Monday, September 29, 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Smashing Pumpkins finally return to Chicago with four November dates

Photo by Jeff Loder,

The Smashing Pumpkins are once again playing Chicago...finally.

Billy Corgan and company have announced four shows in November, all of which go on sale October 13. The dates are:

- November 18 - Chicago Theatre

- November 19 - Chicago Theatre

- November 21 - Auditorium Theatre

- November 22 - Auditorium Theatre

The reunited Pumpkins (well, the only original members are Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin - James Iha and D'Arcy Wretzky decided not to participate) played their first gig in May 2007, and had yet to perform in their home town, much to the frustration and bewilderment of local fans. The long awaited return promises a repertoire full of both hits and "surprises."

The Pumpkins released their comeback album, "Zeitgeist," last year, and will soon put out a new single called "G.L.O.W."

Keep your eyes on the band's official site for pre-sale news.

New tracks by Office, STAR

Two of Chicago's finest and most addictive indie pop bands - Office and STAR - have put new songs up to preview on MySpace.

Office, soon to embark on a Schubas residency with a show every Monday night in October, have posted a number of new tracks from their forthcoming follow-up to 2007's "A Night at the Ritz." The songs are "Sticky Dew," "Dr. Drako," "Enter Me, Exit You," Sleep of Reason" and "Nobody Knows You." The band has also posted the lyrics to all of the tracks on their blog.

The new LP was tentatively titled "The Silent Parade," then it wasn't, and now it may or may not be. Either way, judging by the aforementioned tracks it's one to look forward to. It's been said the band was not satisfied with "A Night at the Ritz," which consisted of both new and reworked songs and was released on Scratchie/New Line Records. They recently parted ways with the label and are set to release the new album independently early next year.

Another local favorite, STAR (pictured above), have put up two new tracks for free download. "Turn It On" is a preview of what's to come on the band's sophomore LP, "Violence Against STAR," while "Like Flies on Sherbert" is a very cool Alex Chilton cover. The album is currently being recorded, and will follow-up last year's "Devastator," a memorable set of noise pop gems.

STAR will play Schubas on September 28.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Five shows this weekend

Friday, September 19

- Three local bands at Reggie's - King Sparrow (pictured) - "Hailing from the unassuming environs of Chicago's Northwest side, King Sparrow cranks out driving indie rock that walks a fine line between the studio and the garage." Dead Fingers - " Straight up garage punk rawk and roll from Chicago." Also with The Dow. More info and tickets.

- The Assembly at Darkroom - These locals play haunting, melodic rock with first-rate hooks. This gig celebrates the release of their debut LP, "The Tide Has Turned." Also with Tiger Spirit and Appomattox. More info and tickets.

- French Kicks at Double Door - "Brooklyn's French Kicks -- fresh on the heels of their SPIN-approved full-length 'Swimming' -- are diving into interesting territory with their new EP, aptly titled 'Covers,' which is a collection of their interpretations of a few lofty tracks, including songs originally written by Lindsey Buckingham, the Ramones, and the Shirelles." Also with The M's and Pomegranates. More info and tickets.

Saturday, September 20

- Evangelicals at Beat Kitchen - "Evangelicals draw from their Okie idols the Flaming Lips, using everything from pop, soul, prog, and psychedelia to create arrangements that bleed into open skies, sounding like the weird uncanny cousins of Band of Horses." - With The Syllable Section and Elsinore. More info and tickets.

- Cordero at Empty Bottle - New York's Cordero takes an indie rock foundation and pairs it with Latin dance rhythms and the bilingual female vocals of Ani Cordero to create a truly refreshing sound. With Little Cow.

Jackpot Donnie - "Music Nightly"

Local band Jackpot Donnie existed over half a decade before releasing their first full-length album, "Music Nightly," this year. Take one listen to the record - filled with hook-laden classic rock-meets-90s alternative guitar crunch - and you can tell the band used the time to carefully plan and produce their material before putting it to CD. The record rocks throughout, but at the same time features a crisp, even professional vibe that's seldom heard on debut records from indie acts.

On "Music Nightly," the band uses largely straightforward classic rock for its core, but incorporates a variety of sounds to flesh things out, including bluesy riffs ("Pell Mell," "Muster Buster"), 311-esque alterna-reggae ("Rumble," "See We Rollin'") and boisterous bar rock ("Agent Estimation"). This mixture of sounds is welcome, helping to keep things interesting from track to track.

"Agent Estimation" opens the disc and is a highlight with its very cool jittery guitar riff. Matt Love's powerful, throaty vocals are perfect for both the hard-hitting music and "everyman" lyrics throughout, which bring to mind The Allman Brothers Band. A prime example is "Full Bloom," a catchy, lazy summer jam with a chorus that begins, "I've been workin' so hard and I am hurtin'/I could use some time to get this off my mind."

While the band is rooted in traditional sounds and doesn't necessarily cover any new ground on "Music Nightly," they deliver solid, well-written, performed and produced songs sure to please fans of both classic and alternative rock.

Jackpot Donnie play the Abbey Pub on September 27 and Elbo Room on November 1.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hideout Block Party this weekend with Neko Case, New Pornographers

It's only Monday, but it's never too early to start thinking about the weekend. Especially when - just when you thought they were over - your weekend can involve another music festival.

That music festival is the 12th annual Hideout Block Party on September 20 and 21, and it just might be your last hurrah for outdoor music fun in 2008.

The big attractions this year are Neko Case on Saturday and The New Pornographers on Sunday, so technically full-on Neko Case one day and Neko Case to a lesser extent the other day, since she shares vocal duties in The New Pornographers (though both are unique and worth seeing).

From "One-time Hideout bartender Neko Case will headline both nights of our festival with two very different bands. On Saturday, September 20, Ms. Case will lead her own band, performing her critically acclaimed material spanning her career. She will also break out some new unreleased material from her upcoming album scheduled for spring 2009. This will be the only performance that Neko and her band will play in Chicago this year. On Sunday night, Ms. Case will make an increasingly rare live performance with her increasingly popular 'other' band The New Pornographers. This will also be the only time this year that she has performed with them in Chicago. This is the first and only time that Neko Case has performed with both of her bands, back-to-back in the United States."

Click here to buy two-day passes or single day tickets, and check out the full lineup below.

Hideout Block Party 2008 Performance Schedule

Saturday, September 20

11:30 a.m.
Plastic Crimewave Vision Celestial Guitarkestra:

12:30 p.m.
Wee Hairy Beasties

1:15 p.m.
KatJon Band

1:45 p.m.
Giant Sand

2:45 p.m.
Little Cow

3:45 p.m.
Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip

4:30 p.m.
Plastic People of the Universe

5:30 p.m.

6:15 p.m.
Black Mountain

7:15 p.m.
Vieux Farka Toure

8:15 p.m.
Neko Case

Sunday, September 21

1:00 p.m.
Jon Rauhouse Sestet

1:45 p.m.
Honey Boy Edwards & Devil in a Woodpile

2:30 p.m.
The Uglysuit

3:30 p.m.
Tim Fite

4:15 p.m.
Mucca Pazza

4:45 p.m.
Dark Meat

5:45 p.m.
Robbie Fulks

6:45 p.m.

7:30 p.m.
The New Pornographers

8:45 p.m.

9:45 p.m.
Hercules and Love Affair DJ set

Q&A: Chester

Ever heard of "spankadelic gutter-rock"?

Me neither, but Chicago four-piece Chester wants you to. That's the band's self-described style of music, which I personally think sounds like a mix of grunge and funk.

Click the link above to decide for yourself on MySpace, or better yet, check them out live Tuesday, September 16 at Debonair Social Club (1575 N. Milwaukee).

Without further ado, here's 10 basic questions Chester took the time to answer to give you a better sense of what they're all about. (Note: you might not learn very much about their history or how they sound, but you almost certainly will be amused.)

How do you describe your music?

Spankadelic gutter-rock. Spankadelic is a state of mind. Gutter-rock is a state of mindlessness.

Who are your biggest influences?

We influence one another more than anyone or anything else will ever be able to.

How did the band start?

God decided to play a joke on the music scene, and Chester is man's laughter at that joke.

What has been your most memorable experience as a band to date?

Our most memorable moments are the moments when we are just four guys drinking beer and causing trouble, other than that we tend to remember every show we ever play.

How does the band's songwriting process work?

Somebody brings in an idea and we immediately all use the restroom on his head, then he pulls out a knife. Then after we get out of the E.R. we have a song!

How has living and playing in Chicago influenced or shaped the band's sound?

Chicago is such a bluesy, jazzy city. Dark city streets and neon lights, pools of water accumulated by the rain, lush foresty parks and tall sky-scrapers. There is so much stimulation and yet so much tranquility here that it is the perfect setting for a band as eclectic as Chester.

However, we all come from separate corners of the country, and even the globe, so this also plays a huge role in our sound. We have a strong urban influence, yet an undertaste of different worlds all coming together into that spankadelic groove.

What is your favorite place to play in Chicago, or the place you most want to play?

Playing unplugged on the beach at 3 a.m. was nice.

What are the band's plans for the future?

To take over the world.

What's the one thing you want the world to know about Chester?

We want them to know that every member within Chester comes from a diverse musical background. This is a big reason why we pride ourselves on having many different fans at or show. We are not limited musically and never will be. Oh yeah, and after we take over Chicago we are going to take over Kankakee!!!

How can people learn more about Chester?

You already know Chester deep within your heart, but like reading a training manual or hearing someone tell you about a good mushroom trip, you have to experience it for yourself in order to get the full effect.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

On an unreleated note...South Loop attack

This doesn't have anything to do with music, but I think it's important.

Some of you might already have heard about the two Chicagoans attacked and beaten by homeless people for no reason on the night of August 25. Here's a message I just received in regard to the situation that I wanted to share:

Last week, Chicago residents and bike enthusiasts Jen Hall and Joe Hoffman were brutally attacked in the South Loop. ( Jen had just started a new job and has fallen into the unlucky loophole of being without medical insurance.... which is terribly unfortunate since she has suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury, multiple tooth loss and a Femoral Nerve block in her lower left leg, all as a result of the attack. Since the attack, a 501 (c) (3) charitable trust fund has been set up to help offset Jen's medical costs.... which have already skyrocketed to more than $100,000.

More information about Jen's story is online at

Please spread the word!

Looking for legally free music? Click here

You don't have to be a pirate to snag free music.

There are plenty of ways to download tunes without stealing from artists, angering labels and getting busted by the RIAA. In fact, there is a selection of sites you can visit to legally and guiltlessly download music for free.

Obviously, you can't download anything you want without busting out your wallet. Despite what some people seem to think, musicians have to eat, too. If you're looking for a legal way to get the latest major label release, you're probably out of luck (although even Coldplay has given away a free song or two). However, there are plenty excellent indie acts who willingly make free tunes - sometimes even entire albums - available on the Web. This gives you the opportunity to not only get something for free, but also discover great stuff you probably wouldn't have otherwise come across. You just need to know where to look.

Here are a few places to start:

- - Daytrotter is all about free music, and more importantly, quality free music that you probably don't know but will probably love upon hearing. "We are not giving you songs from someone you love’s record album, thereby stealing from someone you love," states the site. We’re giving you exclusive, re-worked, alternate versions of old songs and unreleased tracks by some of your favorite bands and by a lot of your next favorite bands."

The site features different bands weekly that have recorded sessions at Daytrotter's studio in Rock Island, IL. As a result, there's plenty to offer in terms of Chicago bands, including exclusive sessions by The 1900s, Andrew Bird, Bound Stems, Catfish Haven, The Changes, The M's, Office, The Ponys and The Redwalls, to name a few.

- - CLLCT, otherwise known as "The Collective Family," is a sort of MySpace for indie musicians who care more about people hearing their music than getting paid for it. In fact, the site's home page firmly states, "We want our music heard, not sold. We're a bunch of artists that make music and then give it out for free." There's some awesome cartoon owls under that, which in my opinion makes it even cooler.

CLLCT is an appealing blend of social networking, indie music, freeness and "to hell with 'the man'" attitude, which makes it a great place to visit. To start, check out Chicago musician James Eric.

- - This site, which allows you to keep track of the music you play and builds personal charts around it, offers weekly free downloads as well as tracks from many indie bands that you can download at any time. In addition, it lets you sample albums in their entirety. Sure, MySpace music profiles allow you to sample a few tracks, but features a surprising amount of albums - even many commercially popular albums - available to play in full. It's totally on the up and up because you can't download the tracks, and serves as a convenient way to decide whether or not a release is worth buying. Check out full albums by Chicago band May or May Not, for example.

- - Once known solely for its free and trial software downloads, now offers a selection of free downloadable music. Head over to the site for indie tracks, but also the occasion tune from a classic band.

- - GarageBand is "The Web's largest independent music community and home to the definitive charts of the best emerging artists," which means there's no shortage of music up for grabs. This ones nice because you can easily search by location and genre. Looking for alternative pop from Chicago? Or maybe punk or folk? This site's got it all covered.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Five shows this weekend

Friday, September 5

Mittens on Strings, Bellafea and Hotel Brotherhood at Hideout - Mittens on Strings is a local band, originally from Louisville, that plays folky rock enhanced by unconventional twists and turns. More info and tickets.

Shudder to Think at Park West - This band, known for drawing on an array of sounds including punk, glam and pop, formed in 1986 and reunited this year after a 10-year breakup. Also with Cheer Accident. More info and tickets.

Saturday, September 6

Penthouse Sweets at Bottom Lounge, also with Mean Ohio, Twilight Revival and Surrender Dorothy - "A little country, a little pop and a lot indie. The Penthouse Sweets have a sound that should be familiar to anyone that has stepped into the Hideout." - The Onion. More info and tickets.

Sons and Daughters at Double Door, with Apteka - Sons and Daughters are an indie rock band from Scotland that has toured with the likes of Morrissey. More info and tickets.

Maps & Atlases at Schubas - These locals will play two shows in honor of their record release at Schubas Saturday, including a 7 p.m. all ages show and a 10 p.m. 21 and over show. Birthmark and Nurses are also scheduled to play. More info and tickets.

Meet the Blissters

When I found out Chicago four-piece the Blissters had titled one of its EPs "I Love New Wave" I was more than happy to give the band a listen because, well, I love it, too.

I'm very glad I did.

The Blissters have been around since 2004 and draw on classic new wave and power pop sounds, playing melodic guitar rock infused with keys and synths and driven by traded off male and female vocals. This all adds up to something that sounds sort of like a cross between the Go-Go's and the Cars with current new wave revival acts such as the Sounds and the Killers thrown into the mix. Under the "influences" section on their MySpace page, though, you'll find everything from Pixies to the Clash to the Spice Girls (yes, the Spice Girls), so you'll have to decide for yourself.

Last year the band won the Starbucks Avant-Grande Music Contest with the track "Just Like You," which led to increased local and international radio play and live shows. The song is worthy of its honor, boasting an infectious melody and memorable vocals.

Singer and guitarist Erica Coriglione, who shares lead vocals duties with band mates Arnold Madlangbayan and John Darragh, has a very appealing rough-and-ready-yet-tuneful delivery that helps to give the tracks some extra edge for a nice balance of pop and rock.

The Blissters are currently recording a full-length album, and if their music to date is any indication of what to expect, it will definitely be one to watch out for.

You can check out the band live on September 17 at the Bottom Lounge. To get a taste of their sound, visit them on MySpace and check out this music video for one of their recently-recorded tunes, "Wet Reckless."

Monday, September 1, 2008

Chicago musician Q&A: Mark Minelli

There are a lot of musicians trying to make a name for themselves in Chicago, but it's safe to say that few are as passionate as singer-songwriter Mark Minelli. Just take a listen to his music - which is acoustic-yet-lively, rooted in folk-yet-unconventional - and you'll know he's one worth discovering. He recently released the 7-track "Grenade, Grenade! (Everybody Get Down)" and is currently working on his first full-length release.
Mark took the time to fill us in on his sound and style, living as a musician in Chicago and what Robin Williams thinks of him. Read on.
How do you describe your music?
When trying to describe my music to people, I try to stay away from comparisons to other artists. I always want to pick someone awesome (obviously), but then I come off sounding arrogant. I can’t very well be like “Ever heard of Bob Dylan? Yeah, I’m just like that.” So, instead I try to relay what it might feel like to hear my music. I write and play, primarily, on a nylon string guitar, and it provides the beat as well as the rhythm. I sing in manner that is smooth, yet aggressive. My music is rooted in simplicity. I find that the most beautiful songs are, often, the simplest. The content of my lyrics are not metaphors and poetry to be decrypted at a later time. They are, simply, my words giving you insight into what I feel. I think my music makes you feel good. I want to make people be moved and want to move.

Who are your biggest influences?
I put my influences into two different categories: Those who made me want to make music, and those who I want to make music like.
The reason I decided to play music, wanted to play music, was because of my father. He has been a folk guitarist and songwriter for 40 years. He introduced me to artists and albums that would throw fuel on my fire to make music. "Moondance" by Van Morrison and "Freewheelin’" by Bob Dylan changed forever how I looked at music and life. Those influences that made me want to make music then led me to find artists that I wanted to play like. I was born (and probably will die) a folk guitarist; however, there are many ways to define “folk.”
My main influences, stylistically, are globe trotting. I play the nylon string guitar because of my love for Studio Sessions with Seu Jorge. Seu Jorge is a Brazilian artist that covers David Bowie Songs in Portuguese on the classical guitar for a Wes Anderson film. I fell in love with that album, and it’s probably my most listened to of all time. A close second, though, is "Riot on an Empty Street" by Kings of Convenience. They are a Norwegian duo with the most amazing talent for harmony and melody.

When and how did you start making music?
My father convinced me in eighth grade to pick up the bass guitar. He and my older brother Bobby (The Gentlemen’s Club) already played guitar. So I did, and was immediately playing in the coveted high school garage band. Playing bass didn’t fulfill what I need creatively; however, it did instill in me a great ear and finger style skill. I didn’t use a pick on bass then, and I don’t use one on guitar now either.
I moved to Chicago in 2002 to chase scholarly pursuits (that went nowhere), and here my life as a guitarist/songwriter began. I didn’t feel I had the capability to start up a full band living on campus in a new city, so my brother, already a resident, and I started playing out as an acoustic duo. My brother eventually moved on to the full rock band, but I found my passion in solo performance. Since then I have been playing out relentlessly and writing constantly. It’s a “do it yourself” time in the music industry and that’s how I’ve been spending the last five or so years.

What has been your most memorable experience as a musician to date?
I was musical act playing as a part of the comedy Sunday night Entertaining Julia at Town hall Pub in May 2008. Jena Friedman (Check her out!), who ran the show, had been doing some shows at the Lakeshore Theatre, and Robin Williams came in one night. He was in town filming the Ellen Degeneres show, and they got to chatting about Town Hall. So, he stopped by the following Sunday. The Julia show is always great; it was packed, and I did a couple songs for everyone. After my set Robin came up and did some stand up for us. He spotted me from the stage and said, “You’re fu**ing awesome,
brother! Wasn’t he fu**ing awesome?” He proceeded to do a bit on how I use Latin influences in my tunes to get laid. We got to chat a bit after and he got a CD of mine. It was pretty wild. The people I meet while playing out are what I remember; regardless if they’ve won an Oscar or not.

How does your songwriting process work?

I love writing lyrics. Usually, I’ll have a line I heard somewhere or thought of and I’ll make it the cornerstone of a track. For example, on “Some Sort of Fool,” off of my most recent album, my girlfriend and I were at a bar and she said that line. I told her then that I was going to use it, and we made a napkin contract. It was never honored.
I try to write most of my lyrics in the shower. If I am sitting with a guitar I tend to get stuck on a lick or progression, and I can’t focus. If I write my words with melody without guitar, I can then sit down and piece something together. My music is a “when it rains it pours” kind of thing. When I hit on something I bust it out in 20 minutes or so. I can’t have time to dwell on it or I’ll sink it all.

How has living and playing in Chicago influenced or shaped your sound?

There are so many honest people here. They work their asses off for their passions; and hell, they even work their asses off for my passions! I wouldn’t be the artist I am if it weren’t for the kind of person that this city breeds.
I have lived on couches for months at a time, with no animosity. I have gone long periods of time with nothing to speak of financially and people have reached out to me. I have opened shows for major acts because a friend has faith in me. I have recorded full albums because a friend thinks I am capable. The reason I am able to make sound here at all is because of the people that surround me.
That being said, the city itself feeds artists like myself. Chicago is like a candle that never burns down. There is always something going on, always somewhere to go, always people to see and hear, and that is what enables my creativity. Everything I write is about Chicago.

What is your favorite place to play in Chicago, or the place you most want to play?

Town Hall Pub on Halsted may not be the place the A&R reps are running to or whatever, but the people come there to listen. That’s not an easy thing to find. It’s always a packed house and the staff appreciates the fact that you are bringing people around. It’s great. Also, I haven’t had the chance to play The Hideout yet. Everybody says I would be well suited there; so, we’ll see what happens.

What are your plans for the future?
I am currently working on a full length debut. In the fall I am planning on going in to the studio with Ben Flint at Electrical Audio. And of course, I will continue to play out as often as my physical limits allow.

What’s the one thing you most want people to know about you and your music?

That I mean it. I write and play music because I have to. It is ingrained in the deepest part of me. My passion for this is something more awesome, intense, frustrating, and rewarding than I could ever describe. I know that if people just take the time to listen they will hear exactly what they were hoping for.

How can people check out your music?
I am always around the city. The third Sunday of every month, starting in October, I will be at Town Hall Pub on Halsted (in the month of September I’ll be there the 14th). You can also find me online at and In April I released the album "Grenade, Grenade! (Everybody Get Down)," which is available online and at shows. I pride myself on my live performance, and I promise if you see me, you’ll know why.