Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Jack Scratch - If Only

Photo from the Jack Scratch Facebook page.

The recently released EP If Only is the second effort from Jack Scratch since the Chicago punk veterans returned from a 20-year absence in 2012. It's also part of vocalist Dave Bergeron's mission to bring back the aggressive music he and several musicians created in the Norwood Park neighborhood back in the mid-1980s. Northwest Highway, released by the Bergeron-led Norwood Park All Stars in 2012, did a fine job of covering that same territory. It looks like Bergeron and his mates have traveled a bit over the years, but they haven't lost their Chicago roots.

Bassist-vocalist Bob Byrnes once again joins Bergeron throughout If Only, along with new member drummer-vocalist Teak Barton. Guitarist-vocalists Earl Letiecq and Fran Kondorf and drummer Keith Robbins from the full-length Jack Scratch 2012 CD, are among the other musicians helping out on some of the tracks. Jack Scratch deviates a bit from its relentless approach on "Hey Wah Nee Hey Ho," a more mainstream track with hint of country music. The energetic "Do That For" is more impressive as the band opts for hard rock, but the real standout is "If Only For A Moment," which taps into the catchy punk of The Buzzcocks. The blazing closer "Gotta" is another prime example of how Jack Scratch mixes call-and-response vocals and hard-edged musicianship into its distinctive sound.

Jack Scratch has a CD release party planned for September 26 at the diPiazza club in Long Beach, California.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Larry O. Dean - Good Grief

Anyone who has ever wondered how The dBs would sound if they took up social satire should listen to Larry O. Dean's new CD Good Grief. A published author as well as a singer-songwriter, the Chicago-based Dean has been working the outer edges of the rock scene over the course of 13 solo albums and with the bands The Injured Parties and Post Office. He recruited dBs founder Chris Stamey to produce Good Grief (Stamey had previously produced a Post Office effort) with the result being a dozen songs filled with acerbic observations, jangling guitars, and catchy melodies.

Dean's approach can range from the light and clever "(Driving) Under The Influence (Of Love)" to the disturbing "Sniper," which is from the point of view of an American soldier forced into the title role. Dean is assisted here by guitarist George Friend, drummer Lance Helgeson, bassist Dann Morr, and vocalist Amy Russell. Occasionally, his distinctive, talky vocal style can oversell the humor, as on "Botox Party," and it also diminishes an otherwise slinky and fun cover of the Translator classic "Everywhere That I'm Not."

Dean is at his best when his barbed lyrics are matched with more energetic arrangements. The first single, "Americans For Prosperity" takes aim at money-grabbing corporate kingpins, while "Mad In The U.S.A." delivers a rapid-fire attack on HMOs ("It's all the same if you're dying or you're fine") and other frustrating aspects of American society. Good Grief will be released on September 25.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Slumgullion

Foo Fighters will be belting out songs from their latest CD Sonic Highway at Wrigley Field.

Last Friday’s Slumgullion was merely a ramekin of leftovers, so I’m making sure this week’s serving is at least a bit more substantial by offering it on Thursday. It takes hours to prepare this column, and my freelance schedule tomorrow will not allow that. Besides, there are some important events coming up tomorrow and it helps to actually mention them before they're already in progress.

Wrigley Field has been a joyful place this summer due to the unexpected success of the Chicago Cubs, but the newly renovated venue will be rocking for a different reason this Saturday night. Foo Fighters have a Sonic Highways World Tour date there, and in a class move, they’ve invited three Chicago-area bands to join them. Cheap Trick is more famous than the punk-oriented Naked Raygun and Urge Overkill, but all three supporting acts were chosen because they had a major influence on the Foo Fighters’ sound. The concert, which kicks off at 5:30 PM, is sold out, but if you’re in the neighborhood, just stand outside and you’ll hear the whole thing perfectly. That’s what I did for the Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen concerts that were held there.

Help is on the way. Anyone who was intrigued by my description of the performances by Phil Angotti and Liverpool at the recent Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago, and is thinking, "I must experience one of these tribute shows you speak of," will be glad to know that Angotti and some of his musical pals will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles' second flick Help this Saturday night at FitzGerald's in Berwyn. Showtime is 7:00 PM. 


A second Helping Jay Goeppner, who joined in on Angotti’s Lennon Tribute and Mark Hudson’s Musicians’ Forum on the final day of The Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago this year, will also be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of Help this Saturday. Except he'll be at Colletti’s on Chicago's northwest side. The show starts at  8:00 PM; Colletti’s is located at 5707 N. Central Avenue in Chicago. Goeppner and Angotti have performed together as The Beatle Brothers at a number of clubs in the area. 

Jessica Hopper, a Senior Editor at Pitchfork and regular contributor to Spin and The Reader, will be part of a double author event this Friday night at the Women And Children First book store on Chicago’s north side. Hopper will read from and discuss her latest book The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic; and Suzanne Scanlon will do the same for her latest effort, an “experimental memoir” titled Her 37th Year, An Index. The event takes place at 7:30, and will be moderated by Naomi Huffman, Editor-in-Chief at the Chicago-based publishing house Curbside Splendor. Women And Children First is located at 5233 N. Clark Street.

The Milwaukee-based power pop band Trolley, whose song “I Woke Up” was a Coolest Song In The World pick on Little Steven’s Underground Garage syndicated radio show, will be opening for Pugwash on September 18 at McAuliffe’s in Racine, Wisconsin. The gig will find Trolley showcasing songs from their upcoming new release, Caught In The Darkness.

Ain’t never gonna do it without the fez on. Whether you wear a fez as a tribute to Steely Dan or Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor on Doctor Who, The Elgin ArtSpace Gallery has you covered. FezFest 2015,  created by the people at Dangerous Brains, is being described as "an interactive celebration showcasing the Fez in art, history, and pop culture.” There’s an opening reception at the gallery from 6:00 to 10: PM on September 11. 

Chicago firefighters did an amazing job on Wednesday of keeping The Second City's Main Stage from going into a permanent blackout. As reported by Tina Sfondeles in today's Chicago Sun-Times, an extra-alarm fire started in the Adobe Grill, which is located in the same building as The Second City, and caused a lot of damage to the world famous venue's offices on the second and third floors. The firefighters took great care to save the Main Stage, which has been home to countless iconic comic actors over the decades.

Even though there were rumblings that this year's Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Sins might be the swan song for the Mary-Arrchie Theatre's annual celebration of the original Woodstock spirit, it was still a shock to read the news in the daily papers. Worse yet, the Mary-Arrchie itself, which has staged critically acclaimed productions of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie; Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts; and the riveting Viet Nam War drama Tracers,  is going away after one final (its 30th) season. Chicago Sun-Times theatre critic Hedy Weiss quotes Artistic Director (and Abbie Hoffman impersonator) Rich Cotovsky as explaining, "We're losing our space at Angel Island at 735 W. Sheridan, which we've called home for 26 years, so our 30th anniversary feels like the time to bid farewell."

The current season will continue into 2016 but apparently won't include an Abbie Fest. Cotovsky also spoke to Chicago Tribune theatre critic Chris Jones, noting, "It's not a bad thing. It will take a weight off my back.We struggled and fought to do what we thought was best. And now I can look back and say, 'Wow, we did all that." Cotovsky isn't likely to sit around counting flowers on the wall. He's got a day job, and has had small roles in Shameless and other TV series, as well in plays like Hellcab at other theatre companies. Still, the Mary-Arrchie, with its in-your-face productions and rebellious spirit, will be sorely missed.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I’ve Just Seen A Fest - A Friendly One

One of the new features at The Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare this year was a performance area on the second floor called the Apple Jam Stage. I only caught one show there on Sunday but it proved that booking local acts for The Fest has a great deal of potential. Phil Angotti, (pictured above) an accomplished singer-songwriter who has also been doing tribute shows on the Chicago club scene for some time now, put one together for John Lennon at The Fest For Beatles Fans that featured a number of his musician friends. Angotti should be familiar to listeners of WXRT’s Sunday morning Breakfast With The Beatles show since its host/Fest MC Terri Hemmert occasionally plays recordings of his inventive takes on Beatles songs.

The John Lennon tribute began with Angotti backed by bassist Casey McDonough, guitarist Tommi Zender, drummer Joe Camarillo, and piano player Dick Schmidt. The band performed a well-chosen selection of Lennon's solo and Beatles compositions, including "Not A Second Time," "Dream Number 9," "She Said She Said," "Jealous Guy," and "Nowhere Man." As the performance continued, local musicians, including Jay Goeppner (who has performed with Angotti as The Beatle Brothers) and Eric Howell came up onstage to join in on the vocals.


Marty Scott, whose band Liverpool Legends is managed by Louise Harrison (one of The Fest's Special Guests this year), led the way on "If I Needed Someone," the lone George Harrison song that was performed during the show. As songs like "Baby, You're A Rich Man," "In My Life," "Mind Games," and "Instant Karma" continued to flow, other musicians I wasn't familiar with wandered on stage. There was an amazing, happy vibe in the room, with people in the audience singing along and dancing. It would be great to see Angotti, who did a Paul McCartney tribute on Saturday, performing on The Apple Jam Stage next year. I’d also like to see more local bands, like EXPO ’76, The Abbeys, The Webstirs, and The New Invaders, involved.

While watching the Lennon Tribute on the Apple Jam Stage, I kept thinking everyone at The Fest should be here experiencing this. But the challenge of of trying to see everything you want at The Fest For Beatles Fans can not always be met. Here are a few things that were going on at the same time as the Lennon Tribute: Mark Rivera, who plays saxophone and has served as Ringo Starr's Musical Director, was being interviewed in The Grand Ballroom; followed immediately by an interview with performer/producer Mark Hudson; an exhibit by Rob Shanahan, who has been Starr's photographer since 2005; and an interactive show at the FABoratory (another new feature) involving music discussion and gourmet chocolates.

The 13 contestants in Sunday night's Battle Of The Beatles Bands were a mix of professional musicians and (I'm guessing) amateurs who rarely get a chance to perform before such a large audience. There used to be a tendency on the part of the audience, which votes by applause, and the final judges to favor any band that included little kids, but in recent years, the emphasis has been more on actual talent. I usually agree with contest's outcome, and this year's winner, Beetlejuice did a nice of incorporating strings into their performance of "A Day In The Life." The other strong contenders this year were MegaBeatles (whose lead vocalist had been part of the Lennon Tribute earlier); NBB, who came in second; and former two-time winner Ringer's All Starr Band.

I mentioned the Beatles tribute band Liverpool in each of my previous Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago 2015 posts, but it's worth mentioning again how incredibly well they perform Beatles music. Guitarist John Merjave, bassist Glen Burtnik, rhythm guitarist Drew Hill, and drummer Chris Camilleri can all sing lead, and they join together for impressive harmonies. With Marc Rubinstein's Pig Light Show providing a suitably psychedelic ambience, Liverpool performed the entire Help soundtrack before moving on to an adventurous selection of Beatles tracks that included "Old Brown Shoe," "We Can Work It Out," "Golden Slumbers," "Eight Days A Week," "Happiness Is A Warm Gun," and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

After a full set of Beatles tunes, Liverpool was joined by this year's Special Guests Mark Rivera, Billy Kinsley from The Merseybeats, Terry Sylvester from The Hollies, and Mark Hudson. This portion of the concert, where Liverpool performs hits by that particular year's guests, is always one of the highlights of The Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago and serves as a Grand Finale.
  

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Monday, August 24, 2015

I’ve Just Seen A Fest - 2015

Due to a hectic schedule on the weekend of August 14 - 16, I was only able to make it to The Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare on the final day. It turned out to be 12 hours of almost non-stop action, involving live performances, panel discussions, contests, and a bit of treasure hunting. I’ve already gone over the Fest activities involving former Hollies member Terry Sylvester in a post last Thursday, so today, I’ll be concentrating on some of the other highlights.

The Weeklings had been on my radar for a while, so seeing their concert in the Grand Ballroom was a must. Regulars at The Fest For Beatles Fans will recognize guitarist John Merjave and bassist Glen Burtnik as being members of Liverpool, the first-rate Beatles tribute band that has been performing at this annual celebration for some time now. The concept behind The Weeklings, which also includes guitarist Bob Burger and drummer Dave Anthony, is to create a cohesive mix of Beatles songs and original tunes that sound like they could have been done by The Beatles.


Most of the cover material was composed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney or George Harrison but was never officially released by The Beatles. They were either handed off to other artists in Brian Epstein’s stable or tossed aside until they finally saw the light of day via the Anthology series. And as other critics have noted, even The Beatles' castoffs are often rock and roll gems.

As with Liverpool, all four members of The Weeklings are capable of singing lead vocals. Their rousing performance at The Fest For Beatles Fans  - Chicago featured Harrison’s “You Know What To Do” and the Lennon-McCartney compositions “One And One Is Two,” “I’m In Love,” “It’s For You,” “If You’ve Got Trouble,” and “That Means A Lot.” Merjave and Burtnik are long-time masters of covering The Beatles, and their additional partnership with Burger and Anthony also works extremely well. The Burtnik-Burger originals were catchy, fun, and steeped in the mid-1960s. The Weeklings succeeded in delivering all the songs in a seamless performance, and tossed in some brand new stuff (Beatles and their own) that will be on the follow-up to their official debut Monophonic.

After their performance, The Weeklings met fans in the hallway outside the Grand Ballroom to sign autographs and sell vinyl and CD copies of Monophonic. I’m hoping to post a review of this album in the near future.  


Prior to The Weeklings’ concert, I caught the tail end of an interview with Bob Eubanks being conducted by journalist Tom Frangione. Eubanks is best known as the host of The Newlywed Game TV show back in the 1960s and 70s, but he was also one of the first air personalities to play The Beatles on the radio and he booked them to perform at Dodger Stadium in 1966. He exuded the same easy-going personality and humor he specialized in back in his game show days, and explained that part of his approach came from watching Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Eubanks also offered interesting insight and anecdotes relating to the early days of rock and roll radio, and how he struggled to find financial backing for his plan to bring The Beatles to Los Angeles. 


I also took a few passes through the The Fest Store and The Marketplace; two separate rooms that offered loads of Beatles-related books, records, and collectables. I miss the days when all the vendors were gathered in a downstairs huge room at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare, and I could swear there aren’t as many items for sale in this new format. Still, the The Fest Store and The Marketplace offered access to books like Anthony Robustelli’s I Want To Tell You - The Definitive Guide To The Music Of The Beatles Volume 1: 1962/1963, and Kit O’Toole’s Songs We Were Singing - Guided Tours Through The Beatles’ Lesser-Known Tracks.

Other books on sale included Chuck Gunderson’s Some Fun Tonight - The Backstage Story Of How The Beatles Rocked America: The Historic Tours 1964 - 1966; Andrew Grant Jackson’s 1965 - The Most Revolutionary Year In Music; and the massive, limited-edition Eight Arms To Hold You, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the release of Help. Author Dave Schwenson, who wrote The Beatles At Shea Stadium, was also on hand to talk about his The Classic Rocker blog, and give a presentation about famous rock songs that were banned in Cleveland. Schwenson told me it’s ironic that Cleveland is now the home of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

In addition to vintage vinyl and publications, the shops at The Fest For Beatles Fans are a great way to discover what new and imaginative Beatles-based products people are creating. A prime example is Music City Minis, a company that uses a special shaping technique to create vinyl record art from classic albums by The Beatles, The Doors, Led Zeppelin and others. The company also used this technique to create Doctor Who and James Bond artifacts. Custom album shapes can also be created for lesser known acts or to be used for specials occasions. It’s a good idea to peruse The Fest Store and The Marketplace a number of times because it’s easy to miss something really cool on a single visit.

Coming up: The Apple Jam Stage, The Battle Of The Beatles Bands, and The Grand Finale with Liverpool.  

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Friday, August 21, 2015

A Few Reminders

Arthur Darville, star of the very first Rory Williams Comic Con Chicago.

I didn't have enough time to create a post today. Here are a few items from last Friday's Slumgullion that are still relevant.


Wizard World Comic Con Chicago has arrived at the Donald E. Stephens Center in Rosemont and will run through Sunday. Billie Piper and Arthur Darville from Doctor Who are among the many celebrity guests. I’m calling it the Rory Williams Comic Con Chicago because Darville, who played that character on the sci-fi series, isn’t being promoted as much as he deserves for this event.

150 juried artists and over 30 bands will be involved in the first ever West Loop Art Fest, which takes place tomorrow and Sunday on Washington Boulevard, between Halsted and Aberdeen. There will also be food vendors, beer and wine tents, and family-related activities. Admission is $10.

Philamonjaro Studio will present an opening reception for its exhibit featuring Howard Greenblatt’s photos of Tut’s at the Blues Heaven club tomorrow from noon to 3:00 PM. Tut’s played host to some of alt rock’s best bands—including Los Lobos, X, The Replacements, and Missing Persons, along with Chicago’s best acts—from 1979 to 1984. The exhibit will run for about six weeks. Blues Heaven is located at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue.

The band Frisbie will be performing on Chicago’s Downtown River Walk tomorrow from 1:00 to 3:00 PM. I’ve heard that the bands play by the stairs at LaSalle, but if that’s not the case, just follow the sound of ringing guitars to the right location.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

I've Just Seen A Fest - Mr. Sylvester's Busy Day

Terry Sylvester, on the far right of this recent compilation,
 had a busy weekend at The Fest.

Today's post takes a Hollies-centric point of view that is not meant to diminish the numerous other entertaining activities that took place at the recent Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago. I'm hoping to offer some additional reflections on this event, but it might be Monday before I can accomplish that.

The second major event in A Hollies Summer In Chicago took place last weekend, although most of those in attendance knew it as The Fest For Beatles Fans. Terry Sylvester, a former member of The Hollies, was one of the Special Guests, along with Louise Harrison, Mark Hudson, Mark Rivera, and Billy Kinsley. Sylvester was there for all three days, but Sunday was particularly busy for him.

His hectic schedule started at 12:15 PM with Talking and Joking with a Bunch of Scousers, a fascinating panel discussion featuring him, Harrison, and Kinsley. Harrison, who sold all the copies of her new book My Kid Brother's Band  . . . a.k.a. The Beatles she had brought to The Fest, kicked things off by jokingly objecting to being called a scouser. Host Wally Podrazik asked her to elaborate, which led to all three panelists discussing the customs, accents, and geneology of the Liverpudlian populace. Kinsley, who was a member of The Merseybeats, lived up to The Fest program's description of him as "quite a storyteller," by weaving his remembrances of growing up in post-World War II England with the interesting tales offered by Sylvester and Harrison.

Next up for Sylvester was an autograph session that started at 2:00 PM. I gave him another Broken Hearted Toy button and he told me he still had the one I gave him when he came to City Winery - Chicago in February as part of the British Invasion Tour. We talked a bit about Distant Light, and how much he enjoyed recording it. That was the LP that had "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress" and other songs that found The Hollies successfully experimenting with a more hard rock oriented sound.

At 3:30, Sylvester joined The Fest For Beatles Fans MC/WXRT DJ Terri Hemmert for an interview session in the Grand Ballroom. In addition to talking with Hemmert about his tenure with The Hollies, his friendly and sometimes not-so-friendly relationship with Graham Nash, and his recording studio encounters with The Beatles, he performed acoustic versions of "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" from The Hollies Sing Dylan and the England Dan and John Ford Coley hit "I'd Really Like To See You Tonight." Sylvester likes to augment his appearances with deliberately cornball jokes, and comes across as a friendly guy you'd enjoy hanging out with at the local pub.

The Musicians' Forum, a freewheeling discussion and jam session that was originated by Martin Lewis (at least at the Chicago Fest) and is now hosted by Mark Hudson, was once again a highlight of the Fest. Hudson has toned down his occasionally over-the-top antics in favor of tapping into his vast musical knowledge and talent. Mark Rivera, who has served as Ringo Starr's Musical Director and plays a mean saxophone, was impressive in this basically improv format, as were Sylvester and Kinsley.

All four musicians returned later that night for guest appearances during a concert by the highly talented Beatles tribute band Liverpool. Sylvester performed "Bus Stop" and "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," with members of Liverpool joining in on harmony vocals. He also did "Hippy Hippy Shake" from his days with The Swinging Blue Jeans, and an extended take on "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress" that featured some searing guitar work from Liverpool's John Merjave. It closed out an almost non-stop day for Terry Sylvester, that like Graham Nash's stellar show at The Arcada on July 28th, justified my designation of this as A Hollies Summer In Chicago.

Note: The New Invaders, a very good 1960s-oriented covers band that often includes Hollies songs in their shows, will be performing from 11:30 to 1:30 tomorrow at the Willis (Sears) Tower in downtown Chicago tomorrow.

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