Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

May 2008 Archives

Demo2DeRo: The Michigan City Vandals

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There are few programs as annoying on television as those home-makeover
shows were an over-amplified crew of do-gooders descend on the dwelling of
some downtrodden folks to remake their humble abode for the benefit of the
ratings and the sponsors. But it’s hard to doubt the sincerity of the
Michigan City Vandals, who proudly boast of being “post-ironic” and trumpet
the slogan “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

Formed two years ago in Chicago’s favorite getaway lake town of St. Joseph,
MI, the group—bassist/vocalist Julee Laurent, guitarist Joey Greenand
drummer Matt Clancy—is donating all of the proceeds from their new D.I.Y.
album “Our Own Little Slice of Hell” to build a Habitat for Humanity house
in nearby Benton Harbor. “We need to raise $75,000 to do this and getting
people out to shows is our best way to sell records,” Laurent writes. Of
course, it’s also the best way for the band to build a following, but the
earnestness of the group’s lyrics is completely in line with the ideals of
its charity work.

Rollicking, optimistic and relentlessly tuneful, the Vandals’ indie-pop
songs take aim at Gen Y apathy and attempt to inspire it to action—all
without taking themselves too seriously. “Corporate TV/Obscures our
Laurent sings in “Generation Rx.” “Everyone’s a rock
star/Courtesy of Pfizer… Everyone wants to be rich/And everything’s a sales
As sales pitches go, this one is pretty convincing, and the
group and its cause are well worth listeners’ attention.

The Michigan City Vandals perform an acoustic show at The Double Door, 1572
N Milwaukee, on June 22 and a full-on electric show at the Elbo Room, 2871
N Lincoln, on July 10. Meanwhile, visit the band on the Web at or

Weezer, "Weezer" (Geffen) [3.5 stars]

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On the third self-titled release of its 15-year-career—destined to be
called “the Red Album” in the tradition of the band’s classic 1994 debut
(“the Blue Album”) and the second “Weezer” a decade later (“the Green
Album”)—bandleader Rivers Cuomo marks a welcome return to the more
complicated but deeply heartfelt songwriting of the group’s early days and
the proto-emo “Pinkerton,” veering away from the simplistic and at times
bombastic arena-rock epitomized by “Beverly Hills,” the standout hit from
its last album “Make Believe” (2005). The song that best captures the vibe
here is a sort of sequel to the rock ’n’ roll bildungsroman of “In the
Garage” called “Heart Songs,” in which the quartet’s auteur recalls falling
in love with pop music while listening to the AM radio in the backseat of
his parents’ car.

A gift from a colleague

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Sun-Times music and online features editor Thomas Conner gave me one of the most thoughtful gifts any music geek can give another today: a lovingly compiled CD mixtape. Thanks, Thomas; you rock!

1. "In the Jailhouse Now" (Hank Wilson by way of Leon Russell)

2. "Jailbreak" (Thin Lizzy)

3. "Jail Guitar Doors" (The Clash)

4. "54-36 Was My Number" (Toots & the Maytals)

5. "Holloway Jail" (the Kinks)

6. "Are They Gonna Make Us Outlaws Again?" (James Talley)

7. "Lawyers, Guns and Money" (Warren Zevon)

8. "Prison on Route 41" (Calexico and Iron & Wine)

9. "Not Even Jail" (Interpol)

10. "Breakin' the Law" (New Pornographers)

11. "Aginst th' Law" (Woody Guthrie)

12. "Midnight Special" (Leadbelly)

13. "Journalists Who Lie" (Morrissey)

14. "Video Killed the Radio Star" (Presidents of the United States of America)

15. "The Outlaw" (Horace Silver)

16. "The Whole of the Law" (Yo La Tengo)

In the decade since it emerged from Bellingham, Wash., Death Cab for Cutie has risen from indie-rock buzz band to darling of a prime-time rich-kids soap opera to debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart with its recently issued seventh album — still music’s most impressive testament to mainstream popularity, even in the era of the digital download. Despite this success, plenty of listeners have always agreed with the criticism that Summer (Rachel Bilson) made of the band on “The O.C.”: “It’s like one guitar and a whole lot of complaining.”

Yes, the group has always had two guitars, and sure, that’s slighting both the lyrical complexity of bandleader and tenor vocalist Ben Gibbard and the musical ambition of producer and lead guitarist Chris Walla during their best moments, especially “Transatlanticism” (2003). But you can certainly understand how the band could come across as unbearably earnest and painfully heartfelt, either in concert or on lesser efforts such as its last release “Plans” (2005).

Lyrically, Gibbard steps outside himself much more on “Narrow Stairs,” adopting different roles in gripping songs such as “I Will Possess Your Heart,” a gorgeously seductive piano ballad written from the beyond-creepy perspective of a stalker, and “Cath,” an empathetic portrait of a women who knows her pending marriage is doomed, but who can’t summon the courage to change course; “She holds her smile like someone would hold a crying child,” Gibbard sings. Meanwhile, the band stretches out musically far beyond the mid-tempo jangle that has characterized so much of its work, exploring the more dramatic and textured art-rock soundscapes of mid-period “Radiohead” or Wilco circa “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.”

Death Cab for Cutie hasn’t entirely abandoned its tendency toward mopey melodrama; witness “Your New Twin Bed” and “Pity and Fear.” But “Narrow Stairs” is strong enough to convert most skeptics, Summer included.

Demo2Dero: Brett Wilder

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As aggressive a self-promoter as this critic has ever encountered, Brett Wilder, who records under that name as well as the Brettster, portrays himself on his MySpace pages ( and as a burgeoning underground/Internet phenomenon (“More than 700,000 music plays… more than 25,000 ‘pay-for’ downloads… all for an ‘unsigned’ artist? We must be doing something right!”) with a fascinating back story that’s part Jewel and part Kerouac: He allegedly ran away from home in Alaska at age 15 and hitchhiked across the country, busking on street corners and chronicling his travels in songs recorded on his laptop along the way, until he finally landed in Chicago.

With his adenoidal singing and enthusiastic if rudimentary acoustic guitar, occasionally adorned with a few canned laptop instrumental sounds, the Brettster comes off as a junior-high imitation/parody of Bright Eyes. “The children don’t remember the color of the sky now/The children don’t remember the ocean is a distance/The children don’t see reality/The children see everything virtually,” the artist sings. “Whoa, whoa, what’s the world coming to/I don’t wanna be just another number/I don’t wanna be a part of the system!” In fact, songs such as “What’s the World Comin To” and the more pop-oriented “Boy Meets Girl Meets Girl” play like a “Spinal Tap” or “Mighty Wind”-level satire of emo earnestness, and I’m not at all convinced that the whole thing isn’t a “Rock, Rot and Rule”-worthy put-on.

If it is a joke, it’s an elaborate one—there are a dozen songs streaming from the two Web pages, and more available for download from—and it’s nothing short of brilliant. If Wilder is in fact the real deal, well, he’d really be better off playing it as a joke. If you’re motivated enough to investigate, the Brettster claims he’ll be playing for free on the street at Giddings Plaza in Lincoln Square every Saturday and Sunday morning through the end of June—with “autographed copies of his debut album available for $10.”

Demo2Dero: The Moses Gun

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One of the first skills any fledgling rock critic learns is to dismiss forthright any band’s alleged formula/recipe for how it crafted its sound: “We’re like the Beatles meet Led Zeppelin with a touch of the Monkees and a hint of Parliament-Funkadelic!” inevitably sounds like lame John Mayer (and yes, I know that’s redundant.) But the Chicago quartet the Moses Gun couldn’t help but pique my interest when bassist Rich Harris wrote to promise “a multicultural band that grew up listening to Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, Wu Tang and Husker Du…. sort of like an African-American Pixies, or Queens of the Stone Age.” And guess what? The band actually delivered it.

Former by Harris and guitarist-vocalist Vell Mullens in Wicker Park in the mid-’90s and completed by drummer John Marszalek and second guitarist Kudzai Kasambira, the group has certainly taken its time issuing a proper recorded debut. But a new demo showcased on its Web page ( holds plenty of promise for an actual album or EP, from the martial grooves of the verses yielding to the anthemic indie-rock choruses of “Gold” to the tuneful hard rock of “Stream of Consciousness,” which brings to mind Living Color jamming with Dinosaur Jr. That’s the thing about formulas/recipes: It’s hard to stop once you get started.

Providing a prime example of the sort of exciting event that could be curtailed by the city’s ill-considered promoters’ ordinance, the local punk-rock record label Criminal IQ’s Totally Wired Fest moves into the Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Friday’s lineup includes Mentally Ill, Human Eye, AluminumKnotEye, the Teeners, TV Ghost and Daily Void, while Saturday’s performers are Zero Boys, Holy S---!, Clockcleaner, Canadian Rifle, Vapid, FNU Ronnies and the Catburglars. Tickets for the 18-and-over fest are $10 Friday, $15 Saturday at the door. For more information, visit or call (773) 478-4408.

Summer Camp 2008, the first of the many big outdoor music festivals in the area this summer, takes place this weekend, Friday to Sunday, at Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, IL, roughly a 2 1/2-hour drive from the loop. Performers include moe., the Flaming Lips, O.A.R., Umphrey’s McGee, the Roots, George Clinton, the New Pornographers, Girl Talk and more. Three-day passes are on sale for $158.50 including camping; the price at the gate is $178.50. For more information, visit

Dark Meat's gonzo good-time skronk

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Performing at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, TX, last March, a dozen or so members of the art-punk ensemble Dark Meat took the stage dressed in outlandish, mismatched thrift-store duds and sporting bizarre face makeup.

The players in this horn-heavy ensemble proceeded to throw small plastic glow sticks and glitter confetti at the crowd, which responded by tossing it back along with rolls of toilet paper liberated from the rest rooms. All the while, the band churned out its gonzo but melodic high-energy skronk, which it describes as “the Stooges meets Crazy Horse with killer Stax/Funeral/Marching band horns, wailing gospel-style female backing vocals, ripping Eddie Hazel guitar leads and Albert Ayler breakdowns.”

That description comes close to capturing what I saw and heard that night. But like some violent but majestic force of nature—a hurricane or a volcanic eruption—it’s really something that has to be experienced to be fully understood.

Concert preview: Kanye comes home

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Naysayers can attack hometown hip-hop hero Kanye West for his undeniable vanity all they want. But remember this: It’s only bragging if you can’t pull it off.

From his earliest high-profile shows in Chicago, when he was backed by John Legend on keyboards and the self-proclaimed “hip-hop violinist” Miri Ben-Ari, to his Touch the Sky Tour in 2005, when he fronted a full string section and a harpist and trotted out more stage sets than an off-Broadway theater production, West has strived to elevate the live hip-hop experience, eschewing two turntables and a microphone minimalism in favor of the elaborate arena spectacles mounted by famously theatrical rockers such as David Bowie and Peter Gabriel.

Launched in mid-April at the Key Arena in Seattle, West’s Glow in the Dark Tour—which comes to the United Center on Friday and Saturday—brings things to a whole new level once again. The current jaunt is evocative of nothing so much as a musical version of “Tron,” the prescient 1982 science-fiction film in which a computer hacker is somehow sucked into the then barely imagined World Wide Web and forced to fight like a gladiator in order to escape.

And what the heck IS an "independent lifestyle communications and brand agency" anyway -- I mean, besides something that sounds like it should be linked to Rolling Stone instead of the leading indie-rock Webzine?

I'm just asking, because I'm having a hard time parsing a word of the corporate triple-speak in this very strange press release issued Monday.

Pitchfork Selects Tangible Worldwide As Integrated Agency-Of-Record

Pitchfork Media has appointed Chicago-based lifestyle communication and brand agency Tangible Worldwide as its first Integrated Agency-of-Record.

Chicago, IL (PRWEB) May 19, 2008 -- It has been a month of firsts for Pitchfork Media, the world's most influential voice in independent music. Following the launch of and its first international music festival, ATP vs. Pitchfork, held May 9-11 in Camber Sands, England, Pitchfork has appointed Chicago-based lifestyle communication and brand agency Tangible Worldwide as its first Integrated Agency-of-Record.

"Tangible Worldwide is a company that shares both our passion for music and our unique independent vision. We are excited to be working with them and look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together," says Ryan Schreiber, Founder/President of Pitchfork.

"All of us are huge music fans, and many of us have been loyal Pitchfork readers from the beginning," says Merrick, Principal and Creative Director of Tangible Worldwide. "This is an ideal partnership for our young team and exemplifies everything we represent as an agency. We can't wait to show off what Pitchfork and Tangible can do together."

About Tangible Worldwide:

Tangible Worldwide, LLC is an independent lifestyle communications and brand agency headquartered in Chicago, IL. We only represent brands that represent our team as consumers. We represent your brand because we can't help it. We would do it whether or not we had your business. As your agency, we create relationships that are Tangible Worldwide™. See for yourself at

About Pitchfork Media:

Launched in 1996, Pitchfork Media is the leading resource for independent music. Attracting 1.6 million unique visitors per month and 250,000 visits per day, Pitchfork is widely acknowledged as the music world's primary tastemaker. On April 7, 2008, Pitchfork launched its online video channel,, which was met with high praise and over 2 million views within its first month. Pitchfork also hosts its own music festival, aptly titled the Pitchfork Music Festival, a three-day event showcasing over 40 of independent music's best bands and artists on three stages. For more information go to,, or

In case you missed it, the chairman of the city licensing committee wrote a letter to the editor published in the Sun-Times Monday.

The full text of the letter can be found here, but the heart of the Alderman's statement is that he wants to "ensure that the concerns of Chicago's music and entertainment industry are examined through both public hearings and extensive meetings with a diverse group of promoters, musicians, and venue owners."

To date, most of the feedback the committee and other city officials have solicited from the incredibly diverse Chicago music community has come from a small group of activists and specific venue owners and concert promoters. Since this is an issue that affects myriad underground music scenes -- the Latin music world, the punk-rock scene, hip-hop, avant-jazz, electronica, etc., etc. -- much more widespread public meetings are not only warranted but necessary, if music fans are to accept their elected officials' word that, as Schulter says in the letter, he really does want to "ensure that the ordinance as it is finally passed does not place an undue burden on local musicians, young people breaking into the music industry or established venue owners."

Where and when will these meetings be held? We haven't heard yet. Hopefully we will.

Remembering Lydia Tomkiw

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Many in the Chicago music scene mourned the death last Fall of longtime poet, promoter and musician Lydia Tomkiw, best known as the voice of Algebra Suicide.

A memorial ceremony has now been scheduled for her many friends here from 11 a.m. to noon on on May 24 at Muzcyka and Sons Funeral Home, 5776 W. Lawrence in Chicago.

As reported last month, it's going to be a long, ugly fight between all of the interested parties before someone finally emerges with clear title to the venerable Uptown Theater -- and even longer before the extensive repairs can be made to restore the once regal movie palace for use as a grand concert venue.

But there have been two developments in recent weeks, and neither was particularly good news for local promoters Jam Productions.

This week, the Chicago music community won a respite of at least a month as the so-called "events promoters ordinance" was sent back to committee before a full City Council vote, with alderman promising to solicit more feedback from venue owners, musicians and music lovers as they attempt to rewrite the law.

By no means is it certain that elected officials will finally get it right -- especially when many believe there is no need for this law at all. As a Sun-Times editorial said on Friday: "It's doubtful whether the city needs to license promoters. Venues already must be licensed and insured. Private contracts between clubs and organizers already insure patrons' safety." (Click here to read the full editorial.)

City officials remain unclear and unconvincing as they attempt to make the case for the law. Witness this conversation on "Chicago Tonight" last Tuesday featuring Ald. George Cardenas (12th), moderator Elizabeth Brackett and this reporter.

So what can the many concerned music lovers do?

New York’s “instrumental surf/punk/sci-fi band” the Coffin Daggers play at Phyllis’ Musical Inn, 1800 W. Division St., on Saturday, and the cool, creepy sounds posted on the band’s MySpace page and its proper Web site mark it as one of the finest combos mining this always fertile revivalist turf since the Raybeats. Since Phyllis’ steadfastly refuses to yield to such modern clubland frivolities as a Web page or a cover charge, you’re just going to have to go to everyone’s favorite Wicker Park dive early, start drinking—and, of course, tip the band and your bartender. (You could also resort to calling the club at 773-486-9862, but what fun is that?) Full disclosure: I gave family friend and drummer Pete Martinez his first ride cymbal when I was moving out of my old and his current stomping grounds of Hoboken, N.J. waaaay back in 1992 -- kids, they grow up so darn fast! -- but his mom, my first and still one of my favoritest editors ever, knows I'd say junior's band sucks if it did. (Hi Pat!) They don't (suck, that is; quite the opposite) and the only conceivable thing you'd have to do that might be more worthwhile is....

The Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty benefit organized by the always-active and activist Jon Lanford, whose Pine Valley Cosmonauts return to the stage on Saturday to headline the show after a nearly three-year absence. Originally slated for the still-not-open new Bottom Lounge, the benefit has moved to the Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace. Also on the bill: the Sadies, Rosie Flores, Sally Timms, Puerto Muerto, Robbie Fulks, Janet Bean and the always promising “special guests,” who presumably do not include emcee Tim Tuten. Tickets are $20; for more information, call (773) 478-4408.

Flight of the Conchords soar

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Flight of the Conchords may only be "New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo a cappella-rap-funk-comedy duo," as their press kit self-deprecatingly notes.

But at their sold-out show at the Chicago Theatre Wednesday night, musician/comedian Bret McKenzie and comedian/musician Jemaine Clement not only confirmed that they're the most wicked and spot-on rock 'n' roll parody since Spinal Tap, but the best made-for-TV rock band since the Banana Splits, or maybe even the Monkees before them.

Formed in suburban Wilmette in 2001, Fall Out Boy rose from playing exactly the sort of shows that the Chicago City Council would like to outlaw to headlining arenas and selling more than six million albums in the U.S. to date.

An avid reader of this and many other local blogs — even as he prepares for a Hollywood wedding — bassist and songwriter Pete Wentz contacted me this morning and said he felt compelled to speak out about the promoter’s ordinance. We connected a few hours later after the law was tabled (for the time being). But the perspective of a mutli-million-dollar career that would not exist without small shows organized by independent promoters is invaluable.

Our conversation follows the jump.

Da Mayor speaks out on the promoter's ordinance

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As with so many decisions in Chicago government, the City Council's abrupt but welcome tabling of a vote on the event promoter's ordinance seems to have been decreed from the top.

Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman writes:

Daley said he's willing to soften his crackdown on event promoters amid warnings that the added cost could damage Chicago's thriving live music industry. "You don't want to have a burden on the event promoters. But, at the same time, they have a responsibility to protect the people," he said.

UPDATE: Promoter's ordinance tabled (for now)

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Following a nearly unprecedented outpouring of concern from the Chicago music community and a meeting with activists and some of the top concert promoters and venue owners in Chicago, Ald. Eugene Schulter, chairman of the City Council License Committee, decided on Tuesday that he will not present the so-called "event promoter's ordinance" to the full council for a vote on Wednesday -- and that the committee will go back to work on fine-tuning the law.

WTTW-Ch. 11's "Chicago Tonight" has scheduled a panel discussion about the promoter's ordinance tonight. The show airs at 7 p.m., and given that timing, it may wind up being the last public discussion about the law before it is approved by the City Council tomorrow.

Meanwhile, music community activists are meeting with aldermen and city officials today in the hopes of convincing them to table the vote until further work can be done on the ordinance and more feedback can be heard from Chicagoans.

Lollapalooza promoters C3 Presents have announced the addition of Iron & Wine, Toadies, Saul Williams, DeVotchKa, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears and Wild Sweet Orange to this year's concert in Grant Park, Aug. 1-3. And, in using the same press blast to hawk a "design a festival T-shirt contest," they've announced that the concert has a theme:

"Something large and wonderful."

This, of course, is opposed to something puny and pathetic. Or big and bad. Or maybe massive and miserable?

Also announced today: The Rock the Bells tour featuring A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Mos Def, the Pharcyde, De La Soul, Rakim, Method Man & Redman and, among others, Chicago up-and-comers Kid Sister and the Cool Kids, but the latter two acts will not be performing when the rest of the tour pulls into the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park on July 19. Since they're playing at Lollapalooza, the radius clause prohibits them from doing another gig in the area for most of the summer.

As irony would have it, at the same meeting Wednesday when the City Council will consider a resolution opposing war on Iran (as if that august body has anything to do with national policy), it is expected to approve a law that will pretty much drop a bomb on Chicago's independent music community, if not nuke it entirely.

Following the jump is the Sun-Times' latest story outlining the controversy, followed by a letter that one of many clubs endangered by the law sent to music lovers throughout the city on Monday.

The City Council meets in the Council Chamber located on the Second Floor of City Hall, 121 North La Salle St., starting at 10 a.m. on May 14.

Here are the comments of Ald. Eugene Schulter (47th), the chairman of the city licensing committee, about the concerns of many in the Chicago music community pending the City Council vote on Wednesday on the new promoter’s ordinance.

Well, it only took 84 minutes for Efrat Dallal Stein, the spokeswoman for the Department of Business Affairs & Licensing, to respond to my request for an interview with acting director Mary Lou Eisenhauer, a driving force behind the promoter’s ordinance. Eisenhauer was out of town, but Stein said she was prepared to address all of my questions and speak publicly on the proposed law, scheduled for a City Council vote on Wednesday.

The interview with DBA’s Stein follows the jump. I’m still waiting for the return call from Ald. Schulter, author of the ordinance.

That's the question I'm eager to pose to 47th Ward Ald. Eugene Schulter, chairman of the City Council Committee on License and Consumer Protection, and Mary Lou Eisenhauer, acting director of the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing, prior to the vote on the ordinance scheduled for Wednesday.

I've made the calls to their offices for comment. Let's start the clock ticking as we await their responses...

Concert review: Ministry begins its long goodbye

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For longtime Ministry fans, it was a bittersweet night on Thursday as the long-running industrial/metal band played the first of a four-night stand at the House of Blues in the city where it formed in 1981.

The promoter's ordinance: The view from City Hall

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Here is my colleague Fran Spielman's report on committee approval of the ordinance Wednesday.

Some things I missed earlier: Anyone promoting a musical event would need to be fingerprinted and pay a licensing fee as high as $2,000 (on top of securing the $300,000 insurance); promoters would have to pass criminal background checks, and they would have to notify the commander of the local police district and sign written contracts with venue owners.

Remember: All of this is being imposed on promoters when they are working with established venues that have already fulfilled all of these obligations. Some examples: the Nocturna dance nights at Metro; the International Pop Overthrow Festival, the Tomorrow Never Knows Festival and others like it at clubs such as Schubas, the Empty Bottle, the Hideout and Martyr's; the Chicago Indie Radio Project Record Fair and the Chicago Folk & Roots Festival sponsored by the Old Town School of Folk Music , to name only a few.

City Hall's justification for the new law? It's a response to the E2 disaster of 2003 -- which, if you follow the press coverage, could have been prevented if many of the laws already in place were enforced. Who would enforce this new law, and why the rush to pass it five years after E2? Those questions remain unanswered.

Meanwhile, adding their voice to the growing opposition are local promoters Jam Productions, whose co-founder Jerry Mickelson is quoted in Spielman's story:

"When I look at the business we do at the Park West [160 seats] and the Vic [250 seats], a good majority of our revenue is from outside promoters. Many of them are ... little-time guys who rent our venue maybe once a year [or] once every other year. They can’t afford to pay $500 or $1,000 for license fees,” Mickelson said.

“We’re so selective in who we allow into our venues, losing any more puts us at a danger of not operating profitably. ... It’s tough enough to stay in business. ... We struggle each year to meet our nut. This ordinance will cause us to lose events.”

Mickelson said Jam has produced over 30,000 concerts over 37 years and has never had a major tragedy. That’s because the company is so selective and keeps such close tabs on its promoters, he said.

“At E2, they said, ‘Okay, guys. You’re renting my venue. Here’s the keys to my house. I’ll see you tomorrow.’ That doesn’t happen with a responsibly run venue. It’s vastly different than the way we operate,” Mickelson said.

Following below are the text of the new promoter's ordinance that the City Council seems prepared to rush to approve next week -- with little input from the Chicago music community -- as well as the first public response to it from the Chicago Music Commission, the burgeoning activist group that seems poised to lead the fight in making the ordinance more fair for the community of artists and fans that it hopes to represent in the dark corners of City Hall.

UPDATE: Promoters law passes committee

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After a more than four-hour session Wednesday, the City Council Committee on License and Consumer Protection passed the proposed promoters law written about at length in the preceding post. The ordinance now goes to the full City Council on May 14, and if approved there, the Chicago music scene will once again change for the worse at the hands of city officials.

With nary a word of public notice — and with no public hearings seeking input from the Chicago music community — the City Council Committee on License and Consumer Protection was set to meet again today in its rush to push through a new “promoters’ ordinance” initially proposed last year and only delayed at the last minute when music activists caught wind.

Like most laws, this one has a noble goal: to regulate concerts and dance events in Chicago, rooting out illegitimate “underground” promoters operating without proper licensing and therefore possibly endangering music lovers. Like many laws drafted from only one perspective, however, this one could cause serious, perhaps unintended consequences for people who try to promote live music here.

This weekend: Singer, Was (Not Was)

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Aptly named for a group including four solid vocalists, Chicago’s Singer, the new quartet featuring Rob Lowe (90 Day Men), Ben Vida (Town & Country) and Todd Rittman and Adam Vida (US Maple), has issued a strong debut called “Unhistories” for the local Drag City label, exploring an airy brand of psychedelic jazz. The band headlines over Detholz! and Cloudland Canyon at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, at 10 p.m. Friday. The cover is $12; call (773) 276-3600 or visit

The legendary and once-again reactivated Detroit band Was (Not Was) is back on the road in support of the new album “Boo!,” playing two-hour sets of its unique mix of R&B, funk, rock and pop. It comes to the Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, at 8 p.m. Saturday. Todd Snider opens, and tickets are $25. Call (773) 478-4408 or visit

Demo2DeRo: Vertikal

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If you’re looking for a Chicago analog to Okayplayer—the loose-knit, Philadelphia-based musical community centered on the Roots but also embracing Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo and many others—the nine-piece band Vertikal is a strong contender. Founded by local guitarist Anthony Allamandola and featuring a DJ, a three-piece horn section and two diverse front people with the sultry-voiced Stacy Rene and the spoken-word artist Ben Butta Jones.
Dedicated to bridging the gap between hip-hop and jazz but also incorporating elements of funk, neo-soul, Latin, rock and blues, the mixed-gender, multi-ethnic band nonetheless churns out some surprisingly seamless and very accomplished grooves on tracks such as “Ready or Not” and “Time Chasin’,” currently streaming from its Web site,, and definitely in need of wider release.

Constitutionally incapable of editing himself or accepting that maybe, just maybe his considerable talents aren’t quite so considerable that they justify excursions into piano jazz and classical music or collaborations with Allen Toussaint and Burt Bacharach, part-time luxury car pitchman Declan MacManus is getting some mileage from the fact that he rush-released this new disc with minimal hype (never mind that there’s been little interest in any of his new releases this millennium) and recorded it even more quickly after a sudden burst of inspiration following a guest stint on Jenny Lewis’ next album. (The California retro-pop/alt-country chanteuse adds harmonies here as payback.)

“Obviously the title is a tribute to Momofuku Ando, the inventor of the Cup Noodle,” Costello writes. “Like so many things in this world of wonders, all we had to do to make this record was add water.” For Elvis, the idea of avoiding overcooking and unnecessary spices is a good one: Touring solo acoustic and opening for Bob Dylan last year, his set outshined the headliner’s with its pared-down simplicity and unencumbered emotion. But the singer and songwriter couldn’t resist the urge to tart things up in the studio, even if he was working quickly.

Fussily adorned with harmonies, keyboards and pedal steel guitar, the new songs that worked onstage last fall—including “My Three Sons,” “Song with Rose” (co-written by Rosanne Cash) and “Pardon Me Madam, My Name Is Eve” (co-written with Loretta Lynn)—fall painfully flat here, and Costello persist in dabbling in genres that just don’t suit him (witness the samba of “Harry Worth,” or better yet, save yourself the pain). Only the organ-driven, Attractions-in-everything-but name garage-rockers (“No Hiding Place,” “Go Away”) offer any hint of the fun that Elvis claims he had.

Santogold, “Santogold” (Downtown) [2.5 STARS]

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Rare is the scrap of press about Philadelphia-raised, Wesleyan-educated, Brooklyn-based singer and emerging hipster heroine Santi White that doesn’t draw connections to her friend and fellow genre-blurring globe-trotter Maya Arulpragasam, and not without reason; just listen to this album’s single, “Creator.” But the comparison that haunts me isn’t with M.I.A., but with Missing Persons—the disposable ’80s pop band fronted by Dale Bozzio—both for the annoying similarity to Santogold’s helium-tainted warble, and for the sheer contrivance of both acts’ bids for pop stardom.

Bozzio was a former Playboy model who linked up with a group of veteran L.A. sessions musicians and former sidemen for Frank Zappa in an effort to hit it big by riding the then-mighty New Wave gravy train. White is a former talent scout for Epic Records who previously fronted a ska-punk band, wrote songs for artists as diverse as Res, Lily Allen and Ashlee Simpson, pals around with producers Diplo, Mark Ronson and Switch and is making her assault on the pop charts with help from a big corporate marketing push. (A press release from the Chicago advertising agency DDB boasts that it “has the new beer of the summer in Bud Light Lime and Downtown Records has the new artist of the summer in Santogold. It only makes sense that we should collaborate to get the most reach for both our brands.”)

Antiquated notions of indie purism and outdated critical standards of authenticity aside, none of the above would matter a whit if the merger of sugary bubblegum hooks, reggae, dub, electronica and hip-hop rhythms and boastful lyrics (“Me, I'm a creator, thrill is to make it up/The rules I break got me a place up on the radar”; “We think you’re a joke/Shove your hope where it don’t shine”) didn’t sound as sterile at times as a corporate marketing session (“My Superman,” “Creator”), and if White’s vocals weren’t so fingernails-on-the-chalkboard annoying that they mar what could have otherwise been Gwen Stefani- if not Elastica-worthy neo-New Wave anthems (“L.E.S. Artistes,” “Say Aha”).

“Thank you for your continued and loyal support over the years—this one’s on me,” Trent Reznor wrote on Nine Inch Nails’ Web site on Monday when he offered the band’s new album as a free download. In doing so, he not only took over the role that fellow alternative-era art-rockers Radiohead had claimed in leading the charge toward free Internet distribution, but he marked the release of his fifth disc of new material so far this year, following the instrumental “Ghosts I–IV” issued in mid-February, and matching the previously none-too-prolific output of his major-label career from 1989 through 2006.

Of course, one of the strengths of Reznor’s discography had been the painstaking effort he made to create utterly distinctive worlds on each new album, whether it was the tortured angst-ridden trip of “The Downward Spiral” (1994), the more sprawling soul-searching of “The Fragile” (1999) or the dense, playfully paranoid conceptualizing of “Year Zero” (2007). In comparison, “Ghosts I-IV” was merely an overflowing notebook of half-finished sketches, while “The Slip” is a quick ’n’ dirty garage-rock basement recording, industrial-thrash style, divided between atmospheric mechanical mood pieces such as “999,999” and “Corona Radiata” and much more aggressive, urgent and rewarding tunes such as “1,000,000,” “Letting You” and “Head Down.”

As such, “The Slip” doesn’t come close to matching the musical and lyrical intensity of Reznor at his very best. But it’s a testament to how vital his creative vision remains that it’s at least as good as lesser efforts such as “With Teeth” (2005) or “Broken” (1992). And who knows what else he has in store for the remaining seven months of 2008.

There are plenty of reasons to dislike the debut album by this seven-piece indie-pop buzz band from Wales, starting with… its undue fondness for… ellipses and lots! of! exclamation points! Here are a few more: There’s more glockenspiel here than on any record since vintage Jethro Tull, paired with plenty of equally cheesy violin; the arch Art Brut-meets-Pulp spoken-word asides of Gareth Campesinos!—no real last names for any of these excitable collegiate auteurs—who is no Eddie Argos, much less a Jarvis Cocker; and the ironic intellectual pretensions on one hand (chattering about existential crises and bragging that “We Are All Accelerated Readers”) paired with faux-naive playground confessions on the other (Aleksandra Campesinos! compares an ideal boyfriend to Spiderman, and can easily be imagined dueting with Kimya “Juno” Dawson).

Above all, though, there is the cloying, clubby nature of the lyrics, which are full of so many inside-indie-rock references that a casual listener will need a Rosetta Stone to decipher them. (“So stick with your instincts/Stick with the imprints/With the hieroglyphics that the fan club sent us,” Gareth exclaims on “Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats.”) The shame of it all is that the band’s exuberant melodies are otherwise so infectious and invigorating that if the Campesinos! could have invested them with real emotion of any kind and given up trying to exclude everyone who isn’t anti-cool enough to worship K Records, they might have made a masterpiece.

The bad news: The reunited band is playing at the Aragon Ballroom.

How much better would the most influential guitar band of the '90s have sounded at the Chicago or Auditorium theaters? We can only imagine, and console ourselves with the facts that bandleader Kevin Shields is a notorious audio perfectionist (if anyone can make the Capone-era ballroom sound halfway decent, he can) and that the Windy City is one of only six stops in the U.S.

Tickets are $40, on sale Saturday at 11 a.m. through the dreaded, (312) 559-1212.

Update: I am told that My Bloody Valentine will be touring with an absurdly expensive, beyond state of the art sound system. As I said, if anyone can make the Aragon sound good, it's the Kings of Shoegazer.

Oh, that Lou: He's such a curmudgeonly old crank, unwilling to ever acknowledge that anyone else in any way enhanced or even shed light on his unparalleled genius. (John Cale what? Robert Quine who?) Witness this dis of his critical amanuensis Lester Bangs the other day at the Tribeca Film Festival, as reported here and quoted below, during a conversation with handpicked interviewers Julian Schnabel, director of the new "Berlin" concert film, and overpaid Vanity Fair rock gossip columnist Lisa Robinson, who no one will ever, ever quote about anything.

Chicago loses another good rock club

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After this weekend's shows -- Supernova, Cooler by the Lake and Dr. Chow's Love Medicine on Friday night and Apollo Heights and Papillion on Saturday night -- the Windy City rock scene will say goodbye to the Note, Wicker Park's second most high-profile rock club (after the Double Door, located just across Milwaukee Avenue).

A devastating loss? Not quite, since the room always had a bit of a sterile vibe, despite the best efforts of recent bookers MP Productions (otherwise plenty busy with Reggie's, Ronny's, South Union Arts and, eventually, the Bottom Lounge). But the loss of any underground venue is definitely worth noting -- if you'll pardon the pun.

A farewell to Ministry (maybe, sort of)

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Anyone with even a passing familiarity of former Chicagoan Al Jourgensen’s prolific output with Ministry over the last three decades is forgiven for being a bit skeptical about claims that the band’s current jaunt, dubbed the “C U LaTour,” is his last.

Not only that, but the singer and songwriter who pioneered the industrial thrash sound also insists that he’s wrapping up the final recordings from the most notable of his many side projects — the Revolting Cocks, Lard and Pailhead — and he’s confining himself to a future of merely producing other artists at his studio near El Paso, Texas.

“It’s the end of all of it,” Jourgensen insists. “I just think it’s perfect timing with the Bush administration hopefully going away. I’m turning 50 in October, Bush is leaving and it just seemed that synchronicity was at work where you have a half-century milestone, you’ve been through a couple of Bushes and a Reagan and Clinton’s [scandals] and everything and you just finally figure, ‘That’s about it!’

This weekend: Simone, Nudity

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Gearing up for the May 13 release of her debut solo album “Simone on Simone,” Simone, daughter of legendary R&B chanteuse Nina Simone, will take the stage at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, at 8 p.m. Saturday with special guests Typhanie Monique and Neal Alger. Tickets are $18 or $22 via; call (773) 728-6000 for more information.

Rooted in the immortal psychedelic and space rock sounds of Hawkwind, Amon Duul II, the Velvet Underground and the MC5, the Olympia, Wash. band Nudity promises a surreal and mind-blowing experience when it takes the stage at the Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, at 9 p.m. Saturday. Also on the bill are the equally trippy Dead Meadow, Velcro Lewis & His 100 Proof Band and Plastic Crimewave Sound. The cover is $12 in advance or at the door; visit or call (773) 478-4408.

Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.


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