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September 2008 Archives

Demo2DeRo: Mr. Russia

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Proudly old-school both in their punk and New Wave influences (heavy on solo Iggy Pop, though not for nothing was the Chicago quartet chosen to contribute to David Bowie and Nick Cave tribute albums) and in their chosen means of distributing their music (they're playing a "cassette release show" at Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, on Thursday [OCT. 9]), the four members of Mr. Russia deliver a slash-and-burn mix of adrenaline and melody that, if not overly unique, is nonetheless deniable.

Comprised of bassist-vocalist Ivan Russia (who fancifully describes himself as "a beggar, a hypocrite, a love monger"), second bassist-vocalist R. L. Russia ("a bloody lunatic, alarmingly attractive"), synthesizer player Lindi Russia ("a romantic, an ultimate fighter") and drummer Anom Russia ("a tough guy with heart and soul"), the band is currently putting the finishing touches on a debut album titled album "Teething." If it includes songs as strong as "It's True" and "XOXO," which can be sampled on the group's Web site at www.myspace.com/mrrussia, it will be well worth a spin.

Jenny Lewis, "Acid Tongue" (Warner Bros.) [3.5 STARS]

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After making some of the strongest music of 2006 with her solo debut "Rabbit Fur Coat," a low-key alternative-country effort of subtle but potent charms, Jenny Lewis sounded like a completely different woman on last year's highly anticipated Rilo Kiley disc, "Under the Black Light," a pathetically soggy bid at shameless commercial pandering. Thankfully, it seems as if her partner in that setting, Blake Sennett, was the man to blame for the disappointing turn toward mainstream pop, as Lewis returns with a second solo offering that's even more low-key than its predecessor but every bit as sensual and entrancing.

Discounting the spit-in-your face perversity of "Metal Machine Music," the infamous double album consisting of nothing but grating, nerve-wracking feedback, "Berlin" is the most difficult album of Lou Reed's long and difficult career. Looking back on the 1973 concept effort during his keynote address at last year's South by Southwest Music Conference, he summed up the themes as "jealousy, peaks of jealousy, and... [how] that attachment to another person turns into physical abuse because you love them so much," and he peevishly noted that it was universally panned upon its release.

Jennifer Hudson, "Jennifer Hudson" (Arista) [1 STAR]

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Though she only finished in seventh place, Chicago sweetheart Jennifer Hudson won much of America's hearts when she emerged as a fresh young voice evoking a mix of old-school legends Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Whitney Houston during the third season of "American Idol" in 2004.

Unlike so many participants in that saccharine pop phenomenon, Hudson seemed like a real woman -- someone who'd sung in church choir and at local talent shows in between working at Burger King, pursuing her dream with a gig on a Disney Cruise Line before finally finding fame at the haughty feet of Simon Cowell. And while she didn't walk away with first place, Hudson was a big winner nonetheless, going on to land an Oscar for the film "Dreamgirls" and co-starring in the summer hit "Sex in the City."

Now, after an inexplicable and unconscionable delay in this accelerated era of five-second attention spans, Hudson finally has delivered her self-titled major-label debut, which arrives in stores today. Sad to say, not only is it not worth the wait, but in typical "American Idol" fashion, it's an overworked, overwrought, shamelessly pandering piece of pop product unworthy of her considerable talents and largely devoid of the personality that made us love her in the first place.

Talking with Brazilian Girls

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One of the few real alternatives and a definite highlight amid the corporate blandness of Lollapalooza 2008, New York City's Brazilian Girls took the stage early on Sunday afternoon last August and woke a sleepy crowd with its joyous mix of jazz, bossa nova, reggae and other exotic rhythms, sensuous melodies and absurdist humor.

Wearing a puffy white dress that made her look like a floating cloud, vocalist Sabina Sciubba shimmied, sashayed, seduced and cooed her way through the set as a multicultural, modern-day electronic version of the girl from Ipanema, building to a climax by prompting the crowd to join her in a life-is-good chant celebrating, um, the female sex organ and Cannabis sativa.

"A lot of people really think we're singing about p---y and marijuana, but obviously it's a metaphor," Sciubba says, breaking into a hearty laugh as the words leave her mouth. "That sounds like a joke, but the song is really an irreverent provocation.

"For me, live performance is about making people feel really together, regardless of their age, race, faith or anything. That remains for me a good concert, when people are really all singing together in the end, and there's a community feeling and a collective joy."

Performing in Chicago for the first time since 1990, English progressive-rock legend Peter Hammill of Van der Graaf Generator comes to the Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday Oct. 7. Though the group remain cult heroes far less familiar than a Genesis or a Yes, it was one of the most rewarding bands of its era, as charted in a fine history co-written by Chicago author Jim Christopulos entitled Van Der Graaf Generator, The Book: A History of the Band Van Der Graaf Generator 1967 to 1978. Tickets are $25 in advance or at the door, and local prog heroes Cheer Accident open; for more information, call (773) 478-4408 or visit http://abbeypub.com/.

Two of the most promising and inventive up-and-coming indie-rock bands from the South Side, Calumet City's River Oaks and the ambitious quintet Haymarket (not to be confused with Haymarket Riot) sandwich a visit from Texas space punks the Frontier Brothers starting at 9 p.m. Wednesday Oct. 8 at Ronny's, 2101 N. California. The cover is $7; for more info, visit www.mpshows.com.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the Riviera

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At age 50, Nick Cave would seem to have accomplished three lifetimes' worth of living.

A poet, a playwright and a novelist in addition to being a prolific songwriter with a devoted cult following, he's led a legendary punk band (the Birthday Party), he's scored an unlikely pop hit (dueting with Kylie Minogue) and he's even been covered by Johnny Cash (who included "The Mercy Seat" on "American Recordings III: Solitary Man").

"What I'm really concerned about is creating something that I feel is a step forward for myself," Cave told me in 2002. "That's not always easy. There are times when I'm in the studio writing again, and it just sounds like something else I've already written."

Countless are the artists who've atrophied by the time they've reached the three-decade mark in their careers. But instead of resting on his laurels, Cave is reaching new heights. On record--with last year's self-titled Grinderman album and his new disc with the Bad Seeds, "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!"--and in live performance--last year at Metro and Sunday at the Riviera Theatre during the first of a two-night stand--the man was simply on fire.

My Bloody Valentine at the Aragon

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Based on the reviews in the British press of their celebrated reunion tour, I expected My Bloody Valentine to offer an evening of nostalgia when it pulled into the Aragon Ballroom for a sold-out show on Saturday night.

Though the group's last album remains one of the most inventive, influential and unique recordings of the last two decades--a record the equal of any psychedelic-rock masterpiece you can name--the legendary guitar rockers haven't released any significant new music in 17 years, and their current set draws almost entirely from "Loveless" (1991) and the EPs that preceded it.

Guitarists-vocalists Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher, drummer Colm O'Ciosig and bassist Debbie Googe quit at the top of their game in 1992, with bandleader Shields suffering a mysterious breakdown/artistic paralysis that marked him as the Brian Wilson or Syd Barrett of Generation X, unable to follow up his masterpiece. This was a band with a lot of unfinished business, and one that still sounds undeniable today--at least on record.

What I didn't expect was that the Valentines of 2008 would sound so horribly dated onstage--as much of an oldies act as the Eagles or the Rolling Stones--and as blatantly a comeback cash-in as other recent reunion tours by alternative-era peers such as the Pixies, Rage Against the Machine and the reconstituted Smashing Pumpkins.

Sigur Ros at the Chicago Theatre

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Led by the gangly, towering, slightly asexual and thoroughly ethereal Jonsi Birgisson, art-rockers Sigur Ros made their first major impact on the American rock underground with their second album, "Agaetis byrjun," released in their native Iceland in 1999, but not widely available here until two years later.

A dreamy, wispy but nonetheless captivating disc that built upon the ambient soundscapes of Brian Eno, the otherworldly dream-pop of the Cocteau Twins and the postmodern psychedelia of England's early '90s shoegazers, it was an undeniable accomplishment. But it also was hard to imagine how the group could expand upon the entrancing mix of heavily reverbed guitars, lazily unfolding rhythms and Birgisson's distinctive vocals, which are delivered in a voice so high that many people mistake him for a female soprano, and which utilize a nonsense language of drawn-out syllables that he calls "Hopelandic." (Think of the chatter among the elves in "The Lord of the Rings" movies.)

Demo2DeRo: Werewolf

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Rising from out of the deceptively serene cornfields surrounding Dekalb, Werewolf is a band that not only rocks with the righteous fury of the best of the current heavy-metal underground, but it does so while refusing to honor the narrow sub-sub-sub-genre constrictions that the metal world is so fond of imposing. There are elements of old-school thrash (heavy on the Pantera), revitalized stoner rock (the group has shared a stage with High On Fire), death-metal atmospherics and Black Sabbath classicism (it does spooky well) and well vein-popping screamcore on the group's first full album, the recently released "Find Your Enemies," in addition to a few other strains I'm probably missing.

Rather than lending the impression of a band without focus, this wide-ranging approach comes together in the quick-moving, heavy-hitting hands of vocalist Grant Swanberg, guitarist Aaron Wassner, drummer Brad Sabathne and bassist Reggie Griffin to create a sound guaranteed to set your head a banging 10 different ways. The new disc can be sampled on the group's Web page, http://www.myspace.com/whoiswerewolf, and it will be performing at the Rave in Milwaukee on Friday [Sept. 26] and Otto's in Dekalb on Oct. 25. I for one am eager to see these hairy beasts live--the better to howl at the moon.

Metallica, "Death Magnetic" (Warner Bros.) [2 STARS]

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"You rise, you fall, you're down, then you rise again," James Hetfield yowls in "Broken, Beat & Scarred," an attempt to recap the trials and tribulations of the best-selling mainstream metal band in history on its much-hyped ninth album. "What don't kill you, make you more strong."

Ah, yes: Though they now live in suburban mansions, travel to concerts in separate SUV limos and are unapologetically photographed shopping at Armani, Hetfield and his mates would have us believe that after the dreadful, beyond-self-parody of "St. Anger" (2003), they've traded the New Age self-help psychobabble of "performance-enhancing coach" Phil Towle for the good, ol'-fashioned nihilism of Friedrich Nietzsche, the official philosopher of all great heavy metal. Producer Rick Rubin, rock's master of resuscitating trashed careers, gave the group its marching orders: Forget everything starting with the mascara-wearing sell-out of the so-called "Black Album" (1991) and reconnect with your garage-band roots (if not the unhealthy habits) of the old Alcoholica, then go write the "second half" of the masterful "Master of Puppets" (1986).

The Smashing Pumpkins finally announce some Chicago shows

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A year and a half after launching their reunion tour in Paris, the Smashing Pumpkins are finally coming home for a series of four theater shows in Chicago in late November.

This weekend: Nick Cave, Carrot Top's Sweet 16

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Touring in support of "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!," a worthy follow-up to last year's self-titled Grinderman release, one of the strongest discs he's made with the Bad Seeds and a strong contender at the three-quarters mark for the best album of 2008, Nick Cave comes to Chicago for two shows at the Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, at 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday. Black Diamond Heavies open, and while the Monday show is sold-out, some tickets remain on Sunday for $35 via Ticketmaster, (312) 559-1212 or www.ticketmaster.com, or $38 at the box office on the day of the show, if you want to risk it.

Carrot Top Records, one of Chicago's least-hyped but most consistently excellent independent labels, celebrates its Sweet 16 birthday this weekend with two shows to benefit the Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia. Friday's lineup includes the Coctails, Antietam, the katjonband (with Jon Langford Katerina Ex of the Ex) and the Bitter Tears, while Saturday's features the Handsome Family, Megan Reilly, Speck Mountain and Lys Guillorn. Both shows start at 9 p.m., and tickets are $15.00 per night via www.Ticketweb.com.

The return of My Bloody Valentine

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From a distance of 17 years, there's little question that two albums released in 1991 shaped much of the decade that followed and will continue to have a profound impact on rock 'n' roll well into the future.

By virtue of its commercial success and the way it epitomized a moment in time, "Nevermind" must rank first. But in terms of stretching the artistic boundaries of what can be done with guitars, bass and drums and creating a unique and powerful sound that stands as a real alternative, "Loveless" is every bit as significant. And, unlike Nirvana, My Bloody Valentine has survived for an encore.

Some September show picks

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Looking ahead to the coming weeks (because I'm gearing up to take a bit of much-need time off, and this is one less thing to do before I can!), here are some shows of special note on the September schedule.

Gearing up for the Hideout Block Party

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The perfect ending to what has become Chicago's long hot summer of over-hyped but underwhelming outdoor concerts and festivals, the 12th annual, eclectic-as-ever Hideout Block Party once again takes place on Sept. 20-21 amid the charming urban industrial decay outside the tiny club that could at 1354 W. Wabansia.

The gates open Saturday, Sept. 20, and Sunday, Sept. 21, at 11 a.m. and the music runs through 10:30 p.m., or thereabouts. Tickets are $25 per day or $45 for a two-day pass via www.hideoutblockparty.com/. As always children under 10 are free (and there's plenty of activities for them) and all proceeds will be donated to the youth organizations Tuesdays Child, Literacy Works and the Thomas Drummond Elementary School.

Here is a look at this year's performers, in order of appearance.

Angie wishes she was this cool: Joan As Police Woman

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Raised in Norwalk, Conn., and trained from age eight as a classical violinist, 38-year-old Joan Wasser hardly followed a conventional path toward becoming one of the most-buzzed singers and songwriters on the current rock scene. Even after she left her studies at Boston University to immerse herself in the indie-rock world of the late '80s and early '90s, she was still a long way off from making her mark as a solo artist.

For a decade and a half, Wasser was best known as an in-demand session player, recording and touring with artists such as the Dambuilders and Mary Timony in Massachusetts before moving to New York to do the same with the likes of Rufus Wainwright, Lou Reed and Antony and the Johnsons. In between, she dated Jeff Buckley, and it was during the period when she was recovering from his death and performing with Antony Hegarty that she finally garnered the confidence to face a new musical challenge.

On a 2005 EP and the 2006 album "Real Life," Wasser largely put the violin aside as she picked up guitar and piano and began singing her own songs under the moniker Joan As Police Woman, with a larger-than-life persona matching the larger-than-life name inspired by a friend who said she seemed to be channeling Angie Dickinson as Sgt. Pepper in the '70s TV series "Police Woman." Now, Wasser is touring in support of her second Joan As Police Woman album, "To Survive," and we spoke as she prepared to return to Chicago next weekend.

Brian Wilson, "That Lucky Old Sun" (Capitol) [1 STAR]

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When it comes to the great Romantic narratives of rock history, few are more enduring--or consistently untrue--than "Brian is back." Every few years, ever since Beach Boys auteur Brian Wilson first fled the spotlight amid a haze of drug and mental problems after the undeniable peak of "Pet Sounds" (1966), one group of allegedly well-intentioned friends and musical collaborators after another has come forward to herald the return of the genius, from the vile Mike Love (who actually wrote a song called "Brian's Back" for a failed comeback in the late '70s) to the controversial psychologist Eugene Landy (who managed Wilson and co-wrote his songs during the failed comeback in the late '80s) to his current coattail rider, Hollywood hack Scott Bennett.

Demo2DeRo: El Segundo

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Formerly the Box Bruisers, now boasting a new and cooler name (as in "I Left My Wallet in...") to go along with the new and cooler lineup, guitarist Rich Hay, vocalist Brandon Salmans, bassist Kevin Lopez and drummer Chuck McAuliffe play a ferocious but tuneful brand of old-school punk with equal measures of garage drive and metallic edge. It's a familiar sound, of course, but in addition to the accomplished musicianship and a strong ear for melody amid the din, El Segundo rises above the pack courtesy of Salmans, a pudgy, balding, funny and self-effacing front man who brings a heaping doses of unique personality to the proceedings, onstage as well as on the raucous sampling of tunes posted on the group's Web site, www.myspace.com/elsegundochicago.

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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