While waiting for TV On The Radio to hit the stage at the Metro on Monday night, I struck up a conversation with a few fans hugging the rail.
They’d been waiting for hours, inching their way closer to the stage, but all for good reason: “TVOTR is the only relevant modern rock band,” one said. He continued, “I listen to classic rock, punk, and TV On The Radio. That’s it.” This is a small example of the cult following that TVOTR has acquired over their 14-year career. And, yeah, they totally deserve the love.
Following the sudden and tragic loss of bassist and keyboardist Gerard Smith in 2011 to lung cancer, the future of TV On The Radio was uncertain. The remaining members of the band took a hiatus to grieve and do individual projects, so when they announced the release of a new album, Seeds, in 2014, fans exhaled one, big sigh of relief. Their subsequent tour announcement was icing on the cake.
I’ve never seen the Metro more crowded and the fans more enchanted than on Monday night. On stage and in the studio, TVOTR has proven themselves to be so many things all at once—punk, pop, soul, rock, funk, and more. They are innovators, true artists, and must-see performers. So do so.
PHOTOS: BRIGID GALLAGHER | of Montreal and Deerhoof played to a sold out crowd at Chicago’s Metro last Friday night and it was a blissfully satisfying show. Both bands are touring to promote their latest releases—of Montreal’s Aureate Gloom and Deerhoof’s La Isla Bonita.
Deerhoof hail from San Francisco, CA and celebrated their 20th anniversary last year with the release of their new record. They’re known for their erratic, noisy sound that reels you in and makes you sweat it out for three minutes or so. And they keep it simple—their lyrics, their riffs, their gear—it’s minimalistic, but it seems to provide a perfect base for listeners to interpret and experience the band’s music in a hugely personal way.
Deerhoof opened with two of their best tracks from La Isla Bonita, “Exit Only” and “Paradise Girls.” The energy on stage was non stop. Drummer, Greg Saunier, was so physical that somewhere between playing “We Do Parties” and “Last Fad” he stopped to explain that he’d have to readjust the cardboard resting underneath the drum set because it had shifted while he was playing. It is always fun to see bassist and vocalist Satumi Matsuzaki’s voguing and jumping along to John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez’s heavy rifts. The bare stage really allows for each member’s personalities and musicianship to shine.
When you buy tickets to The People’s Champions Tour co-headlined by emcee legends Talib Kweli and Immortal Technique, you are guaranteed to see a show that’s about music and so much more.
It’s about social consciousness; it’s about activism against corruption, inequality, prejudice and media censorship; it’s about justice, acceptance, and love. This is REAL hip hop after all, folks. Chicago’s Metro was fortunate to be the first of many sold out venues they’ll be playing across the country, and the show is not to be missed.
If you want to feel inspired, go see these masters of their craft in action.
Tweedy kicked off their 2015 North American tour with a two-night stand in their hometown of Chicago at The Vic Theatre. The latest side project of Jeff Tweedy (who is best known as the frontman for Wilco), Tweedy is very much a family affair: Jeff’s eldest son, Spencer is the drummer and their debut album, Sukierae is affectionately named after Jeff’s wife, Sue Miller Tweedy.
The songs are as solid and sincere as you’d expect from Jeff, who is one of the most prolific and premier songwriters of our time. And you get the sense that the band—Jeff, Spencer, Darin Gray (bass), Jim Elkington (guitar), Liam Cunningham (multi-instruments), and Sima Cunningham (backing vocals)—has been playing together for years. They are smooth and relaxed live, perhaps because they’re a mixture of new and old family friends who happen to be bandmates now.
Between Jeff’s standard witty commentary and the excitement of hearing new material live for the first time and oldies-but-goodies during the encores, the crowd left thoroughly sonically and spiritually satiated.
It might be freezing here in Chicago, but for a few hours on Tuesday evening, the Riviera Theatre was steaming hot. Sizzling, even, all thanks to the pride of the Pacific Northwest, Sleater-Kinney.
The all-female punk trio recently reunited in the studio and now on stage after a 9-year hiatus. To say that the rock world is grateful to have them back would be an understatement. And to say that their fans are happy they’ve returned is an even bigger understatement. Many Chicagoland faithfuls stood in line in subzero temperatures for hours in order to secure a spot as close to the stage as possible for the sold-out show. “It was worth it,” I overheard. “Absolutely,” a unison of voices responded.
I’d have to agree. Sleater-Kinney sounds better than ever, even just a few towns into their tour for their acclaimed latest album, No Cities to Love. They are a perfect equation, from Carrie Brownstein’s in-your-face guitar riffs to Janet Weiss’ booming drums and Corin Tucker’s unwavering voice. If you want to see some musicians kicking ass, go see Sleater-Kinney.
A quick disclaimer to start: Wilco is my favorite band. I mean, I’m shocked they’re not everyone’s favorite band because they’re, you know, the best. Ever. So, as you might’ve already deduced, there will be absolutely nothing objective about this recap. I’m in too deep. My love is too strong. And, as previously mentioned, they’re the best.
The recently celebrated 20th anniversary of Wilco has been somewhat of an event for the band’s enthusiasts. First it was the release of a rarities box set (Alpha Mike Foxtrot) and an essentials album (What’s Your 20?). Then it was the announcement of their “Winterlude,” a six-night residency in Chicago, the city that they call home, over the course of eight nights. The shows, performed at The Riviera Theatre, sold out nearly immediately and for good reason. They’re amazing live. No, seriously. Even if I wasn’t a fan I’m pretty sure I’d be able to recognize Wilco’s live appeal. Their talent is literally dazzling. It’s f**king jaw-dropping.
Over their Winterlude, Wilco played 180 songs (30 each night) with few repeats. Every night had its distinguishing moments, but all offered a perfectly Wilco-esque ebb and flow. Their genre-defying catalog holds within it a lifetime of emotions and all of the shows possessed their fair share of confessional, introspective, philosophical ponderings, blended among foot-thumping sing-a-longs and straight-up jam-outs. Watching a Wilco show is kind of like taking a journey through the highs and lows of the human psyche: there’s joy, there’s tumult, and there’s a lot more than just joy and tumult. It’s powerful. And if you don’t believe me, take five minutes to watch them perform “via Chicago” (which happened to be the very first song they played at The Riv on Night 1).
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!.
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.
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.
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.