Friday, September 30, 2011

Concert Review - Fucked Up/Wavves At Logan Square Auditorium, September 30, 2011

It was windy last night as I was walking to the Logan Square Auditorium. And I mean windy. As I strolled past the turn of the century two-stories north of Fullerton, I could hear the leaves constant rustling as background noise that reminded me of the recently-departed cicadas but sounded more like the wash of surf crashing far away. It was the first time I'd had the headspace to really notice the end of summer and beginning of the chilly onslaught that is Chicago from October through April.

After arriving and getting my ticket torn, I was given the most thorough pat-down I've recieved since forgetting to remove hair gel from my suitcase before going to O'Hare, which made me smile. Cleary the Empty Bottle and the show's other promoters were taking no chances with a hardcore crowd.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Unhappy" - OutKast

Music is one of life's great mood regulators. When you're feeling good, music affirms you and when things are going well it alternately helps you wallow or find strength. This has been a tough week with minor illness personally, major health problems in my family and more things to do than time to do them in. Oh, and it's been cold and rainy all week. It's precisely this type of week upon which the foundation of modern popular music - the blues - was built. However, straight-up bluesmen are scarcer these days than scientists at a Rick Perry rally. Rock has mostly left its 12-bar roots behind for garage-y power chords and genre hopping while modern R&B is heavy on "R" with no time for po-faced done-me-wrong tales of woe. So in the 21st century we're left to take our solace where we can find it and for my money, there are few better modern blues songs than Big Boi's 2003 cut, "Unhappy".

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Covering Our Bases - The Beatles (Pt. 1)

I grew up on the Beatles. I'm one of those people. Terri Hemmert's Breakfast With The Beatles was the soundtrack driving to church every Sunday of my childhood. I have strong opinions on the Capitol stereo mixes and the remastered albums of 2009, I believe that all groups of four can be divided into Johns, Pauls, Georges and Ringos and I believe that the Beatles, if not invented, at least popularized and and helped define the modern rock band. From the expectation of constant exploration to the redefinitional self-titled album to the drug influences to the folk period to the... well everything, the Beatles template has defined rock as we know it. And you know what, I'm incredibly happy for that. Their musicianship, restlessness, reverence for tradition, humor and songwriting abilities have never been fully matched and are about the best legacy that rock could ask for.

It is with this in mind that On Warmer Music presents its first batch of Beatles covers. It is done adivisedly, given the fact that every shitty band since 1964 has, at some point or another, banged out a Beatles cover. These are songs that add something to the original, show us something new about the artist or otherwise stand out in some way. Enjoy!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Concert Recap/Pictures - The Hideout Block Party

Another year, another Hideout Block Party come and gone. This year's iteration, in celebration of the venue's 15th anniversary, garnered more media attention than usual as people used to the opportunity to take stock of how a former dive bar became the physical and spiritual home for Chicago artists of all music stripes.

After attending the sold-out festival, I can tell you it felt like a coming-out party for the Hideout, with thousands packing an old parking lot to hear music curated by a bar that looks like your parents' basement and doesn't even hold 200. It was a resounding success, highlighted by Mavis Staple's triumphant sunset performance in front of a rapturous audience. But this was still the kind of festival where you could catch Jon Langford hanging around in the crowd during White Mystery's set or go say hi to the Eternals' Damon Lock or Alex White after they got off stage. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Album Review: An Argument With Myself [EP] - Jens Lekman

How did I miss Jens Lekman? I mean, I've had autumnal favorite "Maple Leaves" on my mp3 player for at least a couple of years and I'd been hearing his name even before then. I have a few friends who are big fans and every description I ever heard of him seemed promising. Yet until just a few weeks ago, I'd never heard more than one song by the man. It's not like I was slacking or wasting my time, there's just more good music out there in the world than even a dedicated enthusiast can possibly process.

In a world where almost any song or information is available at our fingertips and three bloggers and a webzine have already loved, gotten bored with and rediscovered every new band before you hear about them, it's easy to lose sight of the joy of discovery that makes loving music so rewarding. Between the scads of new groups who all sound so interesting when I hear about them and the seminal bands that I never knew I'd missed out on hearing, I have an ever-expanding pile of music that I know I should listen to that I never quite seem to have enough time to get around to. Occasionally I find it impossible to listen to something new without drifting away in thought about what else I need to remember to listen to.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Concert Preview - The Hideout Block Party

Of all Chicago's varied and wonderful concert venues, none can quite match the ramshackle charm of The Hideout. From its amazing artist in residence, to its impromptu Black Eyed Peas cover shows to its Wednesday night soup for the hungry, this is a venue that does nothing the usual way but always gives you a unique experience. When I consulted a neighborhood map to determine its exact location, I found it listed in an area called "industrial corridor" and I couldn't think of a more accurate desctpiton if I tried. The bar itself is a tiny thing, tucked away on an industrial strip of Wabansia just east of the river, located near a series of loading docks, a Home Depot and, of course, a garbage truck marshaling area for The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation.

It is in this parking lot, where the trash-haulers usually sit, that The Hideout hosts its (mostly) annual Block Party. My first visits to the Block Party have been for label celebrations, namely the legendary Chicago punk/noise providers Touch and Go in 2006 and alt-country (and beyond) Bloodshot Records in 2009. After a hiatus last September, Hideout is back running their own show this year and have settled on a lineup not only packed with the cream of local talent but, tellingly, filled with regulars who've played the bar more than their fair share over the years. The party is this Saturday and I've been looking forward to it for over month now, here's a quick look at what you can expect if you decide to end your outdoor concert season with a bang in a garbage truck lot this weekend.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Three Button Hand Me Down" - The Faces

I've reached that point in my life. It's not a strictly "good" or "bad" thing, but it's definitely happening. You don't imagine that it's gonna happen to people your age, at least not in large numbers, and yet all of a sudden, there it is, happening all around you. I'm referring of course, to the time in your life when all your friends start getting married. Besides being besieged with nuptial news via social network, I've already seen two high school friends tie the knot and am a week away from seeing a couple of friends from college do the same.

At times like this, it's hard not think about the important things in life, like clothing. If you're a man who shares my mindset then you know that weddings are nothing more than crude negotiations between hosts and guests that go as follows, "OK, you dress up for three hours and tell my wife how beautiful she looks and I'll provide bottomless booze and restaurant-quality food to soak it up." As someone whose long abhorred the discomfort and ridiculous airs that are involved in putting on pinstriped wool and a dangling triangle of silk to go to a suburban hotel ballroom, I have to say that I've actually been coming around the the joys of a well-tailored suit for such occasions.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Album Review: Self-Titled - Wild Flag

I love the new Wild Flag album. I love many things about it: its chops, its messiness, it sense of fun, its immediate timelessness. In fact, I even love this album for what it hasn't done, which is to say become an icon of ghettoized "girls rock".

I love the fact that a group comprised of former members of musically and intellectually uncompromising bands like Sleater-Kinney, Helium and the Minders has been routinely called a "supergroup" by the national media. I love that this hasn't prompted a series of navel-gazing articles about "girls in indie rock." I love that this record has come out the same year as albums by women like Leslie Feist, Annie Clark and Merril Gerbus who were weaned on the kind of punk that SK and Helium made but have now been able to expand that sensibility across genres and audiences to great acclaim. I love that I've been hearing about an album of great music made by women rather than a great girl rock album.

On Warmer Music's Fall 2011 Mixtape

You might have noticed from previous posts, that I sometimes worry about life moving too fast. It's so easy to get caught up in your job or politics or tv shows or family problems or whatever your poison is that I often feel like I'll look up and it'll be a month later than I remember. Music, along with beer and sports are passions of mine that also help keep me grounded in time and space. With Chicago's unseasonably cold weather since Labor Day wreaking havoc on my circadian rhythms, it was only a matter of time before I made a seasonal mix. As I write, it is before the autumnal equinox but I can also see the leaves outside my window just starting to lose their color and feel a cold breeze blowing, so I figure I'm safe in posting this.

Friday, September 16, 2011

"Johnny Appleseed" - Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros

Transmission of ideas has always been something that's interested me. As a history major, I'm attuned to how the spread of concepts, the course, speed and mechanism of their journey alter both global and personal history. Writing about music also brings up this idea, because, it is by its very nature at attempt to spread both musical content and analysis. You do it because you're passionate enough about something that you feel compelled to share your opinions and passions (and also self-important enough to think they might appeal to anyone).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Album Review: Strange Mercy - St. Vincent

My first introduction to the new St. Vincent album (I hadn't yet memorized the name) came during this year's Pitchfork Music Festival in the form of a video that was repeated ad nauseum between sets on the festival's jumbotron. The ad featured a series of attractive women looking into the camera and earnestly spouting rote breakup cliches created to spare the male ego. After a series of these, Annie Clark finally appears and looks directly into the camera and without hesitance or dissembling says:
It was an incredibly effective spot. As every review of her by a male writer has attested, Clark is very attractive woman and her lure is drawn from more than just her looks. Annie Clark has a cold, clear-eyed strength that radiates out of her person and music which adds to her magnetic attractiveness just as much as her looks. Both her playing and her lyrics prove that she's the kind of girl who can kick your ass and make him like it. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Best Of A.V. Undercover

You'll never find a bigger sucker for covers than Your Narrator, so when my beloved, Onion AV Club announced last year that it was starting a series commissioning covers of classic and "new classic" songs, I couldn't have been happier. The premise was even bolstered by the fact that they would all be covered in a room in the AV Club's Chicago offices that was decorated as one of the greatest flags in the world

The rules for this contest were a little odd - there was a list of songs and bands would be invited to pick a song to cover from an ever-shrinking list, meaning that there were more than a few odd fits. The results of the first round were successful enough that a second round of covers was commissioned this year, which concludes today with the Fruit Bats' cover of "The Other Woman". Overall, the results were mixed, there were some faithful and nice takes, a few workmanlike covers and a few more that just missed the mark - wildly. And to be fair, a lot of times covers that are great fun live when you just wanna dance, fall flat on a computer screen when you have the original a click away.

But there were enough amazing moments to make the project worthwhile and today i bring the top six, countdown-style. You can watch the videos and download the songs after the jump.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Six Song Six-Pack - Back To School

I never know how to feel around this time of year. On the one hand I love summer and all the freedom represented therein with emotion deep and abiding. On the other hand, by the time early September hits, the cool air, pennant races and lure of Captial Brewery's Autumnal Fire are pretty tough to resist. Of course, when you're a kid there's always on big tie-breaker - school. Even as an admitted geek, I never really looked forward to hitting the hallowed halls (before college, of course, that's a whole 'nother can of worms) every year.

Since, let's be honest here, many rock bands start off as nothing more than a way to be loud, get chicks and voice adolescent complaints with distorted guitars, the canon is filled with screeds about compulsory education. Obviously, as someone who works in education, my position has now somewhat changed. I still say that there a fundamental understanding of alienation of industrialized education and bureaucratic thinking that any teacher can take to heart. Besides, I think we all know that the pain that is high school has been the catalyst of many a great band. So here it is, you're back to school six-pack, enjoy!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Album Review: The Whole Love - Wilco

"It's no fun getting old."

That pearl of wisdom was one that my Nana always loved to trot out when I was a kid. It seemed like a weighty statement then (certainly a complaint above my pay grade) but I always responded in the same way, "Yeah, but it beats the alternative."

Wilco is getting old and I don't say that as an insult, but as a statement of fact. The band members are all solidly in their forties and they've gone from upstarts to innovators to elder statesmen. I have no problem with stability, but it does raise some interesting questions for a band that was long-known for shape-shifting between every album and always staying one step ahead of its audience.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"Desperate" - Rogue Wave

Like every other bearded white male my age writing about music, Nick Hornby was one of the people who first turned me on to the idea of writing about music. Sure, High Fidelity got me hooked but it was a first printing of his Songbook, complete with CD, given to me by a friend of my father's that really turned me on. In it, he has an essay about the difficulty of being a Rod Stewart fan, going from The Faces to good solo work to the crime against music (taste?) that is "If You Think I'm Sexy". At the time I didn't really process what Hornby was talking about. I was just getting into music and I started with the big names: The Beatles, Bod Dylan, the Pixies, The Clash. These were icons who seemed to be bottomless fonts of musical genius. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Six Song Six-Pack (Pt. 2) - Marriage Is When We Admit Our Parents Were Right

I can't believe it! I can't believe we're here at Labor Day weekend already! When one of my best friends asked me to be his best man some 18 months ago I was honored and couldn't do anything but accept. Now that the time to live up to that is almost here, though, I'm increasingly incredulous that all that time has passed. This isn't the first friend I've had get married, but it is the first one from my far early childhood and I can't help but get a little soppy about it.

Don't worry, I'm gonna save all the really mushy stuff for the folks that are already liquor'd up at the reception but I do have a few things to say. Marriage is an embattled and increasingly territorial institution in America that seems to be more the butt of jokes than an object of appreciation. But I will say this. Marriage is, ultimately the glue society rests on. Don't believe me? Think to yourself how many people you know who were products of divorce, separation and unhappy marriages and think of how many of them would wan the same for their kid. Commitment, perseverance and genuine love may not be the easiest sells but they're timeless human needs that will outlast all our self-centered asses. So here's to love, marriage and those who can make that work with all the joy implied therein! 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Six Song Six-Pack (Pt. 1) - When A Man Takes A Wife It's Like Going To Jail For Life

When I was growing up my nana had a saying, "take your time friend of mine" that I soon adopted and used as my own for years. It wasn't until I was nearly out of college that she told me the beginning of the saying - "when a man takes a wife, it's like going to jail for life, take your time, friend of mine." An interesting twist, but also one from a bygone era, one where divorce was rare and adolescence didn't stretch across one's twenties.

I tell this tale because this weekend I'm heading down to St. Louis for the wedding of one of my closest childhood friends. As I've been sweating over writing my toast, I've been listening to wedding songs to get me in the mood. Of course, not all of them are really the best way to prepare to celebrate love and I wanted to get them out of my system early. Today I'm sending you six songs guarenteed to sour you on marriage before giving you the good stuff tomorrow with six love songs so heart-melting they'll have you flying to Vegas for a quickie wedding with the next good-looking guy/girl who walks by. Enjoy!