Friday, June 27, 2008

Do Labels Still Matter? Chicago Musicians Speak Out

There's a great article in the Tribune today that suggests the declining importance of record label contracts in musicians making a living from their passion. The article includes interviews with Chicago acts The Living Blue, Bailiff and Deanna Devore, who, while not disregarding the influence of labels altogether, seem to think the real power has shifted into the hands of the artists themselves.

"'There are a lot of good unsigned artists and a lot of bad signed ones,'" states Devore in the article. "'I still would like to [sign with a label] someday, but it's definitely not as necessary as maybe it used to be.'"

How to manage this DIY power for the greatest benefit, though, remains unclear.

I know many talented, driven indie musicians who are struggling to find a significant audience, and it's not always clear exactly why. Is it a lack of money or time for self-promotion? Not having the experience or skills to find the right resources?

As far as I can tell, in the age of self-recording, self-releasing and self-promoting, there's still no surefire way to develop an audience. Talent included. Even the effectiveness of MySpace is unclear. How many times do you actually take the time to listen to bands that send you a random request, or even click on their pages?

Chicago musicians - how have you leveraged DIY methods for promotion? What works? What doesn't?

Food Isn't the Only Thing That Rocks at Taste of Chicago

That yearly food-filled cattle herd known as the Taste of Chicago is upon us again, and even if you're like me and say you won't go this year to avoid the crowd, you know you'll end up going at least once. While eating is, of course, number one on the Taste agenda, there's plenty of live music to see in between food booth stops. In addition to main stage super acts such as Stevie Wonder, Plain White T's and Bonnie Raitt, there are some great local bands to be heard during the festival's run. Here's a rundown of menu highlights for Tastegoers with a palate for home-brewed rock:

(All bands below are playing at the Taste stage)

Saturday, June 28

My My My
When: 12-12:45 p.m.
What: Catchy folk-pop with enough bite to keep things interesting
Sample: "Look at Me"

Dago Red
When: 1:30-2:15
What: Crunchy, straight-up adrenaline-pumping rock
Sample: "Outta Control"

Tuesday, July 1

When: 1:30-2:15 p.m.
What: Rollicking alt-country
Sample: "Voodoo Train"

The Frantic
When: 4:30-5:15 p.m.
What: Pop-punk with loads of hooks
Sample: "Audio and Murder"

Wednesday, July 2

Ditchweed Diesel
When: 12-12:45 p.m.
What: Strummy, mellow roots-rock
Sample: "Breathe"

Thursday, July 3

Mike Mangione
When: 12-12:45 p.m.
What: Soul-infused folk-rock
Sample: "You Don't Wanna Leave"

Friday, July 4

When: 12-12:45 p.m.
What: Infectious power pop
Sample: "Lather"

Ash Avenue
When: 1:30-2:15 p.m.
What: Melodic indie rock. Frisbie fans should stick around for them.
Sample: "Trash Romance"

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

THE SAPIENS Preview New Single, Play Schubas Tonight

’s most stylish rockers, The Sapiens, are previewing a new single online. The single, “Rind,” is a mid-tempo track fueled by a swaggering guitar groove that sounds great alongside the six songs on the band’s 2007 EP, “Vs. the Hornet” (reviewed here).

The band garnered a healthy amount of attention last year with the release of the EP, a burst of jittery rock ‘n’ roll that drew on everything from punk to electro to 60s garage. The tunes even earned them a place on the Chicago’s Next Big Bands” list by Jim DeRogatis.

The Sapiens play Schubas tonight with the Rikters and Silverghost.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Josh Ritter Ends Taste of Randolph on a Happy Note

As if the post-storm rainbow and beautiful weather weren't enough, singer-songwriter Josh Ritter gave the Sunday night Taste of Randolph Street crowd a lot to be happy about. Not only did Ritter and his band deliver a tight, rocking set, the singer seemed so genuinely thrilled to be there that it would have been difficult not to join in on his glee.

In fact, Ritter, who headlined the final night of the West Loop's annual three day street festival, wore a grin during nearly every song in his 75 minute set. His enthusiasm best shone through in the repertoire's punchier numbers, including seven songs from his critically acclaimed 2007 LP, "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter."

Ritter and company opened the set with the first two tracks from "Conquests" in reversed order. The moody "Mind's Eye," reminiscent of Spoon, paved the way for a revved-up version of "To the Dogs or Whoever," one of the highlights of the night. Ritter dispersed faithful renditions of other "Conquests" standouts throughout the set, and saved perhaps the best part for the second half, which featured a one-two punch of the infectious, radio-ready "Right Moves" and the sing-along rocker "Real Long Distance."

Although "Conquests" is his most recent and well-known work, Ritter didn't ignore earlier material. "Me & Jiggs," "Other Side" and "Harrisburg" made sure 2001's "Golden Age of Radio" was accounted for, while "Wolves," "Girl in the War" and "Good Man" represented 2006's more subdued, serious "The Animal Years." Ritter closed the show with the Dylan-esque "Kathleen" from is 2003 disc "Hello Starling." Somewhere in the middle of it all he even managed to throw in a John Prine cover, "Storm Windows."

While Ritter's music is often described as "folk-rock," his Taste of Randolph set emphasized the "rock," with only an occasional quieter moment. Whether he was jumping around the stage or making humorous gestures in the middle of songs, Ritter made it clear that he's more than just a musician - he's a full-fledged entertainer, and his likable performance proved an ideal way to usher out this year's festival.


To say that fans have had to wait for the fourth Smoking Popes album of original material is an understatement. The beloved Chicago power pop band broke up shortly after the release of its last proper album, 1997’s "Destination Failure," reformed in 2005 and soon after began referencing imminent new studio material. The result, "Stay Down" was originally scheduled for release in September 2007, but extensive label shopping put it on hold. The Popes recently settled on indie label Appeal Records, and the album finally showed up for download this month on iTunes.

Fortunately, the new material is worth the wait. All of the band’s signature qualities are in tact – the crooning, Morrissey-esque vocals of Josh Caterer, the pristine pop melodies, the straightforward lyrics and the full guitar sound. Many fans will already be familiar with some of the album’s strongest cuts, including opener “Welcome to Janesville,” “If You Don’t Care” and the title track, all of which the Popes previewed at post-reunion shows. “If You Don’t Care” is arguably the star of the album, featuring an instantly infectious melody that holds up against Smoking Popes standards such as “I Know You Love Me” and “Need You Around.” This one will live in your head for days.

The beautiful, saccharine sweet “Little Jane-Marie,” presumably written for Caterer's daughter, is another highlight. With lines such as “perhaps we could split a thousand cheerios, or just sit around and suck our thumbs,” the song could easily be way too precious, but it ultimately comes off as likeble, innocent pop. This kind of pure sincerity is something the band has mastered, and is actually a refreshing break from legions of bands trying too hard to be cool.

Listening to “Stay Down” provides no indication that the Popes ever left. The album is an honest, comfortable addition to the band’s catalog, and is bound to please not only old fans, but anyone who can appreciate a good pop hook.

Check out the Popes live June 28 at the Lakeside Festival in Crystal Lake and June 29 at the Belmont Arts and Music Festival.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Hood Internet Mixes and Mashes Unlikely Chicago Acts

Did you ever get the urge to hear Wilco, Kanye West and, uh, the 1985 Chicago Bears all in the course of a single song?

Well, now you can realize this and many more of your bizarre Chicago mashup fantasies thanks to The Hood Internet, a local DJ duo consisting of STV SLV (a.k.a. Steve Reidell) and ABX (a.k.a. Aaron Brink). The Hood recently released its latest mixtape, The Hood Internet Vs. Chicago, and will be mashing it up during a Mixtape Release Party this Thursday, June 19 at Sonotheque from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

The Hood Internet Vs. Chicago features 23 tracks of local hip-hop and rock pairings that manage to remain amusing thoughout the collection’s hour-plus run, even for for someone like me who knows almost nothing about hip-hop and doesn’t usually dig mashups.

With titles such as Cakeicide (Hollywood Holt vs. The Prairie Cartel), When Baby Mamas Collide (Qualo vs. Chin Up Chin Up) and I Used to Love the Blue Line (Common vs. Bang! Bang!), The Hood Internet Vs. Chicago is a surefire hit for any twisted Chicago dance party.

Some of the other acts included in the mix are Kid Sister, May Or May Not, Liz Phair, Lupe Fiasco, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Changes, R. Kelly, Andrew Bird, The Cool Kids and Office.

More information:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Lollapalooza Announces Schedule

Lollapalooza has released the full schedules for all three days of the festival. Here are some of the highlights:

Friday, August 1: Radiohead, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Bloc Party, Cat Power, The Raconteurs
Saturday, August 2: Wilco, Rage Against the Machine, Lupe Fiasco
Sunday, August 3: Nine Inch Nails, Kanye West, Gnarls Barkley

Check out the full schedule here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Weekend Shows

Here are a few shows of interest coming up this weekend, with lots of fine local bands included. Check 'em out:

Friday, 6/13

Hideout: Dick Prall, The Bon Mots, Brad Peterson
The Empty Bottle: Lightspeed Champion, Flowers Forever, The Explorers Club
Schubas: Allá, Liam Hayes

Saturday, 6/14

The Empty Bottle: Annuals, The Silent Years, Horse in the Sea
Park West: Billy Bragg (Billy Bragg!!)
Subterranean: These New Puritans, The Eternals, Project Ultra

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The New Bottom Lounge Opens, Announces Upcoming Shows

The new Bottom Lounge, located at 1375 W. Lake St., has finally opened its doors after a healthy amount of delays. The venue previously existed at 3206 N. Wilton before closing in 2005 as a result of expansion of the Belmont El stop, and features dining, a tiki-themed lounge and an outdoor deck in addition to a live music area.

The venue has announced numerous upcoming shows, including:
For more information, visit the official Bottom Lounge site.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I-GO Seeking Chicago Band Submissions

Here's a cool competition for both Chicago musicians and Chicago music fans.

I-GO Car Sharing, a local non-profit, eco-friendly car sharing service that allows people to reserve a car when they need it and pay for using it by the hour, is now accepting Chicago band submissions for its second annual "Audio Emissions CD." Musicians can submit their songs for
the competition at until Thursday, June 5. Then from June 6 to June 14 I-GO members and Chicago music fans in general can vote for which ones they want to hear on the CD at The winners will be included on the CD and played in I-GO cars.

This seems like a great, unique way for local acts to get their music heard by more people around the city.

Here is the full press release with additional details:


I-GO Car Sharing Announces 2nd Annual Audio Emissions CD Featuring Wilco

Bands Compete and Chicago Votes for 2008 Driving Music

(Chicago, IL) I-GO Car Sharing is currently assembling its second annual compilation of songs from Chicago’s coolest and most popular bands. Already committed to this year’s project are fan favorites Wilco and Neko Case.

Local bands can compete for a chance to be heard by I-GO’s growing membership by submitting songs through I-GO’s website from Tuesday, May 27th until Thursday, June 5th. Chicago residents will then have the opportunity to pick their favorites from Friday, June 6th until Friday, June 14th through I-GO’s website and also a voting kiosk at the June 6th First Friday at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

“While I-GO members don’t spend a lot of time in cars, when they do, we want to provide them with fun, new music that they like and choose. By providing this cd, it’s also a way for us to thank our members not only for their business but their commitment to reduce car usage and carbon emissions,” said Sharon Feigon, CEO of I-GO Car Sharing.

As 2007 winner Bille D testifies, "I-GO has done a wonderful job of bringing together talented artists from Chicago's independent music scene under a cause that facilitates collaboration, collectivism, and preservation."

Launched in 2002 as a pilot project supported by the City of Chicago and the U.S. Department of Transportation, I-GO is a nonprofit company with more than 8,000 members and a fleet of 185 low-emission, fuel-efficient vehicles currently operating in more than 30 Chicago neighborhoods, Evanston and Oak Park. I-GO aims to reduce car ownership rates, lower family transportation costs, reduce urban congestion and improve air quality in all neighborhoods. Members reserve a car online or by phone, they use and return the car, all for one hourly rate that covers gas and insurance.

Bands who want to compete for a spot on Audio Emissions can submit songs at

Last year’s edition of Audio Emissions included Chicago artists like Andrew Bird, Koko Taylor, Devil in the Woodpile, Mucca Pazza and Billie D.

For more information, visit