Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

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 »

Raw Material: Never Mind CMJ, Get Your Buzz Right Here

Garage Rock, Krautrock, Psych pop, Punk, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »


Every year from late October to early November I suffer from a condition I call “CMJ Envy.” I spend all my time reading blogs and articles about the burgeoning bands and rising artists taking the stage at New York’s annual CMJ Music Marathon, and I wonder why Chicago can’t have similar events headlining new music. But in fact we do have something as cool; it happens every week in bars and small venues all across the city. But our regular music showcases don’t get nearly the attendance and press attention that big sexy events like CMJ get year after year. Part of that is on us, as live-music fans; we need to make the effort to show up and support local and touring bands before the critical buzz starts. With that in mind, here are some upcoming music events that are not only a good excuse to leave the house in the coming weeks, but also way more interesting than reading other people’s blog posts about the “next big thing.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Mannequin Men, Radar Eyes, Le Tour/Empty Bottle

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


I don’t know if you’re into garage, punk, psych or chasing whiskey with Schlitz (or not chasing it at all), but if you are into any of these, go to this show. Mannequin Men, Radar Eyes and Le Tour are some of the most compelling bands in Chicago right now and a show combining all of these forces should not be missed.

Mannequin Men have been playing together for about eleven years and consequently present an air of experience as well as general bliss on stage. Their sound is rough and upbeat; they kind of sound like the Black Lips’ tougher dads. Radar Eyes are lower key than Mannequin Men, mixing the beach vibes with grungy basement sounds. Le Tour is a furious force of pedals, screeches and ballsy guitar solos that, if you listen closely, are neatly constructed by somebody who really knows what they’re doing. Read the rest of this entry »

Live Review: Big Freedia/Empty Bottle

Bounce, DJ, Electronic/Dance, Live Reviews No Comments »

Big FreediaIt was another tryingly cool night in Chicago, but inside the Empty Bottle temperatures sweltered as Big Freedia and her bootylicious dancers got things hot, sweaty and a little bothered. Before all the p-poppin’ madness, our own Chances Dances DJ troupe and Salonathon, a weekly queer-friendly showcase featuring emerging artists at Beauty Bar and beyond, entertained the crowd and got the dance floor loose.

Around 11:30pm, Big Freedia’s DJ traded places with DJ CQQCHIFRUIT and kicked things off with DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What.” Wearing white jeans, a dark denim vest and a white shirt with a print of herself (as any diva would) bearing a Cheshire grin and shades, Big Freedia took the stage, setting her designer purse on an amp. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Ex-Cult/Empty Bottle

Psychedelic, Punk No Comments »


Ex-Cult is headlining the Empty Bottle for the first time after opening for Ty Segall and Mac DeMarco respectively at the Bottle last year. Their first full-length album, “Ex-Cult,” was recorded and produced by Segall in San Francisco in 2012. After extensive touring, they recorded “Midnight Passenger,” their second full-length album, which was released on April 29 on Goner Records. The effort is a powerful step forward in their raw mix of Memphis punk rock and gritty psychedelia. Read the rest of this entry »

Past Punk in Present Tense: HoZac Harnesses History

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Post-punk, Protopunk, Punk No Comments »
The Boys

The Boys

Relative unknowns and underground royalty: this is the balance that people have come to expect from the HoZac Blackout Fest, and 2014 delivers. Running from May 15th through the 17th at the Empty Bottle, the weekend showcases some up-and-coming acts like Shocked Minds, Toupee, First Base, and 999999999, while also boasting punk icons The Boys and The Dictators. The festivities open with the third art show that HoZac has included in their proceedings, with seventies punk photographers Paul Zone and Brian Shanley showcasing snapshots spanning decades.

Blackout Fest, especially this year, exists at a remarkable point on the timeline of punk. The parallels between 2014’s headliners and the other acts featured are undeniable in a way that should be embraced. HoZac co-founder Todd Novak explains, “These ideas of music and art aren’t new, but they’re timeless. They’re always going to be good ideas and it’s mind-blowing to see them be carried on.” Read the rest of this entry »

Audiovisual Ambition: A Guide to CIMMfest Success

Festivals No Comments »

By Kenneth Preskicimm-fest-2014-2

The marriage of movies and music is the twentieth century’s greatest gift to culture. With sight and sound no longer separate, the essence of two distinct art forms united to birth more cultural touchstones of artistic significance than any other technological advancement in the modern age. Films with an unmistakable soundtrack, or musicians with a strong visual presence—the list of seismic successes is too long and too obvious to print. The pairing is so crucial to culture that “audiovisual” has entered our lexicon. So listen up and picture this: when the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival (CIMMfest) inevitably succeeds at their quest to become the Midwest answer to South by Southwest, will the organizers be able to maintain the integrity accompanying independence, or will corporate sponsors weigh too heavily on the proceedings? CIMMfest isn’t big enough to have to bear that burden yet, but make no mistake: between all the films, concerts and panels to choose from, the festival’s sixth year may be the start of something much bigger. There are enough events happening to make creating a schedule for the long weekend a serious challenge. You might be here for work, or just committed to pleasure; whether you’re a tourist or a local, sticking to Milwaukee Avenue or exploring Chicago at large, CIMMfest has you covered. A festival pass will set you back $75, and guarantees you access to one headliner, three other CIMMfest sponsored events, and more than a hundred others on a first-come first-serve basis. There are endless possibilities. Here’s a suggested schedule to get you started: Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Speedy Ortiz/Empty Bottle

Alt-Rock, Indie Rock No Comments »


With plenty of nods to Pavement and other nineties alt-rock greats, the Massachusetts four-piece Speedy Ortiz stakes out its own territory on the merit of its whip-smart lyrics and eschewing of self-seriousness. The band self-identifies as part of the “snack rock” genre, and the quartet’s LiveJournal (the very existence of which is a bit offbeat) documents their life on the road with each post featuring a “pup of the day.” Put together, this might be the perfect setup for an eye-roll, if not for Sadie Dupuis’ knack for poetic songwriting and Speedy Ortiz’s gleefully wandering arrangements heavy on distortion but anchored by catchy, knotty hooks. 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 »

Preview: Earth/Empty Bottle

Ambient, Drone, Experimental, Metal, Minimalism, Noise No Comments »


When Black Sabbath abandoned the name Earth, it was left for Dylan Carlson’s crew to assume two decades later. Earth’s mythology and music from the early nineties have proven to be equally formidable forces. Their seminal “Earth 2” is regarded as the first drone metal album, though their stint on Sub Pop is considered the beneficial byproduct of a close friendship with Kurt Cobain. Carlson and Cobain were former roommates, confidants and co-dependent drug users; their camaraderie culminating in Cobain’s suicide via a shotgun purchased in Carlson’s name. Two more albums were issued on Sub Pop, the epic distortion excursions of their genre-defining masterpiece tapered to shorter outbursts edging toward standard song length, replete with a Hendrix cover. And then, radio silence. In recent interviews, Carlson has credited this lost time to a continued struggle with drug addiction and depression, but by the mid-aughts, Earth had begun playing out again, revitalized by the inclusion of Carlson’s wife Adrienne Davies on drums, and supported by the successes of bands like Sunn O))) who owe much to the genre’s forebears. Read the rest of this entry »