Friday, September 15, 2017


Photo from the Official Smthereens Facebook page.

A hearty welcome to all who have come to Chicago for Riot Fest this weekend. It’s probably the city’s last major outdoor rock festival of 2017, and one that still enjoys a good deal of cred among true indie rock fans. This year’s lineup includes New Order; X; The Cribs; Buzzcocks; The Regrettes; and The Orwells. You can find loads of information on the various acts performing in today’s Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, as well as in the Redeye and Reader free papers. Innerview magazine devoted an entire issue to Riot Fest, but there may not be any copies still around. And, as revealed in a article by Ed Blair in this week’s Reader, Riot Fest has its own online magazine. You’ll find the link at the top of the official website. 

On a related note, the Buzzcocks have an Official Riot Fest Late Night Show at The Cobra Lounge at 235 N. Ashland tomorrow night. Doors open at 10:00 p.m.; the music starts at 11:00.

EXPO Chicago opened at Navy Pier earlier this week and will run through Sunday. This is the sixth year for the international art event, and over 3,500 artists and 135 galleries will be involved. In addition to art and sculpture, there will panel discussions, films, and videos.

There will be a double dose of high-energy power pop at The Arcada in St. Charles tomorrow night when Cliff Johnson and The Raine open for The Smithereens. Johnson was the lead vocalist and driving force of Off Broadway, a Chicago-based band whose debut On remains a classic of the genre to this day. Off Broadway enjoyed several successful years on the club scene, but Johnson is now backed by The Raine, who also got their start in the 80s. I saw The Smithereens not too long ago in Schaumburg and they’re a top-notch live act. In addition to their own hits like “Blood And Roses” and “Behind The Wall Of Sleep,” they cover The Beatles and The Who. 

West Loop Art Fest is back for its third year but has a new location. It’s now on Fulton Street, from Morgan to Racine. Over 120 artists will be showcasing their work, and there will also be live entertainment and food trucks.

Tickets are now on sale for a concert by The Posies on January 31, 2018 at City Winery Chicago. In the less distant future, Fastball will be playing that same venue on October 8 of this year.

Congratulations to Park West on its 40th Anniversary. The Lincoln Park venue took out a back page ad for this week’s Reader, listing some of the artists it has hosted over the years, and it’s quite impressive. Ringo Starr And His All Starr Band; Adele; Talking Heads; R.E.M.; U2; Patti Smith; INXS; B.B.King; Prince; Carly Simon; Bob Dylan; Stray Cats; Mavis Staples; The B-52’s; The Jam; The Strokes; OMD; Tina Turner; Roy Orbison; Iggy Pop; Steve Winwood; Tom Waits; Liam Gallagher; Genesis; The Go-Go’s; The Police; Todd Rundgren; The Pretenders; The Psychedelic Furs; Frank Zappa; and Cheap Trick make up less than half of the list. Some first-rate acts I’ve seen at Park West that weren’t included in the ad are The Smithereens; Matthew Sweet, Fountains Of Wayne; Jon Auer; Graham Nash; Material Reissue; Let’s Active; and Aimee Mann.

Sons Of The Silent Age, a highly polished David Bowie tribute band that comprises veterans of the Chicago rock scene, has a gig coming next Friday, September 22 at Wire in Berwyn. New, a tribute a tribute act honoring the 1970s German electronic rock outfit Neu!, will also be on the bill.

Sunshine Boys, the recently formed trio of Freda Love Smith, Jacqueline Schimmel, and Dag Juhlin, will be performing at Daly Barn on Saturday, September 30 in the Lincoln Square neighborhood. Utah Carol will also be on the bill; music starts at 7:30. This is the first official headlining show for Sunshine Boys, although they did an impressive short set of politically charged, energetic tunes as part of the Power Pop Shoppe Showcase at Elbo Room a while back.

Martyrs’ on Lincoln Avenue has an eclectic four-act event coming up on October 7 with the sci-fi, high energy music of Tomorrow The Moon, the catchy, coed indie rock of The Handcuffs, the rockabilly sound of The Amazing Heeby Jeebies, and the hard rock/punk of Samson The Aviator. The show starts at 8:30 p.m.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Power Pop Showcases

Photo from the Official Shoes Facebook page.

When The Smithereens play The Arcada this Saturday night with opening act Cliff Johnson and The Raine, it will the second power pop showcase at the St. Charles venue in the past two months. Also coming up, WNUR radio personality Kirk Fox will host his second Power Pop Shoppe Showcase on October 20 at the Elbo Room on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. The Bishops’ Daredevil Stunt Club, The Addisons, The Peeves, and The Mark Watson Band will be performing.

In that vein, here’s a long overdue look at the August 11 triple bill of Pezband, Shoes, and Dwight Twilley at The Arcada.

Some bands hate being labeled as power pop, believing it suggests a lack of originality or confines them to a bygone era. The kiss of death in terms of marketing. Other acts, as well as their fans, see power pop as a simple equation: melody + energy = fun music. To be sure, its main inspiration comes from the mid-1960s, but in the right hands, power pop holds up as well as any current type of music.

A recent event at The Arcada Theatre in St. Charles featured three bands that have been flying the power pop banner for decades and are still among the genre’s most vital practitioners. The Chicago-based Pezband performed “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “Please Be Somewhere Tonight,” and “Close Your Eyes” from a 1977 self-titled debut that helped put power pop on the map. Vocalist-guitarist Mimi Betinis, bassist John Pazdan and drummer Mick Rain also rocked through the melodic gems “Stop, Wait A Minute,” and “Lovesmith.” It was a pleasant surprise to see Betinis cutting loose on guitar on a number of songs.

After opening with the hard-driving and sensual “Animal Attraction” from their 2012 Ignition album, Shoes proved they’ve lost none of their pop instincts. The band’s set list stretched back to “Okay” from their self-released Black Vinyl Shoes in 1977 to the exquisite “Heaven Help Me” and the swaggering fun of “Hot Mess” from Ignition. Other highlights included “Too Late” and “Tomorrow Night” from their Elektra debut Present Tense, “Burned Out Love” from Tongue Twister, and the dreamy “Summer Rain.” Their final encore was a blistering take on “I Don’t Miss You."

Dwight Twilley is best known for the hits “I’m On Fire” and “Boys,” and his knack for melodic and energetic songs has influenced several musicians. He also worked extensively with Tom Petty for a while. At The Arcada, he was joined by special guest Ron Flynt from 20/20, the Los Angeles-based band that created power pop gems like “Remember The Lightning.” Twilley has an amiable, funny stage presence, and he spun interesting tales between catchy tunes like “Some People Have All The Luck” and Playing With Fire.” He brought this evening of classic power pop to a rousing finale with an extended performance of “Girls.”


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Morning Line - Smoke

The Morning Line returns after an absence of eight years, with singer-songwriter Stephen Smith still at the helm. The seven tracks on the San Francisco-based quartet’s recently released Smoke EP reflect Smith’s background on the indie rock scene in bands like Salem 66 and Green Magnet School. There’s also a hint of Americana music running through this series of emotionally charged tales set to exquisite melodies.

The mostly acoustic “Last One Of The Losers” works fine in a literal sense, but it’s also possible that Smith intends this detailed portrait of a club owner shutting down his business as a metaphor for a relationship that’s run its course. The mid-tempo “Stars To Me” likewise has a symbolic feel to it, but there’s no mistaking the barbed observations of big city life in “Los Angeles.” It’s also probably the only song with a reference to working at the since departed Tower Records.

“Only Game In Town,” an energetic tune reminiscent of Gin Blossoms, gives us a guy who’s fed up with his unpredictable girlfriend, her relatives, and the boring people who live in the area. “Anybody Else” and “All Mine” also brim with negative sentiments, but The Morning Line gives them irresistible, power pop-meets-Americana arrangements. Smoke is available for download on the group’s Bandcamp site, which is where you can also buy a limited edition version on cassette.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Keepers Of The Multicolored Flame

Photo of The Red Plastic Buddha by Lee Klawans.

After the first two bands performed at the Kaleidoscope Eye Festival Of Modern Psychedelia this past Saturday night, it was apparent that psychedelic rock is not strictly a baby boomers’ fascination. Diagonal and White Shape both comprise young musicians fully immersed in the genre. White Shape even organizes a psych rock festival in its hometown of Rockford, IL.

Created by Tim Ferguson from The Red Plastic Buddha; Gregory Curvey from The Luck Of Eden Hall, and journalist/photographer Lee Klawans, Kaleidoscope Eye brought 15 bands from around the country to the LiveWire Lounge on Chicago’s north side. Seven bands, including The Luck Of Eden Hall, played on Friday night, and eight performed on Saturday. I’m not sure if Ferguson has run an event like this before, but during the three-plus hours I was at LiveWire Saturday, he took to the role quite naturally. In addition to introducing each act, he helped move gear off and on the stage after each set ended.

A playlist of psychedelic music ranging from 1960s acts like Count Five to current practitioners kept the vibe going between live performances. Each band benefited from imaginative lighting and swirling visuals crafted by the same tech duo that provided first-rate sound quality throughout the evening. A merchandise table sold CDs, posters, and t-shirts of the various groups involved, and there was a sense of community in seeing so many of the musicians hanging out before and after their shows.

Diagonal, led by charismatic lead vocalist Andy Ryan, was equally proficient at crafting atmospheric dreamscapes and high energy numbers. White Shape singer-keyboards player Kayla Hall’s haunting vocals were woven into hypnotic arrangements and the band would also break loose with some hard-hitting instrumentation. Constantine, which has a longtime loyal following on the midwest club scene, dressed in flower power inspired outfits, and their well-crafted arrangements evoked Traffic by tapping into elements of jazz.

The Red Plastic Buddha once again proved it’s capable of recreating the adventurous songs vocalist-bassist Tim Ferguson composed for their albums. Guitarist Derik Kendall fueled each number but all the band members played with precision and power. They opened with “She’s An Alien” from the Songs For Mara album and followed with a number of freewheeling, psychedelic songs. I couldn’t stay for the the sets by The Orange Pop, Magic Castles, Warhorses, and Sisters Of Your Sunshine Vapor, but it’s a safe bet they carried on in mind-bending fashion.


Friday, September 8, 2017


It was a pleasant surprise when WXRT air personality Johnny Mars introduced a new song by U2 the other day. The melodic “You’re The Best Thing About Me” will be on a new album titled Songs Of Experience due out in December. WXRT’s morning DJ Lin Brehmer did a short telephone interview with U2 frontman Bono that can be heard on the station’s website. Brehmer was decidedly NOT among those whining about how evil U2 was to deliver a free album a few years back.

Best wishes to Bruce Brodeen as he retires from his online music store Pop Geek Heaven. Brodeen previously ran the the critically acclaimed and influential Not Lame record label. International Pop Overthrow founder David Bash recently posted a tribute to Brodeen on Facebook, noting, “I hope nobody ever forgets his contributions to the pop scene, which were beyond invaluable.”

By the way, congratulations and best wishes to David Bash and Rina Bardfield on their upcoming marriage. I wonder if they’ll have six bands at their reception, each playing a half hour set.

Kaleidoscope Eye Festival Of Modern Psychedelia continues tomorrow night with eight bands at the Live Wire club. Diagonal kicks things off at 7:00 p.m., and will be followed by White Shape; Constantine; The Red Plastic Buddha; The Orange Drop; Magic Castles; Warhorses; and Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor. Live Wire is located at 3394 N. Milwaukee.

Chicago Fringe Fest finishes up its 2017 run this weekend in Jefferson Park. Those interested in attending will need to buy an admission button for $5.00 (only one is needed for the entire festival), as well as a $10.00 ticket for each show.

UK band The Chemistry Set has created an eye-popping, politically charged video  for “Rubicon,” one of the three impressive songs on its new single on the Fruits de Mer vinyl-only label. The other two tracks are the eccentric and funny “Lovely Cuppa Tea” and a rousing cover of The Moody Blues’ “Legend Of A Mind.”

Riot Fest returns to Chicago for three days at Douglas Park next weekend. Participating acts include New Order; X; The Cribs; Buzzcocks; The Regrettes; Paramore, and The Orwells. The Buzzcocks will also be at Cobra Lounge on September 16, and The Orwells have a gig at House Of Blues on September 14.

Martyrs’ on Lincoln Avenue has an eclectic four-act event coming up on October 7 with the sci-fi, high energy music of Tomorrow The Moon, the catchy, coed indie rock of The Handcuffs, the rockabilly sound of The Amazing Heeby Jeebies, and the hard rock/punk of Samson The Aviator. The show starts at 8:30 p.m.

Cliff Johnson and The Raine will be the opening act when power pop masters The Smithereens return to The Arcada in St. Charles next Saturday, September 16.

My wife Pam and I met several fun and interesting people at The Windy Kitty Cat Cafe And Lounge’s fundraising event last Saturday night. Chris Poole, whose Facebook page featuring his cats Cole and Marmalade is gaining popularity, was there for the entire event, chatting with just about all of the guests. He reminds me of Arthur Darvill of Doctor Who and Legends of Tomorrow, but maybe it’s just the English accent. Once it officially opens, The Windy Kitty Cafe and Lounge will give people an opportunity to enjoy beverages while visiting with up to 10 cats available for adoption.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Eye Opening

The Luck Of Eden Hall in a particularly mind-bending moment on stage.

The very first Kaleidoscope Eye Festival Of Modern Psychedelia kicks off at 5:00 p.m. tomorrow at Live Wire in Chicago. Tim Ferguson from local band The Red Plastic Buddha, Gregory Curvey from the Detroit-based psychedelic rock band The Luck Of Eden Hall, and writer/photographer Lee Klawans have enlisted 15 bands from around the country to perform tomorrow and Saturday. In addition to The Red Plastic Buddha and The Luck Of Eden Hall, the schedule includes Soft Candy; Magic Castles; The Orange Drop; Brujas del Sol; Constantine; White Shape; Friends Of Dennis Wilson; Junkee Girl; Warhorses; Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor; Heaven’s Gateway Drugs; Diagonal; and Aethereal.

The Kaleidoscope Eye Festival website  has profiles of most of the acts, along with ticket info and merchandise. Live Wire is located at 3394 N. Milwaukee. WXRT air personality Richard Milne mentioned Kaleidoscope Eye on his Local Anesthetic program last Sunday night, and played the tripped-out and fun “She’s An Alien” from The Red Plastic Buddha’s Songs For Mara album.

Also, Chicago Fringe Fest picks up where it left off last weekend, filling the Jefferson Park neighborhood with avant grade performances at venues like The Gift Theatre; Windy City Music Blackbox Studio; Jefferson Playhouse; and The Congregational Church. A $5.00 admission button is needed to navigate the festival, and there’s a $10.00 ticket for each show.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Colman Gota - Fear The Summer

Fear The Summer, Colman Gota’s followup to last year’s impressive Tape album, once again finds the Madrid-based multi-instrumentalist delivering catchy, guitar-driven songs about navigating life and relationships. In my July 5, 2016 review of Tape, I noted Gota’s acerbic observations are reminiscent of Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, and that holds true for this new collection. The consistently fun arrangements, which also feature a variety of keyboards, fall somewhere between pub rock and power pop.

Gota’s conversational vocal style is well suited to the material, particularly when he addresses an ex-lover on the rollicking “Can I Get It Back” by singing, “I want my life back, if you happen to have it.” The energetic “Never Lie” has Gota contemplating, “Sometimes you wonder what’s on people’s minds, but if I think about it, I’d rather not know.” The title track flips the usual equation of summer with romance by giving us a guy who dreads the season because it brings back memories of a busted relationship.

Gota exudes a restless spirit throughout Fear The Summer; whether he’s rallying against robotic complacency on “Someday, I’ll Get It Right” or just being himself on “What You Want Me To Be.” There’s a satiric edge to “Make A Stand” and “One Mistake,” and Gota even throws in a torch song with “For A Reason.”

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