Le Butcherettes at Subterranean

Le Butcherettes, the Mexican garage punk band led by the phenomenal Teri Gender Bender (aka Teresa Suárez), returned to Chicago on Thursday, March 3, for a show at Subterranean. I saw this group at the same club in 2011 and at Do Division Fest in 2012. Le Butcherettes’ beautiful frontwoman strides around the stage like she owns it — rapidly changing her facial expressions from wide-mouthed, wide-eyed insanity to gentle smiles as she switched between guitar and keyboards. Le Butcherettes now have three albums — Sin Sin Sin (2011), Cry Is for the Flies (2014) and A Raw Youth (2015) — and it’s a strong collection of bracing rock song. But the live act is truly something to behold.

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White Fence, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard and Ultimate Painting

My photos of White Fence, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard and Ultimate Painting from their performances on Oct. 18 at Subterranean. Cate LeBon performed as a touring member of White Fence.

Check out their recent records: White Fence’s For the Recently Found Innocent, Ultimate Painting’s self-titled debut and I’m in Your Mind Fuzz.

White Fence

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King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

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Ultimate Painting

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King Tuff and Gap Dream

King Tuff
Gap Dream
Gap Dream

I was at Subterranean on Thursday night, Nov. 8, to see an early, all-ages show by King Tuff, but when I walked into the place, I was struck by the instantly catchy sounds coming from the opening band, Gap Dream. “Who’s that?” you are probably asking. That’s what I was asking, too. It turns out they’re a rock group from Cleveland; the CMJ website describes their music as “Psychedelic surf pop from the southern shores of Lake Erie.” I’m not sure about the surf part, but it certainly was psychedelic, like a trippy version of the Byrds, with lots of chiming, ’60-style guitar lines and strong vocal melodies and harmonizing. I liked Gap Dream enough that I went to the merch table and bought their self-titled debut LP. You can hear it and/or buy it on bandcamp.

Gap Dream
Gap Dream

Gap Dream
Gap Dream

Gap Dream
Gap Dream

And then it was time for King Tuff, a rocker on the Sub Pop label with a recent self-titled record that’s jam-packed with catchy tunes. King Tuff’s tunes are unabashed homages to an earlier era of hard-rock hits. Although King Tuff seemed very much like a full-fledged band during the Subterranean gig, the band is essentially one dude, Kyle Thomas, who’s also played in the stoner-rock band Witch and the Vermont collective Feathers. Some of that stoner attitude comes through on the harder-edged King Tuff riffs, but for the most part, King Tuff is all about fun songs with memorable hooks. And that came through loud and clear during Thursday’s gig. The show ended early, which gave me time to hit another concert. More on that shortly…

King Tuff
King Tuff

King Tuff
King Tuff

King Tuff
King Tuff

King Tuff
King Tuff

King Tuff
King Tuff

Mahogany at Subterranean

The band called Mahogany has been around since 1995, going through a few different configurations and styles over that time. Their music has been labeled dream pop and shoegaze. They’ve made electronic and orchestral rock. Their website says they’re “an electric music-based multidisciplinary media ensemble” with “a combination of vocals, cello, massed guitars, pianos, melodicas, sequencers, synthesizers, samplers, tape, percussion, and other instruments.” But when Mahogany played Saturday night (May 5) at Subterranean, that’s not actually what the band was like at all. Mahogany was more in full-on-rock mode, making a wall of lovely noise with guitar strings instead of all that other stuff. And that probably offers a good hint at what Mahogany’s next record is going to sound like … but you never know.

Woods at Subterranean

The New York band Woods was back in Chicago last week (Dec. 10) at Subterranean, with what seemed to be a temporary change in its lineup. The band didn’t explain why, but the usual tape-effects guy and harmony singer, G. Lucas Crane, was absent. Matt Valentine, who is the “MV” half of the duo MV + EE, filled in for Crane, adding another guitar to some of the songs, while playing bits of harmonica and keyboards at other moments. It’s always hard to tell exactly what sounds Crane is adding to the mix as he hunches over his cassette tapes and sings into headphones. With his contributions absent, Woods’ sound was touch less psychedelic and more direct. Lead singer and guitarist Jeremy Earl’s stage demeanor was as low-key as usual, but he really let loose on some of the guitar solos, making for a hard-rocking set.

Le Butcherettes at Subterranean

Le Butcherettes inspired some rave reviews from people who saw them play at SXSW and Lollapalooza this year, and it’s easy to see why. The band, led and completely dominated by bloody-apron-wearing and stage-diving singer-keyboardist-guitarist Teri Gender Bender (aka Teri Suarez), plays with almost alarming intensity. Friday night at Subterranean in Chicago, Teri Gender Bender and her cohorts were in good form, playing songs that sounded at times like Rid of Me-era PJ Harvey and plunging into the crowd. Unlike the Lolla set, there was no vomiting.

Jay Bennett tribute

More than a year after the death of Jay Bennett, those of us who knew him and his music still feel the loss. Some of his friends, fans and musical collaborators came together Saturday (Sept. 25) at Subterranean for a tribute show. The concert raised funds for the Jay Bennett Foundation, a group started by his brother, Jeff. The foundation aims to support music education. It’s a fitting mission for a foundation named after a brilliant musician who also studied education.

Edward Burch, the other half of the duo Bennett and Burch, was the musical ringleader on Saturday night, backed by an ad hoc ensemble of Bennett buddies calling themselves the Third Verse Quiets. Other performers included David Vandervelde, Ben Clarke, Dorian Taj, Steve Frisbie, members of Dolly Varden, Robbie Hamilton and the Resurrection Hens.

The wide-ranging concert demonstrated the breadth of Bennett’s songwriting, from folk and country to power pop and rock. Highlights included Vandervelde performing “Beer,” the final track on Bennett’s posthumously released album, Kicking at the Perfumed Air. It’s a touching, bittersweet song — seeming at first like something of a novelty or throw-off. On the original recording, Bennett sings in his deep, husky voice: “That first beer, that second beer, the third beer is the best. I love beer, more than the rest.” Yes, it’s a bit of a joke, but Bennett turns into a poignant commentary on drinking and human yearning. Vandervelde played it as more of a rocker, but it was just as wistful.

Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen of Dolly Varden performed a lovely vocal duet on “I Want You Back,” from Bennett’s 2004 album The Beloved Enemy. And the final set by Burch and company included a cool medley of Big Star’s “Try Again” segueing into Bennett and Burch’s “My Darlin’.” It was touching to see Jay Bennett’s niece — the girl for whom he wrote that song — taking part in the festivities as raffle prizes were handed out.

Kicking at the Perfumed Air is available for free download at the Jay Bennett Foundation’s website, but the foundation encourages listeners to make a contribution.











Explode Into Colors

I was looking for something new and different to see Friday night, and I found it — an exciting all-female trio from Portland, Ore., called Explode Into Colors. This group doesn’t even have a proper album out yet, just a cassette and some singles, but it’s already making very lively, percussion-heavy rock. When I heard that they were an all-girl trio from the Pacific Northwest, I immediately thought of Sleater-Kinney. Explode Into Color’s music is more out there, more experimental than S-K, though there’s a similar sense of energy.

The Explode ladies put on a really good show Friday (Feb. 5) at Subterranean. Although the songs sound like they’re anchored by bass lines, that’s actually lead singer Claudia Meza’s baritone guitar. And no wonder the recordings sound like they have a lot of drums — Lisa Schonberg drums while Heather Treadway is a triple threat on drums, keyboards and vocals. The three of them were lined up across the front of the Subt stage. When a band doesn’t hide the drum kit in back, that’s always a sign that you’re going to hear some music with interesting percussion, and that turned out to be the case Friday night. Explode Into Colors does not apparently have a lot of songs yet, and the trio played a fairly short set during this show, which was their first appearance in Chicago. Hope they’re back soon.

Alas, the bracing set by Explode Into Colors was a sharp contrast with the cheesy opening sets by two Chicago groups. I hate to tear down any aspiring local musical act with harsh criticism, and I’ll note that both of the opening bands did draw a decent number of fans. But it’s a shame Subterranean didn’t find more appropriate openers to go with Explode Into Colors.

Photos of Explode Into Colors.

Os Mutantes at Subt

Os Mutantes were one of the great bands from the late ’60s/early ’70s era of psychedelic Brazilian music known as tropicalia — but most of us American rock fans didn’t discover these “mutants” until much later. Some of the group’s original members reunited in 2006, playing at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago among other venues, performing its technicolor tunes for a new generation of fans. And now Os Mutantes has released its first new album in 35 years, Haih… Ou Amortecedor…. It’s a reunion of questionable authenticity in one sense — only one member of Os Mutantes’ original core trio, Sergio Dias, is in the new version of the band. But Dias and the six other musicians he has assembled certainly have the same spirit as the original Os Mutantes, and one thing that’s especially exciting about the new record is the participation of another Brazilian tropicalia legend, Tom Ze, who co-wrote six of the 13 songs with Dias.

Os Mutantes played Sunday night (Sept. 27) at Subterranean in Chicago. I would have thought this band could fill a bigger venue in Chicago, but I suppose tropicalia remains a somewhat obscure genre, beloved by a small cult. It was a little disappointing to see these musical legends playing in front of such a small crowd, but by the end of the night, the audience was clapping and calling out with such rabid enthusiasm that all of my disappointment vanished. This was one of the best receptions I’ve seen any group get in Chicago for a while, and the Brazilians were beaming with big smiles on the stage as they brought down the house.

Classic songs from the early days of Os Mutantes (available on the highly recommended collection Everything Is Possible!) dominated the first part of the show, then the band played several songs from the new record in the middle of the set. The new songs fit quite well with the old ones. And then the band returned to some of its oldies at the end of the show. Singer Bia Mendes did a fine job singing the female vocal parts originally handled by Rita Lee.

What was striking more than anything else was Dias’ guitar playing. I hadn’t realized just what a virtuoso he is, and it was wonderful watching him playing peculiar psychedelic riffs, along with some guitar licks that even sounded a bit like Thin Lizzy or the Byrds. And then he really stretched out on some long guitar solos, including an amazing extended version of “Ando Meio Desligado” near the end of the set. For its encore, Os Mutantes played one of its strangest early epics, “Panis Et Circenses,” and it was a delight to hear the band singings its kaleidoscopic harmonies.

The opening band was Brooklyn-based DeLeon, which claims to perform “15th Century Spanish indie rock infused with the deeply mysterious and entrancing cadences of the ancient Sephardic tradition.” The group sang some of its songs in Ladino, the Judaeo-Spanish language, and I preferred those to the lyrics translated into English. A couple of the songs had some lovely counterpart harmonies, and most of the songs were pretty good. But DeLeon was playing without two of its regular members, including the drummer, using prerecorded backing tracks that reduced the sense of spontaneity.

Photos of Os Mutantes and DeLeon.

The Antlers at Subterranean

The Antlers were one of the bands I caught for a few minutes as I was racing around Union Park during the Pitchfork Music Festival earlier this summer. I liked what I heard, but it wasn’t the best way to experience a new band. Since then, I’ve been listening to the Antlers’ album, Hospice, and it just keeps burrowing deeper into my brain. This could be one of the year’s best CDs. The subject matter is dark — this is a song cycle about a terminally ill child in hospice — and yet, like some narratives about painful topics, Hospice feels cathartic at times, soothing at other moments. The music shifts, too, from soaring and powerful rock to hushed meditations. Singer-songwriter Peter Silberman often sings in a falsetto, and the music sometimes sounds a little like Radiohead, a little like the Arcade Fire, but original in the way these influences blend together.

The Antlers played Monday night (Sept. 21) at Chicago’s Subterranean, and the songs sounded beautiful live. The set included all the songs on Hospice except the first two tracks (“Prologue” and “Kettering”), plus the song “Cold War” for the encore. Silberman and his bandmates (Michael Lerner on drums and Darby Cicci on keyboards and bass pedals) delivered the music like a pretty typical band, without a lot of showmanship. In his stage presence, Silberman offers few hints that he is singing lyrics that seem to be revealing private secrets. He’s not one of those musicians who turns songs into dramatic shows. Just as well, I suppose — the music might be just too much to take if he did. I still sensed that the Antlers fans in the crowd who knew the songs well were feeling some of that catharsis in the way they responded.


Photos of the Antlers.

The 1900s at Subterranean

The 1900s were just as good as I remember them being back in June at Schubas – and now that I’ve had time to absorb their excellent EP Plume Delivery, the songs meant that much more to me. They’ve found a sweet spot between wispy ’60s pop and more rocking rock. (Is “rocking rock” redundant?) But the most pressing question is: When is this bunch going to put out a full-length album? I asked guitarist Edward Anderson that question before the show, and he said the 1900s are heading into rehearsals and the studio in the fall – well, actually NOW – and they hope to have an album out next spring. I can’t wait.

As far as shooting photos of the 1900s last night – could Subterranean be any darker? Maybe if the power went out completely. At least this is one photogenic band. The night started with an annoying set of DJ music and onstage calisthenics, with lots of nostalgia (or ironic nostalgia??) for the 1980s pop music that I hated when I lived through it in the 1980s and still hate today. After the 1900s, headliner Bobby Conn played, but I was out of there by then.


Miss Alex White and the Paybacks at Subterranean

After seeing Jon Langford at the MCA, I hopped over to Subterranean and caught two bands: Miss Alex White, a Chicago singer-guitarist, who played very impressive and lively rock, and Detroit’s garage-rockers the Paybacks. I liked the Paybacks — and especially enjoyed watching the lead singer, Wendy Case, stretching out her lanky frame on stage — but my first impression of the music was pretty good, not great. (Hey, check out the photos of the band at their Web site… Looks like Wendy Case has been a blond until recently…)



The Sights at Subterranean

SEPT. 9, 2005

With a strong influence from the Faces (check out their cover of “Stay With Me” on the new CD), the Sights stand out as a little different from the rest of the current crop of garage bands. Interesting lineup, too: Guitar, organ and drums, with no bass (unless you count the bass keyboard). Guitarist-singer Eddie Baranek also throws an occasional bit of gospel holler into the songs. Well, white-boy imitation of gospel holler, but it’s nice anyway.

The most melodic song on the Sights’ self-titled 2005 album is “Scratch My Name in Sin,” and it sounded just as great in concert tonight as it does on record. The Sights could stand to broaden their style and sound a little, but they’re a very fine band nonetheless.

They were not actually the headliners at this concert. The Makers were the main act, but I can’t say I was too thrilled with what I heard. A couple of decent songs were evident, but the glamminess (and hamminess) of their overall act tended toward the annoying.

The first band to play was Thunderwing. Although the name makes them sound like hockey-playing heavy-metal rockers, they were more in the vein of glam-rock-meets-garage. Not bad, worth another listen.


The Reigning Sound at Subterranean

JULY 1, 2005
at Subterranean

Pity the band with that first opening-act slot… The musicians walk out onto the stage in front of a mostly empty dance floor, which will be packed with people later on the same night. Or so I was thinking as the first group got ready to play tonight. I wasn’t even sure what they were called (and despite the lead singer’s saying the name a couple of times, I wasn’t sure that they were the Tough & Lovely until I stopped by the merch table later).

But tonight it took all of about five seconds to recognize that the lead singer of the Columbus, Ohio-based Tough & Lovely, Lara Yazvac, has quite a voice — big and brassy, and totally in her control. And the band sounded pretty tight as it played some darn catchy songs, very much rooted in the sound of the early ’60s. With Yazvac on vocals, it was hard not to think of the classic girl groups from that era, though, not suprisingly, the Tough & Lovely are contemporary enough to add a touch of punk here and there. Some fine organ playing was part of the mix, too.

It was clear the Tough & Lovely won over the crowd, even though most people at Subterranean had never heard their music before.I just had to stop by the merch table afterward and buy a copy of the Tough & Lovely’s 2004 CD Born of the Stars. Sounds good on first listen. One standout track is the one called “Tough and Lovely” — carrying on the odd tradition of songs with titles that are the same or similar to the band name. This is definitely a band to watch.

Catfish Haven had the middle slot. I’ve seen this Chicago trio a few times, usually as an opening act, and I have trouble mustering much enthusiasm for their music. If I heard a short snippet from one of their songs, I think I’d say it sounded good, and some of the snippets might even sound great, but the lack of variety in their songs becomes a little tedious after a while. It’s all song at the same intense pitch, with lots of heavily strummed acoustic guitar on top of the bass and drums. I kept thinking that I might like this music better if these three musicians had some additional helpers to balance out the sound — maybe a real lead guitarist who could take solos, or a keyboard player, or a female singer. Anything to add something different.

The Reigning Sound are also a trio, and like Catfish Haven, they don’t really change up their basic sound that much during the course of a show. But their sound is so good, and their songs are so good, that it hardly matters.

Singer-guitarist Greg Cartwright plays with a no-frills set up — no effects pedals, no electric tuner. At the end of the show he played about four songs without bothering to fix a broken string. He didn’t even have a set list on the floor in front of him. He occasionally consulted a song list sitting behind him on an amp, but it seemed more like he was running through a list of available songs to see which ones they hadn’t played yet. A couple of times, the Reigning Sound obliged audience requests, and during the encore, Cartwright had to come over and tell the bassist the chords for a song they hadn’t rehearsed.

The fans loved it all, singing along with the Reigning Sound’s garage rock anthems. I can’t wait for their new album.


The Ponys and the M’s at Subterranean

MAY 28, 2005: The Ponys and the M’s at Subterranean. I’ve seen the M’s a few times now, though I still haven’t heard their studio recordings. I enjoyed this performance more than any of the previous M’s concerts I’d seen. I’ve always liked the idea of what they’re trying to do, but the songs have just sounded a little too thick. Not enough dynamics or variation in the sound. But the melodies and harmonies and the obvious ’60s influences have finally started to sink in for me.

The Ponys have now put out two very good records, so I was excited to see them in concert for the first time. I’m not sure where TimeOut Chicago’s writer came up with the idea that they’re ripping off the Stooges. I hear a lot more Television myself, plus some British punk and glam rock.

Yeah, I guess they are a little retro, but who isn’t these days? As the New York Times pointed out the other day in a piece about the White Stripes (making a point that occurred me back when I was at this year’s SXSW), rock bands today seem to feel a freedom to borrow whatever sounds they want from any part of rock’s history.

Anyway, the Ponys were quite good in concert, performing their catchy riffs and keening vocals with a lot of energy. The place was packed, and the crowd up by the stage included a bride and groom celebrating their wedding day. (Friends of the band?)


The Moaners at Subterranean

The band name notwithstanding, singer/guitarist Melissa Swingle doesn’t exactly moan. Her singing has a bit of drone in it, though it’s hardly monotone as she leaps fearlessly or maybe a bit lackadaiscally around the melody. It’s one of those dazed, deadpan voices that you’ll either love or hate. Me, I love it.

Last time we heard from Swingle, she was with Trailer Bride, another fine outfit. Now she’s part of Yep Roc’s burgeoning roster of cool bands, and she’s doing the guitar-drums duo thing, with Laura King on drums. So let’s get the obligatory line about the White Stripes out of the way right now: King’s a helluva better drummer than Meg White (though Meg’s primitive percussion does serve its purpose well). Swingle’s no Jack White hot shot on the guitar, but her jagged chords and peeling bottleneck-slide solos have an allure all their own. Combined with that voice of hers, the sound is bluesy Southern Goth swamp rock and stomp, everything sounding just a bit askew … which is why it’s so good.

The Moaners’ debut CD, Dark Snack, is full of good riffs and off-kilter tunes about pooches, overpopulation and roadhouse strippers. It sounds raw and live, so it wasn’t hard for the Moaners to pull it off in concert. King even managed to play guitar and drums simultaneously on one song, an impressive feat (she was just using her feet for the drums). Just one disappointment. I really wanted to see Swingle (who was wearing dark glasses and a Hello Kitty T-shirt) to whip out her saw. And no, that’s not some sort of obscene slang euphamism. She really does play a mean saw, given the chance, but I guess that’s hard to handle onstage when your band is just a guitarist and a drummer.