Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Liz Phair, Steve Albini & Me: The True Story of 1993, the Greatest Goddamn Year in Chicago Rock History

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Folk-rock, Funk, Garage Rock, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, Industrial, New Wave, Post-punk, Prog-rock, Rock 6 Comments »
Liz Phair 1993/Photo: Lloyd DeGrane

Liz Phair 1993/Photo: Lloyd DeGrane

By Bill Wyman

Every few years, it comes back.

Back in 1994, I had a weekly music column called “Hitsville” in The Chicago Reader. In early January of that year, I put together a top-ten list of albums from 1993 with an accompanying essay. It was all maybe 700 words. Strikingly, two entries by Chicago acts—Liz Phair’s debut, “Exile in Guyville,” and Urge Overkill’s first record for Geffen, “Saturation”—topped my list.

Steve Albini, then as now, was an iconoclastic music producer on the underground rock scene. He was pissed off by the piece; and in full dyspeptic mode he sent a letter to the paper. It was printed under the headline, “Three Pandering Sluts and their Music Press Stooge.”

The pandering sluts—his words—were the two acts I just mentioned and another Chicago outfit, the Smashing Pumpkins.

I was the stooge!

The letter was long and vituperative and hilarious: “You only think they are noteworthy now because some paid publicist has told you they are, and you, fulfilling your obligation as part of the publicity engine that drives the music industry, spurt about them on cue.”

Back then, the Reader was a huge institution. The paper came out on Thursday, stacked like bricks in walls three-feet high in stores and cafes. “Hitsville” was on the front page of Section Three. Albini’s little missive set off a letters war of seemingly unending scorn and heat that played out week after week in the paper, with rafts of responses, insults, counter-responses and counter-counter-responses.

In later years, after the Internet took hold, the letter was endlessly cited in adoring profiles of Albini, or histories of the Chicago music scene of the time. Ten years later, Ana Marie Cox wrote a hefty piece about it for the Reader itself, and just a few weeks ago—twenty-two years later!—the Reader’s music editor, Philip Montoro, brought it all up again amid news that the Pumpkins and Phair were going out on the road together. (They’re playing the Civic Opera House April 14.). Albini’s letter, he said, had torn me a new orifice. And he concurred with Albini’s judgment that I was there to promote popular bands: “Like many music writers, Wyman clearly considered the size of his potential audience when deciding which artists to cover.”

On examination, I was grateful to se that I had the requisite number of orifices, but even so, Montoro’s column got me feeling all misty. I started to remember what the scene was like back then. Read the rest of this entry »

My Lollapalooza: A Guide to Navigating the Festival, Even if You’re Not Going

Festivals No Comments »
Photo: Ashley Garmon

Photo: Ashley Garmon

Though I’d popped in and out of past versions of Lollapalooza thanks to press credentials, last summer’s edition was my first immersion in all three days of this singular sensation. Thanks, I’m sure, in no small part to the best weather the festival’s ever enjoyed and my convenient proximity to Grant Park from my Printers Row home, I had far more fun than my post-post-rock bones had any right to. As befitting a festival with far more musical variety and conflicting options than any one brain can process, we’ve asked a half dozen music writers to share their strategy for the weekend so that you either align yourself with the one who seems to speak your language, or pick and choose, which is what I’ll be doing. Here’s a few more things I expect to do, based on last year. Go early: sure you’re not dying to see the openers, but the best time of the day at Lolla is shortly after the gates open. Crowds are light, attitudes are chill (and mostly sober) and, if you sprawl out over a nice patch of grass, you’ll enjoy a beautiful afternoon in the park. Not to mention a chance to shop the vendors of Green Street (of which Newcity is a partner; see our guide after this section) or check out the progressive charities on site. Challenge yourself: This is not the place to hunt dinosaurs (we have Riot Fest for that), but to discover and enjoy the essence of newness, the once-driving spirit of rock music itself. Think old-school: Lolla started in 1991 and mobile phones and texting seem to work as well as they did back then: not at all. Be flexible: there are two main ends of the festival (north and south), and it can be a hike to get to and from shows at both ends. Unless you really really want to see someone at the other end, you might have more fun just parking at one end for the day. Don’t sweat the headliners, unless you really really must see them. The shows at night demand an early “campout” strategy if you want any chance to see the stage. If a closing act’s your passion, shape your day that way and pitch a tent. But if it’s not, you’ll enjoy a day of freedom and discovery and… summer. (Brian Hieggelke)

My Lolla: B. David Zarley
My Lolla: Craig Bechtel
My Lolla: Eric Lutz
My Lolla: John Wilmes
My Lolla: Keidra Chaney
My Lolla: Kenneth Preski
My Lolla: Reilly Gill

My Lolla: Craig Bechtel

Festivals No Comments »
Bomba Estéreo

Bomba Estéreo

True, this year’s Lollapalooza is yet another chapter in the continual poppification of the “alternative rock” landscape, and the headliners bring to mind the clichéd phrase “been there, done that,” but like every year, there are a few quality acts that provide some tough choices to make. Read the rest of this entry »

My Lolla: Eric Lutz

Festivals No Comments »
Nas

Nas

I’m not huge into Lollapalooza. That might be a weird thing to admit in an issue that’s, you know, about Lollapalooza, but it’s true. It’s too expensive, the lineup is basically the same as every other big-name festival in the country, and—despite being in-shape and good at dressing for the weather—I seem to sweat way more than the average person. But, if there’s one thing I do like about Lolla, it’s the choices it forces you to make. Though innocuous on the surface, these questions actually make you consider deep questions about what’s important to you about culture. In 2011, I chose to see Lady Gaga instead of The Strokes. Gaga was the biggest thing in music that year, and though The Strokes are one of my all-time favorite bands, it seemed somehow more important to see the Fame Monster in her moment. I don’t have enough space to try and unpack the psychology behind this decision, but suffice it to say, I really kind of regret this now. Read the rest of this entry »

My Lolla: John Wilmes

Festivals No Comments »
Skrillex

Skrillex

I am a loner and a voyeur who attends music festivals like Lollapalooza as a sort of out-of-body experience—the spectacle of them is the drug itself. I typically cling to music because of the company it gives me when I’m alone, so sharing it with tens of thousands of others at once is a startling thing. I must leave my precious head to do it; I laugh and laugh, apropos of very little, when I walk Grant Park’s ever-popular grasses, taking things in as a speck in the crowd, not as the performance’s sole addressee I usually treat myself as. Join me as I become a citizen of the hearing world for a weekend. Read the rest of this entry »

My Lolla: Kenneth Preski

Festivals No Comments »
School of Rock

School of Rock

Whether you’re drinking Bud Light at the Samsung Galaxy stage, or checking your Samsung Galaxy phone at the Bud Light stage, Lollapalooza always offers the best in alternative-to-the-mainstream music, just like the festival has since the nineties! Read the rest of this entry »

My Lolla: Keidra Chaney

Festivals No Comments »
Outkast

Outkast

I’m not headed to Lolla this year, but if I did go, this is what I’d check out. Read the rest of this entry »

My Lolla: Reilly Gill

Festivals No Comments »
Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis

I thought I knew a lot about music before I started working at Reckless Records last summer and have since learned that I don’t know that much at all. I am still rusty on some musical timelines and don’t have the superhuman knowledge of some of my coworkers, but I have been introduced to albums and artists that have honestly changed how I see music.

For example, I just listened to “Closer to Home” by Grand Funk Railroad for the first time this week. What was I doing with myself before I heard “Closer to Home”? This kind of thing happens to me on at least a weekly basis. This repeated experience has made my main priority in music enjoying myself. I love whatever really gets to me, but it’s got to have heart.

It’s easy to have a horrible time in a crowded park full of drunk people younger than you in neon shirts in August. There are a lot of bands playing Lollapalooza this year that I’ve never heard of. I’m barely twenty-five years old, but at first glance, this festival feels like it’s for people younger than me. But you know what? Screw that. We all work hard all day and should be able to go HAM when and where we want! This schedule is for everybody who wants to drink steadily all day and have a good time. Here we go. Read the rest of this entry »

My Lolla: B. David Zarley

Festivals No Comments »
Chance The Rapper

Chance The Rapper

Last year, abyssal gaps in scheduling was the theme of these Lollapalooza suggestions, the better for you, the overpaying festival goer, to avail yourself of the one concrete benefit of the festival system—the panoply of sounds which you could select from. Having already pleaded with you to browse the aural buffet, this year the theme—as suggested by the casual shift to the oft-maligned second person perspective—is choose your own adventure. At various points in any schedule, you will be faced with choices, between acts, genres, expressions of same genres, etc., and some of those most difficult decisions will be set here before you. The conflicts, analysis and opinions are mine, but the choice, as always, is yours. Read the rest of this entry »

Pitchfork Roundtable: Top Storylines and Must-See Acts

Festivals 1 Comment »
Photo: Joseph Mohan

Photo: Joseph Mohan

With the ninth annual Pitchfork Music Festival set to begin on Friday, Kenneth Preski, Keidra Chaney and Robert Loerzel preview the top storylines and debate the must-see acts in advance of their live, weekend-long coverage on music.newcity.com

What’s the most intriguing storyline at this year’s festival?

Preski: This year, only two of the forty-four acts billed at the festival are from Chicago, a number that cuts local representation in half from the past two years. In 2011, the same year the entire Pitchfork editorial staff moved to New York, the festival had just one artist from Chicago. This is in contrast to the formative years in 2006 and 2007, which featured six Chicago acts apiece. To what extent is Pitchfork truly a Chicago company, and how is the city represented during the festival? Read the rest of this entry »