Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: Kurt Vile/Thalia Hall

Alt-Rock, Indie Rock, Live Reviews, Rock No Comments »



Kurt Vile takes his time. His last two Chicago concerts were Pitchfork’s rain-shortened fifteen-minute endeavor, and Riot Fest’s insane thirty-minute time slot. But KV still locked into his lazy, shimmery, stoner groove for seven minutes; if it was going to be a three- or four-song set, at least each song would have the chance to fully inhale, hold and exhale. Kurt Vile also likes to repeat himself, lyrically, harmonically and thematically. For his new album “b’lieve i’m Goin’ down,” Kurt turns on his own language; phrases like, “I woke up this morning (and) didn’t recognize the man in the mirror,” “give it some time” and (on the pre-release single) “believe I’m going down” are drawled repetitively, but—like stories told by disoriented people—as if being communicated for the first time. Each repetition is altered, as if the words or riffs are being played entirely anew, or for a new purpose. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Oddisee & Good Company/1st Ward at Chop Shop

Hip-Hop, Live Reviews No Comments »



We all know hip-hop has a deeper, softer, more meaningful and altruistic side. East Coast, Maryland-born emcee-producer Amir Mohamed el Khalifa, otherwise known as Oddisee, embodies that nurturing and uplifting spirit—what we used to mean by hip-hop. In a past life Oddisee might have been a lesser-known jazz musician, an accompanist to someone great; now in this reincarnated life he’s an appreciative and positive rapper, content with an authentic and kind approach to music-making and lyricism. He’s a steady producer and lyricist who for years has settled into the music industry without overcompensations or flamboyant, ego-driven, meaningless gestures. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Sir Andrew Davis Traverses Continents and Genres

Chicago Artists, Classical, Interviews, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Vocal Music No Comments »
Photo: Dario Acosta

Photo: Dario Acosta

By Dennis Polkow

“The thing about me is that I haven’t had a lot of jobs,” admits Lyric Opera music director Sir Andrew Davis, “but the ones I’ve had, I’ve had for a long time: twelve years in Glyndebourne, seventy-five to eighty-eight in Toronto; the BBC Symphony from eighty-nine to 2000; Chicago since 2000, and now Melbourne since 2013.” Only Glyndebourne and Chicago have been opera-related, the others—including Davis’ most recent post as principal conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra—are orchestral posts.

One fringe benefit of Davis spending so much time in Chicago is that he does get the occasional opportunity to conduct non-operatic repertoire, as he will do this week with superstar Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at a special gala concert.

“I love working with the [Chicago] Symphony. Kissin is rather fussy about conductors and he likes working with me. I did all of the Beethoven concertos with Kissin and the CSO about five or six years ago, all in a week. The first time we worked together was the last year I was with the BBC and we did the Rachmaninoff Two. He did everything that should happen in that concerto but rarely does. Rachmaninoff is extraordinarily complex and contrapuntal but a lot of times people just put down their pedal and it’s a big mush. There was a clarity with him which makes it so much more moving and emotionally much more complex.” Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: State-of-the-Art Genre Bending from Two Chicago Acts

Alt-Country, Alt-Rock, Bluegrass, Chicago Artists, Country, Country folk, Indie Pop, Indie Rock, New Wave, Pop, Pop Punk, Rock No Comments »


By Robert Rodi

Marrow calls its new album “The Gold Standard,” which for sheer chutzpah just about jumps the shark; maybe it’s a surly old music-critic thing, but my knee-jerk reaction was, “I’ll be the judge of that, children.” But in fact I was won over; I wouldn’t quite call “The Gold Standard” the gold standard, but given the way the band seems intent on synthesizing the various genres of their callow youth into something entirely distinctive, they’re probably inventing some new kind of currency anyway. Singer-songwriters Macie Stewart (who plays keys) and Liam Kazar (guitar) are ably abetted by bassist Lane Beckstrom and drummer Matt Carroll. The album’s opener, “She Chose You,” is a pretty sweet introduction to the quartet; it’s jangly and infectious, one of those gorgeously up-tempo tunes about misery and heartache that are the hallmark of postwar pop. “Toll to train underwater / Selfish savage, try to dream her happy,” Kazar sings, with the kind of white-boy-catch-in-the-throat Kurt Cobain added to the rock singer’s repertoire, especially when he follows up by actually groaning, “Without you,” like he’d forgotten he was in the middle of a song or something. Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Ambitious Jazz from a Youthful Duo, Relaxed Swing from a Seasoned Trio

Chicago Artists, Jazz No Comments »

Copy of SACREDRUBBLE_cover

By Robert Rodi

Sun Speak is a pair of young free-jazz players, Chicagoans Matt Gold (guitar) and Nate Friedman (drummer). Despite their relative youth, the pair have been working together for long enough to develop the kind of telepathy you find only in the most accomplished duos, and their new EP, “Sacred Rubble,” is filled with ideas that bounce between them faster than you can register on first listening. From the opening cut—“Solar Beast”—they manage to sound like a much larger ensemble, not only by the density and energy of their playing, but by a judicious use of multi-tracking. Though in fact this first cut does also boast a single guest, sax player Ben Schmidt-Swartz, who’s also used with admirable restraint. After a coolly lilting guitar theme, the drums barrel in to give the line a sudden, driving insistence. The sax picks up the theme, giving it a new, more reflective resonance—but the drums don’t let up, so that in his searing, blitzkrieg solo, Schmidt-Swartz’s playing has a life-or-death urgency to it, like he’s trying to outrun a lava flow that’s hot on his heels. The drums eventually fade, leaving that gorgeous theme upfront again—though this time taken up by both guitar and sax. It’s a ravishing ride. Read the rest of this entry »

Lupe of the Lumberyard: Too Shy For the Stage, His Voice Soars Among the Two-By-Fours

News and Dish No Comments »

Illustration: Elena Rodina

By Elena Rodina

JERRY:  I see New York. I see Vienna Opera House. I see Paris.
PHYLLIS:  All in the shower?
JERRY:  Yes. They love it that he sings in the shower. They identify. You know, he’s going to be the most popular opera singer in the world.
PHYLLIS:  Certainly the cleanest.
(From “To Rome With Love,” directed by Woody Allen)

There is a lumberyard right behind the house I live in, separated from my windows by a green backyard, a narrow strip of a parking lot and a large wooden fence, which in summer is covered with dense green ivy. Every morning at about 6am, familiar sounds start seeping in through the window frames: male voices yelling indistinct, abrupt commands, laughter, the engines of the big trucks roaring, the thump-thump-thump of loading and unloading heavy wood. But there is one particular sound that always stands out; it is the sound of an incredibly strong, clear voice that reaches my ears unscathed by the multiple barriers. An opera-quality voice, singing songs about love and life in perfect Spanish. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Spektral Quartet/Curtiss Hall

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Live Reviews, New Music No Comments »

Spektral Quartet


Like most current chamber ensembles, Chicago’s Spektral Quartet carefully anchors its programs of new music with pieces from the standard repertoire; the theory, I’m guessing, is that the players feel obliged to reward audience members for sitting patiently through difficult, dissonant modern works by offering them a familiar bit of Schubert or Schumann—the same way you’d toss a tasty biscuit to a dog who’s successfully held a sit-stay. But Spektral is better than most at conveying how those earlier pieces fit on the same continuum as the newer ones—often conjuring the sense of disorientation and even danger that their original audiences would have heard in them. For the opening of its new season, however, the Quartet is throwing itself an extra curve by adding a spatial element to its performance. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Vincent Davis Percussion Plus/Constellation

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Live Reviews, New Music No Comments »



Jazz is a collaborative art form, but you can hang out on the scene a long time before you hit a happening where one of the collaborators is a visual artist. When that occurs, odds are the collaborator in question is Lewis Achenbach, who’s spent the past few years turning painting into a performing art by improvising on canvas alongside the city’s most adventurous jazz and new-music players. For Chicago Artists’ Month, Achenbach once again has the good fortune to hook up with Vincent Davis Percussion Plus, an ensemble of topflight free-jazz players. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Bella Voce celebrates Arvo Pärt’s Eightieth Birthday by Looking Bach

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Interviews, Minimalism, New Music, News and Dish, Shape Singing, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »
Arvo Pärt

Arvo Pärt

By Dennis Polkow

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt turned eighty last month, a milestone which has been celebrated across the music world during this anniversary year. In Chicago, Bella Voce has taken the lead in offering Pärt performances: his “Stabat Mater” last spring and this fall, his “Berliner Messe,” a 1990 work for vocalists and organ which Pärt later revised for string orchestra and chorus.

Bella Voce is no stranger to the music of Pärt, having been chosen by Pärt’s celebrated interpreter and subsequent biographer Paul Hillier to be the choir heard in the North American professional premiere of Pärt’s “St. John Passion”—better known by its short Latin title, “Passio”—back in 1990 when the group was still known as His Majestie’s Clerkes. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Bottoms/The Hideout

Chicago Artists, Drag, Hip-Hop, Live Reviews, Pop Punk 1 Comment »



The screamcore reputation of Jake Dibeler, the gutter drag performance artist, lyricist and lead singer of Bottoms, totally precedes him. If the gritty photos of this unique vocalist—writhing and singing on venue floors in pumps and a red wig like a drugged-up mermaid—don’t entice you, then maybe the dreary dance vibes of this electroclash-inspired trio will. In the short amount of time since their “Goodbye” EP release in January, this rather bent art-punk trio has completely swept the Internet and all of New York off their feet. With JD Samson’s stamp of approval and a quick signing to budding label Atlas Chair, the band seems to have adamantly set their pulsating and playful agit-noise toward global domination. Well, maybe that’s an overstatement, but some form of sub-dom subversions will definitely be aroused if you check out Bottoms for Chances Dances’ ten-year anniversary month of festivities and exhibits. Read the rest of this entry »