Monday, September 30, 2013

Show review: Typhoon at Lincoln Hall, 9/21/13

By Sarah Rosenfeld

photo by ingrid renan
Watching the pre-show setup for Typhoon at Lincoln Hall on September 21st, you would think an entire orchestra was about to cram on-stage. “What are they doing with all those drum kits?!,” I exclaimed to my friend who shrugged and then laughed as yet another drum was set up. With 11 people, the Portland-based indie-folk band made use of all those instruments and performed an impressively constructed show of both older music and songs off their current album White Lighter, released last month.

With epic, sweeping intros of strings and brass and hauntingly beautiful vocals, this is a band that expertly recreates the studio sound of their album while also being a joy to watch live. During the times in some songs when certain band members weren't playing, they crouched down slowly to let the audience focus on the soulful violin or slow strumming guitar. One of the drummers played his cymbal by drawing a violin bow down the edge to create a unique metallic wailing sound. There were three trumpets on stage, but they did not overshadow the softer instruments and avoided sounding anything like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Lead singer and primary songwriter Kyle Morton has a voice that strains with emotion; appropriate given that many of Typhoon's songs contemplate mortality, reminisce about childhood and bemoan the regrets of a life gone by too fast. The lighter "love" songs are the ones you wish the one-that-got-away would sing to you upon realizing the mistake he made by leaving. Some of the fantastic sound credit must be given to the venue, Lincoln Hall. This place consistently has some of the best sound quality out of any venue in Chicago.

Typhoon played to an audience full of devoted fans who shouted for their favorite songs to be played during the encore. One of my friends jumped out of her seat nearly launching herself over the railing when they started to play "Summer Home." I made the decision to attend this show after a strong recommendation from this friend and I'm glad I did. This band even has jokes! During a lull between songs, one of the guys on trumpet and tambourine asks the audience: "What do you call a pizza coupon in Chicago? A deep dish-count!" Ok, it was more of a groaner, but at least it was locale oriented. The cohesion among the band members felt genuine and the banter, even the bad jokes, never felt forced. At the end of the night, Typhoon put on an engaging live show that had the audience swaying and entertained--both hardcore fans and less familiar listeners alike.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Show review: Massive Ego at Empty Bottle, 9/25

By Gene Wagendorf III

Massive Ego| Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III
Call them glam, or psych, or punk, or mash those words together to form some kitschy-cool subgenere, but what Massive Ego really are is a rock band. A fucking great rock band. The trio, who've been cutting their teeth in Chicago's basements and releasing a string of excellent tapes on Maximum Pelt, turned the Empty Bottle into a big, sweaty bacchanalia Wednesday night. The highs were high, there weren't any lows, and by the end of the night I felt like Rob Gretton seeing Joy Division for the first time in the film Control: "I hold my hands up. I am a believer in Joy Division. Fuckin' hallelujah!" Only in this case it was Massive Ego who had me finding religion.

To clarify, Wednesday wasn't my first Massive Ego show. Far from it. I've been seeing Dan Rico play in bands for about a decade, and I've been watching he and Majik Aeon in various groups for at least half that time. That said, something about Wednesday night's show felt different, sounded different. Over the course of the last year Massive Ego has grown impossible tight: evolving as songwriters and as a unit, and rocking harder and harder.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Video: Cave - 'Shikaakwa'

By Andrew Hertzberg

Ahead of the release of their new album Threace (October 15th, Drag City), Cave have shared a music video featuring the lead single "Shikaakwa," one of only five tracks on Threace. The video was directed by Nick Ciontea, aka brownshoesonly.

While their next official Chicago show won't be until November 8th at the Empty Bottle, the band is playing on a boat tomorrow on the Chicago River. Hold on. In case you started hallucinating while you read that, I will repeat. CAVE IS PLAYING ON A BOAT IN THE CHICAGO RIVER. And you thought they couldn't top the flatbed truck stunt. The band will begin where the river meets the lake at 5 PM and travel until 7 PM let's be honest, until the cops shut it down. Until then, check out the video:

Monday, September 23, 2013

Interview: Dirty Beaches

By Stuart Ross

photo by daniel boud
Dirty Beaches brought their “back in the US” tour to the Empty Bottle on September 12th. DB is the mastermind of Alex Zhang, who has been recording music in one way or another since 2007. They followed the breakthrough success of 2011’s Badlands with last year’s expansive Drifters/Love is the Devil, a double-LP that serves up taut futuristic crooners and epic atmospheric disturbances in equal measure.

Alex tours with guitarist Shub Roy, and they offered the crowd the top highlights from the new record. One of DB’s themes is travel and the non-place, as song titles like “Greyhound at Night” and “This is Not My City” attest to. No matter how they got here, we’re glad they found their way to Chicago earlier this month.

After the show, we caught up with Alex via email.

WCR: Bear with me here, but what was that white object you were taping with a drumstick?

AZ: It's a piece of aluminum I bought at Home Depot for $1.75, with a contact mic ($10) attached to it. I built it myself. Wasn't too hard to make and very cheap to reproduce as well :) the working men's percussion.

I found myself getting more into your music after reading a Portals piece that obliquely compared it to “browsing unsecured webcams through Google and watching things happen live from around the world.” From what I’ve read about your tour schedule, you may be an IRL version of that webcam. How does travel inspire your work?

At first it was just restlessness on my behalf due to the way I was raised (Taiwan, Toronto, Honolulu, etc.) but after playing to people and making some real friends in Russia, Thailand, Japan, Serbia, Israel and many more places, you realize the more you see the less weird the world becomes. The more you feel like you belong in this fucking confusing world. And it's the same with music. Just because I don't understand a genre or subculture like rave music, for example, it will not stop me from enjoying it. People tend to dislike what is foreign or what they can’t understand but it actually has the opposite effect for me. I become very attracted to things I can't understand.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Riot Fest 2013 recap: Day two

By Gene Wagendorf III

Chelsea NoPants| Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III
Day Two of Riot Fest was loaded with sets by legends: UK ska icons The Selecter, LA punks X and hip-hop pioneers Public Enemy. Not your thing? Well, aren't you a picky bastard. Luckily the promoters had you covered, inviting the circus sideshow troupe Hellzapoppin to set up shop and freak out festival goers. A mix of gravity-defying stunt work, sword swallowing and straight luncay (glass eating, human dartboards and a man snorting popcorn kernels and shooting them out of his eyes), Hellzapoppin had the crowd buzzing cringing all weekend. After all the glass had been washed down with Windex (for real), there were plenty more great bands to catch...

Dinosaur Jr.

J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr
...Plenty more great bands, some of whom dropped really disappointing sets. I've seen Dinosaur Jr four or five times before- everywhere from Subterranean to Lollapalooza- and this was easily the most uninspired of those performances. Part of it was the muddied sound, which crippled J Mascis' voice and took the edge off his guitar, and part of it was the band's seemingly disinterested demeanor. Most of the set suffered from a fuzzy directionlessness, including hit single "Out There," a song that normally sways with desperate energy. Saturday it came off as bland and whiny, despite a couple laser-hot guitar licks. The group finally woke up when covering Deep Wound, a hardcore punk band that Mascis and guitarist Lou Barlow played in before forming Dinosaur. The song was all buzzsaw and raw energy, and in an ideal world would've been the first in a series of Deep Wound tunes. Their closing cover of "Just Like Heaven" had them ending on a high-note; its gurgling bass got people moving as they sang along. Even there though, the lead guitars felt buried in the mix, leaving me wanting more just as much as wanting something else all together.


Deborah Harry | Photo via
I once drunkenly uttered the words "Blondie did more for fashion than they ever did for rock." I know, I know, I'm a fucking moron, and Debbie Harry had a whole hour at Riot Fest to rub it in. The singer's voice sounded perfect romping through "One Way or Another," steeped in her trademark combination of playfulness, seductiveness and edge. "Hanging on the Telephone," a Nerves cover off 1978's Parallel Lines, found Harry's vocals dripping with sass against her band's magnetic bop. Blondie even found a way to jazz up what I've always considered one of their most boring songs, tacking on a snippet of "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" onto the end of "Rapture." The strutting crunch they attacked the Beastie Boys song with came off very Joan Jett, which is to say it kicked complete ass. Aside from that little surprise the group threw down pretty straightforward renditions of their songs; tightly polished but never mechanical.

Blondie ended their performance with a couple more massive hits; the disco carousel of "Heart of Glass" and high octane fist-pumper "Call Me." The former found Harry accenting the glee by nailing every ooh-ooh and ah-ah. Saving her best vocal performance for last, the singer snaked between a cooing sing-song and boisterous salvo. Pushed by charging guitars and serpentine keys, Harry sounded as invigorated onstage as on any Blondie record. The crowd was left in a euphoric tizzy, and I was left with my foot crammed way down my throat.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Riot Fest 2013 recap: Day one

By Gene Wagendorf III 

Riot Fest| Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III
Riot Fest returned to Humboldt Park for its second year as a big, outdoor music festival last weekend, offering willing Chicagoans a chance to celebrate punk and its various subgenres. The promoters again did an admirable job of mixing in non-punk bands again, this year inviting acts like The Pixies, Saul Williams, Public Enemy, Violent Femmes and DeVotchka to jam between the carnival rides and funnel cake. 2013 also saw the festival stretch to a third day, as opposed to last year's Friday kickoff show at the (shudder) Congress Theater. Here are some highlights, followed by a Day One Sensory Recap. Enjoy!

Saul Williams

Saul Williams | Photo Credit: David Shuey
Acclaimed New York slam poet-turned-rapper Saul Williams kicked the festival off on Friday in the strangest of ways: by not playing music. Williams approached the microphone armed only with a book, and promptly launched into a psychedelic lyric poem that served as both a dark critique of mainstream society and a passionate, inspiring call-to-arms. His ability to turn words on their side and pull new meaning from seemingly every day language has long been a strength, especially when those words are aimed squarely and challenging his audiences acceptance of subjects like tradition and history. The line let you children name themselves served as Williams' crescendo; a wave of epiphany sizzling through the crowd.

After a pause and raucous burst of applause, Saul launched back into verse. The realization that there would be no music, no slam infused-punk or glam rap, divided the crowd. While some wandered off in search of a band on another stage, as many seemed to cram closer, digesting every syllable offered in ravenous fashion. Williams switched between reading from his books and spitting from memory, while moving between his trademark slam frenzy and even more impressive moments of rapping against a suggested beat. That last feat might have been the most astounding musical performance of the weekend, as Saul managed to roll and flutter his words against deliberate silences, seducing his audience into bobbing and grooving to the anti-percussion. The subjects touched on during the performance were typically Saul- race, class, politics, freedom- and were all explored with mystical intensity. Ending on one of his most famous pieces, "Sha-Clack-Clack," Williams showed his mastery of rhythm, onomatopoeia and pizzazz. The poem was a dramatic conclusion to a set that, while far from punk sonically, was as close to that movement's ideological roots as anything all weekend.

Smoking Popes

The Smoking Popes| Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III
Chicago scene veterans Smoking Popes played one of Riot Fest's most personally nostalgic sets for me; the band popped up on just about every mix tape I made every high school girlfriend. Their set of uplifting pop punk was a perfect balance of newer material and classic tunes, delivered flawlessy by a band that's become synonymous with consistency. Singer Josh Caterer's voice carried its usual mix of sincerity and desperation, while his band sounded tight and energized. Smoking Popes rarely disappoint live, and while it'd be impossible to suggest they stole the show, few Riot Fest moments felt as plainly pleasant as watching the band surge through songs like "I Know You Love Me" and "Need You Around."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

New music: Pillars and Tongues - 'End-Dances'

By Andrew Hertzberg 

Pillars and Tongues seem an anomaly in Chicago’s music scene. A far cry from much of the underground rock bands or the more nationally appreciated hip-hop artists, the trio creates challenging pieces, centering at the Venn diagram of ambient, pop, and contemporary classical. Their bandcamp lists artists such as Liars, Julie Holter, William Basinski, Leonard Cohen, and Peter Gabriel as RIYLs, and I am reminded of even more artists while listening to their newest album End-Dances.

The album starts off with 'Knifelike,' the most upbeat track on the 48 minute album. Centering on droning strings, staccato vocals, and a driving, repetitive drumbeat, it sets the tone for the rest of the album. 'Bell + Rein’ follows a similar theme, but stretched out over nearly ten minutes: the droning strings build up slowly before being joined by subtle drums and bass.

Much of the album is reminiscent of Devotchka’s atmospheric, indie-folk sound, but if their songs were composed by Max Richter. And yet, at the other side of the spectrum, I can’t help but think of Low during ‘Points of Light,’ if only for the fact that the Mark Trecka and Elizabeth Remis perfectly mirror the harmonies of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker. 'Medora' borders on Nick Cave territory, brooding and ominous, the tension slowly building throughout the piece. 'Ends' is a soundtrack to a dream, focusing on quick piano chords. The album closes on a more optimistic and warmer note with the major-chord led 'Ships.'

Leaning heavy on droning, repetition, and loops means that the album risks losing its appeal towards the end. But it isn’t necessarily an album made for close listening either. Put it on in the background, give it some room to breathe, and let the ethereal quality envelop you in its atmosphere. In addition to all of their musical influences, the band uses travel as an inspiration. But for all of the subtle nods toward downright Americana, the album's mixture of ambition, experimental whimsy and melancholia is a perfect soundtrack to a Chicago autumn night.

The album officially comes out next Tuesday, September 17th on Empty Cellar Records, but you can stream a couple songs it ahead of time here. The band plays on Friday, September 20th at the Chicago Cultural Center, as well as October 12th at the Burlington.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Go To There: September 11 - 16

By Gene Wagendorf III      

Wednesday, September 11th: Savage Sister at Cafe Mustache (All Ages, FREE)

For some impossible to figure out reason, there isn't a time for this show listed on either Mustache's or Savage Sister's websites/Facebook pages. Irritating, I know, but Savage Sister is good enough, and Cafe Mustache enjoyable enough, to justify just showing up, having a drink and waiting for the shoegaze. Savage Sister's self-titled June release is the kind of record that blurs sense of time and place anyway, so a few cocktails will probably fit nicely. It'll be dreamy and it'll be free.

Thursday, September 12th: SISU at Empty Bottle (9pm, 21+, $13)

SISU's Light Eyes EP has been a regular visitor to my turntable since its April release. The mix of sulking darkwave and fragile melodies is as compelling live as it is on record and singer Sandra Vu's voice walks the line between forlorn and downright icy. Opening for Dirty Beaches in support of their new full-length, Blood Tears, SISU should have more than enough material to whip up a full set of intoxicating, heartbreaking daydreams.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Show review: Pinback at Lincoln Hall, 9/3/13

By Melissa Bordeau

Pinback’s show at Lincoln Hall on Tuesday was amazing, the venue packed with devoted fans. It appeared people weren’t there to mingle with their friends; in between songs, the venue was dead silent. People were there with their eyes peeled staring at the band's every move not wanting to miss a single second.

And who could blame them? Lead singer and guitarist Rob Crow is hilarious--such a character. He had hair just above his shoulders, which he clipped back with a hot pink hair clip, and he was sipping Jameson throughout the show. His mic stand had a cup holder attached to it for easy access. And there was a cooler stocked with the essentials, Jamo and Coconut water. Yes, he mixed the two. He said to the crowd, with his drink raised, that he recently lost about 20 pounds thanks to laying off the beer.

The other half of the duo--bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Armistead Burwell Smith IV--kicked off the show as the lead singer. I was so impressed with his voice. He was perfectly on pitch, and I was bummed that he didn’t lead sing more songs. But that is my only complaint.

Their song "Fortress" was on the popular tv series the OC, and was a huge hit during their show. "Good to Sea" is another one of Pinback's most popular songs. During this song, Rob ran all the way through the crowd with his mic still connected to the cord, into the next room- stood on the bar and sang to everyone who was in the bar.

What a show. Pinback showed their appreciation to their fans during their encore. They asked the crowd what songs they wanted to hear, and collectively made a list of three songs that everyone was begging for. Great show, amazing musicians, and such wonderful guys--if you have the chance to catch them on the road, I highly recommend it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

New music: Running - 'Vaguely Ethnic'

By Andrew Hertzberg

I go back and forth on Running. They have a pummeling live show that’s captivating and contentious. The gallons of reverb on the vocals, the distorted bass, the signature screech of the guitar feedback all take a certain mood to be able to stand sometimes. Last year’s Asshole Savant didn’t really do it for me. So why am I writing about them? Because this year’s Vaguely Ethnic keeps finding its way to my ears.

The nine tracks clock in just over 20 minutes, of which I can’t understand a word that lead singer's yelps the entire time. It's perfect for when I've drank too much coffee and want something loud and fast and have no attention span at all. For being so scuzzed out though, Running actually finds ways to incorporate (gasp) catchy parts to their song, albeit not in any conventional sense of what the word ‘catchy’ is probably conjuring in your mind. "Endless Baggage," for example, incorporates a great anti-melody between the guitar and bass. "Oo0o Oo0O Oo0oOo" is the best phonetic representation of many of the guitar sounds. The best way to put it is that these songs force you to come back to them, despite the noise, the feedback, the too much reverb, because they’ve gripped you by the ribcage and are threatening to tear off your flesh if you don’t give in. And for such a chaotic sound, the band still has a sense of humor. The vocal-less "Controversial PR" is on an album that finds the band with (from what I’ve gathered) their very first experience actually getting PR support.

RUNNING - Live - Empty Bottle from GONZO CHICAGO on Vimeo.

Having long been a part of the underground scene, Vaguely Ethnic has given the group a little bit of blog buzz. Odds are that if you like loud and fast and anti-social music, you're already familiar with Running. If not, get your hands on these jams. Next chance to catch the abrasive live show is Sunday September 22nd at the Empty Bottle opening for Pop. 1280 (21+, $8, 9 PM). Vaguely Ethnic is out now on Castle Face Records. Impose still has a stream of the album right here.