Hideout 20-Year Reunion

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The Hideout, one of my favorite music venues, celebrated its 20th anniversary with a daylong mini-festival on Saturday — billed as a “20-Year Reunion.” In truth, the Hideout is much older than just two decades, as the city of Chicago’s cultural historian, Tim Samuelson, told the audience on Saturday in a short spiel about the venue’s history. He said it’s been serving alcohol since around 1919 — probably continuing as an illegal booze joint during the Prohibition Era.

But 20 years ago was when Tim Tuten and his wife, Katie, and their friends, twins Jim and Mike Hinchsliff, took over the Hideout and began transforming it into a friendly gathering place in the midst of a starkly urban landscape. (There’s a parking lot across the street filled with city garbage trucks.) In 2004, I interviewed the Tutens and the Hinchsliff brothers for a Pioneer Press feature about the Hideout. Back then, I wrote:

After eight years of running the Hideout, the owners still look on the experience like a fun adventure from their childhood days in the suburbs. “Kids used to make forts,” Tim Tuten says. “We looked at this as a fort or a clubhouse.”

That’s as true as it ever was. The Hideout is a sort of playground for musicians and their fans, and it also hosts comedy and literary events, political discussions … you name it. The genre of music most often associated with the Hideout is alt-country, but its concert schedule extends way beyond twang, including everything from experimental jazz to hard rock. And I’ve always sensed a welcoming vibe in its cozy space. Even on those rare nights when I don’t know a lot of people in the crowd, it just feels like a place where it’s easy to strike up a conversation with some of your fellow music fans.

The venue hosted an outdoor festival called the Hideout Block Party during many years, sometimes on Wabansia Street in front of the bar, sometimes taking over a bigger space in that garbage-truck parking lot. Last year, there was no Block Party. And this year’s event was pulled together somewhat belatedly. It turned out to be a smaller-scale even than the festival was in some years. There was just a small stage in front of the bar, and admission was a $20 donation. The lineup was filled with artists who have been regulars and favorites at the Hideout over the past 20 years. There was no need to bring in any additional big-name stars.

I did not see every single minute of Saturday’s party (my excuse is that I was recovering from sitting through the 15-hour Ragamala concert over the previous night). Early in the afternoon, I missed Plastic Crimewave Vision Celestial Guitarkestra, a “Late, Late Breakfast Pancake Brunch” and the Girl Talk interview show; and at the end of the night, I missed indoor performances by Devil in a Woodpile and the Lawrence Peters Outfit. But the eight hours of music I did catch were a fun time, filled with good spirit. It culminated with a lively set by Eleventh Dream Day, who closed with a cover of Lovin Spoonful’s “Summer in the City.” (See my video of the song here.)

Happy 20th birthday to the Hideout — and may you outlive all the changes that may be coming in the neighborhood. Chicago needs you.

Tim Tuten introduces Matina (Nora O’Connor, Gerald Dowd and Liam Davis)
Tim Tuten introduces Mantina (Nora O’Connor, Gerald Dowd and Liam Davis)
Matina
Mantina

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Kelly Hogan with Mantina
Kelly Hogan with Mantina
Andy Hopkins and Kelly Hogan with Mantina
Andy Hopkins and Kelly Hogan with Mantina
White Mystery
White Mystery
White Mystery
White Mystery
White Mystery
White Mystery
White Mystery
White Mystery
The Amazing Mr. Ash
The Amazing Mr. Ash
Poet Gregorio Gomez reads “The City”
Poet Gregorio Gomez reads “The City”
Nora O'Connor and Robbie Fulks
Nora O’Connor and Robbie Fulks
Robbie Fulks
Robbie Fulks
Kelly Hogan
Kelly Hogan
Andy Hopkins and Kelly Hogan
Andy Hopkins and Kelly Hogan
Tim Tuten raps about the Hideout with musical accompaniment from Mr. Rudy Day
Tim Tuten raps about the Hideout with musical accompaniment from Mr. Rudy Day
Mr. Rudy Day
Mr. Rudy Day
Chicago cultural historian Tim Samuelson, with Tim Tuten
Chicago cultural historian Tim Samuelson, with Tim Tuten
Tim Samuelson tells the history of the Hideout
Tim Samuelson tells the history of the Hideout
Jon Langford & Skull Orchard
Jon Langford & Skull Orchard

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The birthday cake
The birthday cake
JC Brooks Band
JC Brooks Band
JC Brooks Band
JC Brooks Band
Eleventh Dream Day
Eleventh Dream Day
Eleventh Dream Day
Eleventh Dream Day
Eleventh Dream Day
Eleventh Dream Day
Eleventh Dream Day
Eleventh Dream Day
Eleventh Dream Day
Eleventh Dream Day
Eleventh Dream Day
Eleventh Dream Day
Eleventh Dream Day
Eleventh Dream Day
Eleventh Dream Day
Eleventh Dream Day

Eleventh Dream Day at Andersonville City Made Fest

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Over the past 28 years, Eleventh Dream Day has consistently made good records, but its latest — Works for Tomorrow — is one of the best. The Chicago band played as a trio for many years, with Rick Rizzo on guitar and vocals, Douglas McCombs on bass and Janet Beveridge Bean on drums and vocals. Several years back, Mark Greenberg joined the lineup on keyboards, and then the band expanded yet again with James Elkington coming in as a second guitarist. The bigger lineup makes Eleventh Dream Day more versatile — and it makes an even bigger noise than before.

Eleventh Dream Day played Saturday night, Sept. 12, at the City Made Fest in Andersonville, focusing heavily on the new songs. The group didn’t even bother to play what may be its most famous song, “Testify.” (Eleventh Dream Day didn’t play it at a recent Hideout show, either.)

The new song “Go Tell It” kicked off with a long searing guitar solo by Elkington. On the chorus — “Go tell it on the mountain!” —  Bean’s soulful wails joined together with Rizzo’s voice, sounding a bit like Merry Clayton’s classic duet with Mick Jagger on “Gimme Shelter.” Bean stepped out from behind the drums for the final song of the night, a cover of Judy Henske and Jerry Yester’s “Snowblind” that appears on the new album. She leaned over as she sang, as if she were squeezing every once of her strength into those vocals. As the final notes rang out, she nearly fell off the side of the stage. Decades after starting, Eleventh Dream Day sounds as vital as ever.

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Eleventh Dream Day, Dump and Sidi Toure

You have two more chances this month to see Eleventh Dream Day. The band is playing every Sunday in April at the Hideout, trying out some new songs for an upcoming album. They sounded just as fiery as ever at last week’s show, which featured two excellent opening acts: Malian guitarist Sidi Toure (accompanied by n’goni virtuoso Abdoulaye Koné aka Kandiafa and joined on a couple of songs by Chicago harmonica player Billy Branch) and Dump (the solo side-project pseudonym of Yo La Tengo’s James McNew).

Sidi Toure, Kandiafa and Billy Branch

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Dump (James McNew)

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Eleventh Dream Day

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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 — 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 — 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 — or what remains of it.

FRIDAY, NOV. 30, THE HIDEOUT — 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

Bonnie “Prince” Billy at Millennium Park


Yes, it is hard to believe sometimes how unusual and wonderful the concerts promoted by the city of Chicago in the beautiful Millennium Park are. The summer season of free concerts got started Monday night (May 23) with … Bonnie “Prince” Billy? And Eleventh Dream Day as the opening act?

I love both of these acts, but they’re not exactly superstars or even what most people would think of as mainstream crowd pleasers. But over the past few years, the programmers in the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs have proven that they’ve got good taste and they’re willing to take risks. There’s been a shakeup since last fall, and I’m still trying to make sense of what it means that the city has moved around jobs and transferred some of these responsibilities to the tourism office. So far, so good — interesting and cool music is still being booked at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that it stays this way in the months and years to come. (Check out this summer’s concert schedule at Millennium Park here.)

The first act of the night Monday was Chicago’s venerable but still very lively indie-rock band Eleventh Dream Day, although it was questionable for a while whether they would actually play. Drummer and harmony vocalist Janet Beveridge Bean broke an ankle Sunday, and initially the band was planning to cancel the gig as a result. But Jim Elkington (who was in the Zincs and collaborated with Bean in the Horse’s Ha) was recruited to fill in on drums. Bean came out onto the stage in crutches and stood at her own mini drum set, singing throughout the set and offering some backup percussion. Elkington sounded pretty good, considering he’d just had one chance to rehearse the songs. It wasn’t quite the full Eleventh Dream Day experience, but the songs still sounded pretty great … and it made for an unusual and unique show. Bean joked that she was worried about keeping her job with the band. I don’t think there’s any need for her to worry about that, as her vocals came through as strong as ever Monday night.



Bonnie “Prince” Billy, aka Will Oldham, performed Monday with the same band he’s had with him last year, the Cairo Gang, which is led by guitarist Emmett Kelly of Chicago, and also includes Chicago singer Angel Olsen. Oldham was a bit more mellow than he’s been the past few times I’ve seen him, but he was just as expressive with his oddball yoga/dance moves, lifting his bare foot at skewed angles while he sang, cradling his guitar in his hands when he wasn’t playing it.

Unless I failed to recognize some of the songs (which is certainly possible, given how many records Oldham has put out), I believe that the bulk of songs he played Monday were brand-new ones, not yet released. He opened with “Troublesome Houses,” off of 2010’s Wonder Show of the World, and played another song from that same terrific album, “Go Folks, Go” just before the encore. But everything in between seemed to be new, with Oldham using lyrics sheets. The songs tended toward the quiet, with lyrics about spiritual seeking as well as the casual references to sex we’ve come to expect. At one point, he warned the audience to clap hands over the ears of anyone children in attendance, then proceeded to sing, “As boys, we fucked each other.” Another song mentioned sweaty thighs locked together. The first of the new songs he performed was almost a solo a cappella performance, with just a few eerie accents from the Steinway piano and the upright bass. The audience in the section of the pavilion near the stage fell almost completely silent as Oldham delivered this melody from the peculiar depths of his throat.

In its loveliest moments, the new material built to gospel-like choruses and impressive three-part harmonies featuring Oldham, Olsen and Kelly. More listens will be needed to decide how the new songs stack up — Oldham’s work usually needs repeat listens before it clicks with me — but it was a daring and beautiful performance. I was wondering what the people in the audience less familiar with Oldham’s work made of it all. It was steady, low-key folk-rock with tinges of jazz and gospel, the sort of music that requires close listening. Did it win over the audience or were people scratching their heads? It’s impossible for anyone to tell what everyone else is thinking in a crowd, but I got the sense that people were at least respectful and intrigued by what they were hearing.

During the encore, Bonnie “Prince” Billy played “There Is No God,” a single he’s releasing June 12 on Drag City, with profits going to Save Our Gulf and Turtle Hospital to support efforts to clean up and maintain waterways — a good cause, in the wake of the recent flooding along the Mississippi River basin. (Watch the video here.) After sounding spiritual in other songs earlier in the evening, Oldham now declared bluntly, “There is no god.” But the declaration wasn’t quite that simple. “There is no god,” he sang, “But that which surround the tongue/That which sees love in the chest/That which puts mouth on cock and vagina/That that is the best.” In his own odd way, Oldham reminds me of poets like Walt Whitman.

His occasionally vulgar lyrics made the spectacle of the concert in the park seem all the more subversive… or surreal, anyway. So the city of Chicago is paying this guy to stand in his bare feet on that fancy stage designed by Frank Gehry and blurt out lyrics about cocks and vaginas and sweaty thighs and how god doesn’t exist? Yep. Pretty cool, isn’t it?











Eleventh Dream Day at Lincoln Hall


The Chicago rock band Eleventh Dream Day has been together for a quarter of a century, but their recordings and live performances are still fresh and exciting. Celebrating the release of its latest record, the Thrill Jockey release Riot Now!, the group played Friday night (April 22) at Lincoln Hall, sounding as energetic and alive as ever. What’s the secret of these guys? Maybe it has something to do with the way they carry on as a sort of occasional endeavor, playing a few gigs a year rather than touring incessantly; recording a new album every few years instead of constantly going at it.

The new record is a keeper, with a bunch of songs that rank alongside the best Eleventh Dream Day has done. I won’t call it a comeback or a return to form, however, since I’ve never been disappointed with this outfit’s previous recordings or concerts. The band has been remarkably consistent over the years. In any case, Riot Now! is a document of Eleventh Dream Day in fine form. The band honed these songs in a series of gigs last year at the Hideout (I saw two of the four shows), then recorded them quickly in just a couple of days, without doing a lot of takes or overdubs. Not a bad way to capture a rock band’s live energy.

Friday night, Eleventh Dream Day launched into its show with several of the new songs, before going back to some of its oldest records, Prairie School Freakout and Beet. The new record features some terrific backup vocals from drummer Janet Beveridge Bean. That’s nothing new, but these songs blend Bean’s voice into the mix just about perfectly, adding an essential melodic layer. That same exciting blend of voices and noise came through in concert.

As always, Doug McCombs played some exceptional bass lines, both melodic and rhythmic, matching Bean’s driving percussion. And Rick Rizzo let loose with the sort of Crazy Horse guitar soloing we’ve come to expect from him. Rizzo pushed and pulled at its guitar as if it were a living animal he was struggling to control. Mark Greenberg played keyboards for most of the show, his chords thickening Eleventh Dream Day’s sound, but on the older songs — ones originally recorded with two guitarists — he switched to bass and McCombs added a second guitar. In both configurations, Eleventh Dream Day lived up to the title of that new album — Riot Now!.

LINKS:
Eleventh Dream Day on the Thrill Jockey site
www.myspace.com/eleventhdreamday
Eleventh Dream Day live performance and interview with Alison Cuddy on WBEZ’s Eight Forty-Eight show — plus video
Greg Kot’s Chicago Tribune article
Matt Arado’s Daily Herald article
My 2006 Pioneer Press article about Eleventh Dream Day












Another one of my favorite local bands, the 1900s, opened the show, playing a nice set of their sparkling ’60s-style pop music, and a cool guitar rave out by Edward Anderson on “Two Ways.” The 1900s aren’t exactly in the same genre as Eleventh Dream Day, but the contrasting styles of these two Chicago bands complemented each other well.

Condo Dream Day at Hideout

Eleventh Dream Day’s residency at the Hideout continued Sunday night (May 16) with the month’s most notable opening act, Condo Fucks — which is actually an alias or alter ego of indie-rock legends Yo La Tengo. As the Matador Records website explains: “Many years ago, in a town called New London, in Connecticut, one band reigned supreme. Condo Fucks. … Georgia Condo. Kid Condo. James McNew.” Well, that’s not really much of an explanation, but this essentially seems to be an outlet for the three members of Yo La Tengo to play some loud, crunchy guitar chords as they cover a bunch of their favorite songs.

Condo Fucks released an album in March called Fuckbook (a nod to Yo La Tengo’s covers collection Fakebook). No tour has been announced, but the band did a special one-off gig opening for their old pals in Eleventh Dream Day. The press release on the Matador page is headlined: “Condo Fucks in Rare Chicago Appearance Shocker.”

This gig was Yo La Tengo in loud, garage-rock mode for the duration, with Ira Kaplan hunched over his guitar much of the night. Ira switched off on vocals with McNew (who was playing a baritone guitar as if it were a bass) and Georgia Kaplan. I have the complete set list, though I’m not sure about the origins of all these tunes. Help, anyone? [UPDATED 5/18/2010: Thanks to those who commented with info on the original artists. Still not sure about “Get Down.”]

“2120 South Michigan Avenue” (The Rolling Stones)
“Come On Up” (The Rascals)
“With a Girl Like You” (The Troggs)
“Accident” (The Electric Eels)
“Last Time Around” (The Del-Vettes)
“The Kid With the Replaceable Head” (Richard Hell)
“I’m Your Man” (Richard Hell)
“This Is Where I Belong” (The Kinks)
“What’cha Gonna Do About It” (The Small Faces)
“Frenzy” (The Fugs)
“Get Down”
“Dog Meat” (Flamin Groovies)
“Tiger In Your Tank” (Muddy Waters)
“Liz Beth” (Eleventh Dream Day)

Eleventh Dream Day took the stage next, playing a lot of its new songs again, but with more ferocious guitar solos from Rick Rizzo than two weeks ago. The band also played “The Arsonist” (digging all the way back to its 1987 self-titled debut for that one), one of its best-known songs, “Testify” (from the 1989 album Beet) and one of the standout tracks from its most recent record, “Lately I’ve Been Thinking” (from 2006’s Zeroes and Ones).

Ira Kaplan of Condo Fucks/Yo La Tengo came back onstage at the end of the night, joining Eleventh Dream Day for a cover of the Dream Syndicate’s “Halloween.” And then for the encore, the two bands merged together for an epic version of the Velvet Underground’s “Ocean,” extending the last part of the song into a long jam with the chorus, “Here comes the waves!” echoing through the noise.

See my photos of Condo Fucks and Eleventh Dream Day.

Hideout helps out Haiti

You can always count on the Hideout to get behind a good cause. Within days after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, the Hideout put together a benefit show to raise money. Two of Chicago’s stalwart bands, Eleventh Dream Day and the Waco Brothers, played rousing sets Monday at the club, raising almost $8,000 for Partners in Health. Sally Timms of the Mekons was one of the key organizers of the event, which also featured a bake sale and a bake sale organized by My Vegetable Blog and a poster sale by Kathleen Judge of Judgeworks. If you didn’t make it to the sold-out show, you can still help out by buying one of the posters shown here. (Poster sale proceeds will go to Doctors Without Borders and Partners and Health.)

Eleventh Dream Day played first, delivering the sort of hard-charging rock we’ve come to expect — including three songs that have not yet been released, “Satellite,” “More Than Luck” and a tune with the phrase “Fades Away” in the chorus. All sounded like they’ll be great additions to the EDD catalogue — whenever the band gets around to recording them. It was also cool to hear EDD playing music from its classic album Beet.

The Waco Brothers did their thing, and they did it very well. They’re easy to take for granted, since they play so often and since they make it all look so easy, but they’re about as much fun to watch as any group in Chicago. Hideout owner Tim Tuten was absent (working at his day job in Washington, D.C.), but Jon Langford read a few text messages from Tim aloud to simulate a classic Tuten introduction. And then the Wacos kicked their way through several of their best-known tunes and favorite covers, including Neil Young’s “Revolution Blues,” the Bobby Fuller Four’s “I Fought the Law,” T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” and the Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks.” Bassist Alan Doughty accidentally knocked out the venue’s trademark Christmas lights, which adorn the ceiling, when the lights got tangled up in his bass. Near the end of the show, Langford asked the crowd, “How late do you want us to play? We’ve got to wake up early and overthrow the government.”

Sadies, Flat Five and Dream Day

Recapping a few shows from the past week…

The Sadies were back in town Thursday (Dec. 4) for a show at Schubas, kicking off a tour with the estimable Tim Easton as opening act. The Sadies don’t have a new record out (not since releasing my favorite album of 2007, New Seasons), so we didn’t get any new songs, but there were plenty of great old tunes – something like 30, I think, if you include all those short instrumentals they ripped through. As always, the Good brothers were simply amazing on their guitars, and I took special notice this time that Travis was playing without any effects pedals at all, and Dallas had just a couple of rudimentary pedals. Further proof that you don’t need a lot of special effects to make the guitar sing. Highlights included covers of “A House is Not a Hotel” by Love and “Shake Some Action” by the Flaming Groovies. Easton put on a good show, too, playing solo acoustic (over chatty crowd noise) and mentioning that he has an album coming out in the spring with more of a rock sound.

Photos of the Sadies and Tim Easton.

Friday night (Dec. 5) marked the return of the Flat Five, a sort of local super group combining the talents of Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon, KC McDonough and Gerald Dowd in an idiosyncratic cover band. Well, it’s mostly covers. They play a few originals, but it’s largely old pop, country, jazz, psychedelic and standard songs they clearly love. Their voices blend into truly lovely harmonies, and they have a knack for picking the sort of terrific tunes that a die-hard record collector loves. I stayed for both the early and late shows at the Hideout, and heard them doing everything from Spanky & Our Gang to the Dukes of Stratosphear, Rutles and Hoagy Carmichael. These are some special musicians who rarely put our records. You really have to catch them live to see what they’re all about.

Photos of the Flat Five.

I was back at the Hideout on Sunday (Dec. 7) for a show benefitting Goldie’s Place, an organization that helps the homeless get jobs. The show featured Jon Langford playing solo, followed by Eleventh Dream Day, and Eleventh Dream Day combining with Langford and Sally Timms for several Mekons and Three Johns songs. It was a lively affair, with a couple of strong new songs by Eleventh Dream Day (new album coming soon, guys? Let’s hope…), sloppy but fun renditions of those barely rehearsed Mekons songs and tighter performances of the Three Johns songs. All for a good cause.

Photos of Eleventh Dream Day with Jon Langford and Sally Timms.

Eleventh Dream Day at the Empty Bottle

Thank the rock gods (or whoever your reigning deity may be) that Eleventh Dream Day has soldiered on for all these years. (It’s hard to believe they’ve been together for 23 years now.) EDD concerts and albums only come once in a rare while, but they’re always an event. And EDD shows always rank among my favorites of the year. Sure, they might not be doing anything that’s considered especially groundbreaking or trendy in 2006, but their music almost seems like it went out of fashion then came back into fashion. To my ears, it fits in perfectly with a lot of the garage rock and punk revivalism going on these days.

The songs from the new album, Zeroes and Ones, sounded great next to older EDD tunes. It’s as good an album as they’ve ever done, and the track “Lately I’ve Been Thinking” is one of my favorite songs this year.

Rick Rizzo was in fine form, pushing and pulling on the neck of his guitar as if he were struggling to keep it from writhing out of control. Janet Bean’s drumming was tight when it needed to be, more chaotic when the music called for it. And Doug McComb was excellent as always on the bass. (Does this guy look like the prototypical bassist or what? He really looks like he is exerting himself as he works those strings.)

The show got really great when keyboardist Mark Greenberg switched to bass and McCombs took up guitar. The group kicked into a fiery version of an oldie, “Testify,” followed by “Lately I’ve Been Thinking” (on which Kiki Yablon of the opening act Red Eyed Legends joined in). The encore was a surprising cover of Joy Division’s “Isolation” (which really did sound like an EDD song) and a song from the very first EDD record, Prairie School Freakout. (Sorry, my memory of song titles is failing me here…)

SEE PHOTOS OF ELEVENTH DREAM DAY.

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.