Friday, March 28, 2014

On Warmer Music's Spring 2014 Mix

via Chicago Colors
By this point in the year, most of my friends are pretty sick of me but this year, I'm starting to fear for my safety. As you might remember, I'm one of the few Chicagoans who is an unapologetic fan of winter. Far from a popular position in an average year, this year it was the kind of thing that had visions of torches and pitchforks dancing in Chiberians frostbitten heads.

But even after a winter as historically bleak as this one I will still defend my love of true winter because it makes the spring all that much sweeter. This morning I smiled because it was raining. Rather than snowing. In late March. Only someone whose dealt with freezer burn on their lungs could find happiness in a drippy, 40 degree day.

Indeed spring in the midwest is a brief and flighty thing that exists for, at most, six non-consecutive weeks between March and early June but it's no less glorious because of it. A long-time spring fever sufferer, I still dream every year of the utterly giddy feeling I got in college when the season's first day over 50 when I could get away with skipping an afternoon class, throwing together a mixtape and go tooling down country roads to find a place to walk amidst woods and birds.

Don't get me wrong, as a whole, spring 'round these parts is perhaps the least satisfying season. But like that girl/boy/other you always had a crush on growing up, the brief moments when the light shines on you are unbelievably heady in a ways a solid. steady relationship/season (OK, this metaphor is getting out of hand) never quite could.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Vinyl Vacation: L.A.M.F. Revisited - The Heartbreakers

Doesn't the world of pop music ever seem hopelessly expansive to anyone else? And by "hopelessly", I of course mean "thrillingly"... unless it's the first one.

The thing about being an intellectually inquisitive (at times veering dangerously towards acquisitive) person, especially in the 21st century is that there will always be infinitely more stuff to know than anyone, even one guided by supposedly impeccably high standards of taste could possibly hope to take in. So even as someone who's spent far more time than most reasonably socialized people diving into snobby depths of various strands of pop, punk, hip-hop, R&B, folk, indie and whatever else meets my very high and somewhat arbitrary standards of worthy music, I still have more glaring gaps in my knowledge than I like having to admit.

Just as declaring oneself a history major makes one keenly self-aware of the vast amount of recorded humanity of which you have only the very faintest hints of knowledge, writing semi-seriously about music will drive the self-aggrandizing intellectual into spasms of guilt over their own shortcomings.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Concert Review & Pictures: Ex Hex & Priests at Schubas, March 18, 2014

All Photos Courtesy of Matt Conzen

Humans are bad time-keepers. For example, it seems like just last year that I was rocking out to Wild Flag at the Empty Bottle while it seems like forever since Matt Conzen starting shooting shows with me. And yet both of those events were, in fact, two-and-a-half years ago - go figure. Now Wild Flag is no more, Mary Timony is rolling through Chicago with her new project, Ex Hex and, fortunately, Matt Conzen is still snapping away with me.

Last Tuesday's show was an all-ages special, which despite all the griping that usually accompanies such a designation, I was excited for. Generally I enjoy high schoolers getting their first taste of the endorphin rush of live music and God knows in this case I felt that no teen in Chicago wouldn't benefit from seeing the ass-kicking, no-names-taking bill being presented this night.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Concert Review & Pictures: Ice Balloons, Kyp Malone & Coins at The Empty Bottle, March 10, 2014

All Photos Courtesy of Matt Conzen
Having a big name member can be a blessing or a curse for a new band. On the one hand, they'll help you garner attention but, on the other, a lot of that attention is going to come with some strong expectations that have nothing to do with you. It was precisely this tension between expectations and reality that made Monday night's show at the Empty Bottle so exhilarating.

It was a free show and most of the advertising focused on Kyp Malone, of TV On The Radio fame, who was playing a solo set sandwiched in between local duo Coins and another project in which he plays, Ice Balloons. Given the attendance pattern, it was clear that most of the night's attendees were TVOTR fans interested in seeing their idol. I would wager that fewer than a quarter of the audience had any familiarity with Malone's solo work (released under the name Rain Machine), never mind that of the other bands, but here they were anyway. It was, a relatively full house of people excited to hear... something.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Concert Review - Empty Bottle Winter Block Party, March 1, 2014

Courtesy of Matt Conzen's phone.
At this point, all we can do in Chicago is lean into the winter. I mean, it's made it clear that it's not going anywhere so all we can do is wear our #Chiberia hashtags like a badge of pride. Besides, harsh winters have always been a part of Chicago's DNA. Even as it's become "international city", Chicago has never been a gathering place for celebrities either entertainment (LA), literary/business (NYC) or political (DC) and it's easy to see why - for at least five months of the year, you to have some starch in your shirt and iron in your spine to enjoy life in the city by the lake ice cube.

So a block party in the snow seemed like the perfect way to close out (or at least begin to close out) this 3rd coldest winter in our city's recorded history. The wonderful people at the Empty Bottle were behind this endeavor, which could not have been more fitting. Their scruffy, eclectic but still-discerning approach to music was note-perfect (if you will) for this kind of patently ridiculous celebration. 
In fact, the perfect distillation of the event's spirit came earlier in the afternoon when an Empty Bottle employee asked everyone in the crowd to look up towards a second floor window where the owner was snapping photos of the crowd. Per their instructions we all looked up, smiled and gave the camera the traditional one-finger salute.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The 10 Best Non-Wilco Jeff Tweedy Songs

As I type this, the curtains in my front windows are swinging softly in the breeze. What's problematic about this is that it's currently below zero here in Chicago and my windows are sealed tight. Unfortunately, that gentle sway is here to remind that my apartment's shitty single-pane windows are no match for the arctic vortices that, along with a seemingly-constant snowfall have defined this winter. But unlike everyone else in the goddamn country, I'm not complaining about winter being cold. I'm a well-documented fan of winter and I view this year's as more of a corrective to the watered-down global warming winters we've had of late.

I've found that I often use the winter to circle back to old passions of mine -

books, movies and, of course, bands that I used to OBSESS over but maybe hadn't thought of much in recent months or years. There's something about the cold and darkness, the silence and gorgeous-end-of-the-world feeling about a deep, snowy winter that brings me back to my roots and this winter that's meant listening to a lot of Jeff Tweedy.

Having been writing songs for nearly a 25 years, I don't think it's premature or out-of-line to say that Tweedy's proven himself to be part of line of great American songwriters that runs through greats like Cohen, Young, Newman or Dylan. He's always managed to balance his raucous D.I.Y. background, inveterate exploratory yen and love of classic American forms to produce songs that sound like instant classics without ever being too dated.

As I plowed through his impressive catalog, I decided that I wanted to take the time to highlight some of his music that your casual twentysomething Wilco fan might not have stumbled across. After starting with an all-time favorite cover of mine, I'm moving into lists, starting today. Thus I present you with a 10 of great songs written by Jeff Tweedy for his many side projects, super-groups and other bands that aren't Wilco.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Covering Our Bases: "I Wanna Be Your Dog" - Uncle Tupelo

Great music doesn't transcend genre boundaries so much as it devours them. The Beatles knew that "Twist & Shout" wasn't just an R&B barnburner, it was a garage-rock classic waiting to happen. Similarly, Al Green looked at the guitar pop bliss of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and knew that it had an organ-drenched soul treatment hiding in its DNA. Perhaps the band best at illustrating this principle was the Clash who looked at rockabillyreggaeR&Bskaclassic rock and infused them with a leftist snarl and turned them punk.

In its conception, Uncle Tupelo was all about smashing genres together. Throughout the late '80s Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar and their bandmates were taking the rebellious, defiant loserdom of punk, combining it with the drunken sorrow of country and seeing what stuck. Indeed, their 1990 debut album No Depression was generally credited as kickstarting the very idea of "alt-country". But as much as Uncle Tupelo reveled in the dynamics of Black Flag and the Carter Family, most of their early work sees them playing an either/or game with indie rock and traditional country and folk.