Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Suitable Song For Elgin’s Annual Nightmare

Halloween is over four weeks away and homeowners have yet to transform their front lawns into gruesome replicas of torture chambers, but it’s not too early to start planning that Halloween party playlist. Maybe I’m only thinking this way because on Sunday I’ll be portraying a government agent who hunts zombies. Jeff Kelley, of Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff  fame, and graphic artist David Metzger have been making spooky and fun film clips for the city of Elgin’s annual, amazingly ambitious Nightmare On Chicago Street Halloween celebration for a few years now.

Previously, I’ve played an author who’s a zombie expert and a right-wing politician. This time out, Kelley and Metzger are creating five episodes of a zombie-themed sitcom that will be shown throughout Nightmare on October 25th, possibly in a makeshift storefront movie theatre. I’ve already finished one scene with them, and there are others to be done. As in the past, Kelley and Metzger, along with the performers they assemble, make the filming a lot of fun.

Now, on to the first BHT Halloween song of 2014. Back in 2009, I profiled a different Halloween-suitable song for each day of October, and I’ve done some new posts since then. 

“Stuck At Zero” is the final track on Songs For Mara, the latest CD from Chicago-based psychedelia masters The Red Plastic Buddha. According to a note on the group’s Bandcamp page, this latest effort, “makes a break from the flower power psychedelia of [previous release] All Out Revolution, with darker themes addressing addiction, obsession and madness.” They carry this out with inventive instrumentation, and in the case of “Stuck On Zero,” a hefty dose of gallows humor.

The song opens with a screeching guitar before shifting to trudging arrangement that evokes images of zombies on the prowl. Lead singer-bassist Tim Ferguson opts for a yelping vocal style that’s equal parts rock and deranged creature, spitting out quick rhymes that suggest that zombie guys want pretty much the same things a lot of living guys want; an attractive mate, some cool wheels, job security, and a macho image. 

“When I come back from the dead I ain’t messing around,” Ferguson warns at the dawn of this song. “Get on the wrong side of me I’m gonna run you down.” He’s also proud of his girlfriend (“She loves me for my brains/Yeah man, she’s my world”) and doesn’t have time for the usual zombie means of getting around. “I won’t be moving slow/I’ll dig your daddy up and steal his GTO.”

There’s no mention of eating people in the lyrics, but being a zombie does come across as being a full time occupation. “Won’t work no 9 to 5/My new full time gig is being un-alive.” This particular zombie also has aspirations for achieving fame. “When I come back from the dead won’t be no room for doubt/Zombie superstar I got it wall worked out.”

No one can say the living dead don’t have dreams.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Ground Control To Major Tom: Mission Accomplished

As of tomorrow, the David Bowie Is exhibition will have been at the Museum Of Contemporary Art - Chicago, its only stop in the United States, for a week. Hundreds of people—a fair amount from around the country—have already checked out this multimedia celebration of one of rock’s most distinctive stars. Having gone on this past Saturday, I can join the chorus of those singing the praises of David Bowie Is.

It’s easy to come away from this show feeling that Bowie made good on his goal of being, “an instigator of new ideas.” (I wanted to make more of that particular quote, but a Google search revealed that other writers, including the Chicago Tribunes Steve Johnson, had already beat me to it. David Bowie Is seems likely to have two other effects on those who experience it. One: A hunger to delve into Bowie’s music and films. Local radio station WXRT tapped into that desire by airing a vintage Bowie concert this past Sunday night. Two: An appreciation of one’s own artistic endeavors and a renewed urgency to explore them further. It would probably help to already be creatively inclined to have that second reaction, but who knows? Maybe some absolute beginners will spring from having visited this exhibition.

An introductory message on the audio portion of David Bowie Is, delivered via GPS-equipped headphones, suggests it will take about 90 minutes to complete the show. It could easily take longer for those intent on savoring every item, depending how much of a crowd is present at the time. The collection includes samples of Bowie’s early art work; toys he played with when he was a boy; stage bills from local theatre productions he performed in; and handwritten lyrics (at least one with a stick figure doodle) from the songs he recorded. There was also a promotional poster showing Bowie as a second-tier act for a concert featuring T. Rex and Roy Harper.

All of this is attractively staged and augmented with colorful and imaginative special effects; such as a large neon sign stating, “David Bowie Is Crossing The Border.” The most striking aspect of the exhibition is the pairing of groundbreaking rock videos like “Blue Jean,” “Ashes To Ashes,” “Let’s Dance,” and “Life On Mars” with the actual outfits Bowie wore for the them. Elsewhere, a separate room served as an intimate movie theatre showing clips from the films Absolute Beginners; The Man Who Fell To Earth; Labyrinth; Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence; and Prestige; as well as from the stage production of The Elephant Man.

The rock videos and film/theatre clips offer the most compelling evidence of Bowie’s versatility and charisma as a performer. Every facial expression, vocal inflection, pause, and mannerism seems devoted to embodying the role he has taken on. At this point, there’s no indication Bowie will come to Chicago to visit this exhibition. Reportedly, he’s busy working on songs for another new album. Further proof that Bowie is always creating. 


Friday, September 26, 2014


The Handcuffs and Penthouse Sweets, two of Chicago’s better bands, will be joining the Detroit-based Ricky Rat Pack for some rocking at the Cobra Lounge tonight. The Cobra Lounge is located at 236 N. Ashland Avenue. Tickets are $8.00, the music starts at 8:30 PM.

Original member of Big Star Jody Stephens will be joined by an awe-inspiring collection of power pop and alternative musicians tomorrow night when Trunkworthy and Wild Honey present Big Star 3rd And #1 Live at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles. The scheduled performers include Mitch Easter from Let’s Active; Mike Mills from R.E.M.; Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer from The Posies; Ira Kaplan from Yo La Tengo; Chris Stamey from The dB’s; The Bangles; Aimee Mann; Jason Falkner; Pete Yorn; Dan Wilson from Semisonic; Dean Wareham from Dean and Britta; and Tommy Keene. Van Dyke Parks will be the guest conductor. All profits from this event will go to the Autism Think Tank.

There will be a match-up of like-minded, longtime players on the Chicago rock scene at 27 Live in Evanston tomorrow night when the Phil Angotti Meets The Abbeys show takes place. The Phil Angotti Band will include a John Lennon tribute in its performance.

Forget the drumstick, I’m grateful for this. The Bangles recently announced on Facebook that they’ll release Ladies And Gentlemen…The Bangles! on Thanksgiving Day. The new digital collection features fully remastered material from the 1980s that includes the band’s debut EP, along with all sorts of rarities, demos, and live recordings. So far, there has been no mention of Ladies And Gentlemen coming out on vinyl or CD, but there were a number or comments on The Bangles Facebook page requesting these formats.

LZP Productions will be performing the Mel Brooks musical comedy Young Frankenstein starting tomorrow night at Cutting Hall in Palatine. There are seven shows scheduled over the next three weeks.

Tomorrow is Cassette Store Day around the world. As Johnny Carson used to say, I did not know that. This event seems more indie-centric than Record Store Day, judging from the list of releases on the official site. Laurie’s Planet Of Sound in Chicago is participating, and they’ll be selling vintage cassettes as well. Check out the picture on their Facebook page, and you’ll see cassettes by Bruce Springsteen, Frank Zappa, Led Zeppelin, Jim Hendrix, The Hollies, The Who, Sparks, and Tom Waits.

As a Kinks reunion involving both Davies brothers continues to be a possibility, The Second Disc  website has other good news for fans of the iconic British Invasion group. The U.K.-based Sanctuary Records label (it will come out on BMG/InGrooves in America) plans to release the 5-CD set Anthology 1964–1971 on November 17th. The collection will include 23 previously unreleased tracks.

There will be a screening of Good Ol’ Freda, the entertaining documentary about Freda Kelly, next Wednesday at City Winery in Chicago. Kelly was still in her teens when she landed the dream job of being secretary of the Official Beatles Fan Club.

On the following night at the same venue, The Fauntleroys, featuring Alejandro Escovedo, Nick Tremulis, Ivan Julian, and Linda Pitmon, will be performing. Show time is 8:00 PM. Other upcoming shows of note at City Winery include Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze on October 15th; Dave Davies of The Kinks on November 12th and 13th; and Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues with two gigs (the first one sold out) on November 17th. 
The Walker Brigade, a punk and new wave cover band comprised of Jeff Charreaux from Ultraviolet Eye and other veteran musicians, will be performing a gig with the Insect Surfers at the TAIX French Restaurant in Los Angeles next Friday, October 3rd.

Psychedelic, eh? Chicago’s mind-bending band Secret Colours is heading up north next month for its very first dates in Canada. The schedule includes rocking The Casbah in Ontario on October 15th.

Getting closer to Chicago: Graham Nash and his daughter Nile will offer Songs And Conversation at BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups in St. Louis on October 26th. Proceeds from this show will benefit Uzazi Village of Kansas City, The Foundation for the Advancement of Midwifery, and the Social Justice Division of the Midwives Alliance of North America.

Maple Mars frontman Rick Hromadka has his first solo effort, Trippin Dinosaurs, coming out next Tuesday, September 30th.

Participants and followers of the Chicago theatre scene no doubt recognized Hans Fleischmann in last night’s episode of Chicago PD. Fleischmann is a veteran of Mary-Arrchie and was the driving force behind the theatre’s critically acclaimed and very successful production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie

Is this where I catch the Magical Mystery Tour bus? Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed reported yesterday that a bench decorated with colorful Beatles art by kids from the After School Matters organization and signed by Paul McCartney nabbed $30,000 at a recent charity auction at Navy Pier.

Hushdrops, who recently released the impressive Tomorrow, their first CD in ages, have a date at Reckless Records on Broadway October 25th at 3:00 PM.

Lucky us. The Consequence Of Sound website is reporting that Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry have gotten together to record a new song under The Who banner. “Be Lucky” will be the band’s first new effort in eight years. Pat DiNizio of The Smithereens also did a post about this on his Facebook page.

The hypnotic four-woman bad Warpaint will be performing next Sunday, October 5th at The Vic.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Vintage Publication Spotlight: Song Talk

There was a recent post on the Graham Nash Facebook page announcing a show called Songs And Conversation that he and his daughter Nile will be doing at the BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups venue in St. Louis on October 26th. In addition to giving me hope that Nash might be getting closer to making a Chicago area appearance, this news reminded me of a publication I purchased in 1994. Song Talk was based in Hollywood, California and was put out by the National Academy of Songwriters on a quarterly basis.

At the time of this issue (Volume 4, Issue 2), Dan Kirkpatrick was the Publisher; Paul Zollo was the Editor, Brett Perkins was the Managing Editor, and the remarkable Henry Diltz was the Chief Photographer. As a professional proofreader myself, I’m happy to see that Song Talk also listed its proofreader Abigail Bram on the masthead. Diltz took the front cover shot of Nash, and the variety of shots used throughout Zollo’s six-page article/interview reflects the long-term professional relationship Diltz had with Nash dating back to the singer-songwiter’s days with The Hollies. The feature would be continued in the next issue of Song Talk.

Among several other topics, Zollo spoke with Nash about writing “King Midas In Reverse” and his eventual fallout with The Hollies; how Cass Elliott introduced him to David Crosby without mentioning who Nash was; and how his anger about social injustice sparked the inspiration for “Chicago.” I’m not sure about Song Talk in general, but Zollo was a busy guy in this issue; penning articles on Art Garfunkel, Richard Thompson, Laura Nyro, and Bruce Cockburn. Kevin McCarley conducted interviews with Rick Nielsen and Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick about songwriting and the band’s latest album Woke Up With A Monster.

Most of the ads in this issue of Song Talk were related to the art and technology of songwriting, along with some for local clubs and the sorely missed Tower Records. A two-page spread titled Acoustic Underground showcased the Songwriters In The Round series at the Troubadour club in West Hollywood. Among the artists pictured were Wendy Waldman, The Nields, and Dar Williams. Another feature, called New Faces, profiled up-and-coming singer-songwriters, including Lisa Loeb. 


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

U2 - Songs Of Innocence

I was offered this free download of U2’s latest effort, and having been a fan of the group since its debut in 1980, I accepted it with gratitude and high expectations. The elements that first intrigued listeners on Boy—The Edge’s distinctive guitar playing; Bono’s multi-range vocals; and those dark, enticing arrangements—are still very much in evidence on Songs Of Innocence. Bono once again comes across as an intense observer of modern society, responding to its faults with a mix of spiritual nurturing and raging frustration.

Confronting the stark evidence of urban violence in “Raised By Wolves” seems to spark a crisis of faith for him, and he acknowledges that organized religion is sometimes a breeding ground for intolerance. The slow and soulful “Sleep Like A Baby Tonight” takes aim at people who can rest easy in a world full of pain, and on the funky, Rolling Stones-influenced “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now,” Bono notes, “We’re taking the path of most resistance/The only way for us to go.” “Song For Someone,” set to a melodic acoustic guitar and keyboards arrangement, is more optimistic, and the shimmering “Iris (Hold Me Close)” is an imaginative love song.

U2 mixes hard-edged tracks like “Cedarwood Road” and “Volcano” with lighter fare like “Every Breaking Wave” on Songs Of Innocence. Initially, “The Miracle Of Joey Ramone” seems like an overly elaborate tribute to an artist who stressed minimalism, but the song grows stronger with each listen, and it seems likely Bono relished celebrating a punk rock singer as a world-changing visionary. Regardless of how people react to its unusual arrival, Songs Of Innocence is another keeper from this veteran Irish band.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Brown Bagging With Brehmer And A Bowie Band

Cities often sponsor public celebrations when one of their sports teams wins a championship, so why not throw a party for a cultural coup? You could call David Bowie Day a pep rally for the artsy set, but Chicagoans should be proud that our Museum Of Contemporary Art is the one place in the United States that is getting a visit from David Bowie Is, a multimedia exhibition involving art, music, fashion, and performance. Held from noon to almost 1:00 PM this afternoon at the Daley Center, David Bowie Day was a great opportunity to have lunch outside in perfect Fall weather, flash some civic pride, and hear a live band pay tribute to the Thin White Duke.

I arrived around 11:00 AM, unsure of how much of a crowd would turn out for this event. Daley Plaza was pretty much empty at that time except for a WXRT tent where the station’s friendly minions were giving away David Bowie Is postcards and small black ‘David’ (with a lightning bolt for the ‘i’) buttons. Across the street, just outside the building where the local CBS outlet does its news reports, there was an official promotion for the network’s new NCIS: New Orleans TV show. In Daley Plaza, there was also a Voter Registration Drive taking place. 

Contrary to what some sources had predicted, Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not appear at today’s David Bowie Day event. WXRT’s popular air personality Lin Brehmer, a guy who knows partying like Eric Clapton knows guitar strumming, served as MC and sported an Aladdin Sane lighting bolt across his countenance. He introduced the people from the Museum Of Contemporary Art who were responsible for snagging David Bowie Is and joined them in promoting that event as well as David Bowie Day.

Brehmer also introduced the tribute band Sons Of The Silent Age. Opening with the song “Sons Of The Silent Age” from Bowie’s Heroes album, the group executed a short but highly polished set that included “Changes,” “Fame,” “Ashes To Ashes,” “Life On Mars,” “Under Pressure,” Suffragette City,” and “Heroes.” Lead vocalist Chris Connelly was once again the essence of cool, and various band members joined him on harmonies. For a review of a full Sons Of The Silent Age concert, check out July 2, 2013 in the BHT archives.

Also, be sure to visit Robert Loerzel’s Underground Bee blog for some great pics of the David Bowie Is exhibition.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Bowie Bash And Other News

Portraits of Sons Of The Silent Age band members by artist Tom McKeon. 

A few other points of interest before moving on David Bowie Day.

Mike Thomas, a well-known reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, will be signing copies of his new biography You Might Remember Me: The Life And Times Of Phil Hartman at the Barnes And Noble/DePaul University Bookstore at 1 East Jackson tomorrow night at 6:00 PM. Thomas will also be at Anderson’s Bookshop in Downers Grove on Wednesday; The Book Cellar on Lincoln Avenue next Tuesday, September 30th, and next Thursday, October 2nd, at The Book Stall in Winnetka. 

Whitewolfsonicprincess, Carla Hayden and James Moeller’s cutting-edge rock offshoot of their avant garde theater company Black Forest, has an 8:00 PM gig this Wednesday night at the Underground  Wonder Bar. Songs from 10 + 1, the second CD from Whitewolfsonicprincess are now available on iTunes. In my review of 10 + 1, I noted its mystical theme, particularly on “Sad-Eyed Prophet” and “Inner Light,” and praised Hayden’s sultry, almost spoken word delivery. Underground Wonder Bar is located just north of downtown, at 710 N. Clark Street. Admission is $5.00. 

Welcome to all those who have come to Chicago for the David Bowie Is exhibition that opens tomorrow at the Museum Of Contemporary Art. In case you didn’t know, there’s an MCA and WXRT sponsored David Bowie Day celebration taking place tomorrow at the Daley Center. Sons Of The Silent Age, a very accomplished Bowie tribute band, will be performing. For tourists and Chicagoans alike, here’s a brief rundown about tomorrow’s festivities from the group’s Facebook page:

“Sons of the Silent Age [will] play one song at Noon tomorrow at Daley Plaza, then there will be 3 short (?) speeches (including Da Mare), after which we play until were stopped, a little after 1pm. Have a freaky day.”

Here’s a bit of my review of a Sons Of Silent Age show at Durty Nellie’s in Palatine a while back:

Chris Connelly consistently nailed Bowie’s distinctive delivery, from the soulful crooning of “Stay” to the down and dirty “Diamond Dogs.” Saxophone player-vocalist Rich Parenti and vocalist Claire Massey (formerly with The Tami Show) provided expertly timed backup vocals. Connelly doesn’t go in for a lot of makeup or elaborate costumes, but projects the aura of a classy, yet cutting-edge rock star.

The rhythm section of Matt Walker, percussionist Marcus Johnson, and bassist Alan Berliant created a powerful funk groove on “Golden Years” and “Fame,” while Parenti’s sax playing sparked “Modern Love” and “Young Americans.” Carolyn Engelman’s eerie synthesizer on “Ashes To Ashes” was hypnotic, and guitarist Steve Gerlach (from The Bad Examples and Tomorrow The Moon) and electric/acoustic guitarist Robert Byrnes frequently propelled songs into the stratosphere.

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