Shellac and Shearwater at Pritzker

Now, this was one strange scheduling change. The concert originally planned for Monday evening (Aug. 10) at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park was Malian singer Rokia Traore with opening act Shearwater. Unfortunately, Traore had to cancel her tour, then the city replaced her on the bill with … Shellac?!? That’s right — the hard-hitting rock band led by Chicago’s most famous record producer, Steve Albini. They were a strange pairing with Shearwater — and it seemed like at least a few African music aficionados showed up last night thinking they were to going to hear the much mellower sounds of Rokia Traore, only to find their ears pounded by Albini & Co. Truth be told, I’m not that big a fan of Shellac. They are good at what they do, but it’s just not the sort of music I enjoy listening to all that much. You have to get them props, though, for the power and precision of the pulverizing performance last night.

Shearwater is more to my liking. It was originally seen by many people as a sort of side project to Okkervil River, since Shearwater singer-songwriter Jonathan Meiburg also plays sometimes in Okkervil. But it’s very clear by now that Shearwater is very much its own entity. Meiburg has a nice voice that floats up to high notes while he and his band play complex arrangements that mix the atmospherics of art rock and folk rock. For a band that can sound awfully delicate on some songs, Shearwater was strong, even driving at times last night.

Photos of Shellac and Shearwater.

Great Performers of Illinois

The Great Performers of Illinois festival, sponsored by the Illinois Arts Council, seemed like it was about to slip under the radar. I got the feeling not many people were even aware of it, but its presence in Millennium Park was hard to miss this past weekend. The headliner was Dennis DeYoung playing the songs of Styx, an event I would have paid to miss, but the festival was almost surreally diverse, with everything from mimes and Abe and Mary Lincoln impersonators to the Fiery Furnaces playing their perversely challenging rock.

On Saturday afternoon (July 11), I caught about half an hour of the set by Daniel Knox, whom I’d seen recently at the Hideout. I appreciate the wit of Knox’s piano songs, though I’m having trouble warming up to his rather blunt voice. I wonder how his songs would sound sung by either a more polished vocalist or someone who’s idiosyncratic but more interesting, like Tom Waits?
www.myspace.com/danielknox
www.danielknox.com

Speaking of idiosyncratic, the Fiery Furnaces were the next act playing at Millennium Park’s Wrigley Square — a space just off Michigan Avenue, south of Randolph, where a series of classical-style columns and the Chicago skyline makes a beautiful, panoramic backdrop for the music. In fact, one of the delightful quirks of the Fiery Furnaces show was watching guitarist Matthew Friedberger occasionally looking off to the side of the stage and peering up at the skyscrapers while he was playing. Oh, yes, he was playing guitar — at last. Recent Fiery Furnaces tours have been dominated by the sound of Matthew playing organ, and a little bit of that went a long way. It was a good change of pace to hear him back on electric guitar during this show, which was one of three that the band played in Chicago in three days (following gigs at the Hideout and FitzGerald’s).

I’m still absorbing the new Fiery Furnaces album,  Buy Order Viagra Online Online. FREE Gift with every order. Phone Support. Fast Delivery. Visa/MasterCard Accepted. Generic and Brand Drugs. Ciprofloxacino 250 Discount Eriacta Online Gratuit, Superior wo viagra online kaufen forum 🔥 Receive News & Ratings for Safeway Daily - Enter your email address Amaryl Buy Online 🔥 | Best Price | ☀☀☀ Buy Cialis 20 ☀☀☀. It solves the problem for you quickly. Viagra For Sale From Canada The offer is limited. Zovirax Tablets Pharmacy Cheap Cialis Paypal if there are no clear manufacturer's instructions on the package, a certified physician should determine the right dosage Venta De Cialis Viagra. sur strasbourg levitra cialis kamagra ungesund cialis go here versand viagra zollfrei schweiz viagra Buy Doxycycline Over The Counter Uk as final preparations were being made for the service, hundreds of people who were forced from their costo priligy in I’m Going Away, so it’s hard to say yet what I think of it. Now that I think about it, that remains more or less true of every single record this band has ever put out. Their music is so jam-packed, with fast changes in tempo, style and lyrical themes. It can seem maddening, but it’s often brilliant. Some of the things that may drive you mad during one listen will seem brilliant the next time. The Fiery Furnaces have turned out to be an uncompromisingly strange band that revels in throwing down the gauntlet in front of its listeners, daring people to enter the twisted musical world of Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger.

Going into Saturday’s concert, I was bracing myself for yet another peculiar musical experience. Would the Fiery Furnaces’ nonstop Jabberwocky drive me crazy or enchant me? This time around, the band was a delightful marvel. As always, Eleanor seemed to have a bad case of logorrhea, throwing out whole paragraphs of lyrics. The band was lively, sounding almost improvisatory as it shifted from one quirky rhythmic pattern to another. The songs from I’m Going Away sounded strong — these tunes seem to be a little more compact and straightforward than previous Fiery Furnaces compositions. The highlights for me were songs from the group’s previous record, Widow City, including “Duplexes of the Dead.” That album is turning out to be one of my favorites by the Fiery Furnaces, although like just about everything by this band, it’s hard to take it all in with one listen.
www.thefieryfurnaces.com
www.myspace.com/thefieryfurnaces

Photos of the Fiery Furnaces and Daniel Knox.

I was back at Millennium Park on Sunday (July 12) to catch some of the three-hour show by the Viper and His Famous Orchestra, a “neo-skiffle” band from Champaign. After an hour set by the Viper, one of the band’s members, Edward Burch, played a set of his own. Burch is best-known for collaborating with the late Jay Bennett on their record The Palace at 4am (Part 1), and when I walked up around 1:30 p.m., Burch and some of his musical friends (including Steve Frisbie) were playing the Bennett and Burch song “California.” It was a beautiful and touching tribute to Bennett, who died on Memorial Day weekend, and the rest of Burch’s set was just as good. It seemed a little strange seeing this unannounced tribute to Bennett in the middle of Millennium Park — this stage was next to the mirrored “Bean” sculpture” — as dozens of people walked by, unaware of who was performing or whose music was being played.

During the third hour of this show, the Viper and His Famous Orchestra played again, offering tributes to various Illinois towns with cute tunes about subjects such as the MTD (Champaign-Urbana’s Mass Transit District). It was quaint music, and the park crowd seemed to enjoy it. The set ended with a skiffle tribute to Michael Jackson.
http://theviper.org

Photos of the Viper and His Famous Orchestra and Edward Burch.

Concert round-up

I’ve posted photos from several concerts lately without any comment here. Back on June 24, Robert Gomez, a singer-songwriter from Denton, Texas, performed a nice show of melancholy folk rock with a bit of a psychedelic edge at Schubas. It was sparsely attended, but I enjoyed the intimate feeling of the show. Chicago’s Rock Falls played an opening set of charming songs, including some ukulele strumming. Photos of Robert Gomez and Rock Falls.

I wrote earlier about how great the Feelies were on June 29 at Millennium Park. They were just one of three bands that I saw at the park’s Pritzker Pavilion. In addition to all of the great evening concerts, the park is also hosting free performances at noon every day this summer, including some rock shows in a series called “Edible Audible.” It’s not always easy for me to get downtown at noon, but I was there on June 29 for a show by Black Moth Super Rainbow. Normally, I’m not too thrilled with bands that run all of their vocals through the tired electronic effect known as the Vocoder. Black Moth does this, but somehow, I like this brand of Vocoder music better than most other electronic music. I think it’s because it feels trippy and psychedelic, with some catchy melodies. Photos of Black Moth Super Rainbow.

Back at the Pritzker that evening, Chicago’s Icy Demons were the opening act for the Feelies. I rather like this band and the CD that it put out last year, Miami Ice. Icy Demons mix some elements from 1970 prog rock with dance rhythms. I got the feeling that the band wore out its welcome at this show, since Feelies fans were so eager for the main act, but it was still pretty enjoyable. Photos of Icy Demons.

The Chicago ensemble DRMWPN (pronounced “dream weapon”) released one of my favorite records so far this year, Bright Blue Galilee, but good luck finding it. It’s a very limited edition on vinyl of a concert recording from 2007. DRMWPN basically plays a droning chord for about 40 minutes at every show, creating a meditative atmosphere. The group came together July 1 for another beautiful performance at the Chopin Theatre. Ostensible leader Jim Dorling had some trouble getting the group’s Dream Machine to work. That’s the light with the spinning cover that sets the perfect mood at DRMWPN concerts. After a few minutes of playing with the device, he finally got it spinning, and the music began drifting into place. Photos of DRMWPN, Ultimate Vag and 500MG.

Oumou Sangaré, a singer from Mali, put on a rousing show July 2 at the Pritzker Pavilion. She came across as a vibrant personality, and her large band kept the music going at a lively pace all night. It did not take long for a large group of fans to rush to the front part of the pavilion, and after that, it was a non-stop dance party. Photos of Oumou Sangaré.

Last year, Christian Kiefer, J. Matthew Gerken, Jefferson Pitcher and assorted guest singers put out a three-CD set called Of Great and Mortal Men: 43 Songs for 43 U.S. Presidencies. It does in fact include one song for each president, and after Barack Obama won last year’s election, these musicians released a follow-up song with Will Johnson of Centro-matic on lead vocals, “44. Barack Obama (Someone to Wake).” I played that song a lot last fall after the election. (You can download it for free here.) The trio of singer-songwriters who put this whole project together played July 3 at the Hideout and July 4 at Taste of Chicago. I caught the Hideout show, which featured one of the local musicians who performs on the CD — Steve Dawson of Dolly Varden signing about Lyndon B. Johnson — and several musicians doing interpretations of the songs. The Singleman Affair did great psychedelic-folk-rock versions of the songs about John Quincy Adams and Jimmy Carter. The Bitter Tears, dressed like decadent hillbillies, sang about Zachary Taylor. The Gunshy, Sin Ropas, Jeff Harms, Tim Rutili and Tim Kinsella also performed, and of course, Jon Langford was there — singing about Ronald Reagan. Hideout co-owner Tim Tuten (back in town from Washington) emceed the whole shindig, and his rambling and improvised intro to the Reagan was a humorous highlight. The concert featured about half of the songs from the 3-CD collection, ending with the soothing sing-along chorus of the Obama song: “Everything will be all right.” Photos of 44 Songs for 44 Presidents.

The Feelies Are Back

This was one musical reunion show I was really looking forward to, and it did not disappoint. The Feelies played in Chicago last night for the first since putting out their fourth record in 1991. I saw them only once back in the day, and that concert was a bit truncated because one of the band members was ill. So it almost felt like I was seeing them for the first time when they took the stage June 29 at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. (Another fabulous free show at this lovely venue!)

The Feelies do their thing without a lot of fuss or showmanship, so it somehow seemed apt that the band came onstage and then paused for a minute to work out some technical difficulties, not saying anything to the audience. And then, they suddenly burst right into the opening chords of their 1991 song “For Awhile.” What followed was an almost-perfect run through of great tunes from all four Feelies albums: Bill Million’s trademark chords strummed over and over, Glenn Mercer’s cool, understated vocals, bassist Brenda Sauter’s melodic bass lines, Mercer’s tuneful, piercing guitar solos building on top of those cycling chords. And of course, those Feelies rhythms. And some songs, the beat stayed steady as drummer-percussionists Stanley Demeski and Dave Weckerman kept things constantly shaking. And other tunes, the beat began slow then accelerated, as the band seemed to shift again and again into higher gears. A song might being like pastoral folk rock and end in a frenzy.

Towards the end of the show, a young man danced his way into the empty area between the front row and the stage, twitching with the sort of spastic moves that looked perfect for the jerky sounds of songs from the first Feelies album, Crazy Rhythms. A park security guard led this fellow away, but he came back a minute later and continued dancing. That seemed to open the flood gates, as people jumped to the front area of the pavilion and started twitching along. Feelies lead singer and guitarist Glenn Mercer seemed to revel in the moment, coming out to the edge of the stage for guitar solos inches away from the upraised hands of fans (some of whom looked way too young to remember the last time the Feelies were around).

The Feelies played two new songs, both of which sounded like they’ll be great additions to the band’s discography whenever it gets around to recording them. The group encored with two rousing covers: R.E.M.’s “Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)” and the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On” (which the Feelies originally did on the 1988 record Only Life), plus their own song “a Cé-La.” And then something wonderful happened that you don’t see often at the Pritzker Pavilion — a second encore. People clapped and even pounded on the edge of the stage, making quite a racket. They would not let the Feelies leave without at least one more song. And so the band came back out and did another cool cover, the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It, Black.”

At one point during the show, Sauter told the crowd, “Thank you for waiting 20 years.” It was a long wait, but it sure was great to see and hear the Feelies playing last night in front of an adoring, lively crowd.

Photos of the Feelies.

(I’ll post photos and blog soon about the other bands I saw Monday at the Pritzker Pavilion, Feelies opening act Icy Demons and the noontime act, Black Moth Super Rainbow.)

Reviews of June 19-22 concerts

I’m not quite as swamped with concerts this week as I have been lately, but here are a few good ones that happened in recent days.

Soy Un Caballo sounds like the name for a Spanish band, or maybe a New York pretending to be a Spanish band. The group’s name is Spanish for “I Am a Horse.” But this male-female duo is actually Belgian, and they sing most of their songs in French. They were delightful Friday night (June 19) at Schubas, playing a set of delicate songs on guitar, bass and vibes with pretty vocal harmonies. “It’s very courageous of you to take French lessons on a Friday night,” one of them remarked. Courageous? Hardly! The band happens to be on a Chicago label, Minty Fresh, which has a history of finding great bands from overseas. Check out Soy Un Caballo’s music at www.myspace.com/soyuncaballo.

Photos of Soy Un Caballo.

On Saturday night (June 20), the Empty Bottle had a strong, if somewhat mismatched, triple lineup. The headliners were O’Death, who got the crowd dancing like it was a real hoedown, while the band cranked out bluegrassy music with punk attitude. Ah, but a little bit of O’Death goes a long way for me. The fans loved it, anyway. The middle act on the bill, and my main reason for being there, was Tiny Vipers, the singer-songwriter also known as Jesy Fortino. She has some really nice songs, but they’re very quiet songs, and alas, the Bottle crowd was really chatty, making it almost painful at times to watch Fortino straining to be heard about that din. At several points, a big “shush” went up, and people shut up for a few minutes. The acoustic guitar picking and plaintive singing sounded beautiful… whenever I could hear it. (You can hear some of it here: www.myspace.com/tinyvipersss) The first act of the night was Balmorhea, an ensemble from Austin, Texas, that plays songs falling somewhere between chamber music and rock. It was pretty and mellow, though maybe a little too mellow. Balmorhea is practically an instrumental band, with vocals on only a few songs, but it was the ending of the show, when the members all came together and sang a cappella, that really stood out for me.

Photos of O’Death, Tiny Vipers and Balmorhea.

Monday (June 22) was another night with great (and free!) live music at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. It’s kind of hard to believe that Chicago city officials are cool enough to allow things like a concert by the Dirty Projectors to happen in a beautiful, world-class venue like the Pritzker. I guess that’s because the city government (for all of its many faults) has a smart Cultural Affairs Department. This particular show featured those indie-rock darlings from Brooklyn, the Dirty Projectors, opening for a stalwart Chicago act, the Sea and Cake. At least in the front part of the pavilion, it was clear that most of the twentysomething fans who rushed to get seats when the gates opened were Dirty Projectors fans. I overheard some of these kids saying that they didn’t even know who the Sea and Cake were, and some of them did not stick around for the headliners.

The Dirty Projectors have intrigued me on the two previous times I’ve seen them, but at times, their music seemed like not entirely successful experimentation. They’re getting more press now, thanks in part to collaborations with Björk and David Byrne (neither of whom was present for this show, of course). And boy, the Dirty Projectors really connected this time. With an expanded lineup, the band is doing a lot more with vocal harmonies — really peculiar but very precise harmonies, with intervals, overlapping patterns and spot-on timing. It’s easy to see why Björk would want to work with them. I was wowed by the sound of those voices, which seemed almost like a programmed effect than an organic piece of singing happening right in front of me. The guitar melodies were striking, too, with lots of African style skewed into strange new territory.

The Sea and Cake finished the show with a pretty good set, though as always, I find myself wishing that this band would break loose a little bit. They’re very talented, and their songs are smart compositions with inventive chords, but it’s always tamped down. The one thing that wasn’t tamped down was drummer John McIntire, who grimaced and made all sorts of intense expressions as he hammered away.

Photos of the Dirty Projectors and the Sea and Cake.

UPDATE: I was too busy today to pay attention to Twitter or anything like that, so I overlooked the news that the Dirty Projectors had been in a car accident. Everyone is reportedly OK. http://pitchfork.com/news/35710-dirty-projectors-in-car-accident/

St. Vincent at Millennium Park

A great season of free concerts is under way in Chicago, including a number of noteworthy shows in the beautiful Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park. St. Vincent (a.k.a. singer-songwriter Annie Clark) performed last night (June 8) beneath architect Frank Gehry’s curving metallic folds, with an appreciative audience and the Chicago skyline spread out before her. Looking out at that tableau, the wide-eyed Clark marveled, “Look at this place. It’s ridiculous!”

St. Vincent was ridiculously great, too. I saw her play three decent shows as an opening act when she was touring to support her first album, but her second record, Actor, is quite a step up from that first effort. It could end up being one of 2009’s best CDs. The intimate show she played this spring at the Hideout was so cool, but it was nice to see her playing this time with a full complement of backing musicians. At one point, not one but two of the musicians were playing clarinet!

Although she did play some music from her first album, opening with the title track, “Marry Me,” St. Vincent focused on the new stuff last night. The songs sounded lush, almost orchestral, with St. Vincent’s lovely voice floating through the dense arrangements, delivering literate lyrics that showed a sharp sense of humor as well as some occasional dark thoughts. But the music never stayed in one pretty place for long — St. Vincent let loose with noisy, angular electric-guitar solos on many of her songs. The noise was beautiful, too.

The opening act, Chicago band Allá, was a good match for St. Vincent, playing some long psychedelic and minimalist jams. It’s nice to see Millennium Park featuring some local bands on its schedule. Just hang out this summer at the park and you’ll hear a ton of great music of all sorts. Check out the schedule at www.millenniumpark.org. One can’t-miss show is the Feelies on June 29.

Photos of St. Vincent and Allá.