Chad VanGaalen at the Empty Bottle

Chad VanGaalen, a singer-songwriter from Calgary, Alberta, makes his recordings practically alone, writing every note and playing nearly every instrument. VanGaalen’s most recent album on Sub Pop, Light Information, offers an outstanding example of what he does so well: richly layered indie rock, with tuneful melodies but plenty of strange Continue Reading

Makoto and Nakatani at the Empty Bottle, plus Spires and Brian Case

Two master musicians from Japan — guitarist Kawabata Makoto, who’s the leader of Acid Mothers Temple, and percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani — created a beautiful instrumental epic onstage at the Empty Bottle on Nov. 29. Both used bows at many points during the concert, with Makoto bowing the strings of his electric guitar Continue Reading

Tortoise and Ryley Walker concerts, in one night

Aug. 25 felt like a quintessential night of live Chicago music: seeing Tortoise at Millennium Park, followed by Ryley Walker’s late concert at the Empty Bottle. Tortoise’s instrumental music resonated beautifully in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, with the band members constantly shifting around the instruments, playing intricate patterns with almost astonishing precision. The show Continue Reading

Disappears, Negative Scanner and Hide at the Empty Bottle

The Chicago band Negative Scanner made one of my favorite records last year — just narrowly missing out on my top 10. Released by the top-notch local label Trouble in Mind, Negative Scanner’s self-titled album is filled with short bursts of searing punk and garage, with singer-guitarist Rebecca Valeriano-Flores spitting out the Continue Reading

Stomatopod, the Rutabega and Thoughts Detecting Machine at the Empty Bottle

On Sunday, Jan. 31, the Chicago trio Stomatapod headlined an early show at the Empty Bottle — yes, an actual early show at the Empty Bottle, believe it or not — and it turned out to be a strong lineup of three noteworthy bands. Thoughts Detecting Machine The first act of Continue Reading

Ultimate Painting, CoCoComa and the Runnies at the Empty Bottle

Ultimate Painting The British duo Ultimate Painting’s debut record came very close to being my favorite of 2014, and its second album, Green Lanes, is just about as good. Both records might seem a little languid and low-key at first, but don’t let the lack of loud feedback deceive you — there’s some great rock Continue Reading

Earth, Disappears and Holy Sons at Bohemian National Cemetery

Out on Chicago’s Northwest Side, Bohemian National Cemetery has hosted a few concerts over the past few years, including performances by Wrekmeister Harmonies and the Silver Apples. But until this past week, I hadn’t made it out to any of these “Beyond the Gate” shows, which are presented by the Continue Reading

Thee Oh Sees, the Blind Shake and Make-Overs at the Empty Bottle

The prolific California band Thee Oh Sees released yet another fine album this year, Mutilator Defeated at Last, keeping up its run of catchy psychedelic-tinged garage rock records. Frontman John Dwyer completely changed the lineup of the band playing behind him a year ago, and the lineup had changed yet Continue Reading

Royal Headache at the Empty Bottle

What a stark contrast it was on Wednesday, Aug. 19, at the Empty Bottle. On the one hand, the Australian rock band Royal Headache sounded fantastic as it ripped through one catchy song after another, including many from the fine new album, High, which comes out Friday. On the other hand, the group’s Continue Reading

2015 Blackout Fest

Blackout Fest, an annual showcase of garage, punk and power pop music curated by Chicago’s HoZac Records, returned to the Empty Bottle May 15 and 16. It wasn’t quite as raucous as these shows have been in some past years, but both nights had solid lineups of bands both old Continue Reading

Chad VanGaalen, Cousins and Bry Webb at the Empty Bottle

The lineup at the Empty Bottle on Thursday, May 22, was a musical version of the Trans-Canada Highway: three Canadian artists, each from a different province — Chad VanGaalen of Calgary, Alberta; Cousins of Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Bry Webb of Guelph, Ontario. Chad VanGaalen The headliner was the delightfully Continue Reading

Blackout Fest 2014

Blackout Fest was back this past weekend at the Empty Bottle, and once again, Chicago’s HoZac Records delivered a fun package of garage rock, punk and power pop. I missed the first night on May 15 (an art show and opening party), but I was there the following two nights. Continue Reading

Chelsea Light Moving at the Empty Bottle

On Friday night at the Empty Bottle, Thurston Moore introduced his new group, Chelsea Light Moving, as if both he and his bandmates were completely unknown newcomers to the music scene. Just some new band called Chelsea Light Moving. From Chicago. Or so he said. Of course, the New York-based Continue Reading

Robbie Fulks, Henry Wagons, etc.

Last Monday (Feb. 25), I caught two concerts — first, the always-entertaining Hideout residency of Robbie Fulks, who featured Brooklyn singer-songwriter Greg Trooper as his guest this time. I wasn’t familiar with Trooper’s music going into this show, but I was quite impressed with what I heard, and Fulks contributed Continue Reading

Thrill Jockey’s 20th Anniversary

Time flies. It doesn’t seem like five years have passed since I attended the Thrill Jockey record label’s 15th anniversary celebration. (I posted photos here.) But on Thursday (Dec. 20), somehow it was already time for Thrill Jockey’s 20th anniversary. The Chicago label has maintained a defiantly independent streak over Continue Reading

Adventures in Modern Music

The Wire, a fine British magazine about experimental music, sponsors a truly diverse and frequently odd festival each year at the Empty Bottle in Chicago called Adventures in Modern Music. The festival ran five days; I caught one set on Wednesday, Oct. 3 (R. Stevie Moore) and most of the Continue Reading