Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Music 45 2015: Who Keeps Chicago in Tune

Music 45 3 Comments »


Our biannual behind-the-scenes look at Chicago’s thriving music community gets a little more complex every year. Performers are easy enough to pin down; they’re front and center, by definition. But it can take some digging to excavate the driving forces behind the city’s rich tapestry of orchestras, festivals, music venues and record labels. On the other hand, a certain kind of celebrity has attached itself to bloggers, promoters, radio announcers, artistic directors and journalists, that puts them almost on an equal footing to the artists they’re here to support. So we find ourselves, in this year’s Music 45, ranging wide across the city’s musical landscape, reacquainting you with names and faces you may know almost as well as your own, while introducing you to several newcomers who have labored, if not quite in obscurity, then without the recognition their endeavors have earned them. What they all have in common, is that your life—yes, yours—is a little bit richer because of them. (Robert Rodi)

Music 45 was written by Robert Rodi and Dennis Polkow
With additional contributions by Keidra Chaney, Corey Hall, Robert Loerzel, Dylan Peterson and John Wilmes

Cover and interior photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux on location at Metro Chicago Read the rest of this entry »

Less Successful Numbers: The Money of Local Music

Chicago Artists, News and Dish 5 Comments »
Illustration: Ray Noland

Illustration: Ray Noland

By David Safran

I am a solo artist who performs live music in Chicago. Urban Dictionary, the summit of our English language, has a few definitions of “solo artist.” The second is fitting: a musician who works on “material/songs in a primarily solo state.” But I prefer the first definition: solo artists are musicians so skilled at masturbation that “they take it to the level of an art.”

At any rate, I write songs and perform them live. I use my own name—a tricky sell in 2015—and I hire musicians to accompany me on stage. These musicians are professional and skilled—and expensive. It’s a costly process, taking on a show. Each musician gets about $100-$150 for the performance. I reimburse the band for travel expenses. Sometimes they request separate payment for rehearsals. I also rent space for our practices. If I perform one local show, I need at least $450 to break even.

Occasionally I get offers to open for touring solo artists. Over the past couple of years, talent buyers have contacted me about support slots not because the music matched or the headliners (and their agents) were David Safran fans, but because I could “add heft in ticket sales.” Those headliners—all global and careered and acclaimed—were, for whatever reason, having a tough time selling tickets here. Per-show booking fees for artists I’ve supported have all been in the thousands. My guarantees have been meager. For example, City Winery paid me $300. Lincoln Hall paid me $200. In October, SPACE offered me $100 with the expectation to bring the crowd; the headliner had only sold twenty-five tickets. SPACE is a music room in the back of a suburban pizzeria. You’d think its talent buyer, Jake Samuels, was booking La Scala. Yet I couldn’t get a guarantee higher than $100. I turned down his show offer. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: All You Need to Know About Tomorrow Never Knows

Alt-Rock, Festivals, Folk-rock, Hip-Hop, Indie Pop, Indie Rock, Pop, Rock No Comments »

Zola Jesus

By Keidra Chaney

As of this writing, tickets for the Tomorrow Never Knows Festival (January 14-18) are still available. You can get a five-day pass for $100, and most individual shows run from $15 to $30. TNK added a comedy lineup to the festival a few years ago, but since I’m the last person you should be asking about comedy recs, I’ll stick to my picks for the music shows you should consider leaving the house for in the next few days.

TNK kicks off on January 14, and while Aimee Mann and Ted Leo’s fun folk-rock collaboration, The Both, is likely to draw a crowd, I recommend checking out the synth-pop project from Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner, called Operators, at Schubas (3159 North Southport). Indie rockers doing dance pop appears to be a thing now (not that I’m complaining, as a rock fan with a jones for synth) and Operators sound about as you’d expect: very eighties-tinged and chock full of hooks. It’s pop music the way indie rockers seem to be embracing it unabashedly now, and I think it’s worth checking out. The $15 show is 18+ and starts at 8pm, with Mister Suit, Lowell and Lia Ices opening. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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: Cate Le Bon/Schubas

Pop, Rock No Comments »
Photo by Piper Ferguson

Photo: Piper Ferguson


Her work’s been included on so many year-end lists, it’d be difficult to remain unfamiliar with Cate Le Bon. All the superfluous name dropping to describe what she’s doin’ seems pretty pointless, though. Suffice it to say, she’s Welsh and clearly has an affinity as much for pop as weirdo subterra musics. What can’t be overstated about Le Bon’s songs, however, is that the eerie quality her voice lends to any of those simply constructed works is lacking in just about every other contemporary catalog. Starting with 2009’s “Me Oh My,” the songwriter tossed off bizarre narratives about becoming other people by donning their clothing. The surrealism is cut by Le Bon’s exacting songs—there’s not too much more than a guitar-bass-drums setup—and the dour tone in her voice. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Perfect Pussy/Schubas

Hardcore, Punk, Rock No Comments »


What’s in a name? Perfect Pussy are not the first band to evoke the female anatomy using that particular nomenclature, nor the most shocking, though their use may be the most meaningful. Meaning, truth, honesty, these are the hallmarks of singer/screamer Meredith Graves, who derived the name as an antagonistic form of optimism—a rejection of gender specific self-criticism. Her lyrics follow suit, a platform for feelings on interpersonal relationships, on sex, on internal peace. Confrontation via explicit language is not a new tool for an American artist to employ, yet Graves and company have found themselves on the receiving end of some powerful publicity anyway. Read the rest of this entry »

Walking Wide: Ryley Walker’s Guitar Revival

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Folk No Comments »

By Kenneth PreskiRyley1

Had Ryley Walker pursued any other art form, say painting for instance, “The West Wind” would have been met with universal acclaim, a minor masterpiece announcing the arrival of an immense talent promising a tremendous wealth of future creative output. That Walker’s dedication to formalism yielded a recording indistinguishable from the sixties British folk it pays homage to is remarkable not only for its achievement of authenticity, but for its singularity at this historical moment. No other artist in Chicago or anywhere else offers an accurate comparison for Walker’s unique voice and playing style, a commitment to a time and place far removed from his peers, an unmistakable presence that transcends music scenes littered with land-mines laid by careerists in the name of contemporary cool. Read the rest of this entry »

Hard Logic: Leaving Home with Holograms

Punk, Rock No Comments »

holograms1By Dave Cantor

The maturation of rock ’n’ roll hasn’t happened in any noticeable form over the last thirty-five years. Even back then, it was really just a regression to primeval tendencies that’d been glossed over amid blowin’ rails with some West Coast A&R man.

Sweden’s Holograms haven’t revolutionized the genre, but the quartet’s been at work trying to inject punk and its satellite musics with even a twinge of immediacy. They’ve succeeded sporadically on “Forever,” a follow-up to last year’s self-titled debut.

“It’s a lot of philosophical questions about life,” Andreas Lagerström, the ensemble’s frontman, says of his new work’s lyrical penchant. Most listeners would be able to guess that after pushing through the most pensive track “Rush” and its manic proclamations of how difficult it is to spark fire at the ocean’s bottom. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Shad/Schubas

Hip-Hop, Rap No Comments »


He’s included mention of Jay Z in at least a few verses, and reviewed “Watch the Throne” for the National Post. The decided focus Shad, a Kenya-born, Ontario-raised MC, has put on one of the most popular rappers in the world is a bit confusing. Yeah, he’s rich and his buddy’s married to a Kardashian, but neither of those things has made his bloated discography anything other than middling. Shad shouldn’t carry around the desire to be a Jay Z, as he spits out pretty early on his fourth long-player, “Flying Colours.” Jay Z’s “Magna Carta” was another lame recording, and Shad’s apparently been gripped by enough inspiration to issue not just that fourth album, but a collaboration with Skratch Bastid, “The Spring Up,” in 2013. Beyond the guy’s clear ability to select proper production and write rhymes (that might not move too far beyond what we’ve all come to know as conscious raps), his story’s significantly more engaging than that New York MC’s. Shad’s family left Kenya, something he mentions on most of his releases, when he was a kid. But the successes his family’s achieved, cataloged on “Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins),” pretty easily trumps bein’ poor, slingin’ crack, and issuing a truckload of boring albums. Read the rest of this entry »