South wind coming up Western
Simple as heaven
Your love is all I need
I spent my first year in Chicago in an apartment up on Foster. The Western brown line station was the closest el stop and even that was a hike. Usually in the morning I would take the 92 bus to the Berwyn red line stop, but in the evenings I would usually take the brown line to Western and walk home from there. Maybe stop at Laurie’s and browse through the used bins. Western north of Lawrence was ungentrified back then (maybe still?) but there was a little antique store I liked and a funny electronics repair shop that was never open and then a diner on the corner of Foster where I would buy fries. All these years later, I look back on those walks with fondness but our next place was going to be closer to the el for sure. Shit gets old quick in the winter.
In January 2018, rock radio in Chicago met its eschatological fate when K-Love ran the flaming sword of the archangel Uriel through the prostrate body of WLUP. The Loop had first declared itself the city’s loudest radio mouth in the late 1970s, when Steve Dahl burned disco records in a big fuck you to anyone who challenged the white male’s perceived right to be an obnoxious, ignorant clown. The station’s AOR format downshifted into hard rock, and a steady thrum of AC/DC, Def Leppard, Skynyrd, Foghat, and “Get the Led Out” rock blocks blasted from suburban garages, unfinished basements, and cinder block high school weight rooms, eventually traveling through the cocaine and Aqua Net hair metal era and onward to grunge and “active rock,” i.e. lots of Foos and Nirvana. But by the mid-aughts, radio listenership had splintered, coalesced, and splintered again to form into specific micro-demos, and The Loop’s blunt instrument approach was wavering. Its battering ram dulled, the Christians came calling, and with their “positive and encouraging” CCM niche, they squashed the dude rock bug dead. All stop signs, all speed limits; highway to hell, indeed.
Enter Labor Day Weekend, 2020. With the suddenness typical of terrestrial radio moves like this, iHeartMedia flipped its “Big 95.5” modern country format to “Rock 95 Five” and cued up a core playlist of Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Bon Jovi, Green Day, Def, Foo, and Motley Crue. Radio bigwigs described the move as returning ”a key soundtrack to a large lifestyle group,” and white guys aged 25 to 54 driving around Chicagoland in their grey 2003 Ford Mustangs with a vinyl bumper sticker featuring Calvin pissing on a Chevy logo suddenly felt seen again.
The visual branding for “Rock 95 Five” is all blacks, reds, and bold dips, sort of the typographic version of a football lineman who does up his eye black in tragicomic kabuki. A recent playlist scan featured Foreigner’s loutish “Hot Blooded,” “Beautiful People” from Marilyn Manson (a song which reveals its extreme debt to Alice Cooper schlock as it ages), the Foos doing “All My Life,” and Steven Tyler’s lewd scatting on Aerosmith’s “Rag Doll.” A nod toward relative tenderness (or at least an acoustic guitar) came in the form of the Black Crowes’ heroin paen “She Talks to Angels,” and 95 Five finished out the set with the turgid knuckle dragging of Creed’s “My Own Prison,” a song and band where emo is bruised, battered and recast as the singular right of the white male animal to have what are otherwise known as all of the feels. There are no women here. (Maybe Alanis. Maybe.) There are no people of color, aside from a few Hendrix nuggets. And the imaging positioners that drop in between songs exclusively feature a smarmy white male voice shouting stock phrases like “Do you even lift, bro?” and leering that “we’ll melt your face, and melt it good.” A certain kind of male is in control again. As he sees it.
Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers "I Hate Chicago" (Official Music Video)
Directed by Hannah Welever. From Bought to Rot, out now on Bloodshot.
Oh come on, lighten up, people. It’s funny. The video’s kind of dumb but the song is hilarious.
I hate the Cubs, the Sox, the Blackhawks and the Bulls
I couldn’t give a shit about the Pumpkins, Slint or Wilco
Grace told Greg Kot, “While the song is meant in jest, Chicago prides itself in being a mean, nasty city — we’re jerks — and it’s a hard place to live. There is terrifying gun violence, government corruption, brutal winters. It’s strange being in a place you’re at odds with, but yet you live there. It’s also strange being a writer who’s identified with being from Florida. But I can’t write songs from Florida anymore, because I live in Chicago now. I finally wrapped my head around that idea. […] It speaks to what Chicago is about. People get it. It’s a hard city to live in, but we’re all in it together.”
And If I die in this shithole
Float my corpse down the Calumet
‘Cause I’d rather rot in Gary
The Imperial Sound - A Man Like You (Official Video)
Directed by Melissa Thornley. From The New AM out August 31st on Pravda Records.
The Imperial Sound is a new band made up of a bunch of Chicago music veterans including Frederick Mosher and Kenn Goodman of the New Duncan Imperials, the Service, and Pravda Records. For The New AM they’ve recruited some legendary Chicago singers, like Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Conner. “A Man Like You” features Robert Cornelius of Poi Dog Pondering on lead vocals.
It’s got stax of horns and an irresistibly funky guitar part and the chorus will get stuck in your head. I’ve heard the album and a lot of it is more classic pop and less classic soul than “A Man Like You.” It’s all good though.
I first got into the New Duncan Imperials back in college. Songs like “Pensacola 99,” “Feelin’ Sexy,” and “I’m Schizophrenic (No I’m Not)” made it onto many a mixtape. I’ve always been impressed that the guys have managed to keep a small, independent label like Pravda afloat since the 80s.
Pravda’s 1991 compilation 20 Explosive Dynamic Super Smash Hit Explosions! featured early appearances of the Smashing Pumpkins and my pals the Sinatras. And it’s still in print! Buy it now!
Twenty-seven years later and Pravda is still releasing quality material. The Imperial Sound continues that tradition.
It’s not easy being a grownup music fan. And the older you get, the harder (and weirder) it becomes. Your peers (i.e., your neighbors and your kids’ friends’ parents) can’t even pretend to understand why you’d choose to stand outside in the dirt for three days and listen to bands nobody’s ever heard of. And it is impossible to justify. I love music fests, and yet even the greatest sets I’ve experienced would’ve been way better in a dark club or theater.
Here’s what: go to Riot Fest. They book a lot of bands that prominently feature guitars. That might seem quaint or old-fashioned, but if that’s your thing then Riot Fest is pretty much the only game in town.
Yesterday, they announced the “first wave” of the 2018 lineup. There’s a ton of good stuff. I’m especially excited to see Beck, Elvis Costello, Blondie, Jerry Lee Lewis, Liz Phair, Cat Power, Johnny Marr, Superchunk, Speedy Ortiz, Bully, and the Bombpops, but there’s way more that I’m interested in checking out.
One disappointing thing: by my count only 14 of the 82 acts announced so far (17%) are fronted by women. That’s worse than both Lollapalooza (38 of 183; 21%) and Coachella (56 of 166; 33%). Seems like they could do better than that these days when all of the most exciting new guitar music is being made by girls. Maybe next year…
The thing with spoken word pieces is that you have to sit still and pay attention, and while that can be tough to carve out time for, “God In Chicago” makes it worth your while. “Her mom found her brother, then she found a container wrapped up in a newspaper stuffed in a duffle bag with hockey pads and seven grand in rubber bands.” As far as opening sentences go, that’s a pretty great start to a story. You might be able to guess where it goes from there: she calls the narrator and they drive to Chicago to sell the contents of the container and have a night on the town.
Craig Finn says, “It’s a story about a guy and a girl pushed together to try to fix a problem. In doing so, they push into unchartered territory for both of them. Going to a bigger city without supervision for the first time is a huge moment, no matter how you get there. I was trying to capture that. Also, I wanted to show how easy it is sometimes to take a break, if briefly, from our regular lives.”
I remember being a teenager and driving to the city for the first time. We didn’t have to sell any drugs, thank goodness, but my homie and I got loaded and ate Harold’s chicken with our shirts off in somebody’s University of Chicago dorm room. We listened to Spacemen 3 and Starship Beer and went to a silly hat party. He wore a fez. Good times.
If Greg asks, the show was terrible. Flat, uninspired and certainly not life affirming.
Not in the slightest.
Greg’s my friend who bought the tickets. Just before Japandroids start tuning up, he gets an SOS text from his wife to come home and help with their very newborn son.
Selfless Greg hops in a cab and does his dad duty. (awww, right?)
So let’s please pretend this brilliant Vancouver punk duo didn’t slay the sold-out crowd at Lincoln Hall — at least half of whom are 30-something rocker dads themselves.
The appeal for aging punks is clear. Like no other band, Brian King and David Prowse of Japandroids are aware time is running out. They famously were calling it quits before 2009’s Post-Nothing broke through with the P-Fork crowd. Their label literally had to call them out of retirement to tour.
As a retired rock critic myself, maybe this hit me extra hard, but it’s a second chance the boys don’t seem to expect to last and they throw everything they have into the set.
They open with fuzzy Springsteen ramp-up of “The Boys Are Leaving Town.” Guitarist/singer Brian trembles joyfully on his stick-skinny legs like a mad skeleton. Drummer David dials in his fury, cracking a stick right away.
From there we dive into the new stuff. The songs on Celebration Rock, their just released album, crackle like summer fireworks: brief and radiant. Everyone all knows the shout-along choruses of “Fire’s Highways” and “The House that Heaven Built.”
A mosh pit opens. No really. A big friendly one, well padded with the beer guts of balding guys in thick glasses. It’s a beautiful, silly response that indie acts never inspire anymore.
Maybe we get into it because the Japandroids play facing each other, David’s kit turned sideways on the stage. It’s quirk that sums up what’s to love about this wild, sloppy band. A real human connection trumps everything. They play for their own bliss, not lasting glory. It’s infectious.
They charge through all of Celebration: The fist-pumping abandon of “Adrenaline Nightshift” and the moody build of “Continuous Thunder.” So what if old favorites “Young Hearts Spark Fire” and “Wet Hair” hit slightly harder. These guys are at their peak.
They aren’t the Black Keys, still digging up the blues to make hits. They aren’t No Age, carving out damaged art noise to make something new. They aren’t the sexy slumming of the Kills or Death From Above 1979. They’re charming Canadian dorks, apologizing for playing so hard Brian constantly has to retune his battle-scarred guitar.
Promising they don’t do encores, they close with their reckless, pounding cover of Gun Club’s “For the Love of Ivy.” The place erupts because everybody is acutely aware this is it.
The Heat have already won. Brian’s old fucked Fender is falling apart. Somewhere mighty Greg is cruising around Evanston with his wife and baby sleeping in the backseat.
“It’s this or fucking nothing,” Brian says. If you hold back because the end is nigh, it only goes faster.
Andrew WK at Riviera Theatre Chicago, March 25, 2012
All of the dudes were there, and that was just on stage. Flanked by four wild-haired guitarists, plus a drummer and his black leotard-clad wife, Andrew WK stood in a party line of his own making and flailed, writhed, pumped his fists to the rager soundtrack of ten years ago. This was the I Get Wet tour, featuring WK in all of his lank white denim glory ripping through the record that made him a star with the same heaping helping of gusto he’d brought out on the road in 2002. Clod-stomping metal riffs were kicked up against WK’s own keyboard flurries and supported with double-bass kicks that kept a hard and fast rhythm on two drum heads, each emblazoned with the maestro’s bloodied face. It was the same iconic shot from the I Get Wet cover art and the one that hung over the proceedings like the visage of a master propagandist. This was WK for Vendetta, and the crowd was eating it up.
“We are fortunate to be here tonight, to live here and be alive,” WK enthused to raucous cheers. And later, “Never forget the power of musical joy.” It was the same metal-vational speech he’d spouted between (too long) pauses back at Metro in 2002, and this time around he couldn’t resist playing a bloodied Tony Robbins once again. It was too much talk, not enough rock. The crowd was eating it up, sure, the same way the pit surged to the left and right during highlights like “Party til You Puke,” “Party Hard,” and the title track, hundreds of kids pushing at the stage in a tangled mess of frenzied limbs, following along with every hair whip and judo chop of their fair leader, who seemingly hasn’t aged in the interim. But WK’s shtick, fully invested as he is, still seems like shtick at heart. There’s a gear missing, that extra rev into crazed that turns a rock and roll show into a mirthful murder spree. He had so many guitars at his disposal, and so much hair whip back and forth. He had the ears and fists of the crowd in his hands. So why was the Riviera a stolid line of folks with their arms folded once you reached the sound board level? And why wasn’t that sound ripping hearts out of chests? It felt like an act, not an act of the party gods.
The post-9/11 fatalism that I Get Wet embraced and espoused in 2001 and 02 has its partner in the fuck-it-all, glittered-up party ethos of LMFAO and Ke$ha, and WK has savvily brought the record back to not only celebrate its birth, but indoctrinate a new flock to his projectile rock. And they were down there, eating it up. But just like his strange question-and-answer sessions of a few years ago, or his incessant web cam party patrolling on Twitter, WK’s rings of egoism before it does altruism. No one can question the stripped-to-its-core genius of “Party Hard”; it’s an anthem that wears the animal skins of a thousand other anthems into a battle against boredom. But why does the whole thing still feel like self-righteous zealotry and not visceral release? Why does it ultimately feel as shallow and rootless as LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem”? Maybe that’s the populism innate to the I Get Wet material, though. Like a beer bong or box of fireworks, WK offers a necessary tool kit with which to party, but doesn’t do the real puking or exploding until your neighbor calls the cops. It’s always up to us to never stop living in the red.
Sadly, the story of uninsured musicians is all too common with tales of some going broke from the situation to others trying to barter for needed medical attention. They are among the many casualties of a healthcare system that continues to be debated and alternately labeled as “the best in the world” or “a broken bureaucracy.” And so, another character enters the story. And make no mistake, he’s a character.
Chicago’s own vagabond balladeer, Kevin Junior has written bitter sweet epic ballads with a variety of partners, most notably with The Chamber Strings. His heart bleeds melody and now that heart needs some expensive attention. According to the GoFundMe website set up by “Friends of Kevin,” Junior has a serious heart condition called Endocarditis, which is a bacterial condition affecting heart valves. Treatment includes medication, open-heart surgery and at least two months in a nursing home—all of which adds up to big bucks. A variety of fundraisers are being planned, including one tonight in Chicago. Performers include Dorian Taj, John San Juan, Ellis Clark, Phil Angotti & Carolyn Engelmann, Lou Hallwas and Andy Hansen (Penthouse Sweets) and Kevin Junior himself.