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Tuning in with Thomas Conner

June 2008 Archives

F--- and run... and run again

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When it comes to noteworthy milestones, the numbers are usually 10, 25, 50 and so on. The 15th anniversary seems like something only a polyester bride would celebrate.

But then Liz Phair has some indie cred to reclaim, a recording career to resuscitate and a new deluxe-edition reissue to sell—on Dave Matthews’ label, no less—and these were all the reasons she needed to return to her old sounds and former stomping grounds for a sold-out show at the Vic Theatre on Tuesday.

Gratuitous (as in slightly self-serving) plug: Field-Tested Books is a cool annual Web project wherein a group of writers are asked to relate how a particular book especially resonated with them at a very specific time and, most importantly, place.

As the opening page of the recently posted 2008 edition puts it, "We had this notion that somehow through experimentation we could identify how our perception of a book is affected by the place where we read it. Or maybe the other way around. Maybe it’s possible to determine how a book colors the way we feel about the place where we experience it."

In any event, I'm honored to have been asked to contribute this year, along with writerly peers such as Eric Spitznagel, Will Leitch, Liz Danico and my big fan Jessa Crispin of Bookslut. I wrote about Stanley Booth's masterful biography of the Stones (with some passing mention of Jack Kerouac to boot) in an entry posted here.

If you haven't read it, you absolutely should -- The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones, that is, not necessarily my essay -- because as I've said before, it ranks among the top two or three best books about rock 'n' roll ever written.

She wants to be your Joey Ramone

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Forest Park resident and first time novelist Stephanie Kuehnert will read from her new book I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone Thursday at 7 p.m. at The Old School Records, 7446 W. Madison in her hometown.

Kuehnert describes the novel, officially published by MTV Books on July 8 but already available on Amazon, as "a book about punk rock, about mothers and daughters, about the Midwest, about fighting for your dreams, and about what happens when you run from your nightmares... A raw, edgy, emotional novel about growing up punk and living to tell."

While you're there, be sure to check out Old School's superior stock of dusties, too.

Hideout Block Party tickets onsale

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Always the perfect note to end Chicago's long hot summer of outdoor festivals, the 12th Annual Hideout Block Party takes place this year in the charmingly gritty industrial setting outside the club at 1354 W. Wabansia starting at noon on Sept. 20 &21.

The lineup includes Chicago expatriate singer, songwriter and siren Neko Case; Canadian power-pop supergroup the New Pornographers; Plastic People of the Universe, the legendary drone masters and revolutionaries from the Czech Republic; Vieux Farka Toure from Mali; Sac vs. Scroobius Pip from the U.K.; Monotonix from Israel; Black Mountain; Ratatat; Robbie Fulks; Wee Hairy Beasties; venerated blues man Honey Boy Edwards with Devil in a Woodpile; the Jon Rauhouse Sestet; art-rock hellions Dark Meat; the Uglysuit; hip-hop outsider Tim Fite; Little Cow from Hungary and the promised "more T.B.A."

Tickets are on sale as of today at at $45 for a two-day pass. As always, a portion of the proceeds go to local charities. (To date, the festival has raised over $200,000 for worthy local groups.)

Taste of Chicago is a little bit tastier this year

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While it has yet to recapture the glory days of the early ’90s—when the memorable performers ranged from the Replacements to Barry White—or match the generally superior lineups offered by Milwaukee’s Summerfest, the musical bookings at Chicago’s venerable Taste of Chicago have incrementally been improving in recent years, and 2008 is inarguably the best in quite some time.

And, as always, the setting—the Petrillo Music Shell with the lake to the east and the skyline to the west in Grant Park—and the price—free—cannot be beat.

What are your favorite Taste moments? I'd be curious to hear. Meanwhile, here is my breakdown on the schedule for 2008.

The Best Albums of 2008... so far

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Hard to believe it’s almost July—the mid point for 2008—but that can only mean one thing: IT’S TIME FOR A LIST!

Here are my choices for the Best Albums of 2008… so far.

1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!" (Anti-)

2. Weezer, “Weezer” (Geffen)

3. Local H, “12 Angry Months” (Shout! Factory)

4. Gnarls Barkley, “The Odd Couple” (Atlantic)

5. Lupe Fiasco, “The Cool” (Atlantic)**

6. Tim Fite, “Fair Ain’t Fair” (Anti-)

7. Saul Williams, “The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust” (Fader) ++

8. The Black Angels, “Directions to See a Ghost” (Light in the Attic)

9. Portishead, “Third” (Mercury)

10. Flight of the Conchords, “Flight of the Conchords” (Sub Pop)

** Yes, I know Lupe’s second disc is arguably a 2007 release. But in its infinite wisdom (or lack thereof), Atlantic officially issued it on Dec. 18 last year, where it was thoroughly lost and quickly forgotten. It’s an outstanding effort nonetheless, and I’d argue that it’s only really started to make an impact in 2008 as Lupe has toured with Kanye West.

++ Originally issued as a pay-what-you-think-it’s-worth download last November; now getting its official CD release on July 8.

If it’s a demented evening of decadent, feedback-drenched, velvet-laced death-rock you want, you’d be hard pressed to find a more satisfying double bill than the one at Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie, starting at 9 tonight and featuring Austin’s exquisite Black Angels and the only slightly less awesome Warlocks. The cover is $15 in advance or via, but don’t even think of going if you aren’t wearing black.

Evolving from its black-metal roots to become simply one of the most inventively heavy bands working any genre today, Nachtmystium headlines a fine bill at Reggie’s Rock Club, 2109 S. State, starting at 6 p.m. tomorrow. The openers are the likeminded and almost as thunderous Yakuza, Minsk and (Lone) Wolf and Cub. Tickets are $10; for more information, call (312) 949-0121 or visit

Catching up with the Frantic

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If there’s a more aptly named band in Chicago than the Frantic, I can’t think of it.

Taking the stage at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin last March, the absurdly young quartet tore through a frenetic but endearingly melodic set of punk anthems from its impressive debut “Audio & Murder,” released last November by the local Sinister Muse record label.

“There are 10 million bands in town tonight, and it means a lot to us that you came out to see us!” guitarist-vocalist Kyle Dee exclaimed with typical wide-eyed amazement. But the fact is that he and guitarist Ian Farnesi (both 18) and the rhythm section of bassist Chris Farnesi and drummer Brett Hartwell (the group’s elder statesmen at 19) were one of the best I caught at the prestigious fest.

With high-profile gigs on the horizon at Metro this weekend, Taste of Chicago on July 1 and several stops on the Warped Tour in August, I caught up with Dee at the tail end of a tour that had stopped in Houston.

Midway through his sixth official album—already well on its way to meeting industry expectations as the bestselling release of 2008 and widely hailed by critics as a classic thanks to early leaks and mix-tape previews—the former Dwayne Michael Carter employs his trademark vocodered/electronically altered vocals in a song called “Phone Home,” croaking, “We are not the same/I am a Martian… They don’t make ’em like me no more/Matter fact, they never made it like me before.”

Having spent its first decade building a loyal following straddling patchouli-scented jam-band fans and Pitchfork-quoting indie-hipsters—an Allman Brothers for the alt-country crowd, or space-rock Wilco fronted by a reedier-voiced Lenny—the Louisville, Ky. quintet My Morning Jacket began to walk the experimental/art-rock tightrope on its last album “Z” (2005), and it was rewarded with its biggest commercial success. Underscoring his desire not to be typecast as, you know, a mix of jam band fan and indie-rock hipster, bandleader Jim James told the New York Times, “I don’t want people to think anything when they hear ‘My Morning Jacket.’ I just want them to think of a question mark.”

Well, a question mark lingers over the group’s fifth studio release, alright, but it isn’t the one James was hoping for. Instead, the query is how the heck the group could have expected to pass off such a sprawling, chaotic and ultimately unsatisfying mess as inspired experimentation or stylistic diversity.

Demo2DeRo: Izel's Spiral

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Metallica may have reduced the idea of a merger between thrash metal and the traditional power ballad to a formula, and then driven it into the ground, but that doesn’t mean other groups can’t find new life in the form. One that does is the Chicago quartet Izel’s Spiral.

Over the last five years, on a strong EP (“As You Burn”) released last August and on several demos before that, vocalist Carlos Paz, guitarists Ralph Gomez and Joe Trtan, bassist Louie Salgado and drummer Roger Guerrero have breathed new life into the sweet/sour, hard/soft merger, if not quite living up to their boast of conjuring the sound that would have resulted “if Metallica and Stone Temple Pilots had a child, it would’ve had Bush for step parents and Breaking Benjamin as a distant cousin.”

Sample the band’s sounds and keep an eye out for upcoming gigs on its Web site,

Lollapalooza schedule is up

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Promoters have released the schedule of acts for Lollapalooza, which takes place in Grant Park from Aug. 1-3. ...

While I was otherwise occupied...

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I missed the opportunity to post several important updates about 1.) the promoter's ordinance, 2.) the Pitchfork Music Festival, 3.) Lollapalooza and 4.) the Bottom Lounge. News on all of the above follows the jump.

Coldplay, “Viva la Vida” (Capitol) [3 stars]

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Throughout their multi-platinum career, Chris Martin and his band mates have attempted to dominate the rock landscape as an anthemic but melodic, experimental but ultra-accessible cross between U2 and Radiohead, and on their fourth album, they hired none other than the ultimate art-rock wizard to tinker with their sound. But this was largely a wasted opportunity.

Blame a midlife crisis or a fury prompted of any number of dramas in Alejandro Escovedo’s life, from divorce to a near-fatal bout with Hepatitis C—but at age 57, the veteran Texas roots-rocker has returned for the first time in his long solo career to the aggressive, at-times punk-rock sounds of his earliest band, the Nuns, with a few hints of pioneering alternative-country combos Rank & File and the True Believers thrown in for good measure.

Demo2Dero: Emanuel Vinson

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Emanuel Vinson is the sort of absurdly ambitious young musician whose burning desire to express himself in as many ways as possible is bound to warm the heart of the most jaded listener: He takes part in poetry slams at his Chicago high school, he plays drums in a post-rock band and, at the ripe age of 17, he’s just made his first solo album, “Etape Un! (My Me, Your Me),” available as a free download off a link on his Web site (

If the electro-hip-hop, industrial-electronica backings sometimes sound a bit canned—Vinson crafted the album using Ableton, an audio sequencer playable in real time like an instrument—his sung/rapped/recited lyrics/tone poems contain bursts of humor, inspiration and poignancy, along with touches of high-school sophomore silliness (perfectly understandable, since he actually was a high school sophomore not that long ago). “It was a creative laxative of sorts,” Vinson says of these sounds, and that’s no b.s.

DeRo is free!

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As we have reported here and here, Sun-Times pop music critic Jim DeRogatis did not have to testify today in the R. Kelly trial. In the days leading up to this court appearance, there was concern in the Chicago music community that DeRo would be jailed for contempt of court if he refused to reveal his sources. To prepare for that eventuality, Steve Reidell — of the Metro, as well as local mashup kings The Hood Internet — had this T-shirt design at the ready:


As awesome as this is (thanks, Steve!), we are happy we don't have to distribute them.

Thomas Conner

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


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