Thursday, January 31, 2008

Flashback - PEZBAND - Tasty Chicago Power Pop



There's a lot of great music currently coming out of Chicago. But there's also a lot of great music that came out of this city in past decades. Pezband is one example.

To be exact, Pezband came out of Schaumburg and onto the power pop scene in 1977 with their eponymous first album on Passport Records, and not only did they have a great name (makes me think of the candy), they had a canon of strong songs to boot. The band holds a unique place in Chicago power pop in that they sounded rawer than Shoes, but less hard rock than Cheap Trick. Even so, any fan of either of those classic Chicago bands should find much to love about Pezband.

The band's first album is by far my favorite of their three LPs, and I would rank it very highly in my list of essential albums for any fan of power pop. The album opens with Baby it's Cold Outside (no, not the cheesy pop standard), a must-include song for any power pop mix CD. The album never really loses steam, jumping from classic to classic with tunes such as Tracer, Princess Mary, Gas Grill and Please Be Somewhere Tonight. There is an irresistible 60s-inspired innocence to these hook-filled songs, but they are also marked by a sheer enthusiasm that gives the collection an edge. In addition to the songs themselves, the distinctive vocals of lead singer Mimi Betinis add to Pezband's charm.

Pezband went on to release two other albums - Laughing in the Dark in 1978 and Cover to Cover in 1979. While both of these are very enjoyable releases, for me they don't quite reach the level of greatness set by the first album.

Laughing in the Dark is a burst of rock and roll energy from start to finish (there's really not one mellow song in the bunch) and a bit rougher around the edges, bringing in some pub rock sounds to the classic power pop formula. The album spawned one hands down classic in Stop! Wait a Minute, which is generally considered Pezband's second signature song after Baby it's Cold Outside, and an additional single in On and On. While the raw energy of this album can't be denied, I personally find the hooks to be a bit stronger on Pezband.

1979's Cover to Cover is another worthwhile release and an enjoyable listen all the way through, although the album lacks a surefire classic in the vein of Baby it's Cold Outside or Stop! Wait a Minute.

Unfortunately, despite three fantastic albums, Pezband never quite gathered enough steam to gain them widespread recognition, and the band ended its first run in 1980. Despite an unsuccessful attempt to restart Pezband in late 1981, little was heard from the members until 2006 when the band reformed and began playing new, well-received shows, much to the delight of both old and new fans.

With any luck, we'll even be treated to some new Pezband recorded material.


All three Pezband albums have been released on CD, but unfortunately only as pricey Japanese imports. However, the inflated price of these discs is well worth it considering the high quality of the music, and they can be purchased through Not Lame Records (link) or other outlets such as Amazon.com.

PEZBAND LINEUP:
- Mimi Betinis - lead vocals, guitar
- Tommy Gawenda - lead guitar
- Mike Gorman - bass, vocals
- Mick Rain - drums, vocals

FOR FANS OF:
Shoes, Cheap Trick, The dB's, Sneakers, Badfinger, Big Star, The Beatles, Dwight Twilley, Phil Seymour

WEB LINKS:

- Pezband Official Myspace Site
- Pezband on Wikipedia
- Pezband on Allmusic Guide
- 2007 Youtube video of Pezband performing a new song live in Chicago

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

STAR at Hideout - 2/1/08



Chicago's noise pop trio STAR are paying Hideout this Friday, February 1. I've met the members of STAR and have been loving their debut CD, Devastator, for a while, but this will be my first time seeing them perform live. If they are half as excellent live as they are on CD, it is bound to be a great time.

Devastator is full of fizzy, fuzzy, frothy noise pop with the guitar work of Scott Cortez, the airy vocals and lyrics of Shannon Roberts and the bass and percussion of Theodore Beck.

In some ways STAR reminds me of an amalgam of Jesus and Mary Chain and Cocteau Twins, which is a great thing.

Pure Gold Reason has an open, grand sound the starts the disc nicely, moving into the catchiest number, Exploding Order. Slow-burner Switchblade Heart and the infectious Liars in Love are also highlights.

There is not a dud on Devastator, and all of the songs flow together nicely. Check out STAR songs here:

STAR Myspace

STAR are set to release their second album, Violence Against STAR, this year.

Shannon, Scott and Theodore are not only great musicians, they are also really cool people deserving of fans. Be sure to check them out at Hideout.



SHOW DETAILS:
STAR, The Prairie Cartel, Fun Club
Friday, February 1, 2008
Hideout
1354 West Wabansia
$7

Monday, January 28, 2008

MAY OR MAY NOT - A Kaleidoscope of Egos



It's already January 28, but this blog just started so it isn't too late to write about my favorite album of 2007, A Kaleidoscope of Egos by Chicago's own May or May Not.

I'll start by stating I have no idea why this CD is not plastered all over sites such as Pitchfork and in the music collection of every indie kid everywhere. It's proof that life is unfair.

A little background: May or May Not is an indie pop unit that has been around since 2004 or so. I first found out about the band in 2005 when I saw them open for The dB's at House of Blues Chicago.

A Kaleidoscope of Egos is the band's second full-length release, following 2005's debut Colors Only Bees Can See and a four-track EP, Bike, released in 2006.

The band's sophomore release upstages its debut with a set that is consistently strong and memorable. Each cut on Kaleidoscope has its own character, yet the album comes together nicely with the help of three brief interlude tracks.

The CD kicks off to a strong start with a trio of driving songs - Self Charmed Man, Boots and Do the Disaster. This set allows each of the band's three lead vocalists - Zaid Maxwell, Amelia Styer and Steve Reidell - a chance at the helm. Boots marks the band's first lead vocal by Styer, and the result does not disappoint. Styer's girlish, almost dispassionate delivery meshes nicely with the song's cryptic lyrics and propulsive beat to create a gem.

Do the Disaster, featuring a vocal by Reidell, is more straightforward, but just as enjoyable. It reflects expert pop craftsmanship, and is probably the most accessible song on the album.

Luckily, the band leaves no room for filler, quickly offering up another highlight in Cinnamon Girls. This track features an irresistible 60s pop-inspired melody and Mrs. Robinson-like background vocals. The momentum continues with the quirky Garbage King, the manic Nameless and the psychedelic, epic Lavender Shell.

It's not difficult to imagine Stuart Murdoch singing Marilyn Jones, a mellow, pretty ballad. It is followed by I Get By, another hook-filled number that is sort of like Maxwell's answer to Do the Disaster.

Styer's second song, Oh, What a Spectacle, is as spectacular as her first. It has a keyboard-driven, new wave vibe that sends a jolt through its listener. It is a welcome surprise that sounds like it could have been a Blondie track circa 1979.

Mt. Hopeless is more catchy guitar pop, and a fitting closer to this fantastic record. Its melody is upbeat, yet Reidell keeps things interesting with desperate lyrics that proclaim "We're at the end of our ropes" and ask "How long can we hang on at 100 miles an hour?"

If A Kaleidoscope of Egos is a sign of what's to come, I hope May or May Not answers this question with "A really long time."

This CD is essential for any fan of indie pop or power pop. Check out some tunes at May or May Not's Myspace page, linked below. If you like what you hear, click over to itunes or CD Baby, buy the CD and support a well-deserving band!

MAY OR MAY NOT LINEUP:
- Steve Reidell
- Zaid Maxwell
- Amelia Styer
- Ed Lo
- Aaron Brink

FOR FANS OF:
The New Pornographers, Belle and Sebastian, The Shins, ELO, Sloan, any top-notch indie pop

WEB LINKS:
- May or May Not Official Site
- May or May Not on Myspace
- Recent Interview with May or May Not about A Kaleidoscope of Egos
- Two Thumbs Down Records

WINDY CITY ROCK - Chicago Music - Welcome

Welcome, and thanks for visiting Windy City Rock!

One simple fact led me to create this page - being from Chicago, I have become familiar with a lot of local bands that I feel need to be heard by more people. I'd love to be able to get these fantastic artists some new fans.

I hope Windy City Rock allows me to not only promote the bands I love, but also turn this space into a source for general information on Chicago music.

I plan to make periodic posts that include:

- Reviews of local shows
- Reviews of new music coming from Chicago
- "Flashback" posts on Chicago bands of the past
- Info on the best places to shop for music around town
- Updates on Chicago shows and other local rock event information

I'd love to hear from you with your general comments, suggestions, or Chicago music news. Feel free to drop a note here, or send thoughts to windycityrock@gmail.com.