Friday, October 21, 2016


Chrissie Hynde has gone back to releasing albums as The Pretenders again. Alone became available today in LP, CD, and digital formats. The 12-track effort is a mix of hard-edged and more intimate material, with Hynde’s vocals as evocative as ever. I’ll be looking to review this one in the near future.

Nightmare On Chicago Street, which organizers bill as “The Ultimate Halloween Experience,” returns to Elgin tomorrow night. The annual festival offers authentically staged crime scenes, roaming zombies, live entertainment, food and beverage vendors, and a costume contest hosted by TV personality Svengoolie. Two original comedy/horror films, created by David Metzger and Jeff Kelley, The Devil Cat and It Came From The Lab, will be screened at the Elgin Chamber of Commerce. See yesterday’s post for more information. Nightmare On Chicago Street runs from 6:00 to 11:00 p.m. Admission is $15

The Smithereens will perform The Betty Babjak Memorial Concert, an all-ages show to honor guitarist-vocalist Jim Babjak’s late wife, next Saturday, October 29 at The Hungarian-American Citizens Club in Woodbridge, NJ. Original bassist Mike Mesaros will be performing with the band for the first time in 11 years, and Jim Babjak will reunite with his side project Buzzed Meg. Proceeds will benefit the Babjak Family and The Betty Babjak Memorial Fund to establish a scholarship for Rutgers students who have lost a parent to pancreatic cancer.

A list of nineteen 2017 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame nominees were announced earlier this week. Classic rock, funk, techno, vintage soul, folk, grunge, prog, rap, garage, new wave, disco, alternative, and British Invasion are all represented. My first choice is The Zombies, followed by The Cars. You could make a case that most of possible inductees were successful and had a noticeable influence on their chosen genres. The other acts are Bad Brains, Chaka Khan, Chic, Depeche Mode, Electric Light Orchestra, J. Geils Band, Jane's Addiction, Janet Jackson, Joan Baez, Joe Tex, Journey, Kraftwerk, MC5, Pearl Jam, Steppenwolf, Tupac Shakur, and Yes. Fans can vote for their top five choices on the official Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame site.

Thinking outside the box. There was an opening reception from 6:00 to 10 p.m. tonight for Project Onward’s Annual Cardboard Show. The exhibition, which is co-presented by The Birdhouse Museum of Bridgeport, features artwork created on cardboard by Project Onward artists and other artists from around the city. Project Onward is a nonprofit art studio and gallery for professional artists with mental or developmental disabilities. Half of the proceeds from each sale will benefit Project Onward. The gallery is located at 1200 W. 35 Street in Chicago.

Graham Nash has a successful new solo album out, and he’ll picking up some accolades for his photography. According to the online ABC Radio News, Nash will receive the Double Exposure Award at this year’s Lucie Awards in New York this Sunday, and next Friday, he’ll be inducted into the International Photography Hall Of Fame at a ceremony in St. Louis.

Flat Out Good. Members of the veteran Chicago-based band Flat Five will be discussing their debut It’s A World Of Love And Hope with host Richard Milne on this Sunday night’s edition of Local Anesthetic on WXRT. On last week’s show, Milne described the album as one of the best he’s heard all year. Rock critic Peter Margasak echoes that sentiment in a profile he did on Flat Five in this week’s edition of The Reader. The group’s breezy sound evoke Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66 at times, but from what I’ve read, there are other intriguing elements at work here as well.

Moods For Moderns on State Street. Elvis Costello will be in town next next Saturday, October 29 for a concert at the Chicago Theatre.

Theatre Nebula's production of The Rocky Horror Show continues this weekend at Cutting Hall in Palatine and wraps next Saturday, October 29. Elsewhere on the Rocky Horror scene, Reggie’s in the south Loop will offer a production of the show, with singer JC Brooks as Frank-N-Furter.

A new production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show starring Laverne Cox as Frank-N-Furter aired on the Fox channel last night drew mixed reviews in Chicago’s Tribune, Sun-Times, and Redeye newspapers. Critics praised Cox as an effervescent performer but felt she wasn’t right for the provocative role immortalized by Tim Curry.

That vagabond seasonal bash Halloweekend returns to The High-Hat Club on Irving Park next Friday and Saturday. A total of 11 acts are scheduled to offer tributes to famous rock and roll artists. Some of the fest’s best-known participants aren’t on board this year, but there are some long-time favorites like Ellis Clark, The Webstirs, and Androgynous Mustache involved. Local bands will be honoring The Psychedelic Furs, Mamas And Papas, Billy Squier, The Motels, and The Eagles on Friday; and Iggy Pop, Three Dog Night, Fleetwood Mac, The Lemonheads, Bow Wow Wow, and Gang Of Four on Saturday.

For those who live in England or might be traveling there in mid-December, a Psychedelic Christmas Experience! event awaits you at the Unit23 Live club. Invisible Opera Company Of Tibet and Honey Pot featuring ethereal vocalist Crystal Jacqueline will be performing, and radio personality Marrs Bonfire will serve as host. I reviewed a single by Crystal Jacqueline And The Honey Pot on the Fruits de Mer label back on February 18, 2014 and found it properly mindbending.

In other U.K. news, The Severed Limb announced on Facebook they’ll be releasing a single titled “Bela Lugosi” in the near future. The skiffle band’s song “The Severed Limb” is one of my Halloween favorites.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Night Of The Living Fun In Elgin

Hordes of zombies will once again descend upon downtown Elgin this Saturday night, October 22, as part of the sixth annual Nightmare On Chicago Street Halloween festival. The horrific scenes are all the more realistic because local officials actively participate in the fun. Visitors will encounter police barricades, designated safe zones, overturned cars, and if past Nightmares are any indication, a 
low-flying helicopter. There will also be a costume contest, food and drink vendors, and four stages with live entertainment, including bands and graffiti artists. TV personality Svengoolie will once again be the fest’s Guest Of Honor and emcee the costume contest. 

As in past years, I was invited by Elgin resident David Metzger, an artist and graphic designer, along with Jeff Kelley from the Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff internet show and podcast, to perform with other local actors in a series of filmed bits. Metzger and Kelley will be screening their latest efforts The Devil Cat and It Came From The Lab in the lobby of the Elgin Chamber Of Commerce this Saturday. I play a newspaper editor in The Devil Cat. Kelley and Metzger, along with the performers they assemble, make the filming a lot of fun. As noted in a recent article by Elena Ferrarin in The Daily Herald, all proceeds from the sale of The Devil Cat and It Came From The Lab DVDs and posters will benefit the Anderson Animal Shelter in South Elgin. 

Admission to Nightmare On Chicago Street is $12 in advance; $15 after the first 8,000 tickets are sold. Organizers strongly suggest only buying tickets from the sources listed on its official site, in order to avoid being scammed. This year’s mayhem kicks off at 6:00 p.m. and rampages through 11:00 p.m. The Elgin Chamber Of Commerce is located at 31 S. Grove in downtown Elgin.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Halloween Song: The Smithereens - "Blood And Roses (Voodoo)"

Halloween music can range from garage rock party songs to ethereal Celtic ballads; and from ominous to silly.

“Blood And Roses” brought national attention to The Smithereens in 1986 when it was one of several gems on the band’s debut effort Especially For You. The ominous bass playing from Mike Mesaros immediately establishes dramatic tension, and then vocalist Pat DiNizio depicts a relationship shattered by the inability to express or accept love. There’s nothing explicitly scary about DiNizio’s lyrics, but they create a sense melancholy and dread as they’re woven through the guitar-driven arrangement.

Those who’ve heard The Smithereens cover The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” in concert might have noticed an emotional connection between that song and “Blood And Roses.” It would be interesting to know if that was DiNizio’s goal. There are six different versions of “Blood And Roses” on ESP3CIALLY F0R YOU, the recently released two-CD 30th Anniversary edition of the band’s first album. There are a couple blistering live versions with extensive jamming; an acoustic performance, and some demos.

“Blood And Roses (Voodoo)” offers a different perspective. Though the arrangement packs its original punch, DiNizio and (I’m assuming) Mesaros, guitarist Jim Babjak, and drummer Dennis Diken add some goofy primitive grunting that eventually morphs into chants of “Voodoo!” Purists might balk at such nonsense, but a lot of Smithereens fanatics are likely to find this a fun alternative that also serves as Halloween music that somehow bridges the gap between ominous and silly.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Time Of The Season For Voting

Today's announcement of the 2017 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame nominees won't cause as much heated debate as the presidential election, but if past years are any indication, there will be some grumbling about who was chosen and who continues to be overlooked. Before moving on the nominees, here are a few quick notes about some Chicago-based journalists.

As noted in this past Sunday's Chicago Tribune, long-time Chicago area journalist Lloyd Sachs has written a biography of the highly successful and influential roots rock producer T Bone Burnett. Sachs currently writes for the Trib, but has been published in other publications over the years, and used to do a regular feature called Sachs And The Cinema for FM rock station WXRT. T Bone Burnett: A Life In Pursuit is now available on Amazon and in bookstores.

Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis have become two of Chicago's best-known rock critics via their syndicated Sound Opinions program on WBEZ. They'll be at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. to present Punk Rock 1977 – The Sound Of Genius, a look at the genre's earliest days in New York and London. Admission is free.

As for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame nominees, the list of 19 acts once again shows the institution's desire to embrace diversity. Classic rock, funk, techno, vintage soul, folk, grunge, prog, rap, garage, new wave, disco, alternative, and British Invasion are all represented. Anyone familiar with this blog could easily guess The Zombies as my first choice, but I'm also keen on seeing The Cars get in this time around. The other choices, all well known in their respective fields, are Bad Brains, Chaka Khan, Chic, Depeche Mode, Electric Light Orchestra, J. Geils Band, Jane's Addiction, Janet Jackson, Joan Baez, Joe Tex, Journey, Kraftwerk, MC5, Pearl Jam, Steppenwolf, Tupac Shakur, Yes. Fans can vote for their top five choices on the official Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame site.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Out-Of-This-World Halloween Songs

Saturday, October 29 will be this year's unofficial Halloween celebration night, with lots of parties in bars and homes. Here are some outer-space alien song profiles from previous years to put everyone in a fun, spooky mood.

Fingerprintz - “Shadowed” The English band Fingerprintz zipped through a variety of genres during a brief career that lasted from 1979 to 1981, but one thing that remained constant was lead singer-guitarist Jimme O’Neill’s penchant for matching disturbing lyrics with catchy melodies. "Shadowed," from the aptly titled Beat Noir, offers intergalactic espionage set to a pulsating dance club arrangement. There’s a breathless chase down dark streets involving “an alien presence” and our hero: “Outside forces, foreign bodies in the atmosphere/I’ve got to shake them off and rub them out and get away from here.” Guitarist Cha Burnz throws in one of his distinctive solos, and O’Neill’s echo-laden vocals evoke U2, especially if Bono had been into comic books and sci-fi movies.

Phil Angotti - “I See Spaceships” Taken from Chicago-based singer-guitarist Phil Angotti’s Life and Rhymes CD, "I See Spaceships" simultaneously evokes The Byrds and The Who while spinning a tale of intergalactic visitors who love to party. Backed by Casey McDonough on bass and Brad Elvis on drums, Angotti sings, “I’ll tell you my story but you won’t believe me” as the song kicks off. He goes on to describe how the little green men who crash-landed their saucer in his garden are now driving his car, and staying up late to party. Angotti, a 1960s fanatic, specifies that these Martians are listening to LPs and watching movies. They’re also often intoxicated, which might explain why their calls for help to their planet have gone unanswered.

The Red Plastic Buddha - “She's An Alien” There’s a surprising sense of humor woven through the mind-blowing imagery on the Chicago-based The Red Plastic Buddha psyche rock masterpiece Songs For Mara. "She's An Alien" is a prime example. After descending from the stars one evening to save the human race, an extraterrestrial gets sidetracked by earthly pleasures like getting drunk in bars. Lead vocalist-bassist Tim Ferguson charts her progress with observations like, “She wanted to fit in, she said, so she learned to play the drums/She got into my LSD, but it just left her numb.” Despite her seductive silver eyes, this alien is unable to get it on with earth men because,“things just don’t match up/Me, I got the bottle but she don’t have the cup.”

The B-52s - “Planet Claire” "Planet Claire" is a fictional orb with pink air and red trees concocted by The B-52’s on their self-titled 1979 debut album. The band used a toy piano, a fire alarm, and a walkie talkie on this song, along with lyrics that were pure nonsense. Opening with a lengthy and eerie instrumental passage, “Planet Claire” introduces an alien who came from the title planet via a Plymouth Satellite that she drives faster than the speed of light. Like all Clairelings, she doesn’t have a head, so it’s hard to imagine how she could see where she’s going. Then again, you could say the same thing about Earthlings who text while driving. Vocalist Fred Schneider affects an appropriately silly tone throughout the song, especially when he screams, “WELL SHE ISN’T” in response to speculation that the alien is “from Mars or one of the seven stars that shine after 3:30 in the morning.”


Friday, October 14, 2016


A hearty welcome to everyone who's visiting Chicago this weekend; whether it's for the Cubs/Dodgers National League Championship series, the Chicago Film Festival, or just to check out the city's multitude of cultural events and festivities.

Mono is going around. The Rolling Stones recently released their Mono box set; The Hollies re-released their 1960s Evolution and Butterfly albums on 180-gram vinyl in mono and stereo, and now The Kinks are getting in on the act. According to the Second Disc website, The Kinks – The Mono Collection—due in December—will offer 10 LPs on 180-gram vinyl, including the 1967 Live At Kelvin Hall. A 48-page book with rare photos is also part of the package.

Open House Chicago will offer tours of famous buildings in various neighborhoods tomorrow and Sunday. The behind-the-scenes opportunities include Zap Props in Bridgeport; The Forum in Bronzeville; the University Of Chicago Quadrangle Club in Hyde Park; the Elks National Memorial in Lincoln Park; Palette And Chisel Academy in the Gold Coast; the Athenaeum Theatre in Lakeview; the Northwestern University Charles Deering Library in Evanston; and the Portage Theater in Portage Park. Check the Open House Chicago website for the full list.

As the late Yogi Berra used to say, "It's deja vu all over again." WXRT morning DJ Lin Brehmer and news anchor Mary Dixon will be broadcasting live from Wrigley Field tomorrow, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. They did their show from the iconic baseball park last Friday when the Cubs opened their 2016 post-season run against the San Francisco Giants. The Cubs play the Los Angeles Dodgers tomorrow night.

"Just Your Fool," the first single from The Rolling Stones' upcoming album Blue And Lonesome suggests the band has successfully tapped into its blues roots.

Musician Steve Dawson, who has garnered critical acclaim as a member of the alt rock/country band Dolly Varden as well as for his solo career, will join writer Mark Caro in presenting Songs, Stories and Creative Sparks at SPACE in Evanston tomorrow afternoon. The 1:00 p.m. event will feature them discussing and reading from the new book they've written together, Take It To The Bridge: Unlocking The Great Songs Inside You.

It's only a week until the new Pretenders album Alone comes out via iTunes, in CD and LP formats, as well as in a signed CD/LP with litho print combination.

Just don't pawn it, babe. Congratulations to Bob Dylan on being awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Literature for "having created new poetic expression within the great American song tradition." In other rock star accolade news, Rod Stewart was knighted by Prince William at Buckingham Palace this past Tuesday.

Archie Powell and The Exports will be bringing fresh material with them when they play the Burlington bar in Lincoln Park on Monday, November 7. Personally, I hope the new songs are in the clever, power pop vein of their first few albums rather than the angst-filled hard rock of their last album Back In Black.

Theatre Nebula's production of The Rocky Horror Show opens tomorrow night at Cutting Hall and runs through October 29. If you catch a Metra train to Palatine, Cutting Hall is just a blocks away from the station. Pre-show dining options includes Durty Nellie's, Tap House Grill, and Emmett's Brewing Company.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Creative Sparks At SPACE

Musician Steve Dawson, who has garnered critical acclaim as a member of the alt rock/country band Dolly Varden as well as for his solo career, will join writer Mark Caro in presenting Songs, Stories & Creative Sparks at SPACE in Evanston this Saturday afternoon. The 1:00 p.m. event will feature them discussing and reading from the new book they've written together, Take It To The Bridge: Unlocking The Great Songs Inside You.

Dawson also teaches songwriting at the Old Town School of Folk Music. I interviewed him, along his wife—artist and Dolly Varden vocalist-songwriter Diane Christiansen—several years ago for the Illinois Entertainer. They came across as thoroughly engaging and funny as they discussed their music. I met with Dawson again in 2013 for an IE feature about Dolly Varden's For A While album. My article noted, "As a songwriter, Dawson draws inspiration from various sources, including the early 1970’s music of Neil Young, Gram Parsons, and Linda Ronstadt, as well as The Beatles. He agreed with the image of him being like an artist working from a palette"

Mark Caro covered media and entertainment at the Chicago Tribune for a number of years and has recently appeared in Chicago Sun-Times. He hosted a film screening and discussion series called Is It Still Funny? at the Music Box that aimed to determine how well classic comedies like Blazing Saddles, Duck Soup, Animal House, and Something About Mary have held up over the years. It should be interesting to hear what Dawson and Caro have come up with in this new collaboration. Admission is $12.

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