Sunday, October 31, 2010

Two Hearts Beat As One

I hope everyone enjoyed this year’s Halloween. We actually had about 30 kids show up at our door looking for candy, which is higher than the amount of trick-or-treaters we usually get. Although I know some people who claim to get as many as 600 kids.

Here’s a double dose of the beguiling Ann and Nancy Wilson for Halloween. First up, a review I did of Heart’s latest CD, Red Velvet Car for the Illinois Entertainer a few months back. Then, it’s a rerun from last year’s 31 Songs For Halloween collection, featuring “Magic Man.”

Red Velvet Car

Ann and Nancy Wilson proved conclusively on the recent Lilith Fair tour that Heart has retained its performance firepower over the years, but recording a CD of new material is quite another challenge. Fortunately, Red Velvet Car, the band’s first effort in some time, shows the Wilson sisters working in a relaxed and confident mood rather than trying to blast their way back into the limelight. The songs they’ve come up with are low key, but well-crafted, and there’s a variety of musical styles.

A casual listener could be forgiven for thinking the melodic, acoustic-based “Hey You” is a new Sheryl Crow tune, while “Safronia’s Mark” harks back to the days when Heart covered Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle Of Evermore.” “WTF” is a solid hard rock track with a touch of The Who, and the hellish imagery of “Death Valley” is set to a gritty, but nuanced arrangement. Ann and Nancy weave intricate harmony vocals throughout the slinky opening track, “There You Go,” as well as amidst the funky guitars of “Wheels.” All in all, Red Velvet Car is worth the ride.

“Magic Man”

When Heart released its debut, Dreamboat Annie back in 1976, Ann and Nancy Wilson often dressed like they’d borrowed their wardrobe from a medieval sorceress. Maybe it was all those nights of covering Led Zeppelin during their bar band days. Their instant FM radio classic, “Magic Man,” describes a young woman’s dream-like encounter on a “cold gray night so long ago” with the blue-eyed mysterious title character, who promises to whisk her off to exotic adventures.

Although apprehensive, she feels like she already knows him, and when he offers to “cast my spell of love on you,” she’s hooked. The song, which includes an extended guitar and synthesizer jam, as well as Ann’s impressive vocals, doesn’t mention any tragic consequences, so maybe the woman was not to heed her mother’s misgivings.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

"Tam Lin" - An Unearthly Knight

I had a great time last night at The Abbey Pub on Chicago’s northwest side, watching local bands paying tribute to The MC5, The Cure, The Beatles, and The Kinks. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for Tomorrow The Moon’s recreation of Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd because I don’t drive and I had to catch the 12:30 train back to Palatine. There’s another round of tributes at The Abbey tonight, including bands covering ZZ Top, Buddy Holly, New Order, and The Pretenders.

There’ll be a lot of parties tonight as well, with the more ambitious hosts trying to provide a suitably haunting backdrop for the festivities. Some might just tune their radios in to WXRT, which is playing all Halloween music for about four hours tonight.

For a number of years, I looked forward to XRT’s tradition of playing “Tam Lin” by Fairport Convention and “Allison Gross” by Steeleye Span on Halloween. I included both songs in last year’s 31 Songs For Halloween collection. I’ve already re-posted “Allison Gross,” and tonight I’m offering an encore of “Tam Lin.”

Along with Steeleye Span, whose “Allison Gross” also reared its ugly head on this list, Fairport Convention helped revitalize folk rock in England by electrifying traditional ballads with modern arrangements. “Tam Lin,” from Fairport Convention’s 1969 album, Liege And Lief, features a strong-willed heroine in a hair-raising tale of lust, evil curses, and redemption.

It’s based on Scottish folklore although variations have surfaced in other cultures as well. Brought to life by the terrific lead vocalist Sandy Denny, the lyrics warn maidens to steer clear of a wooded area called Carter Hall because a creepy elf named Tam Lin dwells there. Some versions of the original ballad offered unsavory reasons why a particular maiden named Janet ignores the warning, but Fairport Convention goes with the more positive view that she believes she has a right to pick roses at Carter Hall since it’s part of her family’s property. “When up there came young Tam Lin says, ‘Lady, pull no more./And why come you to Carter Hall without command from me?’/‘I’ll come and go,’ young Janet said, ‘and ask no leave of thee.”

Fairport Convention breaks up the narrative with energetic instrumental passages driven by electric guitar and fiddle. Although it’s not stated clearly, Janet’s encounter with Tam Lin includes him seducing her, and later there are consequences. “Well, up then spoke her father dear and he spoke meek and mild/‘Oh, and alas, Janet,’ he said, ‘I think you go with child.” By then, she’s fallen in love with the little guy. “For if my love were an earthly knight as he is an elfin grey/I’d not change my own true love for any knight you have.”

Janet goes back to Carter Hall to see if Tam Lin wants to trade the woods for a family, castle and white picket fence. He’s game, especially since his only other option at that point is being offered up as a human sacrifice. “The Queen of Faeries caught me when from my horse I fell/And at the end of seven years she pays a tithe to hell/I so fair and full of flesh and feared it be myself.” The magic of Halloween night not only offers Tam Lin a means to escape, but through Janet’s love, it can also transform him back into the handsome knight he was before the Queen of Faeries cast a spell on him.

Janet carries out the elaborate ritual Tam Lin prescribes, and wins his freedom. The Queen of Faeries is furious with the outcome. “‘Oh had I known, Tam Lin,’ she said, ‘what this knight I did see/I have looked him in the eyes and turned him to a tree.’” The website Tam Lin Balladry lists several more sinister variations on the original ballad than Fairport Convention’s version, but there is one that depicts The Queen Of Faeries expressing a grudging admiration for Janet’s pluck. On that note, we can also thank Fairport Convention for its well-executed take on this spooky legend.

Friday, October 29, 2010

"Experiment In Terror" - The Creature Walks

There’s a revved up version of “Experiment In Terror” on this rock and roll tribute to Henry Mancini.

“Experiment In Terror” has a slow, ominous beat and twanging guitars that conjure images of a monster creeping along some darkened street, but it was composed by Henry Mancini for a 1962 cops and robbers movie called Experiment In Terror. In the Chicago area, this song is much better known as the theme for Creature Features, which presented old time horror movies like House Of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, and The Mummy’s Ghost on WGN every Saturday night from 1970 to 1976.

In addition to “Experiment In Terror,” the show opened with a poem, which according to The “Unofficial” Creature Features website was written by WGN staffer Karen Verwolf. From what I can tell, that’s her real name. Werewolf? There, wolf. There, castle. Why am I quoting from Young Frankenstein? Anyway, Verwolf’s lines like, “Gruesome ghouls and grisly ghosts, wretched souls and cursed hosts” were read by Marty McNeely and Carl Greyson, both of whom served as announcer during the show’s run.

“Experiment In Terror” recalls our youthful fascination with monsters, the hours we spent trick or treating, carving pumpkins, and going to neighborhood Halloween parties in garages or basements. Plus, it’s a great song. In addition to the eerie guitars, a string arrangement adds drama and a cinematic feel. Later, there’s even a sexy sounding saxophone that puts the vamp in vampire.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Praying Mantis" - She Wanted His Body So Bad She Ate His Brain

There will be two great nights of music this weekend at The Abbey Pub as Last Rites stages its third annual Halloween Fest. On the 29th, Tomorrow The Moon will perform as Pink Floyd; Penthouse Sweets will kover The Kinks; and Ellis Clark and Epicycle, with special guest Phil Angotti, will recreate The Beatles’ famous rooftop performance. There are other fun tributes on the bill as well.

The lineup for the 30th will see the return of Phil Angotti, this time as Buddy Holly; The Webstirs as The Beach Boys, and Androstache as The Pretenders. Check out the Abbey Pub website for all the bands involved.

In the meantime, here’s a power pop entry from last year’s 31 Songs For Halloween.

Don Dixon is best known as a producer for artists like R.E.M., Let’s Active, and Marshall Crenshaw, but has also recorded his own work. “Praying Mantis” is on a 1985 album with the lengthy but truthful title Most Of The Girls Like To Dance But Only Some Of The Boys Like To. It’s a tongue in cheek pop song that likens giving into sexual temptation to the fate of the male praying mantis, who is devoured by the female while they’re mating.

Backed by a catchy, finger-snapping guitar arrangement, Dixon warns, “She bit off his head so he would not feel the pain./She wanted his body so bad she ate his brain.” This twangy, 1960s style tune would be perfect to dance to at a Halloween party, but be careful!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

“I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night” - Your Shadow Fell Upon My Lonely Room

Last year, I featured a different spooky song each day in October for a feature I called 31 Songs For Halloween. I don’t think I’ll be able to pull off anything that ambitious this season, but I would like to bring back some of the profiles for those who might not have seen them the first time around.

When “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)” by The Electric Prunes blasted from AM radios back in 1966, it was immediately evident that it was different from any other Top 40 hit. Lead vocalist James Lowe kicked off the song by playing an autoharp that buzzed like a nuclear-mutated mosquito as he sang, “Last night your shadow fell upon my lonely room.” This apparition of an ex-girlfriend seeking to make up vanishes just as things are getting interesting. The lines “Your eyes were filled with love the way they used to be/And when your hands reached out to comfort me” are followed by one of best howls in rock history. (Along with the one on Deep Purple’s version of “Hush.”)

Surprisingly, the song was not written by a band member or any other heartbroken male. According to a post at, it was the work of professional songwriters Annette Tucker and Nancie Mantz, who envisioned it as a ballad. The Electric Prunes had other ideas, giving it a hard driving, psychedelic arrangement that makes it an undisputed garage rock classic to this day.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

“Shadowed” - An Alien Presence

Last year, I featured a different spooky song each day in October for a feature I called 31 Songs For Halloween. I don’t think I’ll be able to pull off anything that ambitious this season, but I would like to bring back some of the profiles for those who might not have seen them the first time around.

The English band Fingerprintz zipped through a variety of genres during a brief career that lasted from 1979 to 1981. They played punk on their debut, The Very Dab, moved on to power pop with Distinguishing Marks, and by the time they released Beat Noir, they were into techno. One thing that remained constant was lead singer-guitarist Jimme O’Neill’s penchant for matching disturbing lyrics with catchy melodies.

“Shadowed,” from the aptly titled Beat Noir, offers intergalactic espionage set to a pulsating dance club arrangement. There’s a breathless chase down dark streets involving “an alien presence” and our hero. “Outside forces, foreign bodies in the atmosphere/I’ve got to shake them off and rub them out and get away from here.” Guitarist Cha Burnz throws in one of his distinctive solos, and O’Neill’s echo-laden vocals evoke U2, especially if Bono had been into comic books and sci-fi movies.

Sadly, none of the Fingerprintz albums are available on CD or iTunes. O’Neill and Burnz went on to form The Silencers UK and had a moderate hit with “Painted Moon.” Here's a link to a YouTube video of another chilling Fingerprintz song, "Bulletproof Heart."

Monday, October 25, 2010

“Planet Claire” - All The Trees Are Red

B-52’s founding member Fred Schneider has a brand new holiday CD called Destination . . . Christmas! coming out today from his side project The Superions. The video for "Santa's Disco" has some scary elements to it, so it might be a good time to look at an early B-52’s track that’s perfect for Halloween. Whether he's singing about Santa Claus or aliens, Schneider takes his patented wacky approach. This post originally ran as part of last year’s 31 Songs For Halloween collection.

This has been an especially busy time for discovering new planets. The more astronomers poke around outside Earth’s solar system, the more likely it is that someday they’ll find a planet with all of the essential elements to support life. Like water, methane, and carbon dioxide. One that has pink air and all the trees are red. No one ever dies there. Wait a minute, those last two lines are about Planet Claire, the fictional orb concocted by The B-52’s on their self-titled debut album.

Back in 1979, there had never been a group quite like this before. The B-52’s used oddball instrumentation, like a toy piano, a fire alarm, and a walkie talkie. And their lyrics were pure nonsense. Opening with a lengthy instrumental passage that features eerie keyboards, “Planet Claire” introduces us to an unnamed alien who came from the title planet via a Plymouth Satellite that she drives faster than the speed of light. Like all Clairelings, she doesn’t have a head, so it’s hard to imagine how she could see where she’s going. Then again, you could say the same thing about Earthlings who text while driving.

Vocalist Fred Schneider affects an appropriately silly tone throughout the song, especially when he screams, “WELL SHE ISN’T” in response to speculation that the alien is “from Mars or one of the seven stars that shine after 3:30 in the morning.” Unlike other outer space invaders, this visitor from “Planet Claire” doesn’t appear to have any evil plans. She’s been partying here on Earth for three decades at this point, and she might even be Paris Hilton’s BFF.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Hydrogenic" - I Can See You Glowing In The Dark

Last year, I featured a different spooky song each day in October for a feature I called 31 Songs For Halloween. I don’t think I’ll be able to pull off anything that ambitious this season, but I would like to bring back some of the profiles for those who might not have seen them the first time around.

The 2007 film, You Weren’t There: A History Of Chicago Punk, which is now available on DVD, showcases a thriving alternative music scene that was tragically overlooked by the rest of the country. Bohemia certainly qualifies as an act that deserved national exposure. Back in the early 1980s, the band’s high energy assault, led by charismatic lead vocalist/keyboards player Carla Evonne, prompted a Chicago daily newspaper critic to proclaim that Bohemia was every bit as good as X from Los Angeles. On a personal level, Carla and her mates were the inspiration for a novel I’m in the process of writing.

Following the 1980 release of a self-titled, three-song 10 inch EP in 1980, Bohemia struck again a year later with their impressive debut LP, Deviations. The album’s title served to foreshadow an obsession with offbeat and disturbing subject matter on songs like “Plastic Doll,” “Standard Deviations,” “Empty Room,” and “Dr. Werner.” “Hydrogenic” was dark in its own fun, highly melodic way. A punk rock masterpiece that offers a girl meets mutant love story with an underlying jab at nuclear energy, “Hydrogenic” kicks off with Zirbel’s revved up bass playing and an extended instrumental intro.

Evonne sets the romantic tale in motion, singing, “Since I met you baby/I haven’t been the same/You hit me like an H-bomb and now I hardly know my name.” Her lover’s appearance has been drastically changed by exposure to massive doses of radiation. “Momma says you’re different/With your long green hair/You got webs between your fingers/But I don’t even care.” As the music zips along, Evonne continues to sing the praises of her unique beau: “I can see you glowing in the dark/In my life you really caused a spark.” The satirical lyrics are punctuated by an overjoyed chorus of, “Ooh, our love is new/Our love is new . . . nuclear.”

Sadly, none of Bohemia’s work is available on CD, but you can check out a few of its live performances on YouTube.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Ghost On The Beach" - A Soakin' Wet Juliet

Last year, I featured a different spooky song each day in October for a feature I called 31 Songs For Halloween. I don’t think I’ll be able to pull off anything that ambitious this season, but I would like to bring back some of the profiles for those who might not have seen them the first time around.

The Insiders were one of those Chicago area bands like Off Broadway, Bohemia, The Elvis Brothers, and Shoes, that never achieved the lasting success they deserved. Things certainly looked promising back in 1987 when The Insiders released their debut, Ghost On The Beach, on Epic. The title track, written by John Siegle and Gary Yerkins, was not only a perfect blast of power pop with muscular guitar playing and an indelible melody, it also offered the sure-fire elements of a summer romance and a hint of the supernatural.

The sexy video went into heavy rotation on MTV, and helped The Insiders land a beer commercial. The well-honed lyrics describe a one night stand on the beach beside a romantic campfire as the waves crash in. “Making love almost the moment we met./A soggy Romeo, a soakin’ wet Juliet.” Later, it’s almost as if the encounter never took place. “The sand is smooth like no woman ever walked there./The wind silent like no man ever spoke.” All of which leads the guy to an eerie conclusion. “As I stand under the moon/And I’ll see you, washed up, some ghost inside a bottle/Out on the beach.” Guess that means he didn’t get her number.

Friday, October 22, 2010

"Full Moon Turn My Head Around" - A Boy Can Definitely Lose His Head

Veteran power pop vocalist Cliff Johnson played a gig at the Penny Road Pub in Barrington last weekend to showcase his new band, and celebrate the release of a 28-song double CD that serves as an anthology comprised mainly of unreleased material. I’m hoping to review it in the near future, but in the meantime, here’s another post from last year’s 31 Songs For Halloween collection. It features a track from the impressive debut from the Cliff Johnson-led band, Off Broadway.

Few objects have appeared in more scary movies, novels, music, and art than the full moon. It can transform a man into a werewolf, it provides the perfect backdrop for a witch flying on her broomstick, and as we learned in the Pink Floyd masterpiece, Dark Side Of The Moon, it will bring lunatics to your hallway. The Moody Blues called it a “cold hearted orb that rules the night.” Back in 1979, the Chicago power pop band Off Broadway reflected on lunar-related madness with “Full Moon Turn My Head Around,” from its flawless debut, On.

The song captured the party atmosphere that had made Off Broadway’s live performances so much fun. After introducing his fellow musicians and their mission, “We got a band, we got good, good band, we got a good band/We got a beat, we got a U.S. beat, we got a good beat,” lead vocalist Cliff Johnson confesses that he’s feeling edgy and a little crazy. The cause can be found directly above him. “When the moon is full a boy like me can definitely lose his head.” His comic, maniacal laugh recalls Napoleon XIV on his novelty hit, “They’re Coming To Take Me Away.” Meanwhile the band charges through a frantic but highly melodic arrangement.

It’s crazy that Off Broadway never achieved the mass success it deserved, but at least the band is still regarded as one of the finest examples of Midwestern power pop.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

WhiteWolfSonicPrincess & A Witch For A Girlfriend

Graphic taken form WhiteWolfSonicPrincess MySpace page.

WhiteWolfSonicPrincess has been evolving over the past year, recruiting new members and beefing up its avant garde indie rock approach. Guitarist-singer James Moeller, who founded the band with vocalist Carla Hayden, has been encountering some intriguing, though positive feedback from audience members, usually based on some sort of comparison to a combination of recording artists or genres. Moeller and Hayden are also the freethinking brains behind Black Forest Theatre, and they approach drama and music with the same witty, imaginative spirit.

So it should be interesting to see what WhiteWolfSonicPrincess brews up for its The Devil and The Vixen Halloween Bash next Friday, October 29th. The party will be held from 7 to 10 PM at the Invision School for Psychics, which is located at 3340 N. Clark Street. In addition to the WWSP performance, there will be Psychic Readers, a costume contest, a DJ, dancing, and comedy. Individual admission is $20, $30 per couple.

And now, here’s another choice from last year’s 31 Songs For Halloween collection. I’m reposting some of the profiles for those who might not have seen them the first time around.

“My Girlfriend Is A Witch” by October Country is just one of the many cool audio artifacts to be found on the Rhino CD compilation, Where The Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets: 1965-1968. Recorded in 1968 by a band that never found success beyond the West Coast, this is classic garage rock, with fun, spooky lyrics like, “Riding high/Leaving trails of smoke across the sky/On a broom/Glad that I am safe within my room.” In this case, having an other-worldly significant other doesn’t seem to have any ill effects, but it does inspire a bit of competition. “What a fate/A worshiper of magic for a day/But tonight I become a warlock just for spite.”

The song was written by record producer Michael Lloyd, who also provided lead vocals and some high-powered psychedelic guitar strumming, along with Marty Arsenault. Almost half of this catchy song is taken up by the musicians’ spirited jamming, which creates a live performance at a 1960s go-go club ambience. There’s no indication that the band took its name from Ray Bradbury’s collection of creepy short stories, The October Country. Instead, “My Girlfriend Is A Witch” has more of a 1960s TV theme feel. In fact, according to the book that comes with Where The Action Is, Lloyd recorded a second version in 1969 for the Saturday morning hillbilly feline cartoon series, The Cattanooga Cats.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

“Bird Song” - Does It Matter I Am Falling Apart?

Last year, I featured a different spooky song each day in October for a feature I called 31 Songs For Halloween. I don’t think I’ll be able to pull off anything that ambitious this season, but I would like to bring back some of the profiles for those who might not have seen them the first time around.

The arrival of new wave and punk rock in the late 1970s introduced an exciting cast of talented and sometimes intimidating female performers like Chrissie Hynde, Deborah Harry, Annie Lennox, Siouxsie Sioux, and Nina Hagen. In 1979, Lene Lovich, a singer with a passion for bizarre outfits and even more bizarre hair, released the frightening “Bird Song” as a single on Stiff Records. While the lyrics don’t mention anything too diabolical, Lovich’s high-pitched warble, the song’s gothic arrangement, and an ominous-sounding male choir create a nightmarish ambience. All the while remaining catchy enough for the dance floor.

Basically, this is a dark twist on the old expression, “A little bird told me,” in which a scheming feathered creature steals a woman’s boyfriend by tricking her into thinking he’s been untrue. “So with the bird, one day, you flew away/I woke up too late, you had gone/Fading on . . . with this song/Of the hurting little bird.” Lovich delivers these lines, and others like, “Such a cold bird, so hard, captured your heart/Does it matter I am falling apart” with a Nora Desmond like intensity. Later, she mentions the flesh “Of the dead little bird,” but it’s unclear whether she killed it.

The whole avian thing seems to be a metaphor until you see the startling rock video Lovich created for “Bird Song,” which is executed in the style of a vintage European horror flick. She plays a runaway bride, leaving her guy at the altar while she runs outside to challenge a raven to a staring contest. The male chorus becomes a group of priests or deacons, one of whom pounds away at the pipe organ like Lon Chaney. Maybe Lovich did lose out to an actual bird. “Still I watch the sky/Still I wonder why/Still I hope that I can carry on.”

Regardless of whether the villain is animal or human, Lene Lovich’s “Bird Song” record and video are genuine Halloween classics.

Monday, October 18, 2010

CD Review: Hollus - Part 1

Photo from Hollus Facebook page.

It’s getting more and more difficult to pin a label on the Chicago band Hollus. Its 2009 effort Joker and The Queen landed squarely in early 1970s classic rock territory, evoking The Faces and Led Zeppelin III. Then Hollus performed at International Pop Overthrow in Chicago, and seemed to absorb some of the festival’s more pop-oriented vibes.

Earlier this year, Hollus tapped into the musical Hair for its video of “Songs That You Love,” a melodic tune with chiming guitars and lush harmonies that sounded like a vintage hit single by The Byrds. “Songs That You Love” is included on Part One, the first of two EPs the band intends to release in the coming months. “Lucy Grey,” a spooky tale that could have been inspired by the William Wordsworth poem of the same name, is another melodic track, although with a definite hard rock edge.

Part One finds Hollus using more sophisticated arrangements while still exuding an adventurous spirit. The songs consistently benefit from the one-two punch of singer Jamison Acker and guitarist Michael Lux. On the aptly-named hypnotic blues rock number “Midnight,” Acker shows a Bono-like versatility that ranges from a haunting whisper to soaring vocals. Lux adds assorted nuances, including the lonely twang of a James Bond theme on “Midnight,” and cuts loose with a rampaging solo on “Lipstick.”

Hollus will have an EP release party for Part One at Reggie’s Music Joint on south State Street in Chicago on November 11th at 8:30PM.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Slumgullion #35

It's been a long time, been a long time, been a lonely, lonely, - - - but I finally have another Slumgullion ready.

Those of us who enjoy Mary E. Donnelly’s contributions to the cool PowerPop blog run by Steve Simels are looking forward to Boys Don’t Lie, the book she’s written about the band Shoes. Due to be published from Pure Pop Press next Spring, the book covers this essential group’s entire history, including the Elektra LPs that should have become best sellers.

Legendary Rock Stars, which includes former Material Issue bassist Ted Ansani, will be performing at the Bad Monkey Bar & Grill in Algonquin at 10PM tonight. Next weekend, Ansani’s cover band, Diving for Dynamite, will play an all ages show at 7PM at Bogie’s Ale House as part of Mount Prospect’s Octoberfest. There is no cover charge.

Terri Hemmert’s recent two-part Breakfast With The Beatles tribute to John Lennon on the occasion of what would have been his 70th birthday was yet another example of why she remains one of Chicago’s favorite radio personalities. Hemmert, who has been on WXRT since the 1970s, was recently inducted into The National Radio Hall Of Fame. An official ceremony, including cocktails and dinner will take place on November 6th at the WTTW Studios at 5400 N. St. Louis Avenue in Chicago. There will be a live broadcast of the ceremony starting at 9:00PM. For information, check out the Radio Hall Of Fame website.

Last Rites will present its third annual two-day Halloween Fest at The Abbey on the weekend of October 29th/30th. Once again, a number of local artists will be paying tribute to well-known performers. Those of us who caught the Fest last year know it’s a blast, and this year’s lineup definitely looks promising. On the 29th, Tomorrow The Moon will explore its dark side as Pink Floyd; Penthouse Sweets will kover The Kinks; Ellis Clark and Epicycle will become The Beatles; Who’s This Mary will appear as The Cure, Canasta covers Elton John, and Sentinels will kick out the jams as MC5. The equally enticing 30th bill features ZZ Listening as ZZ Top; Phil Angotti as Buddy Holly; The Webstirs as The Beach Boys; The Delafields as New Order; Curtis Evans as Nirvana; and Androstache as The Pretenders.

Roxy Swain, a co-ed band that evokes The Bangles and Continental Drifters on its recently released impressive full-length debut The Spell Of Youth, has an upcoming gig at Martyr’s on Lincoln Avenue on October 28th.

Singer-guitarist Jimmy Herter, who’s one of several reasons The New Invaders are one of the area’s better 1960s tribute bands, has a solo gig at the Prime Time Restaurant and Bar at 7750 W. 95th Street in Hickory Hills tonight. The show starts at 9:30. Yell out some Hollies requests and tell him Broken Hearted Toy sent you.

It’s Beginning To Rock A Lot Like Christmas as Kool Kat Musik unwraps its A Kool Kat Kristmas compilation. The CD features Maple Mars, The Britannicas, Paralax Project, Jellybricks, Frank Royster, and other acts.

Friday, October 15, 2010

“Cat People” - I Can Stare For A Million Years

Last year, I featured a different spooky song each day in October for a feature I called 31 Songs For Halloween. I don’t think I’ll be able to pull off anything that ambitious this season, but I would like to bring back some of the profiles for those who might not have seen them the first time around.

Few songs have made a more eerie entrance than “Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” the theme from director Paul Schrader’s 1982 horror film, Cat People. After a slow drum beat and a swirl of synthesizers, David Bowie emerges, singing, “See these eyes so green/I can stare for a thousand years.” His voice is so dark and deep you have no trouble believing him, and when he adds, “I’ve been putting out fire with gasoline,” you know there’s danger afoot.

Set to a guitar driven arrangement crafted by veteran film composer Giorgio Moroder (Flashdance, Midnight Express) Bowie’s lyrics evoke the doomed characters from the movie. Irena and her brother Paul, played by Natassia Kinski and Malcolm McDowell respectively, are descendants of humans who mated with leopards. This causes them to turn into panthers whenever they have sex with people, and they can’t return to their human forms without killing somebody. Bowie has created several of his own fascinating characters through his music over the years, and he’s just as adept in conveying Irena and Paul’s tortured emotions. “Still this pulsing night/A plague I call a heartbeat/Just be still with me/Ya wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through.”

The movie Cat People successfully tapped into the superstitions we’ve had about felines for centuries. Even today, it’s a good idea to make sure black house cats are kept indoors on Halloween to prevent deranged people from hurting them. And steer clear of panthers as well.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

“Every Day Is Halloween” - He Lives With Snakes & Lizards

Last year, I featured a different spooky song each day in October for a feature I called 31 Songs For Halloween. I don’t think I’ll be able to pull off anything that ambitious this season, but I would like to bring back some of the profiles for those who might not have seen them the first time around.

With its playful “bop bop bop bop” scat singing and dance club-ready synthesized beats, it’s easy to think of Ministry’s “Everyday Is Halloween” as a happy party song. Even the opening lines, “Well I live with snakes and lizards/And other things that go bump in the night” seem to promise dark fun in a Danny Elfman/Tim Burton kind of way.

But lead vocalist/founding member Al Jourgensen has actually fashioned a defiant anthem for people who are rejected by society for looking or acting differently from everyone else. “People seem to stop and stare they say/Why are you dressed like it’s Halloween/You look so absurd, you look so obscene.” The lyrics later ask, “Why can’t I live a life for me?/Why should I take the abuse that’s served?”

The song acts as a sort of mist-shrouded bridge from Ministry’s early Cold Life/With Sympathy techno days to its later incarnation as an aggressive death metal band. “Everyday Is Halloween” keeps people moving on the dance floor with over six minutes of melodic keyboards and dj scratching, but it would be nice if they also absorbed Jourgensen’s plea to be more tolerant.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

“Making Plans For Nigel” - His Whole Future Is As Good As Sealed

Here’s a Halloween/Under The Covers combo involving Nouvelle Vague’s version of the XTC song, “Making Plans For Nigel.”

Back in 2005, French musicians/producers Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux hit on the idea of transforming vintage punk rock into Latin-flavored lounge music. The duo assembled eight sultry-sounding female singers to take turns on lead vocals. Countless other acts have sought to conjure something avant garde out of slowing down the tempo on energetic songs, but the results usually came out reeking of embalming fluid. Nouvelle Vague, on the other hand, delivered a a self-titled debut full of fun, inventive takes on Joy Division, The Clash, Modern English, Dead Kennedys, and others.

The original “Making Plans For Nigel,” from the XTC album Drums & Wires, was more of a chilling meditation on the English working class than a high-speed rave-up, but it captured punk’s feelings of alienation. Working at a steel mill is certainly a respectable profession, but the razor-sharp lyrics suggest something more sinister. Nouvelle Vague’s breezy acoustic guitar and percussion arrangement adds an ironic touch to the social satire that actually makes the song a bit creepier than the original.

“We’re only making plans for Nigel,” a seductive voice explains. “We only want what’s best for him.” The point of view here is from a parent or other authority figure who views the young lad in question as a little dim and in need of guidance. “Nigel just needs this helping hand.” Worse yet, are the lyrics that could almost be referring to a pet or a child. “Nigel is not outspoken but he likes to speak and likes to be spoken to.” It’s almost as if the authority figure senses criticism that Nigel is either being brainwashed or forced to do something against his will, and defensively notes, “And if young Nigel says he’s happy, he must be happy in his work.” As the song drifts by we’re left to contemplate the line, “Nigel’s whole future is as good as sealed.”

So hats off to XTC for a creating a song that may not be about ghosts and monsters, but is pretty scary anyway, and to Nouvelle Vague for its imaginative rendition.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Demo-Listen Derby

Photo from The Locals website.

Here are some of the interesting local bands I've come across in recent months. Note: These reviews originally appeared in the Around Hear column of the Illinois Entertainer.

Yvonne Doll has been an impressive solo artist but teaming up with bassist Christy Nunes and drummer Kirk Snedeker in the power trio The Locals seems to have created an even better vehicle for her powerhouse vocals and songwriting abilities. The band’s new Salt EP follows 2008’s full length debut, Big Picture with four hard-hitting but melodic songs. “Sound It Out” is reminiscent of Melissa Etheridge but with more of a Midwestern power pop feel, and “Away From Here” is a declaration of independence set to a rocking beat.

Kevin Andrew Prchal’s Eat Shirt & Tie showcases his CD deep, rich vocals on a highly polished collection of easy listening and Country & Western songs. “Another Fool (In Love With You),” is a rollicking Johnny Cash/June Carter Cash style duet with singer Genevieve Schatz from Company Of Thieves, and Prchal also impresses with the majestic romantic fantasy of “Opryland Hotel.”

The 16 tracks on Treadmill Trackstar’s ambitious I Belong To Me sound like a cross between Coldplay and the orchestrated psychedelic rock of the late 1960s. Heidi Carey’s cello playing give the band much of its ornate texture, but singer-guitarist-keyboards player Angelo Gianna’s vocals play a huge role as well, particularly when his harmonizes with bassist-vocalist Mike Mills. Drummer Tony Lee helps Treadmill Trackstar add a hard rock edge to its lush approach on the bitter “Hands Off” and “Least I’m Feeling.”

Sunday, October 10, 2010

“Guinnevere” - An Island Mystery

My wife Pam and I went to Brookfield Zoo today. It was perfect, warm and sunny afternoon for seeing the animals, especially a family of meerkats, and a tiger that thrilled the crowd with some energetic hijinx. While we were sitting at an outside cafe eating ice cream, two peacocks walked right past our table. The line, “peacocks wandered aimlessly” from the Crosby, Stills, and Nash song “Guinnevere” immediately came to mind.

Last year, I featured a different spooky song each day in October for a feature I called 31 Songs For Halloween. I don’t think I’ll be able to pull off anything that ambitious this season, but I would like to bring back some of the profiles for those who might not have seen them the first time around.

Alfred Hitchcock understood that sometimes what is unseen is more terrifying than what is clearly visible. “Guinnevere,” a haunting folk rock tale from the first Crosby, Stills, and Nash record, plays a similar game of suspense. Set in a lush tropical paradise with peacocks and orange trees, and conveyed through gorgeous harmony vocals, the song describes two beautiful but doomed young women. One, Guinnevere has mysteriously vanished, perhaps a consequence of having dabbled in the occult with pentagrams. The second woman seems to be following in her footsteps.

Writer David Crosby casts himself as a sailor who has romanced both women, and it’s left unclear as to whether he’s an instrument in their destruction or just a helpless observer. See “The Lee Shore” for another of Crosby’s mysterious seafaring yarns.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

“Vampires” - Now They’re Back At My Neck And They’re Thirsty

Last year, I featured a different spooky song each day in October for a feature I called 31 Songs For Halloween. I don’t think I’ll be able to pull off anything that ambitious this season, but I would like to bring back some of the profiles for those who might not have seen them the first time around.

Back in 2005, vocalist-guitarist Scott Windsor gathered a secretive collection of musicians together under the name The Umbrellas. The band’s self-titled CD offered gorgeous shoegazer music with an occasional dash of energetic techno rock. “Vampires” is an impossibly catchy tune with a shuffling drumbeat amidst a hypnotic swirl of keyboards and guitars. Windsor’s androgynous vocals ooze sophistication as he sets the scene of his arrival at a high-society bash. “Last night we went to a party./There were a bunch of big names there.” The protagonist immediately senses danger. “So I’ve got one hand on my neck to keep all the vampires out./I’m gonna finish this stiff drink and I’ll be on my way.”

Windsor shifts to a more poetic tone as he describes the car ride back to his home. “I think the entire existence is asleep it’s so quiet./My headlights dance pictures on the treeline./The song floats out the window into the fog-filled night.” Although it’s not explicitly described in the song, somehow this guy gives in the vampires’ lure. “Now they’re back at my neck and they’re thirsty.” Alone in his bedroom, he reflects on what he has done. “This apple in my hand, I just took one bite.”

Of course, it’s possible Windsor intended all this as a metaphor aimed at the blood-sucking entertainment industry, but taken literally, it’s a fun and seductive Halloween treat.

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