Monday, December 31, 2012

Countdown To Ignition - Top Releases Of 2012


NOTE: THERE’S STILL TIME TO SEND YOUR CREATIVE GOAL FOR 2013. MUSICIANS, ACTORS, AUTHORS, ARTISTS, AND ALL CREATIVE TYPES ARE INVITED TO SEND A ONE-SENTENCE DESCRIPTION. I’M GOING TO START POSTING THE RESPONSES TOMORROW.

Just like the old WLS Top 40, here's a list of some of my favorite releases of 2012. This year, I forced myself to come up with a ranking, rather than going with the usual “in no particular order,” although all of these releases have merit.

To make things easier, I separated the greatest hits and various artists compilations. Here are some noteworthy examples in those categories:

The Hollies  - Radio Fun
Shoes - 35 Years - The Definitive Shoes Collection 1977 - 2012 
The Plimsouls - Beach Town Confidential
Heart - Strange Euphoria 
George Harrison - Early Takes Vol. 1
Jonathan Rundman - Self Titled 
Various Artists - WXRT - Live From The Archives, Vol. 14
Various Artists  - Live From The Old Town School Of Folk Music 50th Anniversary

Now on to the actual list: 

1. Shoes - Ignition
2. Archie Powell And The Exports  - Great Ideas In Action
3. The Wes Hollywood Show - Fantasy Arcade
4. Magatha Trysty - Your Clothes Will Wear Themselves
5. Dot Dash - Winter Garden Light
6.  Mark Crozer And The Rels - Self-Titled
7. Stag - Self-Titled
8. The dB’s - Falling Off The Sky
9. Red Kross - Researching The Blues
10. The Wanton Looks  - Self-Titled
11. Pop Dollys - Aloud
12. Metric - Synthetica
13. Kaiser Chiefs - Start The Revolution Without Me
14. Melismatics - Mania!
15. Ken Stringfellow - Danzig In The Moonlight
16. Imelda May - More Mayhem
17. Dirty Ghosts - Metal Moon
18. The Mike Benign Compulsion - Martha
19.  Imperial Teen - Feel The Sound
20. Susanna Hoffs - Someday
21. River City Tanlines - Coast To Coast
22. The JAC - Faux Pas
23. Crushed Out - Want To Give
24. Hugh Hart - Idolizer
25. Tame Impala - Lonerism
26. Ruby Free - Introducing Ruby Free 
27. Coal Porters - Find The One
28. Ice Choir - Afar
29. King Of Prussia - Transmissions From The Grand Strand
30. Big Deal - Lights Out 
31. The Luck Of Eden Hall - Butterfly Revolutions, Vol. 2
32. Star And Micey - I Can’t Wait
33. Eux Autres - Sun Is Sunk
34. The Candy Stripers ¡contenidos caliente!
35. Red Plastic Buddha - All Out Revolution
36. Braam Brothers - Hail Violet
37. Go Time! - Boneshaker
38. The Viaducts - Mission To Destroy
39. Whitewolfsonicprincess - 10 + 1
40. JIP - Sparks, Flames & Names


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Friday, December 28, 2012

Slumgullion


As I mentioned here yesterday, the 8th Annual Alex Chilton Birthday Bash is being held tonight at The Empty Bottle on Western Avenue. Organizer Larry O. Dean has lined up Azita, Certain Stars, Liam Davis And The Contestants, Go Time, The Grand Prix Michael Heaton, High Energy Physics, Peter Joly, Letterbomb, Puritan Pine, Sunken Sugar, Urban Twang, and Welcome To Ashley to join his band  The Injured Parties in this tribute to one of the legends of power pop and rock.

Penthouse Sweets have a record release party for It’s Fine It’s Fine It’s Fine coming up next Friday at Schubas. Judging from a quick sampling of the guitar-driven and melodic songs on their Bandcamp page, this could be a successful release for them. Two other worthy bands, The Safes and The Warm Ones, are also on the bill.

Following up on the sad news that Miles Austrevich has passed away, here’s a reminder that the visitation will take place tomorrow, December 29, 2012, from 12pm - 5pm, at Cooney Funeral Home. Miles was the courageous young man who inspired the Jokes4Miles campaign. The funeral home is located at 3918 West Irving Park Road. In lieu of flowers, visitors are being asked to make donations, in memory of Miles, to Children's Oncology Services, Inc. (COSI), at 213 West Institute Place, Chicago, IL 60610, 312-924-4220, or online. There will also be a Miles Austrevich Memorial next Saturday, January 5th, at the Museum Of Contemporary Art, starting at 4:00 PM. The museum is located at 220 East Chicago Avenue. 

Tributosaurus returns to The Copernicus Center Theater on Chicago’s northwest side on Friday, January 18th. The critically acclaimed tribute band (they’ve covered everyone from Crosby, Stills and Nash to Michael Jackson) will be performing the entire Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour albums, backed by a 30-piece orchestra. Tickets are $35, $40, or $45, depending on seating; and are available through the Copernicus Center Theater website. Five dollars from every ticket will benefit The Betty Hemmert Music Scholarship Fund At Rock For Kids. 

People eager to see Mary-Arrchie Theatre’s current production of The Glass Menagerie after reading the rave review by critic Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune could be out of luck. According to a post on the theatre’s Facebook page, every show has sold out through closing night, January 20th. Congratulations to ensemble member Hans Fleishmann, who directs the show and plays the character, Tom. This follows on the heels of another Mary-Arrchie success, Superior Donuts, which  runs through December 31st at the Royal George Theatre.

What’s the postal code for Gallifrey? The Nerdist website, always a reliable source for all things Doctor Who, recently reported that the long-running British sci-fi show will soon be honored by a set of commemorative stamps from the Royal Mail in the United Kingdom. Each of the 11 versions of The Doctor, from William Hartnell to Matt Smith, will get his own stamp. Just slap one on an envelope and watch it zip off into another time and dimension.

I usually don’t pay much attention to Comics Carousel, the competition the Chicago Tribune has been running for some time now. The idea is to pit one strip against another, and let readers vote on which one they like best. But I feel the need to offer a few consoling words to artist Donna A. Lewis, whose Reply All strip was recently trounced by reigning champion,  Dogs Of C-Kennel, by a margin of 5,786 to 360. Much of the reason Tribune readers rejected Reply All is probably due to its minimalist, occasionally jarring visual style. I was put off by it myself, but grew to like the content, which is a sort of alternative take on Cathy or the Mary Tyler Moore Show sitcom. It was a breath of fresh air when stale humor so often hangs over the comics page like a cloud of an old vaudeville performer’s cigar smoke. So don’t take the loss too hard, Ms. Lewis. Some of us in Chicago appreciate what youre trying to do. 

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

EP Review: Star And Micey - I Can’t Wait


If you live near downtown Chicago, you might still have time to catch Phil Angotti, Charlie Short, Jonah Knaut, Peter Storms, and Dolan McMillan performing The Who’s Quadrophenia and The Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet tonight at Reggie’s Music Joint on State Street. 

The 8th Annual Alex Chilton Birthday Bash takes place tomorrow night at The Empty Bottle on Western Avenue. Organizer Larry O. Dean has lined up Azita, Certain Stars, Liam Davis And The Contestants, Go Time, The Grand Prix Michael Heaton, High Energy Physics, Peter Joly, Letterbomb, Puritan Pine, Sunken Sugar, Urban Twang, and Welcome To Ashley to join his band The Injured Parties in this tribute to one of the legends of power pop and rock.

And now on to the review:

The name sounds like an MTV cartoon series, but Star And Micey is actually a three-piece band from Memphis, TN with a knack for eclectic indie rock. I Can’t Wait, the second effort from acoustic guitarist-vocalist Joshua Cosby, bassist-vocalist Geoff Smith, and electric guitarist-vocalist Nick Redmond, covers a lot of ground on its four tracks, starting with the melancholy but engaging “No Pets Allowed.”

Producer Dennis Herring (Elvis Costello, Modest Mouse) reportedly wanted to capture how these guys sounds live, and on the foot-stomping “Love,” it feels like they’re out on your front porch. The song is an appealing jumble of tempos and instruments, including some violin playing by Memphis Symphony Orchestra member Jessie Munson. Cosby, Smith, and Redmond weave angelic harmonies for the easy-going “Soul Stormin,” which features Herring on guitar. The quirky title track would be a perfect fit for alternative rock stations, alongside the likes of Luminaires, Of Monsters And Men, and Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros. 

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Farewell, Miles


I recently received the sad news that Miles Austrevich has passed away. Miles was the young man whose courageous battle against four separate bouts of brain cancer inspired his father, Len, to launch the Jokes4Miles campaign. Len Austrevich, a veteran stand-up comic and comedy writer, was determined to get 5,000 people to videotape themselves telling a joke to cheer up his son. Miles would watch the clips while undergoing hours of painful and monotonous therapy.

Len started a website; staged events around Chicago and other cities; and enlisted the help of corporate executives, news anchors, and celebrities. Musicians, college sororities and fraternaties, and school children joined in the fun. But I’m sure Len would agree it was the determination, cheerful demeanor, and thoughtfulness of Miles that touched people like Bill Murray, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Will Arnett, Jay Leno, Diane Sawyer, Jonathan Brandmeier, Jamie Masada, Mai Martinez, and Mike Toomey.

As Jokes4Miles gained momentum, Miles insisted that it reach out to other kids who shared his illness. He participated in telethons and became a charismatic spokesman for fundraising, even as he weathered incredible pain and crushing setbacks in his treatment. I had the honor of meeting Miles at some events and strategy meetings. He was always quick to smile and extend his hand. It’s safe to say that most of the people he encountered came away with a changed outlook on life.

Visitation for Miles Austrevich will take place on Saturday, December 29, 2012, from 12pm-5pm, at Cooney Funeral Home, 3918 West Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL 60618, 773-588-5850. In lieu of flowers, visitors are being asked to make donations, in memory of Miles, to Children's Oncology Services, Inc. (COSI), at 213 West Institute Place, Chicago, IL 60610, 312-924-4220, or online

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Yuletunes


Best Holiday Wishes to all my readers at Broken Hearted Toy.

Here’s a review I’ve done in three separate posts in past, but decided to run together in an edited form this year. 

NOTE: If you’re looking for a new power pop compilation, check out Song For Sandy Hook Vol. 2. 100% of the profits go to help the Danbury Hospital in Coinnecticutt. Thanks to Herb Eimerman for sharing the link on Facebook. 

Released in 1991 on Shoes’ Black Vinyl label, Yuletunes was an ambitious collection of original Christmas songs created by various power pop artists, mostly from the Midwest. Matthew Sweet, who contributed the reverent “Baby Jesus,” and Marti Jones and Don Dixon, who created a joyous duet on “Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday,” were the biggest names involved.

“This Christmas” by Shoes is a catchy rock song with a monster drum beat and chiming guitars, as the band’s lush harmony vocals deliver the optimistic advice, “Things will get better./Doesn’t seem like it now, but they always do.” Material Issue’s “Merry Christmas Will Do” features Jim Ellison’s rugged guitar playing, and as a vocalist, he’s a master at selling the pain of unrequited love. “You don’t have to say you love me, I know that that’s not true,” Ellison concedes. “But Merry Christmas will do.” The Idea, fronted by vocalist-guitarist Phil Angotti, contribute the fetching “It’s About That Time,” which describes winter scenes, church bell, carols, and watching It’s A Wonderful Life. It goes on to note that the holiday season seems like the only time of the year when “we all have a lot of love to share.”

The single-named Leroy checks in with “Santa Stole My Baby,” a mid-tempo song that sets up a crime scene with clever clues like, “footsteps on the rooftop.” The slinky guitar playing underscores the sexy fun of lyrics like, “She makes him cookies./She calls him Chris./Gets everything double on her Christmas list.” “The Saddest Time Of The Year” comes from Spooner, the Wisconsin-based band that included lead vocalist-guitarist Duke Erikson and drummer Butch Vig long before they formed Garbage with dynamic Scottish chanteuse, Shirley Manson. The haunting arrangement, and Erikson’s guitar playing in particular, make this reflection on disappointment and loneliness at Christmas even more touching. The Cavedogs mixed comedy with catchy pop music on “3 Wise Men And A Baby (Xmas Song),” a funny and ambitious epic that begins with a sound bite of Burl Ives’ talking snowman from Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. About halfway through, the guitar-driven song abruptly shifts into a lounge act reminiscent of the bit Bill Murray used to do on Saturday Night Live.

The Spongetones describe a tranquil paradise with their acoustic-based, innocent fantasy “Christmasland,” which combines a delicate melody and intricately layered vocals. “A God Of My Own” by the 92 Degrees evokes the British Invasion while taking a complex look at religious beliefs during what is undoubtedly the most commercial time of the year. Songs don’t come much happier than Bill Lloyd’s “Underneath The Christmas Tree,” which depicts a guy and his girlfriend sharing an evening of holiday decorating. Set to a catchy arrangement, it sounds like it could have been a 1960s Top 40 hit.

Kelly Ryan is inconsolable on the ballad, “It’s Not Christmas,” as she spends the holiday alone “for the first time in years.” It’s not clear why her longtime beau is no longer there, but a reference to her looking longingly at the phone suggests there’s hope for a reconciliation. Singer-guitarist Herb Eimerman’s gorgeous ballad “You Gave Me” celebrates family traditions at Christmas, as well as the way love and values are passed on from one generation to another. The lyrics take listeners to a holiday gathering at the parents’ home where children and grandchildren bask in “the love from this fine house.” Eimerman tells his Mom and Dad, “I learned all my love from all your love you gave me.” The Critics uncork an irresistible energy on their romantic “She Feels Like Christmas Day.” It’s the one song on this memorable collection that could conceivably be played at any time of year.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas CD Review:The JAC - I See Things Differently

I posted this week’s Slumgullion much earlier today. Here’s a new review of a holiday CD.

Singer-multi-instrumentalist Joe Algeri has been recording Christmas songs for over 10 years, and he's collected some of his favorites on I See Things Differently. Now known as The JAC, he has an obvious love of 1960s pop as well as an offbeat sense of humor. The JAC not only takes a different view of Christmas than most people, he offers an alternative perspective on nearly every track.

His approach is subversive on “Going Down,” somber on “Yuletide Heroin Blues,” and fun on "Surfin' Santa." He even sounds reverent on the delicately pretty “Sweet Baby Jesus.” The humor doesn't always click. “Santa, All I Want (Is Cindy Brady)” and “I Saw Santa With A Gun” sound strained. Still, the CD is a showcase for The JAC's studio expertise (particularly the gorgeous layers of vocals) and knack for creating inviting melodies. The energetic title track and “Stockholm Christmas” are particularly impressive.

The JAC adds two bonus tracks, and they're both gems. “Chris Hillman Christmas,” recorded by his international trio The Britannicas, is a ringing tribute to The Byrds, and “The Basement,” created by one Algeri's other groups, Green Beetles, sets holiday/romantic nostalgia to a blast of power pop. Whether working alone, or with other musicians, The JAC fill his Santa's bag with enough goodies to make I See Things Differently worthwhile. 

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Slumgullion


First, I'd like to wish the happiest of birthdays to my lovely wife, Pam. Even though this historic event falls nigh to Christmas, I've never let it get lost amidst the holiday celebrating. As I've said before, I wouldn't be able to do this blog without her amazing technical knowledge. One of Pam's all-time favorite songs is "Mas Que Nada"  by Sergio Mendes And Brasil 66. So, here’s to you, Sweetie. Happy Birthday! 

Looks like we survived the Mayan doomsday. Here’s a  video of The Hollies performing an appropriate song for the occasion. 

The long and winding road will lead Liverpool Legends back to their original home state of Illinois tomorrow night when the Beatles tribute band performs at City Limits in Schaumburg. It's a release party with members Kevin Mantegna, Marty Scott, and Bob Dobro performing acoustic versions of original songs from the group's It Is What It Isn't CD. Liverpool Legends has been playing Branson, MO for a few years now. Show time is 10:00 PM.

Just a reminder that I'm looking for people to send me a one-sentence description of their creative plans for 2013. I'll post as many as I can here on January 1st. So far, the response has been overwhelming. Well, I got two emails. Hopefully, more are on the way.

 I'm looking forward to Not Fade Away, a new film from Sopranos creator David Chase, that opens next Friday, December 28th. It's being billed as a rock and roll love story inspired by 1960s music. The soundtrack features songs by The Rolling Stones, Small Faces, and other 1960s artists.

Deepest sympathies go out to veteran guitarist and studio musician Joe Jammer, whose mother Faye Wright, recently passed away.

Wish I could make this show: There’s a double bill featuring psychedelic rockers Tomorrow The Moon and power pop masters Pezband coming up at FitzGerald’s on January 4th. Hopefully, they’ll schedule some more dates together.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Monkees At Chicago Theatre


Photo from The Monkees Facebook page.

Note: This review previously appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

One of the first of many nostalgic images that flashed across a big screen at the Chicago Theatre during the sold-out performance by The Monkees last Friday night showed the band decked out in top hats and tails. It drew a huge round of applause and foreshadowed an evening of good-time, almost old-fashioned entertainment. Original members Michael Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz, and Peter Tork, backed by a seven-piece band, journeyed deep into an eclectic catalog of  mid-1960’s material. Anyone who came with only a knowledge of the group’s biggest hits was likely left feeling stunned. But in a good way.

Still dismissed in some circles as actors who pretended to be musicians on a sit-com, The Monkees started writing their own material while the TV series was on the air but didn’t hit their creative stride until LPs like Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.. The current 12-date tour, which reportedly was already being planned before the death of Davy Jones, gives the surviving members an opportunity to showcase just how inventive and talented The Monkees can be. It helps that all three have vibrant voices, and they pretty much play the same quirky roles that made their TV show an instant  success in 1966. Dolenz and Tork exude a childlike energy while the more reserved Nesmith prefers a droll approach.

Audience members at the Chicago Theatre could be forgiven for casting a wary eye on Nesmith, who has always seemed to be the most reluctant Monkee to participate in reunions. He has occasionally performed with his mates over the years, but this is his first actual tour with them in quite some time. Fortunately, he seemed in good spirits, even during some technical difficulty with his guitar. There was a good chemistry among the three stars, starting with the opening number, “Last Train To Clarksville.” The band immediately switched to the more obscure LP tracks, “Papa Gene’s Blues,” a country-flavored song that featured Nesmith on lead vocals; and “Your Auntie Grizelda,” which found Tork delivering the silly lyrics while strutting around like a Broadway performer.

From then on, it was an almost equal mix of hits like “She,” “I’m A Believer,” and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” with lesser known fare like “Sweet Young Thing” and “You Just May Be The One.” Dolenz was particularly impressive on the Gospel-flavored workout, “Goin’ Down” and very British sounding rave-up, “Randy Scouse Git.” On several occasions, the live performance was augmented by eye-popping footage on the big screen, particularly during psychedelic selections like “Porpoise Song” and “Can You Dig It” from the band’s 1968 avant garde movie, Head.

The Nesmith-penned “Daily Nightly” from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. (believed to be the first rock song to feature a Moog synthesizer) showed these guys haven’t lost their touch for clowning around. Dolenz introduced it as a song, “That has never been performed before . . . and rightfully so” while adding that the lyrics were completely incomprehensible. Nesmith explained Moog synthesizers were too expensive and cumbersome to take on tour, and then vocally tried to recreate the instrument’s unique sounds. Dolenz, who was singing lead, was barely able to keep from laughing.

There were well-crafted video interludes honoring Davy Jones at various times, but the most touching tribute came toward the end of the concert, when the audience was invited to provide the vocals for “Daydream Believer” and overwhelmingly obliged. It proved to be the defining moment on an evening when The Monkees had been able to reconnect with some of their most loyal fans.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Carl Wayne - “White Christmas”


The Justice Collective’s version of  The Hollies “He Aint Heavy He’s My Brother,” a British charity single featuring Paul McCartney, Tony Hicks and Bobby Elliott of The Hollies, and several other well-known musicians, is now available for pre-order from Amazon.

Here’s a Post From Christmas Past, featuring another member of The Hollies.

Back in the year 2000, Carl Wayne took over for Allan Clarke as the lead vocalist for The Hollies. Although the band hadn’t released an album since 1983, it still toured extensively throughout Europe. Considering that Clarke had one of the more distinctive voices in rock, whoever replaced him would be facing a huge challenge. Wayne never attempted to imitate his predecessor. As a founding member of the highly regarded English band The Move, as well as a veteran of the stage, he had the confidence to be himself. In the four years he performed with The Hollies before passing away from throat cancer, he established himself as “the people’s Hollie” - - a performer who loved interacting with fans and bringing them closer to their favorite band.

In 2003, Wayne collaborated with the German synth due et cetera on a CD with three versions of the classic holiday song, “White Christmas.” The disc was made available through Wayne’s website, and fans could choose between an English language version or a German language version. The singer autographed each copy with a gold ink pen. The “True Feelings Mix” and the “Radio Mix” have slower, keyboards-based arrangements that showcase Wayne’s deep, soulful vocals. They’re nice, but perhaps a little too mainstream for a power pop fan’s taste. The “Swing Mix,” which features horns, finds Wayne taking a more peppy approach, and it’s a lot of fun.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

What’s The Big Idea?


Dave Clark Five collectors card.

My wife Pam and I were making rather merry at our friend Desiree’s annual Dezziwig bash this past Saturday night. Desiree’s a member of the Famous In The Future comedy group, which I helped start in 1989 and left in 2009. Each year around Christmas, she invites friends and family to drop by for food, drinks, games, a puppet show, and a special holiday guest. This time it was Susie Snowflake from the vintage cartoon we all used to watch on the Garfield Goose TV show.

It’s nice to hang out and hear what my former fellow FIF members are up to since they really are a multi-talented bunch. Some of the other guests were musicians, filmmakers, journalists, and theatre people. Which made me think even more about an idea I’ve had kicking around in my head for a few weeks.

I’d like people to send a short, one-sentence message to my blog describing what creative plans or goals they have for 2013. Recording a CD; finishing or publishing a novel; staging a performance; doing stand-up or improv, etc. This is open to the biggest celebrities as well as the rest of us who have yet to find our way to prime time. It has to involve the arts; not a vow to lose weight, clean the gutters, or be a better person. Those would be worthwhile achievements, but they’re not ones I’m concerned with here at BHT.

So, drop me a line at brokenheartedtoy@gmail.com, or if we’re Facebook friends, you can send it as a message. I’m hoping to run a whole bunch of entries on New Year’s Day. If nobody responds, which is entirely possible, I’ll just create some based on social and mainstream media. Or, I could make stuff up.

And now, a bit of last minute shopping advice for all those rock and roll fans on your Christmas list. Check out the local antique store. Earlier on Saturday, Pam and I went to the Oakton Street Antique Centre in Elk Grove, IL. The Dave Clark Five photo shown above was part of a series of collectors cards honoring 1950s crooners and 1960s bands. The store also had Beatles picture sleeve 45s, vintage LPs, and a framed display of platinum records for a recording artist whose name I can’t remember at the moment. There was also a collection of porcelain pigs wearing bikini bottoms, but in this sort of treasure hunt, you take the bad with the good.  

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Slumgullion


Photo from Plastiscines Facebook page.

Over the years, several bands have fumbled an attempt to create a holiday message for their fans. Too often, they try to mimic the free-form approach pioneered by The Beatles, which results in annoying antics and cornball attempts at humor. So it's refreshing to find French garage rockers The Plastiscines come up with a short, fun clip that features them performing an acoustic version of "Santa Baby." The song has never been one of my favorites, but this version is charming. The clip can be seen on the band’s Facebook page.

Just a reminder: Paul McCartney is on Saturday Night Live tomorrow night, along with guest host Martin Short.

Anyone who has seen the Beatles tribute band Liverpool perform at a Fest For Beatles Fans convention knows that Glen Burtnik is a talented musician and singer. He’ll be playing a Back To The 80s show at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, NY on December 22nd.

Magatha Trysty has filmed a video for “Want To Stay,” one of the many good songs from its full-length debut, Your Clothes Will Wear Themselves. The clip includes footage from the band’s show at The Abbey Pub.

Congratulations to The Wanton Looks and Shoes on being among Chicago Tribune rock critic Greg Kot’s ten Best Local Indie Releases of 2012. Also in today’s Trib, writer Ellen Jean Hirst offered profiles on Ralph Covert and Robbie Fulks.

Anyone who thinks Doctor Who has become too risqué since returning to the BBC for the 9th,10th and 11th generations might want to steer clear of Gorilla Tango Theatre in Chicago. Julia Borcherts reported in this past Wednesday’s issue of Redeye that group has a show called Don’t Blink: A ‘Dr. Who’ Burlesque planned for February through April. Various versions of The Doctor and his companions will be featured. And I'll bet those Weeping Angels could do a mean striptease.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Time With Chris Stamey And Friends


Another Post Of Christmas Past.

Back in 1993, the release of a holiday album featuring The dBs and Big Star had visions of catchy songs dancing in the heads of power pop fans. Christmas Time by Chris Stamey And Friends not only delivered the gifts, it had the feel of an old-fashioned variety show. The performers were talented, fun, and at times, even devout.

Host Chris Stamey, a founding member of The dB’s, kicked things off with the catchy “Christmas Time.” Stamey also teamed up with vocalist-guitarist Wes Lachot for the wistful “Christmas Is The Only Time (I Think Of You)” and joined vocalist-keyboards player Cathy Harrington on the high-charged romance of “You’re What I Want For Christmas.” Harrington also entertained with her own festive song, “Sha La La.”

Big Star, the band most power pop musicians cite as a major influence, checked in with an original rocking hymn called “Jesus Christ,” and founder Alex Chilton offered a positively cozy acoustic version of “The Christmas Song.” Vocalist-guitarist Peter Holsapple of The dB’s (and later a touring member of R.E.M.) served up a simple but beautiful “O Holy Night” while acoustic guitarist Brent Lambert’s “Silent Nocturne” was an instrumental take on  “Silent Night.” Brent Lambert and Kirsten Lambert performed a low-key but engaging “Silver Bells,” and singer Syd Straw handed out holiday puns with her rendition of “(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear.”

The dB’s sounded like they were having a blast during the recording of this CD, especially on the high-speed “Holiday Spirit” and a totally loopy take on “Feliz Navidad.” In 2006, an expanded version, called Christmas Time Again was released, with additional tracks from Don Dixon, Marshall Crenshaw, and other artists.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Susanna Hoffs Live At City Winery


Photo of Susanna Hoffs and Andrew Brassell from Susanna Hoffs official website.

Note: This review previously appeared in the Illinois Entertainer

As she took the stage for her concert at City Winery this past Tuesday night, Susanna Hoffs  announced that her drummer and bassist hadn’t been able to make the trip to Chicago. She did have Andrew Brassell, the 27-year old indie rock guitarist who co-wrote a number of 1960s flavored songs with Hoffs for her recent Someday solo effort. Joined by a third musician playing small percussion instruments, Hoffs and Brassell created an almost unplugged vibe. The approach gave even the more slick material from the Mitchell Froom-produced Someday a compelling edge.

Still, trying to adjust to half her back-up band being MIA threw Hoffs a bit off her game, as did her decision to play acoustic guitar for more than half the show. The singer-guitarist’s self-depreciating humor and flirtatious manner kept the election night crowd on her side through the occasional restart and mishap, and even when an energetic “In Your Room” went completely off the rails. Otherwise, Hoffs was in fine voice as she performed songs from her new CD; a fair amount of Bangles hits; and an eclectic selection of cover tunes.

Hoffs almost performed as much music by other artists as when she and Matthew Sweet played the Old Town School of Folk Music in support of their Under The Covers CDs a few years back. At City Winery, she served up stirring versions of Little Feat’s “Willing,” Linda Ronstadt’s “Different Drum,” The Beatles’ “All I’ve Got To Do,” and Jackie DeShannon’s “When You Walk In The Room.” These vintage choices gave an indication of the music that has influenced Hoffs’s own songwriting throughout her career.

She took questions from the audience between songs, such as why she had added a snippet of “1999” while singing “Manic Monday” that night. The answer: The two Prince-penned compositions are strikingly similar and that she had always wanted to combine them at a Bangles show. After performing “Hazy Shade Of Winter,” Hoffs shared a memory of first hearing the Simon & Garfunkel hit while working at a dreary job as a teenager, and immediately knowing it would be perfect for The Bangles.

The most enthusiastic audience responses at City Winery came for the popular Bangles hits, including a delicate “Eternal Flame,” revved-up “Walk Like An Egyptian,” and “Hero Takes A Fall,” which ended in an extended jam between Hoffs and Brassell. The new stuff from Someday, particularly the breezy “Picture Me” and catchy revenge song “One Day,” were also well-received. Hoffs performed for close to 90 minutes, and returned for an acoustic take on “September Gurls,” the Alex Chilton classic covered by The Bangles early on in their career. With that band still going strong, and her solo work doing well, it was easy to see why Hoffs noted a few times that night how lucky she felt to be still doing what she loved for 30 years.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Break Out The Heart-Shaped Balloons


Photo of Ann Wilson by Roger Johnson for The Prairie Sun.

The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame announced its 2013 Inductees earlier today, and I was happy to see that Heart was among them. The other artists being honored are Albert King, Randy Newman, Public Enemy, Rush, and Donna Summer. The induction ceremony will take place on April 18th, 2012 in Los Angeles. According to the official RRHF website, this will mark the first time the event will not take place on the organization's home turf of Cleveland.

I still recall how friendly and professional Ann Wilson was when I interviewed her and Howard Leese for a paper called Metro Entertainment Calendar backstage at the Alpine Valley venue in Wisconsin after a Heart concert in 1979. Leese was quite agreeable as well. Someone had brought in one of the red, heart-shaped Mylar balloons that vendors were selling. I think this type of balloon was fairly new back then, because Wilson seemed fascinated with it.

Years later, I read in Ann and Nancy Wilson's book, Kicking & Dreaming, about often they were turned off by banal and sexist coverage by the media. I’d like to think my article based our chat at Alpine Valley proved to be a shining exception, but that’s not quite the case. Metro Entertainment Calendar went under before my article could run, but our enterprising staff photographer, Roger Johnson, hooked me up with The Prairie Sun. I dug out my copy today and was dismayed to read lines like, “Ann and Nancy Wilson have got to be the dream girls of a thousand American men” and “’Crazy On You’ featured an acoustic guitar introduction by the lovely Nancy Wilson.”  What can I say, I was only 12. Or wrote like it. 

But I did get some good quotes from Wilson, like this one about the balance of hard rock and more intimate ballads in Heart’s music. “I don’t want to be just in a boogie band or just a folk rock band. It’s more fun to be diverse. I hold The Beatles as my main idols. They always changed. They had a million faces.”

So congratulations to Ann and Nancy Wilson, the lovely Howard Leese, and the numerous musicians that have kept Heart beating all these years. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction is a well-deserved honor. 

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Monday, December 10, 2012

CD Review: ONXRT Live From The Archives Vol. 14


Arriving at the tail end of WXRT’s 40th year of broadcasting progressive/alternative rock, Live From The Archives Vol. 14 underscores the symbiotic relationship the Chicago station has with the artists it plays. It takes a fair amount of legal effort and benevolence on the part of musicians and their labels to put this charity CD together, which is why it’s only available in a limited quantity. Each of the 13 performances were broadcast exclusively by XRT over the past few years; more than half are from 2012.

As on past volumes of this series, the songs that were recorded at the radio station's studio sound the most unique. Who can forget the stellar “Senses Working Overtime/Grass/Love On A Farmboy’s Wages” medley from Vol. 1? “California” by Delta Spirit, “I Think I’m Paranoid” by Garbage, “What You Know” by Two Door Cinema Club, and “Parted Ways” by Heartless Bastards all have an intimate, acoustic vibe. “Simple Song” by The Shins is similar, although it was recorded at the Elbo Room. Delta Rae’s “Down By The River,”another in studio recording, mixes gospel vocals and a tribal beat.

There are also more energetic performances from XRT-sponsored concerts at venues around town. Arcade Fire’s “We Used To Wait,” Wilco’s “I Might,” and The Wallflowers’ “One Headlight” are all standout tracks. Proceeds from the sales of  Live From The Archives Vol. 14 help the Rock For Kids  and Sarah’s Circle charities. Better move fast if you want a copy. According to the station’s on air personalities, almost half the copies have already been sold in the first week.

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saturday Slumgullion

Photo from Chris Hardwick Facebook page.

I’m out of my sick bed and back at the keyboard. Here are some entertainment bits, as well as a Cherish The Ladies concert review.
 
The Smithereens will be playing their own holiday songs, as well as classics from Chuck Berry, The Kinks, The Beatles,and The Ramones tomorrow night at Infinity Hall in Norfolk, NJ. They also have a New Years Eve gig at The Strand Theater in Lakewood, NJ.

 
Fleetwood Mac has announced plans for a major tour in 2013. Maybe they were inspired by Dolly Varden’s tribute to them at Martyrs’ this past Halloween weekend.

 
Chris Hardwick, superhero/founder of the very cool website The Nerdist will be spending some time in the Chicago area. He has shows at Zanies in Old Town on December 13th and 14th, and a pair of shows at Zanies in Rosemont on the 15th. Expect some clever insight into Doctor Who, sci-fi flicks, cult TV, and entertainment in general.

 
Paul McCartney will be the musical guest for Saturday Night Live’s December 15th show, with guest host Martin Short. Maybe Sir Paul will do a bit as Ed Grimley’s twin brother. 

 
Little Steven VanZandt, actor/musician/radio host is once again holding his annual best songs of the year survey. Listeners can vote for what they think is The Coolest Song In The World 2012 the via his syndicated radio program Underground Garage website. Some of the more noteworthy songs in contention include “Stay Away From Downtown” by Redd Kross, “You’re My Brian Jones” by Palmyra Delran, “I’m Shakin’” by Jack White, and “I Woke Up” by Trolley. 


Thirsty Whale, a popular hard rock club in Des Plaines from the late 1970s through the 90s, has another reunion in the works. This one will take place on the weekend of March 22nd-24th, 2013 at the Des Plaines Theatre. Bands looking to participate can contact Tony Shark at Tony.Shark@ymail.com.

The Des Plaines Theatre has been home to a wide range of entertainment, from foreign films to comedy nights. Lately, it has moved more toward hard rock. Trans Infinity Orchestra will be doing its tribute to Trans Siberian Orchestra on December 14th, and a trio of tribute bands, (Beggars Banquet, Hot Rocks and Tumblin Dice) will help celebrate Keith Richards’ birthday on December 15th. The venue is also looking to start showing cult favorite Rocky Horror Picture Show on a regular basis in 2013.
 
And now, a  review of the recent Cherish The Ladies concert in Chicago:

 
Cherish The Ladies  brought some vintage holiday fun to The Old Town School Of Folk Music this past Thursday night with their Celtic Christmas Party. At one point, flute-pennywhistle player Joannie Madden described how her family would celebrate Christmas by inviting friends over to sing carols and play instruments. Throughout the Old Town show, Cherish The Ladies recreated that festive spirit. Madden, who along with guitarist Mary Coogan, is one of the group’s founding members, always adds funny and homespun reflections to any CTL concert. The two veterans blend perfectly with newer members accordion player Mirella Murray, pianist Kathleen Boyle, and fiddle player Grainne Murphy.


Guest vocalist Don Stiffe, a singer-songwriter from Ireland, pitched in with a mix of traditional Christmas fare as well as some of his own material. A big, good-natured guy who laughed at Madden’s occasional teasing, Stiffe brought a definite taste of the Emerald Isle to the concert. At one point he noted that it was his first visit to Chicago. A coed quartet of award-winning step dancers also kept things lively, and when an additional guest vocalist (sorry, I didn’t catch his name) and musicians Liz Carrol, Pauline Conneely, and accordion player Jimmy Keane joined Cherish The Ladies on “Rise Up Shepherd” for a rousing finale, it was like being at Old Fezziwig’s shindig in A Christmas Carol. Here’s a video of a performance of “Rise Up Shepherd”  from a concert in 2010.

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