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March 2008 Archives

More Pitchfork acts announced

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The promoters of the Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park on July 18-20 have announced the "second third" of the acts for the fourth installment of the summer music celebration.

Vampire Weekend: "Look, Muffy, a band for us!”

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Does anyone remember The Official Preppy Handbook?

First published in 1980 and subtitled “Look, Muffy, a book for us,” Lisa Birnbach’s satirical overview of old-school, deep-pockets, upperclass WASP society was packaged as a straight-faced “reference guide” full of tips on how to dress (heavy on the golfer’s pants, pastel Lacoste polo shirts and monogrammed sweaters), where to study (Ivy League colleges the only choice, of course) and how to indulge in such typical demerit-worthy bad behavior as smoking and drinking (complete with “20 Verbal Expressions for Vomiting”). Noticeably short, however, were any picks for the perfect preppy music.

If only Vampire Weekend had existed when Birnbach was compiling her classic comedic tome: The New York quartet’s recently released, much-hyped debut album would have been the perfect CD to package between its garish plaid covers.

Demo2DeRo: Filligar

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My second favorite Chicago "brother act" after the Neil Young-loving Braam, the indie-pop quartet Filligar has been kicking around the local scene for several years now, since the group was formed by then-teenage siblings Pete, Teddy and Johnny Mathias and their childhood friend Casey Gibson.

Never trust a critic who doesn't on occasion double back on him- or herself. You live with music and your relationship to it changes. That is true of all of us.

Yesterday, an anonymous reader posted the following comment after my review of R.E.M.'s 14th studio album, "Around the Sun":

In 2004 you called "Around the Sun" the band's "best new album since the early 90s." Now it's "dreadfully dull"?

The implied question: How do I square those statements?

This hasn’t been an easy decade for fans of R.E.M. The favorite sons of Athens, Ga., haven’t made a beginning-to-end great album since “Automatic for the People” in 1992. Even guitarist Peter Buck now admits the band has been on a “downward slide.”

Mind you, that hasn’t stopped the musicians, their long-time record label or their tireless boosters from hailing every new release as the one that recaptures former glories or “the record where R.E.M. rocks again.” And so goes the corporate line on “Accelerate,” the band’s 14th studio album, which arrives in stores on Tuesday.

Persian tradition meets modern rock

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For music lovers, the key scene in the recent animated film “Persepolis” comes when the young heroine Marjane risks the wrath of the new regime of Islamic radicals in order to buy a black-market Iron Maiden cassette on the streets of Teheran. She hears those heavy-metal sounds as nothing less than the embodiment of freedom, life and truth.

Persian-American singer Haale Gafori had a similar experience while visiting Iran in 2003. “I was hanging out with my cousin, and everyone was riding around with Nirvana playing in their car, or Tupac and Notorious B.I.G.,” she says. “They can’t buy it in stores, but they’re burning it for each other, and it just comes down to human beings waking up and trying to have a nice day, playing some music and getting to work or whatever.”

The Raconteurs made their 2006 debut with “Broken Boy Soldiers,” a delightful burst of power-pop enthusiasm that found Jack White showcasing his range as a songsmith by partnering with fellow singer and songwriter Brendan Benson to find a much more expansive and challenging setting for his talents than the now well-defined blues-rock minimalism of the White Stripes. The problem with the follow-up is that White was so eager to go in the opposite direction that the Raconteur’s second album topples under the weight of its own maximalist bombast and hollow filigree.

Lollapalooza tickets going on sale

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Yeah, there's still snow on the ground. But the regular-price Lollapalooza tickets go onsale at 10 a.m. Tuesday via the concert's Web site, and prior to the full lineup being announced on April 7.

Rumored headliners include Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine, Wilco and one other act said to be of the same caliber — though, as always, Texas promoters C3 Presents refuse to confirm or deny that list or any other act before their official announcement. (One thing's for sure: This rumor is probably unfounded. We hope.)

For now, three-day passes will be available at the "early-bird" price of $175 per ticket. The concert takes place in Grant Park on Aug. 1-3.

Demo2DeRo: Stolie

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No one will ever be able to accuse 30-year-old singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Stolie — raised in suburban Deerfield as Rebecca Stoelinga — of being unduly narrow-minded when it comes to the musical styles she embraces. On her third D.I.Y. release, "Between the Fake and Real," she flits from coffeehouse jazz ("Humpty Dumpty") to ill-advised rap ("Tendency") to alt-country ("Long, Long Way"), and the leaps can sometimes be jarring.

But when she focuses her prodigious talents (she played all of the guitar, piano and bass on the new disc, programming everything else with her computer) on endearingly skewed pop songs that keep the spotlight on her wispy vocals and literary eye for lyrical details, it's hard to deny that she's the real stuff.

Gnarls Barkley: Odder than you'll ever be

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One measure of the brilliance and ubiquity of a timeless pop song is the number of times it’s covered by other respected artists, and in that regard, few recent releases have matched Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 hit “Crazy.”

It seemed as if one of every three bands performing at Lollapalooza that year took a crack at the psychedelic soul/rock/hip-hop hybrid, and others who tackled it included Nelly Furtado, Cat Power, the Raconteurs, Shawn Colvin, Beyonce and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. None matched the multi-hyphenated musical brilliance and memorable panache of original auteurs DJ Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) and singer Cee-Lo Green.

Now, the duo at the heart of Gnarls Barkley is in the unenviable position of trying to top that accomplishment from their debut album, “St. Elsewhere,” which sold 1.3 million copies in the U.S. and spent 47 weeks on the Billboard albums chart.

Fighting the good Fite

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Released via his personal Web site and available only as a free download, “Over the Counter Culture” by New York’s hip-hop folkie Tim Fite was one of the strongest releases of 2007 -- a worthy follow-up to his Anti- Records debut “Gone Ain’t Gone” (2005), and a powerful, multi-layered assault on a culture obsessed with consumerism but blissfully ignorant of the cost of war.

Now, as Fite prepares to release his third solo album “Fair Ain’t Fair” on Anti- in May, he’s touring as an opening act for Primus leader Les Claypool and playing to some of the biggest audiences of his career. I caught up with the genre-blurring multi-media artist via phone from his home in Brooklyn before the start of this tour.

Punk rock may mean freedom...

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But how much will these Converse (manufactured by Nike) sneakers cost?

Cobain1

Waitin' for a Superman

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Waiting for a Superman

The image above has been zipping all over the Web the last few days, with more than a few Flaming Lips fans wondering why our Senator looks so glum at the prospect of a looming Wayne Coyne in his path. Was he disappointed with "At War with the Mystics" and hoping for a return to the sound of "The Soft Bulletin"? Was he a fan of Ronald Jones? Did he have a problem with the Mitsubishi and Range Rover commercials, or what?

Says Flaming Lips manager Scott Booker:

It's funny, this photo was taken months ago when Obama was in Oklahoma at a rally to raise funds. There is a second one of them shaking hands, but it's out of focus. This photo is of Wayne waiting for Obama to walk up by him - Obama probably didn't even know Wayne was there. Pretty cool though.... I don't think they had a real chance to talk at all - I think it went very quickly.

So now we know. Though you have to admit, Obama/Coyne would have made a heck of a ticket.

Powell St. John, Joe Black and the Blacks, Space City Gamelan and the Marked Men

Stray notes from SXSW III: Ticketmaster's trickery

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As I continued mulling over what really bothered me most about Friday's interview with Ticketmaster CEO Sean Moriarty, it finally struck me: the slight of hand comparing Ticketmaster fees to cable TV and ATM fees, which hits at the heart of the lie behind the company's PR efforts.

Four down, one to go, and the ratio of great showcase performances to disappointments so far has to be at least 3 to 1 — as good as any SXSW I’ve ever attended.

AUSTIN, Texas —Truer words have never been spoken at a SXSW panel than when Wall Street Journal reporter Ethan Smith introduced Ticketmaster CEO and president Sean Moriarty on Friday afternoon as the head of a company that more than any other “makes music fans’ blood boil.”

Moriarty sat down for this rare public session at a time when his company — the dominant (some would say monopolistic) force in concert ticking for the last 32 years — is on the ropes, as Live Nation, the dominant (some would say monopolistic) force in concert promotion, ends its relationship with Ticketmaster and not only directly begins selling tickets to its own events, but to those of other promoters seeking an alternative to Ticketmaster. (Live Nation is 15 percent of Ticketmaster's business, Moriarty said.)

Even as Moriarty claimed that Ticketmaster is trying to enter a new era of transparency in its business practices, the embattled executive dodged direct questions such as “Why do Ticketmaster service fees cost so much?” by hiding behind an obfuscatory cloud of friendly but Orwellian corporate doublespeak.

SXSW Dispatch #5: Night three in the clubs

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The highlights: Jay Reatard, Dark Meat and Syd Straw

SXSW Dispatch #4: R.E.M. is back (well, sort of)

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Mike Mills, Michael Stipe and Peter Buck of R.E.M. perform on "Austin City Limits" on Thursday Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman

Once upon a time, up-and-coming bands came to SXSW in the hopes of leaving with a record deal. Since the industry as it once was is essentially in its death throes, bands on the rise now come with the hope of building regional success and Internet buzz into broader success by playing for booking agents, managers, the people who place songs in movies and TV shows and of course the dwindling number of professional DJs and critics.

Established bands and superstars come for the same reason they’ve always come: To try to relaunch their careers. And the major act with that goal at SXSW XXII has been R.E.M., which played a highly anticipated showcase at Stubb’s on Wednesday.

As I noted yesterday — or very early this morning, actually — the friendly interviewer-and-revered rock legend format of many recent sessions at SXSW has been one of the worst things to ever happen to the conference, sapping much of the fire and soul of the daytime discussions. And Thursday morning’s keynote with Lou Reed did not get off to a promising start as he sat down with his friend, producer Hal Willner.

“Lou Reed is to rock ’n’ roll sort of like Miles Davis is to jazz,” Willner said in introducing the artist. “Basically, with what he does, more than half a dozen times, he’s changed the direction of rock ’n’ roll -- with what he’s done with the Velvet Underground and ‘Transformer,’ which was recognized in its day, and then other things from ‘Berlin’ to ‘Street Hassle’ to ‘Metal Machine Music.’”

It was a fitting synopsis of Reed’s career, but even Wilner seemed intimidated to be interviewing such an accomplished artist, especially one who loves to play the role of the Prince of Darkness. “If my parents knew I’d grow up to work with Lou Reed, they’d have suffocated me then,” Wilner confessed.

“Instead they moved to Florida,” Reed quipped.

SXSW Dispatch #2: On parties, panels and Yeasayer

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AUSTIN, Texas — Residents of the capital and one of the greatest music cities in America have been doing an unusual amount of griping this year about the proliferation of elitist industry parties and special daytime and afterhours events: With more than 10,000 record biz insiders, DJs and journalists from around the world registered for the conference, it’s hard enough for non-badge-holding locals to see a lot of the incredible music that happens here during the five nights of showcase performances without the added insult of being excluded from snooty guest-list-only VIP shindigs on the one hand and SXSW stamping down on unauthorized soirees on the other.

Stray notes from SXSW II: Chicago in Austin

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The Cool Kids' Mickey Rocks (left) and Chuck Inglish, perform Thursday during a day party at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. Jack Plunkett/AP

Given the unofficial Austin/Chicago sister-city bond, there is always a sizable contingent of Chicago artists performing in Texas over the course of the festival.

Stray notes from SXSW: They want YOU!

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Back in the days before the long-awaited death of the major label system forced the music business to return to its roots as the ultimate cottage industry, the giant bag of promotional crap given to each of the 10,000 registrants at SXSW used to be a lot heavier.

Rage and Wilco to play at Lolla, too?

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The other reason I arrived early to this year's South by Southwest festival was the opportunity to interview the “three Charlies” who run Austin-based C3 Presents — Charlie Jones, Charles Attal and Charlie Walker — the men behind Lollapalooza, and the trio who just secured an exclusive deal to book the Congress Theatre, in addition to bringing more music and other entertainment events to Soldier Field. Their home office overlooks Town Lake here, and the conference room where we met includes a beer keg and a giant fish tank stocked with piranhas — which may or may not be a metaphor for the company’s voracious appetite.

SXSW Dispatch #1: Naked Raygun lives!

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AUSTIN, Texas — Complaining that the South by Southwest Music Festival — Cannes meets Sundance for the music industry, plus a touch of spring break — has long since become too big for its own darn good is sort of like complaining about the weather in Chicago.

It’s a fact of life, moaning about it does no good, dealing with the difficulties builds character and in the end it’s more than worth the trouble if you keep your eye on the prize: the chance to be among the first to hear what are certain to be some of the best bands and biggest newsmakers of 2008.

Pitchfork announces part of its 2008 lineup

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One of the best celebrations of cutting-edge music in the U.S., the Pitchfork Music Festival will return to Union Park for its fourth summer on July 18-20.

Promoters announced a partial list of acts Monday, including hip-hop legends Public Enemy performing their classic album “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” the much-hyped indie jam band Animal Collective, psychedelic hypnotists Spiritualized and the hyperbolic and difficult to pronounce !!!.

Other performers include M. Ward, Boris, Vampire Weekend, Dizzee Rascal, No Age, Atlas Sound, Fleet Foxes, Extra Golden and El Guincho, “plus more than two dozen other acts still to be announced.”

Tickets go on sale Wednesday at noon via www.pitchforkmusicfestival.com at a cost of $30 per day, with a limited number of two-day passes for $50 and three-day passes for $65.

Demo2DeRo: Pretty Good Dance Moves

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Taking a cue from Daft Punk — or Kraftwerk, if you want to be old school about it — electronic pop musicians Jimmy and Aaron are mysterious auteurs who shun last names, claim to divide their time between Chicago and New York and prefer to hide behind the collective identity of Pretty Good Dance Moves as they create an entrancing mix of organic and electronic sounds using vintage analog synthesizers as well as vibraphone, violin and guitar.

Lollapalooza’s promoters are declining to comment and the band’s publicists will neither confirm nor deny the story, but the online edition of another Chicago newspaper is reporting with great fanfare that Radiohead will headline the fourth incarnation of the destination festival on Aug. 1-3.

The British art-rockers last performed at Hutchinson Field in Grant Park in 2001 at a memorable concert booked by local promoters Jam Productions, who were expected to bring the band back to Chicago on its summer tour.

Lollapalooza is booked by rival promoters C3 Presents. If the Austin, TX-based company has indeed nabbed Radiohead for Lollapalooza, it is the third blow C3 has struck against Chicago concert promoters in the last few weeks.

Earlier this week, C3 announced that it has closed a deal to exclusively book the 4,200-seat Congress Theater, which had been an increasingly popular venue for the Chicago office of national concert giants Live Nation. And last month, C3 and venue managers SMG were chosen by the Park District to book more music and other entertainment events at Soldier Field, defeating a similar bid by Live Nation for control of that venue.

According to chatter on Internet message boards, a limited number of early-bird tickets for Lollapalooza were sold at the bargain price of $60 for a three-day pass on Friday morning, but exact details were not forthcoming.

Brittany Pearce, a publicist for Lollapalooza and C3 Presents, said only, "We can neither confirm or deny any of the lineup rumors. Presale sold out in approximately 20 minutes."

Asked to name the most successful new publication of the Internet era, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a student of new media in general and music journalism and criticism in particular who wouldn’t say Pitchfork, the mostly Chicago-based Web zine that has become a must-read for every fan of adventurous cutting-edge music and independent rock.

Fresh out of high school and influenced by local fanzines and college radio, Ryan Schreiber launched Pitchfork in his native Minneapolis in 1995. The Web zine was already on its way to international prominence in 1999 when he moved to Chicago, and it was preparing to celebrate its third year hosting the massively successful Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park when he relocated again, moving to Brooklyn in 2007. Leaving his associate publishers Chris Kaskie and Scott Plagenhoef behind to run things from the Windy City, Schreiber set out to explore some nebulous expansion plans -- nebulous, that is, until the last week.

First came news on Feb. 29 that Pitchfork has partnered with Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc., picking half the music for the much-hyped new video game “Major League Baseball 2K8.” According to Tim Rosa, director of brand and lifestyle marketing at 2K Sports, “Pitchfork Media is a respected and reliable part of the independent music community and an integral part of the lives of hundreds of thousands of music enthusiasts worldwide.” Among the artists Pitchfork chose for the game’s soundtrack: Battles, Jay Reatard, LCD Soundsystem, the Cool Kids and the Hold Steady. The Flaming Lips apparently provided “The W.A.N.D. -- no MF edit” on their own.

Even bigger news was the announcement Tuesday that a new online music channel called Pitchfork.tv will launch on April 7. “The 24-hour music network was such a great concept. What happened?” a Pitchfork writer asked in a Pitchfork news story about Pitchfork’s new endeavor. “Given music’s nearly inexhaustible supply of notable artists and genres, there are no limits to how deeply it can be explored… As a visual extension of the music coverage Pitchfork has provided for more than a decade, and a means of updating and advancing the music television format, the online channel will bring you closer to the artists you love, through original mini-documentaries, secret rooftop and basement sessions, full concerts, exclusive interviews and the most carefully curated selection of music videos online.”

Given the powerful position that Pitchfork holds in the music world, it seemed high time for an in-depth chat with Schreiber about exactly where Pitchfork is going, and whether there may be some ethical potholes in the road ahead. The Web guru generally shuns real-time conversations in favor of email interviews, but he graciously agreed to speak with me by phone, and the transcript of our conversation -- edited only for grammar and syntax -- follows, along with an email addendum the publisher sent me an hour after we hung up.

The Lollapalooza that ate Chicago

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Yesterday, I posted an early look at a story for the newspaper about two new clubs coming on strong in Chicago and potentially changing the local clubs scene. While I was doing the interviewing for that piece, essentially talking to the forces behind every important rock club in town, I also asked about the impact that Lollapalooza is having on club land. The answers weren't pretty, and those comments all follow below.

Now comes a legitimate scoop from a competing local newspaper saying that Lollapalooza owners C3 Presents of Austin, Texas, have signed an exclusive deal to book the Congress Theatre. This comes on the heels of the story the Sun-Times broke a few weeks ago about C3 now having an arrangement to bring more concerts and other entertainment events to Soldier Field.

For more than a decade now, the main story in the Chicago concert business has been cut-throat competition between the major national concert giant Live Nation (formerly Clear Channel) and Chicago-based Jam Productions. It now seems as if C3 Presents is eager to edge both of those companies out of the business -- which puts many of its practices at Lollapalooza in a new light. Read on for those comments by local club owners and bookers about the way Texas is doing business in Chicago.

Ask any touring musician, artist’s manager or booking agent about their favorite cities to play, and Chicago is certain to rank near the top of the list, thanks to enthusiastic, adventurous and loyal audiences and some of the most renowned venues anywhere in the world.

Now, after several trying years when live music seemed to be under constant assault, the Windy City is welcoming two new clubs that could change business as usual on the local scene.

Talking loops, politics and marriage with Steve Earle

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“Bound for New York City, and I won’t be back no more… Goodbye, Guitar Town,” Steve Earle announced in the opening lines of the first track on his 12th album. Sure enough, “Washington Square Serenade” found the 53-year-old singer-songwriter trading Nashville for the Big Apple, embracing life with new wife and fellow musician Allison Moorer and exploring an exciting new sound equally reliant upon acoustic guitars and computer programming.

I caught up with the always outspoken musician, actor (most recently seen on “The Wire”), talk-radio host, novelist, playwright and reformed drug addict in the midst of a tour that brings him and Moorer to Chicago on Friday.

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