The week in concerts

Mike Cooley

Mike Cooley
Mike Cooley

Notes on the past week’s concerts:

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WEDNESDAY, NOV. 28, THE BURLINGTON β€” DAVID VANDERVELDE: This was the last of four Wednesday-night shows Vandervelde performed during his November “residency” at the Burlington; the only one that I managed to catch. He was in excellent form, playing several songs with buzzing guitar riffs and solos in the style of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. But as always, he also reveled in power-pop melodies. On this occasion, his songs reminded me more than a little bit of Badfinger. Can’t wait to hear his next record. I showed up just in time to catch the last song and a half by Mazes, who seemed to be rocking pretty hard; and alas, I missed the first set of the night, by the Singleman Affair.

THURSDAY, NOV. 29, ALLSTATE ARENA β€” THE WHO: I hadn’t been planning to see The Who until I got a last-minute offer for a ticket. I’m glad I went. The one time I’d seen The Who before was their “farewell” tour in 1989. And I was skeptical about the whole idea of Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend carrying on as “The Who” without either Keith Moon or John Entwistle. But as much as I’d prefer going in a time machine back to a Who concert circa 1967, they played a remarkably good show this time.

Daltrey’s vocals stayed strong. Townshend twirled his arm in that trademark windmill, making jagged shards out of his rhythm chords. And several musicians filled out the rest of the sounds as they performed the entirety of their complex 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia, followed by a short string of some greatest hits: “Who Are You,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” They should’ve ended the show there, but they went on, with Daltrey and Townshend alone on the stage doing an acoustic duet version of “Tea & Theatre,” from The Who’s 2006 album Endless Wire. It was actually nice to hear the two of them playing by themselves, but the song paled in comparison to everything that had come before it. Still, all in all, a memorable night of music by one of the world’s greatest rock bands β€” or what remains of it.

FRIDAY, NOV. 30, THE HIDEOUT β€”Β MIKE COOLEY: Patterson Hood gets the most attention in the Drive-By Truckers, but the other singer-songwriter-guitarist in the group, Mike Cooley, has been contributing great songs to the band’s albums since the beginning. He rarely plays solo gigs, so it was a privilege to see him sitting down with a couple of acoustic guitars on the Hideout’s stage. Cooley, who generally lets Hood do all the talking between songs at DBT shows, turned out to be a fairly talkative and wickedly funny guy. And what a pleasure to hear his songs in these plucked-acoustic arrangements, which often sounded quite a bit different than the full band versions. A friend who saw Cooley on Thursday night as well told me that he played a lot of different songs the previous night. As Cooley noted, he works without a set list, and he obligingly played some of the songs requested by enthusiastic fans. Highlights included “Zip City,” “Checkout Time in Vegas,” “Marry Me,””Carl Perkins’ Cadillac” and “When the Pin Hits the Shell.”

I had my camera at only one of these concerts, the Mike Cooley show. My photos:

Mike Cooley
Mike Cooley
Mike Cooley
Mike Cooley
Mike Cooley

From Roger Waters to Colin Stetson

Time to catch up on some concerts I’ve seen lately. Back on July 8, I saw Rogers Water perform Pink Floyd’s The Wall at Wrigley Field, a spectacle with plenty of bombast and muddled metaphors, and yet some weirdly small moments β€” if that’s possible β€” featuring that one guy, Waters, standing way down there like an ant, dwarfed by the iconic wall behind him, and singing his old songs for 40,000 fans. Those were the times with at least a tiny touch of spontaneity sneaked its way into the highly rehearsed and plotted-out proceedings. I did not bring my camera and I sat way up in a nose-bleed section. I attempted to take a few photos with my cellphone, seen below.

Rogers Waters at Wrigley Field
Rogers Waters at Wrigley Field (before the concert)

Rogers Waters at Wrigley Field
Rogers Waters at Wrigley Field

The following night, June 9, was quite a change of scenery. From Wrigley Field to the Hideout, where alt-country singer-songwriter Megan Reilly was playing achingly beautiful songs from her great new album, The Well, backed by an exceptional band: guitarist James Mastro, bassist Tony Maimone (of Pere Ubu fame) and drummer Steve Goulding (of Mekons fame). The room wasn’t as full as it should’ve been for this show, but in its own way, it was more spectacular than seeing Roger Waters at Wrigley Field. (I had every intention of taking photos at this concert, until I made the boneheaded error of grabbing the wrong camera … the one with a dead battery in it.)

On June 15, The Figgs played a rocking set of power pop at Ultra Lounge β€” including a nifty cover of the Who’s “Happy Jack.” It was another show that deserved a bigger crowd, oddly coming one night after the Figgs opened for Smashing Pumpkins at Metro.

The Figgs
The Figgs

The Figgs
The Figgs

The Figgs
The Figgs

The Figgs
The Figgs

The Figgs
The Figgs

The Figgs
The Figgs

The Figgs
The Figgs

The Figgs
The Figgs

The Figgs had three opening bands β€” the Lustkillers, the Cry and the Van Buren Boys β€” in an evening filled with plenty of power pop and hair gel.

The Van Buren Boys
The Van Buren Boys

The Cry
The Cry

The Lustkillers
The Lustkillers

On June 16, Baby Dee played at the Old Town School of Folk Music’s Szold Hall, in the school’s new building across Lincoln Avenue from its main center. With a small crowd sitting silently in the room, it felt a bit like a classical music recital, except for the fact that the irrepressibly odd and ribald Baby Dee was saying things such as: “Are there any crack whores here tonight?” Her “dirges,” as she calls them, came across with nuance in the acoustically perfect room.

June 17 at the Taste of Randolph Street, David Vandervelde played the best set I’ve seen him do so far, with a fantastic band that featured bassist Ben Clarke and guitarist Emmett Kelly, a.k.a. Bonnie “Prince” Billy sideman the Cairo Gang. During a couple of long, Crazy Horse-style jams, Vandervelde and Kelly were soloing on top of each other, to riveting effect. Let’s hope they keep working together and that Vandervelde gets a new album out sometime soon. Vandervelde played a couple of Jay Bennett covers during his surprisingly long (hour-plus) set, opening with the mordantly humorous “Beer.”

David Vandervelde
David Vandervelde

David Vandervelde
David Vandervelde

David Vandervelde
David Vandervelde

David Vandervelde
David Vandervelde

Emmett Kelly and Ben Clarke
Emmett Kelly and Ben Clarke

After an opening act of some fire-juggling circus folk…

Pyrotechniq
Pyrotechniq

Pyrotechniq
Pyrotechniq

The Hold Steady closed out Taste of Randolph with a set that rocked pretty hard from beginning to end β€” quite a change from frontman Craig Finn’s recent solo performance at Do Division. Now that keyboardist Franz Nicolay is no longer in the band, the sound is all guitars. A bit of keyboard would have helped for variety’s sake, but the band sounded tight, including a couple of new songs in its set.

The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady

Thursday (June 21), Late Bar hosted a cool set by Astrobrite, a shoegaze band that started in the ’90s and recently had its first album reissued by Chicago’s BLVD label. BLVD impresario Melissa Geils joined the band on keyboards at this gig, which was delightfully noisy.

Astrobrite
Astrobrite

Astrobrite
Astrobrite

Astrobrite
Astrobrite

Astrobrite
Astrobrite

Astrobrite
Astrobrite

Astrobrite
Astrobrite

The opening act, Cinchel (a.k.a. my friend Jason Shanley), played noise of a different kind, the droning and shimmering sort. Cinchel has a dreamy new record out called Stereo Stasis β€” check it out on bandcamp.

Cinchel
Cinchel

Cinchel
Cinchel

On Friday (June 22), I caught one set by Jason Adasiewicz and his new band Sun Rooms β€” a trio that also includes Mike Reed on drums and Matt McBridge on bass β€” at the Green Mill. Adasiewicz assaulted his vibraphone with alarming force at times, but still managed to coax lovely sounds out of it.

After that stop at the Green Mill, it was over to the Logan Square bar Township, where I saw an exhilarating set by Treasure Fleet, a Chicago band showing some strong similarities to the great Bee Thousand-era tunes of Guided By Voices, as well as 1960s psychedelia and power pop.

Treasure Fleet
Treasure Fleet

Treasure Fleet
Treasure Fleet

Treasure Fleet
Treasure Fleet

Treasure Fleet
Treasure Fleet

Treasure Fleet
Treasure Fleet

Treasure Fleet
Treasure Fleet

Finally, on Saturday (June 23), I arrived at Schubas just in time to see a stunning performance by saxophonist Colin Stetson. From what I hear, I missed great opening sets by Chicago percussionist Frank Rosaly and Arcade Fire violinist Sarah Neufeld. Interestingly, each of the three acts at Schubas last night played alone. Stetson sounded more like a whole band, however. Playing an immense bass sax on most songs and occasionally switching over to an alto, Stetson created undulating patterns of notes reminiscent of minimalist classical music, and then he somehow managed to add internal melodies and tunes on top of all that, which sounded at times more like human singing than woodwind. The crowd watched and listened in rapt silence, and Stetson worked up a good sweat with the sheer exertion of his powerful and impressive music.

Colin Stetson
Colin Stetson

Colin Stetson
Colin Stetson

Colin Stetson
Colin Stetson

Colin Stetson
Colin Stetson

Colin Stetson
Colin Stetson

Colin Stetson
Colin Stetson

Colin Stetson
Colin Stetson

Colin Stetson
Colin Stetson

Black Mountain at Lincoln Hall

Vancouver rockers Black Mountain have a new album on the way β€” Wilderness Heart comes out Sept. 14 in North America β€” and the band gave Chicago a preview of the new tunes Thursday (July 1) at Lincoln Hall.

Judging from the new songs Black Mountain played (about half of the set), Wilderness Heart is going to be a fine follow-up to the band’s excellent earlier records, the self-titled debut from 2005 and In the Future from 2008. Continuing in the vein of those recordings, Black Mountain is making epic riffs, drawing on the hard rock, art rock and psychedelic music of the early ’70s.

Some of the band’s songs are quite long, to the point where it seems natural to call them “jams.” But Black Mountain doesn’t fill up all that time with endless solos or improvisation. Sometimes, guitarist/front man Stephen McBean and his band mates simply revel in the joy of playing a great melodic hook over and over. Other times, the songs are more like carefully constructed suites, each part leading into another part that seems like the only logical place the music could go.

McBean’s face remained hidden much of the time, buried under his long hair, as he played guitar or sang. The other thing that makes Black Mountain’s music so appealing is the combination of McBean’s vocals with those of Amber Webber. The new songs sounded strong, but of course, it was even more exciting to hear the ones we’re already familiar with, including “Don’t Run Our Hearts Around” and “Druganaut” from the first album, and “Evil Ways” from In the Future.

Watch a video of the new Black Mountain song “Old Fangs.” Or download a free mp3 of the song here.

The evening started off with an opening set by David Vandervelde, who had at least one different musician in his band compared with the recent show he did at the Empty Bottle. (Or were both different? I’m not sure.) Vandervelde’s Crazy Horse-style guitar soloing on a couple of songs sounded great. The highlights were the last two songs of his set, both drawn from his debut CD, “Murder in Michigan” and “Never No.”

See my photos of Black Mountain and David Vandervelde at Lincoln Hall.

David Vandervelde at the Empty Bottle


Free concerts on many Monday nights are of the great things about the Empty Bottle. This week (April 19), the headliner was David Vandervelde. I first met Vandervelde a few years ago when I was interviewing the late Jay Bennett at his Chicago studios. Vandervelde hadn’t released any records yet, but he was hanging out with Bennett, collaborating and messing around on a variety of instruments. Bennett told me how talented (and multitalented) Vandervelde was.

When Vandervelde’s strong solo debut, The Moon Station House Band, came out in 2007 on the Secretly Canadian label, the Bennett influence was obvious. Both musicians clearly had a lot of love for catchy late ’60s and early ’70s rock and pop music. Vandervelde’s 2008 CD Waiting for the Sunrise is mellower, but it still harkens back to that era.

As a live performer, Vandervelde is louder and looser than he is in the studio, and so it was on Monday night. Vandervelde often sings with a soft edge to his voice, making it ideal for carrying a sweet pop melody, but he also solos on electric guitar with the sort of ragged, jagged lines Neil Young does with Crazy Horse. He paid tribute to Bennett (who died last year) by playing a song they wrote together, “California Breezes,” and then he finished off the show with one of the best tracks on that first album, “Nothing No,” another track co-written by Bennett.

Vandervelde (who was backed by a couple of musicians from one of the opening acts, Ghostfinger) told me afterward that he plans to record a new album this summer.
www.myspace.com/davidvandervelde

See my photos of David Vandervelde at the Empty Bottle… which are, admittedly, rather dark and grainy. Hey, it was dim in there.