long crept out of the shadow of his father, the late, great Ali Farka Toure, kicking off his international career shortly before his father’s passing with the release of his self-titled album (World Village) in 2007. The album was recorded with his father’s participation and blessings, even though at first he wasn’t too happy about his son embarking onto the uncertainties of a musical career.

From there, the recognition was almost immediate—that same year, he appeared in key stages in North America that gave him wide exposure, and that culminated in his participation in the opening of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Johannesburg alongside the likes of Shakira and Alicia Keys. He has since released two solo records. 2008’s excellent “The Secret” featured contributions from Derek Trucks and Dave Matthews. He is currently working on his side project Toure-Reichel Collective, a collaboration with Israeli musician Idan Reichel while also working on his own solo material. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Shabazz Palaces/Lincoln Hall

Hip-Hop No Comments »
Photo: Nikki Benson

Photo: Nikki Benson

RECOMMENDED

The glitchy, trippy music of Seattle-based duo Shabazz Palaces is hip-hop for sound and noise nerds, much more concerned with exploring different musical palettes and textures than creating beats to nod your head to. Ishmael Butler (formerly of Digable Planets) has a history of creating hip-hop with a solid foundation in jazz-influenced musicianship. With Shabazz Palaces, Butler goes even bolder and more experimental in his musical collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire. Together, they eschew sampling of existing songs and dare to create new patterns of melody and rhythm with drum machines, synth, samplers and various forms of percussive instruments. It’s hip-hop that tells a story through words and music and defies simple descriptions. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Steve Dawson’s Funeral Bonsai Wedding/Constellation

Chicago Artists, Jazz No Comments »

Steve_082805_022

RECOMMENDED

Chicago singer-songwriter Steve Dawson’s main band is Dolly Varden, which has been making smart and soulful folk-rock for twenty years, but he has a second group now. His new album, due for release on September 30, is the self-titled debut of Steve Dawson’s Funeral Bonsai Wedding, a collaboration with three local jazz musicians who are noted for their inventiveness: vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, drummer Frank Rosaly and bassist Jason Roebke. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Rise Against/Aragon

Chicago Artists, Punk No Comments »

Rise-Against

RECOMMENDED

Chicago punk stalwarts Rise Against are in celebratory mode, commemorating both the tenth anniversary of Riot Fest (they’re multi-year veterans) and their fifteenth year as a band. They’ve returned from a fairly lengthy break only to achieve an unlikely coup for a contemporary rock band. More than three years after the release of their last album, “Endgame,” the band’s most recent album “The Black Market” debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. It’s little wonder after hearing the album’s first single “I Don’t Want To Be Here Anymore” a catchy and melodic hard-driver that definitely leans more heavily in the direction of the band’s poppier releases. “The Black Market” certainly doesn’t lack in the political screeds that Rise Against are well-known for, but it’s clear that the band’s more personal and introspective focus is in the forefront here. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Secret Sisters/City Winery

Country No Comments »

secretsis

RECOMMENDED

A not-so-secret sister act from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Laura and Lydia Rogers meld Southern gothic style, gorgeous, longing melodies and an energy that seems a little bit indie rock, even though they are all country. And vintage country too, much more in line with Patsy Cline than Carrie Underwood. The duo recently re-released a special edition of their latest album “Put Your Needle Down”—through Cracker Barrel, no less—and made a buzz after a recent appearance on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” singing their ode to doomed love and murder, “Iuka.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: AV Fest and Hideout Block Party

Chicago Artists, Festivals No Comments »
Photo: Jason Creps

The Handsome Family/Photo: Jason Creps

RECOMMENDED

Between Pitchfork, Lolla, North Coast, and Riot Fest— not to mention all of the neighborhood festivals in between them all—Chicago has become Music Fest Central. As a result, the AV Fest/Hideout Block Party has gotten somewhat lost in the crowd in the past few years, despite a consistently solid lineup. These days the now-unified festival (Hideout and Onion’s A.V. Club joined festival forces back in 2012) has assumed more of a local fest identity, rather than a festival with national or international aspirations. Its local feel is far from a demotion, however, with national acts like Death Cab For Cutie, The War on Drugs, and Dismemberment Plan headlining. Read the rest of this entry »

Metal Man of Mystery: Greg Fulton’s Journey from Thrash Icon to the Party Band Circuit

Chicago Artists, Metal No Comments »

gregsoloBwhite

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 »

Preview: Miguel Zenon/Chicago Jazz Festival

Festivals, Jazz, Latin No Comments »

zenonquartet

RECOMMENDED

Though a longtime resident of the East Coast, saxophonist, professor and bandleader Miguel Zenón never quite let go of the rhythms of his native Puerto Rico, and often incorporates their sounds from a contemporary jazz point of view. Over a decade working as a bandleader (he has done side work with the likes of Edsel Gomez, Brian Lynch and Edmar Castañeda) with his quartet, he has explored and experimented with various rhythms and grooves and developed them as a fodder for free improvisation. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Kermit Ruffins & The Barbecue Swinger/Evanston Space

Blues, Genre, Jazz No Comments »

Kermit RuffinsRECOMMENDED

If you cannot be in Crescent City, listening to veteran trumpeter and singer Kermit Ruffins definitely takes you there. With his sharp and lively tone, he plays songs that celebrate his homeland. Examples include “Drop Me Off in New Orleans” and “When I Die, You Better Second Line.” He is clearly not one to do any contemporary-style material—his sound embodies the early traditions of jazz  laid out by Louis Armstrong, who is revered and celebrated today from the park that takes his name to the streets where marching bands that play year-round to the delights of locals and visitors alike. Read the rest of this entry »