Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Red Plastic Buddha - Songs For Mara

Since forming in 2005, The Red Plastic Buddha has helped establish a vibrant psychedelic scene in Chicago, along with bands like Secret Colours, The Luck Of Eden Hall, and Tomorrow The Moon. A few band members have come and gone over the years, but lead vocalist-bassist Tim Ferguson remains at the helm on Songs For Mara, The Red Plastic Buddha’s third and most adventurous effort. In addition to fellow band members keyboards player-backup vocalist Eric Ahlgren, drummer Neil Hunt, lead guitarist Derik Kendall, and guitarist-backup vocalist Mike Connor; Ferguson is assisted by some guest musicians, including vocalist-guitarist Pamela Richardson from The Pralines (she’s also his wife), guitarist Gregory Curvey from The Luck Of Eden Hall, and singer-songwriter Phil Angotti.

Lindsey Snyder’s flute playing adds a hippie vibe to “Being Human,” a simple but knowing look at various personalities. In addition to psychedelic gems like “Little White Pills” and “A House Is Not A Motel,” The Red Plastic Buddha also connects with the garage rock of “Girl Like You.” And there’s a surprising sense of humor woven through the mind-blowing imagery of some of these songs.

The spacey “She’s An Alien” depicts an attractive extraterrestrial who, “Came to save the world but just gets drunk in bars.” The high-speed “Cosmonaut” offers fun in a sort of outer space “Back In The U.S.S.R.” vein, and “Stuck At Zero” lurches along to some powerful guitar playing by Kendall and Connor while Ferguson spits out lines about a zombie who’s given some thought to what he can accomplish under his new circumstances. “When I come back from the dead, I ain’t messing around,” Ferguson vows, along with a number of other threats like stealing a G.T.O. Chances are, The Red Plastic Buddha will be coming back some time soon as well. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Kumari - Until That Day

The Kumari, a London-based quartet that has been drawing critical acclaim for its authentic 1960s style rock since forming in 2012, is once again utilizing the 7-inch vinyl record format. “Until That Day” is a three-track single being offered in a limited run of 500 copies via the Spanish label Hey Girl Records. The songs can also be downloaded on The Kumari’s Bandcamp page.

The energetic Side A Until That Day,” which features the ethereal vocals of Claude Pelletier along with the ringing guitars of Pelletier and Dimitri Rouzo, harks back to an era when psychedelia flowed like a river through San Francisco. The Kumari switch to pure garage rock on Side B for “Her Heart Of Stone,” using Pellertier’s raw singing, fuzzed-out guitars, and an infectious beat that will make everyone (guys included) want to start go-go dancing. “Girl Dont Exist,” the second track on the B Side, offers a change of pace. The twanging guitar arrangement on this tale of love and longing owes as much to Country and Western music as it does to the 1960s underground rock that The Kumari do so well. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Click Beetles - Wake Up To Music!

The Click Beetles might sound like the name of a Beatles tribute band, but it’s actually a pseudonym for musician/journalist Dan Pavelich. Numerous power pop fans will be familiar with his band The Bradburys, as well as the holiday compilations he puts out on his Vandalay Records label to help charities. Longtime power pop fans may even remember him as a member of The Steppingstones. Wake Up To Music! is the result of a few years of recording solo material in Pavelich’s home studio, with only his wife and daughter helping out.

There’s one Beatles cover within the 11 tracks on this effort, but Pavelich reinterprets “Do You Want To Know A Secret?” as though it had been recorded by one of The Fab Four’s British Invasion contemporaries. He also taps into that era for the appealing “Try Girl.” He offers a solid cover of Marshall Crenshaw’s “Cynical Girl,” and gives “I Never Said Goodbye,” co-written with pop singer-songwriter Lisa Mychols, the feel of a mid-1960s Motown single.

The catchy “Shut The TV Down” and “Tell Me How You Feel” are similar to Pavelich’s work with The Bradburys, and he borrows the line “Do you, don’t you want me to love you?” from “Helter Skelter” for “Glad,” a fun song that evokes The Cars with its peppy synthesizer arrangement. Wake Up To Music! gets even more adventurous with harder guitar and darker theme on “Ever Since The World Began,” and the rock biz satire “Bubblegum.”

Monday, July 28, 2014

Bangles 101

Drummer Brad Elvis joined The Bangles on two of their more popular songs.

At one point at City Winery last night, The Bangles joked that they should have brought along a slide show. The concert, the first of two sold-out gigs at the Chicago venue, did provide an extensive history of the band, with Susanna Hoffs, Debbie Peterson, and Vicki Peterson (Michael Steele departed over 10 years ago) sharing memories of their earliest recording days. Maybe they were inspired to uncork their vintage material by the custom-made bottles of Bangles Wine City Winery had for sale.

Hoffs and the Peterson sisters, along with bassist Derrick Anderson, entered to a recording of “My Own Time”* by their brethren in L.A.’s Paisley Underground, The Three O’Clock. The opening number “Hazy Shade Of Winter” set the pace for a band that has always had more to offer than a handful of Top 40 singles and still performs with a fountain-of-youth intensity. The harmonies were consistently impressive, whether on early LP cuts like “Live” or on the title track from The Bangles’ 2011 release, Sweetheart Of The Sun.

Other than “Manic Monday,” the first half of the concert concentrated on lesser-known deep tracks like “Some Dreams Come True,” “James,” and “Angels Don’t Fall In Love.” They went back to their very first single, the independently released, “Getting Out Of Hand,” and played all three tracks from their  1982 self-titled EP. “In Your Room” had a grittier feel than one might remember from the seductive rock video, and an extended version of “Hero Takes A Fall” morphed into a jam session that included the riff from Status Quo’s “Pictures Of Matchstick Men.”

While introducing a sterling cover of the Alex Chilton-penned “September Gurls,” Vicki Peterson suggested that anyone not familiar with his band Big Star should, “get yourself educated.” She added,  You’ll be glad you did.” The Bangles also romped through the classic garage rock of “Open Your Eyes” by The Nazz, and called upon a popular local musician to help out with the Kimberly Rew composition “Going Down To Liverpool.”** Debbi Peterson joined her sister and Hoffs at the front of the stage, while Brad Elvis from The Romantics and The Handcuffs took over on the drums.

The same lineup was later used for “Walk Like An Egyptian,” which served as the evening’s second and final encore, following a delicately beautiful rendition of “Eternal Flame.” As with every previous Bangles concert I’ve seen since their return in 2000, they seemed to thoroughly enjoy performing on their own terms without interference from a major label. And that’s another important lesson.

*   Originally recorded by The Bee Gees
** Originally recorded  by Katrina And The Waves

Saturday, July 26, 2014

That’s Life: The Blue Whiskey Windup

It’s almost time to bid farewell to The Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival for another year. The festival will screen one feature-length film and three shorts at Cutting Hall in Palatine from 7:00 to 10:30 PM tonight. The action moves to the Star Cinema Grill in Arlington Heights tomorrow, July 27th, for an Awards Dinner and a feature-length film that will serve as the Blue Whiskey Chaser. All films were made in the USA except as noted. 

Tonight’s main attraction is Life Inside Out, director Jill D’Agnenica’s 108-minute family drama about a mother and her alienated son and how they grow closer by performing music together. Life Inside Out, which stars Maggie Baird and Finneas O’Connell, has won awards as Best Narrative Film at a number of independent film festivals. It will be preceded by director Mischa Jakupcak’s The Hero Pose, a 13-minute comedy about a father and his eight-year old daughter learning to connect; Lost In The Sky, a 15-minute sci-fi/family film from Canadian director Matt Landry; and Canadian director Ben Petrie’s 17-minute surrealistic comedy Nice Is Cool.

The Blue Glass Awards Dinner, which will include honors for this year’s Best Of Fest, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and several other categories, will take place at the Star Cinema Grill in Arlington Heights tomorrow night, starting at 7:00 PM. The Awards Dinner will be followed by the Midwest Premiere of Life After Beth, director Jeff Baena’s comedy/horror film about a young man named Zach who finds his girlfriend Beth behaves much differently after she returns from the dead. It stars Dane DeHaan as Zach and Aubrey Plaza as Beth, along with Molly Shannon, John C. Reilly, Anna Kendrick, Matthew Gray Gubler, Cheryl Hines, and Paul Reiser.

If you’re a suburban resident who longs for more cultural diversity, this is a great place to find it. I would like to thank the Blue Whiskey organizers for once again bringing their impressive creative event to our humble community. May the Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival always thrive here, and may it also inspire other festivals to set up shop in Palatine.

Friday, July 25, 2014


It’s my party and I’ll post if I want to. Today is my birthday but I’ve been celebrating with live music since last Saturday night with a Shoes and The Valley Downs double bill at SPACE in Evanston. Next up was a concert by Aimee Mann and Ted Leo as The Both (with opening act Tongues And Pillars) at Millennium Park on Monday; and then a swing by Durty Nellies on Wednesday night for the Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival Center Piece Concert featuring Big Paraid (I got home too late from work to see Jackpot Donnie.) There are plenty of opportunities for me and everyone else in Chicago to make merry during the next few days.

The Fifth Annual Blue Whiskey Film Festival  wraps up this weekend with screenings at Cutting Hall in Palatine this afternoon, tonight, and tomorrow night, and The Awards Dinner and Chaser at Star cinema Grill in Arlington Heights on Sunday. There’s another double bill today; the 70-minute documentary Not Exactly Cooperstown and the comedy short Wooing Wes Wilson in the 4:00 to 5:45 PM showcase, and the feature-length drama Nightlights, along with the short comedy Four In The Morning, the 12-minute drama A Man On The Edge, and the 15-minute drama Insomniacs in the 7:00 to 10:30 PM showcase.

No, but I went to LollaShop. If you’re brokenhearted because you missed out on Lollapalooza tickets, or you really like the acts scheduled but were worried you’d feel out of place at the indie rock fest because you’re over 20, you can still have a Lollapalooza experience by going to its LollaShop pop-up store at Block 37 (108 N. State Street) in downtown Chicago. It opens today and runs through August 4th.

The Bangles will be in Chicago for two sold-out shows at City Winery on July 27th and 28th. If they arrive two days early they could come to my birthday party, but they would more likely check out their good buddy Matthew Sweet who has a gig at that very same City Winery tonight, with special guests Stolen Silver and Tommy Keene. A lot of people come to Bangles concerts eager to hear the hits like “Manic Monday” and “Eternal Flame.” Which is fine, but truly knowledgeable power pop fans also embrace the album tracks like “Some Dreams Come” and “Tear Off Your Own Head,” as well as the well-chosen cover versions of 1960s nuggets.

Chicagoans who come to The Bangles show on the 27th will get an added treat. Our own Brad Elvis will be playing drums on a few songs while Debbi Peterson moves up front to join Vicki Peterson and Susanna Hoffs. Brad Elvis, formerly of Screams and The Elvis Brothers, also performs with The Romantics and is very active with The Handcuffs, the band he formed with his wife, singer-guitarist Chloe F. Orwell. The Handcuffs will be playing at Northalsted Market Days on August 10th. I wonder if Brad will be wearing a Bangles t-shirt at that gig.

Belinda Carlisle will be the main act on Saturday night, at 8:45 PM at Northalsted Market Days. Other bands on the bill include The Locals, Girl In A Coma, Catfight, and Lez Zeppelin.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Make That A Double Shot Of Blue Whiskey

Photo from the Plato’s Reality Machine Facebook page.

The Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival returns to Cutting Hall in Palatine today after taking a musically inclined detour to nearby Durty Nellie’s for the Festival Centerpiece Concert last night. There are two separate showcases today; one from 4:00 PM to 5:45 PM, and a second from 7:00 PM 10:30 PM. All films are from the USA except where noted.

The earlier showcase has two films, and one has a local connection. Director Susanne Suffredin is an Illinois resident whose 56-minute documentary @Home casts a spotlight on homeless advocate Mark Horvath. He had spent time as an addict living on the streets of Los Angeles after losing a successful television career in Hollywood. Once he was back on his feet, Horvath decided to chronicle the plight and feelings of homeless people in California, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania, using a digital camera and his cell phone.

Director Thomas Wood’s 25-minute documentary LA Miner follows the mining adventures of Patrick Blankenship, an engaging eccentric who hopes to find gold just outside of Los Angeles.

Later tonight, Blue Whiskey presents director Myles Sorensen’s 80-minute drama Plato’s Reality Machine. It’s a study of modern relationships, centered on Charles, a video games fanatic and five people who become involved in sexual/romantic encounters. Plato’s Reality Machine will be preceded by four short films. 

Director Jeff Wolfe’s 11-minute drama Pennance concerns a man seeking to escape the sins of his past. The Fall, directed by Kristof Hoornaert from Belgium, is a drama about a couple getting lost while driving on vacation. Black Water is director Ryan Ovadia’s 16-minute drama about crime activity in West Texas; and director Andrew Eckblad’s 30-minute drama/series pilot Blood Brothers is about a well-educated young man forced into a life of hustling as he tries to help a loved one.

The Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival has three more shows at Cutting Hall in Palatine before moving on to the Star Cinema Grill in Arlington Heights on Sunday, July 28th, for the Awards Dinner and Blue Whiskey Chaser.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Classical Blast And A Shot Of Blue Whiskey

My usually sedate hometown of Palatine has a pair of competing events going on tonight, and both look very promising. I might have to dash back and forth between the two of them. At the Fred P. Hall Amphitheater, there’s an outdoor concert by Classical Blast that looks like it could be the most interesting booking of Palatine’s 2014 Sounds Of Summer series. Actually, it’s hard to figure why they were scheduled on a Wednesday instead of a Friday.

The quartet blends cello and violin with guitars and drums while performing songs like Cream’s “The White Room” and Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.” Founder/cellist Petar Kecenovici has worked with Dennis DeYoung from Styx, classical superstar Andrea Bocelli, and Cheap Trick. He’s also performed in Broadway musicals. Violinist Jimmy Chaos is a classically trained musician and instructor; guitarist David Kav is also a member of the duo KAVUS and has performed in local productions of Tommy and Man Of La Mancha; drummer Glen Kosche has logged time with JP and The Cats, Tom Carey Band, and Kickbend; and guitarist Bill Syniar was a founding member/producer of Tantrum, and has worked with Survivor, The Doobie Bros., and Steve Walsh of Kansas. Admission to the Classical Blast concert is free.

Also tonight in Palatine, The Blue Whiskey Film Festival will present its Festival Centerpiece Concert at Durty Nellie’s. The headliner is Big Paraid, an alt rock trio that incorporates dancers and a theatrical approach in its shows. The band has performed at the Double Door, House Of Blues, and Metro. They go on at 8:45 PM. Earlier, the rock/reggae quintet Jackpot Donnie opens at 7:30 PM. There will be five Official Selection Music Videos screened between the two live acts. Admission is $10.

The Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival continues at Cutting Hall in Palatine through Saturday, July 26th, and on Sunday, July 28th, it returns to the Star Cinema Grill in Arlington Heights for the Awards Dinner and Blue Whiskey Chaser.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Shoes Leave A Lasting Impression

Photo from the Shoes Facebook page/CHIRP Radio.

Considering that Shoes have only done a handful of shows since reuniting in 2012 after an 18-year absence, it’s possible that many of the people at SPACE in Evanston last Saturday night were seeing the legendary band for the first time. Or for the first time in a few decades. If that was the case, then Shoes made a strong first impression. Jeff Murphy, John Murphy, and Gary Klebe, along with drummer John Richardson and tambourine/harmonica player-backup vocalist Leroy Bocchieri, tore through over 20 classic examples of power pop, without showing any signs of rust.

The emphasis was on the more energetic songs in Shoes’ repertoire. “Your Very Eyes” and “The Summer Rain,” with their exquisite melodies, were about as subtle as Shoes got, and even those songs had plenty of juice. The set list embraced the band’s entire recording career; from “Okay” and “Do You Wanna Get Lucky?” from their 1977 debut Black Vinyl Shoes to “Head Vs Heart” and “Hot Mess” from 2012’s Ignition. Shoes’ tragically underrated sophomore effort Tongue Twister was well-represented with “Burned Out Love,” “Hate To Run,” “Your Imagination,” “She Satisfies,”and “When It Hits.”

The audience rightfully greeted “Tomorrow Night” and “Too Late” from Present Tense with enthusiastic applause, but it was also great to hear deep cuts from their albums, like “Animal Attraction,” “I Don’t Miss You,” and “Tore A Hole.” As composers, the Murphys and Klebe always had that knack for using irresistible melodies to couch acerbic observations on relationships, like “Your favorite story has no happy ending,” “Cry away, but not on my shoulder,” and “All my hesitation never got me anywhere/Now I ask no questions, when I’m wrong I just dont care.” Initially pegged as studio geeks with no live performance experience, the trio has grown stronger and more confident over the years. As always, they came across as regular guys; joking around and interacting with an audience that would eventually call them back for three encores.

The Valley Downs served as the opening act, reprising that role from when Shoes played at SPACE last year. Bassist-backup vocalist Mike Galassini has a long history with Shoes—his other band 92 Degrees released its self-titled debut on the Black Vinyl label in 1995. The Valley Downs, led by Galassini and his wife, vocalist Marianne Shimkus, (with on Todd Rusin on guitar and Christian Peterson on drums) have developed into a first-rate group with a wealth of good material. “Better,” from the group’s Behemoth EP, evokes The Bangles and has definite hit single potential. “Drama Queen,” a catchy tune about a transsexual, and “Sorry,” were also highlights. The Valley Downs plan to release a full-length effort within the next few months.

The Lengths A Guy Will Go To For Love

The Fifth Annual Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival continues tonight at Cutting Hall in Palatine, from 7:00 to 10:30 PM. Once again, a feature-length film will be preceded by three shorter works.

Tim Driscoll’s 108-minute film The Lengths combines comedy and drama in a tale of a heartbroken guy determined to keep his ex-girlfriend from marrying someone else. His quest involves a cross-country journey with a not-so-trustworthy buddy, and later, a hitchhiker with her own priorities enters the picture. 

A trio of short films will be screened before The Lengths. Pint is director Nic Barker’s nine-minute comedy from Australia concerning a guy who drinks too much at a wedding where he wasn’t particularly welcome to begin with. Craig Elrod’s Molly is a 12-minute comedy made in America about the complications that arise when a man enlists his best friend to help him cope with a shattered romance. The 13-minute comedy V Is For Visa comes from UK director John McPhail, and tells the story of a musician who marries the deranged woman who has been stalking his band, just so he can remain in the country.

The Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival continues at Cutting Hall in Palatine through Saturday, July 26th, and on Sunday, July 28th, it returns to the Star Cinema Grill in Arlington Heights for the Awards Dinner and Blue Whiskey Chaser.

Monday, July 21, 2014

One Story Of Love And Three Short Films

The Fifth Annual Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival kicked off yesterday with a Blue Carpet Opening Night at the Star Cinema Grill in Arlington Heights. Tonight’s Blue action takes place from 7:00 to 10:30 PM at Cutting Hall in Palatine, where a feature film and three shorts will be shown. One: A Story Of Love And Equality is director Becca Roth’s documentary about the recent Amendment One in North Carolina that would have limited legal recognition for any couple that is not a married man and woman. Roth’s goal with the film, which won the Best Director award at the Queens World Film Festival, was to spark a dialog by carefully listening to both sides of the issue.

One: A Story Of Love And Equality will be preceded by three short films. A teenager attempts to get her straight-laced Dad to accept her bad-news boyfriend in Sheltered Love, a 10-minute dramedy/satire set in the 1950s and directed by the cleverly named Alex Italics. Najes (The Unclean) is a 20-minute drama set in Iran, directed by Bahram and Bahman Ark (Hajaboullou). Called To Serve, from director Michael Van Orden, is a 22 minute romantic comedy/series pilot. 

The Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival continues at Cutting Hall in Palatine through Saturday, July 26th. On Sunday, July 28th, it returns to the Star Cinema Grill in Arlington Heights for the Awards Dinner and Blue Whiskey Chaser.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Coherence And The Blue Carpet

The Fifth Annual Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival kicks off at 7:00 PM tonight, July 20th with a Blue Carpet Opening Night at the Star Cinema Grill in Arlington Heights. It promises to be an evening of sci-fi and suspense, delivered by one feature-length movie and two shorter efforts. Coherence is an 89-minute sci-fi thriller directed by James Ward Byrkit, starring Emily Foxler, Nicholas Brendon, and six others. A winner of Best Screenplay and Best Picture awards at independent film festivals, Coherence combines chills with an intimate look at personal relationships. 

The main feature will be preceded by Sorry About Tomorrow, director Motke Dapp’s 9-minute short concerning a man named Baldwin whose travels through time can have tragic results. Lapsus, director Karim Ouaret’s 30-minute thriller about a predator lurking in a laundromat, will also screen as part of the opening night festivities. The Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival moves to Cutting Hall in Palatine on Monday, and continues through Sunday, July 28th with events at Cutting Hall, Durty Nellie’s in Palatine, and then back to the Star Cinema Grill in Arlington Heights for the Awards Dinner and Blue Whiskey Chaser.

Friday, July 18, 2014


Arent they just dolls? Art for The Both from Aimee Mann’s Facebook page.

The Pitchfork Music Festival  kicks off today in Union Park at 3:20 PM. Hello and welcome to everyone who has come to Chicago to see this annual event, which has become increasingly popular among fans of indie rock. The Reader, one of the city’s best-known free papers, has a helpful guide in this week’s issue, and you can find a thorough Pitchfork breakdown at the Innerview Magazine website. Today’s issues of the Tribune and Sun-Times also provide extensive coverage.

Tonight is the night local author Kym Brunner celebrates the release of her debut novel Wanted: Dead Or In Love a with a 1920s or ’30s event at Bar Louie on Rand Road in Mt. Prospect.

Shoes, with drummer John Richardson joining founding members John Murphy, Jeff Murphy, and Gary Klebe, will be performing tomorrow night, July 19th at SPACE  in Evanston. Check out today’s Chicago Sun-Times for a nice piece on the band by Moira McCormick. She worked with Mary E. Donnelly on the Shoes bio, Boys Don’t Lie. The Valley Downs, the coed power pop band led by vocalist Marianne Shimkus and bassist-vocalist Mike Galassini, will be the opening act. See my post earlier today on The Valley Downs.

Millennium Park has been getting some mixed publicity lately, with local newspapers praising its tourist-attracting aesthetics while questioning the ethics of some of its funding. Looking at the outdoor park strictly in terms of entertainment, it continues to impress. The Downtown Sound Monday Night concert series offers The Both, which features Aimee Mann and Ted Leo this coming Monday. On Tuesday, the classic mockumentary Spinal Tap will be shown, as part of the Sound Opinions At The Movies series. Sound Opinions is the WBEZ radio program hosted by rock critics Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis.

Congratulations to The Bangles on selling out both their July 27th and 28th shows at City Winery in Chicago.

Charming Axe, featuring singer-guitarist Rob Newhouse from The Elvis Brothers, Eugenia Elliott, and Hannah Hill, has a new gig lined up to follow its recent successful showing at The Old Town School Of Folk Music. The bluegrass/folk trio will be at one of Chicago’s newest venues, The Throne Room,  on August 1st.

Wizard World has just announced that Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar, who play Howard and Raj respectively on The Big Bang Theory, will appear at Chicago Comic Con on August 22nd. Looking at the list of other guests, this seems to be a particularly impressive year for Wizard World Chicago. The stars include Matt Smith and Karen Gillan from Doctor Who; John Barrowman from Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Arrow; William Shatner from Star Trek; Patrick Stewart from X-Men and Star Trek The Next Generation; Nicole Beharie from Sleepy Hollow; James Marsters from Buffy The Vampire Hunter; supermodel Cheryl Tiegs; and comics mastermind Stan Lee.

Too big for my media room. Actually, a life-size parrot sculpture would be too big for my over-crowded media room at this point, let alone the giant Norwegian Blue that was recently laid to rest in the vicinity of the London Bridge. Artist Iain Pendergrast’s homage to lovely plumage was commissioned by the English TV channel Gold to promote the recent Monty Python reunion special. It measures 15 metres, which roughly translates into I have know idea what, and is a fitting tribute to The Pythons’ justifiably popular Dead Parrot skit.

The Valley Downs - Power Pop’s Brigadoon

When The Valley Downs perform this Saturday night at SPACE in Evanston, it will be the second time the band, led by married couple singer-guitarist Marianne Shimkus and bassist-vocalist Mike Galassini, has had the honor of opening for power pop legends Shoes.

“We were so excited to open for Shoes last year,” Shimkus recalled during a recent email exchange with BHT. “We had already bought our tickets when they invited us to open. So that was a a honor, really, to be asked. We’re excited to be asked back. They’re great songwriters and musicians and Space is a great venue. It’s pretty darn cool to be a part of this.”

It will be a rare opportunity to see both acts on the bill. The Valley Downs have been long-time participants at International Pop Overthrow - Chicago, but they missed this year’s event. That was unfortunate for their fans because other than their annual IPO shows, The Valley Downs appear in public about as often as Brigadoon arises from the mist of Ireland’s countryside.

“I think we’d all like to play more often,” Shimkus said. “We have a great time when we do. It’s not been a conscious decision. We all have crazy schedules. Sometimes things align and we get to do something cool like open up for Shoes!”

The Chicago-based quartet’s catchy power pop is certainly worthy of wider exposure. Their debut, the Behemoth EP,  included  “Better,” an optimistic mid-tempo number that sounded remarkably like The Bangles, as well as the social satire of the rougher-edged “Drama Queen.” Shimkus channeled Deborah Harry on the hard-edged and sexy “Twister.” Galassini, who got his start with the power pop trio 92 Degrees and still performs with them, brought his bass playing to the forefront throughout the EP, and joined Shimkus on harmonies. A later, less distributed self-titled EP continued to craft melodic songs that evoked The Bangles, while also showing a definite touch of Lennon and McCartney.

“For me, [it’s] The Beatles,” Shimkus said when asked about musical influences. “The first adolescent drive to sing, play guitar, write songs; all that can be traced back to The Beatles. Though people and circumstances around me influence my songwriting.”

Despite having a female lead vocalist, The Valley Downs’ songs rarely have a gender-specific point of view. Shimkus brings the cryptic lyrics to life, whether it’s on the sunny “Play For You” or the ironically titled “Lucky Day,” a Country & Western flavored tune with disturbing imagery like, “You leave me in the dirt, the dirt is where I’ll stay.” Fans of The Valley Downs will be glad to hear the band has new material on the way.

“We are working on a full-length CD now,” Shimkus said. “A number of songs that we do live haven’t been released; like ‘Perfect,’ ‘Good Friend,’ ‘Last Days of Summer.’ We’ll be doing those and a few others that haven’t been recorded or released yet. Mike has a brand new one called “Salem,” that he wrote about a week ago. So we’ll see how that goes in sound check. Plus, a couple off the 4- song CD Behemoth. We do a couple covers, too; Michelle Shocked, The Clash.”

The Valley Downs and Shoes have a connection that stretches back for a couple of decades. Galassini’s power pop trio, 92 Degrees, had their self-titled debut released on Shoes’ Black Vinyl label in 1995. Shoes made an impressive comeback after several tears of not recording with the critically acclaimed Ignition. The album top the BHT list of Favorite Releases of 2012.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Jeremy Band - All Over The World

If CEO/Founder David Bash rules the kingdom of International Pop Overthrow, then Jeremy Morris must surely be one of its royalty. The Michigan native, who often performs by his first name only, has been traveling with the power pop/indie rock festival for years. All Over The World, features 20 live tracks performed by The Jeremy Band in San Diego in 2009, 2111, and 2113. That includes two previously unreleased tracks—the romantic “Let Me In Your Heart” and energetic “Cool Your Jets”— and there’s an added bonus with “I Want To Be With You,” a classic power pop original recorded at IPO - Liverpool in 2006. 

In addition to his impressive guitar playing and knack for crafting engaging, 1960s-influenced arrangements, Morris exudes a great deal of positive energy. Even the surly “Breaking Out Of This Cage,” which sounds like a manifesto for a political fringe organization, is actually Morris pushing back against people who don’t believe that playing music is a legitimate career. Occasionally, his outlook flows into spirituality, as on “New Creation” and “Highway To Heaven.”

Morris has psychedelic rock down to a science; creating imaginative landscapes on the upbeat “Radiant Future Days,” and “Not Of This World,” in which he envisions himself as an intergalactic alien. For straight-ahead British-inspired pop, there’s the catchy “Come On Over,” which evokes The Hollies’ “Step Inside.” “Pop Rules,” which was inspired by one of David Bash’s catch phrases, morphs from a three-minute studio pop song to an extensive jam in live performance. It’s one of the most fun tracks on All Over The World, as Morris glides effortlessly through 12 classic guitar rifts from Dick Dale, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Shadows Of Knight, and other artists. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Durty Dates That Include Dick Dale

Photo from Dick Dale’s official website.

Durty Nellie’s in Palatine has been on an adventurous sprint in booking live acts lately. Earlier this week, the venue hosted Austin, Texas garage/Americana rockers Heartless Bastards, who are on tour promoting their new Arrow CD. Tomorrow night (July 16th), renowned guitarist and surf rock pioneer Dick Dale takes the stage. Dale, who has pretty much been canonized by Underground Garage host/musician Little Steven Van Zandt, started his career in the 1950s and released 11 albums over three decades that influenced countless bands. In 1997, Dale released the anthology Better Shred Than Dead, and he continues to maintain an active tour schedule.

Dale’s opening act at Durty Nellie’s tomorrow night is The Bingers an energetic and fun Chicago-based band rockabilly trio. Tickets are $27 for General Admission and seating is limited. Doors open at 7:00 PM and the music is scheduled to start at 8:00 PM. Next Wednesday, Durty Nellie’s will once again host the annual Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival’s Centerpiece Concert. This year’s headliner is Big Paraid, with Jackpot Donnie as the opening act. Admission is $10.

Friday, July 11, 2014


Shoes back in the days when Skip Meyer was their drummer.

I’ve been considering the idea of pitching Broken Hearted Toy to downtown Chicago hotel concierges as an alternate source of entertainment news. This is another one of those packed weekends that could leave tourists, and even locals unsure of where to start. 
Chicago Acoustic Underground (CAU) has several shows lined up for the Bucktown Garden Walk  this weekend. Alt rock group WhiteWolfSonicPrincess goes on at 3:00 PM and Phil Angotti and Ellis Clark perform at 9:00 PM tomorrow; Liz Chidester (2:00 PM) and Beatles tribute band The Cheetles (8:00 PM) perform on Sunday. See the CAU Facebook page for the full schedule.

Chicago Independent Book Store Day makes its debut tomorrow at nine book stores throughout the area. The event will involve author participation, free stuff, and refreshing beverages. The participating stores are The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square; 57th Street Books and Seminary Coop in Hyde Park; Sandmeyer’s in Printer’s Row; Unabridged Books in Lakeview; Open Books in River North; City Lit Books in Logan Square Logan; Powell’s Bookstore in University Village; and Women And Children First in Andersonville.

Clawing their way back. The six-woman cover band Catfight made a triumphant return to its birthplace last Saturday with a two-hour performance at the Palatine Hometown Fest. Lead vocalists Molly and Julie have developed into a dynamic duo, and the band was consistently in synch behind them. A lot of the songs in Catfight’s repertoire spring from the current Top 40 (Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” Fitz And The Tantrums’ “The Walker”) but guitarist Kimi occasionally took the spotlight for some blistering hard rock. I miss the days when Catfight was even more adventurous with its set list but it’s great to have them back. 

Catfight has a 3:45 PM show tomorrow at the Roscoe Village Burger Fest, which takes place at Belmont and Damen in Chicago. Verona Red, The Handcuffs, Treaty Of Paris, and Better Than Ezra are also among the bands scheduled for tomorrow. American English, Fort Frances, and This Must Be The Band and others perform on Sunday.

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, along with a backing band that includes his son Spencer, will be performing tomorrow at Taste Of Chicago, and he’ll have a potent opening act in Lucinda Williams. The concert starts at 3:00 PM. Other acts include Latin artist RubĂ©n Alvarez and Sun Sounds; the tech duo Pyro Fighter; and the techno quartet Gemini Club. Aloe Blacc And The Wailers are the headliners on Sunday; with JA Cohen; Snow And Snow; Todd Kessler And The New Folk; and Logan Mize among the other acts scheduled.

The 23rd Annual Chicago Tribune North Michigan Avenue Art Festival runs through Sunday at Pioneer Court. I had a chance to check it out briefly at lunch today, and it has some interesting pieces that weren’t at the Old Town or Gold Coast Art Fairs.

According to a piece by Luis Gomez in the Tribune this past Tuesday, former Doctor Who actress Freema Agyeman (she played Martha Jones when David Tennant was The Doctor) will be among the cast members when the Netflix sci-fi series Sense8 starts filming in Chicago next month.

Kym Brunner, local author and co-leader (with local author Cherie Colyer) of the writers group I belong to, has a fun bash planned for next Friday night Bar Louie on Rand Road in Mt. Prospect to celebrate the release of her first-born novel Wanted: Dead Or In Love. Since the clever theme of the novel involves Bonnie And Clyde, Brunner is asking everyone who attends to dress in 1920s or ’30s costumes. Although as Clyde might say, “I reckon it ain’t mandatory.

Local H, Jackpot Donnie, Hemmingbirds, Save The Clocktower, White Mystery, and Band Called Catch are among the acts scheduled to perform at the Great American Lobster Fest being held at Navy Pier on August 16th and 17th. The winner of the Throne Room’s Battle Of The Bands Contest will also be on the bill.

Shoes, with drummer John Richardson joining founding members John Murphy, Jeff Murphy, and Gary Klebe, will be performing next Saturday night, July 19th at SPACE  in Evanston. The Valley Downs, the coed power pop band led by vocalist Marianne Shimkus and bassist-vocalist Mike Galassini,  will be the opening act.

On a sad note: Skip Meyer, who played drums for Shoes back in the days when the band first dazzled power pop fans with classic fare like “Tomorrow Night” and “Too Late,” has passed away after a long battle with illness. Meyer hadn’t performed with the band for several years, but the Murphy brothers and Klebe fondly recalled working him, in Boys Don’t Lie, the Shoes biography penned by Mary E. Donnelly and Moira McCormick.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Britannicas - High Tea

High Tea, the title of the latest effort from The Britannicas, has an appropriate regal significance but the CD could have just as easily been named Iced Tea. Not only because of its July release date, but also because these 13 songs sport breezy power pop arrangements. The international trio, comprised of American Herb Eimerman, Swede Magnus Karlsson, and Australian Joe Algeri, continues to draw inspiration from original British Invasion bands as well as American acts like The Beach Boys and The Byrds.

Karlsson’s catchy “Talkin’ ’Bout Summer” celebrates a season when romances are fun though often temporary, and Algeri serves up memories of teenage action from 1965 amidst the hard-edged pop of “The Moment Passed.” The members of The Britannicas share similar traits when it comes to songwriting, but each has his own style and quirks. Algeri, who also performs as The JAC, tends toward offbeat material like the Kinks-inspired “I Work At The Post Office,” while Eimerman favors love songs with enigmatic lyrics. His “Bleed Between The Lines” sounds like it could have been a hit single in 1965. On his catchy “Come On Boys,” Karlsson incorporates church choir harmonies and acoustic guitar as he advises young adults on how to navigate relationships and a troubling world.

High Tea also includes “I Got You,” a well-executed Del Shannon cover that The Britannicas previously contributed to a tribute album to the late American singer. Other highlights include Eimerman’s jangling love song, “Got A Hold On Me” and Algeri’s simultaneously ribald and touchingly romantic “A Shag And A Cup O’ Tea.” 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Here, There And Everywhere

And now, an enthusiastic Broken Hearted Toy welcome to Sir Paul McCartney, who is performing at the United Center tonight. Ringo Starr also recently played the Chicago Theatre, and I can’t remember a time when two former Beatles passed through here within a few weeks of each other. As numerous critics have pointed out, McCartney continues to deliver the goods with amazing energy throughout his lengthy concerts. I’ve never seen him myself, but I did stand outside Wrigley Field when he did a show there a few years back. So I can say that at least I’ve heard a Beatle in person.

Even Chicagoans who don’t have tickets to McCartney’s show at the United Center can still have some Fab Four related fun. That 50th Anniversary edition of A Hard Days Night, with the 4K restoration and 5.1 surround mix, is currently in a limited run at the Music Box Theatre. Laura Emerick in the Sun-Times and Randy Lewis in the Tribune recently wrote informative pieces on this latest version of the iconic film. A Hard Days Night will be shown at the Music Box today at 5:15 PM, and tomorrow at 5:15 and 7:30 PM. For those who prefer to joyously scream at Paul and the other Beatles in the privacy of their own homes, Criterion Collection released the newly restored A Hard Day’s Night on June 24th.

But wait, there’s more. Genesis Publications, a UK-based publisher that specializes in expensive but very cool books, has released the limited edition Golden Dreams - The Making Of A Hard Day’s Night. Created by Beatles confidante Astrid Kirchherr along with Max Scheler, it’s hardbound, printed on archival art paper, and signed by both authors. Golden Dreams features previously unpublished photos taken during the filming of A Hard Day’s Night. It can be ordered from the Genesis Publications website for £185.00. 
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