Directed by Maria Jacobson. From Leaving, due January 20 on Fire Talk.
Fran is a Chicago-based group led by Maria Jacobson. Do you love Elliott Smith’s “Waltz #2 (XO)”? Of course you do. So check out “Palm Trees.” It’s not just the time signature or the drum tone, but also the vibe of beautiful sadness and a sense of the looming apocalypse.
Jacobson said, “This vid is my first venture shooting/editing – most of it was filmed on tour with Bret Koontz band on the east coast.”
There was one scene in the massive filmic edifice that is Get Back, the film of the Beatles nearing the end, the likes of which was only exceeded by the magnitude of Napoleon’s 1812 retreat from Moscow, that made me shake myself from my stupor during which time I was wondering how it was possible for Paul McCartney to be chewing on his fingernails so frequently and yet have the ability to play bass, piano, drums and probably a multitude of other instruments had they been in Twickenham Studios or Savile Row or inside his car or randomly on his route to work.
This was after George Harrison decided that he could continue to be a member of the band and Billy Preston, who happened to be in town, was dragooned, willingly, into the band.
During an exchange between McCartney and Lennon it was pointed out that the Beatles were four, then three, then four, then five. That is, John/Paul/George/Ringo, John/Paul/George/Ringo, John/Paul/George/Ringo, John/Paul/George/Ringo/Billy. It was even suggested that they might ask a multitude of others to join the group, equaling, perhaps, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The issue, of course, is the still somewhat alive horse that I’ve flogged over the years, which is: When does a band stop being a band? Or when is it a band in name only?
As is well known there is a tendency for acts to continue on with the name of a band although there are people missing from the lineup that made the band what it was.
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.
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
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.