Friday, September 30, 2011

Slumgullion #81

Randee St. Nicholas photo of Heart in the studio from Heart’s Facebook page.

In Your Heart, You Know I’m Right. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame doesn’t give out those ‘I Voted’ stickers like you get in political elections, but if they did, I’d have one on right now. I went to the RRHOF website, where people can enter their choices for which five of the 2012 Nominees should be inducted. The full list is as follows: Beastie Boys, The Cure, Donovan, Eric B. & Rakim, Guns N’ Roses, Heart, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Freddie King, Laura Nyro, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rufus With Chaka Khan, The Small Faces/The Faces, The Spinners, Donna Summer, and War.

As in previous years, people are taking to Facebook to lament overlooked artists, like Lou Reed, The Zombies, Cheap Trick, The Smithereens, Rush, Black Sabbath, The Buzzcocks, and The Moody Blues. You could make a solid case for any of the above, and as a power pop/1960s fanatic, I’d particularly recommend Cheap Trick, The Smithereens, and The Zombies. I won’t disparage any of this year’s nominees, which has also become an annual tradition.

Last year, I did a sort of American Idol thing and picked one favorite to be among the five chosen. For 2012, I’m going with Heart. Ann and Nancy Wilson blasted open doors for women in rock back in the mid-1970s, still kick butt in live performances, and released a strong new CD in Red Velvet Car. Last year, I picked Donovan as my RRHOF Idol. Not that it did him much good. But I think Heart has a great chance for 2012. And hopefully, Donovan as well.

I’m not sure if the popular vote on the website actually counts in the final decision. But if it does, Red Hot Chili Peppers, with 19.28% (as opposed to Nyro’s 0.87%), are a safe bet to be inducted. The Cure come next with 17.19%, while Heart is in fourth place at 9.68%.

Poi Dog Palatine. Durty Nellie’s kicks off October with a high energy show by the critically acclaimed, multi-cultural Poi Dog Pondering tomorrow night. The acoustic-based but kind of scary quartet The Damn Choir will be the opening act. Doors open at 8:00 PM, shows starts at 9:00 PM.

Transylvania’s Got Talent. And here’s some more fun you can have in my town. Having already successfully collaborated on a production of Jesus Christ Superstar, Theatre Nebula and Music On Stage are now joining forces to bring the Midwest Premiere of Dracula: The Musical to Palatine’s Cutting Hall.

The show, which features music by Frank Wildhorn, transplants the famous vampire to England, where he’s soon up to his usual hijinx. Don Black and Christopher Hampton wrote the lyrics and book, based on Bram Stoker’s famous novel. Dracula: The Musical runs from October 7th through November 6th, with shows on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

But All Good. The Second Disc, one of the best websites for keeping abreast of upcoming re-released material, reported in its September 26th online newsletter that R.E.M. has a pretty impressive compilation coming out on November 15th. The self-effacedly titled, Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage is a two-disc set that will cover the band’s entire career, and offer three new songs.

Old Man Take A Look At My Life. I’ll be portraying Fritz Willoughby, the cranky host of Old Days, this Sunday when the Internet show Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff kicks off its fourth season. Host Jeff Kelley promises some interesting surprises.

As The Raven Walks. Occasional Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff contributor and comic artist Dave Metzger will be one of the more than 200 artists taking part in the 10th Annual Ravenswood ArtWalk this weekend. Forty studios will be welcoming the public, and there will be live music, film screenings, food and Goose Island beer. Hours are 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM Saturday, and 11:00AM to 6:00 PM Sunday. There is no admission charge.

Dolly Solo At Simon's. Singer-guitarist Steve Dawson, who fronts the alt rock/C&W outfit Dolly Varden with his wife Diane Christiansen, and has released some critically acclaimed solo recordings, will be performing at Simon’s Tavern on Chicago’s north side this Sunday night, October 2nd. Christiansen will be on hand to help out on vocals and guitar, along with musicians Jason Adasiewicz on accordion, Jason Roebke on bass, and Frank Rosaly on drums.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Countdown To Caffeinated Fun - Coffee With Jeff Returns

Sorry Erica, Jeff’s married.

In just a few months, the cast and crew of All My Children will tiptoe into the uncertain waters of web-only episodes of their long-running soap opera. As the young Jacob Marley noted upon welcoming the young Ebenezer Scrooge to his new company in A Christmas Carol, “The place will no doubt seem strange to you.” But if the AMC people look hard enough, they’ll see a friendly, bearded gentleman waiting to greet them. Not God or Santa Claus, but - - -

Yes, the weekly Internet show
Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff returns for its fourth season on October 2nd. Host and creator Jeff Kelley hopes to take the series in a slightly different direction, with less public domain footage and more original content. That poses a challenge. Public domain material is readily available from the Internet, although it can takes hours of treasure hunting to discover just the right unintentionally hilarious industrial or school film. Without it, Kelley, his wife Dawn, and son Mark will have to create more of their own bits for the show. There will also need to be more submissions from Willy Deal, as well as my wife Pam and me.

Kelley introduces each show and delivers monologues about life’s little annoyances. He’s created short animated pieces, profiles of dumb criminals, and trivia contests like
Who Dat Artist? Deal’s On The Road With Willy reports combine humor involving out-of-control clones, with live footage of area bands. He’s also contributed some straight-up comedy bits.
Pam and I created Manchester Gallery, a 20-part series of two-minute episodes for Season Two, and the Old Days, Roving Reporter, and What’s With Terry? bits last season. Hopefully, there will be some skits this season featuring Kelley, Deal, and myself. We’ve been talking about it for a while, but it’s a matter of finding the right time for all of us to get together.

Kelley has also been incorporating more indie rock music for
Coffee, and is likely to continue in that vein. Also, look for short interviews with people about their hobbies, passions, and creative endeavors. Contributions are always welcome, so if you have a short piece you’d like to see on Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff, be sure to tune in to the Season Four Premiere this weekend.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

CD Review: Fountains Of Wayne - Out-Of-State Plates

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

Out-of-State Plates is aimed at diehard Fountains Of Wayne fans as opposed to those who only know the band from its “Stacey’s Mom” video. The two-disc set features non-album tracks from 1996 through 2005, as well as live performances, cover versions, and two brand new songs. The amount of material proves just how prolific vocalist-guitarist Chris Collingwood and vocalist-bassist Adam Schlesinger have become as a songwriting duo.

The CD’s only true misfire is “Half A Woman,” a monotonous tune about a magician’s assistant that strains to be clever. By contrast, the freshly recorded “Maureen” is a fun rock song about a frustrated guy’s ‘best friend’ who insists on providing detailed accounts of her affairs with other men. “The Girl I Can’t Forget,” the other new song, is equally catchy. The band performs faithful renditions of ELO’s “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” and Jackson Browne’s “These Days,” but has fun with Britney Spears’s “Baby One More Time.” Fountains Of Wayne’s authentic bluegrass take on the old standard “Today’s Teardrops” is another solid rarity on Out-Of-State Plates.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Here’s Listening To You, Sweetheart

Susanna Hoffs photo from The Bangles Facebook page.

Just a reminder: A benefit for musician Kevin Junior will be held at the Lincoln Tap Room this Thursday night. Proceeds from the bash, which will include performances by singer-guitarist Phil Angotti and guitarist Ellis Clark from The Handcuffs among others, will go towards Junior’s medical bills for an upcoming heart surgery. Junior is probably best known for his work with The Chamber Strings, but he’s also a solo artist and has worked with Angotti and other musicians at live gigs around Chicago. He’s scheduled to perform at the benefit. Show time is 9:00 PM. The Lincoln Tap Room is located at 3010 N. Lincoln Avenue. There’s a $10 cover charge, and donations can also be made at the Friends of Kevin Junior fundraising site.

The Bangles’ first CD of new material in seven years drops today, just prior to a 16-date American tour that kicks off in Philadelphia on October 1st. The schedule includes an October 10th date at The House Of Blues in Chicago. Sweetheart Of The Sun, a collection of 10 originals and two covers, is the first Bangles recording since their 1982 self-titled EP that doesn’t include bassist Michael Steele. It has drawn favorable reviews from NPR and assorted blog sites. I’ve already submitted my take on the Sweetheart to the Illinois Entertainer, so hopefully it will run in the October issue.

Bangles fans in the Los Angeles area will have an opportunity to hear an acoustic set by the band and purchase signed copies of the new CD tonight from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM at The Grove Barnes and Noble. Legendary disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer, a Bangles supporter from the earliest days, is serving as host. I may not be a Bingenheimer, but if The Bangles are looking for a host to do something like this in Chicago, I’m available.

Monday, September 26, 2011

45 RPM Memories: Tanita Tikaram - “Twist In My Sobriety”

Cryan Shames Alert: Fans of the Chicago-based 1960s band might want to drop by the Intercontinental Hotel in Rosemont Thursday Night to catch a performance by former members James Fairs and Tom Doody in The Montrose Room. They’ll be backed by a band on hits like “Could Be We’re In Love” and “Up On The Roof.” The show starts at 8:30 PM. Check out the Chicago Rock Bands 1960's page on Facebook for more details.

Singer-songwriter Tanita Tikaram wasn’t kidding when she sang, “Different thoughts are good for me” on her “Twist In My Sobriety” single back in 1988. The enigmatic lyrics sure sounded like they sprang from an unconventional thought process; mixing spiritual and food imagery on lines like, “You pig out ‘til you see the light” along with references to “a little pie” and a “cup of tea.” Tikaram exuded an independent spirit throughout this strange brew as well, while a hypnotic arrangement provided the perfect backdrop.

Aside from a chorus that included lines like, “Look my eyes are just holograms/Look your love has drawn red from my hands,” perhaps the biggest mystery of “Twist In My Sobriety” was how the 19-year old Tikaram managed to sing like a deep-voiced, much older woman. On the B-Side, “I Love You,” Tikaram created an off-kilter romantic tale with a coffeehouse ambience via a talky vocal style and acoustic guitar arrangement.

Tikaram retired from the music business temporarily, but is currently working on a new CD, and is performing her Acoustic Sessions Tour at selected dates in Europe.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Slumgullion #80

It’s The End Of Pine Valley As We know It (Spoiler Alert!). America lost two of its cultural icons this week as R.E.M. called it quits on Wednesday and All My Children aired its final episode on ABC today. The soap opera, which is scheduled to return in a web-only format at the beginning of 2012, literally wrapped up its network tenure with a bang. A single shot was fired in a room filled with current cast members and several former stars who had returned for the finale, and the screen went black before it was clear who the victim was. Time will tell if it’s a strong enough gimmick to lure some of the show’s older, computer-wary fans back for All My Children’s new technology reincarnation. Of course, young and vital people like my wife will have no trouble making the transition.

R.E.M. passed away with much less commotion. Just a short post on their website that caught the media and loyal followers completely by surprise. I still have fond memories of catching R.E.M. in their very early days at a Park West concert, where deliberately minimal stage lighting conjured a campfire ambience that perfectly suited the band’s hypnotic music. The quirky and immediately engaging Let’s Active was the opening act. Over the years, I shared an appreciation of R.E.M with several friends and co-workers. Here’s a toast to them, as well as this highly influential band.

‘Cuffs At Quenchers. The Handcuffs continue their blitz through the Chicago area in support of their new Waiting For The Robot CD with a show tomorrow night at Quenchers. The Ivorys will be the opening act. Show time is 10:00 PM.

A Worthy Cause. As I mentioned on Wednesday, Sarah Denton, the daughter of veteran Chicago-based rock and roll scribe Tom Lounges, will be taking part in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Northwest Indiana Walk this coming Sunday at Centennial Park. Anyone interested in helping Ms. Denton reach her $150 fundraising goal can check out AFSP’s Out Of The Darkness Community Walks page.

Crawpuppies & PopChips. The Crawpuppies are inviting their fans to be part of video they’ll be shooting next Saturday at County Line Orchard starting at 1:00 PM. The band was recently among the 20 acts chosen out of 1500 to compete in Round 2 of the PopChips contest. They’re hoping the video will propel them into Round 3. The ultimate winner of the PopChips contest will perform at next year’s South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. Fans who can’t wait until next week will be able to check out The Crawpuppies tomorrow at County Line Orchard from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM.

Another Side Of Ralph. Ralph Covert has an Acoustic Army show at Fitzgerald’s Sidebar in Berwyn tomorrow night.

More Madness. Singer-songwriter Dean Milano will be unleashing all kinds of Assorted Madness and Music with Bob Abrams tomorrow night at the SciTech Museum’s 1st Annual End Of Summer Bash in Aurora. The museum is located at 18 W. Benton Street.

Another Worthy Cause. Dorian Taj, John San Juan, Ellis Clark (The Handcuffs), Phil Angotti & Carolyn Engelmann, and Lou Hallwas & Andy Hansen (Penthouse Sweets) will be among the local musicians taking part in the Benefit For Kevin Junior at Lincoln Tap next Thursday night at 9:00 PM. Proceeds will help Junior, a member of The Chamber Strings and a solo artist, cover the medical cost of an upcoming heart surgery. Junior will also be performing at the benefit. There is a $10 donation. Donations can also be made at the Friends of Kevin Junior fundraising site.

Picture Yourself On A Bus. The Who had their Magic Bus, and now the late John Lennon has a similar vehicle that’s been created in his honor. Made possible through the help of several sponsors, the much-traveled John Lennon Tour Bus gives students a valuable learning experience as they write, record, and produce original songs for videos all within a single day. The finished products can be uploaded to MySpace, Facebook, and Youtube, as well as The John Lennon Tour Bus website. The high tech bus, which has a front and rear studio, as well as a stage area, can be booked for schools, conferences and events throughout the U.S.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

CD Review: 360’s - Strawberry Stone

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer in 1994.

Boston’s 360’s may have dabbled in psychedelic music on their previous two albums, but they embark on a full scale head trip with Strawberry Stone. Singer Audrey Clark and lead guitarist Eric Russell lead the way through a series of high energy, melodic nuggets like “When I’m High,” “Dig USA,” and “Strangest Day (Mind Explosion) before closing with the ethereal ballad “Wind Is Green.”

Most of Strawberry Stone works because the 360’s have an obvious affection for the genre. The only problem comes on the self-indulgent free-form “Nitetime Angel Candy,” which drags on for 10 minutes. Fortunately, “Dragged” follows directly after, blowing away the clutter with a short blast of guitar and snarling vocals. The 360’s also impress with “Riverwitch,” a spooky track that feature’s Clark’s electronically altered vocals.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Vintage Publication Spotlight: XBX

Before moving on to today’s ‘zine profile, here are a few quick messages.

It’ll be four bands for $5 tonight at Quenchers, at 2401 N. Western Avenue in Chicago. Music will be provided by The Sonnets, We Repel Each Other, Coma Boys, and Maxrebo. Show time is 8:00 PM.

Guster has a free concert scheduled for tomorrow at 5:30 PM. The performance will be hosted by WXRT and the Shedd Aquarium, and takes place at The Dock at Montrose Beach (200 W. Montrose Harbor Drive) in Chicago. Call 773-828-9841 for info. If you see XRT news anchor Mary Dixon, ask about her expose on all the squid orgies taking place at the bottom of the sea.

WXRT posted on its Facebook page today that R.E.M. has decided to call it quits. Very sorry to hear that.

Sarah Denton, the daughter of veteran Chicago-based rock and roll scribe Tom Lounges, will be taking part in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Northwest Indiana Walk this coming Sunday at Centennial Park. Anyone interested in helping Ms. Denton reach her $150 fundraising goal can check out AFSP’s Out Of The Darkness Community Walks page.

Originally an Indiana publication that covered alternative music in the mid-1980s, XBX was reborn as a Chicago-based ‘zine in March, 1988. Publisher Donald H. Weismantel (somehow that name doesn’t sound cutting edge) explained the XBX legacy in his Wavelengths column. Subtitled New Music And Lifestyles, the 16-page windy city debut had two feature articles, three columns (including Weismantel’s), Jim Felli’s M.T. Head comic, and a center spread of candid club photos that weren’t as sleazy as the ones you see in some publications these days.

Heidi Mendelsohn, who was listed on the masthead as Acct. Exuctive/Promotions, interviewed Ellis Clark and John Krenger of Social Act (third member Dave Ishiki was absent) about the band’s music, its chemistry, and the Chicago music scene. “It’s like a little family,” Clark told her. “When I see a band like The Insiders get signed, I don’t get jealous about it. I feel good. It gives me more of an incentive, it makes you more positive to know you can make it here.” Those of us who saw Clark blazing away on his guitar as The Handcuffs opened for Blondie last week know he’s still an active member of the family in 2011.

There was an uncredited interview with Promotional Director of Erik’s North, Steve Saban, who talked about the club’s new policy of booking progressive live bands on Wednesday nights. Robert N. Crawford’s Astroscan page covered astrology; and a calendar of concert dates for February and March listed The Dead Milkmen, The Farmers, and October’s Child at Cabaret Metro; The dB’s, also at Cabaret Metro; and Miles Davis at The Vic. The Slugs had a gig at Cubby Bear, Maybe Definitely was at Avalon, and Echo & The Bunnymen were scheduled for Northwestern University.

Tod Brown, Scott Brown, and Anthony Paulos co-wrote a column called Pieces, which among other items, speculated that Cabaret Metro co-owner Joe Shanahan wanted I.R.S. recording artists Leather Nun to perform at his birthday party. Can’t say that I’ve ever heard of Leather Nun. XBX had ads for the Cheers record store in Palos Heights; the 950 Lucky Number, Circuits, Exit, and Cubby Bear clubs; and Futonair - The New Era In Comfort.

CD Review: The Laughing Dogs - The Laughing Dogs/The Laughing Dogs Meet Their Makers

I encountered technical difficulties while trying to post this review yesterday, so here it is now. Hopefully, I'll have another post later today. Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

The Laughing Dogs make a belated entry into the realm of CDs with this American Beat compilation of its first two records. Coming out of New York City’s acclaimed alternative music scene in 1979, the band’s self-titled debut of energetic power pop got lost in the shuffle. The Laughing Dog Meet Their Makers, released a year later, found the band going in a new direction.

The Laughing Dogs is definitely the stronger effort. “Get ‘Im Outta Town,” “I Need A Million,” and “It’s Just The Truth” have great melodies and showcase the band’s amazing harmonies. “No Lies” has an easy-going groove that recalls The Rascals, and the harmonica-driven “Reason For Love” also taps into the 1960s.

The Laughing Dogs Meet Their Makers retains the emphasis on strong vocals, but is filled with desperate attempts at a hit single. “Formal Letter” and “Don’t Push It” are highly-polished but generic stabs at mainstream 1980s pop, and the sappy sentiment of “Two Who Are Willing” is annoying. The Laughing Dogs effectively cover The Animals’ “Don’t Bring Me Down,” but other than that, “Melody Love” is the only track that meets the high standards of their impressive debut.

Monday, September 19, 2011

CD Review: Lush - Split

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

Lush’s third full-length album Split offers the band’s usual mix of delicate and hard-hitting arrangements featuring the high harmonies of vocalists-guitarists Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson. There’s plenty of atmosphere, but this time out, Lush is working with more conventional song structures.

The opening track “Light From A Dead Star” floats through on Anderson and Berenyi’s angelic voices, but it’s the angry and guitar-driven “Hypocrite” that’s likely to garner the most attention as the first single and video. “The Invisible Man,” a spooky track anchored by bassist Phil King and drummer Christopher Acland, serves as another highlight.

Lush weaves a number of deceptively sunny melodies throughout Split, masking the underlying sadness of the lyrics. “Lovelife” uses striking imagery in its depiction of a suffocating relationship while “When I Die” deals with the loss of a loved one. At least the catchy “Lit Up” offers a glimmer of hope.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Slumgullion #79

This could've been my ticket to an Academy Award as well as an invitation to the The Entertainment Media Show in London.

So as it turns out, I’m nowhere to be seen in Contagion despite the fact that my performance as an extra would have generated an Oscar buzz. The two scenes I worked on (a makeshift hospital set up in an armory and an outdoor field where food was being distributed) were filmed in Chicago but are supposed to be taking place in Minneapolis. The graphic above shows how the poster might have looked if my scenes had been given the proper consideration.

Spade Kitty Records presents The Gentlemen Of Obscurity tonight at Friendly Tap in Berwyn, Illinois. The band is comprised of Geoff Simons, Tim Gitings, and Matt Walters, with help from Zane Ranney, Joe Goldberg, and Rachel “Roxy” Swain. The musicians have regular gigs in other groups, and are coming together for one-time only although they do have an album available on iTunes. The Welcome and The Hemmingbirds are also on tonight’s bill. The show starts at 9:00 PM and admission is free.

Material Re-Issue has a special evening planned for power pop fans tomorrow night at Lincoln Hall on Chicago’s north side. The trio, made up of original members bassist Ted Ansani and drummer Mike Zelenko, along with veteran power pop singer-guitarist Phil Angotti, will be joined by special guests Jay O’Rourke from The Insiders, Jeff Murphy from Shoes, and John Haggerty from Naked Raygun. Those in attendance will also be treated to producer Lou Hinkhouse’s short film about Material Issue in the days when Jim Ellison served as lead vocalist-guitarist. The hard-hitting four woman band Rockit Girl, who recently reunited, will be the opening act. The show starts at 9:00 PM.

Dolly Varden, the alt rock-country & western band fronted by the husband and wife team of Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen, will be performing an hour-long set tomorrow afternoon at 1:30 as part of the Brilliant Corners Of Popular Amusements Festival The eclectic celebration, which kicked off at 5:30 earlier today, is being held at Eckhart Park, at Chicago Avenue and Noble in Chicago. School of Seven Bells plays at 9:00 PM Saturday, and the Steve Albini led trio Shellac shreds the stage on Sunday at 9:00 PM. A number of novelty acts, The Renegade Craft Fair, and a Farmers Market will also be part of the fun.

The Guinness Oyster Fest being held today and tomorrow at Damen and Roscoe looks to be one of Chicago’s more ambitious street parties this year. The Human League performs at 8:30 tomorrow night, closing out a day that will also see Dot Dot Dot, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, and Men Without Hats taking the stage. The Irish-centric Stage offers the Irish Music School of Chicago, The Trinity Irish Dancers, and other Celtic entertainment all day tomorrow.

Black Forest Presents A Night Of Neil Young Songs takes place tomorrow night at Cafe Mozart at 600 Davis Street in Evanston. Ten different acts will be involved in the tribute, which starts at 7:00 PM.

Snackstock 2011 A Benefit Concert For Ovarian Cancer will be held from noon to 5:00 PM on October 9th at Austin’s Fuel Room in Libertyville, IL. Two live bands, Ordinary Outcast and Goin South, will provide the entertainment. Fans of the Internet show Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff will surely remember Goin South as the group frequently covered by On The Road reporter Willy Deal.

Former Doctor Who star David Tennant will be hosting the Manchester Rocks Concert For Children In Need at the M.E.N. Arena on November 17th. Performers include Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Elbow, Michael Buble, Lady Gaga, and some surprise guests. The concert will be broadcast on BBC One anf BBC HD.

Those of us who’ve been longing to someday mingle among a multitude of fascinating stars at the annual San Diego Comic Con now have an even bigger event to put on our wish list. The Entertainment Media Show with Collectormania is being held in London on October 1st and 2nd.

The stellar guest list includes Diana Rigg of Emma Peel fame; David Tennant, Arthur Darvill, and several other actors involved with Doctor Who; John Hurt from Harry Potter and countless other films; Eve Myles from Torchwood and Merlin; Jenny Cresswell from Star Wars and Space 1999; Armin Shimerman from Star Trek, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Stargate; Jane Wiedlin, the Go-Go’s member who also appeared in Bill And Ted; and several other performers from cult TV shows and movies.

There will be photo shoots, merchandise and dealers, comics, anime, and other events. Plus, it’s in ENGLAND! The website proclaims “Visiting the show can give you the opportunity to take part in free talks with the stars” and “Everything to keep the big kid in all us happy!’ If only my scenes hadn’t been cut from Contagion! I would have been invited to this convention.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

CD Review: The Ponys - Celebration Castle

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer in 2005.

The Ponys may have lost Ian Adams, the versatile keyboardist whose farsifa organ playing provided so much fun on the Chicago band’s debut, Laced With Romance, but they still have a charismatic lead singer-guitarist in Jered Gummere. His energetic and decidedly offbeat vocals enable The Ponys to add humor to their hard-edged performances. Like its predecessor, Celebration Castle taps into garage and vintage new wave, along with a hint of classic rock.

On the melodic “Glass Conversation,” Gummere once again channels Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, while bassist Melissa Elias adds a mysterious ambiance to the Cure-conjuring “We Shot The World” via her back-up vocals. Elias takes center stage for the freewheeling “She’s Broken,” as Gummere backs her with some furious guitar feedback. More feedback and Nathan Jerde’s powerful drumming underscore the volatile relationship described in “Shadowbox.” The peppy “I’m With You,” with its hand claps and catchy melody, offers a charming take on love as Gummere sings, “I don’t mind what they say/As long as you’re with me and I’m with you.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

CD Review: The Unthanks - Last

First, a quick update on musician Dan Pavelich’s goal to raise $750 to cover the cost of manufacturing and promoting Hi-Fi Christmas Vol. 3. All of the profits from this various artists holiday CD will go toward helping to find a cure for the blood disorder Von Willebrand’s Disease. Pavelich, the singer-rhythm guitarist for the Chicago power pop band The Bradburys, recently said he’s more than halfway there but only has three weeks left to reach the total.

While there are enticing giveaways for those who contribute $25 or more, any amount will will help. The first two volumes of Hi-Fi Christmas featured original and traditional songs from artists like The Spongetones, The Bradburys, and Jim Babjak of The Smithereens. So a donation will not only help fund some much needed research for Von Willebrand’s, it will bring another fun batch of power pop holiday tunes. Check out for info on how to help.

Here’s a CD review that originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer. It’s the follow-up to the 2009 release Here’s The Tender Coming, which I reviewed previously on this blog.

The Unthanks once again conjure images of 19th Century England with lush harmonies and orchestral arrangements, even though Last features modern age compositions alongside traditional fare. The band, led by superb vocalists Rachel and Becky Unthanks, takes an approach that’s like slipping a black velvet glove over each song regardless of what era it came from. The results on this third release are exquisite, but at times constricting.

“Close The Coalhouse Door” was written by folk artist Alex Glasgow as a rousing protest against the coal mining industry, but The Unthanks replace political fury with a ghostly ambience that suggests a gothic novel. The band does better with a melodic cover of the Tom Waits tune, “No One Knows I’m Gone,” and crafts a stately air for King Crimson’s “Starless” as well as band member/producer Adrian McNally’s title track. The ethereal “Gan To The Kye,” and the playful “My Laddie Sits Ower Late Up” and “Canny Hobbie Elliott” showcase The Unthanks’ ability to bring centuries-old musical tales to life through inventive interpretations.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

One Monkee Does Stop The Show

Cue the superhero music. The dimpled Peter Tork in a photo from the June, 1967 edition of WCFL Presents The Teen Set.

Today marks the first time there has been a guest post on Broken Hearted Toy. Comedic actress-journalist Desiree Burcum has graciously accepted my invitation to write about her encounter with Peter Tork at this year’s Chicago Wizard World Comic Con.

As a veteran of Famous In The Future (the same comedy group I performed with for 20 years), Burcum has written skits and song parodies about Barbie, All In The Family, Wal-Mart, hoarders, religious fanatics, the benefits of dating a dead guy, and all kinds of hot-button issues. Of the current cast, only founding member Frank Carr has logged more time with the group. Burcum’s also a freelance writer who has written indie film reviews for the Chicago Tribune. So here’s her tale of meeting Mr. Tork:

I was uninitiated. I never followed sci-fi or fantasy. Never collected comic books. My single-minded purpose for attending the Chicago Wizard World Comic Con was to meet Peter Tork. My teen crush. It was early Sunday morning and I was already lost and disoriented by the sheer size of Comic Con. I wandered past storm troopers, took a right at a Ren Faire guy and, as if the mists parted, there he was. Just like that. Peter Tork standing at…the Peter Tork booth.

Having never experienced him looking back at me, I was only able to mutter and change colors. I blame my inner 16-year old, who was giddy at the sight of Peter’s dimples. I said something profound like, “I always wanted to meet you.”

I then learned that the “Photo Op with Peter Tork” that I’d prepaid for online would take place across the convention hall. So, I stumbled off. (Did I mention I was already feeling lost? Human-Bermuda-Triangle lost.) I somehow found the place and waited in line. The wrong line. And was told, “You missed it. Peter’s gone.” -- My inner 16-year old was kicking me in the prefrontal cortex. -- “But, you might still be able to catch him at his booth.”

How I found the booth again is a mystery. But, Peter was there. I sheepishly asked his assistant if I could pay to take a picture at the booth. Because…yes, I got in the wrong line. Because…yes, I’m a bonehead.

Here’s where you can insert the superhero music. Peter overheard this and said, “That’s not right.” He offered to take me back to the photography spot. I stammered a protest since I knew he’d have to abandon his booth. But he stepped out and motioned me to follow. I must have stood there stupefied for a second, because he added, “You’re going to have to hurry.”

So, I ran with Peter Tork through the vast Comic Com convention hall. When we got to the photo spot, we ducked through the curtains. Fans were posing with Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead fame. Peter leaned in by the camera and shot them a peace sign. He waved me over. I remember a flash. It was so fast. And Peter was gone.

I meandered back, passing stacks of comic books, Batgirl, Iron Man…Eventually, I found myself across from Peter Tork’s booth again. He was greeting fans and children. I caught his eye and mouthed “Thank you.” He smiled and mouthed back, “You’re welcome.”


-- Desiree Burcum

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Definite Article

In the September issue of the Illinois Entertainer, freelance writer Arsenio Orteza reviews Crack My Bones, a new CD by The Shoes, a French duo comprised of producers/musicians Guillaume and Benalways. Orteza gives the catchy techno music a thumbs up but believes power pop fans should take offense because Guillaume and Benalways, “simply by adding a ‘The’ to their moniker have co-opted the name of one of the genre’s greatest bands. What’s next? The Big Star? The Cheap Trick? The The The?”

Singer-guitarist Jeff Murphy from the original Shoes has also weighed in via a recent press release. After discussing his band’s work on a new CD, Murphy stated, “In the meantime, our name has been usurped by a group from France calling themselves The Shoes! It’s turning into a precedent-setting battle. After 35 years as Shoes, whodathunkit? We refuse to be bullied.”

Murphy elaborated on his own upcoming activities, as well as the band’s, in a recent email. “We’re well over a dozen new songs into the project,” he said regarding the recording of the next Shoes effort, “and not quite sure where or when we’ll stop!”

Murphy will be on stage this Saturday night at Lincoln Hall in Chicago as part of a Material Re-Issue gig titled A Night Of Music, Video And Stories. Original Material Issue members bassist Ted Ansani and drummer Mike Zelenko will once again be joined by singer/guitarist Phil Angotti. Murphy served as producer and engineer for The Ish’s first two releases, International Pop Overthrow and Destination Universe, and predicts he’ll perform a song from each on Saturday. “I’ll also be sharing some [original Material Issue lead vocalist] Jim Ellison remembrances and stories of working with the band.”

The evening will include other special guests, as well as a video presentation. The four-woman hard rock band Rockit Girl will be the opening act. The show starts at 9:00 PM. In other Shoes-related news, Boys Don’t Lie: A History Of Shoes by Power Pop blog contributor Mary E. Donnelly, is now available on PurePopPress.

Special thanks to Valley Downs bassist-vocalist Mike Galassini for his help with this post.

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