Wednesday, July 31, 2013

CD Review: Fort Frances - Harbour

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

The melodic songs that lead singer-guitarist David McMillin composed for the new Fort Frances release, Harbour, would fit in well with artists like Fleet Foxes. McMillin, whose heartfelt vocals bring a beguiling atmosphere to songs like “Truths I Used To Know” and “City By The Sea,” also taps into the hallowed tradition of Midwestern bands like Fire Town and The Insiders. Bassist-vocalist Jeffrey Piper and drummer-vocalist Aaron Kiser join McMillin for some lush harmonies.  

Monday, July 29, 2013

Cool Rock And Roll

Photo by Tracy Baumann Smith, from The Bad Examples Facebook page.

People in the Chicago area awoke to temperatures in the 50s last Saturday morning, which is not the norm for this city at the tail end of July. The weather forecast warned of possible showers, which also didn’t bode well for outdoor activities. Fortunately, it was sunny and around 65 degrees when I arrived at Navy Pier in the late afternoon. Sailboats were drifting by on Lake Michigan and tourists were wearing light jackets.

Visiting Navy Pier brought back fond memories of entire days spent watching live music at ChicagoFest. Long before Navy Pier was rehabbed and revitalized as the city’s number one tourist attraction, it was the site of an annual festival that featured over a week’s worth of shows by some of the best local bands, along with up-and-coming national acts. It was held each August from 1978 to 1982, moved to Soldier Field in 1983, and then died.

The Bad Examples have been one of Chicago’s better bands for over two decades, and have recorded several good songs on a series of CDs. On Saturday, they performed at the LandShark Beer Garden,  which is an outdoor venue toward the far end of Navy Pier, with great views of the lake and downtown skyline. The Ghost Of ChicagoFest had risen and was ready to rock.

Singer-guitarist Ralph Covert continues to front The Bad Examples, but a few of the other musicians on stage looked unfamiliar. Whether these were permanent changes or temporary fill-ins wasn’t clear. The band played its power pop tunes to a crowd comprised of tourists and loyal fans, and tossed in an occasional funk rock or blues number to get people dancing. “Reinventing The Wheel” felt like a Country and Western hoedown, while the honky tonk jazz of “Sammy The Dog” had members of the audience singing along. I wondered if any kids recognized Covert from his Ralph’s World children’s CDs and performances.

Songs like “Your Problem Now” and “Kill Amanda” showed Covert’s ability to mix clever descriptions of relationships gone wrong with infectious arrangements that evoke Squeeze. He thanked Chicago rock station WXRT for playing “Pictures Of A Masquerade,” the crown jewel from The Bad Examples’ most recent CD, Smash Record. Other highlights from their first set on Saturday included “Little Disasters” and “A Place Of Her Own.” The more intricate “Jeune Fille In A White Sundress,” from the Bad Is Beautiful CD, was a touching song about finding love, with images of sunshine and waves hitting a beach that were perfect for July evening, if it was a little chilly.

Friday, July 26, 2013


First, a big Thank You to everyone who sent me birthday wishes yesterday on Facebook. It was quite a thrill to see all those posts.

This is definitely going to be one of those Summer weekends when it will be impossible to take in all the worthwhile festivals and performances being held. I’d like to claim that all this fun is in honor of my birth, but it just happens to be a coincidence. The next action-packed weekend on the horizon is August 9 -11, when Chicago Comic-Con, Fest For Beatles Fans-Chicago, the Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Sins theatre festival, and The Northalsted Market Days all happen simultaneously.

The Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival in Palatine wraps up this weekend with a flurry of showcases. There will be two on Friday. The first features Tu Seras Un Homme, French director Benoit Cohen’s feature-length story of a 20-year old man who finally embraces maturity through the help of a 10-year old boy; along with three short films. The second has Willow Creek, director/comedian Bobcat Goldthwait’s feature length tale of an ill-fated search for Bigfoot; preceded by two short horror films.

On Saturday, there will be two documentary showcases in the afternoon, and in the evening, BWIFF presents the Midwest Premiere of Mother Of George, director Andrew Dosunmu’s feature-length drama about a Nigerian husband and wife coping with their new life in New York. On Sunday, the BWIFF will have two Chaser presentations: director Todd Berger’s darkly comedic murder mystery, The Scenesters, and a Work-In-Progress screening of a new sci-fi based comedy from director Patrick Read Johnson

Dave Davies of The Kinks is the headline act for the Taste Of Lincoln Avenue on Saturday. Loverboy and Company Of Thieves will also be performing.

The Bad Examples, featuring vocalist-guitarist Ralph Cover of Ralph’s World, have a 5:30 PM gig at the Landshark Beer Garden on Navy Pier this Saturday. The band reunited a while back, and its impressive CD, Smash Record, was easily one of the year’s best. Their catchy tales of romantic entanglements are often reminiscent of Squeeze.

Shoes, another Chicago-based power pop band that wowed critics and fans with a comeback  release, will be bringing their extensive repertoire of power pop gems to SPACE in Evanston on Saturday night. The band’s Ignition CD made several blog Top 10 Releases of 2012 lists (including Broken Hearted Toy). Be sure to arrive on time for the opening act, The Valley Downs. Led by vocalist Marianne Galassini and bassist-backup vocalist Mike Galassini (also a member of the power pop trio 92 Degrees), The Valley Downs create catchy pop songs with thought-provoking lyrics. They’ve released two EPs.

Michael Franti, whose most recent work with his band Spearhead marries exotic arrangements with a refreshing optimism, will be performing a Jammin’ At The Zoo concert at Lincoln Park Zoo on Friday.  Fort Frances, an indie rock band from Chicago that plays acoustic-based songs, will be the opening act.

Other outdoor festivals going on this weekend include Jeff Fest in Chicago’s northwest side Jefferson Park neighborhood. There will be craft beers and music by singer-songwriter Michael McDermott, Urban Folk Circuit, Dot Dot Dot, and others. Palatine is holding its second annual Rockin’ The Blocks festival this weekend, and Roky Erickson, Mucca Pazza, Secret Colours, Meat Puppets, and Ted Leo And The Pharmacists are among the acts performing at Wicker Park Fest on Saturday and Sunday.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Blue Whiskey And A Rom-Com Latte

Photo from the Close Quarters Facebook page.

People coming to the Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival in Palatine tonight might want to pick something up at Starbucks along the way. (There’s one located in the train station.) The main feature is director Jack C. Newell’s feature-length comedy, Close Quarters, which centers on a pair of romantically involved baristas working an extra shift together. As the baristas attempt to come to terms with their relationship, several customers get in the way of their conversation, and might spark even further complications. Close Quarters has been an Official Selection at the Chicago Comedy Film Festival; Kansas International Film Festival; Montreal World Film Festival; and the Midwest Independent Film Festival

Close Quarters will be preceded by four shorter films: When I Saw You, director Jane Hancock’s romantic drama inspired by people trying to make connections through personal ads after they failed to make them in person; Safety, a comedy/drama from director Rory Uphold about the complications that arise when a woman uses casual sex to forget the pain of a failed relationship; Best Of Both Worlds, a comedy directed by Michael Dunker in which a guy on the dating scene encounters someone who’s a woman by night and a man during the day; and Shrink; Ted Tremper’s improv-fueled comedy about a doctor’s quest to become a licensed therapist by embarking on a marathon of performing clinical therapy.   

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Blue Whiskey Festival Centerpiece Concert & Videos

Maybe they’re watching the opening act, Chris Petlak. Photo from Murley’s Facebook page.

The Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival in Palatine puts an emphasis on rock and roll tonight as the action moves from Cutting Hall to the Durty Nellie’s night club. The Centerpiece Concert features Murley (formerly Murley Shertz) whose recently released CD Hayward was produced by Manny Sanchez (Umphrey’s McGee). I’m not familiar with Murley, but a qucik spin through their first release, Sold As We Sleep on MySpace, reveals a band with a knack for funky rock and harmony vocals. Plus, the BWIFF has a good track record for picking bands; including Dennis Florine and Band Called Catch. Singer-guitarist Chris Petlak returns as the concert’s opening act. Two years ago, he proved to be quick-witted and talented; mixing a bit of rap with indie rock while strumming his acoustic guitar.

 In addition to Murley and Petlak, the BWIFF will screen seven music videos. The scheduled clips are: “Reverie,” directed by Timothy Nesmith for Spencer Hutchings; “Float Away,” directed by Thom Glunt for Donora; “Metube: ‘Habanera’ From Carmen,” August Schram’s reinterpretation of Bizet’s song from Carmen, directed by Daniel Moshel; “That’s What’s Up,” directed by Jasmine Daghighian for Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros; “Let Your Light Shine,” a social issue video about how to prevent bullying and harassment, produced by John Ryan for Bianca and Chiara D’Ambrosio; “Fingerhold,” a Sci-Fi romance directed by Thom Glunt for Ramona Falls; and “Madeline,” directed by Luke Pollard for Murley.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Two Brits In America

Those of us who’ve enjoyed The Britannicas online and via their 2010 self-titled full-length CD kind of assumed we’d never get an opportunity to see them in person. The three band members, guitarist-vocalist Magnus Karlsson; bassist-vocalist Herb Eimerman; and drummer-vocalist Joe Algeri, reside in Sweden, America, and Australia, respectively. The fetching harmonies and instrumentation on catchy power pop songs like “Friday Night Alright (Come Out And Play)” and “Ordinary Day” are assembled via modern technology. But now Algeri has made the trip from Down Under, and he’ll be performing with Eimerman at Martyrs’ this Thursday night. As the band noted on its Facebook page recently, “Even though Mags won’t be with us, it’s as close as you’re going to get to seeing a live Brits performance!”

In addition to performing with The Britannicas, Algeri plays multiple instruments and overdubs his vocals on solo efforts that he records under the name The JAC. His latest single, “Record Store,” features a clever tribute to the retail outlets; a techno-oriented cover of Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold,” and two other fun tracks. Eimerman joined Shoes member Jeff Murphy for a CD released under the name The Nerk Twins, and he recorded some solo CDs on Shoes’ Black Vinyl label. (Speaking of Shoes, they have a show this Saturday night at SPACE in Evanston, with The Valley Downs as opening act.)

So the two Britannicas will have a wide range of material to choose from at Martyrs’ on Thursday night. They'll also be performing on the Razor And Die Radio show on WLUW 88.7 FM at 2:00 PM Friday; the Stiner Pavilion in Waukegan on July 27th; at Fais Do Do in L.A. on August 1st as part of International Pop Overthrow - Los Angeles; and at The Revue in Fresno on August 2nd.

Andrew Bird At The Blue Whiskey

The Fourth Annual Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival’s Centerpiece Concert featuring indie rock band Murley and singer-songwriter Chris Petlak takes place tomorrow night (Wednesday, July 24th) in Palatine. But there’s also a big draw for music fans tonight at the BWIFF. Director Xan Aranda filmed the final months of an Andrew Bird concert tour, including its finale in Chicago. The resulting documentary, Andrew Bird: Fever Year, is an 81-minute tribute to the eccentric indie rock musician and his determination to perform even while on crutches from a previous onstage accident. Chances are, you’ll leave Cutting Hall whistling some of his tunes. Andrew Bird: Fever Year has been an Official Selection at several film festivals across America, as well as in Copenhagen and Mexico City.

Five short films will be shown before the Andrew Bird documentary: Jonah And The Crab, director Laurel Cohen’s comedy about how the title characters become pals after an encounter on the shoreline; The Treehouse, the A.J. Sheeran directed drama concerning a young girl who wants to take her neighbor through time and space to a planet of departed souls shortly after his mother dies; Paper People, director Andrew Kightlinger’s drama about the impact a despondent Marine has on a young mother and her daughter; Hanareyubi (Lotus), a drama from Japanese director Arisa Kaneko about a mother forced to make a difficult choice concerning her son; and Frames, a documentary directed by Zachary Mehrbach about a bowling match between a recently appointed foreman and a carpenter who believes the job should have gone to him instead.

Tonight’s event begins at 7:00 PM and runs through 10:30 PM. The Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival is taking place at Cutting Hall, Durty Nellie’s, and Emmett’s Brewing Company in Palatine through Sunday.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Slug Stands Alone, And Another Round Of Blue Whiskey

Photo from the official QWERTY website.

A Slug Stands Alone. Dag Juhlin, who lists Poi Dog Pondering, The Slugs, and EXPO 76 among the multitude of bands he performs with, has a solo acoustic gig tonight at the Uncommon Ground on Devon Avenue in Chicago. There’s no telling what songs Juhlin will play, but he certainly has an expansive reservoir to choose from. Singer-songwriter Kurt Michaels and musician-producer Adam Marsland are also on the Uncommon Ground bill tonight. In his typical humorous fashion, Juhlin noted on Facebook: With this much talent on display, this will be a small scale, indoor, civilized Pitchfork. Let’s call it Saladfork. 

The Fourth Annual Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival  continues in Palatine tonight with a showing of director Bill Sebastian’s comedy QWERTY. The Illinois-based feature-length film concerns an unlikely couple named Zoe and Marty, who become allies while Zoe competes to become the National Scrabble Champion. QWERTY has won awards at film festivals in Nashville, New York, and other cities.

Four short films will be shown before QWERTY: The Grand Design, Australian Samuel Bartlett’s drama about a metaphysics student striving to explain the complexities of fate; A Short Film On Conformity, a series pilot from Norway by Matt Willis-Jones; 88 Miles To Moscow, Karen Glienke’s American-made drama involving a teenage girl’s misadventures in Russia; and Summer Campbell, Illinois native Scott Sullivan’s comedy about a young girl who seeks revenge on a camp counselor who toyed with her affections.

Tonight’s event begins at 7:00 PM and runs through 10:30 PM. The Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival is taking place at Cutting Hall in Palatine through next Sunday. Tuesday night’s lineup includes Andrew Bird: Fever Year, director Xan Aranda’s feature-length documentary on the eccentric indie rock musician.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saturday Slumgullion

Photo from the Handcuffs website.

Outdoor concerts across the Chicago area last night were canceled or interrupted by severe storms passing through the area. For a well-written report on how Pearl Jam heroically resumed its show at Wrigley Field after the rain subsided, check out Zack Nechvatal’s blog post on the WXRT website.

I didn’t have a ticket for Pearl Jam, but my wife Pam and I were watching Generation at the Des Plaines Summer Fling. Generation, a fun band that covers 1960s hits, is led by David Huizenga, who’s probably familiar to local rock fans for his past work with The New Invaders. Huizenga frequently joins forces with vocalist Kim Kane, and the band’s choice of material (American Breed, Supremes, The Doors, Buddy Miles) is eclectic and entertaining. Last night, Generation did a great job of keeping the crowd engaged and dancing before the Des Plaines cops had no choice but to shut things down because of the storm. The Des Plaines Summer Fling runs through Sunday.

Chicago indie rock band The Handcuffs seem to be sharing stages with vintage new wave and punk acts lately; such as Blondie, Bow Wow Wow, Gene Loves Jezebel, and Hugh Cornwell from The Stranglers. Tonight, they’ll be joining forces with 80s rockers, The Producers (of “She Sheila” fame) 
for the Will Rock For Food benefit at the Marion Civic Center. It’s a charitable event to help raise funds for the Marion Food Pantry.  The Jeff Pritchett Project will also perform and there will be an auction. Tickets are $15, the show starts at 7:00 PM.

The Fourth Annual Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival kicks off a week long run in Palatine tomorrow night with the Blue Carpet Opening Night. Director Michael Mohan’s romantic comedy Save The Date and narrative short Ex-Sex will be shown, and Mohan will receive the 2013 Independent Filmmaker Achievement Award from BWIFF. Festival emcee Jonathan C. Legat will moderate a Question and Answer session with Mohan as part of the evening’s events.

Other BWIFF highlights include a showing of director Xan Aranda’s documentary, Andrew Bird: Fever Year on Tuesday; and the Festival Centerpiece Concert featuring the band Murley, singer-guitarist Chris Petlak, and the Official Selection Music Videos on Wednesday. Tickets are $8 for most individual sessions and $10 for the Blue Carpet Opening Night, Festival Centerpiece Concert, and Closing Night Presentation. There are also tickets for a complete festival pass, weekend pass, and Saturday pass.

Susanna Hoffs recently announced on Facebook that the long-awaited Volume 3 of her Under The Covers series of collaborations with Matthew Sweet is almost completely mixed. This one will focus on 1980s hits, which begs the question as to whether Hoffs and Sweet will include something by The Bangles.

Even though Black Forest Theatre always comes up with something intriguing for its shows at the Mary-Arrchie Theatre's annual Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Sins festival, it was a bit surprising to see Black Forest founder James Moeller’s Facebook post seeking dancers for its original production of Cheerleader And The Astronaut. I’m tempted to dust off one of my old spandex outfits and audition, but it’s probably best to demure in favor of younger talent. Moeller and fellow Black Forest founding member Carla Hayden are two of the nicest avant garde performance art people you could meet, so I encourage any aspiring hoofers in the Chicago area to give it a shot.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

45 RPM Preview - Stay - Mersey Dream

Fruits de Mer, the independent UK label devoted to releasing vinyl recordings of neo psychedelic and prog rock artists, has a batch of new singles coming out on August 10th. Each of the 45s will be limited editions on colored vinyl. Here’s a look at one more of those Fruits de Mer singles:

Psychedelic rock reigns in Spain, especially as interpreted by the Barcelona-based quartet, Stay. Its new single, Mersey Dream, immerses listeners in the adventurous genre over the course of three cover versions and one original. The lyrics are sung in English with hardly a trace of a Spanish accent, and layered over arrangements that recall the way 1990s bands like Inspiral Carpets and Charlatans UK reinvented “Hush” era Deep Purple.

Stay is the third band I’ve heard successfully navigate The Beatles’ “If I Needed Someone,”  but whereas The Hollies and The Cryan Shames kept close to George Harrison’s version, Stay adds sitar and a rampaging bass. Marmalade’s “I See The Rain,” a mid-tempo look at how weather affects people’s moods, worked when Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet covered it on their Under The Covers compilation, and it’s a winner here as well. Stay shows impeccable taste in choosing the obscure English band The Fairytale’s mind-altering and enticing “Guess I Was Dreaming,” and impresses with its own “Mersey Dream.” The energetic title track is an irresistible invitation to experience this inventive band’s positive vibes.

Stay has toured with Beady Eye and Ocean Colour Scene, and is going to be part of the Fruits de Mer All Dayer Festival at The Borderline in London on August 10th, along with 1960s icons The Pretty Things, Jack Ellister, Sendilica, and Chicago’s own The Luck Of Eden Hall. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

CD Review: Ellis Clark - LP Number One

Ellis Clark’s long history on the Chicago music scene includes being a founding member of the bands Social Act and Epicycle; playing guitar and keyboards with The Handcuffs; and producing artists at CAUDog Records. He’s currently pursuing a solo career. On the recently released LP Number One, which is available in CD, digital, 8-track, and vinyl format, Clark gets expert help from musicians he’s worked with, such as drummer Brad Elvis and singer-guitarist Phil Angotti. But it’s still Clark’s baby, with him playing guitar, bass, and keyboards, and writing most of the songs.

Even with all his experience, Clark is still intent of exploring new territory on LP Number One. He employs a soulful croon on slower material like Kevin Gerbers “I Can’t Lose” and his own composition, “Goodbye.” His voice could be described as a deep hush on “Half Glass Full,” a techno-oriented track featuring keyboards, percussion, and Carla Prather’s backup vocals. Prather switches to a spirited gospel delivery on the infectious “God In The 1980s.” Clark creates a wall of sound, complete with Andrew Distels trumpet playing, for the romantic rock song, “Every Single Day,” and combines with Angotti for some lush harmonies on “Stupid And Dumb,” a twisted look at relationships. “Life Hasn’t Killed You Yet” ends LP Number One on a truly solo note, as Clark strums an acoustic guitar and compliments a loved one in an intimate, gritty voice. 

Bee Gees, Beatles Art, Beat Kitchen, Bands Of Abbie Fest, And A Flashback Host

Poster art from Rock Art Show Facebook page.

The Australian Bee Gees Show is now playing at the Broadway Playhouse just north of downtown Chicago, and runs through August 4th. Tickets are $35 - $80. I was glad to see Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones write in his review that the show includes some of the Gibb Brothers’ early hits like “Massachusetts” and “New York Mining Disaster 1941.” I would have centered the entire show in the 1960s, but there are probably a lot of people who prefer the disco era.

Rock Art Show, the online store that offers art work and photographs of and by famous rock musicians, is back for another WLS-sponsored visit to the Chicago area. The 94.7 WLS-FM Rock Art Show & Sale will be held this weekend at Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale. There will also be concert posters and gold records for sale. The Rock Art Show's exhibit hours are 10:00 AM - 8:00 PM Friday and Saturday, and 11:00 AM - 6:00 PM Sunday. Admission is free.

Once again, Ron Campbell, who was the director and animator of the 1965-1969 Beatles cartoon series, and worked as an animator on the Yellow Submarine film, will be a special guest. I've been to a few Rock Art Show exhibits in the past (last year, it was right across the street from Lollapalooza) and one of the best things is that the pieces can be pretty affordable. There are even some cool postcards for sale.

A number of years ago, some International Pop Overthrow - Chicago showcases were held at Beat Kitchen on Belmont Avenue. IPO founder David Bash has since settled on Red Line Tap as his go-to venue in the Windy City. Still, there are a couple nights coming up at Beat Kitchen that will have a similar, if not official IPO flavor. Veteran power pop band The Abbeys, who have performed at IPO - Chicago every year from the start; will be part of four-band lineup tonight that also includes Logan Square, who made their IPO debut at Red Line Tap this past April; the quartet Overman; and Australian singer-songwriter Sherry Rich. Then on Thursday, Kevin Lee and The Kings, who performed songs from their new Breakout CD at IPO this year, will be sharing the bill with Common Shiner, a melodic pop band that has made a few IPO appearances; comic/hard rock band Guerilla; and Dogs Of Fortune. The price for each night is a mere $8.

The Abbeys, fronted by founding members and harmony specialists, Mike Cohen and Jeff Janulis, were also one of the first bands to sign up for the Mary-Arrchie Theatre's 25th Annual Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Sins Festival. This is the first year the The Abbie Fest will have a full schedule of live bands. 

I've been submitting Abbie Hoffman Fest Memories posts on Facebook the past few days for the dual purpose of trying to be entertaining, and hoping to drum up interest in this freewheeling celebration of the performing arts. The response has been good, and I was happy to see Frank Carr, a member of my old comedy group Famous In Future, has posted his own Abbie Fest Recollection on Facebook. The more the merrier.

Wendy Rice, the long-time, popular host of WXRT's Saturday Morning Flashback, will be at the radio station's booth at the Farmer's Market at the Daley Center in downtown Chicago this Thursday afternoon. She'll be overseeing the Chicago COUNTRY Chef's Challenge  involving culinary school students.

Monday, July 15, 2013

45 RPM Preview: Jack Ellister - “Dawn Dream Club”

Fruits de Mer, the independent UK label devoted to releasing vinyl recordings of neo psychedelic and prog rock artists, has a batch of new singles coming out on August 10th. Each of the 45s will be limited editions on colored vinyl. Here’s a look at another of those Fruits de Mer singles: 

Jack Ellister is a prime example of Fruits de Mer’s mission to search the universe for artists who fit its eccentric vision. He’s the former leader of the Holland-based psychedelic/prog rock band Yordan Orchestra, and also logged time with a group called Angina Pectoris. His second FdM 45 (following his own composition, “The Man With The Biochopper”) offers three cover versions. 

George Harrison’s spiritually inclined “Within You Without You,” from The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper LP, gets a slightly faster spin, as well as a steady drum beat that gives it a tribal feel. Ellister’s vocals float majestically above this exotic arrangement, which includes some freewheeling instrumental passages. His take on English musician-painter Mark Fry's “Song For Wilde” isn’t as distinctive as the other two tracks, but it does have a peaceful vibe based on acoustic guitar and keyboards. 

A cover of Syd Barrett’s “Flaming,” from the Pink Floyd album, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, is particularly well-suited to Ellister’s obvious affection for 1960s psychedelia. His vocal style nails Barrett’s offbeat charm perfectly on this tripped-out journey through the beauty of nature. Ellister is going to be part of the Fruits de Mer All Dayer Festival at The Borderline in London on August 10th, along with Stay, Sendilica, Chicago’s own The Luck Of Eden Halland 1960s icons The Pretty Things.

Friday, July 12, 2013


People just coming out of Taste Of Chicago tonight and looking for something to do while they’re still downtown, should check out the 11:40 PM set by power pop masters Pezband at The Hard Rock Cafe 
on Ontario. Alice Sweet Alice, Spectors, and Jacob’s Cabin performed earlier. Admission is $10. Pezband lead vocalist-guitarist Mimi Betinis informs me that he’s working on a CD featuring previously unreleased material by the group from 1979. It’s set to be released on Air Mail Recordings this Fall. 

Generally I avoid Taste Of Chicago unless there’s some good live music going on at the Petrillo Band Shell. Over the years, I’ve seen Ray Davies, The Go-Go’s, Graham Nash, The Smithereens, Squeeze, Liz Phair, Fountains Of Wayne, and probably numerous other acts that aren’t coming to mind at the moment. Now I can add Robert Plant to the list since he and the Sensational Space Shifters were at Grant Park tonight as part of the XRT Annual Free Concert

The former Led Zeppelin front man was at the top of his game as he belted out songs from that band and his solo stuff, along with a selection or two from the American blues canon. Plant praised Chicago’s vital role in the development of the blues before launching into an exotic version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful.” He also added a touch of World music to a reworked “Black Dog,” and engaged the audience in some call and response with the “Ah - ah” part of the lyrics. The biggest applause (and a general sense of awe) came for his faithful renditions of Led Zeppelin songs like “Going To California” and “What Is And What Should Never Be.”

The Irish American Heritage Center, on Chicago’s northwest side, is staging Irish Fest this weekend. Main Stage acts include Derek Warfield And The Young Wolfe Tones, Enter The Haggis, The Killdares, The Tossers,. Baal Tinne, a band my wife Pam and I always enjoyed at Celtic Fest, are among the featured performers, and there will a number of dance troupes, such as Trinity Irish Dancers and McNulty School Of Irish Dance. Tickets are $15.

The Valley Downs will be the opening act when Shoes performs at SPACE in Evanston on July 27th. The two groups have a connection that stretches back for a couple of decades. Valley Downs bassist-backup vocalist Mike Galassini is also a member of the power pop trio, 92 Degrees, whose self-titled debut was released on the Shoes Black Vinyl label in 1995. 

The Valley Downs, fronted by Galassini and his wife, lead vocalist Marianne Galassini, have recorded a pair of four-song EPs. Their melodic arrangements are similar to The Bangles, particularly on songs like “Better,” and Mike Galassini has a knack for off-kilter but well-crafted lyrics. The Valley Downs are long-time veterans of International Pop Overthrow - Chicago (they followed Material Re-Issue at a sold-out showcase at the Abbey Pub in 2011) and have also played IPO - Liverpool.

Shoes, meanwhile are playing the occasional gig in support of their 2012 critically acclaimed comeback, Ignition. They'll also be at Shank Hall in Milwaukee on July 26th. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Please Be Somewhere Tomorrow Night

Photo from the Mimi Betinis Facebook page.

Power pop fans in Chicago will have an opportunity to see one of the genre’s true pioneers tomorrow night when Pezband headlines a four-act showcase at The Hard Rock Cafe on Ontario. Admission is $10. The Hard Rock’s website shows Alice Sweet Alice kicking things off at 9:00 PM, followed by Spectors at 9:40 PM, and Jacob’s Cabin at 10:30 PM. Pezband is slotted to perform from 11:40 to 1:20 AM.

Led by singer guitarist Mimi Betinis, who had replaced  Cliff Johnson, Pezband made a strong impression with its self-titled debut in 1977. “Please Be Somewhere Tonight” and “Baby, Its Cold Outside” garnered a fair amount of FM radio airplay, and other standout tracks included “Runaway” and “When I’m Down.” The group followed with the Laughing In The Dark LP, as well as the live EP, 30 Seconds Over Schaumburg, which was from a WXRT Budget Concert recorded at the B'Ginnings rock club.

Pezband has seemed to come and go over the years. The last time I saw them was during a short set they did at the Haymakers Reunion at Durty Nellie’s a while back. In 2010, Betinis released the solo CD, All That Glitters, which carried on in the Pezband spirit, and found him dabbling in other musical styles. The Pezband Reverb Nation page promises a new release in the near future. Maybe those in attendance at the Hard Rock Cafe will get a preview.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

45 RPM Preview: Crystal Jacqueline - “A Fairy Tale”

First, a quick reminder to people in the Chicago area: Robert Plant Presents the Sensational Space Shifters will be the Annual XRT Free Concert in Grant Park as part of Taste Of Chicago this Friday. The Lone Bellow, an up and coming acoustic rock group, will kick things off at 5:30 PM. Reserved seating for the show has sold out but the lawn area is free. For those who can’t see the Plant show in person, WXRT will be airing it live, starting at 6:45 PM.

Fruits de Mer, the independent UK label devoted to releasing vinyl recordings of neo psychedelic and prog rock artists, has a batch of new singles coming out on August 10th. Each of these 45s, by Me And My Kites; Crystal Jacqueline; Stay; White Sails; and Jack Ellister, will be limited editions on colored vinyl. As with Re-Evolution, FdM’s brilliant LP/45 various artists tribute to The Hollies, most of the new records will feature reworked versions of classic 1960s material.

Here’s a look at one of those Fruits de Mer singles:

Crystal Jacqueline has been keeping busy within England’s psychedelic music scene; performing with The Green Question Mark (which also includes Mordecai Smythe) and The Honey Pot. (See January 30, and February 2013, respectively, in Archives.) This three-track single finds her working with Icarus Peel, from both of the previously mentioned bands. The eclectic choice of covers on “A Fairy Tale” ranges from the well known to the obscure, but she gives each song an authentic late 1960s feel.

“Cousin Jane,” originally recorded by The Troggs on their Trogglodynamite album, is one of those songs where a creepy underworld lurks beneath deceptively simple lyrics. Crystal Jacqueline gives it an ominous piano, synth, and strings arrangement that’s fairly similar to the original. Virtually no one in the States has heard of Second Hand, but Crystal Jacqueline does the English group’s 1960s gem “A Fairy Tale” proud with a swirling, high octane mix of psychedelic and garage rock. She doesn’t bother to flip the genders on The Rolling Stones’ “Play With Fire,” but her bewitching vocals and haunting keyboards suggest there might be other-worldly consequences if you did try to cross her.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Join Together With The Bands

The Mary-Arrchie Theatre is celebrating the 25th Anniversary of its Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Sins Festival by moving it to the larger Den Theater, which has three separate stages. One of the stages will be devoted to bands; the first time Abbie will have an entire schedule of live music. The festival was first organized in 1989 by Artistic Director Rich Cotovsky, as a way to commemorate the freewheeling spirit of the original Woodstock concert. Each year, Cotovsky channels the spirit of Hoffman as the host of the Abbie Fest.

Mary-Arrchie counts on this three-day, virtually non-stop event to help fund its productions for the upcoming season. As a member of the Famous In The Future comedy group, I took part for 20 years, and always found it to be a blast. I left FIF after 2008, but still count on the Abbie Fest as being one of the highlights of summer in Chicago.

Some of the groups that have already signed up include The Abbeys, whitewolfsonicprincess, Nashville The Band, Lola Balatro (they’ve already played The Abbie in the past), The Jacqueline Sylvie Band, Digital Gnosis, and Cpt. Captain. Most of the night-time slots are filled, but there are still openings for the afternoon hours. Musicians interested in taking part can contact the theatre at

I finally had a chance to catch the Mary-Arrchie’s production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, which sold out its previous run at the theatre’s home space, and has now been re-mounted at Theater Wit, with the original Mary-Arrchie cast. This experimental version is directed by longtime member Hans Fleischmann, who also portrays the character, Tom. Fleischmann, Maggie Cain (as Amanda), Joanne Dubach (as Laura), and Andy Lutz (understudy to Walter Briggs as Jim), were all extremely convincing.

Mary-Arrchie Theatre has been on a winning streak over the past few years, with critical and commercial successes like The Glass Menagerie, and Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts. Rich Cotovsky was a Special Award Recipient at this year’s Jeff Awards ceremony for his years of serving the Chicago theatre community. 
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