For a Chicagoan, it’s always sad to see a good musician moving away from the city. Saturday night at the Double Door was one of these bittersweet occasions. Emily Cross, a talented singer-songwriter who makes beautiful and ethereal music under the name Cross Record, played at the Double Door, just before heading to her new home in Austin, Texas, along with her fiancé and bandmate, Dan Duszynski. On Saturday, Duszynski played a separate with his own band, Any Kind, and then it was Cross’ turn to rule the stage. Her music is gaining strength in concert, and she seems bound to continue making great music. Let’s hope she visits Chicago often. Listen to Cross Record’s music at bandcamp.
It’s hard to believe that the legendary punk (or post-punk?) band the Raincoats, which formed in the late ’70s, had never played in Chicago until Monday night (Sept. 19), when they headlined at the Double Door. Then again, this is one of those bands whose legend has grown over time, thanks largely to a famous fan, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, who sang the praises of the Raincoats and helped the band to revive its career.
Their reason for touring now and finally coming to Chicago was the re-release for their second album, 1981’s Odyshape, which is a prime example of what makes the Raincoats’ music so striking and unusual. That sound came through in their live show, too — which included songs from Odyshape as well as the Raincoats’ 1979 self-titled debut. The music does seem to form odd shapes, as the violin, guitar, bass and drum lines twitch around one another. The group always sounded a bit primitive and imperfect — thankfully, they didn’t fall into the hands of a producer who tried to smooth out all of the rough edges on those early albums. The current lineup of the band includes founding members Gina Birch and Ana da Silva, along with violinist Anne Wood and drummer Vice Cooler. In concert Monday, their music still sounded primal and peculiar.
One album that just barely missed my top 10 for 2010 was The Outsiders Are Back by Kings Go Forth, a very old-school-sounding soul band from Milwaukee. I saw Kings Go Forth for the first time last Friday (Jan. 21) at the Double Door, and the show proved that last year’s wonderful record is no fluke. In concert, the music sounded very close to the studio versions — not a note-for-note duplication by any stretch of the imagination, but a very impressive performance of songs that smartly use horns, guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and lots of vocals to make the sort of grooves and riffs that made 1960s and early ’70s Motown, soul, funk and R&B records so memorable.
There was no opening act, other than the DJs of the Soul Summit Free Dance Party, who did a fine job of getting the crowd moving, priming the dance floor for the excitement of Kings Go Forth. A couple of friends overheard some audience members predicting that the band was about to break into “Shout!” Um, sorry, dudes, but this is actually a band that plays original soul music (written by bassist Andy Noble), not the same cover songs you hear other bands doing over and over again. But I can see why someone would make that mistake, because these songs have the makings of classic tunes. I’m eager to hear what Kings Go Forth does next.
Somehow, I’ve missed out on Radio Birdman all these years — heard the name, didn’t know much beyond that. I picked up on some excitement that these Aussie punks were back together and touring, so this show became a must-see. The Radio Birdman tracks I’ve checked out are solid, tuneful punk, and this reunion gig was a top-notch performance. With his long white hair, unrestrained singing and exuberant moves, vocalist Rob Younger was an arresting presence. I heard some longtime fans of the band saying they weren’t disappointed — and that they could hardly believe their luck in finally seeing Radio Birdman.
This was part of the Electric City Rock Festival, the same “festival” that brought the Dirtbombs to the Double Door last year. Like that gig, this one featured too many opening bands, but it was a decent lineup this time. Lust Killers and Easy Action played fairly typical punk, but had good energy. SSM played a hybrid of punk and keyboard rock. I liked it, but I later heard one guy saying, “How can you have a rock band with a bass?” Well… it’s been done, dude.
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.
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).
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.
SEPT. 3, 2005
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.
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…
JUNE 9, 2005: Ivy and Astaire at the Double Door. I don’t know much about either of these bands, but I enjoyed seeing them. Astaire sounded a little generic, but with some of the same appeal as Rilo Kiley. I’m way behind on the Ivy discography, but I thought their songs sounded fairly cool in concert.
The Underground Bee has been out of commission for a month or so… I was too exhaused by the big SXSW 2005 extravaganzato pay much attention to updating this site. It’s time to catch up. But first, here is an actual letter to the editor I received recently. (The authenticity of the signature is open to question, however.)
I have perused the “Underground Bee” Web site, and I have to admit I am quite disappointed. There is much blathering on about Rock Bands and nary a mention of honey, beeswax, hives, drones, queens and such. I found a reference to something called “Bee Thousand,” but did not understand its meaning. In the future, please try to add items that might be of interest to the striped population.
Well! I must admit I keep promising to expand this site’s purview beyond the aforementioned “blathering on about Rock Bands,” without fulfilling said promise. One of these days… I promise. I am far behind on my bee research.
Now, back to the blathering… Some recent concerts:
MARCH 25 — Orchestra Baobob at the HotHouse. This was the third time I’ve seen this fantastic band from Senegal. The grooves sounded as great as ever. Everyone was moving on the dance floor. PHOTOS.
APRIL 1 — The Kills at the Double Door. I have to plead ignorance about the music of the Kills — I just listened to a little bit of their new album online as I decided whether to see this concert. I was intrigued when some critics compared the Kills to P.J. Harvey. I’m not sure that I see that much of a connection, but the Kills certainly put on a pretty darn entertaining concert. Guy on guitar, plus girl on vocals (and occasional guitar), plus drum machine. The spare lineup left them room to cavort across the Double Door stage, working up a good sweat. I will definitely be checking out the Kills’ music after seeing this show. Opening act Scout Niblett was simply tiresome. PHOTOS.
APRIL 3 — Dolorean at Schubas. The club was pretty empty as Dolorean took the stage at 11 p.m. on a Sunday, just 25 to 30 people sitting around to hear Dolorean’s lovely, quiet folk-pop. Bad timing, I suppose. Can’t these Sunday-night shows begin a little earlier? Anyway, Dolorean (which is mostly singer-songwriter Al James) sounded good live, and the lack of fans didn’t detract from my enjoyment. In fact, it made it seem more like James and band were playing a personal gig for the few fans in the place. One of the opening acts, Jeff Hanson, had an amazingly feminine voice, though this guy didn’t look the least bit androgynous. His songs sounded pretty good on first listen, falling somewhere in Jeff Buckley/Nick Drake territory.
APRIL 9 — Magnolia Electric Co. at Schubas. I‘m still not convinced that the 2003 album titled Magnolia Electric Co. was actually by the band called Songs:Ohia. That name doesn’t appear anywhere on my copy of the disc (though I’ve seen copies with a Songs:Ohia sticker). In any case, Jason Molina is now officially calling his band Magnolia Electric Co., and it is a first-rate group. Neil Young and Crazy Horse comparisons are inevitable, but Molina has his own distinctive voice. I like its natural quality. While he doesn’t do a Mark Knopler talk-singing thing, I get the sense that his singing comes straight out of his speaking voice. There’s something very conversational about it. And I love those deep-pitched solos that he plays on the lower strings of his guitar. Three members of Magnolia Electric Co. served as the opening act, playing in the incarnation known as the Coke Dares. Their shtick is playing very short songs in rapid succession, always being sure to say the name of each song. It was quite humorous. I’ll have to hear the songs on CD to say how worthwhile they are, but the Coke Dares seemed to pack a lot into each little burst of music. PHOTOS.
APRIL 15 — Paul Westerberg at the Riveria. He smashed a TV, a telephone and a guitar. He played a lot of his recent solo songs and a few odd covers (“If I Had a Hammer,” “Different Drummer”). He took swigs of whiskey. The concert degenerated into a series of aborted songs: one verse of “Like a Rolling Stone,” half of “Substitute,” a few chords from “Sweet Jane,” the riff from “Cat Scratch Fever.” His band anxiously awaited his next move. Someone got up to leave from a balcony seat and Westerberg said, “Hey, don’t you dare walk away!” Westerberg was falling down on the stage as he played his guitar. Was it all an act? He threw the microphone out into the crowd during “Can’t Hardly Wait,” and then jumped off the stage himself. End of show. Would he bother coming back for an encore? Yes! Glorious versions of “Alex Chilton” and “Left of the Dial” ensued. Was this concert a train wreck? Yes, at times, but it also had moments of triumph.
APRIL 16 — Andrew Bird at Metro. I had the honor of interviewing Mr. Bird recently, and it’s always an honor to see him play live. He’s still doing his amazing one-man band act, using a sampler pedal to loop various string and guitar sounds, building a song from the ground up right in front of the audience. That’s fascinating to see and hear, and it helps that the songs are so good. Kevin O’Donnell was with him on drums tonight, adding jazzy percussion. Bird actually slipped up a couple of times as he tried to juggle all of the musical balls — but in an odd way, that made his act all the more impressive. It makes you realize how difficult it is to pull off perfection. Near the end of the show, one round of applause swelled beyond the typical cheering, and I sensed a genuine outpouring of affection and appreciation from the crowd. Opening act Archer Prewitt put on a fine set, with his soft, jazzy art-pop songs building into catchy grooves. It was nice seeing Dave Max Crawford, who works as a Metro bartender, on the stage as part of Prewitt’s band, drawing a big hand for a trumpet solo.
APRIL 17 — Damien Jurado at Schubas. Somehow, I’ve missed seeing Jurado in concert until now. I was tempted to see Elvis Costello over at the Auditorium tonight (I’ve somehow missed seeing him in concert, other than one show back in 1989), but I just couldn’t blow off Jurado again. Jurado is one of those singers who doesn’t look the least bit like a rock star, which makes him seem all the more real. He sat down for the whole show, getting up once to go back and play drums for one song. A nice mix of Jurado’s quiet acoustic songs and some rockers, like “Paper Wings.” Responding to an audience request, he played “Ohio” from Rehearsals for Depature, noting that he was heavily medicated (from hospital drugs, not illicit ones) at the time he wrote most of the songs for that album, so he doesn’t really remember the experience. I picked up a copy of that CD on the way out — I owned it once before, but then it was stolen from my car. I wonder if the thieves ever listened to it? PHOTOS.
APRIL 20 — M. Ward at the Abbey Pub. Another musician I enjoyed interviewing recently. And as I mentioned before, I am waging a campaign for the recognition of M. Ward’s current supremacy in the musical firmament. So of course I enjoyed this show, which featured Ward playing with a full band, his pals in the group Norfolk & Western. The concert had its share of quiet acoustic moments, but it also rocked, especially with songs such as “Big Boat,” “Vincent O’Brien,” “Four Hours in Washington” and “Sad Sad Song.” It’s nice how much Ward varies his live performances. “Fuel For Fire,” which he played on piano at Schubas in February, was back to being an acoustic guitar song this time around, but with a really well-played harmonica solo added to the intro. His Carter Family cover, “Oh Take Me Back,” which is just a short ditty on Transistor Radio, began with an extended bluesy instrumental section. Despite his renown as a guitarist, Ward felt comfortable enough with his role as frontman to take his hands off the guitar and just sing at times. And at other times, it was possible to hear a tiny bit of the surprising influences he mentioned in my interview with him: Sonic Youth and Firehose. None of his music would be confused with those bands, but at a few of the concert’s loudest moments, he did make some dissonant noise with his electric guitar. Norfolk & Western had its own slot as the first opening act, playing melodic folk rock, followed by Devotchka, which played artsy cabaret music — a little like Calexico, with whistling, violin and accordion Interesting, I thought, though obviously not for all tastes. The crowd seemed to dig it. …Speaking of which, the M. Ward crowd was quite young, and I spotted a Bright Eyes T-shirt. Maybe he’s picking up some fans from his tours with Conor Oberst. PHOTOS.
APRIL 21 — Yo La Tengo at the Vic. You might take it as a bad sign that I kept nodding off during this concert, but I’d put the blame more on lack of sleep than lack of interesting music. Yo La Tengo started off the concert with a long instrumental drone, three keyboards going at once, bearing some similarity to Wilco’s much-hated electronic experimentation on “Less Than You Think.” Personally, I like this kind of thing, in small quantities, at least, and I thought this was a daring way for Yo La Tengo to start off its show. (Plus, it gave me time to catch a few winks.) The trio kept things eclectic at this concert, with punky garage rock, super-hushed mellowness and tropicalia. They even did a little dance routine. Somehow, it all sounds distinctly like Yo La Tengo and no one else. Responding to very enthusiastic applause, the band played three encores. A reminder of what a great band this is. NOW why was this concert on the same night as Chris Stamey at the Abbey Pub? I would have liked to have seen both, and given the fact that Yo La Tengo plays on Stamey’s new CD, you wouldn’t think they’d book shows at the same time. Oh, well…