Monday, May 31, 2010

CD Review: Kevin Lee & The Kings - Dusk Till Dawn

Kevin Lee’s hard-hitting Dusk Till Dawn is a worthy follow-up to his 2006 full-length effort, Flip The Switch, and furthers his long-standing reputation as an engaging singer-guitarist. Now working with a new back-up band called The Kings, he continues to create melodic songs that meld power pop and hard rock. Lee co-produced his latest effort with Rick Barnes, who’s well known for working with artists like Smashing Pumpkins. The E.P.’s huge, highly polished approach gets a boost from three additional guitarists Lee has brought on board.

“The Other Side,” a high-speed tale of supernatural romance involving a dark-haired temptress, has the feel of hit single. Like “Next Big Thing,” a slap at the way entertainment moguls prepackage superstars, it’s fueled by some searing guitar playing. The mid-tempo “I Still Believe” evokes Cheap Trick as Lee sings of yearning for love and support, while the more energetic power pop of “Slip Away” presents a man and woman who both refuse to confront the problems that are destroying their relationship. An unlisted final track finds Lee working in an acoustic setting, as he portrays a weary world-traveler trying to make his way back to the hometown he left years earlier.

Kevin Lee & The Kings have two gigs coming up in June; Jeff Fest on Chicago’s northwest side on June 26th, and at the Best Buy Stage at Taste of Chicago on June 27th.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Slumgullion #16

Photo from The Ellen DeGeneres Show website.

Ellen DeGeneres’s recent announcement that she’s forming a record company called eleveneleven brought me back to last November, when she landed the cover of Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine. I did a post back then suggesting her next goal should be sharing the cover of Rolling Stone or Mojo with Little Steven Van Zandt. DeGeneres had recently created her own Internet music page, and I hoped she would use it to become an avid supporter of power pop and garage rock. To get the ball rolling, I started an Ellen Fans Who Love Power Pop group on her website. I soon abandoned it, accepting that I just couldn’t compete with Ellen Fans Who Love Justin Bieber.

But 2010 has seen The Ellen DeGeneres Show taking a new approach to booking music acts. Up and coming, less commercial artists like One Eskimo, Paramore, Vedera, LaRoux, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, and Diane Birch have been showing up on a regular basis, as well as the better known but not exactly mainstream Weezer. DeGeneres has also stated that if she returns to American Idol next year, she’d like to see the show embrace a wider variety of genres. Even though eleveneleven seems like a quickly-hatched means to market preteen YouTube superstar Greyson Chance, I’m betting DeGeneres has been mulling over this enterprise for some time. She’s been on Facebook and Twitter soliciting suggestions for new music acts for her label, so hopefully, this will result in some worthy bands getting some well-deserved attention. Including power pop and garage acts.

Three bands will perform tonight as part of the Peace Fest Benefit at Nite Cap, located on Irving Park Road in Chicago. Funk/reggae band Flow Theory kicks things off at 10PM, followed by satiric rock trio Genral Patton & His Privates at 11PM, and Foster Home at midnight. Admission is $5.

The Bottom Lounge on west Lake Street will host The Fleshtones on June 12th, with an impressive supporting lineup that includes The Goldstars, Teenage Imposters, Tomorrow The Moon, and The Earth Program.

WhiteWolfSonicPrincess, featuring hipsters James Moeller and Carla Hayden, opens for the Robert Hynes Band at the Red Line Tap on north Glenwood this Sunday (May 30th) night.

Listening to “Chicago” playing on WXRT yesterday afternoon, I had a premonition that disc jockey Terri Hemmert would have some news to share about Graham Nash. As it turns out, she did. Nash is being honored with a tribute CD titled Be Yourself that features modern bands covering all the tracks on his Songs For Beginners debut. It was released a few days ago on Grass Roots Records. According to and the websites This Is Book’s Music, Consequence Of Sound, and The Line Of Best Fit, the effort was put together by Nash’s daughter Nile, with help from (((folkYeah!))) concert promoter Brit Govea.

Participating artists include Nile Nash, Brendon Benson. Jonathan Rice, Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes, and Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Nash will be in the Chicago area on August 22nd for a Crosby, Stills, and Nash concert at Ravinia.

Speaking of WXRT, the station couldn’t have had better weather for its 93 Days Of Summer Kickoff Bash today at Arlington Park. With temperatures hovering in the mid-70s and the scent of barbecued food in the air, disc jockey Lin Brehmer and news anchor Mary Dixon hosted an outdoor fest that included acoustic sets from Joe Pug and Warren Haynes. Although Haynes, who has played guitar with The Allman Brothers Band as well as Gov't. Mule, clearly had the larger following, newcomer Pug also impressed the crowd with his emotional, Dylan-like material. Haynes thrilled his fans with inventive strumming and blues-inflected vocals. There was an easy-going, early afternoon ambience as Dixon passed out tubes of sunscreen and urged audience members to pass them around. “She’s such a mom!” Brehmer joked. The party also included lots of Rolling Stones tunes played over the sound system (the station was featuring The Stones today) as well as a parody of a Stones song celebrating the Black Hawks playing for The Stanley Cup.

Aftermath, the Ronan Marra play about Brian Jones and his squabbles with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, has already sold out its entire run at The Raven Theatre Complex. According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune by critic Chris Jones, the Signal Ensemble show will not be extended, although there is a chance they’ll bring Aftermath back later in the year.

Stones fans already have so much on their plates, including the new deluxe edition of Exile On Main Street, and they now can get their rocks off at the Performing Arts Center at Harper College in Palatine on June 24th when the acclaimed Tributosaurus becomes The Rolling Stones. Tickets are $9 - $12. Call 847-925-6100 for info.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

CD Review: Matt Dodge & The Lobsters - Lobsters!

Toward the end of The Lobsters’ International Pop Overthrow set at The Abbey in Chicago about a month ago, vocalist-guitarist Matt Dodge asked the audience to clap along with the next number, and then added, “Come on, you’re not too old.” Ouch. Dodge and his band mates looked like they were in their late teens, which would have made them considerably younger than those of us in the crowd. Then the band blasted through the politically-minded “Currency” with a fury reminiscent of The Clash. The Lobsters were part of a multi-band line-up that day, and an earlier, quick visit to their MySpace page had led me to believe they would be too commercial for my taste. Their live performance blew away that misconception and the full-length debut Lobsters! also suggests these kids are more than all right.

Dodge, who started his first band at age 12, wrote all the material. He explores a variety of styles, starting with the infectious power pop of “DaniChick.” “My Life,” with its references to Nintendo and saving a princess, is as close as these guys get to aiming for the tween market, and even this track will win over older listeners with its catchy guitar and drum arrangement. The band slows things down and sounds more sensual on the satiric “Society’s Style,” and takes a more rough-edged approach on “In The City.” Dodge laces the dreamy fantasy of “Hawaii” with descriptions of A-List celebrities joining in on his tropical fun. The previously mentioned “Currency” is the strongest track, although “Then We Die,” which sounds like a blend of T Rex and The Who, is a strong challenger. Dodge is too young to have been around when the classic songs of the 1960s were being released, but he sure sounds like he’s been influenced by them.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

CD Review: Imperial Teen - The Hair The TV The Baby And The Band

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer back in 2007. Looks like these guys like to take some time between CDs. Hopefully, Imperial Teen will be releasing some new material soon.

Imperial Teen hasn’t gotten a bit rusty during the five years since its last CD, the critically acclaimed On was released. The Hair The TV The Baby And The Band finds the California-based quartet charging through various musical styles while creating indelible melodies and gorgeous harmony vocals. The band’s clever lyrics frequently use the entertainment business to illustrate the hassles of everyday life.

The mid-tempo “Everything” lives up to its name with an all-encompassing, rhyming list served up via rapid-fire male and female vocals. The catchy “Sweet Potato” is even more fun, as lead singer Will Schwartz razzes a Paris Hilton type while his band mates provide silly back up vocals reminiscent of The B-52’s. “Shim Sham” and “One Two” provide more party music while “Fallen Idol” offers subversive lyrics within an irresistible tropical arrangement. Imperial Teen also succeeds with the lower key indie rock of “It’s Now” and “21st Century.”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Liverpool Calling

International Pop Overthrow, promoter David Bash’s globe-trotting celebration of power pop and indie rock music, kicks off an extended run in Liverpool today with three separate showcases involving over 30 acts at The Cavern Club. Unfortunately, I’ve never been to this world famous venue, but it must be fairly large, to accommodate a Front Stage, Back Stage, and Cavern Pub. The festival runs through June 1st with all the showcases being held at The Cavern. On May 30th and 31st, there will be a special John Lennon 70th Birthday Tribute.

There are a few Yank artists on the schedule, including The Queue, Jeremy, and Dave Rave, who were all part of IPO-Chicago. I wonder if English power pop fans would agree with me that the lead guitarist-vocalist for The Queue looks like Tony Hicks of The Hollies. It’s not unusual for American acts to make the trip overseas to play this festival. Maybe they go for the t shirts - - Liverpool is the only stop on the tour that has them. If you’re like me and want the IPO-Liverpool t shirt even though you didn’t have the cash to fly to the UK, you can contact Bash at the IPO website since he sometimes comes home with a few extras.

The Contrast and The Len Price 3, both favorites of Little Steven Van Zandt on his Underground Garage radio show, look to be the biggest names booked here. Bash told me in an recent interview for the Illinois Entertainer that the allure of playing at The Cavern allows him to pick the cream of the crop for his Liverpool showcases. So all of these acts, even the oddly-named Ben’s Diapers, are probably worth checking out. Although I don’t think I’ll be buying the Ben’s Diapers t shirt.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mum’s The Word

WXRT continued its longstanding tradition of having bands drop by for a chat and to play a few live songs today, as Mumford & Sons joined radio personality Terri Hemmert for about a half hour. The highly touted UK outfit, known for its provocative lyrics and homespun instrumentation, was in town for a show at Lincoln Hall, as part of its first official American tour. XRT has been playing “Little Lion Man” from the band’s Sigh No More CD quite a lot, which no doubt played a role in the gig’s sold out status. The interview, which included one live song, was an easy-going affair with a lot of laughter, and the musicians came across with warmth as well as a bit of humility.

“We didn’t think we’d sell tickets in Chicago,” one of them (hard to tell who’s who when you’re hearing an interview on the radio) confessed. “We didn’t think we’d sell tickets anywhere.” Hemmert begged to differ, describing how she was immediately blown away by Sigh No More.

The band members also discussed how traditional Irish and English music made its way across the ocean and gave birth to bluegrass. The banjo and accordion play essential roles in Mumford & Son’ music. They also mentioned getting sunburned during a boat ride on Lake Michigan. Mumford & Sons will get another dose of hot weather in Chicago when they return to play Lollapalooza in August.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

CD Review: The Valley Downs - Self-titled

It had been a few years since The Valley Downs released their impressive debut, Behemoth, so I was glad to be able to pick up this new self-titled effort at their recent performance at International Pop Overthrow - Chicago. Led by married couple singer-guitarist Marianne Shimkus and bassist-vocalist Mike Galassini, the band (which also includes guitarist Christian Peterson and drummer Todd Rusin) continues to craft melodic songs that sound like tracks from a Bangles CD, or perhaps The Continental Drifters. There’s also a definite Beatles influence running through these four tracks.

Despite having a female lead vocalist, Valley Downs songs rarely have a gender-specific point of view. Shimkus brings the cryptic lyrics to life, whether it’s on the sunny “Play For You” (which can be seen as a video on YouTube) or the ironically titled “Lucky Day,” a Country & Western flavored tune with disturbing imagery like, “You leave me in the dirt, the dirt is where I’ll stay.“ “A Day Dream” features an exquisite melody and some nice harmonies from Shimkus and Galassini, while the guitar and keyboards arrangement of “Stupid Boy” creates an authentic 1970s vibe.

The Valley Downs unveiled a few more new songs at their IPO gig, so hopefully, they’ll be releasing more music in the near future.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Slumgullion #15

Darkroom Bar, at 2210 W. Chicago Avenue in Chicago is presenting an impressive showcase of power pop and indie music as part of One Magic Night - Shazam! The event is billed as “local bands doing a quick ‘best of’ 20 min. set.” The lineup includes Tenniscourts, featuring lead vocalist-guitarist Wes Hollywood of the band The Wes Hollywood Show, who recorded the power pop masterpiece Moonraker in 2003. Glam rocker TAFKA (The Artist Formerly Known As) Vince & The All-Star Bitch Band are on tap, as is the three woman, one man indie rock band Maybenauts, who are celebrating the release of their new Big Bang CD. The power pop trio Gidgets GaGa, who recently rocked International Pop Overthrow at The Abbey, will be holding a CD release party for The Big Bong Fiasco. Also watch for the wildly entertaining Penthouse Sweets; The Safes, a band that mixes hard-edged melodies and harmony vocals with punk exuberance; and the energetic power pop band The Sonnets, whose guitarist-vocalist Vee Sonnets will be celebrating his birthday. DJ Tankboy will also be there, as well as heavy metal maven/burlesque dancer Viva La Muerte, who will serve as hostess. Doors open at 8:00PM, and admission is free until 10:00PM. After 10, the ticket price soars to an astronomical $5.

Go Time has a gig tomorrow night at Silvie's Lounge on Irving Park Road. In addition to being a catchy power pop band who recently released its Speak CD, Go Time alerts its Facebook friends to the birthdays of famous rock musicians. I can think of at least a few Broken Hearted Toy blog posts that have been sparked by a Go Time Facebook birthday notice.

Being everybody’s Best Friend In The Whole World means you can celebrate your birthday any time you feel like it. So this year, WXRT morning personality Lin Brehmer will blow out the candles on his cake next Friday, May 28th at a Miller Lite sponsored special on-air celebration at the Arlington Park Race Track in Arlington Heights. Brehmer’s musical guests will be vocalist-guitarist Warren Haynes, who has worked with Gov’t Mule and Allman Brothers Band, and Chicago-based roots rocker Joe Pug. The DJ celebrated his birthday at the Park last August, closer to his actual birthday, and it was a lot of fun. News anchor Mary Dixon and Corporate Takeover Rep Kristin Kay were also at that bash, so hopefully, they’ll be back this year. XRT fans looking to celebrate Brehmer’s faux birthday with him can get free tickets at the station’s website.

Funny how? I frequently post CD reviews here that I originally wrote for a publication called Illinois Entertainer, with the kind permission of its editor Steve Forstneger and publisher John Vernon. I’ve been doing freelance work for I.E. since 1987. Forstneger has just started a blog called, that takes a humorous look at the way popular music is used in commercial advertising. I’ve read his first few posts, and found them funny and thought provoking. And I’m not just saying that because he’s sending me the Hoodoo Gurus Purity Of Essence CD I’ve been whining for.

Former I.E. editor Michael C. Harris, who in addition to covering the music scene, was known for ticking off conservatives with his monthly Roadkill column, continues that rabble-rousing tradition with his blog of the same name. I’ll always be grateful to Harris for introducing me to Supergrass, whom he described as a, “Terry Flamm band if I’ve ever heard one.”

Guitar-driven indie rockers The Telepaths will be part of Rock and ‘Q II tomorrow afternoon, along with Los Lost Boyz and Table Of Meat. The bash will be held at The Mutiny on north Western Avenue from noon to 6:00PM.

Taft High School on Chicago’s northwest side will be the scene of a special Terry Kath Tribute on May 27th from 8:00 to 9:30PM. The former guitarist for Chicago will be honored by a concert featuring special guests musicians Danny Seraphine and Kenny Cetera (older brother of Pete) and producer producer William Guercio. The Chicago tribute band 25 or 6 to 4 will perform, and other musicians/friends of Kath are expected to attend. Tickets are $10. For information, check out

Singer-songwriter Ellen Rosner, backed by The Bubbly Creek All Stars, will be part of the Flesh Hungry Dog showcase at Jack Hammer on north Clark Street this coming June 4th. The event will be hosted by former Londoner-now-Chicagoan Gary Airedale, and will also feature Stewed Tomatoes and Pretty Good Dance Moves. Flesh Hungry Dog aims to bring live rock to the gay community.

People like me who are sad to see The Go-Go’s calling it quits can at least catch one of their farewell tour performances on TV when the band appears on Good Morning America on July 16th

Thursday, May 20, 2010

CD Review: The Rumble Strips - Girls and Weather

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

Girls and Weather, the full-length debut from The Rumble Strips continues the ska/rock party that erupted on their 2007 Alarm Clock EP. Trumpet/keyboards player Henry Clark, drummer Matthew Wheeler, and sax/bass player keep things hopping behind singer/guitarist Charles Waller, who’s even more unruly this time around. Like fellow Brits Madness and Supergrass, The Rumble Strips exhibit a keen sense of humor.

Occasionally Waller oversells the jokes, shouting the lyrics to “Time” and “Cowboy” with theatrical abandon. He sounds cocky on “Clouds,” as if believing he can enliven its pedestrian lyrics about lying in a field watching cumulus shapes drift overhead. “Alarm Clock” and “Motorcycle” prove this band doesn’t need excess to be funny, and the soulful “Oh Creole” and acoustic pop of “Don’t Dumb Down” add spice to the mix. The playful first single, “Girls and Boys in Love” would be a perfect way to introduce The Rumble Strips to a U.S. audience.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

CD Review: Magatha Trysty - Self-Titled

Recorded only a few months ago and released in time for some recent International Pop Overthrow gigs, Magatha Trysty’s three-song self-titled CD does an admirable job of introducing this Chicago quartet. The husband and wife team of vocalist-keyboards player Catherine Bevard and vocalist-guitarist Christopher Bevard anchor a sound that falls somewhere between melodic power pop and cutting edge indie rock. Drummer Holly Anne Rose and bassist Matt Sobczyk provide energetic support.

On “Be Safe,” Magatha Trysty comes across like a coed R.E.M., as the Bevards weave their vocals within a melodic guitars and keyboards arrangement. The approach is also reminiscent of L.A. punk pioneers X, or the lesser known coed band Trona, who released the impressive Red River on Roadrunner Records in 1998. “Our Blue Harlem” features the band in a more introspective mode while “Printer’s Row” has a raw, almost punk feel that’s fueled by some searing guitar. The Bevards’ tandem vocals are particularly impressive, giving the song added texture.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

CD Review: Aaron Fox & The Reliables - Late Too Soon

Late Too Soon, the debut release from Chicago band Aaron Fox & The Reliables, harks back to a time when pop bands weren’t so easy to pigeonhole. The quartet’s melodic blend of acoustic and electric instruments definitely taps into a Midwestern tradition that includes Spooner, The Bodeans, and Thrift Store Halo, but there are also elements of Country & Western, easy listening, and mainstream rock. All of the songs were written by lead singer-guitarist Aaron Fox, and his easy-going vocal style, as well as the harmonies from bassist-vocalist Bob Vodick and guitarist Mike Burns are consistent throughout the various musical styles on the CD.

“If It’s Not Broken” is an ambitious effort, with an extended arrangement and big production values. Still, stacking four slow tunes at the end of the CD, the way Aaron Fox & The Reliables do here, risks losing the listener’s focus, even if the music is well-crafted. It’s easy to see why the band chose “Looking For A Place To Hide” for its first video; it’s a great power pop number with ringing guitars that recalls Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. “False Alarm” and “Too Tired To Sleep” also serve as energetic highlights, while the quieter “Over Again” brings to mind the vintage days of The Byrds.

Monday, May 17, 2010

CD Review: Charlatans - You Cross My Path

This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

Best known for their 1989 hit, “The Only One I Know,” The Charlatans may surprise people with the diversity on their 10th album. You Cross My Path is a series of poetic observations on lost innocence and drug abuse, set to irresistible 1980s synth rock. Songwriter vocalist Tim Burgess is consistently gloomy with his lyrics, but aside from a monotonous ballad, his singing is evocative enough to make the material work.

Organ music still plays a role in the band’s sound, particularly on “Missing Beats Of A Generation,” but the real emphasis these days is on synthesizers. That enables The Charlatans to pay tribute to fellow Manchester band New Order on the catchy “The Misbegotten,” and create shimmering shoegazer music with “Bird.” The energetic “Oh! Vanity” and hard-edged “Mis--takes,” finds Burgess taking a satiric look at fame and the backstage scene, and on the ominous “Bad Days,” he notes, “It’s been too long since I told you you’re no friend of mine.”

Friday, May 14, 2010

Slumgullion Number 14

Good Day Sunshine. This is not the Summer of Love, but in the Chicago area, it could be the Summer Of The Beatles. In addition to Fest For Beatles Fans, which is set to reveal the lineup of guests for its August 13 - 15th convention at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare any day now, the critically acclaimed tribute band Tributosaurus will present two performances (7PM and 10PM) of The Beatles Vol. 2 at the Martyrs’ club on north Lincoln Avenue on June 2nd. This group has built a loyal following for its amazing ability to ‘become’ virtually any famous act. 1964, which bills itself as the #1 Beatles Show in the World, will play the Rosemont Theatre on Saturday, June 5th. Palatine’s Sounds Of Summer outdoor concert series kicks off with American English on June 18th.

Turn Me On, Dead Man. On an uglier, but hopefully funny note, author Alan Goldsher casts the Fab Four as flesh eaters in his mashup, Paul Is Undead - The British Zombie Invasion, which will be published by Pocket Books on June 22nd. According to Kristen Callihan in Paste magazine, the novel, which could become a movie, depicts John, Paul, George, and Ringo as “brain-hungry zombies who use their subliminal-message-laced tunes to lure fans back stage.” That’s one way to deal with groupies. No word yet if Pamela DeBarres will release a companion book. Paste is asking people on Facebook which characters from Beatles songs they’d like to see as zombies. My suggestion: Eleanor Rigby, unburied along with her name. Just thinking, if the Paul Is Undead book and movie become hugely popular, will tribute bands feel obliged to - - - well, never mind.

Independence Tap, on Irving Park Road in Chicago, continues its FretKnot Fridays series tonight with featured performer singer-guitarist Shelley Miller. The event, which is held on the second Friday of each month, also serves as a jam session with an open mic. Miller cites Lucinda Williams and Patti Griffin among her many influence and released her latest CD, When It’s All Gone, You Come Back in March. Tonight’s jam session kicks off at 8:30 PM.

International Pop Overthrow has moved on, but The Abbey on the northwest side is still a great place to see indie bands. Tomorrow night’s double bill of The Handcuffs and The Hushdrops is a prime example. The Handcuffs weren’t officially on this year’s IPO lineup although drummer Brad Elvis was part of Ellis Clark’s Epicycle extravaganza. The Handcuffs, who have been working on their third CD, will take the stage at 11:00PM. Psychedelic popsters The Hushdrops will follow them.

Aaron Fox & The Reliables logged two performances at this year’s IPO in support of their impressive new CD Late Too Soon. They’ll be at The Abbey on June 5th, along with Los Angeles alt-rockers Nico Vega. The hard-edged Chicago quartet The Great Crusades, will also be on the bill that night, promoting its latest effort, Fiction To Shame.

Magatha Trysty and Van Go both notched impressive performances at IPO Chicago, and they’ll be sharing a double bill at Phyllis’ Musical Inn on Division Street, next Saturday, May 22nd.

If you enjoyed the Tutu & The Pirates/Da! double bill last weekend at The Empty Bottle, you can soak up more vintage Chicago punk scene ambience tomorrow when Club Foot, located on Augusta, presents a La Mere Vipere Reunion. LMV was the very first punk club in the Windy City and had quite a reputation. DJs at Club Foot will spin records that would have been on La Mere Vipere’s turntables back in the day.

Bryn Packard, a funny and gifted actor who worked with me when I performed with the Famous In The Future comedy group, is part of the cast of Christopher Durang’s The Marriage Of Bette & Boo, which The Village Players will be staging at their theatre in Oak Park from May 15th through June 27th.

James Moeller is a Chicago-based actor/musician/deep thinker who always seems to have something intriguing going on. His blog can be poetic or hard-hitting, and he often uses it to promote upcoming gigs for his bands. It’s now also a site where people can listen to some of his tunes, including a couple from WhiteWolfSonicPrincess, the dreamy indie band he fronts with Carla Hayden. The band will be performing at The Red Line Tap on Sunday, May 22nd.

Ah, Look At All The Blogging People. Speaking of blogs, they seem to be commanding more respect these days. The Reader, as part of its Best Of Chicago 2010 Readers’ Poll has a Best Local Music Blog category. In related news, Robert Loerzel, a freelance writer and former editor of mine when I wrote for Palatine Countryside, has noted on Facebook that Lollapalooza is looking to connect with Chicago-based music blogs to help promote its August 6th - 8th Grant Park event. Loerzel’s Underground Bee site is notable not only for his well-written concert reviews, but also for the great photos he takes.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Viva Fidelity!

Photo from JP Chrissie & The Fairground Boys MySpace page.

Note: The is post number 200 for this blog. I'd like to thank my wife Pam for setting it up for me. As I've said in the past, without her help, I'd be walking around, showing people my reviews on a chalkboard.

Chrissie Hynde seems to have a knack for collaborating with other musicians. Her vocals played an essential role in conveying the inspirational message of “Spiritual High (State Of Independence)” by Moodswings, and she joined forces with UB40 on the sexy “Breakfast In Bed” as well as on a fun cover of Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe.” Heck, even her continuing reign as leader of The Pretenders could be viewed as a series of collaborations, considering the variety of genres she has successfully explored and the number of members who have been part of that band.

Now she’s created JP Chrissie & The Fairground Boys, along with Welsh singer-guitarist JP Jones. Chicago-area fans probably weren’t aware of Hynde’s latest project since it has only made a handful appearances in the Los Angeles area. That changed today when Hynde, Jones, and guitarist Patrick Murdoch dropped by WXRT today for a visit with DJ Frank E. Lee. The band played three songs from an upcoming CD called Fidelity. According to Hynde and Jones, the title is a pun on Fidel Castro since the band recorded the bulk of the CD in Cuba.

The songs performed in XRT’s studio this afternoon had spare, acoustic arrangements that would have sounded at home on the last Pretenders effort, Break Up The Concrete. It’ll be interesting to hear how these tunes sound with the full band when Fidelity drops later this summer. Hynde’s unmistakable voice led the way, but she traded lead vocals with Jones, and did some harmonies with him. The title track was the most energetic.

Hynde and Jones conceded they’re reversing the common method of promoting a new album, by performing gigs before its release. Still, they enjoy the freedom of doing things their own way. “Let’s get out there and do what we want to do,” Hynde said, describing the band’s approach.

They’ll be performing more shows in the near future. When Lee asked if the band might go back into the studio to tweak some things on Fidelity, based on the live shows, Hynde dismissed the idea.

“We’re already working on the next album.”

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

CD Review: Ann Courtney & The Late Bloomers - Crocodile

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

Ann Courtney, who fronts the Brooklyn-based Ann Courtney & The Late Bloomers, isn’t the first indie rock performer to cast a cynical eye toward romantic entanglements. What sets her apart from much of the current pack is the versatile way she belts out these caustic observations rather than settling for a one-note or gimmicky vocal style. Crocodile, the band’s full-length debut following a pair of EPs, also proves that she and David Giambusso are inventive guitarists.

The slinky “Perfect Medicine” is embellished with psychedelic strumming, and on the ominous “Shut Your Mouth,” Courtney and Giambusso harmonize to a slow-pounding beat. “Don’t Be A Fading Bruise,” a bitterly sarcastic dig at an abusive boyfriend evokes Liz Phair, while on “Strong Arm,” Courtney warns, “Don’t forget I know where you live” with a Chrissie Hynde snarl. Crocodile also offers the playful jazz arrangement of “Nothing On Me” as well as the raw garage rock of the ironically named “Nice And Quiet.

Monday, May 10, 2010

My Second Weekend at International Pop Overthrow - Part Two

The local quintet Van Go was already midway through its set when I arrived at The Abbey last Saturday for the final night of International Pop Overthrow Chicago 2010. Unfortunately, I had missed opening act The Ringles. Erica Loftus, one of the two female vocalists from The Right Tidys, a band that includes Van Go bassist Lou Galassini and had done an IPO gig at Bird’s Nest a few days earlier, came onstage for a few high-spirited numbers. Van Go had four CDs to draw on, and its experience was evident on melodic but hard-hitting songs like “London Underground” and “Ethan.” A cover of Elvis Costello’s “Girls Talk” was also impressive, but Van Go saved the best for last with its powerful tune, “Your Three Minutes.”

The Romeros, wearing vintage black suits, opened their energetic set with a perfect version of Bram Tchaikovsky’s “Girl Of My Dreams.” The band exuded a punk intensity with three, and sometimes four band members joining in on vocals, as it raced through original songs from its Cooler Than Your Boyfriend EP.

As the showcase progressed, the audience continued to expand, drawing local musicians as well as fans. Brad Elvis and Chloe F. Orwell from The Handcuffs mingled with friends, along with Ellis Clark, who performs with Epicycle as well as The Handcuffs. The Handcuffs will share a bill with the psychedelic pop band The Hushdrops at The Abbey on May 15th. Mike Galassini and Marianne Shimkus of The Valley Downs, and Mike Cohen of The Abbeys and Pop Dollys were also in the crowd.

Indie rockers The Backgroom, who were breaking in a brand new bass player, switched easily between energetic and more introspective music during their set, with keyboards figuring prominently in the mix. Some songs flowed naturally into instrumental passages, but The Backroom could also keep things more direct and catchy, particularly on a tune I’m guessing was called “Tonight.”

Sincerely Calvin came on next, using the same keyboards player as The Backroom. Jack McCabe strummed his guitar while using a talky vocal style that added a theatrical flair to long form songs like “Planetarium.” Throughout its set, Sincerely Calvin created an alluring mix of synthesizers and acoustic instruments.

I wasn’t able to stay for more than the first few songs from the Cliff Johnson Band, but it was clear that it was firing on all cylinders. Johnson took a huge risk by leaving Off Broadway, a group that was still extremely popular on the club scene more than two decades after the release of the power pop masterpiece, On. He’s working with a complete new lineup now, and they sounded impressive at The Abbey. I was hoping to snag a copy of his solo debut, Little Crimes, but didn’t see it on the merchandise table. One of these days, I’ll get my hands on a copy.

As he does every night, founder David Bash enthusiastically introduced each band for the International Pop Overthrow Chicago 2010 finale. He obviously has a blast on these tours, and promised to return here for his tenth year next April. Can’t wait.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

My Second Weekend At IPO - Part One

Photo of Aaron Fox & The Reliables by Scott Steiner, from the band's Facebook page.

Last Sunday was kind of like the day after Christmas for power pop and indie rock fans in Chicago. International Pop Overthrow 2010 had finished its ten-day run at four area clubs, and moved on to Milwaukee. As I said in an earlier post, I would have liked to have seen everything IPO had to offer in Chicago, but was only able to check out some shows on each of the two weekends. I discovered a number of new bands, talked to some musicians, checked in with IPO founder David Bash, and met Martha Westbrook, who represents power pop musician Paul Collins’ Beat Army. It was a great time. I’d also like to thank the lovely waitresses at The Abbey and Bird’s Nest for not cursing at me when I would hang out for hours and only buy one beer. (I did tip though.) Even if I wasn’t on a budget, my days of downing multiple drinks are long gone. Anyway, here’s my review of the showcase last Friday night at Bird’s Nest.

The opening act was singer-songwriter Blair Packham, who came all the way from Ontario to spin well-crafted tales like “One Hit Wonder” and “Paris Is Burning,” accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. With clever lyrics and an ability to nail the irony that seems to occur naturally in most romantic relationships, Packham came across as a blend of Jim Croce and Elvis Costello. His comments between songs were consistently funny, and as Bash noted afterward, he held the audience’s attention throughout the set, which isn’t always easy for an acoustic performer.

For this gig at least, The Effingways consisted of singer-guitarist Doug Bobenhouse backed by The Webstirs, who would play their own set a few hours later. Bobenhouse is a veteran of the critically acclaimed The Sun Sawed In 1/2, who will have a new CD out later this year. The Effingways project featured him belting out energetic pop songs reminiscent of Squeeze, so it was no surprise when he served up a first-rate cover of ”Up The Junction.”

The Elements of Style mixed shimmering and frenetic guitar playing in melodic songs like “Rock & Roll Is Dead.” Their music called to mind shoegazer bands like My Bloody Valentine at times, but with more energy (particularly on bass guitar) and a lead vocalist who consistently added an elegant touch.

The Help Desk came dressed to kill in suits and ties, and played songs from their Peel The Sun CD. Lead singer-guitarist Erik Widmark’s high vocals were backed by strong harmonies, keyboards, and shifting guitar tempos. There was a 1960s vibe to their music, particularly when The Help Desk launched into elaborate jams.

Aaron Fox & The Reliables packed more of a punch live than listening to the songs on their MySpace page would suggest (this was true of a lot of the IPO bands I saw) with strong harmonies and ringing guitars. The band had already staged a CD release party for Late To Soon at IPO Chicago a week earlier, and was invited back by Bash when one of Friday’s scheduled acts had to cancel. Lead singer-guitarist Aaron Fox proved to be a solid frontman, and was joined by guitarist Mike Burns and bassist Bob Vodick on some airtight three-part harmonies. In addition to original tunes like “Too Tired To Sleep,” the band delivered an impressive take on The Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man.”

The Valley Downs, fronted by married couple lead vocalist Marianne Shimkus and bassist-vocalist Mike Galassini are long-time participants in IPO Chicago, and have traveled overseas to perform at IPO Liverpool. Their show Friday featured songs from a brand new four-song EP (their second), as well as a high energy rock tune that Galassini introduced as never having been played before. Like Galassini’s other band, 92 Degrees,The Valley Downs don’t perform as often as I’d like, so it was good to see them playing out, with some impressive new material. Unfortunately, I had to leave before The Valley Downs finished their set, and I missed The Webstirs entirely.

I’m hoping to post a review of last Saturday’s International Pop Overthrow at The Abbey in the next few days.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Slumgullion #13

“Really? He doesn’t look a day over 40!” Photo from The Bangles Facebook page.

I made pizza for me and the wife tonight, but for the rest of you, here’s a buffet of various entertainment dishes.

This Dream Probably Won’t Come True: The Bangles are going to celebrate my birthday this year with a performance at Busch Gardens Williamsburg in Virginia on July 25th, as part of the “Illumi-Nights” concert series. Even if they don’t spring for my ticket and airfare, an advance copy of their upcoming CD would make a thoughtful gift. The Bangles will be at Busch Gardens on the 24th as well, and have a gig on July 9th at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, as part of Lilith Fair. I had hopes of seeing The Bangles and The Go-Go’s at Lilith Fair in Chicago, but unfortunately, neither is slated for the Windy City stop.

Say Hello To Uncle Albert: Phil Angotti and Steve Dawson will live a little and be gypsies while performing Paul McCartney’s entire Ram album tomorrow (Saturday, May 8th) at The Viaduct Theatre on Western Avenue. Other musicians will be involved, including Tommi Zender and Casey McDonough. Angotti has built a solid reputation for staging these kinds of tribute shows, and this looks to be another winner.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Next Generation: Celtic Fest Chicago has switched months as well as locations this year. It will be held tomorrow and Sunday in Millennium Park. My wife Pam and I always check out the Next Generation Stage, which features talented young musicians from local schools like The Irish Academy of Music. There’s also a Dance Stage featuring some fancy footwork from Celtic countries like Ireland, Scotland, and France. The fest’s headliners are The Rogues and The Saw Doctors on Saturday, and The Elders and La Bottine Souriante on Sunday. Celtic Fest Chicago always has a fun, easy-going vibe, and includes food vendors, a kids area, and an art show, as well as lots of great music.

Chicago native Joe Jammer has traveled the world in an impressive career as a singer-guitarist, but never lost his love for the hometown sports teams. SOPRO Music has announced that Jammer just recorded a tribute to our hard-hitting hockey team, titled, “Blackhawk Battle Cry (Let’s Go Hawks!)” The song kicks off with the greeting, “Welcome to the Madhouse on Madison in Chicago” and goes on to declare, “Scream & shout, Let’s call it out/So loud we’ll raise the dead!” Hopefully, fans will have reason to sing along with Jammer for a while yet.

Tomorrow The Moon, the new sci-fi flavored rock band featuring Steve Gerlach of The Bad Examples, will be sharing a double bill with Mr. Gnome at The DarkRoom on Chicago Avenue a week from today. The show starts at 9:00PM.

Greasepaint It Black: Rolling Stones fans should be intrigued by Aftermath, a new play at Raven Theatre in Chicago, that deals with the mysterious death of Brian Jones in 1969. Mary Houlihan had an interesting interview with writer-director Ronan Marra in the Weekend section of today’s Sun-Times, that describes the amount of work and research that went into creating the play. Aaron Jones portrays Jones, while Nick Vidal plays Mick Jagger, and Houlihan notes both look amazingly like the real musicians. The play starts on Monday, May 10th and runs through June 6th.

Deja Vu Tutu: Back in the late 1970s, when I was editor of the local rock mag Metro Entertainment Calendar, one of the first punk bands I encountered was Tutu & The Pirates. Their off-the-wall songs about serial killers and Idi Amin (“Everybody objects just because I eat my subjects.”) earned them a loyal following, particularly at Mother’s on Division Street. I interviewed them for a cover story, and they turned out to be a very articulate bunch of guys. Tutu & The Pirates were featured in the recent You Weren’t There: The History of Chicago Punk 1977 - 1984 documentary, and are back with a brand new CD. They'll be performing with Da!, another one of Chicago’s pioneer punk bands, tomorrow at the Empty Bottle on Western Avenue. I recently heard from Lori Mikolon, who along with Linda Matlow and Roger Johnson, was one of the staff photographers for Metro Entertainment Calendar. She has fond memories of taking pictures of them, and like me, is glad to see them back. My, how time flies.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

CD Review: Supergrass - Diamond Hoo Ha

Supergrass is in the midst of its final tour ever, at least according to the latest press releases from the band. At least they went out on a high note. Their last release, 2008’s Diamond Hoo Ha, was one of their best efforts. Here’s a review I originally wrote for the Illinois Entertainer.

After experimenting with slow, orchestral arrangements on much of 2005’s Road To Rouen, Supergrass is back to its old self again. As the title suggests, Diamond Hoo Ha puts an emphasis on fun. That’s something this U.K. outfit has specialized in since the release of I Should Coco in 1995.

“Diamond Hoo Ha Man” sounds like it could have sprung from a White Stripes album, and Supergrass mounts a multi-layered comic opera with “Whiskey & Green Tea.” The energy level remains consistently high as lead vocalist/guitarist Gaz Coombes belts out a series of melodic power pop tunes like “Bad Blood” and “345.” “Rebel In You” harks back to the 1980s with its steady beat and soulful back-up vocals, while the festive piano playing on“When I Needed You” recalls Britain’s music hall days. Even the touching “Ghost Of A Friend” gets an irresistible arrangement. Overall, a gem of a comeback CD.

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