There’s something special about concerts at Wrigley Field. The bands and the fans always seem extra juiced. There’s a little extra sweat left on the stage and a few more tears shed throughout the ballpark. And one thing is for sure—no one ever wants the show to end in the Friendly Confines.
Multiply all of this by 10 and you have Pearl Jam’s sold out Wrigley shows (“Let’s play two!”) on August 20th and 22nd—their first shows back in Chicago since their epic 2013 run at, you guessed it—Wrigley Field. This is not by mistake. Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder is a diehard Cubs fan (I mean, he even wrote a song about it!) and when he hits the stage (in his Murphy’s Bleachers shirt) in that sacred and historic stadium, he hits it hard.
It was clear from the start that Seattle’s finest were not messing around. The setlists from each night consisted of the stuff PJ dreams are made of—including a slew of phenomenal covers (my personal favorite being Pink Floyd’s “Confortably Numb”). There were guest appearances—former Bull, Dennis Rodman on the 22nd and all-around incredible human being, former safety for the New Orleans Saints, Steve Gleason on the 20th. (Side note: do yourself a favor and see his documentary Gleason, about his battle with ALS. It’s tremendous.)
If there is not a special place in your heart for Dolly Parton, then I’m not sure you’re a living, breathing human.
No offense—perhaps you haven’t been stopped in your tracks by her distinctive voice or listened to her lyrical stories. Maybe you haven’t repeatedly watched Nine to Five or Steel Magnolias or Straight Talk. It’s possible that you haven’t heard her giggle or read an interview, noting her quick wit, humility, and messages of love and acceptance. Maybe you just don’t know enough about her. And that’s cool. But, for real—you’re missing out.
I’ll tell you who didn’t miss out though—the thousands of us in attendance at her sold-out show at Ravinia Festival, her first show there since 1993. Passing through the north shore of Chicago to celebrate her 43rd (yes, 43rd!) album, Pure and Simple, Dolly dazzled, danced, sang, shared, and strummed her way through her two-hour set. It was the most crowded I’ve ever seen Ravinia and a blanket of Dolly generated euphoria enveloped the audience. At 70 she’s not showing one sign of slowing down. And that’s great news for all of us. If Dolly’s making her way to a town near you, I recommend grabbing a ticket.
Alabama Shakes closed out their sold-out, two-night stint in Chicago at the Aragon Ballroom. After the elegant setting of the Civic Opera House the evening before, the band and its fans were ready to let loose in a less formal setting.
The beers were flowing and the sweat was pouring as the band took the stage to play a solid mix of songs off their two excellent and critically acclaimed albums, Boys and Girls and Sound and Color. As usual the star of the night was lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard because, well, THAT. VOICE.
Fans strained to find a window to watch her as she wailed into the mic and shredded on her guitar. Alabama Shakes continue to prove themselves to be one of the best live acts on the road today. This was my fourth time seeing them and they continue to captivate. I’m already looking forward to the next show.
3:07pm: Last day of Pitchfork ’16! Before I head towards the music, I decide check out the House of Vans area. There is only one House of Vans in the U.S. (Brooklyn) but that’s soon to change because one is being built here in Chicago. I’m psyched. All weekend the HoV area was allowing festival goers to build their own working vinyl turntable from scratch…FREE. Super cool.
3:37pm: Kamasi Washington is a whiz on the tenor sax—perhaps even more of an arrangement whiz. I have been listening to more and more of his music in recent months so his set was a must-see for me. He’s not disappointing, nor is his band, the West Coast Get Down. He is the present—and future—of jazz. It’s just an amazing, multilayered wall of sound hitting the audience.
3:47pm: Holy hell it’s hot today. But the sweat is worth it because Kamasi’s father, Rickey Washington, joins the band for “Cherokee.” He delivers a killer sax solo.
2:27pm: I enter Pitchfork and immediately overhear one woman exclaiming to another, “Oh my God! I have that same leotard!” Of course.
2:35pm: Kevin Morby opens with some slow burners, including the title track of his first solo album, 2013’s Harlem River. The sun is shining and crowd is into it.
2:49pm: Morby’s set picks up during “Destroyer” from his most recent album release (this year’s Singing Saw). Whitney’s Will Miller adds horns to the mix and some female singers accompany the band. The crowd is swaying. If this is any indication of what’s to come, it’s gonna be a great day.
3:24pm: I’ve arrived at Pitchfork! And apparently so have the guys from Twin Peaks, who are standing in line in for a beer in the VIP area. This year, they collaborated with local brewers Goose Island to create their own beer, Natural Villain, specifically for the fest.
3:42pm: The wait to get into the fest is considerable, as people are lined up around the block anxious to get in. However, they’re able to hear Car Seat Headrest officially kick off the weekend from the Red Stage. What started off as a solo project for Will Toledo has now turned into a 4-piece band. And while young, there is a buzz about them. They sound good (I particularly like lead guitarist Ethan Ives), but I think there’s still room for them to develop more of a stage presence.
3:54pm: Here comes the rain. It’s a very light, steady shower. Nothing like I’ve seen in past years, so I’ll take it.
Twenty-one years to the date of the Grateful Dead’s final show at Soldier Field in Chicago, Dead & Company—the latest incarnation of the band—took the stage at Alpine Valley Music Theatre.
Spirits were high, as they always are among Deadheads. “Isn’t it great to have the family back together?” one weathered fan screamed as hundreds cheered in agreement. Jerry Garcia might be gone, but his spirit and the spirit of The Dead’s music lives on 51 years later. It’s arguably the most communal band of all time. And the music never stops.
This particular spinoff group consists of three original Grateful Dead members—Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann—as well as longtime collaborators Jeff Chimenti and Oteil Burbridge, and new addition John Mayer. I’ll admit it—when I first learned that John Mayer would be joining original members of The Grateful Dead for a tour, I was skeptical. Many fans were. But it didn’t take long into their first set for me to realize that Mayer is the real deal and an incredible fit for the band. His guitar solos are simply dazzling, and not only pay reverence to the late, great Garcia but also maintain their own individual brilliance. I was truly impressed.
Millennium Park kicked off their phenomenal (and FREE!) summer music series Monday night with two absolutely stellar bands—NYC’s Blonde Redhead and Chicago’s own Ryley Walker.
It was truly one of those perfect summer nights in downtown Chicago—the breeze was heavy with floral scents wafting over from the Lurie Gardens and the sunset interacting with the skyline seemed to melt the stress of the day away. Adding to the vibes was, of course, the music.
Ryley Walker, backed by a full band, was first up on the stage. I got turned on to his album, Primrose Green, last year and haven’t looked back. Part-Nick Drake-y, part-jam band-y, and part guitar wizardry, his music is right up my alley. Next up was Blonde Redhead, staples of the alternative scene since the early ’90s. The trio quickly proved that they’ve not slowed down through the years, but instead have continued to explore, experiment and entertain.
I first heard Ben Harper in 1995 when my friend Kim made me a copy of Welcome to the Cruel World on a tape. That was all I needed. I was sold. I wore that tape out. And by 1999, when I began my freshmen year of college, a Ben Harper patch adorned my backpack—the lone signifier that distinguished my Jansport from the next.
In 1999, I saw Ben—with those spectacular Innocent Criminals—at The Riviera Theatre for two sold-out shows. And last week I returned to The Riv to photograph Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals. I know—full circle, right?
The knot of anticipation in my stomach vanished the minute the band walked on to the stage. Perhaps a touch more weathered since I saw them last, they nevertheless sounded as good as ever, which is no surprise given their layers of talent.
After I photographed the first three songs, I found a spot and just took in the remainder of the show. It was everything that I could’ve asked for: Ben’s unmistakable voice, the arcs of energy, the guitar solos, the acoustic set, Juan manhandling his bass, Leon’s beats, the seamless shifts in genre from song to song. I would’ve loved to hear some deeper cuts but I guess that’s the problem when you have thirteen studio albums—everyone wants to hear different tracks.
The Riviera Theatre was filled to the brim for two sweaty, sexy (see: NIN “Closer” cover) nights of sold out Father John Misty shows. J Tillman, more commonly referred to as Father John these days, dazzled as usual.
He strutted, he shimmied, he flailed, he fell to his knees, he sang, he screamed, he joked, he captivated. If you’re not on the I Love You, Honeybear train yet, HOP ON.
Seriously. You’re late.