It was a busy weekend in Chicago for music and other fun cultural activities, including the Printers Row Lit Fest. (More on that later… if I get a chance to blog about it.) The weather was strangely cold and rainy, but I didn’t let that stop me.
A few highlights: A new street festival called Metronome took place Saturday and Sunday on Milwaukee Avenue between Armitage and North, with an impressively eclectic lineup of music — indie rock, punk, electronic and folk, among other things. I caught the last two acts on the main stage Saturday night, as a chill wind was blowing. New York’s Here We Go Magic got off to a bit of a slow start, but then the band really picked up steam with some extended jams — not jam-band-style jams, but the sort of extended grooves that the Feelies and American Analog Set used to specialize in. Here We Go Magic lived up to its name in these moments, and their song “Fangela” is really marvelous.
The last act on that stage Saturday night was John Vanderslice, a dependable singer-songwriter whose music is a little slippery to define, genre-wise. It falls under the big umbrella of indie rock, but that doesn’t tell you much. It’s not the acoustic or roots-based music that dominates the singer-songwriter field, though there are some touches of that. He dabbles in electronic textures, but mostly what he does is write smart and melodic songs. And then when he plays them, he knows how to have some fun, cranking out hard electric guitar chords in the right spots. A number of his songs on the new album Romanian Names stick in the mind long after you hear them.
On Sunday afternoon, a noteworthy reunion concert happened, but it seemed like almost no one knew about it. The only reason I heard about it was a piece that Ira Glass did on WBEZ’s 848 show Friday. The stars of this affair were Maestro Subgum and the Whole, a peculiar Chicago musical collective that performed back in the early ’90s. Talk about musical acts who are hard to categorize, Maestro Subgum really was an oddball outfit. If anything, the group’s songs resembled musical theater or cabaret more than rock music — and fittingly enough, some of its members have gone on to perform with local theaters. This reunion show, following a concert earlier in the year at the Viaduct, was a benefit for the Curious Branch Theatre. It was wonderful to hear the group’s voices belting out harmonies on catchy but quirky old songs such as “Bamboo Guru.” The band’s master of ceremonies, “Lefty Fizzle,” seemed like a sort of old-time carnival barker, twirling his cane and prancing about in some sort of robe not normally seen outside of storage closets. And Ira Glass made a couple of appearances, talking about how much Maestro Subgum’s willingness to do its thing inspired him years ago to do his thing on the radio. (I only wish Maestro Subgum would have performed my favorite one of their songs, “Prayers for the Undoing of Spells.”)
Finally, the weekend came to a nice musical closing with three bands at Schubas. The headliners were Telekinesis, who have a very tuneful self-titled CD out on Merge Records, well worth getting. This Seattle band is somewhat unusual because the main singer and songwriter, Michael Benjamin Lerner, is a drummer. So Telekinesis plays with the drum kit right up at the front of the stage. Lerner’s songs remind me a bit of old power pop. They sounded strong and catchy in concert.
The Schubas lineup also featured An Horse, a guitar-and-drums duo from Australia, who seemed to be almost as big of a draw for the local fans as Telekinesis, if not bigger. They seemed quite charming, with scrappy, fairly straightforward rock songs, a bit on the garage-rock side. The first band one of the night was Chicago’s A Lull. Yes, the same band I saw less than a week ago, opening for Julie Doiron at the Empty Bottle. Once again, they sounded good, even though they’d lost the use of a computer. I liked them enough to pick up their EP at the merch table.