• Hockey @ Lincoln Hall

    22 Mar 2010, 0:43

    Fri 12 Mar – Hockey, The Constellations

    The last time I saw the vaguely-Portland-based quintet Hockey, they were tossing out free beer to a crowd of listeners at Lollapalooza, a sort of consolation prize after their set was cut short due to a significant lack of power to the stage.

    This time, there were no such energy crises, and also no free beer. But the band has tightened up their act a good deal since their turn on the Lollapalooza stage. They seemed much more at home in front of the sold-out audience at Lincoln Hall, and slightly less nervous, to boot. Singer Ben Grubin was just as animated as always, twisting and posing and gesturing along with the music.

    While the band has a decidedly 80s, new-wave sound, they showed that they can take it down a notch, with Grubin strapping on an acoustic guitar and a harmonica for a song. The band played most, if not all, of the songs from their debut album, Mind Chaos, as well as a few new tracks. Granted, they don’t have that much material, but they did manage to stretch it out to be about an hour and fifteen minutes of music. With the exception of just a few down-tempo songs, their entire performance was highly energetic, with some expertly timed flashing lights and yes, even the disco ball at Lincoln Hall got some action.

    See the full review here.
  • Sonos at Evanston SPACE

    15 Mar 2010, 2:07

    Tue 9 Mar – Sonos

    It’s not hard to pigeon-hole a cappella music as a quirky novelty act. A cappella music conjures up images of smiling, lovable-yet-nerdy undergrads, waving their jazz hands and singing versions of kitschy pop songs. If you’re not well-versed in the genre, at best, maybe you’re thinking of the cast of Glee (with their totally not a cappella music, yes, I hear you, band playing as backing track). And even then, you’ve probably got a bit of a snicker going on, because, okay, even I can admit it, a cappella can be pretty cheesy sometimes.

    But not Sonos. While the members of this California sextet have their background in university a cappella choirs, they’ve expanded their repertoire far beyond Top 40 pop songs and into the far more juicy world of indie rock.

    Yes, a show by Sonos features their recreations of songs such as Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place”, Bon Iver’s “Re: Stacks”, and Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal”. Other artists covered include Bjork, Depeche Mode, Rufus Wainwright, and Imogen Heap, and that’s just on their debut album. They toss in covers of songs by Israeli/South African singer Yoav, the Jackson 5, and, okay, a little Britney Spears, just for fun. You can’t take all of the hilarity out of a cappella, after all.

    See the full review here.
  • Sat 27 Feb – Joe Pug & Justin Townes Earle

    6 Mar 2010, 22:31

    Sat 27 Feb – Joe Pug & Justin Townes Earle

    Justin Townes Earle is a bit of an anachronism, with his suits and suspenders and old timey stage presence. That’s not even getting into his music, which would sound right at home in a mix of other classic country stars. I’m not talking twangy my-dog-died-and-my-truck-broke-down stereotyped country, either; this is rough and dirty honky-tonk, complete with hooting and hollering. (Or would that be hootin’ and hollerin’?)

    Joshua Hedley on fiddle and Bryn Davies on upright bass made up Earle’s band, but they were more than just background accompaniment. Both were ample, if silent, sidekicks. Davies in particular impressed me; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone play the bass with quite so much gusto before. The show belonged to Earle, though, and he made the entire affair seem a bit like a party. Earle is loud and enthusiastic, a charming Southern boy to the very core, with more “well, shiiiit“s and “oh my damn!”s than you could possibly count. His guitar playing is fast and hard, leading him to break a string early in the set.

    Now, I’ll admit that prior to this show, I’d only heard maybe one or two Joe Pug songs. I’d heard his name, of course, as he is widely acclaimed in the music scene here in Chicago. I’ve got no real reason for not searching him out earlier, given that his style of music is right up my alley. Well, consider myself properly chastised for not making that effort, because I was hooked from the very first song.

    While the comparisons between Pug and Bob Dylan are kind of inevitable — young, gravelly-voiced singer-songwriters crafting highly literate songs — I found myself reminded of a few other men with guitars and harmonicas: Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. Regardless of which classic artist you choose to compare Pug to, the bottom line is that those are big shoes to fill, and I’m pretty sure that Pug is capable of doing just that.

    See the full review here.
  • Rocky Votolato at Schubas

    2 Mar 2010, 0:16

    Fri 26 Feb – Rocky Votolato @ Schuba's

    I’ve been a fan in passing of Rocky Votolato’s music for a few years now. I’d listened to and enjoyed his songs but never quite spent enough time focusing on what I was hearing. So what I missed out on was just how powerful his music could be. Votolato’s latest album, True Devotion, strips away much of what serves to distract from that, and his live show takes his music down to the bare minimum. With just a guitar and his raw voice, Rocky Votolato puts forth a show that runs the gamut of emotion. His songs don’t beat around the bush in any way; it’s not so much that the songs are strictly literal, it’s more the fact that they’re honest.

    See the full review here.
  • Concert Review: Nneka at the Double Door, 2/14

    18 Feb 2010, 4:58

    Sun 14 Feb – Nneka, Jerome Holloway

    A show by Nneka isn’t just an introduction to her heartfelt brand of soul music. It’s also a crash course in world affairs, the realities of living in an oil-rich nation, and in Nigerian politics. Nneka took the stage at the Double Door in front of a diverse crowd and wowed everyone with her impassioned blend of R&B, soul, rap, and everything in between.

    Though she’s just beginning to make a name for herself here in the United States — her first US album,Concrete Jungle, was just released this month — she’s already made a name for herself in Europe and, of course, in her homeland of Nigeria. Her first album, Victim Of Truth, was released in 2005, with a followup in 2008. (Concrete Jungle is a compilation of these first two albums.) Her stop in Chicago was the last night of a tour which took her through major US markets and included a stop off in New York to make her late-night TV debut, giving an impressive showing on Late Night with David Letterman.

    See the full review here.
  • Owen Pallett at Schubas, 1/16/10

    28 Ene 2010, 4:06

    Sat 16 Jan – Owen Pallett [Tomorrow Never Knows 2010]

    Owen Pallett mentioned to the packed house at Schubas that he wasn’t feeling well, apologizing for not being his usual “showgirl self”, but any side effects of a lingering illness were invisible on Saturday night. His performance was just as intense and impeccable as it was the last time I saw him, with the only real difference being a lack of between-song banter. But with the high caliber performance Pallett (and multi-instrumentalist Thomas Gill) put on, it absolutely didn’t matter.

    His performance is truly something to behold. With one leg often swinging back and forth like a pendulum as he stands and plays, Pallet is full of a nervous energy as he plays. There’s something nearly violent about his technique — his bow was shredded by the second song — which is incongruent with what I can really only describe as the smoothness of his voice. Take away the frantic arpeggios and tremolos and you’ve got just his simple voice spinning extraordinary tales.

    Both opening acts were tremendous as well, and the show is already on my list of contenders for best show of 2010 (if I get around to making a list like that at the end of the year). Sharon Van Etten has a beautiful voice, her gentle singing making you almost forget about how heartbreaking her lyrics can be. ”Consolation Prize”, with its line of “the moral of the story is don’t lie to me again”, and “Have You Seen” (“Have you seen what I once called my heart? Have you seen my life that’s now falling apart?”) both really killed me. Her debut album, Because I Was in Love, is pretty clearly a break-up sort of album, described by someone standing behind me at the show as “sad bastard music”. I think that might just be my new favorite genre, actually. I enjoyed her album but liked her live performance even more. Despite the packed room, and despite the fact that Van Etten is one tiny woman with a guitar, her voice managed to cut through all the noise and hush even the loudest and most obnoxious of concert-goers.

    But the real surprise for me was the amazing performance of Peter Wolf Crier. I’ve seen Owen Pallett before, and I’ve heard numerous times about how great Sharon Van Etten is live, so I knew I was in for a treat with their sets. But only being familiar in passing with the music of Peter Wolf Crier (guitarist/vocalist Peter Pisano and drummer/vocalist Brian Moen) meant that I was completely unprepared for how great their set was. Pisano’s voice reminded me frequently of M Ward and AA Bondy, having a sort of world-weary quality; this particularly struck me on the track “Down Down Down”. I was really blown away by the intensity of their set, in all respects. Pisano snapped a guitar string early in the set, but luckily there was a spare guitar sitting around. If you ever have a chance to see them live, go do it. You won’t regret it.

    See the full review here.
  • Butch Walker @ Schubas

    11 Ene 2010, 4:31

    Fri 8 Jan – Butch Walker, GOLD MOTEL

    Butch Walker can sleep well at night, knowing that if he were ever to become suddenly and inexplicably incapacitated during a concert and could no longer sing, that his incredibly exuberant fans would pick up the slack and sing every last word. Even to songs which he would much rather forget, apparently.

    Closing out four nights of his residency at Schuba’s Tavern in Chicago, where the setlist on this last night was set by fan requests sent in over Twitter, Walker’s material included new songs, songs that were never released (oftentimes with good reason, he reminded the audience), and a good deal of songs stretching back to his days in the late ’90s with rock band Marvelous 3.

    Alternating between being charming, somewhat jittery, and incredibly self-deprecating, Butch Walker kept the crowd entertained for his 90-minute set. Repeatedly reminding the audience that he wasn’t the one that picked the setlist, Walker shuffled through a stack of lyrics to songs that he hadn’t played in years. He forgot words, cut songs short because he couldn’t remember them, made bad “that’s what she said” jokes, and apologized several times for some of the songs he sung.

    See the full review here.
  • Andrew Bird at Fourth Presbyterian Church, 12/14 - 12/17

    21 Dic 2009, 4:37

    It’s easy to forget that Andrew Bird’s a classically trained violinist. The sometimes nonsense-lyrics, the eccentric personality, the giant speaker horns that dwarf him on stage, the usage of layers of sound and looping pedals, the fact that his last name is Bird and he whistles – all serve as plenty of conversation fodder when talking about him. People talk about the time he dropped his violin and it snapped in half earlier this year, they talk about the early days of his career, when you could still catch him at the Hideout, they share stories of awkward after-show encounters with him, and, yeah, okay, some people talk about how pretty he is. But what a lot of people don’t talk about is just how good he is on a technical level.

    When you strip away the band and the quirky-indie-rock-star image that he’s not even gunning for, when you take away the lyrics and occasional bombast of performance and just let his technique stand for itself, you remember: this man could have easily made a career as a top-notch orchestral musician, sitting on the stage of Symphony Hall and playing with the CSO. Instead, he’s chosen to follow his heart, making music that draws just as much from classical tradition as it does from jazz, folk, or even nature itself. Over the past four nights, even with the looping pedals and the giant speaker horns and the rambling introductions to songs, Bird’s classical heritage was on display more than ever.

    See the full review for all four nights.

    Mon 14 Dec – Andrew Bird
    Tue 15 Dec – Andrew Bird
    Tue 15 Dec – Andrew Bird
    Wed 16 Dec – Andrew Bird
    Wed 16 Dec – Andrew Bird
    Thu 17 Dec – Andrew Bird
    Thu 17 Dec – Andrew Bird
  • Over the Rhine and Lucy Wainwright Roche, Old Town School of Folk Music, 12/12

    21 Dic 2009, 4:31

    Sat 12 Dec – Over the Rhine, Lucy Wainwright Roche
    Sat 12 Dec – Over the Rhine, Lucy Wainwright Roche

    It’s not every day that you get to see one of your favorite bands not only perform twice, but perform two stellar sets and manage to outdo themselves each and every time. Saturday was just one of those nights, with two shows by Ohio natives Over the Rhine (husband and wife duo Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, backed by a phenomenal band) at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

    I’ve seen Over the Rhine several times over the years (these two shows were numbers five and six) and have never been disappointed, and these two shows were no exception. I always find myself at a bit of a loss for words when talking about their music, which makes it hard to review a show. There’s something so very real about their music — every last lyric comes from the heart. As they say in their song “I Don’t Want to Waste Your Time”, Linford and Karin don’t want to waste our time with music we don’t need. But it’s okay, because their music is definitely something that I would say is needed in this world. They’ve been making music for 20 years now, and I can say that my life is definitely much richer for it.

    See the full review here.
  • The Mountain Goats & Final Fantasy, Metro, 11/5

    21 Dic 2009, 4:29

    Thu 5 Nov – The Mountain Goats, Final Fantasy

    John Darnielle is one of those performers who my husband would put in a category with singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan. This is sort of a backhanded compliment, though, as if you ask him to tell you what he thinks about Dylan, he’ll say that the man’s an amazing lyricist but a terrible singer. This, for the record, is why I rarely drag him to most of the concerts that I attend, since a lot of the music I like falls into that category for him. (There’s a hilarious side story in here about how I took him to an Andrew Bird show once and I spent most of the train ride home gushing about how great it was, and his response was “…I didn’t get it.”)

    But he has a point. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you are most in to, Darnielle’s voice will never escape being called… quirky. Interesting. Different. It took me a long while to really get in to the music of The Mountain Goats, to let my musical tastes mature in order for me to be able to get past the fact that Darnielle’s voice just isn’t something that’s ever going to be mainstream. (The list of albums I hated on first listen but adore now is appallingly long, actually. Three cheers for growing up.) But once I did that, I discovered a whole rich world of intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics that just don’t happen in mainstream music.

    Read the full review.