Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: HIDE/The Empty Bottle

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Glam, Hardcore, Rock No Comments »



If you haven’t already heard, Heather Gabel of HIDE is the dark demoness dominating the stages of Chicago’s underground. In a very short time, HIDE has become the best goth-tinged, industrial-inspired act around, winning the heavy hearts of all the doom-and-gloom-loving noise freaks of this fine city. Gabel, an accomplished visual artist and vocalist, is also sort of a big name on the local art scene. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Earth, Wind & Fire Comes Home to “Celebrate” Life of Founder

Afrobeat, Blues, Calypso, Chicago Artists, Classical, Experimental, Funk, In Memoriam, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Pop, R&B, Rock, Singer-Songwriter, Soul, Space Pop, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »
Verdine White (left) and Maurice White in 2005.

Verdine White (left) and Maurice White in 2005

By Dennis Polkow

When Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White died in his sleep on February 3 at the age of seventy-four after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, the accolades for the former Chicagoan were universal.

“We had talked the day before and I had seen him a few days before,” says Maurice’s brother, Chicago native and EWF bassist Verdine White, “so this was a huge surprise.” Verdine describes Maurice’s passing as a “transition” and says that he still “guides me, as he always has.” Although Maurice gave up performing with Earth, Wind & Fire in 1994, he remained a mentor to the band until his death.

It was Maurice who came up with the idea of a multi-genre band that would be an amalgam of styles at a time when, as Verdine puts it, “there was a revolution going on in music.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Avery R. Young/The California Clipper

Blues, Chicago Artists, Live Reviews, Neo-soul No Comments »



Renowned R&B and neo-soul performer, singer, poet and local celebrity Avery R. Young is notorious for blowing the roof of venues throughout Chicago, where he offers up his entire being through verse, sharing his intense and spirited approach to life, music and politics. Young fuses the past and present through his body on the stage and throughout his lengthy creative career. As he unabashedly delves into the rich traditions of “blk folk,” the African-American experience erupts from Young’s lyrics, bubbling with humor and history. His life practice as an essayist, educator and vocalist culminates in his recent full-length album, “Booker T. Soltreyne: A Race Rekkid.” He calls his work “sunday mornin jook joint,” balancing tragedy and triumph, poetic forms and melodrama with scholarly precision.  Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Michael Tiknis to Depart After Making Harris More User Friendly

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Interviews, News and Dish, Orchestral, Vocal Music No Comments »
Michael Tiknis

Michael Tiknis

By Dennis Polkow

How does a downtown performing arts theater that is less than a dozen years old come to need nearly ten million dollars in renovations?

“When the Harris Theater was designed and built,” Harris Theater president and general managing director Michael Tiknis explains, “Millennium Park was still an idea that was developing organically along with the Harris. Twelve or thirteen years ago, the idea was you could park your car and never go outside into the cold and walk right into the theater.

“It was all designed for you to come into the garage and come in through the lowest level. And when you do that, for the most part, it works very well. But all of the restaurants and Millennium Park being built around it gave rise to a lot more people coming in on upper Randolph than those tiny little elevators were ever designed to hold. And all of those new, surrounding neighborhoods made us realize that what had been designed virtually before Millennium Park and in a vacuum, needed to be rethought as it became a living organic thing with this neighborhood developing. So, it’s not a theater renovation because of age, it’s a theater renovation because of change of use. Read the rest of this entry »

Knowledge Drop: RIP The Shrine, But Chicago Hip-Hop’s Fine

Chicago Artists, Hip-Hop, Rap No Comments »

Biz Markie

By Craig Bechtel

The back half of March offers a plethora of hip-hop-portunities (sorry) that run the gamut from old school to new school, racing across the timeline from early rap to danceable modern beats injected with a healthy dose of R&B, and there will be sizable injections of weirdness along the way.

But first, Knowledge Drop would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the passing of a local venue that became a hip-hop institution in its regrettably short lifespan, The Shrine (2109 South Wabash). The venue was originally scheduled to close at the end of March, having been purchased by a real estate development firm which plans to demolish the building and erect a mixed-use complex that includes a hotel, apartments and retail, and finale events were scheduled to include Mya on February 27 and Busta Rhymes on February 28. Those plans were scuttled when two people were shot outside the club around 2am on February 21, after which the club immediately shut its doors. According to the Chicago Tribune, Cameron White of Gurnee has since been charged in the shooting that wounded a security guard and critically injured a woman. The Busta Rhymes show was canceled outright, but Mya was rebooked at Promontory (5311 South Lake Park) on February 25, and ended up doing some Chicago-area appearances throughout the weekend as well. But neither its violent end nor the loose ends left behind should obscure the legacy of The Shrine’s nearly seven-year history. Founder and owner Joe Russo did not respond to a request for comment prior to deadline, but to underscore the club’s significance, it’s sufficient to include a partial list of hip-hop performers that graced the stage: 50 Cent, Common, Mos Def, De La Soul, KRS-One, Talib Kweli, Rakim, The Roots, Ginuwine, Kendrick Lamar and Brand New Heavies, among many others (in addition to luminaries within the R&B and reggae genres). Prior to closing, a statement from Russo indicated that they hope to reopen in another location. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Haymarket Debuts Lenten Oratorio Series with “Dangerous” Music

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Interviews, News and Dish, Orchestral, Vocal Music No Comments »
Haymarket Opera Orchestra, Craig Trompeter (center)

Haymarket Opera Company, Craig Trompeter (center)

By Dennis Polkow

“The unusual element in Stradella’s music is it is dangerous sounding,” says Haymarket Opera artistic director, cellist and violist da gamba Craig Trompeter. “The virtuosity is really pushed to the limits to a scary place where it’s kind of like watching a horror film. We’re somehow fascinated by that as human beings, we want to watch other people in danger.”

Italian composer Alessandro Stradella (1639-1682) led such an unabashedly risqué life that his notorious escapades were the subject of no less than two nineteenth-century operas and a twentieth-century novel.

Often fleeing places where he had been employed to compose, Stradella once escaped Rome over embezzlement of church funds. More often, Stradella’s flights were over scandalous affairs with noblewomen that would find himself at the mercy of enraged aristocratic families who would set out to kill him. One left him half dead, another finally succeeded—when a hired assassin stabbed him to death in a public square in Genoa when Stradella was forty-two years old. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Toronzo Cannon/The Hideout

Blues, Chicago Artists, Live Reviews No Comments »



Periodically I wonder at the endurance of the blues in the frictionless, digital roller coaster we call the twenty-first century. It takes a young artist like Toronzo Cannon (born in 1968, which makes him practically an ingenue in blues circles) to remind us of the reason: that when your life craps out and craters, you end up in a place that never changes. There’s no wifi in the gutter. There’s no anything—not in the external sense; just a population of gone-wrongs, each mired in his or her own tragic psychodrama.

And with Cannon at the frets, that navel-gazing has never sounded more triumphantly invigorating… even funny. In “Walk It Off” (from his new Alligator Records release, “The Chicago Way”) he bemoans that classic uh-oh scenario, “My wife in the club, my girlfriend on the way / I’m standing here nervous while I’m on the stage / She came right in, and sat right down / Wearing the same dress I bought them both when I was out of town.” Read the rest of this entry »

Knowledge Drop: Mickey Factz, Logic and MC Lars Spark an Early Thaw

Hip-Hop, Rap No Comments »

Mickey Factz

By Craig Bechtel

Hip-hop heads are marching out of hibernation to kick off March and here are three to check out on various sides of the equation, all of whom are touring behind quality albums released in November.

Marching militantly into town to promote his “Y-3,” Mickey Factz will be spouting a lot of food for thought from when he hits town this month. Born Mark Williams in 1982, Factz hails from the Bronx and went to the same high school Afrika Bambaataa attended in the 1970s. He got his start with the “In Search of N.E.R.D.” mixtape in 2006, drawing music and inspiration from that Pharrell Williams (no relation) group. Since then Mickey Factz gave up a spot at NYU Law School to focus on being an MC. He has collaborated with Drake, Yelawolf, B.o.B, The Cool Kids and Bambaataa, and in 2009 appeared on the cover of XXL as part of their Freshmen 10 issue. Mickey Factz has headlined the Rock The Bells festival (he cites LL Cool J as a big inspiration) and has toured with Chicago native Lupe Fiasco (he hopes to support his next tour). Lyrically, Mickey Factz refers to Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Magic Johnson and Derek Jeter in his giddy earlier composition “The Rush,” but “Y-3” is a darker affair. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Badi Assad/Old Town School of Folk Music

Bossa Nova, Latin, Live Reviews, Samba, World Music No Comments »



I’m pretty sure I’ve got Brazilian singer-songwriter Badi Assad down cold. I’m guessing that, as the younger sister of two brothers—Sérgio and Odair, both gifted guitarists—who perform together as Duo Assad, she grew up in their shadow, and knew the only way she’d get out of it was to be bigger, better, bolder. So when Badi takes the stage with her guitar, you don’t just get some supremely supple strumming; you get ravishing singing and jaw-dropping vocal percussion, too. She’d probably have taken up handstands and juggling, if it came to it, but as it happens what she’s got on offer was apparently enough to steal some attention away from her older sibs. She’ll steal yours, as well; she’s basically the dictionary definition of “dynamo,” if the dictionary is Portuguese—meaning she bowls you over more through focused stillness and gentle undulation than any overwhelming display of prowess or volume. Her power is mainly implied; it’s all about control, and hers is exquisite.  Read the rest of this entry »

Knowledge Drop: Psalm One Rates Dre & Promotes Polyamory

Hip-Hop No Comments »

Psalm One

By Craig Bechtel

Psalm One and Awdazcate host the eighth annual Dre Day at Double Door (1572 North Milwaukee) on February 19; it’s a celebration of Dr. Dre’s birthday and his music. Andre Young made the beats that put gangsta rap on the map with N.W.A. and has gone on to produce a veritable who’s who of rappers, as well as his own music, most influentially, “The Chronic.”

Psalm One, born Cristalle Bowen, and who also raps under the alter-alter-ego of Hologram Kizzie, is looking forward to Dre Day again this year. She describes Dr. Dre as “quite influential in music as a whole, because before him I don’t think producers were so adamant about good mixing, good arrangements, good production… Rap has come from very humble beginnings,” she continues, “where you literally take the breaks from a disco record, sample that and loop that and that would be the blueprint… Dr. Dre changed all of that in the eighties and nineties.” Psalm One says she thinks he “might be the best hip-hop producer of all time,” but she’s not big on absolutes. Read the rest of this entry »