The Kooks

OCT. 1 – OK, so this is October and that photo you’re looking at is from March. What gives? Well, the Kooks were one band that I did not pay much attention to when I was in Austin this spring. They came onstage just after a smashing performance by Brakes. The Kooks didn’t leave much of an impression on me, and I was itching to scurry across town for the Sub Pop showcase, so I left halfway through the Kooks’ show. And, when I posted  Buy Cheap Atarax Online - no prescription needed, order Sildenafil (viagra) with discount 15% - low prices for all ED pills, support 245, drug uk ⭐️ | Discount | ☀☀☀ Where Can You Diflucan And Die Off ☀☀☀. If you want to take care of your health. Where Can You Buy Viagra watch ⭐️ | Best Sale | ☀☀☀ Cialis Prescription Dosage Get Cheap ☀☀☀. Stop wasting your time with unanswered searches. Cheap Cialis For Sale Get Cheap | Up to 30% Off🔥 |. Free Shipping, quality. Worldwide delivery Kamagra 100mg Cheap ,It solves the problem for you quickly.. Check More » Ampicillin 500mg Purchase Mexico | Discounts🔥 |. Where to buy? ☀☀☀ Arava Drug Price ☀☀☀,Find Latest Medication For This pill Now!. Buy Now » Diflucan Where To Buy Uk Public Group Buy Buy Anafranil Usa – Cheap Betnovate Gm without prescription – Cheap Betnovate Gm internet 9095 active 1 month ago ⭐️ | Best Sale | ☀☀☀ Where Can I follow link Generic ☀☀☀. We offer products that help you solve your health problems. Where Can I Buy Elavil all of those many, many SXSW photos on the Underground Bee, I only bothered to include one measly picture of the Kooks.

And then… unbeknownst to me (and to most of the American record-buying public), the Kooks became pretty big stars in the U.K. And in the last couple of months, “The Kooks” shot way ahead of everything else on the list of search phrases that are leading people to find this very Web site.

And so, in answer to public demand, I’ve gone back into my photo files and constructed a whole gallery of Kooks pix. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE WHOLE ALBUM OF PHOTOS OF THE KOOKS.

Wreckless Eric with Jon Langford and Amy Rigby at the Hideout

MARCH 11, 2006
at the Hideout, Chicago

SEE PHOTOS

A concert at 4 p.m.? What gives? Hideout honcho Tim Tuten explains that Jon Langford has been organizing some special concerts at the club every several weeks, and this time, he called up Tim with a late-breaking opportunity to bring the legendary Wreckless Eric to the Hideout, along with Amy Rigby. The club was already booked for that night, but a recent charity gig by Freakwater at 4 p.m. had been a success, so Tuten thought, Why not?

Tuten was in rare form with his logorrheic introduction to the whole affair – so much so that Langford’s first words, following Tuten’s intro, were, “I’m exhausted.” Langford played only songs from his new album, Gold Brick, and they sounded very good in concert.

Amy Rigby followed with a short but tasty set of her songs, including several from her 2005 album, Little Fugitive, which I liked quite a bit. She closed with the wonderful “Dancing With Joey Ramone.” Rigby said her daughter, who’s getting ready to go to college, was present, and she joked that she wants her to go into a career that’ll support her mom’s music. (“Just don’t do one of those ‘Girls Gone Wild’ tapes!”)

Then came Wreckless Eric, who hadn’t played in Chicago since 1980. One of my regrets in 2005 was missing his appearance at SXSW, so this was a great opportunity to make up for that. To be honest, I didn’t know any of his songs other than “Whole Wide World” (which I became familiar with through the Rhino D.I.Y. collections)… During his set, Langford had remarked that Wreckless Eric was an inspiration to the Mekons when they were starting. “That was sort of the template for the Mekons,” he said. “It’s Ok to be punk and sensitive at the same time.” And Rigby said, “I’m very excited he’s playing today. I’m just a fan.”

Even though I was unfamiliar with most of the songs, I found Wreckless Eric immediately engaging. Playing solo, he reminded me a little of Robyn Hitchcock. And he was an entertaining raconteur as he told stories and jokes over his guitar grooves – and didn’t hesitate in telling some of the chattier people in the back of the room to shut their  gobs. “Fucking hell, what are you talking about back there? I’m trying to do business up here.”

He introduced his biggest hit by sarcastically noting the similarity to Sting’s later song, “Fields of Gold” — “It’s by Sting, but I’m going to sing it with the correct lyrics.”

He also read a short bit from his memoirs (“I’m going to read it to you whether you like it or not”), and then brought out Amy Rigby to play with him on the last few numbers.

It was quite an entertaining way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Or as Eric put it (describing one particular moment of noise, not the whole show): “Sounded like a fire in a banjo factory.” Let’s hope Eric doesn’t wait so long before his next visit to Chicago.

 

Belle & Sebastian and New Pornographers

MARCH 10, 2006
at the Riviera, Chicago

Belle and Sebastian was just about perfection on Friday night. Great selection of songs both old and new – including several early tracks that I didn’t expect to hear, like “Dog on Wheels,” “The State I Am In” and “Lazy Line Painter Jane,” which featured guest vocals from a woman in the crowd. Her husband had e-mailed the band, suggesting that she sing the duet. What a sweet moment, and luckily, the woman (identified only as Amanda) did know how to sing well.

Good opening set, too, from the New Pornographers. What a perfect pairing. These bands come from similar musical places, but their approaches are different. The New Pornographers have a tendency to hammer home every musical hook with a lot of force and doubled (tripled or quadrupled) parts. Yes, it’s a little cheesy, but in the best sense of the term. Even without Neko Case, they sounded great.

 

A long night of good music at Schubas

FEB. 24, 2006
BRANDON DURHAM of Palaxy Tracks

I started off my night of two concerts at Schubas (with three acts) with a short mostly solo set by the guy usually known as Palaxy Tracks. I have to admit not being that familiar with his music; I’ve heard some of it, and it intrigues me a little bit — without exciting me all that much. I enjoyed his set, which apparently focused on new material, but I’d have to hear these songs again to decide just how much I like them. He was joined by three other musicians during the course of the quiet set.

WILL SHEFF of Okkervil River

SEE PHOTOS

Okkervil River is a very good band, with Will Sheff being the dominant force… It’s not quite one of those solo projects masquerading as a band, but this is definitely Sheff’s show. So it was interesting to see him perform a solo concert, playing some of those same songs that I’ve heard Okkervil River play with extravagant energy. Some of the songs were quite different in the solo guitar or piano format, and some new songs sounded great. He also threw in a cover of Sandy Denny’s “Solo.” I have to say it was quite a powerful performance. I like the group arrangments that Okkervil River plays in concert and on record, but I might like Sheff’s solo versions even better. He really bared his emotions tonight.

MICHAEL MORRIS

SEE PHOTOS

The late concert began with Michael Morris. I had no idea who this guy was, but was pleasantly surprised… This was this Minneapolis singer-songwriter’s first performance in Chicago. He reminded me of the Okkervil River/Bright Eyes school of intensely sung folk music. His songs had strong melodies, and I definitely want to hear more from him.

PHIL ROCKROHR & THE LIFTERS

SEE PHOTOS

I know Phil from my old days at The Daily Illini. It was nice to see him and his group getting a fairly high-profile opening slot for the Deadstring Brothers concert at Schubas tonight — and to see the group back with a new drummer, Tom Jasek, after the tragic death of drummer Tim Rutkowski a year ago. Plus, they rocked.

THE DEADSTRING BROTHERS

SEE PHOTOS

The Deadstring Brothers definitely have an early-’70s Stones thing going, plus a couple of songs that obviously mimic The Band and Bob Dylan. But the lack of originality doesn’t bother me much with these guys, because it’s such fun to hear them play. Lead singer Kurt Marschke acknowledged they band is stuck in a 1970s time warp, but he doesn’t care, either. They’re a fine addition to the Bloodshot Records roster, and I liked hearing the songs I’ve come to know well from the new record Starving Winter Report.Hearing the older songs persuaded me that I need to pick up their first album, too.

The Autumn Defense at Schubas

FEB. 23, 2006
Schubas, Chicago

SEE PHOTOS

The Autumn Defense‘s concert at Schubas sold out in advance. Is it just because of the Wilco connection, or are more people starting to appreciate this band’s beautiful music? Yes, it’s very soft, maybe a little too soft and sleepy, but the Autumn Defense’s music is quite lovely. It reminds me of 1970s music — acoustic numbers by Big Star, for example. The band might also remind some people of Bread — not necessarily a good reference, though I take some guilty pleasure in enjoying a few Bread songs. (So do Jay Bennett and Edward Burch, who played “If” in concert and proclaimed it the best song ever written. A little bit of an exaggeration, but I won’t argue that it’s a great tune.) Backed by drums, pedal steel guitar and trumpet, the Autumn Defense sounded slightly more lively than they did when they opened for Jeff Tweedy at the Vic. Man, the crowd was very quiet tonight, which John Stirratt made note of…

Some new songs that the Autumn Defense plans to release on an album later this year sounded good, very much in the same vein as the Circles tracks. The last song of the encore was Stirratt’s only song in the Wilco catalogue, “It’s Just That Simple.”

John Klos was the opening act. This is the second night in a row I’d seen him (see below), which was a bit much. But his music is growing on me.

Devin Davis at the Hideout

FEB. 23, 2006
DEVIN DAVIS
The Hideout, Chicago
SEE PHOTOS

After raving last year about Devin Davis‘ album, Lonely People of the World, Unite! (and being the only critic to vote for his song “Giant Spiders” as one of the songs of the year in the Pazz & Jop poll), I finally got around to seeing him perform in concert. Too bad I missed the earlier Wednesday-night shows in his February residency at the Hideout. I would have liked to see him play with a full band.

Still, it was entertaining and impressive to see what he could do as a one-man band. Davis used the same sort of looping pedals that Andrew Bird uses to build multiple-track songs in concert, right in front of the audience’s eyes. Davis clobbered on the drums for some songs, creating slightly off-kilter percussion tracks, and then played on top of those beats with guitar and harmonica. The drumming loops had some fun moments, but it was more impressive when Davis used the looping pedals to harmonize with his own vocals, or to create a droning chord with his harmonica. He also played Theremin, demonstrating nice pitch control on the notoriously tricky instrument as he added “God Bless America” at the end of one song.

Davis opened with an unusual cover, Wilco’s “At Least That’s What You Said” — perhaps a nod to the fact that one member of Wilco, Mikael Jorgensen, had just opened for him. Davis apologized, “I hope that wasn’t too cheesy.” No, it wasn’t cheesy at all. It was a shadow of the Wilco original, but still a nice tribute to Chicago’s best-known band. Davis made a good attempt at duplicating the guitar/drum solo at the end of the song by going wild on the harmonica.

He also played a new song on a various-artists compilation from Kill Rock Stars, and he also did a cover of the Mississippi John Hurt song “Blessed Be the Word of the Lord,” noting, “I’m not very relgious, but it’s a good fucking song.” For the most part he played the songs from Lonely People. It was a little ramshackle, maybe not the best introduction to Davis for newcomers, but further proof of his mad-scientist capabilities.

JOHN KLOS (formerly of The Boas) was the first performer of the night, playing rather sleepy but pretty songs on keyboards and guitar, backed up by a second guitarist. I enjoyed Kloss’ music, but it would be nice to hear fuller arrangments of some of the songs. At one point, when the music threatened to get upbeat, he commented, “Pop songs? That’s up to you.”

MIKAEL JORGENSEN of Wilco was second on the bill. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Jorgensen is best known as the guy with the laptop who has incorporated sampled noise into the Wilco concert sound, but he also plays keyboard. In his solo show tonight, he was pretty impressive on both keyboards and guitar as he sang pop tunes — ranging from Randy Newman-style numbers on the piano to Flaming Groovies-ish power pop on guitar. Backed by a bassist and drummer, Jorgensen showed that he’s a fair vocalist — nothing special, but nothing bad, either. His songs show promise. Damn, Wilco sure has a lot of talented members.

SEE PHOTOS

The Elected and Stars at Metro

FEB. 17, 2006
THE ELECTED and STARS
at the Metro, Chicago

On the coldest night of Chicago’s winter so far, the musical theme at Metro was meteorologically perverse. The Elected came with their songs from “Sun, Sun, Sun,” while Stars offered another suggestion for warmth, playing songs from their 2004 disc “Set Yourself on Fire.”

The Elected, a band that hails from the sunnier climes of Los Angeles, did its best to bring at least a little musical brightness to the room. Led by Blake Sennett, who’s better known as a member of Rilo Kiley, the Elected play delightful light pop – one critic compared them to the Eagles last week, but they make me think of the Mamas and the Papas, the Turtles and the Left Banke. At times, especially when they use pedal steel guitar, the Elected sounds a little like the countriest of Bright Eyes’ music (but with vocals that aren’t a fraction as overwrought as Conor Oberst’s).

The harmonies sounded wonderful in concert. All of that lovely, lilting music might have left some audience members hoping for a little more rock, and for its final song, the Elected obliged. “At Home (Time Unknown),” which also closes the Elected’s new album, ends with an extended jam. A lite-rock guitar duel? Sort of. While these guys are far less powerful than, say, My Morning Jacket, this closing blaze of guitars showed that they are capable of doing more than pretty ooo’ing and ahh’ing.

Stars, from Montreal, were the headliners. (Until I showed up, I wasn’t actually sure who would get top billing in this nice combination of two well-regarded indie-rock bands.)

“Set Yourself on Fire” has several great songs, and several others that seem a little lackluster to me. The concert was much the same (though it did include songs from Stars’ earlier records, as well as a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart,” in addition to the “Set Yourself on Fire” tracks).

Given the fact that this band includes a violin and trumpet and alternating/harmonizing male and female lead vocalists, in addition to the standard rock instrument lineup, you’d think Stars would have the potential for a wide variety of sounds and arrangements, but the group tends to stick to similarly bland settings. Its melodies are good, sometimes very good, though, and those harmonies can be awfully touching, the way Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan’s voices blend.

Stars is a good band with the potential, as yet unrealized, to be a great band. Whatever my opinions on Stars, I could see they’ve reached a pretty loyal cult following. The show was sold out, and the predominantly young crowd at this 18-and-over concert adored Stars. As the singers stretched out their arms during some of the more memorable lyrics, I sensed a swooning among many of the youngsters in attendance.

So, hey, if Stars is connecting with listeners to this degree, I won’t complain too much.

The Wrens at the Norris University Center

FEB. 10, 2006
THE WRENS
at the Norris University Center, Evanston

The Norris University Center on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus ranks high on the list of the crappiest venues where I’ve ever seen a rock concert… but sometimes, the most memorable shows happen in these out-of-the-way and less-than-ideal places. The Wrens showed that the limitations of a venue are no obstacle to performing a great rock concert.

The lighting was abysmal — super dark for most of the show, ultra bright for one song played with the house lights one. (See above photo.) The limited lighting prompted Kevin Whelan of the Wrens to remark sarcastically, “What the hell kind of rock show is this?” And while the sound was pretty bad during the very little bit of the opening bands that I caught (I walked in as the last of three opening bands was finishing up), it wasn’t too bad for the Wrens, at least from where I was standing, up near the stage.

While the Wrens have their share of loud rock songs, some of the most remarkable moments came when the room got very, very quiet for the songs played on piano or with just a few notes on the guitar. You could hear the unamplified clicking noise Greg Whelan was making with a little percussion device in the palm of his hand on one song.

The Wrens mostly played songs from The Meadowlands, their last and most familiar album. (This concert was also a great chance to buy their early, out-of-print CDs over at the merch table.) The crowd, mostly college students, knew these songs well and gave the Wrens a very appreciative response. Watching Kevin Whelan leap around the stage and ham it up is truly entertaining.

The Wrens are an interesting live band. Their songs sounded as if they’d been broken down into the simplest of building blocks. At times, a guitar riff or percussion part sounded a little out of synch or a bit off, but then when the rest of the music kicked in, it was exactly right.

Kudos to the student organization NiteSkool for booking this show.

SEE PHOTOS OF THE WRENS.

Pazz & Jop 2005

The results of the Village Voice’s critics’ poll are out, and not surprisingly, Kanye West’s Late Registration finished at No. 1. Personally, I don’t think West’s music is all that great — I can hear some innovative musical layers on his record, and some of the songs are very strong, but as a whole, it just doesn’t click with me. Then again, I know I’m not the best judge of hip-hop.

For the second year, I got a chance to vote in this poll. Here are the albums and singles I voted for, and the places where they ended up in the overall poll. I knew some of my choices would fall way down on the list, while others would place high. As it turned out, four of my top 10 album choices made the poll’s top 20. The singles list is always more difficult for me to decide on. What is a single these days, anyway? Since you can buy practically any song as a download, I consider any track on an album from last year eligible for the singles list. Hence, my list is more like a list of favorite songs than a list of the best radio hits of 2005. That said, I did try to choose a few songs that were the “singles” or videos from albums that I liked. Only one of my choices made Pazz & Jop’s top 10 singles.

ALBUMS
1. Sleater-Kinney, The Woods — 4
2. Amadou & Mariam, Dimanche a Bamako — 13
3. Devin Davis, Lonely People of the World, Unite! — 343
4. Sons and Daughters, The Repulsion Box — 192
5. Andrew Bird, The Mysterious Production of Eggs — 49
6. The Go! Team, Thunder Lightning Strike — 19
7. M. Ward, Transistor Radio — 104
8. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois — 3
9. Brakes, Give Blood – 254
10. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Naturally – 77

SINGLES
1. Sleater-Kinney, “Jumpers” — 112
2. Robbie Fulks, “Georgia Hard” – 536*
3. Gorillaz/De La Soul, “Feel Good Inc.” – 4
4. Devin Davis, “Giant Spiders” – 536*
5. The Go! Team, “Ladyflash” – 183
6. Spoon, “Sister Jack” – 60
7. Sons and Daughters, “Dance Me In” – 235
8. The New Pornographers, “Twin Cinema” – 235
9. M. Ward, “Radio Campaign” – 536*
10. Andrew Bird, “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left” – 536*

* — I was the only critic to vote for these songs.

Click here to go to the Voice’s Pazz & Jop page, which has the complete list of winning albums and singles, individual critics’ ballots and essays. Here’s my ballot at the site…

Bang! Bang! and Healthy White Baby at the Double Door

JAN. 28, 2006
at the Double Door

Four bands were playing at this showcase organized by a zine called The Crutch (sorry, never heard of it before…), and I showed up in time for the last two bands: Bang! Bang! and Healthy White Baby.

I’ve seen Bang! Bang! calling its music “sex rock,” which seems like a gimmick to me. Like other rock music isn’t about sex? Come on. But it’s definitely a band with sex appeal (well, at least bassist and singer Greta Fine is sexy, from my standpoint…) And their songs (which I’d never heard before tonight’s show) were exciting and energetic. This is definitely a band I plan to check out again.

The club was crowded, and the response to Bang! Bang! was fairly frenzied, so it was a little disappointed to see the audience dissipate before Healthy White Baby took the stage. The crowd was smaller but still appreciative. As the band set up, I was wondering, “Where’s Laurie Stirratt?” Later in the concert, guitarist-vocalist Danny Black explained that she couldn’t play the show because of some family responsibilities, and rather than cancel the concert, the band brought in a substitute bassist (introduced only as “Jeff”).

It was a good performance of the songs from Healthy White Baby’s 2005 debut (which has grown on me — I think I underrated it initinally), plus one goofy cover, Maxine Nightingale’s 1976 disco hit, “Right Back Where We Started From.” HWB’s songs remind me a little of the Black Keys, with their gritty blues-rock riffs.

SEE PHOTOS OF BANG! BANG!

SEE PHOTOS OF HEALTHY WHITE BABY.

The Bottle Rockets with Jeff Tweedy at Schubas

JAN. 27, 2006
THE BOTTLE ROCKETS
at Schubas, Chicago

Wow… what a night. I’d only seen the Bottle Rockets once before. Saw them a few months ago at the Beat Kitchen after years of intending to see them. Both of these shows were fun rock shows by a tight band.

This one, the last in the series of Gary Schepers benefit concerts, was extra special because of an appearance by a special guest — Jeff Tweedy. Standing as I was near the stage, I couldn’t help noticing Tweedy and his wife, Sue Miller, slipping in through the side door and standing by the edge of the stage. I always feel a little weird spotting someone like that at a concert. Don’t stare. He just wants to have fun like anyone else. So I find myself watching him once in a while from the corner of my eye. He’s watching the concert and clapping between songs like any fan.

Of course, it’s no surprise when Brian Hennemann of the Bottle Rockets invites Tweedy onto the stage late in the concert. For three songs, the BoRox (as they’re known in fan shorthand) become … WilBoRox? Tweedy picks up an electric guitar and they launch into the Neil Young classic “Walk On,” with Tweedy and Hennemann trading lead vocals. Then they do two of the songs that Wilco played on “A.M.,” back when Hennemann was playing guitar with the band: “Passenger Side” and “Casino Queen.” Tweedy looks like he’s having fun.

Henneman said the gaps between his meetings with Tweedy are growing progressively shorter. First, they went, I think he said, five years without seeing each other. Then four. Now it’s been three or two. He joked that they’ll soon be together on a reality TV show, Henneman and Tweedy hanging out in an apartment and writing songs.

Earlier in the show, Henneman had told a story about touring with Uncle Tupelo and having Gary Schepers come on board as the sound man. At their first stop in Denver, Tweedy lined up sleeping quarters at some fan’s house but Schepers insisted, “I don’t sleep on any little girl’s floor,” and so they went to a Motel 6 for the first time — a life-changing event, according to Henneman.

This story came up again when Tweedy took the stage and they reminisced about eating really bad food on the road.

Henneman gave a nice little intro to “Passenger Side,” recalling himself as a kid who could barely cut it in the studio when they recorded that. Tweedy’s expression made it obvious not to take the story too seriously.

Concert performances by “special guests” are often superfluous, but this was clearly a perfect example of how well they can work. This was sort of magical Chicago music moment that I live for.

Now, you may be asking, where are the photos? Well, like an idiot, I did not bring my camera with me to this concert. I’ll never leave home without it again.

Here’s a picture by Chris Constance:

SET LIST
Lucky Break
Kit Kat Clock
Alone In Bad Company
Every Kinda Everything
Get Down River
Middle Man
Mountain To Climb
Happy Anniversary
Gas Girl
Smoking 100’s Alone
I’ll Be Coming Around
$1000 Car
Gravity Fails
Indianapolis
Welfare Music
Walk On (Tweedy & Henneman on vocals)
Passenger Side (Tweedy on vocals)
Casino Queen (Tweedy on vocals)
ENCORE
Slo Tom’s (request)
Cartoon Wisdom (request)
Nancy Sinatra
Crossroads

Jeff Tweedy at the Abbey Pub

JAN. 25, 2006
at the Abbey Pub

SEE PHOTOS OF JEFF TWEEDY. 

SET LIST
The Ruling Class
Summer Teeth
(Was I) In Your Dreams
Bob Dylan’s 49th Beard
Please Tell My Brother
Blasting Fonda
Pieholden Suite
Is That The Thanks I Get? (new song, title uncertain)
Airline To Heaven
I’m The Man Who Loves You
Heavy Metal Drummer
New Madrid
ELT
Someday Soon|
ENCORE 1
A Shot In The Arm
Hoodoo Voodoo
Henry & the H Bombs
Theologians
Spiders (Kidsmoke)
I Can’t Keep From Talking
ENCORE 2
Acuff-Rose

Miss Alex White and the Paybacks at Subterranean

After seeing Jon Langford at the MCA, I hopped over to Subterranean and caught two bands: Miss Alex White, a Chicago singer-guitarist, who played very impressive and lively rock, and Detroit’s garage-rockers the Paybacks. I liked the Paybacks — and especially enjoyed watching the lead singer, Wendy Case, stretching out her lanky frame on stage — but my first impression of the music was pretty good, not great. (Hey, check out the photos of the band at their Web site… Looks like Wendy Case has been a blond until recently…)

SEE PHOTOS OF MISS ALEX WHITE.

SEE PHOTOS OF THE PAYBACKS.

Jon Langford: The Executioner’s Last Songs

Jan. 21 — “The Executioner’s Last Songs,” which Jon Langford performed Friday and Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Art, is a mix of concert, staged reading, performance art and video projection. Nothing too pretentious, thankfully… Despite the title, only a small part of the show (the last section) is about Langford and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts recording their anti-death-penalty albums.

For the most part, it’s Langford talking about growing up in Wales, going to art school, discovering punk, forming the Mekons, coming to the U.S. and meeting Lester Bangs, etc. etc., eventually discovering country music via the Chicago WZRD deejay Terry Nelson (who was in attendance for the MCA shows)…

The music was a mix of Langford solo stuff, the Mekons, Wacos, PVC, covers (Tom Jones’ “Deliliah,” introduced as “the Welsh national anthem”). It was kind of interesting hear Langford play “Memphis, Egypt” and throw in a spoken interlude explaining the story behind some of the lyrics — concerning a trip to East Berlin, where they found it impossible to buy any Communist souvenirs.

When I saw this last year at SXSW, it was just Langford, Sally Timms and the violinist Jean Cook, with Langford doing almost all of the reading.

This time, he had those two, plus Tony Maimone playing an odd banjo bass, a drummer (sorry, can’t remember who off the top of my head)… and some of the others, mostly Timms and Cook, did some of the reading.

Highlights included some clips from the aborted TBS kids show that starred Langford as “The Salty Old Sea Dog,” a pirate inside a tiny boat inside a bathroom sink reciting nonsensical poetry. (The show also featured “Cowboy Sally.”)

Anyway, it was all pretty fun, though it did go on a bit long. And the MCA theater is one of those venues that has good sound and sightlines but feels a little too staid for a rock concert.

This was more polished than the version I saw last year, but some of the best moments were the mistakes and ad libs… such as when Timms egged Langford into pretending he was Russell Crowe.

Best Music of 2005

MY FAVORITE ALBUMS OF THE YEAR:

1. Sleater-Kinney, The Woods
2. Amadou & Mariam, Dimanche a Bamako
3. Devin Davis, Lonely People of the World, Unite!
4. Sons and Daughters, The Repulsion Box
5. Andrew Bird, The Mysterious Production of Eggs
6. The Go! Team, Thunder Lightning Strike
7. M. Ward, Transistor Radio
8. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois
9. Brakes, Give Blood
10. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Naturally

It’s a mix-and-match age, with both musicians and music fans mashing together genres like never before. Just about any style of music that’s ever been played seems like fair game these days for reinvention.
The hottest rock bands of the last few years haven’t strayed too far from their ’70s and ’80s punk and new wave influences, beyond the occasional ’60s garage-rock homage. But other musicians dug deeper into musical history and came up with incredible soul and funk (Sharon Jones and Bettye Lavette), country (Robbie Fulks), power pop (Devin Davis) and folk-rock, blues and the Great American Songbook (all rolled into one, in the form of genius songwriter M. Ward).

Despite their sometimes obvious historical influences, the best albums this year didn’t really sound like anything we’ve heard before. Orchestral pop music has been done many times, but never quite like Sufjan Stevens on his majestic “Illinois” or one-man symphony Andrew Bird on his “Mysterious Production of Eggs.”

No one epitomized the idea of the musical blender better than The Go! Team, creating a crazy quilt of styles that was both artful and incredibly fun. Mali’s Amadou & Mariam, with help from producer Manu Chao, also achieved a colorful fusion of styles and sounds.

Sons and Daughters and another band from the U.K., Brakes, are the latest generation in the punk family tree, but they rose above their influences with an eccentric sense of timing — and, especially in the case of Brakes, a keen sense of humor.

Sleater-Kinney also transcended its punk roots and dared to sound bigger and more dramatic — almost like a classic-rock band in the vein of Led Zeppelin. The result was “The Woods,” an album of reckless and intense power. It’s what rock ‘n’ roll is all about.

THE REST OF MY
TOP 20
11. Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane — At Carnegie Hall
12. Black Mountain — Black Mountain
13. Robbie Fulks — Georgia Hard
14. The New Pornographers — Twin Cinema
15. Gorillaz — Demon Days
16. Brazilian Girls — Brazilian Girls
17. Bettye Lavette — I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise
18. LCD Soundsystem — LCD Soundsystem
19. Low — The Great Destroyer
20. Marianne Faithfull — Before the Poison

AND HERE’S THE REST OF MY
TOP 100
in alphabetical order… but subject to change any second. There are so many other albums from 2005 I needed to spend more time with. My oversights vastly outnumber this list.

Acid Mothers Temple & the Cosmic Inferno — Iao Chant from the Cosmic Inferno
Alice Texas — Sad Days
American Analog Set — Set Free
Antibalas — Government Magic
Fiona Apple — Extraordinary Machine
Nic Armstrong & the Thieves — The Greatest White Liar
Art Brut — Bang Bang Rock ‘n’ Roll
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club — Howl
Blind Boys of Alabama — Atom Bomb
Blue Rodeo — Are You Ready
Bright Eyes — I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
Broadcast — Tender Buttons
Kate Bush — Aerial
The Caesars — Paper Tigers
Laura Cantrell — Humming by the Flowered Vine
Caribou — The Milk of Human Kindness
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah — Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
The Clientele — Strange Geometry
John Coltrane — One Up, One Down: Live at the Half Note
Constantines — Tournament of Hearts
Ry Cooder — Chávez Ravine
Danger Doom — The Mouse and the Mask
The Detroit Cobras — Baby
Dogs — Turn Against This Land
Dr. Dog — Easy Beat
Bob Dylan — No Direction Home: The Soundtrack
The Fleshtones — Beachhead
Flotation Toy Warning — Bluffer’s Guide to the Flightdeck
Four Tet — Everything
Edith Frost — It’s a Game
Great Lake Swimmers — Bodies and Minds
Great Lake Swimmers — Great Lake Swimmers
Ed Harcourt — Strangers
Richard Hawley — Coles Corner
The Hold Steady — Separation Sunday
I Am Kloot — Gods and Monsters
Ida — Heart Like a River
Seu Jorge — Cru
Damien Jurado — On My Way to Absence
The Kingsbury Manx — The Fast Rise and Fall of the South
Konono No. 1 — Congotronics
Kronos Quartet with Asha Bhosle — You’ve Stolen My Heart
Louis XIV — The Best Little Secrets Are Kept
Magnolia Electric Co. — Trials and Errors
Magnolia Electric Co. — What Comes After the Blues
Matt Mays and El Torpedo — Matt Mays and El Torpedo
Mercury Rev — The Secret Migration
MIA — Arular
Chris Mills — The Wall to Wall Sessions
The Moaners — Dark Snack
Moonbabies — War on Sound
Bob Mould — Body of Song
My Morning Jacket — Z
Okkervil River — Black Sheep Boy
Oneida — The Wedding
Graham Parker — Songs of No Consequence
The Ponys — Celebration Castle
Portastatic — Bright Ideas
The Reigning Sound — Home for Orphans
The Ike Reilly Assassination — Junkie Faithful
Amy Rigby — Little Fugitive
Rouge Wave — Descended Like Vultures
Anoushka Shankar — Rise
The Sights — The Sights
Son Volt — Okemah and the Melody of Riot
South San Gabriel — The Carlton Chronicles: Not Until the Operation’s Through
Spoon — Gimme Fiction
Bruce Springsteen — Devils & Dust
Stars — Set Yourself on Fire
Teenage Fanclub — Man-Made
Boubacar Traoré — Kongo Magni
Chad Vangaalen — Infiniheart
Various Artists — World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love’s a Real Thing: The Funky Fuzzy Sounds of West Africa
Laura Veirs — Year of Meteors
Waco Brothers — Freedom and Weep
Warsaw Village Band — Uprooting
Paul Weller — As Is Now
Wilco — Kicking Television: Live in Chicago
Wolf Parade — Apologies to the Queen Mary
Youth Group — Skeleton Jar

Concerts I Attended in 2005

Jan. 1: Guided By Voices (Metro… Technically, the concert began in 2004, but most of it was in 2005.)
Jan. 14: Neko Case; The Sadies (Metro)
Jan. 15: Constantines; Oakley Hall (Empty Bottle)
Jan. 30: Rogue Wave; Two Gallants; the Saturday Nights (Schubas)
Feb. 5: The Moaners (Subterranean)
Feb. 11: Low; Pedro The Lion; Tim Rutuli (Metro)
Feb. 12: Bettie Serveert (Abbey Pub)
Feb. 18: The Comas; Vietnam (Empty Bottle)
Feb. 22: Jorge Ben Jor (HotHouse)
Feb. 25: M. Ward; Shelley Short; Dr. Dog (Schubas)
March 1: The Futureheads; Shout Out Louds; High Speed Scene (Double Door)
March 4: Slobberbone; Two Cow Garage; I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the Room (Abbey Pub)
March 5: Jeff Tweedy; Autumn Defense (Vic)
March 15: Grand Champeen; Two Cow Garage; Richmond Fontaine (Beerland, Austin)
March 16: SXSW — Robyn Hitchcock; Jennifer Gentle; Gris Gris; Midlake; Burning Bright; Mono
March 17: SXSW — Mavis Staples; Apostles of Hustle; Stars; Dr. Dog; The Redwalls; Noodles; Titan Go Kings; Jon Langford; Adem; Ampop; Martha Wainwright; M.I.A.; Hot Chip; LCD Soundsystem
March 18: SXSW — The Futureheads; Bloc Party; New York Dolls; Picastro; Ida; Grey DeLisle; The Warlocks; Dios Malos; the Capitol Years; Shonen Knife
March 19: SXSW — The Zincs; Phosphorescent; Micah P. Hinson; Great Lake Swimmers; Nicolai Dunger; Centro-Matic; the Frames; the Last Town Chorus; Nic Armstrong & the Thieves; the Silent League; Controller.Controller; the Nightingales; Daniel Johnston; Brazilian Girls
March 25: Orchestra Baobob (HotHouse)
April 1: The Kills; Scout Niblett (Double Door)
April 3: Dolorean; Jeff Hansen; [opening act?] (Schubas)
April 9: Magnolia Electric Co.; Coke Dares (Schubas)
April 15: Paul Westerberg (Riveria)
April 16: Andrew Bird; Archer Prewitt (Metro)
April 17: Damien Jurado (Schubas)
April 20: M. Ward; Norfolk & Western; Devotchka (Abbey Pub)
April 21: Yo La Tengo (Vic)
May 10: Tift Merritt; Nora O’Connor (Schubas)
May 11: Gang Of Four; Radio 4 (Metro)
May 12: Okkervil River; Earlimart (Schubas)
May 28: The Ponys; The M’s (Subterranean)
June 8: Madeline Peyroux; Rebecca Martin (Park West)
June 9: Ivy; Astaire (Double Door)
June 11: Vanessa Davis Band (North Center street fest)
June 11: The Coral (Martyrs)
June 16: Sleater-Kinney; Dead Meadow (Riveria)
June 17: Comets On Fire; Plastic Crimewave Sound; Atomic Bitchwax; Growing (Abbey Pub)
June 18: My Morning Jacket (Randolph Street Festival)
June 21: Philip Glass (Ravinia)
June 23: The Moaners; Mr. Rudy Day; [opening act?]; [opening act?] (Abbey Pub)
June 24: Graham Parker; The Figgs (Double Door)
June 25: Bettie Serveert; Tristen; Nomad Planets; Braam (Abbey Pub)
July 1: Reigning Sound; Tough & Lovely; Catfish Haven (Subterranean)
July 2: American Music Festival (FitzGerald’s) — The Lee Boys; The Kinsey Report; Tributosaurus; Robbie Fulks; the Gourds
July 5: Billy Corgan; the Crimea (Vic)
July 9: Folk & Roots Festival (Welles Park) — Alejandro Escovedo
July 10: Folk & Roots Festival (Welles Park) — Funkadesi; Tinariwen
July 16: Van Cliburn (Ravinia)
July 17: Intonation Music Festival — Thunderbirds Are Now!; Dungen; Xiu Xiu; Out Hud; The Hold Steady; Andrew Bird
July 23: Lollapalooza (Grant Park) — The Redwalls; M83; The Warlocks; And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead; Ambulance LTD; Liz Phair; Kaiser Chiefs; The Brian Jonestown Massacre; The Bravery; Blonde Redhead; The Black Keys; The Pixies; The Walkmen; Digable Planets
July 24: Lollapalooza (Grant Park) — The Ponys; Kasabian; Dinosaur Jr.; Tegan and Sara; The Drive-By Truckers; The Arcade Fire; The Dandy Warhols; Death Cab For Cutie
July 26: “Play It Again: The Music Of Woody Allen” (Ravinia)
July 27: Elvis Costello and Emmylou Harris (Ravinia)
July 30: Wicker Park Festival — Scotland Yard Gospel Choir; Head of Femur; Turing Machine; Okkervil River; Olivia Tremor Control
Aug. 17: Oneida; Plastic Crimewave Sound; Kinski (Empty Bottle)
Aug. 19: Tony Bennett (Ravinia)
Aug. 24: Marc-André Hamelin (Ravinia)
Aug. 25: Liz Phair; Mat Kearney (Black Orchid)
Aug. 30: Gipsy Kings (Ravinia)
Sept. 3: The Dirtbombs; Popsick; Big Whisky; M.O.T.O.; Decibators; Phenoms (Double Door)
Sept. 8: Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra (HotHouse)
Sept. 9: The Sights; Thunderwing; The Makers (Subterranean)
Sept. 10: The Rolling Stones; Blues Brothers; Los Lonely Boys (Soldier Field)
Sept. 16: Sufjan Stevens; Laura Veirs (Metro)
Sept. 17: Hideout Block Party — Kevin O’Donnell’s Ensemble General; Eleventh Dream Day; Sam Roberts Band; The DB’s; The Ponys (Hideout)
Sept. 17: Amadou & Mariam; Boubacar Traore (Park West)
Sept. 18: Seu Jorge; Boubacar Traore (Park West)
Sept. 21: Black Mountain; Ladyhawk; Blood Meridian (Schubas)
Sept. 24: Brazilian Girls; Breakbone Dance; Anna Oxygen; Scream Club (Metro)
Sept. 29: Bob Mould; [opening act?] (Metro)
Oct. 1: Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings; Binky Griptite; the Messengers of the Soul Sound (Double Door)
Oct. 3: Lhasa (HotHouse)
Oct. 6: Sleater-Kinney; The Ponys (Metro)
Oct. 7: The Fiery Furnaces; Pit er Pat (Logan Square Auditorium)
Oct. 14: Wolf Parade; Robbers On High Street; King of France (Schubas)
Oct. 28: The Constantines; The Hold Steady; Thunderbirds Are Now! (Logan Square Auditorium)
Oct. 29: The Go! Team; the Grates; [opening act?] (Metro)
Nov. 1: Wilco; New Orleans All Star Band (Auditorium Theatre)
Nov. 3: Youssou N’dour (Symphony Center)
Nov. 11: Konono No. 1; the Eternals (Logan Square Auditorium)
Nov. 19: Detroit Cobras; Reigning Sound; Vee Dee (Double Door)
Nov. 26: Jimmy Scott; Gospel Keyboard Trio (HotHouse)
Nov. 26: The Bottle Rockets; The Siderunners (Beat Kitchen)
Dec. 1: The Sadies; John Kimler (Schubas)
Dec. 6: Pinchas Zukerman and others (Pick-Staiger)
Dec. 22: The Waco Brothers; High Hawk (Schubas)

The Sadies at Schubas

DEC. 1, 2005
Schubas

There hardly exists a better band than the Sadies, and they proved it yet again with this show. They had no new album to plug. And for once, they were playing on their own as the headliners (though Mekon Jon Langford joined them for three songs). All the more reason for the Sadies just to do what they do best — incredible guitar rock… the kind you don’t hear often enough these days, with intricately composed and skilfully played melodies on the guitars. And while the Good brothers are not known for their vocals, their singing sounded strong, too, with Travis in particular baring his teeth in caveman-like expressions as he let loose some powerful notes.

In addition to their own material, the Sadies played some obscure blues and country covers, and the encore culminated with a fantastic take on Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,” followed by another great one, the Flaming Groovies’ “Shake Some Action.” Wow. One of the year’s best concerts.

SEE PHOTOS OF THE SADIES.

Jimmy Scott at the HotHouse

NOV. 26, 2005
The HotHouse

I’d almost forgotten that Jimmy Scott was playing in town last night, part of a tour celebrating his 80th birthday. It’s reportedly more than five years since the last time he played in Chicago, so this was a can’t-miss show.

I first became familiar with Scott when he provided that strange song, “Sycamore Trees,” to David Lynch’s TV series “Twin Peaks.” (The song actually appears on the soundtrack to the film, “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.”) Who was this singer with that elusive, androgynous voice? Adrogynous doesn’t really do it justice as an adjective. Otherwordly, maybe. I’m still not that familiar with Scott’s discography (though my purchase of The Essential Jimmy Scott last night should remedy that). He was the subject of an interesting documentary a few years ago, now out on DVD, and he made another weird cameo — singing John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” with Wilco as his backup band in the Ehtan Hawke film “Chelsea Walls.”

The Lynch and Lennon songs were not part of Scott’s show last night, but he did live up to his billing as “the Legendary Jimmy Scott.” With a nice piano-bass-drums combo (the Jazz Expressions) playing behind him, Scott gracefully sang standards (“Blue Skies,” “Embraceable You”) and some of his past hits (“When Did You Leave Heaven?,” “If You Only Knew”).

Age has added an interesting timbre — and even more fragility — to Scott’s voice. He looked a little fragile himself, but reasonably spry for being 80 years old. And he had a nice sense of humor, joking with his band between songs. Unfortunately, he probably wasn’t joking when he said he hasn’t made much money from all those decades of recording and performing music.

The concert was short, but it’s hard to demand too much stage time out of a legend in his 80th year. The Chicago Gospel Keyboard Trio played a really nice opening set.

SEE PHOTOS OF JIMMY SCOTT.

The Bottle Rockets at the Beat Kitchen

Those who know me as a fan of alt-country/Americana/roots rock/whatever music may be shocked to hear that I’d never seen the Bottle Rockets, who are stalwarts of the field, until last night (Nov. 26) at the Beat Kitchen. I actually got as far as driving to a Bottle Rockets show maybe 10 years ago, but it was sold out and I did not get in. Many times since then, I’ve planned to see them but one thing or another came up. I had no excuse last night… even with a Jimmy Scott concert earlier in the evening… and I discovered what I’ve been missing.

What a great band. The musicianship was tight, and the banter with the faithful fans in the crowd was fun. The old songs sounded excellent, and the group also played a number of songs from its forthcoming album on Bloodshot Records, which sounded promising. The title of the album is still to be determined, as Brian Henneman explained several times from the stage. Henneman remarked that the Bottle Rockets have been at it for 12 years now, finally reaching the point where they make… $12,000 a year. I hope they stick with it.

As for the opening band, the Siderunners… well, I guess I’m just not in on the joke. They were decent musicians of the rockabilly/twangy roots rock variety, and some of their songs seemed OK, but their sense of humor was just annoying.

SEE PHOTOS OF THE BOTTLE ROCKETS.

A Promotion Plug for Devin Davis

I beseech you: Buy Devin Davis’ Lonely People of the World, Unite!

Or at least listen to some of the songs:
www.devindaviswebsite.com/audio.html

I love this record…

Those of you who dislike Death Cab For Cutie, please don’t be put off by the fact that Ben Gibbard is a Devin Davis fan (as mentioned in my story)… They don’t really sound anything alike. Death Cab’s gone all wimpy (in my opinion), but at least Gibbard can recognize some music that’s kicking his ass when he hears it.

Devin’s playing stuff that sounds like Village Green Preservation Society mashed together with the Shins, Matthew Sweet, early ’70s Bowie, “Baba O’Riley” and Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage.” And the lyrics are brilliant — funny and occasionally apocalytpic. He played almost all of the instruments himself and released this record by himself.

Did I mention you should buy his record?

The Reigning Sound and Detroit Cobras at the Double Door

NOV. 19, 2005
The Double Door

An excellent double bill, with Reigning Sound frontman Greg Cartwright doing double-duty as guitarist for the Detroit Cobras. Both bands were great, but it’s the Detroit Cobras who had the better stage show, thanks to Rachel Nagy’s charisma… The first band of the night, Vee Dee, was pretty good, playing melodic pop-punk songs with some impressive guitar licks (maybe a little too much guitar virtuosity was on display, as a matter of fact).

SEE PHOTOS OF THE REIGNING SOUND AND THE DETROIT COBRAS.

Konono No. 1 at Logan Square Auditorium

NOV. 11, 2005
Logan Square Auditorium

One of the stranger recent concerts… Konono No. 1’s from Congo, playing thumb pianos and banging on some sort of cowbells, all amplified through primitive equipment including big speakers like the one above… The rhythmic songs are long (like, half an hour long) and highly repetitive. The grooves are great, but after a while the repetition starts to wear thin… and then you come back around again and feel it all moving to another level. Maybe. They’ve been compared to electronic dance bands. Think of it as Kraftwerk with really primitive equipment.

Other than the two dancing singers, most of the members of Konono No. 1 stood impassively on the stage, staring out at the strangeness of America. I wondered what they made of it all.

SEE PHOTOS OF KONONO NO. 1.

The Go! Team at Metro

OCT. 29, 2005

THE GO! TEAM
Metro, Chicago

The Go! Team once again earned its exclamation point tonight, with an incredible show of nonstop fun, mix-and-match musical styles.

Also worth noting: Opening act the Grates put on a fun show themselves. It’s a drums, guitar and singer trio from Australian, and the singer was practically doing jumping jacks throughout the set.

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF THE GO! TEAM.

Wolf Parade at Schubas

OCT. 14, 2005
Schubas, Chicago

Wolf Parade’s one of the hot new things this year, and it’s not just hype. Comparisons with the Arcade Fire (fellow Montreal rockers) seem inevitable, and there are some similarities. Wolf Parade’s not quite as manic or percussive onstage, but the band has a similar anything-goes and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink vibe.

Seeing Wolf Parade in concert makes it clear how important keyboards and electronics are to the band’s sound, with relatively old-fashioned electronic keyboards as well as theremin and other knob-twiddling noises. But the band’s far away from pure electronica, with plenty of guitar and drums. not to mention wind chimes and tambourines (not a whole lot of bass, though).

The guys in Wolf Parade seemed almost apologetic at times, saying their music is “all smoke and mirrors.” Perhaps there was a bit of sarcasm in their modesty, but there’s certainly some substance in their songs. Their album is almost brand-new, but the gung-ho crowd already knew the tunes well and sang along at key moments.

Now, only if they had more songs…

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF WOLF PARADE.

 

Opening acts the King of France and Robbers on High Street were good as well. I’m not familiar with Robbers’ repertoire, but seeing the band live, I can see why I’ve heard them described as a blatant ripoff of Spoon. That’s not really fair, however. The spare piano chords and tight rhythms that Spoon is known for are in Robbers’ music, too, though I think the band has a personality of its own.

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF ROBBERS ON HIGH STREET.

Lhasa at the HotHouse

OCT. 3, 2005
HotHouse, Chicago

If I had a chance to redo my list of 2004’s best albums, The Living Road by Lhasa would move up from the honorable mentions into the top 10, maybe the top 5. This elegant, beautiful, haunting record has proved to have legs.

Lhasa did not disappoint in concert, commanding the attention of a crowded room of quiet listeners as she sang with just two musicians backing her up, mostly on guitar and cello. She told a few lengthy stories as introductions to her songs, giving the concert the feel of “VH1 Storytellers,” which might have been annoying if she weren’t such a heartfelt and compelling speaker.

I love the way she looks when she sings, raising her left hand next to her head, sometimes making a fist and scrunching up her eyes as if she were squeezing the notes out of her head. Simply amazing music.

SEE PHOTOS OF LHASA.

Sharon Jones at the Double Door

OCT. 1, 2005
Double Door, Chicago

Neither of Sharon Jones’ albums includes a date anywhere on the cover, so it’s easy to imagine someone picking up one of these discs and assuming it was recorded sometime in the ’60s or early ’70s. Talk about retro, these recordings authentically sound like they were made in that era. If you thought the “neo-soul” movement is a throwback to older styles of soul, funk and R&B, you have got to hear the music Jones is putting out, including her great 2005 album Naturally. This is James Brown and Motown-style soul put across with a great sense of fun and terrific musicianship and vocals.

The show, a “super soul revue,” began with just the band playing a couple of instrumental songs. Then guitarist Binky Griptite came out to front the band for a good half-hour or more, showing his music to be almost as likable as Jones’. Then, after a dramatic buildup, Jones herself came onstage and held our attention for the rest of the night.

The only drawback was Jones complaining incessantly about the sound system during the early part of the show, though she turned even that into a funky performance of sorts as she sang about needing more vocals in the monitors. Once she got over those problems, she continued speaking her mind, very frankly, on topics such as President Bush’s response to the flooding in New Orleans.

Jones pulled several audience members onto the stage to dance with her at various points, and the dance floor was filled with moving bodies all night long.

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF SHARON JONES.

Brazilian Girls at Metro

SEPT. 24, 2005
Metro, Chicago

Sabina Sciubba of Brazilian Girls is probably the sexiest musical performer I’ve ever seen onstage, and not just because she has a great set of legs. Her entire act is a sexual tease, a seduction act directed at the entire audience (well, at least the male half, and at this concert with a big lesbian turnout, probably most of the crowd).

True to form, she had a bizarre outfit tonight that shielded her eyes. Wearing a one-piece swimsuit with tights (both flesh-colored), Sciubba had black cardboard rectangles stapled to her getup, strategically covering all the naughty-bit areas like censor bars, as well as a black bar attached to her glasses.

Halfway through the show, she ripped off the cardboard on her chest, revealing a knife and blood stain underneath. Despite wearing spiked heels, Sciubba somehow managed to dance, wiggle and writhe all night. She coyly extended her arms to the crowd many times, touching the hands of eager audience members (including me) or borrowing cigarettes for a drag. She waved a black towel like a matador’s towel toward audience members who were no doubt feeling some urge to charge the stage. She urged audience members to chant “I want pussy” or “I have pussy” (depending on each audience member’s gender), while invitingly pointing at her crotch.

Oh, yeah, what about the music? Believe me, despite all of the abovementioned visual distractions, I can honestly report that Brazilian Girls make some exceptionally catchy dance music, bossa nova and samba rhythms meeting up with techno, lounge and classic songs. The drummer (Aaron Johnston), playing a combo of acoustic drums and electronic pieces, pulls off some amazing rhythms, while the keyboard/computer (Did Gutman) and bass (Jess Murphy) guys fill out the mix with some very intelligent, catchy sounds.

The show started late (12:45) and ran for almost two hours. It was a long wait for Brazilian Girls at this Estrojam concert. The opening acts including the Breakbone Dance Company, who were pretty impressive if not exactly my thing; Anna Oxygen, who played fairly catchy dance music but had some trouble explaining the concept behind her concept music, which has something to do with petri dishes, unicorns and rainbows; and Scream Club, a dance duo singing about acne and such concepts as “socially awesome.” Awesome, it was not.

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF BRAZILIAN GIRLS.

Black Mountain at Schubas

SEPT. 21, 2005
Schubas, Chicago

Vancouver rocks! This turned out to be a great triple bill, with three bands hailing from the Pacific Canadian city. I missed the first few songs by Ladyhawk, but was quickly impressed by the guys. Full-out guitar rock that reminded me a little of My Morning Jacket or Kings of Leon. I was disappointed that Ladyhawk did not have any CDs for sale at the merch table, but glad to hear they’ve recorded a debut album, which will come out in spring 2006 on Jagjaguwar. There’s one to watch for.

Blood Meridian was up next. Not quite as exciting as Ladyhawk, but still good, with a slightly whiny or mopey folk-rock quality that reminded me a little of bands such as Phosphorescent or Okkervil River. The bassist for Black Mountain is the singer and guitarist for Blood Meridian, and the bands also share the same drummer. I picked up the 2004 Blood Meridian CD “we almost made it home,” and after one listen, I can say it’s pretty good, showing a lot of promise.

Black Mountain was great. I’m a bit of a latecomer to the self-titled album Black Mountain put out earlier this year. I just bought it a couple of months ago, but it has rapidly shot to the top of my list of favorite 2005 albums. The grooves are great, and Black Mountain has an excellent sense of the weight that each musical moment carries. In concert, the band replicates its studio recordings very well, adding a few fillips here and there, jamming a bit at times, without indulging too much in long solos. I love the tension between the male and female vocals, between the guitar and keyboard sounds.

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF BLACK MOUNTAIN.

A Weekend of Concerts

It was a busy weekend of concerts, and I didn’t even go to Farm Aid. It was a pretty remarkable three days of music, with at least three performances that rank among the year’s best.

SEPT. 16: LAURA VEIRS started off the weekend at Metro with an excellent set of her spacey folk rock, mostly drawn from her new album Year of Meteors. In concert, it becomes clear how much of her music’s odd charm is rooted in her guitar playing, with its peculiar sense of rhythms and unorthodox finger-picked chords. Viers has a lovely deadpan voice, and a tendency to smirk a lot … as if she can’t believe she’s actually up onstage in front of a crowd.

She was just the opening act, followed by the impressive spectacle of SUFJAN STEVENS and his seven-person backup band/cheerleading squad. The songs from Illinois sounded great in concert. If listeners hadn’t already realized these are complicated and well crafted compositions, it became obvious watching Stevens and his band pull it off in concert. The mostly young crowd was wildly enthusiastic. Who’d have thought we’d see a crowd of 20-ish rock fans whooping at a trombone solo or the unfurling of an Illinois state flag? The band, dressed in Illinois shirts, with the three female musicians decked out as cheerleaders, performed cheers in between the songs and even formed a human pyramid onstage. It was a strange mix of the seriousness of art rock with giddy silliness.

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF LAURA VEIRS AND SUFJAN STEVENS.

SEPT. 17: The Hideout Block Party is always a great event, and this year’s featured a couple of especially noteworthy shows. ELEVENTH DREAM DAY played a set of new songs, which will be on a just-recorded CD. This band plays only once or twice a year, but whenever it does, it’s one of the best rock shows of the year. The new material sounded great, and the members of Eleventh Dream Day again showed that they’re all outstanding musicians. The band’s core trio was supplemented by keyboard player Mark Greenberg.

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF ELEVENTH DREAM DAY.

The headline of the day, however, was the first gig anywhere by the reunited original lineup of THE dB’S. They look a lot older than I remember, but then, I saw them twice back in the mid 1980s in Champaign, so I probably look a lot older, too. The dB’s played a couple of new songs, which sounded good, but the set focused on the classic power pop songs from their first two albums. It still sounded fresh. The band came back for a rare festival-set encore, “Neverland.”

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF THE dB’S.

I also caught sets at the Hideout Block Party by Kevin O’Donnell’s Ensemble General, an intriguing big group led by drummer-around-town O’Donnell. His monologue during one song about blue states invading red states was a highlight. And with his between-song banter, O’Donnell revealed himself to be one funny guy.

I’m not sure what to make of the Sam Roberts Band, from Montreal. The songs were OK, but the sound was too jam-band for me.

The always-excellent Ponys were going strong when I had to depart the block party for…

BOUBACAR TRAORE, a Malian guitarist and singer who played a spellbinding set at Park West. (I also saw him the following night at Logan Square Auditorium.) Traore plays a style of percussive acoustic-guitar music that will remind American listeners of the blues. Using just his thumb and forefinger to pick the strings, Traore rarely plays actual chords, essentially soloing throughout each song, even as he sings. Traore was the opening act for…

AMADOU & MARIAM, a married couple of blind singers from Mali, whose new album is one of the best of 2005. The music sounded great in concert, too, with Amadou taking the chance to stretch out with some pretty amazing guitar solos. Another difference from the studio recordings was the stronger emphasis on percussion, one of the reasons the crowd was dancing almost nonstop. (Why no photos of Amadou & Mariam? Because I idiotically left my camera in my car, thinking the Park West does not allow photos, though it turns out I could have brought it in.)

SEPT. 17: After another exceptional opening set by Boubacar Traore, Brazil’s SEU JORGE played tonight at the Logan Square Auditorium. Like last night’s concert by Amadou & Mariam, this was part of the Chicago World Music Festival. Jorge is a commanding singer, and his songs (which I wasn’t familiar with) sounded excellent. At times, he sang softly with gentle guitar or ukulele rhythms carrying the beat. At other times, the music was heavy on percussion (the band included Jorge on guitar, a bass player and three percussionist) with Jorge growling, rapping or singing full-out in a more rock-music style. After Jorge left stage, the three percussionists led the crowd for a while in some clap-alongs, then Jorge returned for an acoustic set, including three of the David Bowie songs he covered for The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.  At the end of the night, Jorge stood before the crowd and gave an impassioned speech about the people of his generation trying to make Brazil a better place.

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF BOUBACAR TRAORE AND SEU JORGE.

The Sights at Subterranean

SEPT. 9, 2005
Subterranean

With a strong influence from the Faces (check out their cover of “Stay With Me” on the new CD), the Sights stand out as a little different from the rest of the current crop of garage bands. Interesting lineup, too: Guitar, organ and drums, with no bass (unless you count the bass keyboard). Guitarist-singer Eddie Baranek also throws an occasional bit of gospel holler into the songs. Well, white-boy imitation of gospel holler, but it’s nice anyway.

The most melodic song on the Sights’ self-titled 2005 album is “Scratch My Name in Sin,” and it sounded just as great in concert tonight as it does on record. The Sights could stand to broaden their style and sound a little, but they’re a very fine band nonetheless.

They were not actually the headliners at this concert. The Makers were the main act, but I can’t say I was too thrilled with what I heard. A couple of decent songs were evident, but the glamminess (and hamminess) of their overall act tended toward the annoying.

The first band to play was Thunderwing. Although the name makes them sound like hockey-playing heavy-metal rockers, they were more in the vein of glam-rock-meets-garage. Not bad, worth another listen.

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF THE SIGHTS.

Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra at the HotHouse

SEPT. 8, 2005
The HotHouse

Antibalas sounded glorious all night long at the HotHouse, reviving the funky sounds of Fela Kuti  and driving them into the future with their own twists on the Afrobeat tradition. It’s a rare joy to see such a great horn section in action, and Antibalas also has one of the coolest keyboard players around, Victor Axelrod. Those solos on the electric piano are dynamite. It was also cool watching the guitarists and bassist getting into grooves that you just wanted to go on and on. Whether he was having his way with congos or leading the band (and audience) in a chant, Amayo was an entertaining frontman.

Make sure to check out the new EP, Government Magic, which has five very strong tracks. It’s for sale only at www.antibalas.com.

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF ANTIBALAS.

The Dirtbombs at the Empty Bottle

SEPT. 3, 2005
Double Door

The Dirtbombs were phenoms tonight… unlike opening band the Phenoms, who were far from phenomenal. In fact, this very long night (part of the “Electric City Rock Fest”) had no less than five opening bands, most of which was highly skippable. Popsick played some good music, and Big Whisky and M.O.T.O. had their moments, but the Decibators and Phenoms were sheer drudgery to watch, punk bands without any noticeable merit other than energy and attitude.

By contrast, the Dirtbombs have good songs, as well as a great sense of dynamics and drama. I’m still not sure why they need two bass players and two drummers, but, hey, whatever works for them.

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF THE DIRTBOMBS.

 

Oneida et al at the Empty Bottle

AUG. 17, 2005
Empty Bottle

You’d think from the coverage that appeared in the Trib this week that tonight’s headliner was Kinski, but that was just the opening act.

 

Plastic Crimewave Sound got things started with their typically noise-filled rave-ups… definitely in the old droning tradition of the Velvet Underground. Not bad. Kudos for including a harmonica solo.

 

Kinski is a mostly instrumental (or is that “instrumetal”?) band, sounding great when it locks in on a heavy riff. I’m not quite as convinced about Kinski’s quieter and more experimental passages, but it is certainly an interesting and enjoyable group.

Oneida’s one of the most underrated bands around — or at least unheralded. I don’t understand why Oneida doesn’t get more ink. Maybe it’s the band’s deliberate use of repetition. Maybe it’s their reputation as an “underground” band. In any case, Oneida plays songs that are both accessible in terms of melody as well as insanely energetic. Oneida takes those little instrumental passages that other bands play and stretches them to the breaking point — sometimes past the breaking point — until they became something like mesmerizing mantras. You’re hearing the same thing over and over until it starts to sound different. Or maybe it is different?

Oneida pulls off its musical tricks with a minimum of technology. The trio (organ, drums, guitar/bass) plays music that is both tightly controlled, in the tradition of Krautrock bands like Can, while sounding like it could spin out of control at any moment, thanks to the amazing drumming.

Wicker Park Festival 2005

JULY 30, 2005
WICKER PARK FESTIVAL

This was the best lineup for a street festival this summer in Chicago, probably because the nearby Subterranean nightclub booked the music. Sunday featured the esteemed Reigning Sound, but deciding to attend one day only, Saturday was the obvious choice.

I missed Catfish Haven and Baby Teeth, but showed up in time for the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir. The band practically invited comparisons to Belle & Sebastian with its name, and its orchestrally twee pop music featuring alternating male and female vocals. But, hey, the songs are strong, so who cares if it’s not totally original? The band fits in well with the other big, quasi-orchestral ensembles of the moment, like Head of Femur (who played next on the same stage) or even the Arcade Fire.

Head of Femur was also very good, bringing its big-sounding set to a raucous conclusion.

Turing Machine, from Brooklyn, will certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for instrumental heavy-guitar rock music, it was pretty impressive.

  

Okkervil River was just as excellent as it was in May at Schubas, bringing fierce passion to its music. It’s interesting to see how much the nonsinging band members sing along with the lyrics off-mike. Even if they’re not contributing to the vocals, the songs obviously mean a lot more to them than a paying instrumental gig. I wonder what the people standing up on the nearby Blue Line el platform thought about the music they were hearing and seeing from a distance.

  

Olivia Tremor Control hasn’t toured for quite some time, so the group’s arrival in Chicago for two shows was pretty noteworthy. I was hoping the band’s live show would trump some of the problems with its studio recordings — which have a lot of good melodies and playing, but way too much lo-fi psychedelic wankery. It was fairly exciting and humorous to see Olivia Tremor Control going through its sound check, with a bewildering variety of instruments and noise makers: tuba, saw, banjo, reel-to-reel tape machine … even a typewriter???

Unfortunately, the set started off with a surprise mini-concert by the Tall Dwarves. Their songs might be fine, but this was the wrong time to hear them, and one of them went badly awry with off-key guitar playing and/or singing (by one of the OTC horn players).

When Olivia Tremor Control finally took the stage, it became clear the band’s pretty much the same in concert as it is on record: brilliant at moments, annoying at others, a shambling mess with bits of beauty.

Lollapalooza 2005

DAY ONE (July 23)


The Redwalls


M83

 
The Warlocks

  
And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead


Ambulance LTD


Billy Idol press conference

     
Liz Phair

  
Kaiser Chiefs

  
The Brian Jonestown Massacre

 
The Bravery

 
 
Blonde Redhead

 
 
The Black Keys

 
 
The Pixies

 
The Walkmen

  
Digable Planets

DAY TWO (July 24)


The Ponys

 
Kasabian

 
Dinosaur Jr.

  
Tegan and Sara

       
The Drive-By Truckers

      
The Arcade Fire

  
The Dandy Warhols

 
Death Cab For Cutie

Intonation Music Festival

JULY 17, 2005
INTONATION MUSIC FESTIVAL
Union Park, Chicago

I missed all of Day 1… Decided I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Van Cliburn last night at Ravinia, and didn’t want to deal with the hassle of trying to do both in one day. I’m certainly not the best judge of classical piano performances, but I can say Van a rivetingly peculiar presence onstage…

I thought I would see all of the Intonation Fest today, but after getting an early start, the heat and long lines got to me, so I bailed out after Andrew Bird.

Lines were actually quite short for most of the day, but after 5 p.m., the lines for food, beer and water all got humongous and I didn’t feel like standing around in line to get those essentials.

I enjoyed everything I saw, to some extent: Thunderbirds Are Now! seemed pretty good, but I need to hear more of their music to say how much I’d recommend it.

I like bands that sing in their native tongues, so I was keen of the Swedes in Dungen… who even trotted out a flute for some Jethro Tull-like moments. I was expecing ’60s-style garage rock, but it sounded more ’70s to me. Good,
in any case.

Xiu Xiu were slightly abrasive, but made nice use of autoharp (?) … I’d like to hear more of their stuff. I liked the sound, though I don’t know if the songs were all that strong.

Out Hud’s dance music wouldn’t normally be my kind of thing, but I liked the funkiness of it. Seemed more “live” than a lot of electronic concerts.

The Hold Steady were great. I was a little skeptical about these guys a year ago, but they’ve grown on me a lot. The lyrics are smart enough that the songs work as more than jokes. Is this band in a genre by itself? Who else is like them? It’s sort of like a mutant strain of white-guy rap that bears almost no similarity to hip-hop rap.

Andrew Bird was as brilliant as always. I love this guy … and I overheard a lot of comments from impressed concertgoers who’d never seen him before.

I was hoping to stick around for the Wrens and Les Savy Fav (not the Decemberists, though — I still don’t care for that band), but five hours of enduring that heat was enough… I don’t know anything about the other band that was playing, Deerhoof.

In any case, I hope the Intonation Music Festival is back again next year.

Chicago Folk & Roots Festival 2005

JULY 9-10, 2005
CHICAGO FOLK & ROOTS FESTIVAL
at Welles Park, sponsored by the Old Town School of Folk Music

I could have spent the whole weekend hanging out at this fest, which is always one of the most enjoyable in Chicago… Alas, other duties called… and in the interest of maintaining some semblance of sanity, I limited my time at the festival to just a couple of performances.

On Saturday, I caught the headline act, Alejandro Escovedo, whose set was interesting and enjoyable, if a little low-key for the festival setting. Twas nice to see him with a full string quartet, plus good old John Dee Graham on electric guitar and lap steel guitar, offering some very fine solos. It’s too bad the festival schedule didn’t also include a separate set by Graham. Escovedo got everyone to sing along when he played “All the Young Dudes” in his encore, and then the show ended with nothing but the string players on stage, going on surprisingly long in a gentle coda to the evening.

On Sunday, I showed up in time to hear the last several songs by Funkadesi. I liked the mix of reggae and Bollywood vocals. But the main reason I was there was the band playing next, Tinariwen. The two records by this group of Tuareg nomads from the Sahara are among my favorites of the last few years, very hypnotic bluesy desert chanting.

Tinariwen played once before in Chicago, in a gig that was poorly publicized at the Chicago Cultural Center. The vibe at that show was all wrong, with a screening of the documentary “Festival in the Desert” delaying Tinariwen’s performance in a claustrophrobic concert hall, and then many audience members walked out during the show, seemingly because it was so late, not because of any deficiency in the performance.

Better vibe this time. The Folk & Roots Fest was a perfect setting for these guys. They don’t speak much English, but they knew how to say, “Welcome to the desert,” at the beginning of their set, aptly setting the tone for the concert. It was exciting to see Tinariwen’s music inspiring rhythmic clapping, dancing and some enthusiastic whoops and hollers from the Chicago crowd this time.

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF TINARIWEN.

Billy Corgan at the Vic

JULY 5, 2005
BILLY CORGAN
at the Vic

I expended most of my mental energy concerning this concert in writing an actual review for Pioneer Press. This was the first time I’d seen Corgan perform in concert since way back in November 1989, when I happened to catch the then-unknown Smashing Pumpkins open for the Buzzcocks at Cabaret Metro. I recall liking them at the time, and for some reason, they reminded me a little bit of T. Rex.

American Music Festival

JULY 2, 2005
AMERICAN MUSIC FESTIVAL
at FitzGerald’s

I always try to make it to this fine festival for at least one day. As Robbie Fulks said during his set tonight, it’s like a little bit of Austin, Texas.

The discovery of the day was the Lee Boys, a Florida “sacred steel” group that plays a rousing blues-gospel-rock. The blazing star of this band is pedal-steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier. The minute I heard this kid playing, it was obvious he’s something special. And the crowd knew it, too. I’m guessing few people in the room knew anything about the Lee Boys before today, but they certainly have some new fans.

The Kinsey Report also impressed with their blues, and Tributosaurus pulled off a nice tribute to the music of the Band.

Robbie Fulks was as entertaining as always  — of course, there are those who are put off by his sarcasm and tomfoolery, but I just find it amusing. He’s one of those great showmen with multiple talents  — in his case, singing, songwriting, guitar playing and comical emceeing. “Georgia Hard,” the title track of his new CD, already sounds like a classic. The short set came to a rather abrupt end becase of the midnight curfew, as Fulks joked about not wanting to tick off the “Berwyn gendarmes.”

Just as Fulks finished up, the Gourds were getting ready to play inside the club. I’m woefully behind on my knowledge of this Austin band, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about them (despite the fact that President George W. Bush is apparently one of their fans … I guess you can’t blame the band for that). All I can say is they sounded good, but I didn’t know the songs and I was tired.

SEE PHOTOS FROM THE AMERICAN MUSIC FESTIVAL.

The Reigning Sound at Subterranean

JULY 1, 2005
THE TOUGH & LOVELY
CATFISH HAVEN
THE REIGNING SOUND
at Subterranean

Pity the band with that first opening-act slot… The musicians walk out onto the stage in front of a mostly empty dance floor, which will be packed with people later on the same night. Or so I was thinking as the first group got ready to play tonight. I wasn’t even sure what they were called (and despite the lead singer’s saying the name a couple of times, I wasn’t sure that they were the Tough & Lovely until I stopped by the merch table later).

But tonight it took all of about five seconds to recognize that the lead singer of the Columbus, Ohio-based Tough & Lovely, Lara Yazvac, has quite a voice — big and brassy, and totally in her control. And the band sounded pretty tight as it played some darn catchy songs, very much rooted in the sound of the early ’60s. With Yazvac on vocals, it was hard not to think of the classic girl groups from that era, though, not suprisingly, the Tough & Lovely are contemporary enough to add a touch of punk here and there. Some fine organ playing was part of the mix, too.

It was clear the Tough & Lovely won over the crowd, even though most people at Subterranean had never heard their music before.I just had to stop by the merch table afterward and buy a copy of the Tough & Lovely’s 2004 CD Born of the Stars. Sounds good on first listen. One standout track is the one called “Tough and Lovely” — carrying on the odd tradition of songs with titles that are the same or similar to the band name. This is definitely a band to watch.

Catfish Haven had the middle slot. I’ve seen this Chicago trio a few times, usually as an opening act, and I have trouble mustering much enthusiasm for their music. If I heard a short snippet from one of their songs, I think I’d say it sounded good, and some of the snippets might even sound great, but the lack of variety in their songs becomes a little tedious after a while. It’s all song at the same intense pitch, with lots of heavily strummed acoustic guitar on top of the bass and drums. I kept thinking that I might like this music better if these three musicians had some additional helpers to balance out the sound — maybe a real lead guitarist who could take solos, or a keyboard player, or a female singer. Anything to add something different.

The Reigning Sound are also a trio, and like Catfish Haven, they don’t really change up their basic sound that much during the course of a show. But their sound is so good, and their songs are so good, that it hardly matters.

Singer-guitarist Greg Cartwright plays with a no-frills set up — no effects pedals, no electric tuner. At the end of the show he played about four songs without bothering to fix a broken string. He didn’t even have a set list on the floor in front of him. He occasionally consulted a song list sitting behind him on an amp, but it seemed more like he was running through a list of available songs to see which ones they hadn’t played yet. A couple of times, the Reigning Sound obliged audience requests, and during the encore, Cartwright had to come over and tell the bassist the chords for a song they hadn’t rehearsed.

The fans loved it all, singing along with the Reigning Sound’s garage rock anthems. I can’t wait for their new album.

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF THE TOUGH & LOVELY AND THE REIGNING SOUND.

Bettie Serveert at the Abbey Pub (again)

JUNE 25, 2005
BETTIE SERVEERT

at the Abbey Pub

Bettie Serveert is a good band on CD, even better in concert. Of course, as I mentioned in my previous Bettie Serveert concert report, lead singer Carol Van Dyk offers plenty of, um, visual distraction, but the music is also excellent… more lively, real and raw than most of the band’s studio CDs have been able to capture. Van Dyk (or is it Van Dijk? Depends on which CD you’re looking at) was performing tonight with a cold, but no one would have noticed much difference if she hadn’t mentioned it.

Guitarist Peter Visser plays with quite a spread of effects pedals laid out in front of it (and no monitors), but he uses those pdeals for fairly subtle changes in the sound of his guitar. His guitar did not brush against my head this time, though it did come close…

After playing their cover of the Bright Eyes song “Lover I Don’t Have to Love,” Van Dijk and Visser said Conor Oberst complimented them on their version after seeing them at a concert in New York. Visser laughingly recounted Oberst hugging him and calling him “brother” at their first meeting, which led Visser into a little speech about how wonderful the world would be if everyone hugged everyone else and called him brother. (You have to imagine this being said with a Dutch accent.)

Bettie Serveert closed with a teriffic version of the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On.”

This was yet another Abbey Pub show with three opening bands, which I easily could have skipped. Not that any of them were actually bad… Just nothing that stood out too much. The singer known only as Tristen sang well, but her songs were not distinguished. Nomad Planets played good countrified ’70s-style guitar rock, and Braam … I’m not sure how to classify that band, but it did have a decent-size contigent of fans on hand.

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF BETTIE SERVEERT…

And from the archives, photos of Bettie Serveert from Feb. 12, 2005.

Graham Parker and the Figgs at the Double Door

JUNE 24, 2005
GRAHAM PARKER AND THE FIGGS
at the Double Door

It wasn’t until someone at the concert asked me that I realized I actually had seen Graham Parker once before. It was almost exactly 20 years ago July 5, 1985, at Poplar Creek, where he was opening (with the Shot as his backup group) for Eric Clapton. Not an especially memorable concert. Or maybe I was just too young at the time for me to remember anything now.

Parker’s idea of hiring the Figgs as his latest backup band was brilliant. I had never thought of the two together, but listening to the Figgs play an opening set of their own music, it was hard not to be struck by how well their energetic, um, pub rock (is that how they’ve been categorized?) matches Parker’s.

Parker is considerably older, of course. He joked that the Ian Dury T-shirt he was wearing was older than some members of the Figgs. But even if he looks more like Ben Kingsley than your typical pop star of the moment, Parker’s looking fit, and he performed with just as much intensity as ever.

Parker and the Figgs played a number of songs from the new Bloodshot CD they’ve recorded together, but the set included plenty of classic tunes, especially from Parker’s Howling Wind and Squeezing Out Sparks albums. This is as good a time as any to catch Parker in concert.

It was also a pleasure hearing him sit in with Jon Langford the other night on WXRT’s “Eclectic Company” show — worth a listen 10 p.m. to midnight Mondays for some interesting conversation and records you don’t normally hear on the radio. Now, if only the rest of XRT’s schedule were half as intriguing…

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF GRAHAM PARKER AND THE FIGGS.

The Moaners at the Abbey Pub

JUNE 23, 2005
THE MOANERS
at the Abbey Pub

For my money, the Moaners — Melissa Swingle and Laura King — have topped the White Stripes this year in the realm of guitar-and-drums duos, though the Stripes’ disc Get Behind Me Satan is getting a lot more attention than the Moaners’ fine debut record Dark Snack.

Unfortunately, attendance was sparse at tonight’s show. The Abbey Pub wasn’t nearly as crowded as Subterranean had been the last time the Moaners were in town. Ah, I suppose it was an off night, coming on a Thursday without much advertising or publicity. But the small crowd didn’t make the music any less exciting.

King showed herself to be an exceptional drummer, making a powerful sound with a relatively small kit, and Swingle’s sleepy vocals and slide-heavy electric guitar playing were just as twisted as ever.

Some new songs in the encore  — a couple of them half-finished  — sounded promising. Can’t wait for that next Moaners album. Check them out July 11 at theHideout.

Out of the three opening acts tonight, the only one worth noting was Mr. Rudy Day, a band led by Chicago alt-country scene fixture Andy Hopkins, playing music that sounded like it was straight out of ’70s classic rock. He’s a good lead guitarist, and not a bad singer, either.

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF THE MOANERS.

And from the archives, photos of the Moaners on Feb. 5, 2005.

Philip Glass at Ravinia

JUNE 21, 2005
Philip Glass
at Ravinia

This performance of Glass’ new suite “Orion” was a great chance to hear some world-music virtuosos, including three of my favorite “ethnic” instruments, the Chinese lute known as the pipa, the Gambian harp-like instrument called the kora, and the sitar. As on the Orion CD, most of the music was excellent, although the section of Celtic fiddling was a little jarring. And as my brother said, the big finale was a little like “Yanni at the Acropolis.”

We were sitting in front of a chatty older woman who kept asking, “Which of them is Philp Glass? It can’t be that guy” — it was! — “because his hair’s not curly enough.” And when the digeridoo player were performing, she felt it was necessary to comment, “He’s making that noise with his mouth.”