Saturday, June 30, 2012

Picks For Palatine Hometown Fest

Here’s an additional bit that was meant for yesterday’s Slumgullion column.

Palatine’s Hometown Fest 2012, which is once again being sponsored by the village’s Jaycees, kicked off Friday night and will run through July 4th. Around 18 music acts are on this year’s roster for the Fred P. Hall Amphitheater.

Stockwood, the Beatles tribute band comprised of boys in their late teens (see Archives, February 13th, 2012 for my review of a show they did at Durty Nellie’s) will perform Sunday, July 1st at 5:00 PM. I’ve never seen New Vinyl Experience, but the name’s intriguing, and judging from their website, they perform a nice mix of classic rock by Santana, Petty, Bad Company, ZZ Top, along with some original tunes. They go on at 4:30 Tuesday afternoon.

Other acts scheduled through Tuesday evening include Stay Tuned, Whiskey Tango, Piano Man, Twenty Over, Darryl Markette, Mellencougar, and Bucket Number 6. See the Hometown Fest website  for more information.                                

Friday, June 29, 2012


James Moeller and Carla Hayden, the creative force behind Black Forest Theatre, as well as the alt rock band Whitewolfsonicprincess, will be performing as a duo for an acoustic show tomorrow night at The Tonic Room on Halsted in Chicago. The show starts at 9:00PM.

The Spongetones will be celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the release of their rollicking power pop debut, Beat Music, with a show at the Double Door Inn on July 28th in their hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. The band will play the album from start to finish, along with other songs they’ve recorded over the years. Beat Music has several standout tracks that tap into the 1960s, particularly the sad, clever, and impossibly catchy “She Goes Out With Everybody” and the peppy “Here I Go Again.” Hopefully, The Spongetones will bring this show to other cities.

Just looking at the LP (which I still have) brings back memories of hanging out at the Harlow’s bar on Chicago’s southwest side back in the early 1980s, comparing notes on power pop bands with “Boris” and some of the other regulars. This was also where I learned about The Smithereens, Paul Collins Beat, and 20/20. “Boris” now shares his passion for power pop via The Secret Weapon show on Woody Radio.

Little Steven Van Zandt will be spinning some of his favorite records on Monday, July 16th at possibly the last Tower Records in the universe  - - the one in Dublin, Ireland.

Vocalist-guitarist Rick Hromadka of the power pop/prog band Maple Mars has a side project called Ruby Free with his wife, singer Lisa Cavaliere. The debut CD, Introducing Ruby Free, is set to drop on July 31st on SodaStar Music.

Russian metal band Grenouer is hoping to appeal to headbangers around the globe with its new five-song EP, Computer Crime. The disc is being distributed by the UK-based Copro Records.

Entrepreneur Chris Engle is seeking funding on Kickstarter for a new card game he’s created for people who want to relive the late 1960s. Judging from Engle’s short video, Snapshot: 1969 challenges players to use their imagination while engaging in some fun role playing and story telling.

Sonja Moser’s adaptation of Electra by Euripides opens at the Mary-Arrchie Theatre next Friday and runs through July 29th. The show is being presented in association with the Illinois State University School of Theatre.

Hugh Hart’s Idolizer,” a melodic satire on being infatuated with gorgeous models, will be featured on a new four-song EP that’s due out soon. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

CD Review The Soda Pop Kids - Teen Bop Dream

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

At a time when so many punk/pop bands flash commercial aspirations that sap their authenticity, it’s refreshing to find The Soda Pop Kids up to something more  - - - peculiar. On its second release, Teen Bop Dream, the Portland quintet mixes punk attitude with an early 1960s innocence. The Ramones may have visited “Rockaway Beach,” but The Soda Pop Kids live there.

“Fell In Love At The Arcade,” a guitar-driven celebration of adolescent romance, is actually a perfect companion for that Ramones song, and on “Too Pretty,” a first date begins at a soda shop. Lead singer Jonny P’s yelping vocals are occasionally over the top, but female back-up singers keep things fun, particularly on “The Soda Pop Sting.” “The Terrestrial Twist” comes across like a vintage sci-fi novelty hit while the funny, putdown rock of “Bloodshot Eyes” is as sinister as The Soda Pop Kids get.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

CD Review: Brookville - Life In The Shade

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer in 2006.

Guitarist-vocalist Andy Chase describes his side project Brookville as an opportunity to explore new musical territory, but the music on Life In The Shade is strikingly similar to the sophisticated techno pop of Ivy, his regular band. Ivy has always had an energetic side, but on this second outing with Brookville, Chase pretty much sticks with slower material. That limits the CD’s appeal, and it’s hard not to miss the sultry, French-accented vocals of Ivy’s Dominique Durand.

Durand shows up for some backup vocals on “Missed You Again,” but by that point, Chase has already offered too many similar-sounding arrangements. Brazilian Girl vocalist Sabina Sciubba fares better on the breezy romance of “Nothing’s Meant To Last,” while “Golden” benefits from Eric Matthews’s trumpet playing. “Slow Motion Replay” a catchy song featuring Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha, gives the easy-going Life In The Shade a needed jolt of energy.   

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

CD Review: Big Buildings - Water Everywhere

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer in 2006.

The Chicago-based Big Buildings unleashes an amiable recklessness reminiscent of The Replacements throughout much of its second full-length CD, Water Everywhere. There are also elements of classic hard rock and even a bit of Americana. The rebellious “Who Makes The Rules?” and catchy “Split Personality” are prime examples of the band’s raw approach to recording.

All four musicians cut loose on the instrumental passages within the six-and-a-half-minute “Submarine” without a hint of self-indulgence. “Grease Fire,” a slower rock tune, taps into the power of the Rolling Stones, while the country flavored Mountainsides” and “Invisible Republic” come across as more introspective.

Monday, June 25, 2012

45 RPM Memories - “Don't Be Cruel”

It was a coincidence that I was wearing a Cheap Trick t shirt this past Sunday; the day after they performed as part of a double bill with Aerosmith at the United Center in Chicago. “Did you see them last night?” the cashier at our Jewel in Palatine asked while I was paying for my groceries. At first I didn’t know who he meant, but when he pointed at my chest I figured it out. As much as I like Cheap Trick, I had somehow missed hearing about that gig.

According to Althea Legaspi’s review in today’s Chicago Tribune, both bands put on a good show. Legaspi was once my editor at the Illinois Entertainer, and now writes for the Trib. She noted that Rick Nielsen played a five-necked guitar on the final song, and Robin Zander was in fine voice.

Back in 1988, Cheap Trick released a completely irresistible cover of Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel”  as a single from its Lap Of Luxury album. A perfect companion to Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” it showcases Zander’s ability to adapt his vocals to any situation; Tom Petersson’s loping bass lines, and some playful “bop bop” backup vocals that conjure images of sock hops and soda shops. Bun E. Carlos’s rockabilly beat adds to fun and Nielsen cranks out a vintage sounding guitar solo.

It’s likely this nostalgic tune reached well beyond Cheap Trick’s fan base, and the fetching video certainly helped sales as well. In a perfect world, any number of this band’s melodic rock tunes would be hit singles, but such is the lot of a power pop band.

Sixteen years ago, my wife Pam and I lent this 45 to the DJ who played the songs at our wedding reception. We chose a service that would allow the bride and groom to pick out all the songs. Well, almost all of them - he did sneak in “YMCA.” But when you find a DJ that agrees to play power pop tunes at your wedding, you cut him some slack.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Photo from The Bangles website.

So far, The Bangles only have a handful of dates on their summer tour, but they’ll be doing a lot of traveling. The itinerary includes stops in Texas, California, Ontario, Norway and the UK. Susanna Hoffs performed at McCabe’s in Santa Monica in April, and judging from a photo she posted on Facebook of her set list, the singer-guitarist has impeccable taste in cover versions.

In addition to a mix of tunes from her forthcoming Someday CD and Bangles hits, Hoffs played “Teacher Teacher” by Rockpile, “Cinnamon Girl” and “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” by Neil Young, “Rain” by The Beatles, and “King Midas In Reverse” by The Hollies. Would love to see some Hoffs and/or Bangles shows coming up in the Chicago area. 

The Neverly Brothers, rocked the Fred P. Hall Amphitheatre in Palatine tonight with another musical history lesson that highlighted some of the most influential artists of the 1950s and 60s. Guitarist Kevin Giragosian, drummer Kegham Giragosian, and bass player Craig Gigstad took turns singing and were high energy performers. Their tribute to The Kinks is always a blast. 

Happy Birthday to comedian Len Austrevich, who’ll be celebrating with family and friends, as well as the volunteers who’ve helped make his Jokes4Miles project a reality. I can’t think of a better present people could give him than to tape a joke for his son Miles, who is battling brain cancer. Len has been on a crusade to get 5.000 people to record a joke or uplifting message and upload it to the Jokes4Miles website. I’ve been trying to get musicians to join in the fun by recording a short song or musical message for Miles.

Following on the heels of its recently released box set, Strange Euphoria, Heart has a new CD, Fanatic in the works. Fans can keep up on its progress by signing up for the band’s newsletter. Ann and Nancy Wilson also have a memoir coming out in October.

SoPro Music and Phil McKracken’s are co-sponsoring a 7th of July Blues Festival at the club’s location at 6602 W. 111th Street in Worth. Lynsey “Hoochie Man” Alexander and His Blues Band will be performing, along with Joey Drada and The Jaywalkers Blues Band. Showtime is at 9:00 PM.

Artist-musician Jon Langford will be pulling double duty at the Firecat Projects gallery on July 6th; performing songs while his latest exhibit of paintings and prints, Cheating Hearts, is on display. The gallery is located at 2124 N. Damen Avenue.

Power pop musician Mimi Betinis will be performing an in-store gig at Reggie’s Music on Sunday. June 24th. The show is at 6:00 PM.

The Summer 2012 edition of The Galactic Zoo is out now (I got my copy at the downtown Reckless Records) and as usual, it’s filled with eye-popping art and comics, most of which pertain to rock and roll. The latest batch of Damaged Guitar Gods trading cards includes Tony Hicks of The Hollies. Artist-writer Plastic Crimewave notes, “Hicks was as essential to the group’s divine sound as any complex vocal harmonies.” It’s interesting that Hicks’s card appears on the same page as the one for Little Howlin’ Wolf, the Chicago blues artist and long-time participant of the Mary-Arrchie Theatres annual Abbie Fest

Doctor Who fans who’ll be heartbroken when Amy Pond leaves the show in the coming season can take solace in the news from The Nerdist blog  that Karen Gillan, the actress who portrays the plucky and adorable Pond, is working on a movie. In the rom-com Not Another Happy Ending, she’s been cast as a successful novelist hit with a bout of writer's block.

The Double Door on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago will present five bands in a free concert next Saturday night. Headliners The Choir will be joined by Dead Feathers, Max Pain and the Groovies, The Luck Of Eden Hall, and Temporary Pharohs. The show starts at 8:30 PM.

The Countdown To Ignition continues on ShoesWire,  the official website for Shoes. The power pop veterans are revealing one song each day as a preview of their upcoming CD, which drops in mid-August. 

Pocket Con - Comics with Color for Teens will be staged at the Gary Comer Youth Center on South Ingleside Avenue and at the Chicago Public Library on 73rd Street on Saturday, July 7th. The convention, which will include panels and presenters, hopes to cast a spotlight on African American artists, as well as comics that feature women and LGBT characters. Artists can register at the convention’s website. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pam Appreciation Day - Some Dreams Come True

The Hollies, as depicted by my wife Pam.

First a quick note to Smashing Pumpkins fans. Founding member Billy Corgan will be dropping by the WXRT studio tonight as part of the station’s New Noise at Nine feature. He’ll be playing the band’s new Oceania CD from start to finish, and offering commentary. Other members of the band are expected to participate  as well. Fans outside the Chicago area can stream WXRT from its website. 

Watching the Beatles tribute band, American English play an outdoor concert in Palatine last Friday brought back fond memories from over 16 years ago when my wife Pam first bought her house in this suburb. On a similar Friday night in June, she invited me over for dinner. This was before we were married, and I still had a studio apartment in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. As part of our plans that evening, Pam fixed dinner, and afterward, we walked over to the Fred P. Hall Amphitheater and watched American English. Yes, they’ve been around that long, although a few of the members have changed. After the concert, we went to a nearby ice cream place. It was a fun time that served as a preview of our life together.

I mention that story today because on every June 21st, I celebrate Pam Appreciation Day in honor of my wife. She was instrumental in helping me set up this blog, and has been extremely supportive of my countless non-paying creative endeavors, interests, and obsessions.

When we first started dating back in 1989, it didn’t take long for her to discover that I’m an avid Hollies fan. Pam’s an extremely talented artist, and decided to paint of portrait of the band for me. She did a great job, and the painting continues to hold a place of honor in my media room.

When The Hollies came to America for a brief series of concerts in 2002, Pam drove me to Stillwater, Minnesota so I could see them. So, for all the wonderful things my wife does for me, I once again celebrate Pam Appreciation Day. Feel free to use this occasion to express gratitude for your own significant other.

Here’s a  video of The Bangles performing “Some Dreams Come True,” one of my favorite songs by them. We used it at the end of the video we had made of our wedding day. It’s about finding love and enjoying life together, and it’s also well suited to Pam Appreciation Day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

CD Review: George Harrison - Early Takes Volume 1

Created as a sort of offshoot of Martin Scorsese’s inspiring George Harrison: Living In The Material World documentary, Early Takes Volume 1 offers 10 previously unreleased demos or preliminary versions of the former Beatle’s songs. It’s an intimate mix of hits and lesser known material from Harrison’s post-Fab Four era, and includes his occasional comments. For those of us who’ve come to know this engaging and eccentric musician even better through Material World, it’s easy to imagine him performing most of these songs while strolling through the garden of his English estate. 

In addition to acoustic takes on the spiritually-inclined “My Sweet Lord” and “All Things Must Pass,” there’s an electric but rough cut of the romantic “I’d Have You Any Time.” The bitter and evangelical “Awaiting On You All” also has a more basic arrangement than the rollicking song that first appeared on the All Things Must Pass triple LP. As for the previously unheard material, “Let It Be Me,” which was once a hit for The Everly Brothers, is a heartfelt gem; and Harrison does his best to channel Bob Dylan on the American folk singer’s “Mama You’ve Been On My Mind.” It has been noted elsewhere in the media that the inclusion of the words Volume 1 in this CD’s title probably means there will be more Early Takes released in the future. Hopefully, that will be the case.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

CD Review: The Posies - Amazing Disgrace

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer in 1996.

Before moving on to The Posies, I’d just like to express my sorrow at the recent death of actor Victor Spinetti. He was best known for playing eccentric characters in A Hard Day’s Night and Help (as well as in Magical Mystery Tour) and was a good friend of The Beatles. I met Victor at The Fest For Beatles Fans in Chicago a few years back when I purchased a copy of his funny and interesting autobiography, Victor Spinetti Up Front . . . and he autographed it for me. Along with his signature, he drew a strange doodle, which may have been a self-portrait. Cheers to this funny and talented performer.

On a lighter note, here’s a happy birthday wish to Ann Wilson of Heart. She helped pave the way for women in rock and roll, and continues to belt out the band’s melodic, hard-hitting songs on tour.  I’m hoping my review of Heart’s Strange Euphoria box set will run in the July issue of the Illinois Entertainer.

Amazing Grace finds The Posies in an angrier frame of mind than on any of their three previous releases. Singers-guitarists Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow have enlisted the powerful new rhythm section of bassist Joe Bass and drummer Brian Young to augment these sentiments, while continuing the harder rock edge from 1993’s Frosting On The Beater. The lyrics sometimes leave doubt as to the targets of Auer and Stringfellow’s barbs, but the melodies are consistently engaging.

The energetic “Daily Mutilation” establishes the band’s agenda, which is even more evident on “Grant Hart” and the aptly named “Hate Song.” “Precious Moments,” a slow and tedious reflection on the fleeting quality of life, is a rare misstep. The Posies successfully use a lighter touch on “Will You Ever Ease Your Mind?” and even offer a shred of optimism with the defiant “Fight It (If You Want).”

Monday, June 18, 2012

Single Review: Paul Weller - “Birthday”

Photo from Paul Weller’s Facebook page.

Before moving on the “Birthday,” just a quick suggestion to fans of Shoes to check out the power pop band’s website. Starting today, there will be a countdown for the forthcoming CD, Ignition, featuring a preview of a different track each day. Today’s selection, “Only We Remain,” certainly bodes well for this long-anticipated release. It’s a catchy, guitar-driven gem that recalls the early days of Present Tense and Tongue Twister.

I’ll admit I’m a sucker for rarities when it comes to rock music. On Record Store Day, I was standing in line outside Reckless Records in downtown Chicago before the store even opened, with my wish list on hand. So when I heard singer-guitarist Paul Weller planned to have a one-day only release of “Birthday,” his tribute to Paul McCartney’s 70th birthday, I made sure to mark my calendar.

Fans in the U.S. can download “Birthday” from Amazon, although I couldn’t find it on iTunes. The links on Weller’s official Facebook page are for the UK versions of Amazon and iTunes. All proceeds from the song will go to War Child, a UK charitable organization that helps kids in war-torn countries.

It seems likely Sir Paul would approve of this high energy homage from Weller, a musician with a solid reputation as a solo artist, as well as with The Jam and The Style Council. “Birthday” strikes a perfect balance by being inventive enough to stand on its own without losing the feel of the original. It sounds like a live performance, as Weller adeptly blends guitar, keyboards, horns, and female backup vocalists. A smattering of applause can be heard at the end. There’s a hint of that old time music hall entertainment McCartney often taps into, and like The Beatles version, it’s perfect for a celebration.

Congratulations to Weller on his well-executed tribute, and of course to McCartney on this joyous occasion. And remember, you’ve only got a few hours left to download it.

Also, here's a tip of my hat to my father, who would have turned 90 today.

Friday, June 15, 2012


Fool On The Hill portrait by Georgina Flood.

Happy Birthday to Paul McCartney!

Singer-guitarist and former member of The Jam, Paul Weller, plans to celebrate Paul McCartney’s 70th Birthday by making his version of The Beatles “Birthday” available for one day only on iTunes this coming Monday, June 18th. All proceeds will go War Child, a British charitable organization that helps children in war-torn countries. Fans can find the link on Weller’s website, Facebook or Twitter. The striking art for this cover of “Birthday” uses well known Beatles artist Georgina Flood’s Fool On The Hill portrait.

This was a perfect night to catch an outdoor concert by Beatles tribute band American English at the Fred P. Hall Amphitheater in Palatine. The area around the stage was packed with fans. After doing a set of early Beatles tunes, the lads took a break, returned as Herman’s Hermits, and performed songs like “I’m Into Something Good” and “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter.” Not really, but as good as these Beatles tribute bands are, at this point, I’d love to see one of them do something to  break with the usual format of dividing the show into the three distinct eras of Beatles music.

The Sounds Of Summer series, which is sponsored by the village’s Park District, kicked off its 25th Anniversary Season with a particularly enjoyable selection of songs by the Palatine Concert Band this past Wednesday. No, they’re not rock and roll, but those of us with eclectic tastes in music enjoy them. 7th Heaven takes the stage next Wednesday, June 20th, and The Neverly Brothers will be rocking on Friday, June 22nd. You might want to get to Palatine early for The Neverly Brothers show and check out the Cruz’n Friday Nights car show hosted by the Palatine Muscle Car Association.

Speaking of British Invasion bands, The Zombies, featuring Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent, will be playing hit songs like “Tell Her No,” “Time Of The Season,” and “She’s Not There,” at Viper Alley in Lincolnshire on July 31st, and at Mayne Stage on Chicago’s north side on August 1st.

The Bad Examples will be performing a free concert next Friday night at Navy Pier, toward the south end, near the Grand Ballroom. The show starts at 8:30 PM.

Wes Hollywood will be holding a record release party for his recent collection of first rate power pop songs, Fantasy Arcade next Friday at The Darkroom, in Chicago. Roxy Swain, who are currently working in the studio on their next effort, will be the opening act.

Congratulations to Rich Cotovsky and the Mary-Arrchie Theatre on 26 years of in-your-face productions, starting with a double bill of Cowboy Mouth and 4 H Club, on through the most recent, Superior Donuts. The next production, Electra, opens on July 26th.

The Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival will screen over 25 entries from July 25th through the 29th at Cutting Hall in Palatine. The festival kicks off with a free concert by Band Called Catch, a sort of coed version of Mumford & Sons, on July 24th.

Maybe they should call it The Broken Hearted Toy Festival. I had nothing to do with it, but three bands I’ve plugged here on BHT will be performing on the same afternoon at The Lincoln Park Arts & Music Festival  on Sunday, July 8th. The four woman garage rock band, Wanton Looks perform at 2:25; The Handcuffs, the coed indie rock band fronted by singer-guitarist Chloe F. Orwell and drummer Brad Elvis come on next at 3:55; and the infectious synth rockers Dot Dot Dot, follow them at 5:25.

Speaking of Brad Elvis, he’ll be pounding the drums for The Romantics when they appear along with The English Beat next Wednesday night at The House Blues. 

Pass around that Ripple. John Petitt, a member of the same Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators group that I belong to, got a nice writeup in the online Palatine Patch newsletter. Petitt (whose name is misspelled in the article) and his fellow teachers at the Culver Elementary School in Niles have been sharing his YA novel, Ripple Effect with their students. The kids really got into it, which should be a major selling point for shopping the book to literary agents and publishers. Petitt is also a member of the rock trio, This Is This .

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Kaiser Chiefs Live At House Of Blues

Photo from the official Kaiser Chiefs website.

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

Shortly after the Kaiser Chiefs opened their concert at House of Blues, vocalist Ricky Wilson offered a cheeky introduction for the first single from the band’s latest release, by declaring, “It’s new, it’s brilliant, and it’s called ‘On The Run.’” The capacity crowd readily embraced the melodic satire from Start The Revolution Without Me, and everything else the band played in a rousing 90-minute set. Kaiser Chiefs may not be as highly regarded in the States as they are in their native England, but they do have an avid following in Chicago.

“Guys, guys, guys, settle down!,” Wilson teased at one point as the audience continuously clapped and sang along. The performance had the feel of partying in an English pub, although, definitely amplified. Despite having five successful and critically acclaimed CDs under their belts, the musicians exuded a youthful intensity. Wilson and drummer Nick Hodgson, who added spirited backup vocals, were particularly active in engaging the crowd. Keyboards player, Nick “Peanut” Baines, sporting a fedora with blinking lights, gave songs like “Good Days Bad Days” and “Everyday I Love You Less And Less” an infectious new wave energy.

Much of the appeal of catchy songs like “I Predict A Riot” and “The Angry Mob” is the way the lyrics could serve as slogans at a political rally. Wilson brought them to life, pumping his fist, or dodging and weaving like a prize fighter. At one point, he left the stage for a new vantage point on top of the bar. After revving up the audience with a barrage of fast tunes like “Kinda Girl You Are” and the earlier hit single, “Ruby,” it was surprising that Kaiser Chiefs finished on a more sedate note with “Love’s Not A Competition (But I’m Winning).” But the audience didn’t seem to mind. After a pair of well-received encores, Wilson thanked the crowd and tossed aside his mic. Those familiar with Kaiser Chiefs no doubt left satisfied, while it’s safe to predict newcomers to the band’s joyous riot performance style would want to go out and stock up on Kaiser Chiefs CD’s.

Opening act empires muscled their way through a 35-minute set that blended hard rock with elements of grunge. The Chicago/New York-based band performed songs from its most current CD, Garage Hymns, as well as the upcoming EP, Can’t Steal Your Heart Away. The title track of that EP, and other hard-hitting songs, were delivered via thundering drums, shimmering guitars, and  a charismatic vocalist who could growl as well as work in a more soulful vein.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

CD Review: The Witnesses - Tunnel Vision

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer in 2004.

The Witnesses have a taste for mischief on their full-length debut, Tunnel Vision, weaving humor and a vivid imagination through glam, garage, and new wave music. No wonder the New York band’s press kit includes a bio in comic book form. Vocalist-guitarist Oakley Munson and keyboards player-vocalist Bonnie Bloomgarden can both sing lead, although it’s Munson who takes charge on most of these tracks.

The mid-tempo “I Should Not Have To Ask” and “Contact High” exude a Stones-like swagger, and Munson is also up for delivering the more frantic material like “Stop Pretending” and “Boom Boom.” “Drop By Drop” starts out as a 1960s style instrumental before Bloomgarden vamps through a tale of a romantic encounter. “Mannequin” is a clever satire on fame, while the title track features male-female vocal interplay reminiscent of The B-52’s. Like those new wave pranksters, The Witnesses are at their most enjoyable when the party is out of bounds.    

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

CD Review: The Viaducts - Mission To Destroy

Most of the songs on this full-length debut from the Chicago-based trio, The Viaducts, spring from lead vocalist-guitarist Jimmy Rane’s fascination with relationships. Not just romantic entanglements, although there are plenty of those on Mission To Destroy, but also the emotional connections between family members. Backed by drummer Erik Swanson and bassist Richard Bilancia, Rane sets his observations to melodic ballads and hard-hitting rock tunes. 

On “Tell Me Sister,” which is propelled by Swanson’s rumbling beat, a brother resists his wayward sibling’s request that he administer a beat-down to a guy who’s crossed her. “Dove Bar” is a bittersweet parent-to-kids message, while “It’s Just Part Of The Game” depicts the ups and downs of marriage with lines like “We’ve all cried a thousand tears but not all of them sad.” These ballads are well-crafted and heartfelt, but The Viaducts could make them even better with a little more variation in the arrangements.

Mission To Destroy is the most fun when the band cuts loose along with Rane’s quick and clever lines on power pop songs like “Drive-Thru Girl” and “I’m Your Man.” “Your Smiling Face (Walkin’ By In Blue Jeans)” is an Americana love song in the tradition of Buddy Holly and Bruce Springsteen, while “Suffering” evokes The Ramones with its revved-up tale of some poor guy’s mounting troubles.   

Monday, June 11, 2012

CD Review: Girl In A Coma - Exits & All The Rest

Girl In A Coma approaches the listener at odd angles on its 2011 CD, Exits & All The Rest, building songs with rough edges and abrupt tempo shifts. The San Antonio based trio, comprised of vocalist-guitarist Nina Diaz, her older sister, drummer-backup vocalist Phanie D, and bassist-vocalist Jenn Alva, has been creating compelling music since releasing its debut, Both Before I’m Gone, in 2007. The emotional lyrics on this fourth effort were written and delivered by Nina Diaz, who often sounds weathered and mature well beyond her young age.

The slinky jazz arrangement for “Adjust” is mixed with jagged pieces of hard rock, while the guitar-driven “She Had A Plan” and “One Eyed Fool” have more of a raw, garage feel. Knocking At Your Door” and “Cemetery Baby” are hypnotic tunes brimming with a darker ambience. Throughout Exits & All The Rest, Diaz alternates between soaring vocals and an earthy growl. In fact, “Hope” is the only track that fails to connect, partly due to an over-used military beat, but also because it’s the one time she’s limited to monotonous screaming. By contrast, Diaz breezes through lines like “I've never felt a rush like this” on the romantic “Smart,” which taps into The Smiths with an irresistible melody.      

Friday, June 8, 2012


One of the power pop genre’s best-loved bands, Shoes, will release its first CD of new material in almost two decades, on August 14th. The 15-track Ignition was recorded by founding members John Murphy, Jeff Murphy, and Gary Klebe over the past few years.

We’ll have tea and crumpets. The Hollies aren’t exactly pulling out all the stops while celebrating their 50th Anniversary (still no world of a US tour) but at least we Yanks can buy a commemorative mug  from the band’s official website. I’d also highly recommend Radio Fun, a collection of songs The Hollies recorded live at the BBC from 1964 through 1968.

Although Chicago’s forecast for this weekend calls for sunny skies and a high in the 90s, I won’t believe it until I’m strolling through the Old Town Art Fair with sweat forming on my brow. This annual event has been cursed with rainy and cold weather for the past few years, even when the weather men have called for pleasant conditions.

The Old Town Art Fair is one of the better art shows over the summer, and the Victorian homes in the Lincoln Park neighborhood add to its classy ambience. The Wells Street Art Festival Fair, which also runs this weekend, and is within walking distance from the Old Town Art Fair, (there really should be a discount if you go to both) has more of party feel, with bands like Dan Hubbard And The Humadors, Dot Dot Dot, and American English performing on the outdoor stages. Just keep in mind that the Wells Street Art Festival will be packed storefront-to-storefront with revelers, if indeed, the weather cooperates.

Also on tap this weekend is the strangely-spelled Andersonville Midsommarfest, on Chicago’s north side. Looking at the lineup of bands for the Clark and Foster stage, I’d almost recommend spending the entire weekend there. Saturday has The Webstirs, Nicholas Tremulis, Dolly Varden, and The Del Marracos; Sunday features The New Invaders, Planet Claire, and Expo 76.
Music On Stage will be performing the adult-oriented puppet show Avenue Q this weekend and next at Cutting Hall in Palatine.

Also in my cozy town of Palatine, the young musicians in Arkane Daze, Chupacabra, The Skelters, and White Shadows will be competing in a Battle Of The Bands jointly sponsored by the Palatine and Salt Creek Park Districts at 7:00 PM Monday evening at the Fred P. Hall Amphitheater.

Pop Dollys will be playing catchy power pop music at the 2012 Beer Grove Music Fest at 5:00 PM tomorrow, June 9th at Chet’s Melody Lounge in Justice. The festival kicks off at noon.

Make them sit in the comfy chairs! Despite a well-deserved reputation for cutting-edge productions, the Mary-Arrchie Theatre wants patrons to have a nice place to sit. So the critically acclaimed company is hoping to raise $3,000 via its 60 Seat Campaign on the Indiegogo fundraising site. Also at Mary-Arrchie, Sonja Moser’s adaptation of Electra will run from July 6th through the 29th.

Ralph Covert’s Acoustic Army will be performing at FitzGerald’s Sidebar on June 15th. Now that summer’s almost here, I wonder if he’ll be pulling double duty at the Palatine Street Fest with The Bad Examples and Ralph’s World again this year.

Garage rock fans in New York might want to check out Super Rock Thursday at The Bowery Electric on June 21st. The Fleshtones, Steve Wynn and The Miracle 3, and Palmyra Delran, formerly of the four woman band The Friggs, will be sharing the bill, along with Ivan Julian and Stupidity. Tickets are $12 in advance $15 at the door. I’d like to see this lineup come to Chicago.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Your Own Private I.P.O.

Having completed the English leg of its 2012 schedule, International Pop Overthrow  has returned to American shores. Toward the end of July, this vagabond celebration of power pop and indie rock will return to the city of its birth. Los Angeles is where I.P.O. got its start back in 1998, when founder/CEO David Bash gathered several bands to honor the spirit of the late singer-guitarist Jim Ellison and his band, Material Issue. Over the years, Bash has showcased hundreds of entertaining performers in clubs across the U.S. and U.K.

He’s been doing it on compact discs as well. International Pop Overthrow Volume 14 is the latest in a series of CDs featuring participants from the annual music festival. These aren’t live recordings, but tracks culled from the various artists’ own releases. The three-disc set illustrates the multitude of approaches that fit under the power pop umbrella, and also signals Bash’s more recent willingness to embrace other current rock sub-categories.

The Pondhawks, Susan Hedges, and Dee Long pursue a more techno sound; The American Professionals, and The Starfire Band go more for mainstream rock; and Go Time!, Clockwise, and Fortune 500 add rough edges that tap into garage and even hard rock. There’s also some funk from Danny Echo, and indie rock courtesy of Broken Alphas.

That said, Volume 14 serves as a massive treasure chest of gems for diehard power pop fans. The Turnback and Spygenius use ringing guitars reminiscent of The Byrds; Blue Cartoon evokes The Beatles; and The Dahlmanns, Nushu, and Laurie Biagini update the 1960s girl group sound. The Kik, Van Go, and Bastards Of Melody unleash pure power pop on their songs.

There are several good tracks not mentioned here, making Volume 14 a worthy souvenir for people who’ve been to an International Pop Overthrow gig, and as a resource for discovering good bands.    

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

CD Review: Sam Phillips - Cruel Inventions

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

On her second CD, Cruel Inventions, Sam Phillips offers more of the introspective lyrics and clever wordplay that made her debut, The Indescribable Wow, so enjoyable. Plus, this time out she seems more confident, while gliding through a collection of highly polished arrangements. Although Phillips seems more comfortable recording ballads, (judging from the number of them on her first two releases,) it’s the energetic material that really stands out.

“Now I Can’t Find The Door” gallops along to an irresistible beat, and “Standing Still” has the immediately impact of a hit single, much in the same way “Holding On To The Earth” did on her debut. For “Lying,” Phillips employs a gravelly voice while running through a list of false statements like, “If I said the way he looks at me doesn’t make me want to undress.” She augments her slower tracks with intriguing arrangements, particularly on the haunting “Tripping Over Gravity” or the gorgeous “Where The Colors Don’t Go.”

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Demo-Listen Derby

Note: These reviews originally appeared in the Around Hears section of the Illinois Entertainer.

Year X, the latest release from JIP, has the feel of a band performing in a club. Occasionally, singer-guitarist Jim Gwynn’s material can be nondescript, as on “Hard To Change,” but along with bassist-vocalist Spencer Watson and drummer Brent Fatig, he impresses on energetic tracks like “Not Alone,” as well as the more intricate “Night And Day.” Grammy-nominated Tracy Bonham is a guest lead vocalist on “This Song Will Last Forever,” which she co-wrote with Gwynn.

Singer-songwriter Dan Krikorian glides through the easy-going Americana music of his third release, Windsor Blue, with help from a bevy of studio musicians. “Wait” sets the mood with a toe-tapping Country & Western arrangement, and Krikorian exudes a folksy charm on “Thief Like That” and the title track. “Quincy” is an elegant love song, while “New York City Day” sports a full-bodied production complete with horns and back up singers.

As its name suggests, Top Shelf Lickers is a color-outside-the-lines sort of band. These guys take a stab at numerous genres on their debut, Head First, like shifting tempos and points of view on the coed indie rocker, “Fall For You,” and mixing the 1950’s with reggae on “No One Knows.” Sometimes the results are sloppy, but it’s hard to resist the DIY fun of the harmonica-driven garage rock of “Off My Mind” and the revved up punk of “Mr. McShakes.” 
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