Tag Archives: Chicago

Thoughts on Yeezus

kanye-new-album-yeezusThe first record on Kanye West’s sixth studio album, “On Sight,” clearly spells out what the fuck is about to happen for the entire length of Yeezus.

“How much do I not give a fuck? / Let me show you right now before you give it up,” West snarls before we hear a classic Kanye-esque sample, featuring the line “He’ll give us what we need / It may not be what we want.”

Exactly.

West already gave us want we wanted with 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He’s so good at doing this only 10 years into his professional solo career that he pulled out all the stops, scheduled every guest rapper you’d ever want to hear on a Kanye album and pushed all the studio flourishes to the extreme because he knew Dark Fantasy would play like a greatest hits album. At the very beginning of Dark Fantasy, we hear “Can we get much higher?” Like, hello.

And you wanted that again?

I’m about to compare Kanye West to Radiohead right now. Radiohead are expected to evolve and make drastic and creative leaps and bounds forward with each album. All of that came to a head with In Rainbows – it was the best of everything that had come before it. Then The King of Limbs was released and people were pissed off because it was more challenging, didn’t change things enough and was “too short.” LOL K.

I think the same thing is happening with Yeezus, although I would say it’s more like Kanye’s Kid A. You see, Kanye got us all gassed up over the past decade, made his “ultimate” album with Dark Fantasy, and then pulled the rug out from everybody who was expecting something they could play in the club or while pre-gaming.

Yeezus is a dark, twisted fantasy in its own right. It sounds like nothing else, yet peppers in sonically beautiful moments that link to Kanye’s past, most directly to the also challenging and commercially unviable 808s & Heartbreak. All at once, it’s funny, uncomfortable, provocative, beautiful, depressing and a challenge.

Very recently, celebrated band Low played the annual Rock the Garden, and people were super pissed because the band’s set consisted of one song stretched out to 27 minutes. In response, the City Pages’ Reed Fischer complied an argument for why it was actually brilliant. I’m going to use a couple of his arguments to wrap up my thoughts:

Fischer: Rock the Garden is a Walker Art Center event, not Jingle Ball.

Low not playing “Plastic Cup” is nowhere close to equivalent to Katy Perry skipping “Teenage Dream.” Get over it. The Walker has a long tradition of supporting experimental performance that sits outside the mainstream, and Low’s choice to densely explore one track was a fitting addition to the day. If anything, this will be a Low appearance that will be talked about for the rest of our lives. Plus, “Drone, not drones,” was a completely badass way to address the crowd. Alan Sparhawk and his band looked fearless and punk as fuck up there.

Me: Kanye West is not Flo Rida, T.I. or J Cole. He’s creating art that the masses have seemed to relate to up to this point. Kanye West will not be playing Jingle Ball.

Kanye not making “Gold Digger Part 2” is kind of the point of pushing music forward. Get over it. If anything, Yeezuz will be talked about for the rest of our lives. Plus, sampling “All the Beautiful People” on “Black Skinhead” is completely badass.

Fischer: Not every effective piece of art is easy to pigeonhole.

Admittedly, I was initially confused by the long, billowing intro that stretched easily five minutes before a noticeable change. But as the sun started to peek its way out from behind the clouds, “Do You Know How to Waltz?” began to build into something epic. In an era when we’re used to getting exactly what we want with a swipe of a finger on our smart phones, it can be refreshing to have a surprise, a plot twist, a moment of not knowing what will come next. Although the few lyrics of the song include the line “One more reason to forget,” I guarantee no one who was gathered there Saturday will be able to erase in their minds what they experienced while Low played. A shame for those who just wanted something less unique, less singular, and less captivating. The crowd agreed that Emily Haines was “not synthetica” later on, but should remember that we should not be passive, music-consuming drones either.

Me: Not every effective piece of art is easy to pigeonhole.

From the very beginning, Yeezus sounds like no other Kanye album out there and can initially be confusing. In an era when we’re used to getting exactly what we want with a swipe of a finger on our smart phones, it can be refreshing to have a surprise, a plot twist, a moment of not knowing what will come next, a la Yeezus and Kanye’s career in general. I guarantee no one who listens to Yeezus will be able to erase in their minds what the hell just happened in their ears, on their speakers, etc.

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When Kanye first tweeted that he would be projecting new music at specific locations across the country, I dropped what I was doing and headed up the street to Wrigley Field, not knowing what to expect. In true Kanye form, the projection of “New Slaves” started an hour late. I tried to be as in the moment as possible while also trying to decipher what this new sound was and listening intently to the subject matter of what is a very deep song. Then, out of nowhere, in slammed the sample of Omega’s “Gyöngyhajú Lány.” It’s quite a beautiful and somewhat profound moment, actually, and felt more that way as me and 50 other people stared at the entrance of Wrigley Field with jaws dropped, while Kanye and Frank Ocean crooned “So let’s get too high, get too high again.” It may not be the same type of high that Dark Fantasy gave the world – Yeezus is a high of a very different sort. And thank God – At least none of us are bored anymore.

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Solange @ Bottom Lounge 4.15.13

photo 1Remember when Solange was supposed to perform in Chicago in February, and then cancelled the performance, citing “scheduling issues” and “weather,” but really it was probably so she could do chic things at the Oscars?

Well, she made good on her promise to make it up to us, finally returning to the City of Big Shoulders that were collectively holding some pretty high expectations for the performer we affectionately call Beyoncé’s little sister. The entire area outside of the Bottom Lounge (we’ll get to that in a minute) smelled like weed, so people were also just high, regardless of expectations.

Anyways, when Solange o’clock hit, the booming sounds of “Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work” started blasting from somewhere other than the two horribly placed speakers on either side of the stage. Sound issues for Solange, really? Thankfully, things kicked into gear just before Solange took the stage along with the rest of her band including two #chictothenextlev backup singers. Unfortunately, more sound issues would plague the entire show, however Solange grooved through the entire hour-long set determined to deliver.

From the first minute the crowd, which was one of the most interesting I have ever seen at a show, was hooked, and Solange’s vocals were surprisingly powerful as she hit all the right notes. Without mentioning anything specific relating to the events in Boston that day, Solange told the crowd that the show was all about celebrating joy before performing “Don’t Let Me Down.”

photo 2The sultry dancing finally clicked with “Bad Girls,” Solange telling the audience “grind out whatever aggression you have with this one. Just grind.” Solange herself got really into this one, twerking it hard on stage letting the beat ride out. “Why did I wear a fucking sweater?” Solange asked herself.

Even though the sound was never 100 percent perfect, everything off of the True EP sounded great live, but the show was finally taken there with “Lovers in the Parking Lot,” which sounded absolutely huge and had Solange pushing her vocals the hardest. With more emphasis put behind the beat in the live version, the crowd threw their arms in the air like this was a hip hop show, and Solange was very into it. Good thing, since she told us all she just shot the music video and it’s her next single.

“Lovers in the Parking Lot” led to the moment; “Losing You.” Even though it’s actually a really depressing song, everyone was singing along in some sort of joyful/sad cathartic release, a true party atmosphere celebrating broken hearts.

Solange exited the stage for a brief moment before returning for the encore, which closed with the triumphant “Sandcastle Disco.”

I think it’s safe to say Solange upheld all of the expectations and finally made good with Chicago, sound issues aside, and brought some brightness and joy to a day that had been pretty dark. Ultimately, isn’t that when music is at it’s best?

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Phosphorescent @ Lincoln Hall 4.13.13

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I’m not gonna lie, the details of Phosphorescent’s sold out show at Lincoln Hall Saturday night are a little hazy.

You see, I was convinced to do some day drinking in Wrigleyville (I know), only to wake up an hour before the show already a little hung over. There was only one thing to do; smack back a Miller High Life tallboy and head on down to the show.

Opening band Strand of Oaks were great, if only a little sleepy. Maybe it was all the smoke from the fog machine. All I know is that after positioning myself in prime position since I was flying solo, Phosphorescent took the stage and started with one of my favorite songs from Muchacho, “Terror In The Canyons.”

Just like on the record, lead singer Matthew Houck’s voice sounded a little frayed, but that actually added to the raw, forlorn alt country aesthetic of the performance.

“Song For Zula” found Houck very comfortable on stage, meandering around as the live band shuffled around with him in a very relaxed and confident manner, everyone in the audience finally hooked into the performance. “Down To Go” continued this vibe.

Playing mostly songs from Muchacho, the highlight of the show had to be the expansive take on “The Quotidian Beasts,” which hit with a certain intensity that can only be captured live.

After concluding with something that I can’t quite remember, Phosphorescent came back to play a very lengthy encore, including a Randy Newman cover before finally saying adieu.

Even though I can’t remember the specifics (sorry mom), I did leave fully satisfied. If Phosphorescent is playing in your neck of the woods anytime soon and isn’t already sold out, go, drink a few beers and enjoy.

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Rhye @ Schubas 4.11.13

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Normally, getting told at the door about a band’s request for no photos, no in and out of the room during the show, no loud talking, and then two more similar announcements before the show starts with the additional piece of information that the bar would be closed during the show, would generally irk me. Believe me, I’m the biggest advocate of no talking, pictures with flash etc. during a performance, but they way they were really hammering this in at Schubas before Rhye took the stage was a little much. Then the music started and I couldn’t have cared less.

I don’t even know how to talk about how good this show was because while I was expecting it to be really good, I didn’t know it would be that good. Like, witnessing something truly special good.

Seeing Rhye at a place like Schubas, with candles lit and enough Warby Parker frames to fill a flagship store, is really the only place anyone should see Rhye, and as all those in attendance refrained from talking and taking pictures, Rhye and an impressive live band that included strings and a trombone cast a spell. A really chic, sexy love spell.

The band played some mood music as lead vocalist Mike Milosh walked on stage then went right into the understated “Verse.” With a tremendous command of vocal restraint, the sounds of “Verse,” including expert harmonizing from the group, melted the room before they performed a transformed, stripped down version of “3 Days.”

Milosh kept his own talking to a minimum, however he acknowledged he was getting good vibes from Schubas, saying “yeah, this will be nice,” as the mood picked up a little and everyone started grooving to “The Fall.”

Throughout the evening, Milosh kept signaling to his band to draw songs past their normal running time, letting the beat ride as his voice floated sublimely above everything.  After “Shed Some Blood,” things continued to heat up with “Last Dance” and “Major Minor Love,” the room dead silent, hanging on to every last word and note.

Nearing the end of the hour long set, the mood turned more celebratory with “Open,” and then “Hunger,” which featured solos from each band member including a fantastic trombone solo.

After explaining that they had one more song left, the show closed with the band performing one of Milosh’s singles, “It’s Over,” aptly titled to close out an other worldly performance.

No doubt, Rhye are on an upward trajectory and will soon be leaving rooms like Schubas behind for bigger theaters and festivals. With the ability to craft a bubble of Rhye-ness at Schubas, even if it meant threatening signs and announcements, Rhye as a live show was something transcendent. Too bad you can’t get 1,500 people that quiet no matter what you do. Go see Rhye before the crowd starts talking.

And yes, I snuck one photo and I didn’t lift my phone up or use the flash. SFP.

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Caitlin Rose @ Schubas 4.9.13

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Caitlin Rose looks like a cross between Marion Cotillard and an Olsen twin with the vocal power of Neko Case mixed with the sweetness of Zooey Deschanel (I mean that in the best way possible) so basically she’s just like one giant chic package.

Belting bittersweet country songs dripping in slide guitar and regret, Rose and her band, including opener Andrew Combs, cast quite a spell on Schubas last night, with Rose even commenting “I thought only people in England were this quiet.”

We were so quiet because holy shit, this 25-year-old vocal and musical powerhouse commands the attention with stunningly simple yet powerful alt country songs that can easily make you forget about others in her genre. Did I mention I’m obsessed with the slide guitar?

Rose played almost all of the songs off of her latest album, The Stand-In, kicking it into high gear early in the set with “Waitin’” while explaining the irony behind the song “Pink Champagne,” telling people that it’s really about marrying someone quick in Vegas and advising the crowed not to play it at their own weddings.

Things got very country-emo when everyone but Rose and Combs left the stage so the two could sing an absolutely arresting version of Combs’ song “Too Stoned To Cry,” which is a feeling the Olsen twins (mostly Mary Kate) experience all the time.

“Shanghai Cigarettes” was good enough to almost convince me to go home and open one of the packs of Chinese cigarettes I had procured when I visited Shanghai, but they’re about five years old now and like, no. But it’s good to know Rose and I could relate.

Speaking of relating, Rose was pretty funny with her between song banter, asking all of us to be friends, commenting that her drink wasn’t strong enough but that she still loved Schubas (it was Rose’s second time there).

Rose actually forgot to walk off the stage before the encore, so she asked us to pretend that she did before diving into a Buck Owens cover, “I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail.” There was a final song but I had forgotten to eat dinner and I was about four IPAs deep at this point so that explains things a bit.

As I walked the mile back to my apartment, visions of the big Texas sky dancing around in my head, drunk on Rose’s addictive vocals (ok it was that and two more beers before heading home), the temptation of a late night Cheesie’s stop was too much to resist. Sitting at the bar alone, contemplating if I had made the right decision to go with the mac and cheese grilled cheese with a side of sweet potato fries, the sounds of Run-D.M.C’s “Tricky” filled the speakers and were enough to get the entire bar singing along. It brought a tear to my eye.

It was a good night.

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Wavves @ Subterranean 4.1.13

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Lots of intense head bobbing was happening last night at Subterranean, which held an all ages show (yuck) headlined by Wavves.

With underage kids getting kicked out left and right, smoke illicit in nature swirling about the room and enough PBR tall boys to fill a dumpster, the Wavves show felt like a college house party in all the best ways and worst ways possible; the bros in the audience outnumbered the girls at least 10:1, there was crowd surfing, shirtless dudes, etc. All of this fit naturally with Wavves flavor of stoner surf rock.

Although the entire show could be boiled down to LOUD NOISES, Wavves kicked into a good groove in the middle of the set which featured some of the group’s hits, including the super fun “King of the Beach.”

“Demon To Lean On” from the just released Afraid of Heights was another standout and a literal change of pace before things got intense again with “Green Eyes,” which unfortunately lost the nuances that make it a standout song in the pumped up live setting.

And while everyone was clearly there to party, it would have been nice if Wavves had slowed things down and included some of the subtler songs off of Afraid of Heights, including Nirvana-esque “Dog” and album closer “I Can’t Dream,” which really showcase some great songwriting and versatility. Sorry for being emo.

The short, sweet and intense set (Nathan Williams kept referencing the damned curfew that comes with all ages shows – seriously, when was the last time you heard the word curfew?) was surprisingly light on newer material, instead balancing songs from Wavves’ debut album, King of the Beach, the Life Sux EP and Afraid of Heights. Bravo.

And so, since everything wrapped up at 9:15, it was over to Big Star to eat tacos, drink margs and pretend to be king of the beach in the middle of the prairie.

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Secret Colours are Murking Me

Peach-Promo1Maybe it’s because I recently watched Martin Scorsese’s excellent documentary on George Harrison, but I have a feeling the late (and my personal favorite) Beatles member would have totally dug Chicago-based Secret Colours. Mr. Harrison would probably appreciate the band’s British spelling of ‘colours,’ right?. I’m also totally biased because band member Dave Stach happens to be a friend, but I would totally be a fan of these guys even if I wasn’t.

Today, the group released the single “Blackbird (Only One)” from the upcoming LP Peach, which is due out May 28, making this spring, if it will ever actually arrive, one of the more exciting music release seasons in recent memory. A single that the band’s management agency describes as “Sonically Prismatic,” “Blackbird” fits perfectly with Secret Colours’ aesthetic, a chameleon of a song that morphs and transformes while dripping in sonic reverb and swirling guitars. It’s like, ‘it’s the 60s and there’s all this free love and drugs going around’ chic, which is a look that never gets old.

Check out “Blackbird” below.

Secret Colours tour dates:

Saturday, April 13th – Woodlands Tavern, Columbus, OH

Friday, April 19th – The Office, Batavia, IL

Saturday, April 20th – Cactus Club, Milwaukee, WI (part of Milwaukee Psych Fest)

Sunday, April 21 – Subterranean, Chicago, IL

 

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Local Natives @ The Vic 3.22.13

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Local Natives kicked a lot of ass on Thursday night here in Chicago. From playing “to six people” in 2009 to selling out The Vic, the rise of Local Natives since the Gorilla Manor has certainly been something, with the January release of the band’s second LP, Hummingbird, being one of the most anticipated of the year.

So it was great that the group met that anticipation with a blistering version of “You & I” to open the show, played quite a bit faster than on the album. Matt Frazier’s aggressive drumming really made “You & I” explode into an almost dance track. No one hated it.

Next came “Breakers,” the first single from Hummingbird, with the faster tempo carrying over to once again propel the song into another dimension. Kelcey Ayer’s keys absolutely shined above all of the percussion during the crashing chorus as Taylor Rice thrashed about on stage. The energy coming from the stage absolutely blew my mind.

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The group was quick to acknowledge its humble beginnings, telling the story about playing “Airplanes” to an audience of six people in Chicago before launching into an as-expected gorgeous version of the song that sparked their cult following. The cover of Talking Heads song “Warning Sign” elicited more dancing from the crowd who were all ready to party on a Thursday night – maybe because it was Ryan Hahn’s birthday?

At any rate, things slowed down just a little bit for the wonderfully depressing “Columbia,” even though it was made apparent by the non-stop chattering of the crowd that maybe people didn’t want to feel those feelings? Whatever, “Columbia” still made an impact on this dude before things brightened up again.

After closing the main set with a sweltering “Bowery,” the group maintained the feverish pace of the show by opening the three-song encore with the raucous “Wooly Mammoth,” but what happened next was the truly magical moment of the evening.

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Despite the lack of horns or strings, something blissful happened during “Who Knows Who Cares.” I swear Local Natives engineered the harmonies of that song to resonate at the perfect frequency in a live setting, because as everyone in the theater belted out the lyrics, especially at the thunderous end, I swear the whole place vibrated to another plane. It was really chic and I want to re-live that moment every day for the rest of my life.

In the end, Local Natives have truly justified their rise to fame. They are a force to be reckoned with as live performers; it’s not studio trickery or even production help from Aaron Dessner (although that is a pretty special thing). Ok well I mean the light show, for being pretty simple, maybe helped a little bit, but damn, these California boys have something special going on. We’re just lucky to be a tiny part of it.

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Nightlands and Efterklang @ Lincoln Hall 3.19.13

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You know when a band is trying a little too hard to make a statement/make people feel feelings? That’s how I felt about Efterklang at Lincoln Hall last night. Also, the band tweeted at me, saying that seeing them live “will change your life tonight.” I wouldn’t go that far…

Full disclosure: I hadn’t listened to virtually any of Efterklang’s music, like ever, before deciding to check them out based on scores on Metacritic, with Drowned in Sound calling Efterklang’s Parades “One of 2007’s finest LPs, no question. On the other hand, Pitchfork has never been very kind to the group – I wanted to go against the “I base what music I listened to on Pitchfork’s scientific method” but damnit they were right.

I mean, the show was fine…they do that thing where they have a lady vocalist with ear-piercingly pitch perfect operatic wailing do just that for a lot of the songs, but instead of reverberating emotionally, it just got annoying and seemed added on top of the songs for no reason. Don’t get me wrong, I love some good lady wailing (Lost in the Trees is an example of how to do this well) but it became a little much last night.

Man, these Danish folks also loved their hand percussion instruments, with at least one band member always shaking something in his or her hand. That was fun.

More impressive than Efterklang was opener Nightlands, a band lead by The War on Drugs bassist Dave Hartley. Hartley and crew played a number of cuts off of their 2012 album Oak Island, which is growing on me very quickly. However, the woozy, trippy sounds heard on the studio recordings were hardly replicated in a live setting, with Nightlands sounding like more of a traditional folk band. I didn’t hate it.

What I did hate is Hartley describing being snowed-in in Minnesota as “…’nuff said.” Didn’t he see me wearing my Twins hat?

Anyways, you can listen to some Nightlands below.

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Foxygen and Unknown Mortal Orchestra @ Lincoln Hall 3.7.13

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Scruffy in the best sense, Foxygen seemed to be the main draw at Lincoln Hall last night. When the girl in the group walked on stage wearing a shaggy fur thing, I was already sold before they dug deep into some seriously psychedelic 60s-infused pop and rock.

These are some really goofy kids, but damn, what a fun show. After coming on stage and introducing themselves as Arcade Fire (lolz) Foxygen played through most of their glorious album We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic. Highlights included “San Francisco,” “No Destruction,” and an intense rendition of single “Shuggie,” to which a majority of the crowd got down and had no trouble adjusting to the multiple tempo changes.

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It’s truly amazing how much range lead singer Sam France’s voice has, from his deep Elvis-like coos to a more nasal Bob Dylan sound to shrieking and screaming, this guy can hit it all while freewheeling around on stage. I’m pretty sure there were some drugs involved. Chic.

After Foxygen shut it down, Lincoln Hall actually emptied out a bit before Unknown Mortal Orchestra came on. Ruban Nielson and Jake Portrait keep things super chill while drummer Riley Geare really punched up the songs beyond the low-fi sound heard on studio recordings.

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The last time I saw UMO was with no lights in a dark Varsity Theater, so it was nice to see UMO play through a majority of the excellent II while being able to see these dudes do their thing. We grooved to “Swim and Sleep” early on in the set and things got really intense with “No Need for A Leader.” More shoe shuffling happened with the laid back “Monki.”

Again, UMO live is a completely different sound from their albums, and it’s amazing how much energy and brightness their songs have when not draped in fuzz. I dig.

All in all, a great double bill. Go see Foxygen immediately. Holy crap.

Check out the videos for Foxygen’s “Shuggie” and another one for UMO’s “So Good At Being In Touble” below.

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