Category Archives: TVD Chicago

TVD Live: Courtney Barnett at the Metro, 10/27

PHOTOS: BRIGID GALLAGHER | “We have to keep this between us…” said Courtney Barnett into the mic while playing the Metro in Chicago on Monday night. I am not good at keeping secrets and I want to capture whatever Courtney Barnett is about to say so I hit the button on my recorder… “I’ve never said this to anyone but, um I love you,” she says. I gotta admit, I swooned a bit.

“…this place is special to us because it’s one of the first places we ever played in February…and we came back and played again, and we’re back here now and even more people are here. That’s pretty fucking cool!” After Monday’s show, it’s apparent that people will continue to catch on to her music for its cool mix of blues and grunge and storytelling. I was shocked when I got a text from an acquaintance that I ran into just before the show saying that he wasn’t going to stay for her set. Yeah, that was a mistake.

Courtney Barnett has been touring for a good while now to support her latest release, “The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas” (not a full-length album but actually two EPs combined). She’s known for her smart, straightforward lyrics that start out somewhat normal but then quickly turn into these funny, sometimes anxiety-ridden stories. Songs like “Avant Gardner” and “History Eraser” come off louder and rowdier than on the recordings and it was the perfect pick-me-up to an otherwise mundane Monday. I was also impressed to learn that she has her own record label, Milk!Records, does all of her own writing and producing, and even does illustrations for her EPs as well as for other artists on Milk!.

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TVD Live: Ani DiFranco at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 10/15

The Old Town School of Folk Music is a community staple and has been for over 55 years and counting. It’s an educational center, a performance space, and an all-around Chicago music fixture. It is also the city’s center for all things folk. It’s what the Green Mill is to jazz. It’s what Lounge Ax was and the Metro is to rock. It’s what the Empty Bottle and Schubas are to indie. It’s a sacred, special place to see a concert and it was especially so last Wednesday when Ani DiFranco took the stage for an intimate show, the proceeds of which benefited the school.

Given the history of the Old Town School, and given the history of folk, it’s no surprise that there’s an unspoken demand for respect during a live performance. The audiences at the Old Town School always seem to know this. They’re not there for the scene; they’re not there to socialize and throw back beers; they’re there—very clearly and whole-heartedly—for the music. So in other words, it’s basically the perfect location to see Ani DiFranco, who is arguably the modern queen of folk music and whose small stature nonetheless commands attention. She is a force. Everyone in the room knew even before the show started that something noteworthy was about to go down. And it did.

It all started with Jenny Scheinman. How the hell have I not heard of her before? Where have I been? Aside from being an accomplished solo musician, she’s also collaborated with the likes of Lou Reed, Aretha Franklin, and Nels Cline, to name a few. And while her musical range spans multiple genres, last Wednesday Scheinman was pure folk. “It wouldn’t be a folk show if you didn’t bring out a weird instrument and play a murder ballad,” she joked at one point while strapping her bouzouki on. During her 45-minute set, the audience learned that she was a genuine storyteller (“Thank you for listening to that little novel”) and a masterful violinist. For her final songs, Scheinman borrowed a couple of members of DiFranco’s band to help fill out her sound and by the time she left stage the crowd was audibly impressed.

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TVD Live: BANKS at
the Metro, 10/7

PHOTOS: CATIE LAFFOON | Walking up to the doors of the Metro last Tuesday to see BANKS kind of felt like it had been a longtime coming for me. I’d been following her as she put out track after track last year via Soundcloud and various other music blogs or links on Twitter. I waited patiently for her to release some inkling of an album that would help satisfy the build up that came with listening to “Warm Water” and “Before I Ever Met You” repeatedly.

I was seduced by her sexy, delicate vocals and the tight production that sounded good on every format I could get my hands on. It’s no surprise that her songs were remixed dozens of times in the year leading up to the release of Goddess last month. But all that hype came to a climax that was less than satisfying for me and according to some tweets that night, I wasn’t the only one.

BANKS came out in an outfit that I will likely spend months scouring eBay to emulate because it was just so cool. She wore trendy, black leather mules and a dress that resembled lingerie because it had a corset top and a lacy skirt, but still appropriate for a downtown art show or a fancy dinner with cocktails.

She would also take off and put back on a slim, black jacket that had slits along the front of the sleeves, creating the illusion that she was able to just rest the jacket on her shoulders without it sliding off. She strutted around the stage like it was her own personal runway, occasionally stopping on either side of the stage to do this sort of half box-step dance move while intermittently bending over to touch the hands of the her biggest fans who were constantly pushing up to the front, trying to get closer and closer to her.

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TVD Recommends: Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes at the Beat Kitchen, 10/11

With so many bands coming out of Nashville today, it can be hard to sift through it all. One band worth your time and checking out this Saturday at Chicago’s Beat Kitchen is Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes. Their latest album, Kid Tiger, is filled with highly energetic, synth-heavy rock songs that provide is a perfect canvas for the smooth, punchy vocals, which are some of the best in the business.

A few weeks ago, I met Daniel Ellsworth (keyboard/guitar/vocals), Joel Wren (drums), Timon Lance (guitar), and Marshall Skinner (bass) at a hip taco joint in Chicago’s Wicker Park which usually has a steady stream of Johnny Cash playing from the speakers and serves margaritas that will hit you firmly over the head (in a good way).

Sure, I had a bunch of prepared questions, but shortly into our conversation about vinyl and Snapchat, I kind of forgot that I was doing an interview. They were just a lot of fun to be around and they have a charisma that is hard to ignore. I wasn’t surprised to hear from little birdies around town about their high energy sets that feel more like house parties than a show at a venue.

When you listen to Kid Tiger, it’s clear they didn’t hold back on letting their influences heavily contribute to their sound. This can sometimes make the songs seem a bit too familiar, like you’ve heard it before and not heard it ever before—all at the same time. But just because everyone’s hand is in the pot, doesn’t mean that the record is all over the place. They make a point to tell me that creating a cohesive album while also allowing themselves to just be expressive in an organic way is always the goal.

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TVD Recommends: Odesza at the Bottom Lounge, 10/10

Let me tell you about Odesza. Odesza is a duo of Seattle producers, Clay Knight and Harrison Mills, who make dreamy, super groovy dance music, that if you’re one of those people who absolutely needs to slap a genre on something, then fine—it’s electronic dance music. But In Return goes far beyond the bass drops and heavy womps so commonplace with EDM. It’s more mature than that. Instead, In Return is much closer to a pop record with catchy melodies and is a showcase for Knight and Mills to reveal that they can produce the hell out of some songs. 

I had the pleasure of chatting with Clay Knight last week about what it was like to make the record he’s been dreaming of, how things are different from their first release, Summer’s Gone, and of course, vinyl. Odesza have been on the road for a little while and will be coming to Chicago this Friday, 10/10, for two sets at the Bottom Lounge

In Return is your first release on a physical format, so I was curious how you went into the recording process and envisioned this record. Was vinyl something that was in the forefront of your plans?

Being able to play my own vinyl has been a dream for a long time. Having In Return on a physical format is something I’ve wanted, so I can cross that off the bucket list. Just getting to hold it for the first time was a dream come true.

When did you start getting into vinyl?

I didn’t really get into vinyl until college when I started messing around with sampling stuff. My first vinyl record was the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and I just really fell in love with the overall sound quality and the warmth you get on vinyl. You definitely can’t recreate that. That was kind of the beginning and I’ve been collecting ever since.

We recently went to Amoeba Records which is such a classic LA record store and we did a little in-store there and they gave us a little money to spend to pick out records. They have anything you could possibly want.

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Stiff Little Fingers’
Ali McMordie,
The TVD Interview

One album that is an essential for any collection is Stiff Little Fingers’ Inflammable Material. Released in 1979, Inflammable Material introduced the world to a quad of high energy boys from Belfast, Ireland who had something to say about their home during a time of major political conflict which was often violent and lasted three decades.

Songs like “Wasted Life” and “Law and Order” revealed frustrating and angry realities for Irish youth. Though Jake Burns and Ali McMordie are the only two original members still touring and recording as Stiff Little Fingers, the spirit and rawness of Inflammable Material will always carry through to old and new fans of the band.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the honor and pleasure of talking to Ali McMordie, the bassist who rejoined the band in 2006 after having been away for about 10 years. McMordie gave me an earful on working in the music industry for over thirty years, playing Chicago’s Metro for the first time, and a bit about getting back into the studio to record STF’s excellent new album, No Going Back.

As soon as I reminded him that this interview would be published at The Vinyl District, he immediately launched into how much vinyl plays into his life everyday.

I buy vinyl records, I always have done and I still have the records that I started collecting as a kid—some of which are still in storage in Ireland. But I bought a lot of them over here. Now I’m based in Brooklyn and I still occasionally DJ roundabout a dozen or so gigs, about a dozen or so pubs and clubs in New York. It’s old school. It’s all vinyl and it’s great because I get to play a lot of all my old records which I have to say are a lot of old punk rock 45s from the late ’70s and early ’80s.

It’s great to be able to get out there and share the love. Sometimes I even get paid! You’ll find that because vinyl is all mechanical you know, it’s all turntables and cables and sort… half the time I spend my time fixing the various rigs that I’ve come across because they are never looked after.

Getting paid to play you’re favorite records, on vinyl no less, sounds like a lot of fun. 

Outside of that, it’s a labor of love and I really enjoy it. I’m glad you’ve found it! One of the great things about traveling is that I get to sniff out various record stores and I still like record browsing which, at one point, I think us record browsers were a dying breed.

It’s good to see that it’s on the comeback. You know, you just go into the store without any particular idea of what you want to get and you just pick something up because it has a nice cover or something you know, because vinyl, that 12” format, is really the best for the artwork—and CDs never really cut it, or digital downloads of course. I was amazed to see that places like Urban Outfitters for example, like clothing stores and accessory stores, are stocking albums, and even stranger than that, a lot of kids that are buying albums—some of them don’t even own a record players. They are buying them as collectibles or just for the artwork to display on your wall—and that’s fine! That’s great, and then use the MP3 download to listen to on the iPod.

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TVD Live: Riot Fest 2014, Sunday, 9/14

PHOTOS: BRIGID GALLAGHER | Sunday of Riot Fest, or what I had been referring to all weekend as “Pattiday,” was easily my favorite day of the weekend.

It was no secret that I was really excited for Patti Smith. My expectations were high, to say the least, and I had to resign myself to basically waiting hours until I could be in Ms. Smith’s presence again since I saw her in May 2013 at The Vic. In the meantime, I would party hard with Andrew WK and sway to the catchy stylings of Tegan and Sara all while stuffing my face with as much beer and Cevapicici I could handle. It’s Sunday, people. Go big or go home.

Seeing Patti Smith live is truly something special. The entire set was dripping with sentiments for her late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith whose birthday it was. “I wrote this song in 1978 for my boyfriend, Fred Sonic Smith who became my husband and we had two children. We lived in Detroit and now I’m here and it’s his birthday. Happy birthday, Fred. I never sing this song without thinking of you,” she said before diving into “Because the Night.”

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TVD Live: Riot Fest 2014, Saturday, 9/13

PHOTOS: BRIGID GALLAGHER | If the atmospheric theme was rain and mud for Friday night at Riot Fest Chicago 2014, then Saturday was defined by buzzing yellow jackets. No, that’s not a punk band. There were bees everywhere! Bees nosediving into my beer. Bees chasing me around in circles. Bees getting trapped in my sunglasses while I’m trying to sing along the hilarious covers by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. These bees were like festival fence jumpers, but really…they just want to be near the action.

Die Antwoord was the first main stage act I saw on Saturday. Where do I even go with this one? It was arguably the loudest set of the entire weekend and also probably the only act backed by a DJ and not a band.

Instead of a variety of familiar guitar riffs or politically driven lyrics, Die Antwoord delivered multiple costume changes and proclamations from rapper, Ninja, about how big his dick is. If you can’t get into this super weird South African rape-rave duo’s record, I don’t blame you. But watching their music videos or seeing them live is worth it. It will be strange, you might get scared and pee your pants a tiny bit—but hey, why do something if it doesn’t scare you, right?

A sizable crowd showed up for The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and to some, proving that ska is still alive (even if it really isn’t…) They played crowd pleasers like, “Impression That I Get” and “The Rascal King.” They didn’t do their “essential” album, but they did do an essential song from the all-time classic movie, Clueless, “Someday I Suppose.”

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TVD Live: Riot Fest 2014, Friday, 9/12

PHOTOS: BRIGID GALLAGHER | When I walk up to the gates on the first day of a music festival, I always feel like I’ve got stage fright—my hands get clammy and a knot forms in the pit of my stomach. Maybe I’m nervous security will find my secret flask or that some crazy forces of the universe will prevent me from seeing Patti Smith on Sunday. It is Riot Fest after all, and it is unlike any other festival you’ve been to all summer.

Expect the weather to be cool with a strong chance of rain, everyone will be wearing black, and pretty much all of the acts will have actual instruments to play. The layout was expanded to almost double the size of previous years allowing for much more music to be seen but also a lot of unexpected walking and weaving through the park. Also, this year, ten headliners and rock veterans like Cheap Trick, Naked Raygun, and Descendants, played their “essential” albums in 2014 to celebrate the fest’s 10th anniversary. It is only the third year for Chicago’s Humboldt Park to host, but the festival travels to Denver and Toronto too.

Our attempt at making it to the Stiff Little Fingers’ set was totally botched due to the massive amounts of walking in the mud, so we only caught the last few riffs of the set. NOFX was on afterwards and they came out making jokes about the other bands that were playing the fest and that they were going to play Pinkerton in its entirety, but out of order. (They actually played their essential album, Punk in Drublic.)

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TVD Live: Arcade Fire with Devo and Dan Deacon at the United Center, 8/27

Arcade Fire swung through Chicago for two nights on August 26th and 27th before finishing up their lengthy worldwide Reflektor tour in their hometown of Montreal a few nights later. Both nights the crowd was in excellent spirits and many arrived wearing costumes and formal wear, as requested by the band. From sparkling ball gowns to skeleton body suits, from masquerade masks to frog costumes, from Kenny f**king Powers to Scuba Steve, the United Center was a visual feast.

Devo opened the evening with a solid set highlighting some of their post-punk/synthpop hits as well as their trademark de-evolution performance antics. Dan Deacon, whose stage was set up in the middle of the arena, followed by entertaining the crowd with his unique experimental electronic music. As is his custom, he curated an interactive dance party by calling upon members of the crowd to initiate audience participation. The results were entertaining, to say the least.

Arcade Fire hit the stage immediately following Dan Deacon’s dance party and completely electrified, thus dispelling any uncertainties about whether or not they could hold their own as an arena band. They absolutely can—but if I’m being honest I’d forever prefer to see them in more intimate settings, simply because there’s so much to see.

Now a 12-person act, Arcade Fire members are constantly switching from one instrument to the next, showcasing their talented skill and musicianship. They do this seamlessly and professionally—they’re a well-oiled machine at this point—but somehow their shows still feel organic and spontaneous. They’re also masters of maintaining a high energy level on stage, and it’s infectious.

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