Friday, September 30, 2016


The Second Disc website, a fantastic news source for upcoming CD and vinyl releases, reports that a massive box set from The Rolling Stones is on the way. Simply titled Mono, the 15-CD (or 16-LP depending on your choice) will include mono versions of every album the band released from 1964 to 1969. Illinois Entertainer writer Jeff Elbel gives Mono a rating of 10 out of 10 in the October issue. The box set comes with a bonus disc of rare tracks called Stray Cats.

In a separate post, The Second Disc heralds the arrival of the new Aussie label Playback Records and its first various artists release. I Want, Need, Love You!: Garage Beat Nuggets From The Festival Vaults features songs from 1960s down under acts The 5, The Black Diamonds, The Pogs, and Toni McCann.

One of the most iconic albums in rock history will get some time in the spotlight tomorrow night as the Brian Wilson Celebrates Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary tour visits The Chicago Theatre. Wilson, the guiding force for Pet Sounds and much of the Beach Boys’ canon, will be joined by band members Al Jardine and Blondie Chapman on gorgeous tunes like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “God Only Knows,” and “Sloop John B.”

The Gene Siskel Film Center’s Second Annual Irish American Movie Hooley, a festival of flicks, kicked off tonight and will run through Sunday.

The third annual Beverly Art Walk takes place on Chicago's south side, from 95th street to 111th Street this weekend. Two hundred artists, including my niece Allison, will be showing their work at the event.

Music Box Theatre on Chicago’s north side continues to offer the new Ron Howard documentary The Beatles: Eight Days A Week–The Touring Years. There are several showings scheduled over the coming this week.

Peter Case, a former member of the highly influential bands The Nerves and The Plimsouls, will be celebrating the 30th Anniversary of his first solo album at FitzGerald's in Berwyn next Wednesday, October 5.

I posted a review this past Monday of The Smithereens' recent concert at City Winery Chicago. In addition to experiencing an evening of classic power pop material like "Blood And Roses" and "House We Used To Live In," I picked up an autographed copy of the two-CD set Esp3cially F0r You. It's a 30th Anniversary celebration of the band's full-length debut that contains live, demo, and acoustic version of all the tracks, plus other rarities. I'm hoping to review it here soon.

Tributosaurus, one of Chicago's best-known tribute acts, will try its hand at Slowhand next Wednesday, October 5, when it becomes Eric Clapton.

Ricky Gervais, in his David Brent character from the original version of The Office TV show, has released an album titled Life On The Road. A full page ad in the October issue of Mojo boasts, "Includes the Brent classics Lady Gypsy, Freelove Freeway, Life On The Road, and Slough." It's available on Amazon.

The current issue of Streetwise is a Fall Festival Guide with listings for several upcoming events in Chicago. Pick up a copy from a vendor in the downtown area or in your neighborhood.

Mike Mills from R.E.M. and Robert McDuffie will perform Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra on November 7 at the Harris Theatre in downtown Chicago.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Handcuffs, Hooley, and Sheer Pop Perfection

The Handcuffs will be performing right about in the middle of a five-act showcase tomorrow (Friday) night at at Martyrs’ on Lincoln Avenue. Led by vocalist-guitarist Chloe F. Orwell and drummer Brad Elvis of The Elvis Brothers and Screams fame, the Chicago-based band has released three albums of catchy indie rock, and lands songs on hip TV shows on a somewhat regular basis. Orwell and Elvis previously worked together in the similarly engaging Big Hello. Slim Gypsy Baggage, Waiting For Henry, Brad Peterson, and The Polkaholics are the other acts on the bill. The music starts at 8:00 p.m.

The Gene Siskel Film Center’s Second Annual Irish American Movie Hooley kicks off tomorrow night and runs through Sunday. Also, in an Irish vein, Durty Nellie’s in Palatine is having a Halfway To St. Paddy’s Day tomorrow. The Trinity Irish Dancers perform at 7:00 p.m., followed by music from Bagpipers, Logical Fleadh, and The Ploughboys.

One of the most iconic albums in rock history will get some time in the spotlight on Saturday night as the Brian Wilson Celebrates Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary tour visits The Chicago Theatre. Wilson, the guiding force for Pet Sounds and much of the Beach Boys’ canon, will be joined by band members Al Jardine and Blondie Chapman on gorgeous tunes like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “God Only Knows,” and “Sloop John B.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Tributes Tomorrow Night

Thursday, September 29 is going to be a night of tribute shows around the Chicago area.

The Arcada in St. Charles will be presenting Space Oddity - David Brighton’s Tribute To David Bowie. Brighton has played the Whiskey A Go Go in Hollywood, CA, and has been featured on AXS-TV’s World’s Greatest Tribute Band series. Tickets start at $29; the concert begins at 7:30 p.m.

The Classic Albums Performed Live series continues at Reggie’s Rock Club on State Street in Chicago with a double bill of Pretenders and Chris Isaak covers. The evening kicks off at 8:00 p.m. with Mystic Moon performing the 1980 self-titled debut by The Pretenders. I wasn’t able to find out anything about this band, other than its choice of cover material shows excellent taste in music. The Pretenders conquered the world with their first effort, fueled by powerful tracks like “Precious,” “Tattooed Love Boys,” “Kid,” and the hit single “Brass In Pocket.” If Mystic Moon has the chops, this will be an exciting gig.

Phil Angotti, a musician who has been performing authentic tributes to The Beatles, Squeeze, The Monkees, The Bee Gees (early Bee Gees, that is) and numerous other acts, follows with a set honoring Chris Isaac’s 1995 Forever Blue album. Featuring the songs “Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing,” “Go Walking Down There,” and “Somebody’s Crying,” Forever Blue is regarded as one of Isaak’s best efforts. Dan Ingenthron and Chris Anderson will be joining Angotti. Admission for tomorrow night’s Classic Albums Performed Live is $8.

Liverpool Acoustic will be performing Beatles songs at Mac’s On Slade in Palatine at 8:00 p.m. The Chicago-based trio comprises Rob Lane on vocals and rhythm guitar; Ryan Lane on vocals, lead guitar, and keyboards; and Matt Bednar on vocals and bass.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Smithereens At City Winery Chicago

Photo credited to Tom L., taken from the Official Smithereens Facebook page.

There was something different about last night’s Smithereens concert at City Winery Chicago, but it took a few songs before I realized Pat DiNizio wasn’t playing guitar. He’s still recovering from surgery on his arm due to a nasty fall he took in 2015. DiNizio obviously knows guitarist Jam Babjak, drummer Dennis Diken, and bassist Severo “The Thrilla” Jornacion can unleash waves of instrumental firepower while he’s belting out The Smithereens’ power pop classics. He also reflected on the New Jersey band’s 36-year history, via funny and informative anecdotes between songs.

Opening with “Behind The Wall Of Sleep” from their 1986 debut album Especially For You, The Smithereens powered their way through “Top Of The Pops,” “Miles From Nowhere,” “The Blues Before And After,” and “Now And Then,” with Babjak, Diken, and Jornacion jamming extensively on each of them. The band spotlighted its 1988 album Green Thoughts by performing the title track, along with “Only A Memory,” and once again combined “House We Used To Live In” with the instrumental “Sparks” from The Who’s rock opera Tommy. It would have been nice to hear more from the 2011 album, but aside from a spirited take on “Sorry,” The Smithereens continue to neglect this impressive comeback effort.

Throughout the concert, DiNizio conducted a guided and irreverent tour through Smithereens lore: The hard feelings between the band and its original label Capitol; a visit from actor Kevin Costner, who wanted to “Only A Memory” for his Bull Durham flick; and being introduced by Tony Orlando on a Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon. That last bit somehow morphed into DiNizio leading the audience in a sing-along of “Knock Three Times” and “Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round The Ol’ Oak Tree.”

“We’re not just a rock band, we’re entertainment,” DiNizio joked at one point.

There was a much more fervent sing-along at the end of the evening, as The Smithereens led the crowd through “Behind Blue Eyes.” That cover of The Who classic, along with a version of Free’s “All Right Now,” came in the midst of “A Girl Like You.” The high-energy finale also featured The Smithereens blistering their way through an extended “Blood And Roses,” which was the song that started this band’s amazing journey over three decades ago.

Friday, September 23, 2016


EXPO CHGO, The Fifth International Exposition Of Contemporary Art opened at Navy Pier yesterday, and will run through this Sunday. Over 140 galleries from around the world will be presenting their work at EXPO CHGO, which has become one of the city’s most popular and sophisticated art events.

Sound (of) The Alarm. Mike Peters, lead vocalist for The Alarm, has a solo gig tonight at the Old Town School Of Folk Music. The North Wales band started in the late 1980s with Clash-inspired fare like “Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke?” and “The Stand,” and later had hits with “Rain In The Summertime” and “Sold Me Down The River.” Peters will join The Alarm for a U.K. tour starting in November.

Depending on what time you see this post, you might still be able to catch part of the five-act Smorgasbord Of Rock event at the Live Wire lounge on Milwaukee Avenue. Curated by singer-guitarist Michael Mazza from The Collectors, the lineup features an acoustic set by Brian McDowell at 8:00, followed by performances from The Statutes Of Liberty at 8:45, The Cells at 10:45, and Black Cat Heart Attack at 11:50. The Collectors, who’ve played many International Pop Overthrow Chicago gigs, go on at 9:40.

Sire and Rhino Records are releasing a three-CD, one-LP 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of The Ramones’ self-titled debut, with rare and previously unreleased demos and live tracks.

Whitewolfsonicprincess has a 9:00 p.m. show tomorrow night at Silvie’s Lounge. The Chicago alt-rock band, fronted by vocalist Carla Hayden and vocalist-guitarist James Moeller, released its mysterious and enchanting second album Shadow Of The Marigold earlier this year.

The Dandy Warhols will be feeling bohemian like you when they perform tomorrow night at Park West. Savoy Hotel is the opening act.

Sometimes when people ask me for a definition of power pop, I’m tempted to give a two-word answer: The Smithereens. The New Jersey band, fronted by singer-guitarist Pat DiNizio, will be opening their treasure chest of gems like “Behind The Wall Of Sleep,” “Blood And Roses,” and “House We Used To Live In” at City Winery - Chicago this Sunday night.

Eric Burdon and The Animals will be at that same venue on Monday and Wednesday next week.

I had a chance to catch the tail end of the second annual Minstrel Palooza, last Sunday at the Home House Of Music And Entertainment in Arlington Heights. Van Go did a high energy set, and it was great to hear my favorite song by them “Three Minutes Are Up.” Cliff Johnson and The Raine closed out the day-long event with a short but classic selection of Off Broadway material.

The Brian Wilson Celebrates Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary tour wraps up next Saturday, October 1 at The Chicago Theatre. Al Jardine and Blondie Chapman will join Wilson for the performance.

Today is the official release date for the reissued Evolution and Butterfly albums by The Hollies on 180g vinyl, with mono and stereo versions of every track. Each two-record set comes with a free download of the songs. Evolution and Butterfly originally came out at the height of the first psychedelic era, and showcased Graham Nash, Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks, Bobby Elliott, and Bernie Calvert at the height of their creative powers. Check out Amazon for more info.

Chicago power pop band Thrift Store Halo will be heading back to Balleydoyle Irish Pub and restaurant in Downers Grove on November 10.

There will be a five-act showcase next Friday night, September 30 at Martyrs’ on Lincoln Avenue. Slim Gypsy Baggage, Waiting For Henry, Brad Peterson, The Polkaholics, and Broken Hearted Toy favorites The Handcuffs will be performing.

The Gene Siskel Film Center is holding its Second Annual Irish American Movie Hooley film festival next Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Also, in an Irish vein, the Durty Nellie’s restaurant in Palatine will be throwing a Halfway To St. Paddy’s Day bash next Friday, September 30. The entertainment kicks off with the Trinity Irish Dancers at 7:00 p.m., followed by performances from Bagpipers, Logical Fleadh, and The Ploughboys.

The Metropolis Performing Arts Center in Arlington Heights has announced its 2016/2017 season, with its current production of the Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein being the last offering for this year. 2017 will see Rosencrantz And Guildenstarn Are Dead, Hair, and Peter And The Star Catcher coming to The Metropolis.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Girls On Grass - Self-Titled

Girls On Grass, a Brooklyn-based quartet composed of singer-guitarist Barbara Endes, drummer Nancy Polstein, bassist Dave Mandl, and guitarist Sean Eden, mixes old school country and western with down-to-earth rock and roll on its self-titled debut. Chief songwriter Endes crafts sympathetic portraits of people on the edges of society or trapped inside frustrating relationships. Her lyrics are to the point and often pack an emotional punch.

After a heated battle with her parents about them buying her a guitar, the young woman in “Father Says Why” views playing music as, “the start of my escape.” It’s one of several songs on the album that includes an instrumental break fueled by Eden’s guitar playing. “Fair,” an acoustic-based country ballad about hanging on to a relationship while longing for someone new, features Endes in a gorgeous duet with guest vocalist Cliff Westfall. There’s a Creedence Clearwater Revival swamp rock feel to “When The Pleasure Ends,” a jab at couples in shallow relationships.

Other Girls On Grass songs find Endes operating in a more optimistic vein. The tomboy of “One Of The Guys” reflects on a lifetime of being accepted for her less than frilly ways, and on “Too Pretty,” the protagonist is pleasantly surprised to find love with a woman she initially thought was out of her league. “Dave” is a foot-stomping bluegrass tribute to a friend (the band’s bassist?), and on “Drowning In Ego,” Endes has a ball lampooning the selfish sea of social media. “Your life is great,” she sings to an impossibly peppy arrangement, “But I don’t care. I used to but you over share.”

Friday, September 16, 2016


A hearty Broken Hearted Toy welcome to everyone in town for Riot Fest this weekend. The annual music event runs through Sunday in Douglas Park with a lineup that includes Sleater-Kinney, Smoking Popes, Fitz And The Tantrums, Bob Mould, The Specials, Death Cab For Cutie, and The Flaming Lips. A number of local publications, including The Reader, The Tribune, The Sun-Times, Redeye, and Innerview offer their recommendations for which acts to check out. New City devotes most of its current issue to its Art 50 cover story, but it does have an interview with Riot Fest participants Bleached.

Music Box Theatre on Chicago’s north side is screening the new Ron Howard documentary The Beatles: Eight Days A Week–The Touring Years this weekend. Reviews have been mixed, with Chicago Sun-Times writer Mark Caro praising the rare footage but noting, “Howard is more interested in wowing audiences with exuberant, hysteria-ridden performances than he is in digging for explanations.”

To the Batmobile, Robin. Chimera’s Comics will be celebrating Batman Day at its Woodridge, LaGrange, and Oak Lawn stores tomorrow. Fans can pick up free Batman comics while supplies last, and visitors to the Oak Lawn location can see the Batmobile from Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie.

Feed The Tree at The Vic. The recently reformed Belly, led by Tanya Donelly, will perform tomorrow night at The Vic on Chicago’s north side.

The second annual Minstrel Palooza, honoring the Minstrels music store in Niles, takes place this Sunday at the Home House Of Music And Entertainment on Rand Road in Arlington Heights. Van Go, Cliff Johnson and The Raine, and Cracked Actor are among the acts that will be performing.

The West Loop Art Festival, which made its classy debut last year, runs tomorrow and Sunday on Washington Boulevard between Halsted and Aberdeen.

The Persian Leaps, a St. Paul, MN band whose catchy power pop songs have been favorably reviewed on Broken Hearted Toy, released their fourth EP today. Your City, Underwater includes “Weather,” a deceptively upbeat-sounding single that’s actually about the dangers of climate change.

The Sarasota Springs, NY band Dryer has just released “Green Paper”—its first single since 2002—as a preview of its new EP Bright Moon, Bright Sun.

Lush, the dreamy and consistently engaging U.K. shoegazer band comprising Miki Berenyi, Emma Anderson, and Phil King, has reunited and will be performing this Sunday night at The Vic. The band’s new Blind Spot EP is available on the official website.

The Buzzcocks will be drawing on 40 years of creating melodic, high-energy songs when they perform at The Vic next Thursday night, September 22. The band sprung from England’s punk scene around the same time as The Sex Pistols, and is known for irresistible songs like “Harmony In My Head,” “What Do I Get?” and “Ever Fallen In Love?” Their latest album, The Way, was released in 2014.

The Smithereens will bring their amazing repertoire of power gems (“Behind The Wall Of Sleep,” “Blood And Roses,” and “House We Used To Live In,” to name a few) to City Winery - Chicago next Sunday, September 25. Eric Burdon and The Animals will be at that same venue on Monday the 26th and Wednesday the 28th.

Congratulations to Quimby’s Bookstore on its 25th Anniversary in Wicker Park. Christopher Borrelli had a piece on the store in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune, and Brianna Wellen has a profile in this week’s Reader. Quimby’s offers a mind-boggling selection independent publications.

Tickets for Theatre Nebula’s production of The Rocky Horror Show at Cutting Hall in Palatine are now on sale. I saw Theatre Nebula perform Spamalot twice a few years back, so I’m looking forward to its take on another eccentric musical.

Chicago’s free paper Redeye recently picked up a story from Variety stating the producers of Wicked have created a musical based on the 1980s TV show Family Ties. It's scheduled to open in Dayton, OH in the near future.

Chicago Tribune writer Tracy Swartz recently reported that sitcom veterans Katey Sagal and Judd Hirsch have been cast for a TV pilot of the Tracey Letts play Superior Donuts. Mary-Archie Theatre in Chicago had a successful run with Superior Donuts a few years back.

WXRT is offering listeners who mourned the recent loss of Leslie Witt to ovarian cancer a way to honor the longtime air personality and help find a cure for the disease that claimed her life. The station, working with the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance’s “30 Days Of Teal” campaign, is selling teal t-shirts printed with the WXRT logo for $30 on its website. All of the profits will go to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fun Alliance.

The Awakenings Foundation will have an opening reception for its Graphic Relief exhibition on October 13 at its Gallery at 4001 N. Ravenswood in Chicago. Curated by Gallery manager Liz Moretti, the exhibition will feature artwork in comic book, graphic novel, and zine formats that addresses the issue of women encountering sexual harassment.

When I saw Donna Vickroy’s Chicago Tribune article earlier this week about items from the Sabre Room going up for auction, it immediately brought back fond memories of Montgomery Ward Christmas parties at that glittering night club/restaurant in Hickory Hills. I worked at the Montgomery Ward store in Evergreen Plaza back in the 1970s, and that annual bash was like senior prom for us employees. It was a chance to mingle, drink and dance. George, one of my good friends from those days, was recently diagnosed with cancer, and I just want to extend my best wishes for his full recovery. Also, best wishes to my friend Ted to be home again soon and watching the Cubs on TV.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Mimi Betinis - Basement Tapes Vol. 1

Photo from Mimi Betinis Facebook page.

Basement Tapes Vol. 1 was simultaneously released with Music Sounds by Mimi Betinis a while back, and shares that album’s mixed-bag approach. The Pezband vocalist-guitarist doesn’t use much more than an acoustic guitar on some of these songs, and opts for a lush arrangement on others. There are also some well-chosen covers, as well as a rare, vintage track that should delight Pezband fanatics.

The melodic duet “Didn’t We” was recorded back in 1979 with Cliff Johnson, a distinctive singer who shares Betinis’ Pezband lineage, and who went on to form Off Broadway. Betinis gets down and bluesy for a raw take on the classic “Good Morning Little School Girl,” and captures the massive heartache of “The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine” with his orchestrated version of The Walker Brothers hit. The catchy instrumental “Shade And Shine” adroitly blends acoustic and electric guitars with keyboards.

“Lost A Love Forever,” like “There Is Love” on Music Sounds, has an infectious techno beat, although this time around, the lyrics are about a relationship going stale. Broken romance is a running theme throughout Basement Tapes; particularly on “Ray Of Light” and the melancholy “All That Glitters.” Love is a lot more fun on the Latin-flavored “Brown Eyes And Bangs,” and Betinis delivers a fetching rendition of “Goodbye,” the Paul McCartney-penned hit Mary Hopkins recorded back in 1969.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Matched Sets

Robert Michelson photo from the Material Issue/Material Reissue Facebook page.

The Matthew Sweet/Material Reissue show at Park West last Friday was more of a double bill than a headliner and opener affair. Material Reissue, a trio comprising original members drummer Mike Zelenko and singer-bassist Ted Ansani, along with singer-guitarist Phil Angotti, have performed occasionally around town since coming together in 2011 to mark the 20th Anniversary of Material Issue’s debut International Pop Overthrow. Matthew Sweet has a loyal following in Chicago, where power pop fans embrace his catchy, guitar-driven songs. It was immediately evident Friday night that the packed house was eagerly anticipating both acts.

Even though Material Issue’s original frontman—the late Jim Ellison—was a singular talent, Zelenko and Ansani’s decision to recruit Angotti in 2011 has never seemed to alienate fans. Like Ellison, Angotti lives and breathes 1960s-style pop arrangements, and the two were good friends. With the further addition of guitarist Jay O'Rourke, Material Reissue has been able to perform Ellison’s work faithfully and honor his legacy.

Material Reissue’s Friday night show offered the MTV-fueled hits “Valerie Loves Me,” “Diane,” and “What Girls Want,” as well as some more obscure titles. The band gave a shoutout to WXRT’s Richard Milne before performing “Renee Remains The Same,” noting the air personality helped break them in Chicago by playing that song on his Local Anesthetic show back in the early 1990s. The quartet performed in synch throughout the shows and finished with “Kim The Waitress,” a creepy and magnificent song by The Green Pajamas that Material Issue covered on its Freak City Soundtrack album.

The crowd that had packed the area in front of the stage for Material Reissue was just as wild about Sweet’s performance. Backed by Velvet Crush members drummer Ric Menck and bassist-vocalist Paul Chastain, along with guitarist John Moremen from The Orange Peels and Half Japanese, Sweet opened with “Time Capsule” and powered through catchy songs dating back to 1991. He also provided a preview of his upcoming release Tomorrow Forever.

Moremen and Chastain provided backup vocals, with Chastain often combining with Sweet for fabulous harmonies. Moremen frequently broke loose with impressive guitar firepower. The numerous highlights included “Byrdgirl,” “The Ugly Truth,” and “I’ve Been Waiting.” “Girlfriend,” saved for the encore, found Sweet and his band extending the power pop classic with some impressive jamming.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Thursday Slumgullion

He’s been waiting to come back to Chicago to perform. Photo from Matthew Sweet's Facebook page.

There will be loads of well-crafted power pop at Park West tomorrow night, September 9, as Matthew Sweet draws from a repertoire that includes gems like “Girlfriend,” “I’ve Been Waiting,”“Byrdgirl,” and “Devil With The Green Eyes.” Material ReIssue, which includes bassist Ted Ansani and drummer Mike Zelenko from the original Material Issue, with Phil Angotti replacing the late Jim Ellison on lead vocals, will be tapping into International Pop Overthrow and other of the trio’s impressive original albums, as Sweet’s opening act.

WXRT is offering listeners who still mourn the recent loss of Leslie Witt to ovarian cancer a way to honor the longtime air personality and help find a cure for the disease that claimed her life. The station, working with the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance’s “30 Days Of Teal” campaign, is selling teal t-shirts printed with the WXRT logo for $30 on its website. All of the profits will go to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fun Alliance.

To the Artmobile, Robin! Although the Gold Coast, Old Town, and Wells Street art fairs passed through the rearview mirror a while ago, there are a lot of opportunities left for Chicagoans to admire culture in an outdoor setting. This weekend, there’s The Renegade Craft Fair in Wicker Park, with CHIRP Radio and Reckless Records DJs on hand; and the Lakeview Festival Of Arts on Broadway between Belmont and Hawthorne, with The Red Plastic Buddha, Mooner, Cathy Richardson Band, and Ellen Miller Blues Project among the live acts. The Ravenswood Art Walk also takes place this weekend. Next Saturday and Sunday will mark the return of The West Loop Art Fair, which made a classy debut in 2015.

The Chicago Fringe Festival winds up its 2016 celebration of theatre, dance, storytelling and film around Chicago’s Jefferson Park neighborhood this Sunday, September 11.

Riot Fest
2016 arrives next Friday, September 16 and rocks through September18 in Douglas Park. Sleater-Kinney, Smoking Popes, Fitz And The Tantrums, Bob Mould, The Specials, Death Cab For Cutie, and The Flaming Lips are among the acts scheduled to perform this year.

Minstrel Palooza, the celebration of the Minstrels music store in Niles, returns for its second year on Sunday, September 18, from 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Home House Of Music And Entertainment on Rand Road in Arlington Heights. Van Go, Cliff Johnson and The Raine, and Cracked Actor are among the acts that will be performing.

The current issue of Streetwise, with the “Young Chicago Feminism” cover story, has listings for several upcoming events in Chicago. Pick up a copy from a vendor in the downtown area or in your neighborhood.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Revolver Revisited And Other Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago Musings

Traditionally, I title my review of Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago I’ve Just Seen A Fest, but due to the long delay in getting this post completed, the title had to change. Although it might seem odd to do a review this late in the game, there were a number of things about this year’s Fest worth mentioning.

You could call The Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago a celebration with kaleidoscope eyes. The Chicago version, which was once again held at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, features musicians; authors; artists; and photographers who have all drawn inspiration from The Beatles. A screening room shows Beatles-related films, fans show up in a wide range of Beatles t-shirts, and the huge marketplace is filled with vendors offering every imaginable kind of Beatles swag.

It was nice to see WXRT air personality Terri Hemmert had recovered enough from her recent back surgery to carry out her duties as MC—a role she’s performed every year since the second Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago back in the late 1970s. Hemmert was at the top of her game as she interviewed George Harrison’s sister Louise (accompanied by Marty Scott from the tribute band Liverpool Legends) and introduced various guest and events.

Artist and musician Klaus Voormann, the early and influential friend of The Beatles who created the iconic cover art for their Revolver album, returned to The Fest this year to promote his new graphic novel/hardcover book Birth Of An Icon. He approached the room where he would be signing copies as if it were a pub, and the people waiting in line were his mates. Buying the book—which provides insightful commentary on how he came up with the Revolver concept, as well as several pages of fantastic illustrations—was my main goal for this year’s Fest, and it was a kick to meet Voormann.

The Apple Jam Stage, which was added last year, continued to yield fruit this time around. The only problem was that it was moved from its 2015 second floor perch to the main lobby, where some people (probably not Fest-goers) apparently thought it was the talk loud and be obnoxious area. The noise level was a challenge for Phil Angotti as he began an acoustic set of Paul McCartney tunes. He was able to win over the crowd, especially when his pal and fellow Beatle Brothers band mate Jay Goeppner joined him for some terrific harmonies.

Scott Erickson’s Apple Jam set later on Saturday was a triumph on three levels. First, he had the difficult task of replacing vocalist-guitarist Pat DiNizio of The Smithereens, who had to cancel due to a family emergency. Second, the unruly crowd included drunks by that point, and third, Erickson was performing the entire Abbey Road album on acoustic guitar for the first time in front of a live audience. And he pulled it off masterfully.

The Weeklings were back for their second year and performed a spirited concert on Saturday afternoon. The concept behind this group, which features guitarist-vocalist John Merjave and bassist-vocalist Glen Burtnik from the Beatles tribute band Liverpool, along with guitarist-vocalist Bob Burger and drummer-vocalist Dave Anthony, is to create a cohesive mix of rare Beatles compositions and original tunes that sound like they could have been done by The Beatles. The Weeklings will soon release a follow-up to their highly enjoyable debut Monophonic.

Liverpool is a must-see at each year’s Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago because it does such an incredible job of recreating the classic sound of The Beatles. Guitarist John Merjave, bassist Glen Burtnik, rhythm guitarist Drew Hill, and drummer Chris Camilleri can all sing lead, and they join together for impressive harmonies. With Marc Rubinstein's Pig Light Show providing a suitably psychedelic ambience, Liverpool performed the fist half of Revolver in the Grand Ballroom on Saturday night, with the second half coming on Sunday.

Liverpool’s Saturday night show also included other songs The Beatles recorded over the years. After a short break, the band was joined by guest musicians Joey Molland from Badfinger; musician/producer Mark Hudson; and singer Billy J. Kramer for a set of British Invasion hits and rock standards that served as high-powered, jam-filled finale for Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago.

Monday, September 5, 2016

So Long, And Thanks For All The Freaks - Part Two

Graphic from the Mary-Arrchie Theatre Facebook page.

Mary-Arrchie Theatre’s The Last Abbie Fest took place a few weeks ago. After nearly three decades, this tough-as-nails, critically acclaimed storefront venue and Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Sins, its annual freewheeling celebration of the Woodstock spirit, are gone forever. Mary-Archie lost its home base at Sheridan Road and Broadway this past spring when the building was demolished to make room for new construction. Rather than hunt for another location, Artistic Director Rich Cotovsky and his staff decided to call it quits. Here’s a fond look back at 28 years of Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Sins.

One of the many Abbie Fest traditions was the Opening Ceremony. Audience members would stamp their feet, whistle, and cheer while waiting for Cotovsky’s appearance as Abbie Hoffman on a stage featuring only a mic stand draped with an American flag. This year’s crowd was particularly stoked, and when Cotovsky/Hoffman arrived, he delivered his usual fiery call to action.

“The original concept was to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of Woodstock in terms of spirit and philosophy,” Cotovsky explained in an interview he did with me for the Streetwise newspaper in August 1993. “The second year was even better better. If you’ve done it twice and it comes off well, you kind of have a tradition on your hands. This is one location, 28 groups, over one weekend. That’s probably the highest risk in town.”

Back in late spring 1989, I answered an ad in The Reader from a theatre company seeking acts to take part in a new festival that would honor the 20th anniversary of Woodstock. A few nights later, I met with Cotovsky at Mary-Arrchie Theatre. He came across as quirky in a hippie kind of way, and I had no idea he was already establishing a reputation on the local theatre scene for cutting-edge performances. I was convinced his event would be a good vehicle for a comedy group I had recently formed with Frank Carr, Dave Drazin, and Lake Sirmon, called Famous In The Future. Our performance was hopelessly amateurish, but when we approached Cotovsky a year later about performing in the second Abbie Fest, he welcomed us back.

Famous In The Future would improve with time, and go on to become the only company, other than Mary-Arrchie itself, to participate in every Abbie Fest. I performed at 20 of them before leaving Famous In The Future. Carr was the only performer, along with Cotovsky, who appeared at every Abbie Fest.

“I walked into [Mary-Arrchie performance space] Angel Island in 1989 not knowing what to expect.” Carr recalled in a recent email. “It was only our third show and our first without our leader and creator, Lake. We did a show you would expect from a new group still trying to figure it all out. Our costumes were few and the applause between sketches polite, if there was any. The crowd was not enthusiastic or anywhere near substantial.”

This year’s Famous In The Future revue—a greatest hits package of songs and skits—was a different story.

“Twenty-seven years later and we had come a long way,” Carr continued. “There had to be 100 people seated, or standing if there was no seat available. The writing and acting were a huge improvement from the first year. So was the response. We had a name at The Fest and people started to put us on their list of shows to see. We’ve been getting “Woos!” for years now, but this was the last time.”

Famous In The Future was a prime example of how Cotovsky achieved his vision of bringing the Chicago theatre community closer together. Several friendships emerged from the camaraderie we felt from performing at The Abbie.

“I can’t pay these groups but I can give them an opportunity to hang out and support each other,” Cotovsky explained in that 1993 Streetwise article. He was talking about the Artist Pass all performers were given so they could watch each other’s shows. “It seems to take something away to make the artists pay. They’re what makes the event, it’s for them.”

One of the many groups that played Abbie Fest several times was Black Forest. Led by Carla Hayden and James Moeller, the theatre group’s shows were consistently provocative and usually funny.

“I was flooded with love and gratitude for having been able to take part in such a unique adventure,” Hayden said in an email. “I am humbled and honored! I feel so lucky to have converged at this place in time with so many wonderful, crazy, creative beings. What a fantastic release of energy into the universe! What an unforgettable time we've all had together! It is all for LOVE!”

“The Abbie Fest - a strange kick, a fever dream,” Moeller reflected. “An overstuffed, cavalcade of human experience. The Good, the Bad & the Ugly all presented together as if everything is absolutely equal and important. And then, on to the next act. A little microcosm of the macrocosm. Richard Cotovsky inspired so many actors, writers, directors over the years. 28 editions of 72 hours of madness. Wow. What a wild ride. Loved everything minute of it. Even those few minutes I didn't love!”

I had never been in front of an audience until that August night in 1989 at the first Abbie Fest. My stage presence was awful and the bit I performed was met with a smattering of polite applause. But as Carr stated, our writing and acting improved over the years. One of the biggest kicks I had at The Abbie was creating short plays for Famous In The Future to do in addition to our usual comedy skit revues. Carr and Desiree Burcum, another FIF cast member, also wrote short plays that we performed.

Another Abbie Fest tradition was the Closing Ceremony, in which Cotovsky, as Hoffman, rallies the troops one last time before being carried back to his grave.

“There was a lot of crying and even more hugging when The Fest was over,” Carr said about this year’s Closing Ceremony. “There was also a lot of smiles and dancing. It was both a funeral and a party. I’ve made dear friends in these years, many friendships were made between the creative people getting together to perform, watch shows, or just hang out. There was a lot of sadness, but Rich’s closing speech inspired us all to keep creating and carry on the spirit of Abbie Fest. Nobody left untouched by that spirit.”

Here’s a song parody I came up with to honor Mary-Arrchie Theatre. It’s set to the tune of “Blue Jay Way” by The Beatles, and came to me the night I saw its production of David Mamet’s American Buffalo—the final show before the demolition. A few days before that, the city of Chicago placed an official Rich Cotovsky Way street sign at the corner of Broadway and Sheridan Road. Incidentally, the name Fleischmann regarding The Glass Menagerie refers to Hans Fleischmann, a Mary-Arrchie group member whose inspiring take on the Tennessee Williams classic was a huge commercial and critical success.

Rich Cotovsky Way (To The Tune Of Blue Jay Way)

I’ve just gone to see a play

And it blew my mind away

Last production, so they said

From the troupe Cotovsky led

Freaks all belong

freaks, know you’ll always all belong (Always belong)

‘Cause the fire burns so deep

Now they’ve lost their lease I know

And the building had to go

All the plays it brought to us

Now just broken bricks and dust

Freaks all belong

freaks, know you’ll always all belong (Always belong)

‘Cause the fire burns so deep

David Mamet in your face

Tracy Letts has rocked this place

And the whole world came to see

Fleischmann’s Glass Menagerie

Freaks all belong

freaks, know you’ll always all belong (Always belong)

‘Cause the fire burns so deep

Now they’ve put this thing to rest

With the final Abbie Fest

But the dream is here to stay

Out on Rich Cotovsky Way

Freaks all belong

freaks, know you’ll always all belong (Always belong)

‘Cause the fire burns so deep

Friday, September 2, 2016


The B-52’s have just released 8-24-1979, a live recording of a concert they performed over 35 years ago at Berklee College in Boston. In reviewing the album for this month’s Illinois Entertainer, critic David C. Eldridge notes, “the band just nails it onstage proving the infectiously quirky call-response, surf rock guitar-licked sci-fi gender-bending keys, and frug-grooved beat that was captured on its first album was no fluke.”

This year’s Chicago Fringe Festival is now underway, offering a wide range of theatre, dance, storytelling and film around Chicago’s Jefferson Park neighborhood through September 11.

Guided By Voices will be at Metro tomorrow (Saturday) night, along with Broncho and Split Single.

The Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra and Jay O’Rourke will be performing tomorrow night at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn.

The Zombies will be performing at The Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on September 9.

The Cottage Pub in Crystal Lake is celebrating its 7th Annual Beatles Blast this weekend with a batch of British Invasion tribute acts. On Saturday, Badge will perform as Cream; Who’s Who will be The Who; and American English will cover The Beatles. On Sunday, there will be a TBD act covering The Rolling Stones, Kashmir covering Led Zeppelin, and Beatlerama covering The Beatles. The event also promises a re-creation of the famed Mathew Street in Liverpool. Tickets are $10 per day or $15 for a two-day pass.

Matthew Sweet will be in town next Friday, September 9 at Park West. Material ReIssue, which includes bassist Ted Ansani and drummer Mike Zelenko from the original Material Issue, with Phil Angotti replacing the late Jim Ellison on lead vocals, will be the opening act.

Chicago Innerview, a rock publication that always seems to magically appear every time a major festival is happening, has just put out a Riot Fest issue with 30 pages of band profiles. Even if you don’t plan on going to Riot Fest, this is a very useful guide for discovering new music. Pick up a copy at the Reckless Records location on Madison downtown.

Riot Fest, which some indie rock fans swear is the best rock festival of the Chicago summer season, takes place September 16–18 in Douglas Park. This year’s lineup carries on a tradition of offering big stars from a variety of genres, such as Sleater-Kinney, Smoking Popes, Fitz And The Tantrums, Bob Mould, The Specials, Death Cab For Cutie, The Flaming Lips, Method Man and Redman, Morrissey, NAS, Juliette Lewis And The Licks, Jake Bugg,The Toasters, Ween, and Julian Marley.

Tickets went on sale today for Lloyd Cole’s November 20 show at the Old Old School Of Folk Music.

Chicago free paper Redeye recently reported that actress Karen Gillan has been added to the cast of Jumanji, a sort of sequel to the 1995 flick starring Robin Williams. As Amy Pond on Doctor Who, Gillan created a memorable character that grew from a wide-eyed innocent to a battle-tested heroine that kept her sense of humor, as well as a deep love for her husband Rory. The new Jumanji will also feature Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, and Kevin Hart.

Blues icon Buddy Guy, photographer Viktor Skrebneski, Black Ensemble Theatre founder Jackie Taylor, Carlos Tortolero, the founder of the National Museum of Mexican Art, and The Second City comedy institution will honored at the 2016 Fifth Star Awards ceremony taking place at 7:00 p.m. in Millennium Park on September 14. Shemekia Copeland, Cindy Crawford, Chester Gregory, and Fred Willard will also be on hand. Admission is free.

Minstrel Palooza is back for its second year. This time, the celebration of the Minstrels music store in Niles, takes place at the Home House Of Music And Entertainment on Rand Road in Arlington Heights. Van Go, Cliff Johnson and The Raine, and Cracked Actor are among the acts that will be performing.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Ken Sharp - New Mourning

Rock and roll journalist Ken Sharp has more experience writing about musicians than being one, but he does release the occasional album. New Mourning is his fourth effort, and the first one since Sonic Crayons garnered critical acclaim nine years ago. Having thoroughly enjoyed all three volumes of Sharp’s Play On! Power Pop Heroes books, I expected New Mourning to overflow with jangling guitars and catchy arrangements. He takes a more cosmopolitan approach here; choosing the genres he must have felt best reflected the mood of his lyrics.

Structured as a song cycle, New Mourning seems to draw from Sharp’s life amidst the hustling west coast music scene. Most of his observations, such on the funk and glam rock “Crash And Burn,” the soulful “L.A. Can Be,” and the more rock-oriented “Mr. Know It All,” are critical of those who depend on drugs, plastic surgery or cutthroat business practices to survive. There are also songs about troubled relationships. Sharp proves he knows his way around rhythm and blues with the smooth ballad “Haunts Me” and the Motown beat of “Solid Ground.”

Occasionally, the arrangements sound at odds with the message, although that may have been the ironic effect Sharp wanted. “Bad News” has the verve of a Broadway musical as he rails against a deceitful woman. The put-downs in “Loser” are augmented by lushly layered vocals,and “The Worst” is set against a shimmering, orchestrated backdrop. Power pop fans will like the ringing guitars and infectious melody of “I Should Have Known Better,” and Sharp evokes The Who with his triumphant opener “Dynamite and Kerosene.”
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