January concerts

It’s been a quiet month for concerts so far in Chicago. At least, it seems that way. I know I probably could have found a good dozen or more shows worth seeing, but maybe that bone-chilling cold has discouraged me from venturing out too often. That’s my only excuse for missing most of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival at Schubas, which is becoming the official start of the concert year in Chicago.

I did sneak in at the very end of the five-day fest, catching the Jan. 18 show. Headliners Bishop Allen put on a spirited set of their indie pop music. I thoroughly enjoyed one of the opening bands, Tulsa, which has prompted me to get their recordings via emusic. I like what I’ve heard so far – melodic rock, with some the jangly guitar of ’80s indie music, maybe a little bit of power pop. The other acts on the Jan. 18 bill were Vacations, who rattled around a lot of percussion, and the Donkeys, who have a decent sound but seem somewhat lacking as far as the songs themselves. At least, that’s my opinion.

See photos from Tomorrow Never Knows Day 5.

The next night (Jan. 19) I went to see Adele at Park West. My expectations were not all that high, since her CD, 19, strikes me as merely pretty good. But Adele won me over with her impressive voice and her unpretentious personality. Click here to read my review for the Southtown Star newspaper.

On Thursday (Jan. 23) I saw Annuals at the Empty Bottle. Boy, I’m not sure what happened to this band since the last time I saw them. Or maybe my memory of their show from a couple of years ago is clouded with the fog of passing time. I recall enjoying the energy of the Annuals, even if not too many of their songs stuck in my mind after hearing them. Back then, they seemed like one of countless indie-rock bands trying to channel some of that anarchic spirit that animated the Arcade Fire, even if Annuals never really sounded all that much like the Arcade Fire. On Thursday night, however, Annuals suddenly seemed to me like a jam band. Maybe it was the spastic bass lines or just the general vibe of how the band was playing, but it seemed like Annuals had gone through a subtle but profound shift… into a genre of music that generally turns my stomach. It’s one of those musical mysteries I puzzle over: how two songs that are similar on many superficial levels can provoke such different reactions. Beyond the musical theory of how a song is put together and played, attitude seems to play a big role. And the prejudices of the listener. Whatever it was, I was just not into what Annuals were doing on Thursday night, other than a few points when they played some of their older songs with so much jam-band-i-ness. I did enjoy the opening acts. What Laura Says played retro classic rock, harking back to the Allman Brothers. (Hey, aren’t they a jam band, too? Yeah, but it’s not the same thing…) And Jessica Lea Mayfield played some plaintive roots rock.

See photos of Annuals, What Laura Says and Jessica Lea Mayfield.

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