Yes Yes Yes! Four years after releasing The Rip Tide, Zach Condon—better known as Beirut (at least in the music world)—has returned once again to delight our ears with his latest album, No No No.
Zach and the other talented members of Beirut (Nick Petree, Paul Collins, Aaron Arntz, Ben Lanz, and Kyle Resnick) are close to finishing up a worldwide tour that recently rolled through Chicago.
They treated the sold-out crowd at the Riviera Theatre to their distinctive indie blend of baroque pop, Balkan-inspired folk, and world music. And while they played some tracks off their latest release, they didn’t shy away from playing older fan favorites (“Scenic World,” “Nantes,” “Postcards from Italy,” etc.). It’s nice to have this band back!
“How was Janet?” has literally been the only question I’ve been asked since I photographed the first night of her three-night stand at The Chicago Theatre. My response? Well, from the 60 seconds I saw through my camera lens, she was phenomenal.
Welcome to the glamorous life of a concert photojournalist! My fellow photographers and I were escorted in for the last 30 seconds of her first song and permitted to shoot from the sound booth until 30 seconds into her second song, at which point we were escorted out. But HELL I GOT TO PHOTOGRAPH JANET JACKSON—so who gives a F!
Here’s what I was able to process in a minute: Janet is still smokin’ hot. Janet can still sing her ass off. Janet can still dance her ass off. Janet doesn’t need to rely on major theatrics, as every other pop star in the world does, to convey her message. Janet is an equal opportunities employer, as her band and backup dancers are all shapes, ages, and cultures. In short, Janet is still a mutha f-in BOSS.
Go see the queen of pop!
Two years ago Leon Bridges was washing dishes in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. This night, he headlined a sold-out show at Chicago’s Vic Theatre, just one of the many stops on his first national tour.
He’s become almost an immediate sensation, reaching people of all ages and demographics with his particular style of ’60s soul. He’s old school soul with a new school twist.
In the same way that Charles Bradley channels James Brown and St. Paul and the Broken Bones channels Otis Redding, Leon Bridges channels Sam Cooke. His sound, his look, his show is like stepping back in time. And it’s fun.
Newcomer Kali Uchis kicked off the evening.
Fall might have hit Chicago, but Jamie XX and Derrick Carter teamed up to bring a straight-up sauna-inducing slew of beats to Concord Music Hall last Thursday.
Legendary house producer—and one that Chicago is proud to call its own—Derrick Carter kicked off the evening with a two-hour set of constant dance-worthy moments. Jamie XX followed with his own 120 minute set of acute orchestration, peppering hits from one of the best albums of the year, his In Colour, with rarities that will soon achieve a regularity of play thanks to his epic live DJ sets.
While Chicago was spoiled with a Derrick Carter opening set that was worthy of a closing one, Jamie XX is still worth the price of admission should he be coming to a town near you this year. If nothing else (and there is certainly much) Jamie XX has resurrected the disco ball from its disco prison. Trust me, the light show is a vision.
Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters ended their three-year tour in Chicago this past week. It was also FirstMerit Bank Pavilion’s final show of the summer season at Northerly Island, and it proved to be a memorable one.
At 67, Robert Plant still possesses a powerful and commanding presence. His voice has lasted through the years and he’s hitting notes with ease and regularity—notes that have made Robert Plant, well, Robert Plant. The Space Shifters are accurately named, effortlessly shifting from one sound to the next.
Plant has never been afraid to incorporate world music into his solo work, so it was interesting to see those influences appear in the Space Shifter’s reworkings of Led Zeppelin classics. The reinterpretations were, on a whole, skillful and savvy. The arrangements sounded more intricate, more eastern, and less straightforward rock ‘n’ roll, the results being Zeppelin Lite. Or maybe World Zeppelin. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s not.
With the Space Shifters, Plant has once again morphed his sound while still playing reverence to his roots.
Well, it wasn’t all night long, but AC/DC sure did shake up Wrigley Field last Tuesday.
While throngs of fans piled into the sold-out show, many wearing red blinking devil horns, crowds also gathered outside the ballpark. Arguably the hardest rock band to ever play Wrigley Field, AC/DC managed to dazzle not just those in the friendly confines, but the entire neighborhood around it. All of Wrigleyville was gifted with the sounds of heavy metal classics booming throughout the streets. And even if you claim to not be a fan of AC/DC, you know the chorus to at least three of their songs. Maybe the verses too. You know I’m right.
Fans inside the ballpark were treated to an incredibly well produced show—the stage design, lighting and pyrotechnics were truly magnificent. I was wowed. I’ve photographed a lot of concerts this year, but this was easily one of the most visually dazzling, not to mention fun.
Walking onto the Riot Fest grounds for the final day, you could sense the energy and anticipation amongst the seemingly biggest crowd of the fest. After 2 muddy days, the grounds were finally leveling out, the sun came out to stay, and it was clear both the bands and the fans intended to go out on a high-note.
Riot Fest staple Andrew W.K. made his fourth straight appearance at the festival, and as always he came to party. With the help of his thrashing band, he lifted the spirits of the audience with his uniquely inspirational heavy metal. He took various moments to give motivational advice, and when he wasn’t pumping up the crowd he could be seen in a cyclone of hair and head banging. Andrew just knows how to put on a show, and songs like “She is Beautiful” and “Party Hard” caught the ears of even the newest fan. It just wouldn’t be Riot Fest without Andrew W.K.
To be honest, I was excited all weekend to see Rodrigo y Gabriela, and their set was nothing short of incendiary. Creating relentless galloping rhythms and virtuosic symphonies of sound, the acoustic duo delivered an incredible performance which left the crowd in awe. While Rodrigo Sanchez might come off as the front-man with his rapid fire licks, it’s really Gabriella Quintero who can blow your mind away. Her ability to use her acoustic as a complex percussive machine while simultaneously creating an orgy of beautiful chordal strumming bliss might just make you forget to breathe or blink. The group was also able to show off their heavy metal influence (much to the crowd’s enjoyment) by charging through covers of Megadeth’s “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” and Metallica’s “Battery” and “Orion.” It was simply one of the best sets of the day.
PHOTOS: BRIGID GALLAGHER | After a bit more rain overnight, Riot Fest returned for its second day with even muddier grounds, but with even more excited fans. The crowd came from near and far and could be seen sporting Doc Martin boots, studded jackets, and dyed mohawks. The place was ready to party. While Saturday Riot Fest usually means overwhelming crowds, the openness of the new location allowed for a more free-flowing feel which created a much more relaxed vibe throughout the beautiful day.
Pennywise took the stage in the late afternoon, and delivered a powerful set of classic punk rock. Their speed punk stylings stirred up various spirited circle pits, and lead singer Jim Lindberg’s voice was able to cut through with surprising ease as he sang of political corruption and social justice. The banter between Lindberg and guitarist Fletcher Dragge was constantly comedic and entertaining (including a comment that they had Donald Trump backstage doing blow). It was clear these guys have been in the business for years and knew how to put on a show. Closing out with their anthemic “Bro Hymn,” the crowd and band shared the catchy vocal theme to put an exclamation point on a solid set of music.
Drawing in a massive crowd, Merle Haggard brought his honky-tonk twang to the Riot Stage and created a unique and thoroughly enjoyable musical experience. One might have thought Merle would be out-of-place at the generally high-intensity fest, but the crowd latched onto the show’s energy immediately and Merle’s relaxed and confident stage presence created an infectious comfort throughout the crowd. A definite highlight of the day.
PHOTOS: BRIGID GALLAGHER | Finding its new Chicago home in Douglas Park, Riot Fest returned this year with an all-star lineup to definitively close out the Summer. While the festival focuses mainly on punk acts, it boasts a surprisingly diverse lineup of metal, ska, reggae, and hip hop acts, and the fans are happy to indulge in the variety of genres. For many of the bands that may have had their heyday a decade or two ago, it’s great to see their excitement playing in front of crowds magnitudes larger than their normal club shows.
Due to difficulties with the Humboldt Park community (which hosted the previous 3 Riot Fests), including its frustrations with the condition the park had been left in and the already growing gentrification concerns, Riot Fest was forced to move to Douglas Park in Chicago’s west side. And unfortunately for the second year in a row, rain storms leading up to the fest created wet and muddy conditions for the duration of the weekend. Luckily the concert hours were mostly clear and sunny, so morale and excitement remained strong.
The new fest grounds were considerably smaller than the prior versions at Humboldt Park, but the layout also allowed fans the ability to bounce between the stages far more easily than in previous years. The downside of this spacing was the frustrating sound bleed between the stages at various times throughout the weekend, but the organizers definitely laid out the festival the best way the space would allow.
Billy Joel is a fan of Chicago. “We love playing here,” he said a couple of songs into his set at Wrigley Field last Thursday. And indeed he does, having played Wrigley three times in the last six years. And it’s no wonder: Chicago loves Billy. The feelings are mutual.
As a child of the ’80s, I grew up listening to a lot of Billy Joel. He is certainly a big part of the musical fabric of my youth. But it wasn’t until Thursday night that I remembered just how much. Nearly every song conjured up some sort of long-lost memory—not just for me, but seemingly for the thousands of audience members in Wrigley’s historic stands. The fact that Billy hasn’t released a new album in over 20 years almost reinforced the nostalgia of the evening.
The mood of the evening was jovial with Billy leading the way. He provided good stage banter, with jokes and stories in between a songs. More than once he gave the audience setlist choices, having them cheer for which of two songs they’d rather hear him play. But most impressive to me was his voice. He can really still sing his ass off.