Friday, September 23, 2016


EXPO CHGO, The Fifth International Exposition Of Contemporary Art opened at Navy Pier yesterday, and will run through this Sunday. Over 140 galleries from around the world will be presenting their work at EXPO CHGO, which has become one of the city’s most popular and sophisticated art events.

Sound (of) The Alarm. Mike Peters, lead vocalist for The Alarm, has a solo gig tonight at the Old Town School Of Folk Music. The North Wales band started in the late 1980s with Clash-inspired fare like “Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke?” and “The Stand,” and later had hits with “Rain In The Summertime” and “Sold Me Down The River.” Peters will join The Alarm for a U.K. tour starting in November.

Depending on what time you see this post, you might still be able to catch part of the five-act Smorgasbord Of Rock event at the Live Wire lounge on Milwaukee Avenue. Curated by singer-guitarist Michael Mazza from The Collectors, the lineup features an acoustic set by Brian McDowell at 8:00, followed by performances from The Statutes Of Liberty at 8:45, The Cells at 10:45, and Black Cat Heart Attack at 11:50. The Collectors, who’ve played many International Pop Overthrow Chicago gigs, go on at 9:40.

Sire and Rhino Records are releasing a three-CD, one-LP 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of The Ramones’ self-titled debut, with rare and previously unreleased demos and live tracks.

Whitewolfsonicprincess has a 9:00 p.m. show tomorrow night at Silvie’s Lounge. The Chicago alt-rock band, fronted by vocalist Carla Hayden and vocalist-guitarist James Moeller, released its mysterious and enchanting second album Shadow Of The Marigold earlier this year.

The Dandy Warhols will be feeling bohemian like you when they perform tomorrow night at Park West. Savoy Hotel is the opening act.

Sometimes when people ask me for a definition of power pop, I’m tempted to give a two-word answer: The Smithereens. The New Jersey band, fronted by singer-guitarist Pat DiNizio, will be opening their treasure chest of gems like “Behind The Wall Of Sleep,” “Blood And Roses,” and “House We Used To Live In” at City Winery - Chicago this Sunday night.

Eric Burdon and The Animals will be at that same venue on Monday and Wednesday next week.

I had a chance to catch the tail end of the second annual Minstrel Palooza, last Sunday at the Home House Of Music And Entertainment in Arlington Heights. Van Go did a high energy set, and it was great to hear my favorite song by them “Three Minutes Are Up.” Cliff Johnson and The Raine closed out the day-long event with a short but classic selection of Off Broadway material.

The Brian Wilson Celebrates Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary tour wraps up next Saturday, October 1 at The Chicago Theatre. Al Jardine and Blondie Chapman will join Wilson for the performance.

Today is the official release date for the reissued Evolution and Butterfly albums by The Hollies on 180g vinyl, with mono and stereo versions of every track. Each two-record set comes with a free download of the songs. Evolution and Butterfly originally came out at the height of the first psychedelic era, and showcased Graham Nash, Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks, Bobby Elliott, and Bernie Calvert at the height of their creative powers. Check out Amazon for more info.

Chicago power pop band Thrift Store Halo will be heading back to Balleydoyle Irish Pub and restaurant in Downers Grove on November 10.

There will be a five-act showcase next Friday night, September 30 at Martyrs’ on Lincoln Avenue. Slim Gypsy Baggage, Waiting For Henry, Brad Peterson, The Polkaholics, and Broken Hearted Toy favorites The Handcuffs will be performing.

The Gene Siskel Film Center is holding its Second Annual Irish American Movie Hooley film festival next Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Also, in an Irish vein, the Durty Nellie’s restaurant in Palatine will be throwing a Halfway To St. Paddy’s Day bash next Friday, September 30. The entertainment kicks off with the Trinity Irish Dancers at 7:00 p.m., followed by performances from Bagpipers, Logical Fleadh, and The Ploughboys.

The Metropolis Performing Arts Center in Arlington Heights has announced its 2016/2017 season, with its current production of the Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein being the last offering for this year. 2017 will see Rosencrantz And Guildenstarn Are Dead, Hair, and Peter And The Star Catcher coming to The Metropolis.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Girls On Grass - Self-Titled

Girls On Grass, a Brooklyn-based quartet composed of singer-guitarist Barbara Endes, drummer Nancy Polstein, bassist Dave Mandl, and guitarist Sean Eden, mixes old school country and western with down-to-earth rock and roll on its self-titled debut. Chief songwriter Endes crafts sympathetic portraits of people on the edges of society or trapped inside frustrating relationships. Her lyrics are to the point and often pack an emotional punch.

After a heated battle with her parents about them buying her a guitar, the young woman in “Father Says Why” views playing music as, “the start of my escape.” It’s one of several songs on the album that includes an instrumental break fueled by Eden’s guitar playing. “Fair,” an acoustic-based country ballad about hanging on to a relationship while longing for someone new, features Endes in a gorgeous duet with guest vocalist Cliff Westfall. There’s a Creedence Clearwater Revival swamp rock feel to “When The Pleasure Ends,” a jab at couples in shallow relationships.

Other Girls On Grass songs find Endes operating in a more optimistic vein. The tomboy of “One Of The Guys” reflects on a lifetime of being accepted for her less than frilly ways, and on “Too Pretty,” the protagonist is pleasantly surprised to find love with a woman she initially thought was out of her league. “Dave” is a foot-stomping bluegrass tribute to a friend (the band’s bassist?), and on “Drowning In Ego,” Endes has a ball lampooning the selfish sea of social media. “Your life is great,” she sings to an impossibly peppy arrangement, “But I don’t care. I used to but you over share.”


Friday, September 16, 2016


A hearty Broken Hearted Toy welcome to everyone in town for Riot Fest this weekend. The annual music event runs through Sunday in Douglas Park with a lineup that includes Sleater-Kinney, Smoking Popes, Fitz And The Tantrums, Bob Mould, The Specials, Death Cab For Cutie, and The Flaming Lips. A number of local publications, including The Reader, The Tribune, The Sun-Times, Redeye, and Innerview offer their recommendations for which acts to check out. New City devotes most of its current issue to its Art 50 cover story, but it does have an interview with Riot Fest participants Bleached.

Music Box Theatre on Chicago’s north side is screening the new Ron Howard documentary The Beatles: Eight Days A Week–The Touring Years this weekend. Reviews have been mixed, with Chicago Sun-Times writer Mark Caro praising the rare footage but noting, “Howard is more interested in wowing audiences with exuberant, hysteria-ridden performances than he is in digging for explanations.”

To the Batmobile, Robin. Chimera’s Comics will be celebrating Batman Day at its Woodridge, LaGrange, and Oak Lawn stores tomorrow. Fans can pick up free Batman comics while supplies last, and visitors to the Oak Lawn location can see the Batmobile from Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie.

Feed The Tree at The Vic. The recently reformed Belly, led by Tanya Donelly, will perform tomorrow night at The Vic on Chicago’s north side.

The second annual Minstrel Palooza, honoring the Minstrels music store in Niles, takes place this Sunday at the Home House Of Music And Entertainment on Rand Road in Arlington Heights. Van Go, Cliff Johnson and The Raine, and Cracked Actor are among the acts that will be performing.

The West Loop Art Festival, which made its classy debut last year, runs tomorrow and Sunday on Washington Boulevard between Halsted and Aberdeen.

The Persian Leaps, a St. Paul, MN band whose catchy power pop songs have been favorably reviewed on Broken Hearted Toy, released their fourth EP today. Your City, Underwater includes “Weather,” a deceptively upbeat-sounding single that’s actually about the dangers of climate change.

The Sarasota Springs, NY band Dryer has just released “Green Paper”—its first single since 2002—as a preview of its new EP Bright Moon, Bright Sun.

Lush, the dreamy and consistently engaging U.K. shoegazer band comprising Miki Berenyi, Emma Anderson, and Phil King, has reunited and will be performing this Sunday night at The Vic. The band’s new Blind Spot EP is available on the official website.

The Buzzcocks will be drawing on 40 years of creating melodic, high-energy songs when they perform at The Vic next Thursday night, September 22. The band sprung from England’s punk scene around the same time as The Sex Pistols, and is known for irresistible songs like “Harmony In My Head,” “What Do I Get?” and “Ever Fallen In Love?” Their latest album, The Way, was released in 2014.

The Smithereens will bring their amazing repertoire of power gems (“Behind The Wall Of Sleep,” “Blood And Roses,” and “House We Used To Live In,” to name a few) to City Winery - Chicago next Sunday, September 25. Eric Burdon and The Animals will be at that same venue on Monday the 26th and Wednesday the 28th.

Congratulations to Quimby’s Bookstore on its 25th Anniversary in Wicker Park. Christopher Borrelli had a piece on the store in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune, and Brianna Wellen has a profile in this week’s Reader. Quimby’s offers a mind-boggling selection independent publications.

Tickets for Theatre Nebula’s production of The Rocky Horror Show at Cutting Hall in Palatine are now on sale. I saw Theatre Nebula perform Spamalot twice a few years back, so I’m looking forward to its take on another eccentric musical.

Chicago’s free paper Redeye recently picked up a story from Variety stating the producers of Wicked have created a musical based on the 1980s TV show Family Ties. It's scheduled to open in Dayton, OH in the near future.

Chicago Tribune writer Tracy Swartz recently reported that sitcom veterans Katey Sagal and Judd Hirsch have been cast for a TV pilot of the Tracey Letts play Superior Donuts. Mary-Archie Theatre in Chicago had a successful run with Superior Donuts a few years back.

WXRT is offering listeners who mourned the recent loss of Leslie Witt to ovarian cancer a way to honor the longtime air personality and help find a cure for the disease that claimed her life. The station, working with the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance’s “30 Days Of Teal” campaign, is selling teal t-shirts printed with the WXRT logo for $30 on its website. All of the profits will go to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fun Alliance.

The Awakenings Foundation will have an opening reception for its Graphic Relief exhibition on October 13 at its Gallery at 4001 N. Ravenswood in Chicago. Curated by Gallery manager Liz Moretti, the exhibition will feature artwork in comic book, graphic novel, and zine formats that addresses the issue of women encountering sexual harassment.

When I saw Donna Vickroy’s Chicago Tribune article earlier this week about items from the Sabre Room going up for auction, it immediately brought back fond memories of Montgomery Ward Christmas parties at that glittering night club/restaurant in Hickory Hills. I worked at the Montgomery Ward store in Evergreen Plaza back in the 1970s, and that annual bash was like senior prom for us employees. It was a chance to mingle, drink and dance. George, one of my good friends from those days, was recently diagnosed with cancer, and I just want to extend my best wishes for his full recovery. Also, best wishes to my friend Ted to be home again soon and watching the Cubs on TV.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Mimi Betinis - Basement Tapes Vol. 1

Photo from Mimi Betinis Facebook page.

Basement Tapes Vol. 1 was simultaneously released with Music Sounds by Mimi Betinis a while back, and shares that album’s mixed-bag approach. The Pezband vocalist-guitarist doesn’t use much more than an acoustic guitar on some of these songs, and opts for a lush arrangement on others. There are also some well-chosen covers, as well as a rare, vintage track that should delight Pezband fanatics.

The melodic duet “Didn’t We” was recorded back in 1979 with Cliff Johnson, a distinctive singer who shares Betinis’ Pezband lineage, and who went on to form Off Broadway. Betinis gets down and bluesy for a raw take on the classic “Good Morning Little School Girl,” and captures the massive heartache of “The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine” with his orchestrated version of The Walker Brothers hit. The catchy instrumental “Shade And Shine” adroitly blends acoustic and electric guitars with keyboards.

“Lost A Love Forever,” like “There Is Love” on Music Sounds, has an infectious techno beat, although this time around, the lyrics are about a relationship going stale. Broken romance is a running theme throughout Basement Tapes; particularly on “Ray Of Light” and the melancholy “All That Glitters.” Love is a lot more fun on the Latin-flavored “Brown Eyes And Bangs,” and Betinis delivers a fetching rendition of “Goodbye,” the Paul McCartney-penned hit Mary Hopkins recorded back in 1969.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Matched Sets

Robert Michelson photo from the Material Issue/Material Reissue Facebook page.

The Matthew Sweet/Material Reissue show at Park West last Friday was more of a double bill than a headliner and opener affair. Material Reissue, a trio comprising original members drummer Mike Zelenko and singer-bassist Ted Ansani, along with singer-guitarist Phil Angotti, have performed occasionally around town since coming together in 2011 to mark the 20th Anniversary of Material Issue’s debut International Pop Overthrow. Matthew Sweet has a loyal following in Chicago, where power pop fans embrace his catchy, guitar-driven songs. It was immediately evident Friday night that the packed house was eagerly anticipating both acts.

Even though Material Issue’s original frontman—the late Jim Ellison—was a singular talent, Zelenko and Ansani’s decision to recruit Angotti in 2011 has never seemed to alienate fans. Like Ellison, Angotti lives and breathes 1960s-style pop arrangements, and the two were good friends. With the further addition of guitarist Jay O'Rourke, Material Reissue has been able to perform Ellison’s work faithfully and honor his legacy.

Material Reissue’s Friday night show offered the MTV-fueled hits “Valerie Loves Me,” “Diane,” and “What Girls Want,” as well as some more obscure titles. The band gave a shoutout to WXRT’s Richard Milne before performing “Renee Remains The Same,” noting the air personality helped break them in Chicago by playing that song on his Local Anesthetic show back in the early 1990s. The quartet performed in synch throughout the shows and finished with “Kim The Waitress,” a creepy and magnificent song by The Green Pajamas that Material Issue covered on its Freak City Soundtrack album.

The crowd that had packed the area in front of the stage for Material Reissue was just as wild about Sweet’s performance. Backed by Velvet Crush members drummer Ric Menck and bassist-vocalist Paul Chastain, along with guitarist John Moremen from The Orange Peels and Half Japanese, Sweet opened with “Time Capsule” and powered through catchy songs dating back to 1991. He also provided a preview of his upcoming release Tomorrow Forever.

Moremen and Chastain provided backup vocals, with Chastain often combining with Sweet for fabulous harmonies. Moremen frequently broke loose with impressive guitar firepower. The numerous highlights included “Byrdgirl,” “The Ugly Truth,” and “I’ve Been Waiting.” “Girlfriend,” saved for the encore, found Sweet and his band extending the power pop classic with some impressive jamming.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Thursday Slumgullion

He’s been waiting to come back to Chicago to perform. Photo from Matthew Sweet's Facebook page.

There will be loads of well-crafted power pop at Park West tomorrow night, September 9, as Matthew Sweet draws from a repertoire that includes gems like “Girlfriend,” “I’ve Been Waiting,”“Byrdgirl,” and “Devil With The Green Eyes.” Material ReIssue, which includes bassist Ted Ansani and drummer Mike Zelenko from the original Material Issue, with Phil Angotti replacing the late Jim Ellison on lead vocals, will be tapping into International Pop Overthrow and other of the trio’s impressive original albums, as Sweet’s opening act.

WXRT is offering listeners who still mourn the recent loss of Leslie Witt to ovarian cancer a way to honor the longtime air personality and help find a cure for the disease that claimed her life. The station, working with the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance’s “30 Days Of Teal” campaign, is selling teal t-shirts printed with the WXRT logo for $30 on its website. All of the profits will go to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fun Alliance.

To the Artmobile, Robin! Although the Gold Coast, Old Town, and Wells Street art fairs passed through the rearview mirror a while ago, there are a lot of opportunities left for Chicagoans to admire culture in an outdoor setting. This weekend, there’s The Renegade Craft Fair in Wicker Park, with CHIRP Radio and Reckless Records DJs on hand; and the Lakeview Festival Of Arts on Broadway between Belmont and Hawthorne, with The Red Plastic Buddha, Mooner, Cathy Richardson Band, and Ellen Miller Blues Project among the live acts. The Ravenswood Art Walk also takes place this weekend. Next Saturday and Sunday will mark the return of The West Loop Art Fair, which made a classy debut in 2015.

The Chicago Fringe Festival winds up its 2016 celebration of theatre, dance, storytelling and film around Chicago’s Jefferson Park neighborhood this Sunday, September 11.

Riot Fest
2016 arrives next Friday, September 16 and rocks through September18 in Douglas Park. Sleater-Kinney, Smoking Popes, Fitz And The Tantrums, Bob Mould, The Specials, Death Cab For Cutie, and The Flaming Lips are among the acts scheduled to perform this year.

Minstrel Palooza, the celebration of the Minstrels music store in Niles, returns for its second year on Sunday, September 18, from 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Home House Of Music And Entertainment on Rand Road in Arlington Heights. Van Go, Cliff Johnson and The Raine, and Cracked Actor are among the acts that will be performing.

The current issue of Streetwise, with the “Young Chicago Feminism” cover story, has listings for several upcoming events in Chicago. Pick up a copy from a vendor in the downtown area or in your neighborhood.


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Revolver Revisited And Other Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago Musings

Traditionally, I title my review of Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago I’ve Just Seen A Fest, but due to the long delay in getting this post completed, the title had to change. Although it might seem odd to do a review this late in the game, there were a number of things about this year’s Fest worth mentioning.

You could call The Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago a celebration with kaleidoscope eyes. The Chicago version, which was once again held at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, features musicians; authors; artists; and photographers who have all drawn inspiration from The Beatles. A screening room shows Beatles-related films, fans show up in a wide range of Beatles t-shirts, and the huge marketplace is filled with vendors offering every imaginable kind of Beatles swag.

It was nice to see WXRT air personality Terri Hemmert had recovered enough from her recent back surgery to carry out her duties as MC—a role she’s performed every year since the second Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago back in the late 1970s. Hemmert was at the top of her game as she interviewed George Harrison’s sister Louise (accompanied by Marty Scott from the tribute band Liverpool Legends) and introduced various guest and events.

Artist and musician Klaus Voormann, the early and influential friend of The Beatles who created the iconic cover art for their Revolver album, returned to The Fest this year to promote his new graphic novel/hardcover book Birth Of An Icon. He approached the room where he would be signing copies as if it were a pub, and the people waiting in line were his mates. Buying the book—which provides insightful commentary on how he came up with the Revolver concept, as well as several pages of fantastic illustrations—was my main goal for this year’s Fest, and it was a kick to meet Voormann.

The Apple Jam Stage, which was added last year, continued to yield fruit this time around. The only problem was that it was moved from its 2015 second floor perch to the main lobby, where some people (probably not Fest-goers) apparently thought it was the talk loud and be obnoxious area. The noise level was a challenge for Phil Angotti as he began an acoustic set of Paul McCartney tunes. He was able to win over the crowd, especially when his pal and fellow Beatle Brothers band mate Jay Goeppner joined him for some terrific harmonies.

Scott Erickson’s Apple Jam set later on Saturday was a triumph on three levels. First, he had the difficult task of replacing vocalist-guitarist Pat DiNizio of The Smithereens, who had to cancel due to a family emergency. Second, the unruly crowd included drunks by that point, and third, Erickson was performing the entire Abbey Road album on acoustic guitar for the first time in front of a live audience. And he pulled it off masterfully.

The Weeklings were back for their second year and performed a spirited concert on Saturday afternoon. The concept behind this group, which features guitarist-vocalist John Merjave and bassist-vocalist Glen Burtnik from the Beatles tribute band Liverpool, along with guitarist-vocalist Bob Burger and drummer-vocalist Dave Anthony, is to create a cohesive mix of rare Beatles compositions and original tunes that sound like they could have been done by The Beatles. The Weeklings will soon release a follow-up to their highly enjoyable debut Monophonic.

Liverpool is a must-see at each year’s Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago because it does such an incredible job of recreating the classic sound of The Beatles. 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 fist half of Revolver in the Grand Ballroom on Saturday night, with the second half coming on Sunday.

Liverpool’s Saturday night show also included other songs The Beatles recorded over the years. After a short break, the band was joined by guest musicians Joey Molland from Badfinger; musician/producer Mark Hudson; and singer Billy J. Kramer for a set of British Invasion hits and rock standards that served as high-powered, jam-filled finale for Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago.

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