Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Some Dreams Come True

Photo from Bangles website.

Hard Rock Cafes and Hotels around the globe will celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Pinktober by holding concerts and parties throughout October. Their goal is to raise money for The Caron Keating Foundation, The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and other breast cancer awareness organizations. You can also help the cause by purchasing selected items at www.hardrock.com/promo/pinktober09. The website provides an extensive rundown of the upcoming Pinktober events.

The Bangles got things off to an early start with a September 24th concert at the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando. Band members Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson, and Debbi Peterson can also be seen online modeling comfy-looking Pinktober robes, which, along with a guitar-shaped Pinktober pin, are part of the extensive line of merchandise for sale.

Photo from Vedera MySpace page.

The Chicago Hard Rock Cafe will present Vedera, an indie rock quartet fronted by vocalist-guitarist Kristen May, on October 6th, and sell raffle tickets for a pink Vespa throughout the month. The raffle takes place on the 31st. Vedera (check www.myspace.com/vedera for details) also has Pinktober gigs scheduled at Hard Rock Cafes in Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Minneapolis.

Pinktober will have a regal finale in London’s Royal Albert Hall on November 1st with a Women Of Rock concert that includes Joss Stone, Melanie C, and Bananarama.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I’ve Got My Foot On The Accelerator

Photos by Pam Minch (Click to see larger image.)

The 2nd Annual Zimmer Classic Cup Car Show, sponsored by Zimmer’s Hardware in honor of its 125 years of being in business, was held recently in Palatine. Since promoting special events is a lost art in this sleepy northwest suburb, residents could be forgiven for not knowing there had been a 1st Annual Zimmer Classic Cup Car Show. Nevertheless, the competition drew a good sized crowd to marvel at antique and muscle cars with their hoods open to display powerful, gleaming engines.

The DJ played 1960s music from The Byrds, The Beatles, The Monkees, The Hollies, Paul Revere & The Raiders, and Jimi Hendrix, but the most appropriate songs came from earlier acts like The Beach Boys and Jan & Dean. That was the era when rock songs were almost as likely to be about cruising in a Stingray, Jaguar, or GTO as finding the perfect romance. The fun and freedom that comes with driving would continue to be celebrated over the decades, via artists like Bruce Springsteen, ZZ Top, Commander Cody, and Tracy Chapman. Even the one-hit new wave band Pearl Harbour & The Explosions got in on the act, joyously singing, “I’ve got my foot on the accelerator” on “Drivin’.”

This year’s Zimmer Classic featured Mustangs, Camaros, Galaxie 500s, and Fairlanes sporting vibrant colors, which caused my wife Pam to lament the unimaginative palette used for today’s mainstream cars. (Our white Neon literally pales by comparison.) I was drawn to a 1968 VW Camper infused with flower power by owners Bill and Jenni Casale, and a 1971 VW Karmann Ghia that owner David Howard said once belonged to actor Ricky Schroeder. “I kind of manned it up a bit,” Howard explained, describing the new two-tone color scheme. He also plans to replace the headlights. But the really cool thing is the way he imaginatively decked out the car with rock and roll decals of Pink Floyd, The Who, and The Beatles, and other bands. And check out that Beach Boys license plate.

I might have voted for the Karmann Ghia as the best car in the Zimmer Classic Cup, but an official explained that only the car owners are eligible to cast a ballot. For me, David Howard has found a great way to commemorate the long-time, loving relationship between cars and rock and roll.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

CD Review: Tomorrow The Moon - He Saw Red

Photo from Tomorrow The Moon’s MySpace page.

When Bad Examples guitarist Steve Gerlach decided to embark on a side project, he chose a rocket ship as his mode of transportation. He Saw Red, the five song debut from Tomorrow The Moon, offers a futuristic sound forged from Gerlach’s ringing guitar and Jim Dinou’s adventurous synthesizers. Bassist Ryan Nelson and drummer John Carpender add to the fun. The band was impressive in a live performance at this year’s International Pop Overthrow in Chicago.

At times, the music on He Saw Red has a 1980s feel that sounds like an updated, slightly rougher version of The Cars. Gerlach, who mainly sings harmonies behind Ralph Covert in the Bad Examples, proves he can be a strong lead vocalist, whether it’s on the dramatic “French Goodbye” or on the lighter, melodic pop of “Paperweight.” The catchy “Accounts Deceivable” has the feel of classic rock, and the driving beat of the title track twists through rapid tempo changes as Tomorrow The Moon tosses in voice samples and assorted sci fi effects. The epic “Sane?” gets He Saw Red off to a low key start, but its spacey atmosphere sets the stage for the songs that follow.

Tomorrow The Moon will perform an entire set of music by the Psychedelic Furs as part of an intriguing Halloween weekend at the end of October. Several local acts will impersonate famous rock bands at The Abbey Pub on Chicago’s northwest side. Stay tuned for details. Check out Tomorrow The Moon’s MySpace page at www.myspace.com/tomorrowthemoon

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's A Long, Long Road ...

Hollies illustration by Pam Minch

Finally! The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has taken the first step toward honoring The Hollies. The British Invasion group was among 12 nominees recently announced for induction in 2010. It’s not a done deal; only five of the dozen acts will actually make the cut, and The Hollies will have to overcome the misconception that they were strictly a Top 40 singles band.

A lot of solid material could be found on The Hollies’ albums throughout their career, including tracks like the exotic “Tell Me To My Face,” the delicately beautiful “Butterfly,” the ambitious mini rock opera “Confessions Of A Mind,” the melodic pop of “To Do With Love,” and the harder-edged “Won’t You Feel Good That Morning.” The band’s three-part harmonies and infectious melodies continue to set the standard for power pop bands to this day. The Hollies were second only to The Beatles in terms of hit songs in the U.K.

The Hollies gave us one third of Crosby, Stills, & Nash, who have already taken their place in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. When I interviewed Graham Nash for the Illinois Entertainer last January, he agreed The Hollies should be there as well. “It infuriates me when I think of the lack of respect for The Hollies,” he said. “They were very influential in the ‘60s and part of the British Invasion. It would be great to induct them.”

If The Hollies are inducted, there may be a logistics problem in terms of getting all the past and current members on stage. Of course, Graham Nash should be there, as well as former lead vocalist Allan Clarke, and Terry Sylvester, who replaced Nash back in 1969. Mikael Rikfors, who filled in for Clarke for a few years in the early 1970s, should also be considered. Some mention should be made of the late Carl Wayne, who replaced Clarke in 2000. Wayne, who got his start with The Move, was a kind-hearted performer who strived to bring The Hollies closer to their fans. (And I have an autographed program to prove it.) But should they reach all the way back to the earliest days for bassist Eric Haydock and drummer Don Rathbone? The Hollies continue to record and tour to this day, although guitarist Tony Hicks and drummer Bobby Elliott are the only original members. Still, some of the current band members have been in The Hollies for a longer period than Nash. Who knows? Let’s just hope that come next year, there’ll be a huge Hollies reunion going on at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

CD Review: The Valley Downs - Behemoth E.P.

Photo from The Valley Downs website.

Aside from their annual performance each April when International Pop Overthrow touches down in the Windy City, we just don’t see or hear enough from The Valley Downs. Led by vocalist/guitarist Marianne Shimkus and her husband vocalist/bassist Mike Galassini, the Chicago-based quartet’s catchy power pop is certainly worthy of wider exposure. It’s been a while since The Valley Downs’ debut, the Behemoth E.P. was released, but it’s worth revisiting while we wait for a follow-up.

“Better” is an optimistic mid-tempo number that sounds remarkably like The Bangles as Shimkus sings of the power of love and support. She uses a tougher vocal approach for the social satire of “Drama Queen,” declaring, “I’m gonna rule the world just for you” and “Everything I do, you’re gonna do too.” The more energetic “Sorry” deals with leaving a relationship, and Shimkus channels Deborah Harry on the hard-edged and sexy “Twister.” Galassini, who got his start with the power pop trio 92 Degrees and still performs with them on occasion, brings his bass playing to the forefront throughout the E.P., and joins Shimkus on harmonies.

Hopefully, the band will release a full-length effort in the near future. Their MySpace page, at www.myspace.com/thevalleydowns, offers a professional video of a new song, “Play For You” as well as live performance videos, and a photo montage of the The Valley Downs’ visit to Liverpool (for an IPO performance) set to their version of The Beatles’ “For No One.”

Monday, September 21, 2009

Meeting Of The Minds

When WXRT morning disk jockey Lin Brehmer announced that Little Steven Van Zandt, guitarist for Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band and host of the syndicated Underground Garage radio show, would be dropping by the station Monday morning, most listeners probably expected a five minute interview. Surprisingly, Van Zandt and Brehmer chatted, joked, and played classic garage rock songs, including ones by Paul Revere and The Raiders and Tinted Windows, for an hour. If Van Zandt was tired from being onstage for a three hour, high energy performance at the United Center the night before, he showed no signs. He talked about watching Dick Clark’s Where The Action Is TV show as a kid, as well as the troubled state of current rock’n’roll.

Van Zandt, whose Underground Garage show airs on WXRT each Sunday night, recalled the days when rock music was meant to make people dance and bands honed their skills by performing cover songs before moving on to original material. Even The Beatles worked that way, he insisted. On their current tour, which showcases Born To Run in its entirety, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band go back to their bar band roots by taking audience requests to perform other groups’ material. Van Zandt confessed it can be a challenge to whip up those songs on the spot.

A self-proclaimed keeper of the flame, Van Zandt feels too many bands today lack the necessary fire. Still, he’s no crabby elder statesman lost in the past. Through his radio show, he promotes new acts like The Urges and The Cocktail Slippers alongside classic artists like The Rolling Stones and The Ronnettes. He champions female bands from any era. He’s also launched the ambitious interactive website Fuzztopia where fans as well as bands can promote and present music. Van Zandt explained the site is still a work in progress.

His philosophy meshes well with WXRT’s "Past, Present, Future" ad campaign. Years ago, the station took a huge risk by including punk and new wave songs on its playlist, along with the progressive rock favorites listeners had grown to love. That gamble has made WXRT stronger. Today, Van Zandt and Brehmer came across as kindred souls who love rock music and are determined to keep its fire burning. 

Friday, September 18, 2009

Doctor Doctor

Photos from the Doctor Who website

The cover of a recent issue of the U.K. publication Doctor Who Magazine proclaimed exciting news for Anglophiles and sci-fi fans: Tom Baker will once again play the time and space traveling, universe-saving alien known as the Doctor. Alas, his performance won’t be one we’ll see on TV or in a movie. Baker is reprising his most famous role for a BBC Audio Series called The Hornets’ Nest.

Still, the interview (the first he’s granted the mag in 12 years) is funny and informative, and should delight anyone who loved the actor’s charismatic work on the cult series back in the 1970s. Baker’s was the fourth, and for many, the best incarnation of the Doctor; a character a friend of mine once described as “the coolest guy in the universe.” Flashing a toothy grin in the faces of terrifying villains, the Doctor used his wits to thwart their diabolical plots. Doctor Who could be a violent show, but its hero always sought peaceful solutions. Describing his take on the Doctor, Baker tells Doctor Who Magazine, “I prefer a kind of benevolent lunacy . . . because I’m an alien.” 

Now 75, Baker seems to dismiss the specter of old age with the same irreverence he used on Daleks and Cybermen. He gets a kick out of fans who approach him with photos they took with him when they were children. “Well, it amuses me no end, when I’m looking at a bald, middle-aged man who’s worn out with domesticity, then there he is in the picture, sitting on my knee. But it’s all about the happy memories, isn’t it?”

Baker is well aware of the current buzz surrounding actor David Tennant ‘s work as the tenth incarnation of the Doctor. Tennant seems to be having a blast, and his winning mix of strength, compassion, and youthful looks have placed him in several publications’ most popular or sexiest male entertainer polls. (To me, he looks like a cross between John Lennon and Elvis Costello, but that might be because I always thought Lennon would have been a great choice to play the Doctor.) In a 2006 Doctor Who Magazine reader survey, Tennant replaced the usually unbeatable Baker in the Best Doctor category. But Baker is not about to be mastered by the green monster of envy. “We all owe David Tennant a great debt,” he says in the recent DWM, “because, with his style and brio, he has revitalised the whole thing!”

There are similarities in the way Baker and Tennant handle the role, but one major difference is that Tennant’s Doctor had a romantic connection with his female companion, Rose Tyler while Baker worked in a more innocent era. “We didn’t think of that,” Baker recalls, looking back on companions like Leela and Sarah Jane Smith. “So, for my part, I played the Doctor without any sexuality at all.”

Just as Tom Baker eventually left Doctor Who, Tennant will wrap up his tenure this year. Each actor will always be remembered as the coolest guy in the universe.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Celtic Fest Chicago

Photo from Navan Website

Even if you don’t have tickets to see U2 at Soldier Field, you can still experience a blast of great Irish music on the weekend of September 12-13 by checking out Celtic Fest Chicago, which will be celebrating its13th anniversary in Grant Park. This year’s event offers big names like Gaelic Storm and Leahy at the Petrillo Music Shell; lesser known but entertaining acts from around the world on the smaller stages; roaming bagpipe bands; and a variety of dance troupes. Visitors will also find plenty of food and beverage options, as well as vendors selling art, jewelry, and clothing.

The best thing about Celtic Fest Chicago for any music fan is the opportunity to discover a new favorite band, and the Next Generation Tent is a great place to do that. It’s an inspirational showcase of talented young musicians, many of whom are students from the Shine School, Irish Music School, Murphy Roche Music School, or Academy of Irish Music. Baal Tinne, a mixed group of younger and older musicians, can always be counted on for a lively, and sometimes majestic performance. Baal Tinne, as well as many of the younger musicians, have CDs for sale.

Navan, a Wisconsin based a cappella group comprised of three women and one man, is another prime example of what Celtic Fest has to offer. Acting as a sort of coed, Gaelic Crosby Stills, Nash, and Young, the quartet uses beautiful harmonies to spin ancient tales from Scotland, Ireland, and England. Even though singer Paul Gorman once joked that it’s probably better that Navan’s songs aren’t sung in modern English because some of the lyrics are pretty gruesome, the band’s music is always entertaining.

Last year, much of Celtic Fest Chicago was canceled due to heavy rainfall, so the perfect weather forecast for this weekend should bring out an especially appreciative crowd.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

CD Review: Cheap Trick - The Latest

The first time I saw Cheap Trick was at Harlow’s rock club (or was it Haywires or Pip’s at that point?) on Chicago’s southwest side. Rick Nielsen used his guitar to poke out the ceiling tiles above the stage, and Robin Zander so effectively conveyed the raw emotions of “Oh, Candy” I could've sworn he was crying. That was prior to the release of Cheap Trick’s self-titled debut, and decades later, it’s inspiring to see the band releasing solid albums at a fast enough pace to make a long-time fan’s headphones spin. The Latest followed on the heels of Rockford, and preceded Sgt. Pepper Live.

Primarily written by the band, The Latest finds Cheap Trick concentrating on what it does best; creating irresistibly catchy power pop. Several references to The Beatles foreshadow the decision to take on the entire Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for performances in Las Vegas. “Miracle” sounds like it could have been one of the better ballads from John Lennon’s solo days. The enticing “Miss Tomorrow” sets guitar-driven rock amidst symphonic swirls while the lyrics mash The Beatles with The Rolling Stones: “Love, you said that love is all you need./Cold, you taught The Beatles “Let It Bleed.” The high-speed “California Girl” sounds like a gender reversal of The Beatles’ early cover of Larry Williams’s “Bad Boy,” and describes the title character as a Sexy Sadie.

A rousing take on Slade’s “When The Lights Are Out” kicks off with Bun E. Carlos’s signature drumming, and Cheap Trick also roars through “Everyday You Make Me Crazy,” “Sick Man Of Europe,” and “Alive.” Even the romantic ballads “These Days” and “Times Of Our Lives” sport a full-bodied sound, while the lush psychedelia of “ Closer, The Ballad Of Burt And Linda” once again taps into those Beatles influences. Luckily, this was the latest from Cheap Trick, and not the last.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Bash

(photo from David Bash Facebook page)

Since September 2nd is David Bash’s birthday, now would be the perfect time to pay tribute to him. As the founder of International Pop Overthrow, David brings the gift of power pop music to boys and girls around the globe. He doesn’t do it all in one night, and wears a cowboy hat instead of a red cap, but for many of us, he works magic.

Named after a song by the Chicago band, Material Issue, International Pop Overthrow made its debut in L.A. back in 1998. The festival has since become a world-wide affair, making stops in numerous cities, including Liverpool, Vancouver, Boston, and San Francisco.

Chicago power pop fans eagerly anticipate David’s annual arrival around the middle of April, with visions of settling into a club like the Abbey Pub where they can catch an eight-band showcase for a mere $10. IPO Chicago usually offers a mix of local bands like The Valley Downs, The Bad Examples, and The Handcuffs; visitors from neighboring cities, like Milwaukee’s The Lackloves; as well as an overseas act like Anison, who are based in England.

A tireless supporter of the power pop genre, Bash enthusiastically introduces all the acts with a brief bio and explanation of why he chose them for the fest. Musicians interested in being part of International Pop Overthrow can contact David via SonicBids. See http://www.internationalpopoverthrow.com for details.

So let’s raise a glass and wish David a Happy Birthday!

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