Tuesday, June 29, 2004

This goes beyond a mere concert recommendation since it is worth plane tickets: Little Steven's International Underground Garage Festival, Saturday, August 14, Randall's Island, New York

Holy crap! What a vast amount of talent, all appearing on one day, and for only $20 in advance.

Here's the list of who is confirmed to appear so, with more still possible: Iggy Pop & The Stooges, The New York Dolls, The Pretty Things, Bo Diddley, The Raveonettes, The Mooney Suzuki, The Romantics, The Electric Prunes, The Chesterfield Kings, The Fuzztones, The Cynics, The Stems, The Chains, The Singles, The Contrast, The Woggles, The Boss Martians, The High Dials, The Forty-Fives, The Shazam, The Cocktail Slippers, The Star Spangles, The Charms, and the Flaming Sideburns.

Yes, you read it right. The New York Dolls are back together (based in encouragement from longtime fanboy Morrissey), but that's just one of many, many lures for a day featuring several decades worth of great garage rock. Looks like there are enough acts to fill two stages, so the only hard part will be deciding who to see when.

Monday, June 28, 2004

There are two schools of thought on using sound to calm a baby. One is to play soothing music. Traditionally, this means lullabies, but the more recent trend is serene classical music. The other option is white noise such as a vacuum cleaner or radio static on the theory that it replicates the sound inside the womb. I've discovered a better option that combines both concepts: the wall of droning guitar that is Spaceman 3. My infant son always stops crying within the six minutes of "Walkin' with Jesus (Sound of Confusion)," as found on the Singles CD on Taang! Rocking and bouncing him helps, but he frequently falls asleep entirely during the track, with a better success rate than rocking and bouncing without such musical accompaniment.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Concert Recommendation: Magnetic Fields, Old Town School of Folk Music, June 25-27

Stephin Merritt is one of the most gifted songwriters working today. His love songs are clever, funny and poignant. He's got about a zillion side projects including Future Bible Heroes and the Sixths, but the Magnetic Fields is his main gig. And he's finally followed up 1999's monumental with 69 Love Songs with i. With a mere 14 tracks, i lacks the scope of the previous work but it also eliminates the experimental filler that watered down some of 69's impact. Stephin and coconspirator Claudia Gonson take a wonderfully informal approach to their live performance. Arrive prepared to pay attention to the lyrics.

The Magnetic Fields play with Andrew Bird at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773.728.6000, at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 25 and at 3:30 and 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 26 and Sunday, June 27.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Concert Recommendation: Patti Smith, Navy Pier Skyline Stage, June 24

A few summers ago, the Patti Smith Group played a free outdoor show sponsored by the Tribune. A WXRT DJ gave a deeply reverential introduction. Yes, Smith's 1975 debut Horses frequently turns up on lists of the greatest rock albums ever. She's an integral part of the early New York punk scene with such peers as the Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie. Her continuing influence can be heard in the Strokes. But she was having none of the ego-stroking. She dismissed the praise and claimed that she and the band were just a bunch of fuck-ups. The long-time members of the group cheered wildly for what they deemed a more accurate appraisal while the young guns on stage looked awkward.

Because of long gaps between albums and therefore long gaps between tours, her live reputation isn't as entrenched, even if Gilda Radner did parody her as "Candy Slice" back when Saturday Night Live was relevant and funny. Like Iggy Pop, she gives herself fully to the material. She's an uninhibited and charismatic performer. Her new album Trampin' will give her a chance to show this off at the Skyline Stage.

Patti Smith plays the Navy Pier Skyline Stage  at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 24.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

High Fidelity is my favorite novel because it so precisely captures the music geek world I live in. Although the movie adaptation was flawed, mainly by the lack of chemistry between John Cusack and Iben Hjejle, it captured that music geek spirit. My favorite scenes were the ones that visually conveyed more than mere words could in the book. In particular, Dick (Todd Louiso) finds Rob (Cusack) in his apartment surrounded by stacks and stacks of records, which Rob is reorganizing. Dick is unable to guess at the new classification scheme. Rob triumphantly announces he's doing it autobiographically.

There's a great deal of truth behind that humorous concept: if music is a big part of your life, you associate certain songs or bands with other aspects of your life. And Fountains of Wayne concerts are now firmly intermingled with memories of the birth of my son. I got the first unsolicited comment from a stranger on my pregnancy at their show at the Vic last November. The security woman who frisked me apologized for doing so since I was expecting. I had only announced my pregnancy recently and was taken aback by her comment since I didn't think my condition was that obvious. Their show at Rockin' de Mayo was the last concert I attended while pregnant; I sat at the foot of the stage since I couldn't stand that long. And their show last night at Taste of Randolph St. was my son's first concert.

Normally, I'd be offering up a review. But my attention was split between the band and the boy. Rather than being in the thick of the audience, we stood on the outskirts to protect his hearing and so I could fend off the encroaching drunks (Some people came to the festival to drink, not to see the band.) The band did offer a small surprise, namely that they've changed the set. Unlike their last three shows here in the last year, they didn't play "Radiation Vibe" as the last song before the encore, nor did they go into tangent covers of arena rock and the Cars' "Let's Go" on that song, just playing it straight through. This gave me hope that they might finally play "Little Red Light," but for my baby's well-being, we left during the encore without ever hearing it. The baby slept through most of the show, but I hope at some point he appreciates the music his parents exposed him to from such an early age.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Concert Recommendation: Taste of Randolph St., Saturday, June 19

When considering a move to the New York area last year, I asked myself what the advantages were of New York versus Chicago. Chicago was the big winner on free outdoor concerts. The Taste of Chicago and Blues Fest may have set the precedent and attract the bigger names, but the best action is at the neighborhood festivals. New York has nothing like them.

The problem with the big Grant Park shows is that they are events more than concerts. So more people are there just to hang out rather than see specific performances, and the sound system is too muddy to really cover the space. On the other hand, smaller neighborhood festivals are more concentrated, attracting smaller crowds so that it's easier to provide adequate sound and making it possible to pack the area in front of the stage with actual fans. Yes, lots of these events just bring out the usual cavalcade of local bar bands, and most have a suggested donation for entry, but the better ones provide well-known talent at a price much cheaper than you'd pay at club to see them normally. Highlights of the last few years include Shellac, Jill Sobule and Interpol. The Taste of Randolph St. has been particularly fruitful, including appearances by Morphine and They Might Be Giants.

This year's Taste of Randolph packs an impressive double wallop on Saturday: back-to-back performances by Ted Leo/Pharmacists and Fountains of Wayne. Let's just hope that FoW singer Chris Collingwood has caught up on his rest since their show last month at Rockin' de Mayo.

Ted Leo/Pharmacists and Fountains of Wayne play the Taste of Randolph St., 900-1200 West Randolph St., Chicago, at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., respectively, on Saturday, June 19.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

INXS is teaming up with reality TV producer Mark Burnett to create Rock Star, a TV contest to find the band a replacement for their deceased singer Michael Hutchence. Hutchence died in 1997 (Though officially ruled a suicide, evidence suggests it may have been accidental), and the band has worked with a series of guest vocalists for their limited concert schedule since then.

American Idol this ain't, for a variety of reasons. The most basic is that the viewing audience won't have complete control over who wins. Secondly, they aren't just rating the contestants as singers; the judges, including the band members themselves and "leading entertainment industry specialist," will also evaluate them on songwriting, image and production.

But it also hints at the difference between a great singer and a great frontman. The original British incarnation of American Idol is called Pop Idol, and in England there is a distinction between pop stars and rock stars. Pop stars have pretty voices (or these days, software to make their voices pretty). Rock stars don't have to have pretty voices; they have to have interesting voices coupled with charisma to spare, Rod Stewart being the most extreme example of this. Hutchence wasn't a great frontman because he had perfect pitch or could hold a high note for three minutes or whatever other histrionics qualify as talent when Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston are the only yardsticks. Hutchence built his reputation as part of a band and on the strength of their live shows. In concert, he had stage presence to burn, and it was part of an incredibly tight unit. The band went 20 years without a line-up change, and their taut funk-inflected rock is musically more interesting than the schmaltz pedaled by singers just showing off their vocal ranges. Even if the contest yields someone better than, say, Ian Astbury of the Cult filling in for Jim Morrison in a Doors revival, it's still questionable whether the band can ever find someone to mesh as well into their tight knit.

The winner will record an album with the band, their first since Hutchence's death, and "embark on a world tour of major concert arenas." The latter part of the "prize" is questionable since the band's popularity was waning even before they lost their frontman. They may still be an institution in their Australian homeland, but they'd be lucky to sell out a theater tour of the U.S. at this point.

The full details are on the band's web site in the news section. For those with a hankering to audition, "casting" (a disturbingly TV-oriented term, considering the intended outcome) won't begin until later this year.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Concert Recommendation: David Byrne with Poi Dog Pondering, Navy Pier Skyline Stage, June 17 and 21

David Byrne played Chicago on September 14, 2001. Let me rephrase this to highlight its significance: David Byrne played Chicago three days after 9/11 (a date so indelible it requires no year.) He and his large backing band boarded a bus to make sure the show happened, a ray of hope shining all the way from New York. PJ Harvey had played the same venue the night before and definitely rocked harder, but Byrne was cooler. The whole band was musically tight, but they also had a lot of fun.

At one point, former Talking Head introduced a song merely by saying it was hugely inappropriate in light of recent tragic events. Murmurs quickly went through the crowd: take your pick: "Psycho Killer, " "Burning Down the House" or "Life During Wartime." Who knew so many Talking Heads songs could suddenly take on such import based on a single incident? For what it's worth, "Life" was the inappropriate song he had in mind.

That Poi Dog Pondering are opening is particularly appropriate. Although they've never aped the Talking Heads' sound, they have drawn percussion inspiration from the same sources.

David Byrne plays the Navy Pier Skyline Stage with Poi Dog Pondering at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 17 and Monday, June 21.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Concert Recommendation: Franz Ferdinand, Metro, Saturday, June 12

We clearly live in the age of cynicism. Proof: the backlash against Franz Ferdinand is greater than their actual popularity. In the past few weeks, I've read comments describing the '80s-sounding Scottish band as overhyped and overrated, particularly in regard to even lesser-known bands. But it's not like Franz Ferdinand are ubiquitous or overexposed. I've probably heard more by Modest Mouse on WLUW lately, and no one seems to mind them. Yes, they've sold out tonight's show at the Metro, but that is hardly conquering the New World.

Franz Ferdinand play the Metro, 3730 N. Clark, Chicago, 773.549.0203, at 6:30 p.m. tonight, Saturday, June 12 with Sons & Daughters.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Concert Recommendation: DKT/MC5 Reunion, Metro, Friday June 11

Like the Stooges, fellow Detroit denizens the MC5 were out of step with the whole peace 'n' love hippie vibe of the late '60s; their rallying cry was, "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!" They never got very famous, but they have been quite influential. (One of my friends has dismissed the Mooney Suzuki for aping the MC5 too closely.) Greg Kot wrote about the band's legacy, the reunion and the controversy among the surviving members and the families of the deceased in the Tribune. But what's really strange is the roster of guest vocalists: Mudhoney's Mark Arm is a great fit; Mudhoney have clearly drawn inspiration from the garage rock of MC5 and their ilk, and Arm has a wonderfully raspy wail. Marshall Crenshaw's inclusion is a bit of a head-scratcher; he's a talented singer/songwriter, but his milieu is more pop than punk. But Evan Dando, the washed-up former alt-rock pin-up boy, is totally out of league.

The DKT/MC5 reunion is at the Metro, 3730 N. Clark, Chicago, at 11:30 p.m. on Friday, June 11.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Concert Recommendation: Little Steven's Underground Garage Battle of the Bands, June 8-10, Double Door

The great thing about garage rock is that it's easy to be pretty good even if its hard to be truly great. In other words, a battle of garage rock bands is a guaranteed good evening of entertainment, unlike, say, a battle of beginning violin students. And the bands playing this three-night contest put on by Little Steven's Underground Garage (the best nationally syndicated radio sow you'll find on any commercial station) have already gone through an initial screening process to make it this far. Plus, it's dirt cheap, just $5 a night.

As for great garage rock bands, even if the competitors suck, there's still the chance to see special guests the Cynics on Wednesday night and the Fleshtones on Thursday.

Little Steven's Underground Garage Battle of the Bands is at the Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL, 773.489.3160 on Tuesday, June 8 to Thursday, June 10 at 9 p.m. each night.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Huzzah, huzzah! Creed have broken up. It's the season for such changes, with Phish announcing last week that they're calling it quits. I've never been into the whole jam band thing, but I respect Phish for both being so musically inventive with their live shows and not taking themselves too seriously in the process, two points of praise I would never give to Creed.

The other three guys in Creed are leaving behind the sanctimonious Scott Stapp to form a band with a new singer. If Stapp is looking for another gig, the rest of Stone Temple Pilots, another derivative grunge band, may be seeking someone new now that revolving door rehabber Scott Weiland is fronting Velvet Revolver.