Tuesday, July 31, 2012

CD Review: Heart - Strange Euphoria


Photo from Strange Euphoria book.

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

Although it includes studio versions of songs like “Alone” and “These Dreams,” Heart’s Strange Euphoria 3 CD box set isn’t so much a greatest hits package as it is a gift to the group’s most ardent fans. Stretching from a 1968å single by Ann Wilson’s pre-Heart band, The Daybreaks, to tracks from the 2010 CD, Red Velvet Car, it’s loaded with live recordings, demo versions, and previously unreleased material. A few of the tracks weren’t really worth pulling from the archives, but at its best, Strange Euphoria presents the Wilson sisters in ways most people haven’t heard before.

The “Crazy On You” demo, recorded in 1975, is fairly close to album version, but a demo of “Magic Man,” done around the same time, has a sparse, guitar-driven arrangement reminiscent of  The Animals’ “When I Was Young.” There’s a high-energy 1977 concert performance of “Barracuda,” and a 1994 live version of “Never” that features guest musician John Paul Jones on mandolin. Heart explores new territory with the sexy dance number, “Skin To Skin,” the authentic blues workout, “Love Or Madness,” and has a ball on the silly folk parody, “Boppy’s Back.” Strange Euphoria also includes a book with rare photos, and an hour-long DVD of Heart performing for a TV studio audience back in its Dreamboat Annie days.   

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Cassette Review: Maybe /Definitely - A Stones Throw


Note: This review originally ran in the Illinois Entertainer in 1991.

Maybe/Definitely’s opening salvo of Midwestern power pop on the independently released A Stone’s Throw (note: the missing apostrophe isn’t my work) would be impressive enough based on the musicianship, but lead vocalist-guitarist Grant Tennison’s lyrics take this debut to an even higher level. Tennison has a knack for turning a phrase, as he covers everything from busted romances to street crime. “Another Thorn” depicts a guy overwhelmed with guilt at the thought of leaving his girlfriend, while the acoustic-based ballad “Shame” visits a neighborhood steadily going downhill.

Guitarist Michael Yerke helps fuel the hard-hitting “Breaking The Maze,” and “Swallow That Potion” benefits from Bill Ortman’s keyboards work. “All I Want” is a catchy pop tune, but Maybe/Definitely’s best work on A Stones Throw comes on “The Great Divide,” which calls to mind the classic power pop band, The Plimsouls.

Sadly, there’s almost no mention of Maybe/Definitely on the Internet, except for a 1992 Chicago Tribune article by writer Mary Stevens .  

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Slumgullion


Tour art from the Rebel Pebbles Facebook page.

The 15th annual International Pop Overthrow - Los Angeles kicks off tonight with a six-band lineup at Molly Malones’s. This is the city where IPO founder David Bash staged his very first showcase of power pop and indie rock. In addition to Molly Malones, showcases will be held at Fais Do Do, Good Hurt, The Echoplex, On The Rox, Fitzgerald’s Irish Pub, and Orange County Fair. Bash has several impressive acts scheduled throughout the coming week, including The Names, The Records - featuring John Wicks, Maple Mars, The Rebel Pebbles (who reunited in 2011), Nushu, Spygenius, Jason Falkner, Sparkle* Jets UK, and rock and roll time lord Dave Rave.

Jeff Park Arts & Music Fest has some solid talent lined up for this weekend; including The Nicholas Tremulis Band tonight at 9:00 PM; Jason And The Scorchers Sunday at 6:30 PM, and Smoking Popes on Sunday at 8:30 PM.

Elsewhere on the street fest scene, Wicker Park Fest has Archie Powell And The Exports at 3:30 PM, Screaming Females at 5:30 PM, and Baseball Project at 7:15 PM tomorrow.

Musician Bill Steffey will celebrate a quarter of a century of creating songs and videos with the 2-DVD set 25: The Silver Collection. There will be a release party at Lizard’s Liquid Lounge on August 4th at 9:00 PM. Steffey’s new EP, Kid Ghosts is available now, and he’ll have some copies for sale at the Nomadic Art booth at the Wicker Park Fest tomorrow from noon to 3:00 PM. 

The Nerdist website brought the sad news earlier this week that actress Mary Tamm, who portrayed the first incarnation of Romana in 1978 on Doctor Who, has died of cancer. Tamm’s take on the female Time Lord assigned to help Tom Baker’s Doctor, was definitely from the Emma Peel school of alluring and sophisticated heroines. She was one of the major reasons I began watching Doctor Who. There’s a tribute to her on YouTube

Artist Shannon is best known for her portraits of The Beatles, and her work has also wound up adorning guitars owned by Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen. Shannon’s latest effort, a Dream Police guitar, will make its debut when Cheap Trick shares a double bill with Aerosmith in Virginia. Starting August 11th, a number of Nielsen’s axes will be on display as part of the Rick’s Picks exhibit at the Burpee Museum in Rockford, IL.

For the second year in a row, I was bowled over by live music at the Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival’s  opening bash at Cutting Hall  in Palatine. In 2011, it was solo artist Chris Petlak (with a bit of accompaniment) followed by Dennis Florine (backed by a top notch band) that rocked out, and this past Tuesday, it was the seven-piece Band Called Catch that provided the fun.

But, first a bit of business. In my preview of this event, sarcastically titled, Get Me, I’m A Publicist, I criticized what I deemed the woeful lack of publicity the participants had generated. This was due partly to the amount of time it took to scour various websites just to find simple bits of info like what time the concert started, and also because I hadn’t seen any flyers or programs around Palatine.

Upon arriving at Cutting Hall, I told one of the venue’s reps that I was covering the concert for my blog, and mentioned that I had noted the poor publicity. He insisted I was completely wrong; hundreds of flyers had been distributed, and the concert was featured on Facebook. So, I promised him a retraction, although to my way of thinking, just mentioning the concert on Facebook without a starting time or a profile of the band is not effective PR. I’d be curious to know if anyone noticed that I went back and retitled the piece and softened some of my criticism.

Anyway, back to Band Called Catch, who are a high-powered live act, with two dynamic front people in vocalist-acoustic guitarist Tim Frank and vocalist Jess Lyons. The other members, guitarist Doug Waxman, bassist Ian Kelly Davis, drummer Matt Selby, sax player Tim K, and trombone player John D., are also stellar musicians who have a lot of fun onstage. The horn section was a show in itself; whenever they weren’t playing, these two guys were tearing around the stage doing silly dances and other comic antics.

Band Called Catch did mostly originals with an occasional cover tune like Ben Harper’s “Steal My Kisses” or Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.” Just as Dennis Florine brought down the house with a cover of Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” last year, Band Called Catch, with Lyons handling lead vocals, tore things up with their take on the Gnarls Barkley hit, “Crazy.”

The Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival continues tonight with the feature films A.L.F., a drama from France directed by Jérôme Lescure; and the American thriller I Am Bad, directed by David Rackoff, along with four shorter films. The festival runs tomorrow from noon until 4:30 PM, and then from 7:00 to about 11:30 PM. There wil be an Awards Brunch at Emmett’s Brewing Company on Sunday. See the BWiFF website for the full schedule.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

CD Review: Transvision Vamp - Little Magnets Versus The Bubble Of Babble


Before moving on to the review, here's a reminder that the Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival is currently running through July 29th at Cutting Hall in my home town of Palatine. Tonight’s featured films are Director Carlo Gennarelli’s documentary, Ordinary Joe; Sophia Kruz’s documentary Time Dances On; and Andrew Morris’s mockumentary/comedy Red Balls. The evening begins with three short clips: The Diet Situation; Like A Good Neighbor, and The Guy Who Lived In My Pool. Individual session (one night’s worth of films) tickets are $12. 

And now, a review of the Transvision Vamp CD, Little Magnets Versus The Bubble Of Babble, which I wrote for the Illinois Entertainer in 1991.

Lead vocalist Wendy James has made Transvision Vamp a hit by combining a glamorous blonde image with a street-wise attitude reminiscent of Lou Reed. Guitarist/chief songwriter Nick Christian Sayer has penned at least four Reed-influenced tracks on Little Magnets Versus The Bubble Of Babble, the best of which is “Aint No Rules.” James’s theatrical appeal is well suited to the song’s spare guitars and drums arrangement and loping bass line. 

The pulsating “Pressure Times” preaches rebellion in the face of incoming hassles from every angle, while the catchy first single, “(I Just Wanna) B With U” is catchy and seductive. “If Looks Could Kill” fails to catch fire, while the would-be slap at the media, “Don’t Believe The Hype.” fails to hit its target. James and her mates are a lot more fun on the 1960s style vamp, “Twangy Wigout” and the rollicking “You Put A Spell On Me.”

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

CD Review: The dB’s - Falling Off The Sky


The dB’s have been making the occasional new song available on their website for some time now, but Falling Off The Sky is the first official album with all four original members since Repercussion in 1981. Peter Holsapple, Gene Holder, Chris Stamey, and Will Rigby are all on board, along with power pop compatriot Mitch Easter, who helps out on guitar and with some of the production. Falling Off The Sky is filled with the band's distinctive harmoniess and legendary sense of melody. Not everything works, but there’s plenty of good material for fans to embrace.

All 12 tracks are well-crafted, but “Collide-oOo-Scope” and “She Won’t Drive in the Rain Anymore” are overly theatrical and run too long, while “I Didn’t Mean To Say That” feels a little generic. Stamey’s ambitious “The Adventures of Albatross and Doggerel” takes chances, but works, while Holsapple’s “That Time Is Gone” mixes social commentary with a hard-edged arrangement. Rigby’s twangy “Write Back” and Holsapple’s irresistible “World To Cry” stand as classic dB’s material.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival Returns


Photo from the Band Called Catch Facebook page.

The third annual Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival kicks off at Cutting Hall in Palatine tonight with a free concert by Band Called Catch. The six-piece group sounds a bit like Mumford and Sons, judging from the songs on its website, although the uniquely fun video, “When In Rome,” has a harder-edged alt rock feel. The concert starts at 8:00 PM tonight.

Hopefully, Band Called Catch, which has been around about four years and has recorded three CDs, will carry on in the tradition of Chris Petlak and Dennis Florine. Both of them put on impressive shows at last year’s free BWiFF kickoff party at Cutting Hall. Another highlight of the  2011 concert was the screening of some intriguing rock videos afterward. I have no idea if BWiFF is doing that this year, since there’s limited information on their website or Facebook page.

As for the Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival itself, this under-publicized six-day showcase looks like a blast for film buffs and anyone interested in below-the-radar entertainment. It only crossed my mind today because I was at the Palatine Public Library picking out Doctor Who DVDs, and stopped to inspect the local community related flyers by the entrance. There was nothing there about this year’s event, but I remembered seeing a BWiFF program there around this time in 2011. Plus, I vaguely recalled hearing an interesting band was performing this year.

Palatine needs more cultural events like the Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival, that not only entertain local residents but have the potential to attract visitors from Chicago and the neighboring suburbs. The entire list of this year’s films can be found on the BWiFF website.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Slumgullion


Singer-guitarist Phil Angotti is among the artists participating in the Third Annual Carlos Hernandez Gomez Tribute Concert And Fundraiser at the Uncle Fatty’s club in Chicago tomorrow night. The event will honor the late Carlos Hernandez Gomez, a respected local reporter, and an avid music fan who was a regular at The Fest For Beatles Fans in Chicago. Proceeds will benefit The Carlos Hernandez Award in Journalism at DePaul University; DePaul University’s Political Science Department; Carlos Hernandez Gomez Memorial Forum on Policy and Public Service; and Life Matters Media.

Angotti and members of The Why, a covers band created specifically for the event, provided a preview by performing a few songs on WGN News this past Monday. Other acts involved include British Invasion Tribute band, The Gear, and 1980s tribute band, System 80. The $20 admission includes a raffle ticket. There will also be a silent auction. 

Illinois Entertainer Editor Steve Forstneger announced earlier this week that he will be leaving his post after seven years, to pursue a career in real estate. I’d like to thank Steve for all the times he went out of his way to acquire CDs I had requested to review, and for arranging my interview with Graham Nash. Steve was the fifth IE Editor I’ve worked for, and they’ve all been top notch. Janine Schaults, who has worked as an editorial assistant at the publication, and has logged time at the Chicago Tribune and 101.1 FM radio, will be taking over for Steve.

Thrift Store Halo, the Chicago power pop trio that released the impressive World Gone Mad CD back in 1998, will be reunited as the opening act when The Zombies visit Viper Alley in Lincolnshire on July 31st. Original TSH members, lead singer-bassist Frank Gradishar, guitarist Brent Seatter, and drummer Scott Proce have been rehearsing for this dream gig (Gradishar is reportedly a huge Zombies fan), and according to Seatter, they may even come up with some new material. The trio also currently performs with vocalist Bridgette Grace in the cover band, Vinyl Answer.  

Artist Kimmy Om has found a way to turn acoustic guitars and skateboards into works of pop art by using woodburning tools. She’s currently looking for funding on Kickstarter to enable her to transform higher quality instruments that could be played by serious musicians. I believe I first saw her mentioned in a Facebook post from the Beatles tribute band Liverpool Legends, and Om has created a really cool looking Beatles portrait on a guitar.

Speaking of Liverpool Legends, the group has a CD of original material coming out soon. Fans can get a preview by checking out the song “Condescending” on SoundCloud. And yes, there’s a definite Fab Four influence.

Singer-bassist Mike Cohen has a ways to go before he’ll be in hundreds of bands, like fellow Chicagoan Dag Juhlin, but he does have a pretty hectic schedule. He’s performing tonight with Pop Dollys at Shark City in Glendale Heights, as the opening act for American Idol finalist Chris Medina. The band’s new single, “Kitten,” can be heard on its MySpace page. Cohen isn’t off base in describing the song as The Smithereens meet Cheap Trick.

Meanwhile, Cohen and singer-guitarist Jeff Janulis, who lead his other power pop outfit, The Abbeys, have fortified the line-up for their covers band side project, The Everly Hillbillies. They’ll be performing as a quintet tomorrow night at the picnic grove next to Chet’s Melody Lounge in Justice, at 7:30 PM. There are six other bands scheduled to perform.

Singer-guitarist Dag Juhlin, by the way, will be performing with Expo ‘76  next Wednesday at FitzGerald’s Nightclub in Berwyn in what the eclectic covers band calls “Our Ninth Annual July 25th Celebration!” They’ll be joined by the Total Pro Horns. I’m not sure what the significance of July 25th is, other than it’s my birthday.

The Right Tidys, The Collectors, Big Sur, and Fair Moan will also be celebrating my birthday, at Beat Kitchen on Belmont Avenue.

Time Out Chicago media columnist Robert Feder reported earlier this week that The Reader will be leaving its home on the corner of State and Illinois Streets and moving into the Chicago Sun-Times building. The Sun-Times parent company recently purchased the weekly free paper. I have fond memories of picking up an armload of Readers every Thursday at 11 East Illinois Street, and bringing them back to my co-workers at the graphic design firm where I met my future wife, Pam. Illinois Street is the location of a fictional weekly free paper in my some-day-to-be-published rock and roll novel.

Dublin-based artist Georgina Flood, who has done numerous eye-popping portraits of The Beatles, as well as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and other celebrities, has just been added to the roster of guests for Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago

For those of us who enjoy The Nerdist website, Chicago has something to offer with The Last Arcade website, which bills itself as, "Chicago’s Source For All That Is Geek." 

Chicago’s Mary-Arrchie Theatre is bringing its highly successful production of the Tracy Letts play, Superior Donuts to the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. There were performances on July 17th through 19th, and there will be three more on July 23rd through 26th.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

CD Review: River City Tanlines - Coast To Coast


As explosive as River City Tanlines can be on Coast To Coast, this latest CD from the Memphis-based trio also showcases lead vocalist-guitarist Alicja Trout’s gift for songwriting. Comprised of Trout and the powerful rhythm section of bassist Terrence Bishop and drummer John Bonds, River City Tanlines have released a number of CDs and vinyl records on various labels since 2004. Judging from some older clips on YouTube, it seems likely the band evolved from hardcore punk to a more balanced approach without losing a bit of its edge.

“Life used to be fun when I had no one,” Trout declares at the start of “Can’t Stand U Anymore,” a blistering farewell to a lover, and the trio also hits hard on “I Don’t Get It,” while adding a galloping rock-a-billy beat. “Stop My Heart,” has a fun girl group sound while exuding the DIY spirit of the early punk days. “Dark Matter” opens with four minutes of instrumental hard rock before cutting loose with Trout’s raw vocals and a high speed punk arrangement. River City Tanlines tap into garage rock on “Lights” and the down and dirty “Waiting For Nothing,” which borrows a bit from “Pushing Too Hard” by The Seeds.

River City Tanlines are having a record release party for Coast To Coast in Chicago on August 4th at Crown Liquors, 2821 N. Milwaukee Avenue. The time and ticket price have yet to be determined. 

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

CD Review: Big Hello - Orange Album


Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer in 2001. Brad Elvis and Chloe F. Orwell now perform with the band The Handcuffs.

Big Hello, the Chicago-based quartet that bills itself as 50% Girl/50% Boy, continues to marry mid-1960s pop with 1980s new wave on its Orange Album. Drummer Brad Elvis seems to have an endless supply of melodies, while singer Chloe F. Orwell and guitarist Johnny Million pitch in a few catchy tunes as well. As with the band’s 1998 Apple Album, much of the material focuses on relationships.

“Boys Can Be Dumb” exudes the pajama party frivolity that made 80s girl bands so much fun, while “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind” reaches back to The Beatles with a well-crafted mid-tempo arrangement. “Heather” and “In My Mind” are notable for the way Orwell combines with new bassist-back-up vocalist Melanie X for some Veruca Salt style harmonies. “In My Mind” is one of Brad Elvis’s more elaborate compositions, and he even manages to work in a reference to Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks.

“If You Don’t Stop Your Crying” turns a familiar parental threat into a high-speed punk song, while “Video Star pokes fun at the music biz. “Action Now” veers more toward hard rock by borrowing the riff from The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” Here’s hoping Big Hello continues to add to its fruit basket. 

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Concert Review: The English Beat/The Romantics


Photo from The Romantics official website.

The Romantics will be opening for Squeeze this Friday night at a free show at Coney Island in Brooklyn. Here’s a  review I did of The Romantics/English Beat concert at The House Of Blues in Chicago. It ran in the online Illinois Entertainer last month.

The English Beat and The Romantics wouldn’t be the first names to spring to mind when considering the most popular acts of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, but their recent double bill at The House of Blues in Chicago provided evidence of why the era was so much fun. Both acts had their moments in the spotlight back in the day, and each pioneered a sub-genre of cutting-edge rock. The English Beat arrived at the dawn of England’s ska revival, while The Romantics gave power pop a short-lived boost into the Top 40.

The current version of The English Beat, with Dave Wakeling as the only original member, eased into its set at The House Of Blues with “Rough Rider.” This amiable tune from I Just Can’t Stop It set the tone for a pleasant if not overly energetic performance brimming with Caribbean rhythms. The audience didn’t seem to mind, as it sang and danced throughout, and the group did occasionally turn up the heat on songs like “Twist & Crawl” and “Best Friend.”

Wakeling was in fine voice; hitting the high notes on “I Confess” and augmenting the beauty of the Andy Williams hit, “Can’t Get Used To Losing You” with some inspired scat singing. Antonee First Class, carrying on the Toaster role once held by Ranking Roger, joined Wakeling on harmony vocals and delivered a series of quick and funny raps between songs. He frequently gave props to Wakeling and reaffirmed the band’s mission of promoting racial harmony. Sax player Matt Morrish played a prominent role, especially on songs like “Save It For Later.”

There was also a rousing version of “Tenderness,” a song Wakeling originally did with the post English Beat band General Public, and a hardy mix of dub and funk on The Staples Singers’ “I’ll Take You There.” But it wasn’t until the end of their 90-minute-plus set that Wakeling and company really cut loose; delivering high-speed versions of “Ranking Full Stop” and “Mirror In The Bathroom” fueled by Morrish’s playing. Instead of an encore, the band members lingered a while on stage, chatting and shaking hands with audience members.

The Romantics preceded The English Beat with an hour-long set that explored the harder edges of power pop. With three original members, along with drummer Brad Elvis, who has been on board since 2004, the Detroit-based band performed like a well-tuned sports car. Guitarist-vocalist Mike Skill laced the songs “Stone Pony” and “Tomboy” with his energetic playing, and joined lead vocalist-guitarist Wally Palmar and bassist Rich Cole for some impeccable harmonies. Opening with “When I Look In Your Eyes” from its self-titled debut, the closest the band came to slowing down was on the seductive hit single, “Talking In Your Sleep.”

Palmar’s strong vocals and spirited harmonica playing led the way on catchy songs like “Rock You Up” and a cover of The Kinks’ “She’s Got Everything.” Brad Elvis, who also performs with the Chicago-based indie rock band The Handcuffs, kicked off “Friday At The Hideout (Judy Be Mine)” with some furious drumming. The Romantics picked up speed as the set progressed, culminating with a revved up “What I Like About You.” As the audience danced and shouted “Hey!” throughout, it was obvious that all those years of being played at weddings and on commercials has done little to diminish this classic power pop song’s appeal. 

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Squeeze Preview


Press photo from Squeeze’s official website.

First, a few words of congratulations to Phil Angotti, Eric Howell, Phil Levin, and Dann Morr for their appearance on WGN News this afternoon. The four musicians, performing under the name, The Why, played “Pleasant Valley Sunday” by The Monkees and “Handle With Care” by The Traveling Wilburys in order to promote the Third Annual Concert For Carlos being held this Saturday at Uncle Fatty’s in Lincoln Park. The event is a tribute to the late Carlos Hernandez Gomez, a respected local TV reporter as well as a musician and avid Beatles fan. There’s a $20 cover, and the benefit kicks off at 7:00 PM.  For more info, check out the Carlos Hernandez Gomez Tribute Concert And Fundraiser page on Facebook.

A few weeks back when I wrote a preview of The B-52’s and Squeeze’s July 6th concert in Chicago for the Illinois Entertainer, I mentioned that Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook were working on songs for a new Squeeze CD. I didn’t speculate on whether the concert would include any of them, because there was no mention of it on the band’s website. Now I can report that Squeeze is indeed introducing new material on this tour, and the songs are worthy of Difford and Tilbrook’s well-earned reputation.

Not only that, but fans can buy a copy of the four-song Arse About Face 2012 Demos CD at the concerts. A message on the nondescript jacket states Squeeze is reversing the usual practice of releasing demos long after the songs have appeared on an official CD. The band is, “putting the cart before the horse, so to speak, and sharing the process with you.” According to a tweet on SqueezeLiveBlog, Arse About Face is only being sold at certain dates on the current tour.

It’s a good investment in terms of quality as well as in limited quantity. “Tommy” has a fetching string arrangement (created via keyboards at the concerts) reminiscent of The Jam’s “Smithers-Jones,” and likewise offers a somber portrait of English working class life. In Squeeze’s song, the title character gets into an altercation with a black family when he’s out shopping for beer. After “shouting racist rubbish,” Tommy gets decked by the Dad. The sharp lyrics attribute Tommy’s ignorance to his being, “A wired and lonely person with no joy to call his own.”

The other three songs also highlight Difford and Tilbrook’s knack for clever wordplay and impeccable melodies. “Top Of The Form” exudes the raw energy of The Specials with its ska rhythms and twanging guitars. It’s a rebellious look back at the days of skipping school and watching Starsky & Hutch on TV instead. “Honey Trap,” a light and catchy look at a promiscuous school girl, sounds like vintage Squeeze, while “Who’s That” takes more of a playful Paul McCartney approach.

Hopefully, the fans who missed out on buying this enticing preview will be hearing these songs on an official Squeeze release in the near future.


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Friday, July 13, 2012

Slumgullion


Photo from the Secret Colours Facebook page.

Windy City Ribfest is being held in the Uptown area of Chicago this weekend, at the corner of Lawrence and Broadway. Psychedelic rockers Secret Colours perform at 3:30 tomorrow afternoon, and Smash Mouth plays later that same day at 8:30 PM.

Great power pop music and you can’t beat the price. The Romantics and Squeeze will be playing a double bill for a free show at Coney Island in Brooklyn on July 20th. I saw both bands at recent (separate) shows in Chicago, and they were in top form.

City Winery, which bills itself as Chicago’s first combination winery, event space, concert venue, and restaurant will kick off its operations at 1200 W. Randolph Street with a Preview Party to benefit Urban Gateways on August 11th. Some big names have already been booked for performances, including Dave Alvin from The Blasters on August 21st, Lindsey Buckingham on August 26th & 27th, The Yardbirds on September 5th, Suzanne Vega on September 8th, Matthew Sweet on September 20th and 21st, and Ian Hunter with Nick Tremulis on September 29th.

Phil Angotti and Green Circles will be performing the music of Small Faces at Quenchers Saloon on Chicago’s north side next Thursday, at 9:30 PM.

Colin Blunstone, who’ll be performing with The Zombies at Viper Alley in Lincolnshire on July 31st, and Mayne Stage in Chicago on August 1st, recently announced on Facebook that he’s putting the final touches on a new solo CD.

Back in the early 1990s, I was one of the first people to volunteer to write for Streetwise, a publication created to help the homeless. I covered music, restaurants, and theatre. I’ve haven’t written for the paper in years, but it’s nice to see its performing arts coverage is still vital. The most recent issue has profiles on the bands performing at Taste Of Chicago this week. So be sure to support those Streetwise vendors. 

The Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Sun-Times each did a feature on Metrospective, a collection of posters created for concerts at the Metro rock club over the past 30 years. Metrospective runs through August 3rd at the Inland Steel Building, 77 S. Dearborn in Chicago.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

CD Review: John Singer Sergeant - John Singer Sergeant (The Music And Songs Of John Dufilho)


Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

John Dufilho somehow found time to record his second solo effort while being part of three bands. Working under the name John Singer Sergeant on this self-titled effort, he plays all the instruments while a rotating cast of indie rock vocalists bring his whimsical lyrics to life. The 14-song collection, dubbed John Singer Sergeant (The Music And Songs Of John Dufilho)has the feel of a casual gathering of friends.

Robert Schneider, Dufilho’s band mate from Apples In Stereo, takes center stage on the energetic “Jinxed,” but Rhett Miller of Old 97s is underused on the minimalist “My Own Worst Critic.” Sir Earl Toon of Kook & The Gang makes the funky love song “Dizzy Joy” even more engaging. The slow but melodic “Normal Sounds Weird” features a duet by Chris Walla and Rachel Demy while Danette Dufilho and Lefty Gomez repeat the title of the mostly instrumental Peter Sellers homage, “Birdy Num Num.” Having numerous vocalists underscores the range of material on John Singer Sergeant, from Ben Kweller’s work on the jagged “Mountains, Oceans, Elephants,” to CJ Davis’s soothing delivery on the childlike “Kick Your Feet Up High (Kids Song).” 


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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

CD Review: King Of Prussia - Transmissions From The Grand Strand


Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

King Of Prussia has resurfaced in Chicago four years after impressing critics with its eccentric indie rock debut, Save The Scene. During the hiatus, founding member, singer-guitarist  Brandon Hanick toured Europe with an international collection of musicians, and wrote the mysterious songs that would become Transmissions From The Grand Strand. Some of those musicians contributed to this second CD, along with a mix of original members and a few newcomers.

Most of the new songs eschew indie rock for a baroque pop approach, and are romantic with a haunting or at least troubling undercurrent. Hanick’s lyrics are imaginative and poetic to the point that listeners might wonder if this is a concept album based on some noted literary work. “Oh Me,” which alludes to a forbidden love, and “The Ghost Of L’Estartit” are particularly lush and enticing.

Still, Transmissions From The Grand Strand might have sounded a little too similar over its 11 tracks, if not for the more indie rock “Your Graduating Hours” and “. . . For The Masters Said It So,” an exotic mix of acoustic guitar strumming and an echo-laden chorus of singers 

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hand-Picked Rock In Lincoln Park


Graphic form The Wanton Looks Facebook page.

A few weeks back, I noted that the afternoon line-up of bands scheduled for Sunday, July 8th at the Lincoln Park Arts & Music Fest looked like it could be sponsored by Broken Hearted Toy. The Wanton Looks, The Handcuffs, and Dot Dot Dot have all been given plugs here at various times. I dropped by the Fest, which was held on Racine between Fullerton and Webster this past Sunday, and if this had been a Broken Hearted Toy event, I would have been proud.

As long as I’m taking credit for musical talent that afternoon at the Lincoln Park Arts & Music Fest, I might as well claim the pleasant weather was my doing as well. It was perfect for checking out the vendors, sampling wine and cheese, and most of all, watching some bands. The Wanton Looks, four women who’ve been playing the Chicago club scene for a few years now, took the stage around 2:30 PM. Their melodic blend of garage, punk, and hard rock has been getting favorable press, but until Sunday, I had never seen them.

The Wanton Looks’ Sunday show lived up to the hype, with elements of L7 and Joan Jett woven into songs from their self-titled full-length debut. Lead-singer-bassist Traci Trouble has a raw, powerful voice, and she was joined by guitarists Inga Olson and Susie Q, and drummer Meg Thomas on backup vocals. Songs like “Get Thru To You” and “All Your Fault” were hard-hitting and energetic, while “Neverending” found the women working at a slower pace. “86 Me” was more on the power pop side, with an added bonus of some serious jamming at the end. If it were at all possible for local garage bands to have hit singles these days, The Wanton Looks would have a serious contender with the fun and catchy, “Electromagnetic Force.”

The Handcuffs had three CDs to draw from, dating back to their 2006 debut, Model For A Revolution. They could have gone back further since the husband and wife team of singer-guitarist Chloe F. Orwell and drummer Brad Elvis first worked together in Big Hello, and Elvis has an impressive resume that includes The Elvis Brothers and Screams. He also currently plays drums with The Romantics, and was with them when they shared a double bill with The English Beat at The House Of Blues in Chicago a few weeks back. Guitarist Ellis Clark brings a lot of experience to The Handcuffs as well, having played plenty of solo gigs, along with his time with Epicycle and Social Act. Bassist Emily Togni and keyboards player Alison Hinderliter also contribute to the band’s well-crafted and energetic indie rock.

On Sunday, the group opened with the Beatlesque “Miss You On Tuesday,” from its latest effort, Waiting For The Robot. They also tapped into that release for the glam rock of “Dirty Glitter” and “Vinyl Isabella,” the funk of “Ooh Baby Baby,” and the fun audience participation number, “Everybody Waves Hello.” “Kiss This Goodbye” packed the same cutting-edge venom as Blondie’s “Rip Her To Shreds.” Orwell was a charismatic front woman, delivering high-powered versions of Mickey 66” and “Jet Baby” from Model, as well as “I Just Wanna’ Be Free, Man,” and “Baby Boombox,” from the Electroluv CD. The Handcuffs finished with the appropriate and high-speed “One More Song.”

The coed band Dot Dot Dot followed (it was a good afternoon for women musicians), once again showcasing its ability to craft radio-friendly rock tunes like “Smile” and Just Dance that seldom come across as overly commercial. The single-named lead singer-guitarist Adam has a voice that sounds destined for hit singles, and while he really should cut back on instructing the audience to applaud after every number, he’s still an engaging performer. Dot Dot Dot includes guitarist-vocalist Rose and bassist-vocalist Little Lisa, both formerly of the eclectic cover band Catfight. They’re first rate musicians who can also handle lead vocals or join Adam on duets.

Anyone who missed Dot Dot Dot’s gig this past Sunday will have several more chances over the summer since Chicago recently passed a law stating that the band must play at every street festival in the city. Seriously, Dot Dot Dot has earned its dominance of the local outdoor performance scene through hard work, highly polished originals, and well-chosen covers. The band has three EPs for sale on its website 

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Hits In A Heatwave - The B-52’s & Squeeze In Concert


Photo from Squeeze's Facebook page. 

The B-52’s and Squeeze arrived for their outdoor double bill in Chicago on the final day of a heatwave that had inflicted 100º temperatures on the city for most of the week. By the 7:30 show time last Friday night, it was somewhere in the low 90s at the lakefront Charter One Pavilion on Northerly Island, but there were plenty of empty seats. Still, neither band was about to let low attendance or steamy weather affect its performance.

“Let’s Party!”vocalist Kate Pierson shouted at the start of The B-52’s set. The audience accepted her invitation, creating an immediate festive atmosphere. Pierson, vocalist Cindy Wilson, guitarist Keith Strickland, and vocalist Fred Schneider seemed ageless as they and their back-up musicians romped through songs like “Mesopotamia,” “Private Idaho,” and the weather-appropriate “Lava.”

When Schneider proclaimed that he and his band mates were visitors from the future, it was almost possible to believe him. He hasn’t lost a bit of sass as a frontman, particularly on “Party Out Of Bounds.” After a rollicking hour-long set that included “52 Girls,” “Roam,” and “Love Shack,” The B-52’s returned with the eerie sci-fi epic, “Planet Claire,” and the freewheeling “Rock Lobster” as their encores.

Squeeze had a tough act to follow, and at least a few avid B-52’s fans split after Schneider and company had finished. It’s hard to conceive of anyone taking a pass on seeing one of the best English bands of past 40 years, and it’s not like Squeeze drops by Chicago on a regular basis. Fortunately, Squeeze had its share of supporters at Charter One Pavilion, and they sprang to life as the group opened with “Take Me I’m Yours.” 

Founding members, guitarists-vocalists Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford created perfect harmonies, with occasional help from long-time member, bassist John Bentley, on early gems like “If I Didn’t Love You,” “In Quintessence,” and “Is That Love?” Keyboards player Stephen Large, and drummer Simon Hanson provided steady support. Tilbrook, sporting an elfin beard, handled most of the lead singing, with Difford taking over for the funny, working class lament, “Cool For Cats.” The band’s performance justified numerous years of critical acclaim, with spot-on versions of “Another Nail In My Heart” and the more recent “Melody Hotel.”

The concert also offered a preview of an upcoming Squeeze CD with newly-penned Tilbrook/Difford material. “Tommy” was a stinging portrait of a small-minded, lonely bigot set to a string arrangement reminiscent of The Jam’s “Smithers-Jones.” The guitar-driven “Top Of The Form” already feels like a Squeeze classic, with its ska rhythms and infectious melody. The band was selling a four-song CD, called Arse About Face 2012 Demos at a merchandise table just outside the seated area, and it bodes well for the next release from Squeeze.

Unfortunately, I had to leave before Squeeze was finished, in order to catch the last bus back into downtown Chicago. I could hear the strains of “Goodbye Girl” drifting across the museum campus as I boarded the #146. 

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Slumgullion


Looks like it’s going to be extremely hot in Chicago tonight for the Squeeze/B-52’s double bill at Charter One Pavilion on Northerly Island. Hopefully, the musicians and the audience will find some way to keep cool.

The weather is supposed to be a little less torrid on Sunday when The Wanton Looks, The Handcuffs, and Dot Dot Dot will be among the bands performing at the Lincoln Park Music and Art Fest

My review of the new Susanna Hoffs CD, Someday, can be found in the July issue of the Illinois Entertainer. I gave it a thumbs up, but couldn’t help but wish I could hear some of the songs, particularly “One Day,” without producer Mitchell Froom’s orchestrated backdrops. Hoffs has now made that possible by releasing the new five-song EP, Some Summer Days for free download on NoiseTrade. It has what she calls “Ragtag Versions” of “One Day,” “Raining,” and “Always Enough,” along with “Petite Chanson” and “Summer Daze,” which aren’t on the CD.

In just about two weeks, throngs of Doctor Who fans will travel to the city of Cardiff in Wales to immerse themselves in The Doctor Who Experience. The ambitious interactive exhibit will take place in close proximity to where the long-running English sci-fi series is currently being filmed. In addition to encountering The Doctor’s various intergalactic foes, and being able to check out costumes and props, visitors will get to enter a replica of The TARDIS. The Doctor Who Experience will run through 2017.

Dum Dum Girls recorded the low-fi but catchy “I Don’t Care” as the May theme song for Rookie Mag, an online publication for teenage girls. The four-woman band will be coming to Chicago for two shows in August; the Cubby Bear on the 4th, and then Lollapalooza on the 5th. Their Only In Dreams CD was one of my Top 10 picks for 2011. “Bedroom Eyes” in particular has an irresistible melody, and the official video is mesmerizing. 

Matt Dodge & The Lobsters, a young band that featured some melodic power pop on its debut, has just released a new EP called Rockerpreneur. All four songs sound promising, based on the previews on iTunes, with the rockabilly flavored “Number 2 A Word” being the most fun. Fans are being encouraged to give feedback on the Matt Dodge & The Lobsters website.

Chicago-based power pop band Aaron Fox and The Reliables is inviting fans to check out its newly upgraded website. They’ll be playing Pierogi Fest in Whiting, Indiana on July 28th.

Singer-guitarist Rick Hromadka from Maple Mars  has posted a preview reel on YouTube of Introducing Ruby Free, the upcoming CD he recorded with his wife, singer Lisa Cavaliere. Their debut CD is set to drop on July 31st on SodaStar Music. Looks like it could be an interesting project.

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