Thursday, May 31, 2012

CD Review: The Melismatics - Mania!

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

Minneapolis-based The Melismatics aren’t the first band to wholeheartedly embrace the 1980s, but they might be the one to bring new wave back to the top of the charts. Initially, the commercial sheen on their latest effort, Mania!, is off-putting, but the music’s charms grow stronger and more diverse with each listen. Guitarist-keyboards player Ryan Smith and guitarist- keyboards player Pony (AKA Kathie Hixon-Smith) trade off on lead vocals, amidst an energetic swirl of guitars and synthesizers. Jon Auer of The Posies produced over half of the tracks (veteran indie producer Ed Ackerson did the others) and sings back-up on six songs.

Chief songwriter Ryan Smith explores the untrustworthy nature of relationships on “Divided Devotions,” one of the CD’s potential hit singles, and the bitter “Out Of Yer Mind,” co-written with Dan Wilson, has the lines, “Which side are you on?/I don’t think you even know.” Hixon-Smith’s vocals on the irresistible “Your Love Is A Poison” recall the sexy fun of Missing Persons. The Melismatics nail social satire on “Theez Daze” with lines like, “It’s a long way to the bottom, but we’re getting closer,” and aim for the club scene with the monster synth beats on the bonus track, “Divided Devotions (DRA Remix).”

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I Can Sing For Miles

Over the past few months, I’ve become more and more involved with Jokes4Miles, a campaign started by veteran stand-up comedian Len Austrevich to help his 19 year-old son cope with brain cancer therapy. Len wants to get 5,000 people to videotape themselves telling a joke to Miles and upload it to the J4M site. Miles get a huge boost from watching the videos.

And people don’t have to tell jokes; they could just offer a few words of support, or even sing. One of Miles’s favorite messages came from a young rapper who created an original tribute to him. I’ve been on a mission to get musicians to join in the Jokes4Miles fun by uploading musical messages.

I came up with a parody of the hit single, “I Can See For Miles” by The Who, called “Telling Jokes4Miles.” The words might seem a little basic at first glance, but if you Google the original lyrics, you’ll see that I tried to come as close to Pete Townshend’s rhythms as I could.

I’d sing it myself, but a person very close to me once said, “You have no idea how annoying it is to hear someone sing as badly as you do.” Back in 2002, when I was still with the Famous In The Future comedy group, we performed a musical parody I wrote about Arthur Andersen’s Enron crisis, called Damn Andersen. I designated most of the lead singing to Guy Schingoethe, (who currently performs with New Millennium Theatre) and only came in on a few of the choruses. Still, one critic noted, “Terry Flamm has written a funny play, but he does it a disservice by performing in it.” So you can see why I would be emotionally scarred by these incidents.

That’s why I’m throwing “Telling Jokes4Miles” out to musicians around the world, hoping someone will use it to send him a message. You could sing the entire song, the chorus only, or even just a few lines. But I’m hoping someone will take me up on this, so I won’t have to sing it myself. No one wants to hear that.

Here are the words to the parody:

“Telling Jokes4Miles”

We know that disease can come into our lives
But with help from our friends we stay strong and we strive

Telling Jokes4Miless, for Miles, for Miles, for Miles for Miles
Oh yeah

It’s tough to think of all the pain and stress that therapy can bring each day
We never see you looking down or giving up ‘cause you’re not made that way

Well, here’s a joke for you
Perhaps a chuckle or two
We love to see you smile
Because it’s worthwhile 

Telling Jokes4Miles, for Miles, for Miles,
Telling Jokes4Miles, for Miles, for Miles,
Telling Jokes4Miles, for Miles, for Miles, for Miles for Miles
Oh yeah

Just look how many clips are coming in from near and so far away  
Celebrities and folks around the globe who took some extra time to say

Kind words of sympathy
Spiked with hilarity
You gotta like their style
They know it’s worthwhile

Telling Jokes4Miles, for Miles, for Miles,
Telling Jokes4Miles, for Miles, for Miles,
Telling Jokes4Miles, for Miles, for Miles, for Miles for Miles
For Miles for Miles for Miles for Miles

We know that disease can come into our lives
But with help from our friends we stay strong and we strive

Telling Jokes4Miles, for Miles, for Miles, for Miles for Miles
Oh yeah

Embrace the power as you watch them all and hear the funny things they say
And even though they don’t know who you are, you still inspire them anyway

5,000 jokes for you
And they keep coming on through
We’ll make a big stockpile
Because it’s worthwhile

Telling Jokes4Miles, for Miles, for Miles
For Miles, for Miles, for Miles.
Oh, yeah.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

CD Review: Doug Hoekstra - Around The Margins

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer in 2001.

On his fourth release, Around The Margins, Doug Hoekstra delivers observations on small town life, train rides, and personal relationships. He’s an engaging storyteller whose descriptive lyrics have an almost photographic quality. Throughout the CD, Hoekstra’s talkative singing style and acoustic arrangements are embellished by a talented cast of musicians and harmony vocalists.

“Laminate Man” is overly cute, and “Black And White Memories” lacks a strong enough melody, but otherwise, Hoekstra is consistently on the mark. “For The Woman” depicts a man whose only escape from a dull existence comes in the form of the passion he feels for his artist girlfriend, while on “Stranger’s Eyes,” Hoekstra sets rural images to a fun, rocking arrangement. “That’s Where He Was Living” spins a somber tale of murder and redemption, while “Undone” offers a wistful look at a man determined to escape his farm roots, only to find those qualities reborn in his young son. Both songs are classic examples of Hoekstra’s ability to infuse folksy portraits with touching emotions.   

Monday, May 28, 2012

Why Can’t We Go On As Three?

The Right Tidys at full force. Michelle Tormey (far right) was MIA for last Saturday’s show.
Photo from The Right Tidys Facebook page.

The triple bill at the Abbey Pub a few days ago brought back fond memories of International Pop Overthrow - Chicago. All three acts, The Right Tidys, Magatha Trysty, and The Viaducts were part of this year’s IPO festival in April, and it was fun seeing them join forces again this past Saturday. The good vibes flowing throughout the night weren’t only due to a Right Tidys fan sharing a huge birthday cake with everyone in the bar.

I talked to all four members of Magatha Trysty outside The Abbey shortly before the club opened, and it was obvious how excited they are about their full-length debut coming out in just a few weeks. A short time later, as the second act on the bill, Magatha Trysty blasted through a mix of power pop songs, ranging from the older “Printer’s Row”  to newer tunes like “Clairvoyant” and “Want To Stay.” Keyboards player Catherine Louise and guitarist Chris Bevard are both accomplished singers, and much of the band’s distinctive sound comes from their harmonies. At times, the male/female vocal dynamic recalls Exene Cervenka and John Doe of X, or the lesser known, Boston band, Trona, but Magatha Trysty can also pack a more basic rock punch similar to Neil Young.

The night's opening act, The Right Tidys, are also known for vocal interplay - - between singers Erica Loftus and Michelle Tormey -  -  but Tormey wasn’t able to make this gig. That left Loftus alone in the spotlight, but she had no problem belting out lyrics above her four band mates’ hard-hitting but melodic playing. In addition to catchy originals like “Set The Hook” and “Rippin’ Me Off,” the band also offered a revved up take on Berlin’s  “The Metro.” Dhyana Brummel’s keyboards playing enables The Right Tidys to tap into new wave, power pop, or garage rock. After the set, Loftus and bass player Lou Galassini (also a member of IPO- Chicago veterans, Van Go) told me that The Right Tidys will be releasing their debut CD later this year.

The Viaducts tapped into their full-length CD, Mission To Destroy, with singer-guitarist Jimmy Rane leading the way. His original songs, like “Tell Me Sister” and “Suffering” explore troubling subjects, and Rane brings them to life via powerful vocals and blistering guitar playing. At one point, someone in the audience called out, “Are you all right?” to which Rane responded, “I’m never all right. Have you been listening to these songs?” An impressive power trio, The Viaducts occasionally veer into hard rock, but also play more Ramones style material like the high-speed and fun “Drive-Thru Girl.” 

Friday, May 25, 2012


The Jokes4Miles campaign has a fun evening of comedy and music called Milesfest planned for tonight at the Diversey Rock ‘n’ Bowl on Chicago’s north side. There’s no cover charge, and guests can enjoy one free game of bowling. Food and drinks can be purchased at the venue’s restaurant. Doors open at 6:30, and there will be performances by comedians and musicians, starting at 8:00. 

If you’ve seen my pieces about Jokes4Miles here in the past but still aren’t sure exactly what it is, Milesfest would be a great opportunity to learn more about this worthwhile cause. Basically, it’s a way for people to use their creativity to help a young man endure painful therapy for brain cancer. Stand up comedian/writer Len Austrevich is determined to collect 5,000 videotaped jokes, songs, or messages for his son, Miles.  I’m still determined to get musicians to participate.

Look for Magatha Trysty to unveil some new material when the band performs tomorrow night at the Abbey Pub. The Viaducts and The Right Tidys, both veterans of International Pop Overthrow - Chicago, are also part of this fun triple bill. Magatha Trysty will be taping a video for one of the songs from its soon-to-be-released CD.

Speaking of International Pop Overthrow, David Bash’s traveling musical showcase pays a three-day visit to London starting with a performance by singer-guitarist Jeremy tonight at 6:30 PM. Twenty one acts are scheduled to perform at the Bull & Gate, including The J-Pegs, The Standards, and The Roves. These are three bands I picked at random from the IPO - London schedule, followed the links to their websites, and checked out their songs. All three sounded interesting, and it’s likely there’s more like them on the bill. Canadian rocker Dave Rave, who must own a TARDIS because he performs at every city on the IPO itinerary, winds things up at 11:00 PM Sunday.

Tomorrow The Moon, featuring Steve Gerlach of The Bad Examples, is also part of a three band lineup, on next Friday, June 1st, at Darkroom. Doors open at 9:00 PM The Darkroom is located at 2210 W. Chicago.

Speaking of The Bad Examples, happy birthday to the band’s lead vocalist and chief songwriter, Ralph Covert.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Vintage Publication Spotlight: Arts & Fun/Books

Steve Forstneger, the editor of the Illinois Entertainer recently forwarded a press release to me concerning a new power pop series called Buttons that’s being created by the Numero record label. The first installment, titled From Champaign To Chicago, will feature songs recorded between 1973 and 1987 by locals artists like Kevin Lee & Heartbeat, Loose Lips, The Kind, The Names, and Shoes. Mr. Forstneger correctly assumed that my reaction to this compilation would be, well, Total Insanity. I can’t wait to see it. I’m hoping to provide more information here about From Champaign To Chicago, as well as Buttons: Starter Kit, which will offer 20 songs from the much earlier and beloved Yellow Pills: Refill compilation, plus a pair of bonus cuts, in the near future.

In the meantime, here’s a look back at the Arts & Fun/Books section from the Chicago Tribune, on March 2nd, 1980. Rock critic Lynn Van Matre’s cover story, “Illinois Rocks,” is an extensive look at the area’s latest crop of rock and roll acts, with an eye toward which one might become the next Cheap Trick or Styx. The Cliff Johnson-led Off Broadway was profiled along with its manager (as well as Cheap Trick’s) Ken Adamany. There were shorter pieces on Shoes, Trillion, Pezband, Bill Quateman, Hounds, Survivor, Tantrum, The Boyzz, Wazmo Nariz, and Skafish. The choice of bands, the numerous photos and Van Matre’s insightful writing made this edition a keeper.

Other highlights in the March 2nd, 1980 Arts & Fun/Books section include film critic Gene Siskel’s criticism of that year’s Oscar nominees (“a couple of mediocre performances were wrongly honored; the best song category continues to be the laughingstock of the entire competition”) and theater critic Richard Christiansen’s piece on the “spirited troupe,” Steppenwolf. Some of the ads included Park West, which had Madness, The Jam, 999, and The Pretenders on its schedule; Johnny Cash at Holiday Star Theatre; the grand opening celebration of the Xanadu bar on north Broadway; and the Anne Rice novel, The Feast Of All Saints. Bob Seger fans could pick up an LP or tape of Against The Wind at Montgomery Ward for $6.49; and American Gigolo, All That Jazz, and Being There ware playing in the movie theatres. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

CD Review: Various Artists - Shoe Fetish: A Tribute To Shoes

Author Mary E. Donnelly talked about her book, Boys Don’t Lie: A History Of Shoes with journalist Chris Kocher on WHRW Radio earlier today, and previewed a song from the band's upcoming CD, Ignition. Judging from the overwhelmingly positive comments on Facebook, the show went really well. I’ll definitely be picking up Boys Don’t Lie and Ignition once they’re available.

Here’s a 2001 review I did for the Illinois Entertainer of a various artists tribute to Shoes,  called Shoe Fetish.

Shoes have long been acknowledged as masters of power pop although commercial success lagged behind their critical acclaim. Shoe Fetish: A Tribute To Shoes honors the Zion, Illinois band with 22 mostly faithful versions performed by a variety of artists. Almost half the songs covered are from Present Tense and Tongue Twister, with only a handful a piece coming from Shoes’ other five releases.

The Brad Elvis-Chloe F. Orwell fronted quartet Big Hello meets the challenge of recording Shoes’ best-known song, “Tomorrow Night,” with a catchy guitar and drum arrangement behind Orwell’s brash vocals. Likewise, DM3’s “Too Late,” The Lolas’ “I Can’t Go Wrong,” Doug Powell’s “She Satisfies,” and The Spongetones’ “Curiosity” illustrate Shoes’ ability to meld high energy arrangements with impeccable melodies. Matthew Sweet’s take on the delicate love song, “Karen,” mirrors the original, while Jeffrey Foskett recreates the acoustic arrangement of “Your Very Eyes.”

Don Dixon and Marti Jones take the biggest risk by slowing the tempo on their rendition of “Only In My Sleep,” but their gamble pays off. Astropuppies give “The Tube” a vintage New Wave feel, The Masticators rough up “Your Imagination,” and Matt Bruno’s “When Push Comes To Shove” recalls Elvis Presley from his “Suspicious Minds” era.   

Pretty much all the acts on Shoe Fetish hit the mark, but the best track comes from The Tearaways with Scott McCarl. Their version of “Never Had It Better” taps into the early Beatles and includes the coda from “Eight Days A Week.” It’s a fun, effective finale for tribute album to a band that has always drawn on 1960s pop for its inspiration.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

You Said Goodbye

Photo from The Bee Gees’ Facebook page.

This will be second time I’ve posted this review on BHT, and it originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer. But this seemed an appropriate way to bid farewell to Robin Gibb from those of us who remember The Bee Gees primarily as masters of baroque pop music. The influence of their early days can be found in 1980s Paisley Underground bands like The Three O’Clock, and currently in the work of Chicago’s The Luck Of Eden Hall.

Fans saddened by Robin Gibb’s passing can post tributes and condolences on his official website

Long before they helped make disco a worldwide phenomenon with their Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, the Bee Gees were the original practitioners of baroque pop. Built on fragile but irresistible melodies, lush harmonies, and often accompanied by an orchestra, their music showcased the three Gibb brothers’ passion for innovation. The Bee Gees’ most ambitious effort, Odessa was originally released as a two record set in 1969, when drummer Colin Petersen was considered part of the band, along with Maurice, Barry, and Robin. The new deluxe version three disc box set sports the original red velvet cover and adds 22 bonus tracks.

Although it wasn’t a true concept album in terms of having a continuing story line, Odessa fits well along side The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Who’s Tommy. There’s that sense of melancholy that haunted much of the band’s work, and it settles in on the opening track, “Odessa.” Backed by a full orchestra, a marooned sailor longs for the woman he loves and imagines her being wooed by another man. “Lamplight,” “Sound Of Love,” and the single “First Of May” are gorgeous ballads brimming with heartache and a sense of loss.

Typically, a guy in a Bee Gees song not only loses the girl, he suffers worldwide rejection and isolation. “Never Say Never Again,” an artful blend of strings and acoustic guitar, includes the line, “You said goodbye, I declared war on Spain.” The bitterness expressed in “I Laugh In Your Face” is even more bizarre: “I pull out your plug so you’re small./You slide down the drain on the steps of St. Peter’s.”

The extended playing time on Odessa enabled the Bee Gees to tap into their lighter side, as well as explore different musical genres. “Marley Purt Drive,” a whimsical tale of an orphanage, uses an Americana instrumentation that would have fit right in on The Band’s Music From Big Pink. “Give Your Best” is another toe-tapping Country & Western number, while “Whisper Whisper” deliriously combines lilting strings and energetic rock behind bawdy lyrics about sex and drugs. “Seven Seas Symphony” and “With All Nations (International Anthem)” are instrumentals that are given full orchestral arrangements by Bill Shepherd and qualify as bona fide classical music. “Melody Fair,” “Black Diamond,” and “Suddenly” are catchy pop songs, as is the acoustic guitar-driven “You’ll Never See My Face Again,” which adds a darker element that predates R.E.M. The Bee Gees might be the only band that would concoct a tribute to the inventor of electric light bulbs, but the ornate “Edison” actually works.

The Odessa deluxe edition offers an additional CD of demos that give a behind the scenes look at the songwriting process. “Edison,” for example, started out as “Barbara Came To Stay,” and there are alternate takes for just about every song from the original release. The different arrangements of “Melody Fair” and “Black Diamond” in particular, stand on their own as great pop songs. This enhanced version may come with boatload of goodies, but the music itself proves this was a master work from the Bee Gees.

Friday, May 18, 2012


France’s garage rock delegates to China. Photo from The Plastiscines Facebook page.

This weekend, Chicago plays host to the NATO Summit, which means the city will be teeming with even more visitors than usual. Regardless of whether they’re policy-setting foreign dignitaries or placard-wielding agitators, these people need a reader-friendly blog that not only offers ideas of what to do while in town, but also projects a global vision. Welcome to Broken Hearted Toy.

First stop: England, where indie rock/power pop ambassador David Bash has brought his traveling music festival, International Pop Overthrow to Liverpool. IPO has already made stops in San Diego, Phoenix, Detroit, Chicago, and Milwaukee, and has now embarked on U.K. leg of its annual tour. IPO-Liverpool always attracts a number of first-rate acts eager to perform in the birthplace of The Beatles.

As I told Ambassador Bash when he visited Chicago, the new IPO website is a great resource for discovering new bands, even for people who never actually attend one of his shows. For example: peruse the IPO-Liverpool schedule for an interesting band name, click on the link, and then check out its music. I picked Spygenius, who performed at The Cavern Club earlier this week, and discovered they have a video for the ringing pop tune, “The Girl Who’s Everywhere” that’s a very clever homage to animator Terry Gilliam of Monty Python.

Note: Paul Hughes, who performs under the name The Candy Strypers, has a rare acoustic gig at The Cavern on Sunday afternoon. My review of The Candy Strypers’ digital album, ¡contenidos caliente! appeared in Broken Hearted Toy on April 10th. IPO runs in Liverpool through May 22nd before moving on to London.

Now we visit Scotland, where The Creeping Ivies  plan to follow the primitive rock fun of their debut Rock N Roll Party with a free download of the new Ghost Train EP on June 1st.

Still no word on a new CD from French garage rockers, The Plastiscines, but the band, which is apparently now a trio, is currently on tour in China.

Back in the U.S.A., The dB’s have just made a new single available for download on ReverbNation. The gritty garage rock tune, “That Time Is Gone,” which is equally driven by keyboards and guitars, bodes well for the band’s long-anticipated CD, Falling Off The Sky, which drops on June 12th.

Eric Howell and his band will perform his 2008 power pop album, The Greatest Hitch! Vol. 1 in its entirety, at Martyrs on May 23rd. The concert will be preceded by a screening of Howell’s documentary, Beneath The Music: The Story of Greatest Hitch.

Tickets are now on sale for the The Romantics (featuring Chicago’s own and Handcuffs founder Brad Elvis on drums) and The English Beat gig at The House Of Blues in Chicago on June 20th.

Mary E. Donnelly, a regular contributor to the PowerPop blog, will be a guest on WHRW - Binghampton’s One and Only Free Format Radio Station this coming Tuesday, May 22nd, at 7:00 EST discussing her book, Boys Don’t Lie: A History Of Shoes. She’ll also be previewing a song from the power pop band’s upcoming CD, Ignition.

I attended another Jokes4Miles meeting earlier this week, and promised comedian Len Austrevich that I’ll continue to ask bands to upload a short message, song, or joke to the J4M site for his son Miles. Miles is going through some particularly grueling therapy for brain cancer, and could really use the pick-me-up. So here’s a plea to musicians around the globe to join this fun and very worthwhile project. You can find all the details at the Jokes4Miles website.

Finally, best wishes to Chicago Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood, a class act on and off the field, in regard to his very tough decision today to announce his retirement.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

CD Review: The Mighty Lemon Drops - Sound

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer in 1991. 

The Mighty Lemon Drops tap into mid-1960s pop on their latest effort, Sound, while adding extra muscle on guitars and drums. The album was recorded pretty much live in the studio, creating a concert ambience with nary a dull moment. “Unkind,” a fast-paced track with great hooks, was the U.K. band’s first choice for a video, but there’s plenty of material here worthy of the spotlight.

“Cold Cold Heart” has the immediate impact of an FM radio classic, thanks to Paul Marsh’s emotional vocals and Keith Rawley’s powerful drumming. “My Shadow Girl” leans more toward garage rock, and there are a few changes of pace with the slow, rocking stomp of “Too High” and the somber ballad, “You Don’t Appreciate Anything I Do.” Still, it’s the infectious pop songs like “Annabelle” and “Always” that showcase The Mighty Lemon Drops at their best. 

Friday, May 11, 2012


Photo from Metric’s Facebook page.

Metric has posted a new single called “Youth Without Youth” to sites like MySpace and SoundCloud. It’s from the band’s new Synthentica CD, which is scheduled for release on June 12th. Lead vocalist Emily Haines and guitarist James Shaw recently recorded an acoustic version for Rolling Stone online.  Metric’s upcoming world tour includes a stop in Chicago for Lollapalooza on August 12th

The premiere of the new documentary, The Beatles: The Lost Concert, which was scheduled to take place in New York on May 6th, has been postponed. The film’s distributor, Screenvision, officially explained that, “the postponement is the result of last-minute issues which are being resolved by the documentary’s producers.” The Beatles: The Lost Concert features previously unseen footage of The Beatles playing their first major American gig, back in 1964 at the Coliseum in Washington, D.C. and also has commentary from musicians like Duffy, Chuck Berry, and The Strokes. Screenvision hopes to give The Beatles: The Lost Concert an extended run later this summer.

People who missed Magatha Trysty, The Right Tidys, and The Viaducts  at International Pop Overthrow - Chicago last month can see all three bands in one night at The Abbey Pub on May 26th. Magatha Trysty has a full-length debut CD coming out soon, and promises to bring 3-D postcards, t-shirts, and other “pre-album surprises.” Show time is 8:00 PM, tickets are $6 in advance, $8 at the door.

Last Sunday, my wife Pam and I caught a matinee showing of the new Pirates! Band Of Misfits movie. The amazing animation, clever dialogue, and sight gags are worthy of the Aardman brand (the studio that created Wallace & Gromit) and the soundtrack includes songs by Supergrass, Flight Of The Conchords, and The English Beat. The theatre was completely empty, so it was hard to figure out why a newly arriving couple felt the need to sit directly behind us. Soon it became painfully obvious they craved an audience for their incessant commentary and quips throughout the coming attractions. Fortunately, they kept quiet during the actual flick, but still, how could they be so annoying and pretentious? Don’t they know that’s what blogs are for?
This Is This, a local trio that has recorded a few CDs of melodic mainstream rock, will be playing at the J. Flemings Restaurant in Westmont. on May 19th.

Hostage Song, Signal Ensemble Theatre’s new rock opera with political undertones, opened on May 5th, and will run through June 9th. The play features music and lyrics by Kyle Jarro, arrangements by Nathan Leigh, and book by Clay McLeod Chapman.

As I take on more volunteer work for the Jokes4Miles project, one of my main goals will be to persuade musicians, comics, and theatre people to record a joke, short anecdote, or song for 19-year old Miles Austrevich and upload it to the Jokes4Miles site. It’s easy to do, and Miles gets a kick out of watching the clips while he’s undergoing therapy for brain cancer. His father, stand-up comedian Len Austrevich, wants to collect 5,000 videotaped messages, and so far has successfully enlisted Bill Murray, Jay Leno, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, Ernie Banks, and several other celebrities. Len and Miles are also currently working on a Jokes4Miles documentary.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

CD Review: Supergrass - Life On Other Planets

Note: This review originally ran in the Illinois Entertainer in 2003.

Life On Other Planets, the latest effort from Supergrass, is a well-crafted collection of irresistible pop songs that takes a variety of approaches. The energetic “Grace” mixes the impressive guitar and piano playing of Gaz and Robert Coombes respectively, while Gaz spins lyrics like, “Well, you ate our chips and drank our Coke/Then you showed me Mars through your telescope.” His strong but playful vocals are a consistent highlight, especially when he joins forces with bassist Mick Quinn and drummer Danny Goffey for some of the most glorious harmonies Supergrass has ever created.

“Seen The Light” is a glam rocker ala T.Rex while the inventive “Evening Of The Day” has an extended coda spiced with percussion and whistling. Eerie vocals add to the mysterious feel of the more hard rock oriented “Funniest Thing” and the high-speed “Rush Hour Soul” includes a psychedelic interlude. Once again, Supergrass has hit on just the right balance of fun and musical chops.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Concert Review: Blondie

Photo from Blondie Facebook page.

Here's a review of Blondie in concert at the Houise Of Blues Chicago that I wrote for Illinois Entertainer last year.

Unlike several veteran bands that cling to a repertoire of their old hits in concert, Blondie entertained a capacity crowd at House Of Blues Wednesday night with several tracks from its latest release, Panic Of Girls. The current line-up, which includes original members vocalist Deborah Harry, guitarist Chris Stein, and drummer Clem Burke, blasted through “Love Doesn’t Frighten Me” shortly after taking the stage. It’s a highly melodic new song that fits right in with the Blondie catalog. Surprisingly, Harry scarcely mentioned  Panic Of Girls throughout the concert, as new songs like “What I Heard” and “Mother” seamlessly meshed with crowd favorites like “Dreaming,” “Union City Blues,” and “Call Me.”

Blondie’s intense energy ensured that the audience wouldn’t grow restless during the less familiar material, with Panic’s “Words In My Mouth” serving as the concert’s only slow song. Initially, Harry was barely recognizable in huge sunglasses and dowdy taffeta skirt, but by mid-show, she had ditched both for a more characteristic black jumpsuit and red belt. She charmed her fans, especially on an extended version of “Rapture” that found Blondie mining the song’s irresistible techno groove. There was a roar of approval as she spat out the line, “Do the punk rock!”

A brief cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Fight For The Right (To Party!)” served as a bridge from the delirious “Rapture” to the exuberant finale, “One Way Or Another” which had hundreds of people singing in unison. The encore began with a touching version of Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory” before Blondie said goodnight with their biggest hit, “Heart Of Glass.” It would have been nice to have heard “Rip Her To Shreds” or “Hanging On The Telephone,” but overall this was a courageous and high-powered mix of old and new music.

Chicago’s coed indie rock band The Handcuffs proved to be a potent opening act, drawing heavily from their impressive third CD Waiting For The Robot, which had been released just the day before. Entertaining a crowd that’s eager to see a legend like Blondie is always a challenge, but the Chloe F. Orwell/Brad Elvis led group succeeded with energetic and melodic fare like “Miss You On Tuesday” and “Dirty Glitter.” Guitarist Ellis Clark provided plenty of firepower throughout The Handcuffs’ set, including a romping cover of Mott The Hoople’s “All The Way From Memphis.”

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

CD Review: whitewolfsonicprincess - 10 + 1

It’s easy to tell from the songs on 10 + 1 that whitewolfsonicprincess founding members vocalist Carla Hayden and vocalist-guitarist James Moeller come from an avant garde theater background. Their stream-of-consciousness lyrics conjure striking images that resist interpretation, while Hayden, who does most of the singing, employs a sultry, almost spoken word delivery. Still, Hayden and Moeller, backed by bassist Tim O’Brien and drummer Rich Meher, seem more at home as recording artists on this second effort. Their engaging music taps into Bob Dylan and Neil Young, as well as English folk revivalists like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention.

While much of 10 + 1 is cryptic, there is a mystical theme that runs through it, particularly on “Sad-Eyed Prophet” and “Lady In The Sand.” The former features guest musician Steve Gibons on violin, while the latter benefits from some searing guitar playing from guest musician Victor Sanders. Moeller sings lead on the sparse, Young-like “Inner Light,” which deals with spiritual confusion, while “Radio Man,” thanks to Hayden’s vocals and guest musician Nick Anaya’s saxophone playing, exudes a nocturnal jazz ambience. The + 1 refers to bonus track, “Sad-Eyed Prophet Reprise,” on which guest musician Bob Long evokes Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up” with some powerful organ playing.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

We’d Be Having Fun All Summer Long

A wild time in Palatine. Actually, this is a Chicago Tribune photo of Lollapalooza, taken by Mike Rich/Redeye.

In terms of eagerly-awaited outdoor festivals here in the Midwest, there’s Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, and the Palatine Park District’s Sounds Of Summer. On any given Wednesday or Friday night from June 13th through August 3rd, you’re likely to find a horde of young fans thrashing in the mosh pit at the Fred P. Hall Amphitheater in the otherwise sedate northwest Illinois village.

Okay, you’ll really see suburbanites sitting around in lawn chairs. But it’s still one of summer’s essential pleasures to watch a live band performing on a breezy evening. The schedule for this year’s Sounds Of Summer series was recently released, and the three names that standout are the Beatles tribute band, American English (June 15th); rock music history buffs, The Neverly Brothers (June 22nd) and popular club band, 7th Heaven (June 20th). Each has built a justifiably loyal following and can be counted on to deliver an entertaining show.

Still, the 2012 lineup is pretty much the same as in previous years, and about the same as what’s being  offered at outdoor concerts being sponsored by the neighboring suburbs. 7th Heaven plays original music, but most of the other acts are cover bands, and a lot of them cater to baby boomers. It wouldn’t be fair to replace the bands who have earned those coveted slots, so how about expanding the season of suburban-sponsored summer concerts beyond the much-too-early final date of August 3rd, or have an additional night each week that would tap into the Chicago area’s vibrant club scene? There probably wouldn’t be any mosh pits but it could be refreshing for people to spend a summer evening discovering new music. 

Friday, May 4, 2012


Photo from The Bad Examples Facebook page.

Palatine’s very own co-ed synth rock band Dot Dot Dot will be busy this weekend with a gig tonight at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, and tomorrow night at the Bluebird in Bloomington.

The Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company, which is wrapping up its highly successful run of the Tracy Letts play, Superior Donuts, is already making plans for its annual Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Sins Festival. The freewheeling, three-day event is always held in August, on or around the anniversary of the original Woodstock peace and love event.

The first meeting for performers interested in taking part will be next Sunday, May 13th. There’s also an Abbie Fest t-shirt design contest this year, with a tickets/shirt prize package worth $300 for the winner. Designs can be emailed to On a more somber note, Mary-Arrchie is dedicating this weekend’s performances of Superior Donuts to former group member Turk Muller, who recently passed away.

Ellis Clark & His Band will be at the CAU (Chicago Acoustic Underground) Singer Songwriter Night at the Viaduct Theater tomorrow night. In addition to Clark, who has played in and founded his share of groups over the years, musicians Phil Angotti, Jeff Brown, Joe Taylor, Dustin Walker, and Brad Elvis will be on hand. Showtime is at 9:00 PM, the Viaduct Theater is located at 3111 N. Western Avenue.

Singer-guitarist Jon Auer, a member of The Posies, whose reunion CD Blood/Candy was one of 2010’s best  releases, has been keeping busy with other projects lately. He produced about half of the new Mania! CD by The Melismatics, and sings on it as well (my review is in the May issue of the Illinois Entertainer). He’s also got a project going with UK performer Tiz Aramini called Dynamo Royale and is seeking funds on Kickstarter. So far, Dynamo Royale has reached $6,829 of its $8,000 goal, with 19 days left, so it’s looking good.

The Montrose Room at the InterContinental O’Hare in Rosemont, has some interesting shows coming up. The Neverly Brothers will be performing their rock history show there tonight; power pop masters The Bad Examples play next Saturday, May 12th, and Mike Flynn’s Crash Landing, along with Mimi Betinis of Pezband will be rocking on May 18th.

The Second Disc online newsletter recently reported that Heart has a box set coming out on June 5th. Titled Strange Euphoria, it will features three CDs covering the Wilson sisters from their pioneering days with the 1960s band, The Daybreaks, on through to their most current work on Red Velvet Car. The package will also include a DVD of a 1976 live performance by the band.

The Beat Kitchen will be presenting four bands as part of its Mayfest next Thursday. Frosting, led by veteran Chicago musician Marl “Spiv” Grzelak; Tomorrow The Moon, which features Bad Examples guitarist Steve Gerlach; Kevin Tihista’s Red Terror; and The Welcome comprise the lineup. The show starts at 7:30.

Goodbye, Norma Jean. Artist J. Seward Johnson’s controversial Marilyn Monroe sculpture, which has been attracting tourists and photographers to Pioneer Court in downtown Chicago over the last year, will soon be on its way to Palm Springs, California. That is unless a certain comedic writer/ performer and noted Marilyn fanatic from the Famous In The Future comedy group doesn’t find a way to steal it. Just be careful, Dez.

They’ve previously honored John Lennon and Bob Dylan, and now Black Forest has a Paul McCartney tribute lined up for next Saturday at Cafe Mozart in Evanston. As with past Black Forest tribute events, the Sir Paul celebration will feature a number of performers, including Black Forest’s musical offshoot, whitewolfsonicprincess, Pat McDonald from The Telepaths, Mr. Mo, and Hannah Frank. The free event starts at 7:00 PM, Cafe Mozart is located at 600 Davis Street, FL 1, in Evanston.

Expo 76, a copy band comprised of music scene veterans, will return to its regular haunt, Simon’s Tavern, next Wednesday, May 9th at 8:00 PM. Singer-guitarist Dag Juhlin must have been in an alliterative mood when he composed the Facebook post, since he described the gig as May’s Blossoming Bounty of Beautifulness, and his band as yammering yaybobs of ya-mo-be-there. There’s no cover charge, and The Total Pro Horns will be on hand to augment Expo 76’s eclectic cover versions.

International Pop Overthrow  has now moved on to Milwaukee for a three-day run at Linnemans this weekend, but I still have fond memories of its recent Chicago showcases at Red Line Tap.

I caught three bands of the six bands scheduled for the Monday, April 23rd. The Redfords offered shimmering shoegazer music as well as harder edged rock; both driven by inventive guitar work. Their impressive set included faithful covers of The Cure’s “Love Song” and Material Issue’s “Valerie Loves Me.” Red Giant, a trio visiting from Milwaukee, was definitely more hard rock than the usual IPO fare, but their music also had elements of funk, soul, and spoken word. It was great to see Trolley, also from Milwaukee, perform live, since I had picked their Things That Shine And Glow as one of the Top 10 2011 releases. Classic power pop tunes “The Calico Cat” and “In The End” were even more impressive performed live. I also enjoyed meeting singer-guitarist Paul J. Wall, who serves as one of the band’s three lead vocalists.

The Saturday afternoon showcase on April 28th, featured one of the festival’s most varied lineups. The power pop trio 92 Degrees kicked things off with a selection of timeless classics from their self-titled debut on Black Vinyl Records, as well as from an even earlier vinyl EP called Money Makes The World Go ‘Round. The Unswept, a duo of transplanted Brits now living in the Lincoln Park area, sported matching sweater vests and geek glasses as they mixed catchy 1960s flavored material with funny chatting between songs. Singer-songwriter Jess Godwin worked in a more urban contemporary mode, backed by a six-piece band. She has an engaging stage presence, and is capable of belting out a lyric when the song calls for it.

Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Griffiths strummed an acoustic guitar and delivered thought-provoking lyrics in a rough hewn voice. It was an impressive solo performance. Your Gracious Host, AKA indie rock singer-guitarist Tom Curless, was joined by special guest, and former Autoliner band mate, singer-guitarist Brian Leach. The duo strummed guitars and created some amazing harmony vocals. Longtime IPO performer Jeremy closed out the afternoon showcase with some guitar-driven power pop. It would have been interesting to hear the story behind why he was performing with teenage musicians, but the songs were still impressive.

Congratulations to International Pop Overthrow founder David Bash on another great Chicago festival.
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