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 »

Sabers Unsheathed: Life after The M’s with Josh Chicoine

Alt-Rock, Chamber Pop, Chicago Artists, Garage Rock, Indie Rock, Interviews, Pop, Psych pop, Rock 1 Comment »

By Kenneth Preskisabers hi res

The album opens with its own thing, like if Britpop could boogie. Coming from Josh Chicoine, current artistic director and co-founder of CIMMfest, the music is a natural extension of all his previous work. Sabers play pop-rock with an adventurous edge. Sure, it’s pretty and pop-tinged, but so were The M’s, Chicoine’s previous outlet, a group with harmonies so sweet that they won over a whole new audience via an appearance on the big-budget video game MLB2K7, right alongside The Stooges, Nirvana and 311. But “Sic Semper Sabers” is its own thing. The track “Money Eddie” cloaks its charming verses in a sinister swirl of synth and bombastic beats, somewhere between The Beta Band and The Flaming Lips. On “Remedy,” all the flourishes of orchestral instrumentation shine bright courtesy of Max Crawford’s wonderful horn section lifting a wilting refrain to a summer simmer. “Ever Eyeing” has a beautiful build-up where Chicoine’s falsetto meets a handclap crescendo; while “Puppet” has the type of mocking melody that a taunting toddler would issue. Take your pick, Sabers’ debut is full of playful, impactful, well… hits! Okay, maybe not if measured by units sold, but in some alternate version of America (maybe even the one in your own backyard) Josh Chicoine is making compelling music to widespread acclaim. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Daley/Lincoln Hall

Pop, R&B, Soul No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDdaley

Chicago welcomes back pop and R&B’s newest blue-eyed recruit, Daley. Born and raised in Manchester, England, the twenty-four-year-old has come up in the industry little by little in the past four years thanks to an unrelenting DIY philosophy. Donning one ridiculously top-heavy, modern-day pomp, perfectly pruned geometric facial hair, and thick-rimmed glasses, Daley looks especially eager for an audience. With this tour being the first to follow the release of his first-ever studio album (“Days & Nights”) who can blame him?

For Daley, a pursuit toward music came naturally and the recurring dream of signing with a major label began back in his teens. Locked away in his bedroom he’d write songs and lyrics channeling such predecessors as Prince, D’Angelo, Sade and Radiohead. When he was old enough, he left Manchester for London and began working his way into the underground urban music scene. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Willis Earl Beal/Schubas

Blues, Chicago Artists, Experimental, Folk, R&B, Singer-Songwriter, Soul No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDWillis Earl Beal

When contemporary critics call art “outsider,” it is meant to refer to an artist who has learned outside of the reach of institutionalized instruction. Outsider artists tend to be self-taught, those who learn by doing, often marginalized for their lack of refinement. With luck, the rawness of the outsider artist becomes a tremendous asset, able to sharpen the focus of the expression by privileging the power of the message over the style of its messenger. To the listener, the insight is registered as a singular voice, a signature style. The challenge for artists of this ilk is to avoid becoming so outsider as to feel alien. Willis Earl Beal, for instance, was born in Chicago, but it doesn’t feel like he’s from anywhere at all. He’s signed to Britain’s XL Recordings, the same label that put out the latest Radiohead album. They released the final Gil Scott-Heron LP as well, a much better point of comparison for Beal’s work, whose sophomore effort “Nobody knows.” [sic] is a marked departure from the bedroom recordings and loose-leaf drawings that defined his initial approach. Read the rest of this entry »

The Record Store Issue: Reminiscences from Russia

Record Stores No Comments »

Elena Rodina

In Soviet Russia it was hard to put your hands on any decent vinyl records, so you pretty much bought anything you could get, be it folk songs, classical concerts or speeches of our revered leaders recorded at some party session.

When Indira Gandhi was prime minister of India in the 1980s, our countries became friends and Bollywood movies gained tremendous popularity. Soundtracks to them were some of the most desirable vinyl recordings around. My mom, who worked at a radio station at the time, managed to get quite a collection. As a result, I spent a big chunk of my childhood wrapping myself in a blanket and dancing around our apartment, doing the moves of what I thought were Indian dances and listening to the sentimental lyrics sung by Bappi Lahiri and Mahendra Kapoor. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Karkwa/Schubas

Alt-Rock, Indie Pop, Pop, Rock, World Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

The fact that this Montreal-based band writes most of their material in French should not be a reason for alt-rock fans not to check them out. These guys have been packing venues with 3000-plus capacity back home while performing at much smaller rooms in the United States, but it’s just a matter of time before they are discovered by more mainstream audiences Stateside, in the same manner that folks like Manu Chao and Sigur Rós have before them.

Their sound is pretty aggressive. Guitarist and vocalist Louis-Jean Cormier sings and plays with great passion, and his band mates (keyboardist François Lafontaine, bass guitarist Martin Lamontagne, percussionist Julien Sagot, and drummer Stéphane Bergeron) keep up with gusto in tunes like the psychedelic-inspired  “Le  Pyromane” (from their recently released “Les Chemins De Verre”) or the grunge-y “Le Coup D’ Etat.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Curators of Cool: A History of Pitchfork Media

Festivals, News and Dish No Comments »

Ryan Schreiber/Photo: Chris Person

By Michael Gillis

By all estimates, Pitchfork should have vanished long ago. Scrapped together during the same dot-com bubble that birthed such music web ephemera as SonicNet (remember them?), the site has fared through the collapse of many of its rivals to become one of the greatest success stories of the era, attracting 350,000 visits per day, and two million unique visitors each month, according to the press kit tucked away at the site’s footer.

It’s the same press kit that positions Pitchfork as the tastemaker of the indie generation with all of the subtlety of a fashion magazine. One page of the kit features a series of blandishments from Bono concerning how Pitchfork’s readers treat music “very seriously… like tap water.” Another, listing “advertiser acknowledgments,” positions compliments from such beneficiaries of the indie aesthetic as American Apparel alongside the more discrete logos of Nike and Microsoft. According to Site Analytics, an organization that tracks web traffic, Pitchfork received roughly one-fifth of the visitors that Rolling Stone’s website did in May. It’s a world away from where they started. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Buzzcocks/Double Door

Pop, Punk, Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

You could say all you want about how The Buzzcocks were ultimately one of the most influential bands of the 1970s, how Radiohead, Blur, Pulp or even Oasis wouldn’t exist without them, how Pete Shelley, with his “sensitive,” very-not-Johnny-Rotten voice showed the world that punk rock wasn’t all cigarette butts and scowls. But save it—instead, play someone the three-minute-long majesty that is “You Say You Don’t Love Me,” from the band’s third record, “A Different Kind of Tension.” A songwriting masterpiece on par with—I don’t know, fuck it—McCartney and Lennon’s work, its straightforward, resigned lyrics are gospel to anyone who’s loved without reciprocity. “You say you don’t love me/Well that’s alright with me cos I’ve got the time/To wait in case someday you maybe change your mind” begins the second verse. Glorious punk with pop sensibility. What could be more influential? (Tom Lynch)

May 23 at Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, (773)489-3160, at 8pm. $25-$50.

Preview: Atoms for Peace/Aragon

Alt-Rock, Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

On paper, any band featuring Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers will raise some eyebrows. Atoms for Peace, named after a 1953 Eisenhower speech (and one of Yorke’s songs off of “The Eraser”), also features producer extraordinaire Nigel Godrich and go-to drummer Joey Waronker, an alternative-rock supergroup simultaneously capable of being great and terrible. Up to this point, Yorke and his hired guns have only played a handful of shows, sets consisting of “Eraser” material and obscure Radiohead b-sides; Yorke finally having an outlet to perform those songs from his impressive solo record is a blessing, and fans of Radiohead will be pleased. Who knows if there are any plans to record (it’s doubtful), but for the time being, spotting Yorke and Flea in a venue as small as the Aragon will be a unique pleasure—various YouTube clips from the previous concerts certainly show a group of veterans having fun. Maybe they can get one more nineties rock icon to round out the group? Eddie Vedder, anyone? (Tom Lynch)

April 10-11 at Aragon, 1106 W. Lawrence, (773)561-9500

NYE Preview: The Fiery Furnaces/Lincoln Hall

Indie Rock, Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDfiery_pic

Matthew Friedberger, half of the Brooklyn-via-Oak Park indie-rock duo The Fiery Furnaces, is taking a break from starting idiotic feuds with Radiohead and Beck to help ring in the New Year at the city’s newest venue. After releasing its debut album, “Gallowsbird’s Bark,” in 2003, Matthew and his sister Eleanor have continued to release one or two albums a year since, each of them vastly different yet quirky in that often hard-to-digest Fiery Furnaces way. 2004’s “Blueberry Boat” was too scattered for me and I found it nearly impossible to sit through. 2005’s “EP,” on the other hand, I loved: short, focused pop songs that went down easily. Of course, they followed that up later that year with “Rehearsing My Choir,” an album that featured their grandmother Olga Sarantos telling stories about her life. I’m sure it was meaningful for the Friedbergers to make, especially now that Sarantos has passed, but it was completely unlistenable for others. In the past, the pair would rearrange songs and turn their sets into one long jam session, but lately they’ve been playing a more straightforward rock show where fans can actually differentiate between songs. Still, this band’s wordy, schizophrenic style can be hard for some people to take in large doses, me included. If you’re a big fan, this show will most likely leave you satisfied. If not, skip it. (Kelley Hecker)

Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, (773)525-2501. 9pm. $20 ($25 at the door).