Friday, April 30, 2004

Concert Recommendation: 50 Foot Wave, Schuba's, Sunday, May 2

I was in Seattle two months ago and caught a show by Kristin Hersh's new band 50 Foot Wave. It was a surprise for two reasons. First, I didn't know the Rhode Islander had relocated to Seattle. But the bigger surprise was that Hersh was getting in touch with her inner Neil Young, or at least her inner J Mascis. It had never been obvious from the Throwing Muses or her solo work that she had an inner J Mascis to get in touch with. But it worked. For those accustomed to her quiet acoustic solo shows with witty between-song banter (my personal favorite being the anecdote about her son involving the phrase "big fat dog butt"), put aside your expectations and grab some earplugs.

50 Foot Wave play with the Pieces at Schuba's, 3159 N. Southport, Chicago, 773.525.2508 at 9 p.m. on Sunday, May 2.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Concert Recommendation: Radio 4, The Bottom Lounge, Thursday, April 29

If, like me, you were disappointed that Radio 4 was cut as an opening act for Ted Leo/Pharmacists last month, here's your chance to catch them. Think Gang of Four with more complex percussion and more vague politics. But definitely something you can shake your butt for.

Radio 4 play with the Fever at the Bottom Lounge, 3206 N. Wilton, Chicago, 773.975.0505 at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 29

Friday, April 23, 2004

Concert Review:  The Strokes, The Aragon Ballroom, April 23

The Strokes may have been tagged as part of the garage rock revival, but the Strokes are definitely not a garage band. For one thing, their most obvious influences are from the wrong era, but mainly because great garage bands have front men teetering on the brink of sanity, but the Strokes are entirely sane. Yes, they have great songs and they give a really tight live performance, they are stylishly dressed and cool, but these are not the elements that create an enthralling concert. I was glad that health problems demanded that I take a seat without a decent view of the stage at their show rather than, say, the Mooney Suzuki, because I wasn't missing much by not being able to see them.

Which isn't to say they were bad. The set had a great pace, they played a credible cover of the Clash's "Clampdown" and they didn't milk their presence with an encore. They just weren't stellar.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Concert Recommendation: The Fall, Metro, Saturday, April 24

One of my favorite funny-because-it's-true music industry jokes is that the Fall can't sell any records because anyone who might buy one is already on a record company mailing list. On one hand, I can understand why they've never had more than a cult following. Mark E. Smith's dentist drill-like voice is one the greatest, most distinctive in rock but clearly an acquired taste. Yes, they've been very influential, but the bands that show their influence are ones like the Wedding Present and Sonic Youth, not exactly household names throughout America. And their live shows are erratic, not unlike the Replacements back in their drunken heyday: on a bad night, they can be terrible, but on a good night, they are the greatest live band in the world at that moment. When they hit their groove, what a groove they've got. Yes, they sing about shoulder pads and cabs and telephones, but few bands can match the thrilling sing-along of "Appreciated!" on "New Big Prinz."

The Fall play with Shesus and the Ponys at the Metro 3730 N. Clark, Chicago, 773.549.0203, on Saturday, April 24 at 11:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Concert Recommendation: Jurassic 5, House of Blues Chicago, Sunday, April 18

The House of Blues has several shortcomings, the most glaring being the manufactured atmosphere. It's rather like the "shabby chic" furniture for which one pays a premium for someone to distress new tables and chairs to make them look old. While the Empty Bottle and the Metro look lived-in, the House of Blues is just some designer's idea of what a cool venue should look like. On the other hand, it is convenient to public transportation, it has good sight lines and, most importantly, it has quite clean acoustics. Which makes it the ideal venue for Jurassic 5. With a lesser sound system, you might miss their expert rhymes like "etiquette" and "predicate."

Jurassic 5 play Scratchback at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, 312.923.2000 at 6:30 p.m., Sunday, April 18.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

During an long shopping trip to Tower Records today, I was subjected to Damita Jo, the new Janet Jackson CD. It was like being forced to eat an entire package of rice cakes: there was almost no substance but it just went on forever.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Not My '80s

I recently attended a '80s party. One of the hosts, a DJ, put particular effort into the soundtrack for the event. As the evening wore on and we got into the later part of the decade, I was reminded of the extent to which my musical tastes veered away from the mainstream as the '80s progressed. Sure, I loved the new wave pop that was big around the time of MTV's launch when I was in high school, but especially as I got to college, I became less willing to blindly accept whatever was on commercial radio. My '80s was never about Madonna or hair metal; that was what I ignored or outright condemned. My taste tended towards the British and goth, but it wasn't even the most popular British music. When living in London in the summer of 1988, my flatmates and I would watch Top of the Pops, a weekly show featuring top-selling artists lip-synching to their hits, mainly to ridicule what the general public was lapping up, appearances by the likes of Siouxsie & the Banshees notwithstanding.

After the party, I listened to party mix tape I made in the spring of 1988. The music still thrilled me. Among the artists: Echo & the Bunnymen, Julian Cope, New Order, INXS, the Hoodoo Gurus, the Replacements, the Dead Milkmen, a Pete Townshend solo track, Depeche Mode, the Cure, Iggy Pop, M/A/R/R/S. Then I went a brief late '80s binge, listening to albums by the Jesus & Mary Chain, That Petrol Emotion and Big Audio Dynamite. Some of those musicians have made a lasting impact, some faded into obscurity, especially in the U.S., but it still sounded fantastic. Can the same be said for Bon Jovi? No, they were horrific back then and don't even cut it as irony now.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Bono will be the commencement speaker at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. While there are few musicians with a more impressive  record of social activism, I am torn between thinking that this is really cool and that this is pandering. I'm also a little torn because, when U2 played JFK Stadium in Philly my senior year at Penn, he made some disparaging comments about our campus.