Friday, June 28, 2013


Ken Stringfellow will be among the all-star musicians paying tribute to Big Star tonight.
Photo from Ken Stringfellow’s Facebook page.

First of all, a hearty congratulations to the Blackhawks on winning the Stanley Cup. There was quite a celebration in downtown Chicago today. It wreaked havoc on the train and bus schedules, but apparently, most of the three million people who gathered in the Loop were orderly, if not entirely sober. Several local musicians are huge Hawks fans -- singer-songwriter Phil Angotti springs to mind -- so Facebook was teeming with their rallying posts throughout the post season. My wife Pam got to see the Stanley Cup (as well as Coach Q) as she peered through the window of the Hyatt Regency.

Hopefully, there will be enough lucid people to hit the club scene, because there’s a lot going on in town tonight.

There’s a monster gathering of some of power pop’s biggest names tonight at the Park West for a live performance of Big Star’s critically acclaimed Third/Sister Lovers album. Original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens is part of the lineup, as is singer-guitarist Ken Stringfellow, who in addition to playing with The Posies and The Disciplines, logged time in a later version of Big Star. Other musicians involved include Mike Mills from R.E.M., Chris Stamey from The dB’s, Mitch Easter from Let’s Active, and Sally Timms from The Mekons. These various stars will be backed by a 20-piece orchestra.

The Zombies will be bringing their sophisticated British Invasion hits, along with some Argent material, to Mayne Stage on Chicago’s north side tonight. Et Tu Bruce is the opening act.

One of Chicago’s better original power pop/cover bands will be teaming up with a newly formed duo that gives Beatles songs a rural twang when The Abbeys  and Sgt. Popgrass play tonight at The Alley Highwood.

Sons Of The Silent Age, a David Bowie tribute band comprised of veteran musicians, is coming to Durty Nellie’s in Palatine tomorrow night. The gig is free, but you need to print out a ticket from the Durty Nellies Facebook page in advance. The show starts at 8:00 PM, and admission is on a first come basis.

Indie rock band Fort Frances will kick off a day of live music at the Lincoln Park Arts & Music Festival  this Sunday afternoon. Dan Hubbard and The Humadors and Howie Day are also scheduled to perform. Steven Page, formerly with Barenaked Ladies, is the 8:15 PM headliner on Saturday.

The Go-Go’s and The B-52’s must really have fun touring together because they’re back at it again this summer. They’ll perform this Sunday night at Ravinia. I caught these two acts together at Ravinia in 2011 (see my review in Archives, June 20, 2011) and was really impressed. 

The Gold Coast Art Fair, a juried art festival, will present the works of over 350 artists in Grant Park this weekend. Cirrus Falcon, a duo that has performed at every art-related event since the days of Michelangelo, will be providing live music. Just kidding, Scott and Dave, you guys always sound good.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

CD Review: The Hollies - Romany

Released in 1972, Romany was the second half of The Hollies’ brief journey into harder rock. It came on the heels of Distant Light, which had spawned the hit single, “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress.” The two albums shared the same cover art of a mysterious forest; Distant Light showing it in summertime while Romany changed the scene to the dead of winter. Some critics haven’t been fond of Romany, possibly due to its extensive use of outside songwriters, but more likely because distinctive lead vocalist Allan Clarke was AWOL at the time. Still, it does have its merits.

With Clarke off pursuing a short-lived solo career, The Hollies recruited baritone vocalist Mikael Rickfors from the Swedish band, Bamboo. Rickfors arrived as they continued to turn up the guitar power, and he played an essential role in what seemed to be an effort to mimic the vocal approach former member Graham Nash was creating with David Crosby and Stephen Stills. The CSN style harmonies were particularly impressive on the single, “Magic Woman Touch” and the ambitious title track (both written by songwriter C.H. Jennings).

Rickfors didn’t hesitate to put his stamp on Romany. A cover of David Ackles’ “Down River” was more of a solo effort, with Rickfors convincingly conveying the emotions of a man meeting his ex-girlfriend shortly after he’s been released from prison. His own composition, “Touch,” combined elements of prog rock and jazz. The catchy and guitar-driven “Wont We Feel Good That Morning” (credited to Leslie - Day) foreshadowed power pop. Rickfors’ deep vocals combined with the high harmonies of guitarists Tony Hicks and Terry Sylvester, creating a sound similar to Cheap Trick. 

The other Hollies expanded their boundaries as well. Judee Sill’s “Jesus Was A Crossmaker,” a provocative song about struggling with one’s faith, was rendered with gorgeous vocals, while the exotic imagery of “Words Don’t Come Easy,” another Jennings composition, was set to an acoustic guitar and percussion arrangement. “Slow Down,” another Leslie - Day song, was a fast-paced, hard-hitting gem. “Blue In The Morning,” written by Hicks and his writing partner at the time, Kenny Lynch, sounded more like a traditional Hollies track, and was a great deal of fun.

It Came From A Compilation!

Photo from The Orange Peels Facebook page.

There’s no shortage these days of free compilation CDs featuring various artists. Samplers often come attached to rock magazines or turn up on the counter at trendy retail stores. Some are sponsored by a local radio station or business, and the acts can range from big names to complete unknowns. It’s a smart marketing tool for up-and-coming musicians to expand their fan base. New artists compilations can be inconsistent in quality, but with some careful listening, you might discover at least a few gems.

“Something In You,” recorded by The Orange Peels (not to be confused with the Scottish band, Orange Juice), was on one of those discs that came with Paste (the magazine also attached free DVDs). Its a melodic love song that artfully blends the atmospheric keyboards of 1980s techno music with the ringing guitars of power pop, and features singer-chief songwriter Allen Clapp’s androgynous vocals.

Clapp captures the yearning of a guy who imagines an exhilarating lifestyle with a woman he barely knows: “Something in you makes me want to be so free.” It’s almost a plea for validation as Clapp sings, “Tell me that you see some hope in me.” I have “Something In You” on an iTunes playlist where it’s directly followed by “Something That You Said,” a rare techno pop effort from The Bangles. It would also pair nicely with The Pretenders’ “Show Me.” 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tulsa Zines: The Long And Short Of It

Whenever I visit another city, I seek out local publications that cover the entertainment and restaurant scene. Here are two examples of what I discovered while my wife Pam and were on vacation in Tulsa last week.

THIS LAND  is a 13” by 21” publication that’s available at hip stores and restaurants around the city. It most likely draws its name from Woody Guthrie’s landmark protest song, “This Land Is My Land.” Guthrie was raised in Oklahoma and there’s a museum in Tulsa dedicated to his legacy. The visually appealing THIS LAND mixes black and white photography with colorful graphics, and it’s printed on classy looking paper.

The 20-page Vol. 4 Number 12 issue includes The Best Things To Do In Oklahoma column; a profile of New Yorker writer Burkhard Bilger; a brief look at We Steal Secrets, Alex Gibney’s documentary about WikiLeaks; and a story on the long-standing Mexican restaurant, El Rancho Grande. THIS LAND is led by Publisher Vincent LoVoi and Editor/Founder Michael Mason; Natasha Ball serves as Managing Editor.

The 3” by 5” Recycled Futures Zine  is a decidedly DIY booklet created by a pair of guys named Matt M. and Matt C., and can be found in bars and coffee houses. Vol.2, titled Thinkers and Drinkers, is a fun project that imagines what might have happened if some of the most famous minds in history had marketed their own micro-brewed alcohol. The artfully rendered black and white drawings depict bottles with labels bearing the likeness of a famous philosopher, writer, psychologist, or entertainer, along with some clever, pun-riddled slogans.

One of my favorites is Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up In Brew; and there’s also a Galileo’s Heavenly Bodies Hard Cider. C.S. Lewis has The Chronicles Of Dry Stout (Bottled in Narnia), and Rene Descartes’ White Blanc Beer uses the slogan, I Drink, Therefore I Am. Karl Marx offers a Malt Manifesto (One Brew For All) and Ayn Rand checks in with Atlas Chugged Beer.

Monday, June 24, 2013

CD Review: Laurie Biagini - Sanctuary Of Sound

Judging from song titles like “Run To The Sun,” “Sunburn,” and “Springtime Of My Mind,” it seems likely singer-songwriter Laurie Biagini released her fourth CD to coincide with the warmer weather. Sanctuary Of Sound is like a refreshment stand on the beach, serving up easy-going arrangements, layered vocals, and enticing melodies to people looking to have fun. Like Lisa Mychols, whose Above, Beyond And In Between CD was reviewed here last week, Biagini often draws inspiration from Top 40 hits of the early 1960s.

Biagini definitely takes a hand-on approach; creating her own back-up vocals and playing most of the instruments. There isn’t a lot of variety in her approach, but each song is distinctive enough to stand on its own. The mood throughout Sanctuary Of Sound is upbeat, with the occasional satirical jab like “Gold Plated Girl,” a party song augmented by guest guitarist, Fabrizio Serrecchia. “Monkey Business,” with its jungle metaphors and tropical beat, is the only track that gets a little too cute.

The catchy “Two Of A Kind,” which also appeared on the International Pop Overthrow 2012 compilation, is a clever and touching love song, and “Beautiful World” takes an optimistic view of life’s adventures. “Sunset,” co-written with Vinnie Zummo and featuring his guitar playing and backup vocals, is a gorgeous homage to The Beach Boys, while the title track taps into Lesley Gore and the girl group sound. Biagini isn’t limited to nostalgia on Sanctuary Of Sound, though. “Rise Up” shows the power pop craftsmanship so often seen in songs by Shoes.   

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Saturday Slumgullion

The Belated Birthday Lad. Photo from the Ray Davies Facebook page.

My wife Pam and I just got back from a five-day visit to Tulsa, Oklahoma. The main purpose was to hang out with our Facebook friend Dana. We had never actually met her before, but enjoyed having dinner with Dana and her husband Steve. While we were in Tulsa, Pam and I checked out some fun places like Blue Moon Bakery Cafe; Shades Of Brown Coffee And Art; Bubbles Boutique and Size Records (where I bought a picture sleeve 45 of Eight Miles High by The Byrds); IDA RED Rock ’N Boutique; Los Cabos Mexican restaurant; Starship Records And Tapes; Cain’s Ballroom; and Chimera Specialty Coffee And Neo-Tropical Cafe. Plus, I loaded up on local free publications. 

June 21st was Pam Appreciation Day, an annual celebration of all the wonderful things my wife Pam does to support me and my crazy dreams and schemes. There would be no Broken Hearted Toy without her. This is the first time we marked the occasion in Tulsa. Happy PAD, Sweetie!

June 21st is also the day Ray Davies of The Kinks was born, so here’s a belated Happy Birthday wish. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform at a WXRT Taste Of Chicago 4th Of July concert back in 2006. I’ll never forget seeing the entire crowd in the seated area jump to its feet at the first notes of “You Really Got Me.”

Chicago will see another member of the Davies clan rocking out soon. As reported by Thomas Conner in yesterday’s Sun-Times, Ray’s brother and fellow Kinks member, Dave Davies will be the main act on Saturday, July 27th at the Taste Of Lincoln Avenue Festival.

Alt-rock band Whitewolfsonicprincess will be performing as a trio for an acoustic gig this coming Wednesday, June 26th, at Metropolis Coffee Company on Chicago’s north side. Founding members vocalist Carla Hayden and guitarist-vocalist James Moeller will be joined by violinist Maria Storm. The music starts at 6:00 PM, and it’s free.

Singer-songwriter Gerry O’Keefe, formerly of power pop band The Hideouts, will be performing at Buzz Cafe in Oak Park next Saturday night. 

Dot Dot Dot will headline the first night of the Palatine Jaycees Hometown Fest this year. They go on at 10:00 PM, July 3rd. The co-ed synth rock band tours extensively across the country but will be back in its hometown on Friday, August 23rd for Palatine’s Street Fest.

Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago has mailed out its 2013 programs; listing performers Chad And Jeremy, Billy J. Kramer, Greg Kihn, Joey Molland, and Mark Hudson. The 16-page booklet also gives a sampling of items that will be for sale when the event comes to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, August 9th -11th. In addition to t-shirts, posters, figures, books. and CD box sets, there are Beatles-adorned Christmas ornaments, lunch boxes, and luggage for sale. The merchandise can also be purchased from the Fest For Beatles Fans website.

The Handcuffs will be opening for Bow Wow Wow and Gene Loves Jezebel this Thursday night at Reggies on State Street in Chicago.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

CD Review: Lisa Mychols – Above, Beyond And In Between

Lisa Mychols’ latest  release, Above, Beyond And In Between finds the veteran singer-rhythm guitarist gliding through a few decades’ worth of genres. Working with multi-instrumentalist-backup vocalist Tom Richards, she offers 12 tracks with irresistible melodies and easy-going, intricately layered vocals. It could inspire those who only know Mychols from her contributions to compilations like International Pop Overthrow or Hi-Fi Christmas Party to seek out her earlier solo efforts.

Aside from a few near misses, like the overly cute opener, “Hearts Beat In Stereo” or the generic ballad, “Ferris Wheel,” Above, Beyond And In Between is consistently engaging. Mychols excels at mining the 1960s girl group sound; “Make Believe” and “Summertime Dream” could easily have been Top 40 hits from that era. Her more rough-edged approach on the Richards compositon, “She Lied” evokes Liz Phair; while the shimmering 1980s rock of “Another Side Of Time” sounds like the music Mychols plays in NUSHU, her techno duo with Hillary Burton.

A tribal beat and rollicking guitars make “Foolin’ The World” a perfect party song, while “Stay Till Tomorrow” is an effective power ballad with a hint of Electric Light Orchestra. “Pass Me Some Hope” mixes synthesizers and guitars in a playful arrangement. Mychols and Richards wind things up with “Better Than Nothing,” an energetic power pop number that sounds like it could have been recorded by The Bangles. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

EXPOnentially Eclectic

Photo of Dag Juhlin from the The EXPO '76 website. Taken by by Terri D.

Expo ’76 paid its first visit to Mac’s On Slade in Palatine this past Friday night and from all appearances, they would be welcome to come back anytime they wanted. It’s unusual these days for a live act to get just about everyone in a bar dancing, but that’s what this collection of veteran musicians achieved. And Mac’s on Slade was packed that night. They kicked off the party atmosphere at 8:30 PM and kept it going until they had literally left the building about half past midnight.

The core members are vocalist-guitarist Dag Juhlin, whose resume includes The Slugs and Poi Dog Pondering; keyboards player-vocalist Kenn Goodman, who owns Pravda Records; bassist vocalist Ralph Baumel; and drummer John Carpender. At various times, the Total Pro Horns joined them. Over the past few years, the band has built a strong following through clever on-line marketing and the promise of a limitless set list.

At Mac’s On Slade, EXPO ’76 opened with a few obscure New Orleans style tunes before moving on to more familiar fare like The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” and The Monkees’ “Daydream Believer.” Dressed in vintage clothes and hats, these guys exuded a casual sort of cool. Fun takes on Nick Lowe’s “Cruel To Kind,” Ace’s “How Long,” and “Ooh Child” by The Five Stairsteps seemed to flow naturally from them.

EXPO ’76 kicked off the second set with a peppy and faithful version of Al Hirt’s “Java.” Elsewhere, the musicians put their own stamp on famous songs; proclaiming at one point that they aren’t a covers band, but a band that uses other people’s material to express themselves. Kind of like Laurence Olivier doing Shakespeare; and they seemed to be only half joking about that analogy. Electric Light Orchestra’s “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” was given a slower, brooding arrangement, while Gary Wright’s “My Love Is Alive” was transformed into a smoking Motown workout.

There was also an impromptu a cappella sing-along of Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman,” and the band’s take on Bobby Day’s “Rockin’ Robin” featured a quick riff from Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung.” Closing with Roger Miller’s “King Of The Road,” EXPO ’76 passed through the crowd while still singing, and strolled right out the front door. Cool right to the very end.   

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Saturday Slumgullion

Slumgullion is a day late and a bit short this week, because I was out making rather merry watching EXPO ‘76 do its amazing repertoire of cover tunes at Mac’s On Slade in Palatine last night. What a fun show. Hopefully, I’ll have more to post on that soon.

Aaron Kupferberg announced yesterday that his Power Popaholic blog will be holding another festival this year. It takes place on September 7th at The Rock Shop in Brooklyn, NY, and features The Grip Weeds, The Anderson Council, Kurt Baker, and other acts. Tickets range from $12 to $15 and are available at The Rock Shop website. Incidentally, this news was posted on POWERPOPALOOZA, a very active Facebook page for fans of the genre. As a fellow blogger, I’m as jealous as hell, but a tip of the hat to Aaron for putting his festival together.

Pleased To Meet Them Again. The Replacements have reunited and will be among the multitude of cutting-edge acts performing at Riot Fest in Chicago this Fall. The band, which created fun and chaotic tunes like “I Can’t Wait,” “Hold On My Heart,” and “Alex Chilton,” hasn’t played lived since imploding at a 4th Of July Taste Of Chicago concert in 1991. The Riot Fest Chicago roster also includes Blondie, Violent Femmes, and Public Enemy. The Replacements will also be on the bill when Riot Fest travels to Denver and Toronto.

Help Send Luck To London. The Luck Of Eden Hall, Chicago’s long-time purveyors of psychedelic rock, will be traveling to the UK in August to perform at a Fruits de Mer Records sponsored festival with The Pretty Things. They’ve received some positive reviews over there for their efforts on the UK indie vinyl label and have turned to Kickstarter to help fund the trip. Fans can pick up some rare vinyl editions of Butterfly Revolutions Volume 1 and Volume 2 CDs, in exchange for donations. The gig, which will be held at London’s Borderline club, is a coup for Luck Of Eden Hall. Although The Pretty Things aren’t well known in America, they’re beloved on their home turf for raucous hits like “Midnight To Six Man” and “Come See Me.” 

Cracker, best known for its acerbic but irresistibly catchy FM radio hit, “Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now),” will be playing The Windy City Ribfest in Chicago on July 6th. The band is also currently on tour with Camper Van Beethoven, with whom it shares a few band members.

YA From Way Back When. Aspiring writers might be interested in what actress Karen Gillan and her Doctor Who alter ego Amy Pond are up to these days. A recent roundup of Doctor Who related books in Red Eye mentioned the Young Adult novel, Summer Falls. It’s being credited to an author named Amelia Williams, which is the married name of Gillan’s Pond character. The clever concept behind this ties into Amy and husband Rory’s tragic departure from The Doctor, when they were whisked decades back in time and trapped there. Making lemonade out of lemons, Amy and Rory not only embark on a happy, if earlier life together, but Amy channels her adventures with The Doctor into a successful sci-fi Young Adult novel. As Red Eye noted, a more recent episode of Doctor Who showed a character reading Summer Falls. I read the first few pages of the novel on Amazon, and it’s well-written and whimsical.

Now on to the real life Karen Gillan. The trailer for Not Another Happy Ending, in which she plays a successful novelist with writer’s block, can now be viewed on the rom-com’s Facebook page. Looks like Gillan’s character will be exuding the same mix of charm and fiery temper as her Amy Pond character displayed while traveling through time and space.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

We'll Always Have Palatine

I sometimes (well, often) poke fun at my home town of Palatine's cultural heritage, but the northwest suburban village is actually serving up an impressive buffet of entertainment tomorrow evening (June 14th.)

There's a vintage car show featuring Stingrays, Mustangs, etc not far from the train station; American English will kick off the Sounds Of Summer series at the Fred P. Hall Amphitheater with its Beatles tribute show at 8:00 PM; Theatre Nebula is staging Christopher Bibby’s comedy Scaring The Normals at Cutting Hall (it runs through Sunday); and EXPO ‘76, a band of seasoned musicians, will be playing an eclectic variety of cover versions starting at 8:30 PM at Mac's On Slade. With a little effort, tourists could fit in at least parts of three of these things in one visit. 

Look for Union Jacks to be flying proudly Saturday in Crystal Lake as The Cottage night club hosts its fourth annual Beatles Blast British Invasion. The event kicks off at 1:30 PM when Cavern Beat performs as The Beatles. The schedule (pronounced shedule) also features In The Flesh as Pink Floyd at 3:30 PM; Kashmir as Led Zeppelin at 5:30 PM; and American English, fresh from rocking Palatine on the previous night, as The Beatles at 8:00 PM. Tickets are $15.

On June 29th, Sons Of The Silent Age will be playing the music of David Bowie at Durty Nellie's in the suddenly bustling town of Palatine. The band’s nine members include vocalist Chris Connelly from Ministry; drummer Matt Walker, who has worked with Smashing Pumpkins and Garbage; and guitarist Steve Gerlach of The Bad Examples and Tomorrow The Moon. The show is free but anyone interested in going needs to get a ticket from the Durty Nellie’s Facebook page.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

CD Review: Big Star - Nothing Can Hurt Me Soundtrack

Much like the full-length documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me that has been making the rounds at SXSW and other film festivals, this soundtrack is a bona fide gift for Big Star fans. The 21 songs cover the 1970s band’s three LPs, using alternate takes, demos, and new mixes created for the film. This intimate approach isn’t as well-suited for those who’ve long wondered about Big Star’s cult status, but there’s enough evidence here to convince anyone that the Memphis-based band should have been a much bigger commercial success.

Some of the material, particularly from the more troubled and introspective Third-Sister Lovers, might bewilder power pop fans who’ve been told the genesis of the genre can be found in Big Star’s repertoire. “Holocaust” is downright disturbing, and “Kangaroo” likewise moves at a snail’s pace. The energetic funk rock of “O My Soul” is reminiscent of The James Gang while “Feel” is also typical of 70’s rock.

Still, listening to the twangy guitar and acerbic lyrics like, “Don’t blame me for what other folks do” on “You Get What You Deserve,” it’s easy to see where The dB’s got their inspiration. “September Gurls,” later a hit for The Bangles, is a template for power pop, as are “In The Street” and “When My Baby’s Beside Me.” “Thirteen” is a gorgeous tribute to adolescent infatuation, and “Way Out West” features an irresistible melody and lush harmony vocals. Nothing Can Hurt Me ultimately shows why Big Star is hailed as having a strong impact on the musicians who followed them.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Friday On My Mind

Photo of EXPO ‘76 by Mark Cnota, from EXPO ‘76 Facebook page.

A couple of noteworthy shows happening in the Chicago area this Friday.

The Handcuffs recently announced a batch of shows they’ll be doing over the next few months while also finding time to record their fourth CD. Their busy schedule brings them to The Beat Kitchen on Belmont Avenue this Friday, where they’ll be sharing the bill with longtime friend, singer-guitarist Phil Angotti and his band. The Safes and The Differents (who are having a record release party) are also on the bill. Angotti will likely be showcasing material from his recently released CD, Life And Rhymes, and he has some top notch songs to choose from his 2011 release, People and Places. I can’t say for sure if The Handcuffs will be debuting any songs from their upcoming effort, but they do have a new guitarist, Suzie Q.

NOTE: The Handcuffs, along with The Producers and The Jeff Pritchett Project, will be taking part in the Will Rock For Food fundraiser on July 20th in Marion, IL. 

Also on this Friday night, EXPO ‘76 will drop by Macs On Slade, Palatine’s up and coming rock club/restaurant. EXPO ‘76 is a side project for music veterans vocalist-guitarist Dag Juhlin of The Slugs and Poi Dog Pondering; keyboards player-vocalist and Pravda Records CEO Kenny Goodman; bassist-vocalist Ralph Baumel; and drummer-vocalist John Carpender, who also performs with Tomorrow The Moon. They describe their eclectic selection of cover versions as “a mental warehouse of music that houses the golden era of AM radio singles, roots rock chestnuts, new wave janglers, campfire classics, TV show themes, early ‘60s rave-ups, songs your parents know and love, made-up-on-the-spot idiotic jams and more.” As a resident of Palatine, I bid them a hearty welcome.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Smithereens At Wells Street Art Festival: A View Without Much Room

The only disadvantage to the weather being so perfect at The Wells Street Art Festival in Chicago’s trendy Old Town neighborhood this past Saturday is that it ensured a massive turnout. By the time I arrived at 3:30 PM to take in some art, photography, and free food and beverage samples before checking out The Smithereens at 5:45 PM, it was nearly impossible to squeeze through the sun-drenched revelers. This meant not being able to get a full view of the stage, but at least I could hear the songs perfectly well.

Summer just wasn’t the same last year without The Smithereens dropping in for at least one outdoor festival, so it was good to hear them cranking out their power pop gems again in 2013. They opened with the guitar-driven “Behind The Wall Of Sleep” from their full-length debut Especially For You. Introducing “Sorry” from their overlooked but very strong Smithereens 2011 CD, lead vocalist-guitarist Pat DiNizio noted that Tom Petty invited the band to join him and The Heartbreakers on tour this year after he had heard it.

The Wells Street Art Festival concert also included “In A Room Without A View,” “Time And Time Again,” “Only A Memory,” and “House We Used To Live In,” which once again segued into “Sparks,” the instrumental from The Who’s Tommy. Guitarist-vocalist Jim Babjak and drummer-vocalist Dennis Diken, as always, joined DiNizio for some well-executed jamming. Bassist Severo “The Thrilla” Jornacion was missing, due to an illness (I think), and I didn’t catch the name of the musician filling in for him. Whoever it was definitely met the challenge of propelling The Smithereens through their signature barn-burner, “Blood And Roses.” 

Friday, June 7, 2013


Come for the art, stay for the power pop. Photo from The Smithereens Facebook page.

Happy Birthday to Patrick Deane, who fronted one of Chicago’s first cutting edge bands back in the late 1970s. The Scraps never released a full LP, but songs like “Strike Three,” “Gossip,” and “Hits” from their 7” and 12” singles still sound vital to this day.

The 30th Annual Chicago's Blues Festival kicked off last night with a performance by critically acclaimed singer-guitarist Shemekia Copeland and promising newcomer Quinn Sullivan. It’s the largest free blues festival in the world, and runs through Sunday. Scheduled artists include Irma Thomas and Bobby Rush; Otis Clay, The Bar-Kays, Eddie Floyd, and Sir Mack Rice; James Cotton, John Primer, Billy Branch, and Eddy Clearwater. 

Director John Anderson’s Born In Chicago, a documentary about suburban teenagers traveling to the city’s south side to see authentic blues stars like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf in the 1960s, is being shown tonight at the Siskel Center. Some of those kids, like Mike Bloomfield, Corky Siegel, and Harvey Mandel would use the experience to fuel their own music. There will be a discussion session at the Siskel Center with some of the musicians after the film is shown. 

The vintage car show returned for the Summer tonight in Palatine. I’m not sure who sponsors it, but there’s always an impressive collection of Stingrays, Mustangs, Jaguars, Thunderbirds, and several other classic models. Pretty much every week there’s something different, and the outdoor setting adds to the fun.

Just down the street from where the vintage car show takes place, Mac’s On Slade has become a welcome addition to Palatine’s entertainment scene. The club/restaurant gives local musicians an opportunity to perform original songs. Unfortunately, according to Bob Chiarito’s article in this week’s Trib Local, the club has been struggling due to nearby street construction. So Mac’s has been given permission by the Palatine government to hold an outdoor fundraiser to recoup some of its losses. It will be held July 20th. The only act mentioned in the article for live entertainment was The Buzzhounds.

In addition to The Smithereens performing at 5:45 tomorrow afternoon, The Wells Street Art Festival  will also have Trippin Billies at 7:30 PM. American English performs at 7:30 PM on Sunday.

It was nice seeing Simon Smith’s piece about how to hunt down rare Hollies vinyl in the May issue of Record Collector. Mr. Smith, who resides in Australia, and I swapped emails a while back after I read in another UK mag that he was writing the definitive book on The Hollies. He told me the book is still in the planning stages, and I began sending him copies of Hollies-related articles from vintage publications. Smith’s very informative article (I didn’t realize Graham Nash sang on “Lily The Pink” by The Scaffold) is accompanied by several photos of hard-to-find singles, EPs and albums. That same issue of Record Collector has Ian Ravendale’s review of a Hollies concert.

Birds Of Chicago will be recording material for an upcoming live release when it performs at SPACE in Evanston on June 27th. The newly formed folk/Americana band is led by music veterans JT Nero from JT And The Clouds and Allison Russell of Po’ Girl. The debut effort from Birds Of Chicago came out late last year.

French rockers the Plastiscines give a tip of the chapeau to the 1970s TV show Charlie’s Angels with the video for their new single, “Comment Faire.” Ot’s posted on their Facebook page.

My review of Absolute Zero, the debut release from Little Green Cars can be found in this month’s issue of the Illinois Entertainer. The Dublin-based band will pay a visit to Chicago on August 2nd when they perform at Schubas.

Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff, the web-based comedy will return for weekly installments in September. My wife Pam and I have contributed about 50 comedy clips to SMCWJ, and I’m hoping to get together with host-producer Jeff Kelley over the next few months so we can work on some new bits.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

For The Records

Photo from The Dyes Facebook page.

The Bottom Lounge, located just west of downtown Chicago, is holding a fundraiser/tribute show tomorrow night (June 7th) involving an eccentric rock label. The Roctober Hurockane Relief Revue  aims to help Norton Records, which lost a huge chunk of its inventory due to Hurricane Sandy last Fall when its East Coast warehouse became flooded. Norton Records has specialized in rock-a-billy, blues, and unique artists for 25 years.

Rhythm and Blues singer T. Valentine, whose latest effort, The Vampire was released on Norton late last year, will be the headliner. He'll be backed by The Bama Lamas, and locals bands will perform tributes to other acts on the label's roster. The Cable Access program Chic-A-Go-Go intends to tape the proceedings for an upcoming episode.

The tribute format reminds me of the Halloweekend shows that have been held in October at The Abbey Pub and Martyrs. In this case, Girl Group Chicago will salute The Shangri Las (original member Mary Weiss, a Little Steven Van Zandt favorite, is currently signed to Norton); The Dyes will pay homage to the label's rock-a-billy acts; and James Porter and will take on Sam The Sham. The Polkaholics will become Detroit lounge band King Uszniewicz and his Uszniewicztones. In addition to all that music, Roctober Hurockane Relief Revue will have DJs Todd Killings and The East Of Edens Soul Express; raffles; and an auction.

The Roctober Hurockane Relief Revue kicks off at 8:30 PM tomorrow in The Bottom Lounge's Volcano Room Rum Bar.

CD Review: The Three O’Clock - The Hidden World Revealed

Back in the early 1980s, The Three O’Clock created a unique sound by drawing 1960s Top 40 and psychedelic elements into power pop arrangements. Some of their songs, particularly on early efforts like the Baroque Hoedown EP and full-length debut Sixteen Tambourines, had a delicate beauty reminiscent of The Bee Gees. Back then, vocalist-bassist Mike Quercio and guitarist-vocalist Louis Gutierrez co-wrote most of the material. The Three O’Clock, along with other L.A.-based bands like The Bangles and The Rain Parade, were part of a movement Quercio and his mates dubbed The Paisley Underground. 

The Three O’Clock has resurfaced in the past year, with a live gig at Coachella, and an appearance on Conan O’Brien’s TV show. The nondescriptly packaged (other than the green vinyl) Live At The Waldorf (recorded in 1983) was one of this year’s Record Store Day treasures, and now Omnivore Recordings has released The Hidden World Revealed. The 20 tracks, which were originally recorded between 1981 and ‘86, include demos, alternate takes, and a promo for a local radio station. While it doesn’t offer all the great songs The Three O’Clock released over its career, it does provide a fascinating snapshot of the band in its earliest days.

“Stupid Einstein” might be the best example of a Three O’Clock song that should have topped the charts. Opening with the pensive line, “Things went oh so wrong today,” it’s irresistibly catchy and perfectly suited to its era. Like Scott Miller of Game Theory and Mitch Easter of Let’s Active, Quercio and Gutierrez excelled at composing exquisite melodies. And like those bands, The Three O’Clock could also crank up the energy level. “Jet Fighter” and “With A Cantaloupe Girlfriend” hit harder while retaining the band’s signature sound.

The experimental “A Day In Erotica,” appearing on Hidden World in an alternate version, and the Latin hymn “Regina Caeli” show The Three O’Clock’s willingness to push past its own boundaries, while the previously unreleased demo, “Sounds Surrounds” is absolutely Vaudeville with a peppy keyboards arrangement. “Lucifer Sam” has a classic new wave feel that evokes The Cure, while “The Girl With Guitar,” widely believed to be about Susanna Hoffs from The Bangles, has a spare but beautiful arrangement. “Why Cream Curdles in Orange Tea” sounds disjointed and strained, making it the collection’s only disappointment.

Elsewhere, The Three O’Clock offers faithful and energetic versions of The Bee Gees’ “My Own Time” and The Byrds’ “Feel A Whole Lot Better.” There’s also a brief plug for legendary DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, whose KROQ radio program provided an early (and possibly the only) showcase of The Paisley Underground.
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