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February 2009 Archives

What does vertical integration look like, anyway?

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Why, here's a helpful illustration, from Live Nation's own literature!

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What it means: At the time this chart was done, approximately 2007, Live Nation merely controlled the three black arrows in the middle. If the merger with Ticketmaster goes through, it will control every aspect of the business between the artist and the fan, except for the booking agent.

However, given that Ticktemaster/Live Nation also would manage artists -- like Madonna, depicted here long before she signed her 360 deal with Live Nation -- the booking agent would become extinct soon enough. Why would the company, in its role as manager, want to hire an agent to negotiate with the company, in its role as promoter and ticket-seller?

Artist Nation. Live Nation. Fan Nation... Abomination?

For all of the bluster about the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger from congressmen and senators this week, it's worth noting that neither the House nor the Senate can actually do anything to stop the corporations from combining.

The most significant roadblock in their path: the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division.

"All I can say is that the DOJ's antitrust division is investigating the proposed transaction, and that we're going to vigorously enforce the merger antitrust laws and conduct a thorough investigation," says Gina Talamona, Deputy Director of Public Affairs.

Talamona has limited her comments to the Sun-Times and every other news organization to the statement above. But sources familiar with antitrust investigations say she couldn't answer the key question--how long will this take?--even if she wanted to.

The antitrust division is notified of hundreds if not thousands of proposed mergers a year. It only investigates a fraction of these, and even fewer become the subject of legal action. (There's a list of those that have gone to court on the division's Website.)

Of the mergers that are investigated, each is evaluated on a case-by-case basis with one eye toward how it will affect competition in the given industry and the other on how consumers will be affected by it.

There are two types of investigations.

UPDATED

In its MediaFile blog, Reuters drops the names, including Seal (said to be a close personal friend of Ticketmaster chief Irving Azoff), Shakira, Journey, Van Halen and... Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, a group that has long worked exclusively in Chicago with independent promoters (and Live Nation's archrivals) Jam Productions.

Together, Corgan and Jam have worked hard to explore alternative means of ticketing, thwarting Ticketmaster and that mysterious problem of how tickets wind up in the hands of scalpers instead of fans. But Corgan also is managed by Azoff. So it appears he's chosen sides.

Corgan's letter has not yet been published as part of the Congressional record of the subcommittee hearings, and he declined to share it with the Sun-Times or to talk about the issue. "I am loathe from here and ever on to talk about the music business. So
honestly I'd rather not comment," he wrote in an email.

According to the Reuters blog, Eddie Van Halen wrote a letter to the Congressional subcommittees that met earlier this week, supporting the merger. It reads in part:

There are so many problems facing the music industry today. Van Halen suceedeed based on our record sales and the many tours that we did to increase our record sales. But that business model just doesn't work anymore. Today, the majority of artists earn their living from playing live. What my son -- and any future band he plays in -- needs are new and innovative approaches to the problems facing the live entertainment industry. And I believe that the merger of Ticketmaster/Live Nation is one of those solutions.

Has-been rockers Journey also waxed rhapsodic about the merger:

The music industry has changed dramatically in the last several years. As technology changes the way people get access to their music, one thing stands true -- the live show. And the live show has become an even more important jumping off point to maintain the relationship between artists and our fans. The proposed merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster Entertainment will provide artists at all levels of their careers with the opportunity to leverage a broader universe of venues and to expand their ability to reach current as well as new fans.

As did Seal, one of the few stars supporting the merger who is not managed by either Live Nation or Ticketmaster. He wrote:

The record business is not what it used to be. That is why I support the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger -- because not only would it benefit established acts like myself, but the up-and-coming acts who are trying to build a following, as well.

On the other side, of course, is... the Boss. And, um... er... uh, there have to be more, no? Or, as yesterday's House subcommittee asserted, are they all really too intimidated to speak out? (Is it really better to play on Ticketmaster/Live Nation's farm than to not play at all?)

E.V. phone home! The time is now. Mr. Vedder, to finally even Pearl Jam's score with Ticketmaster.

According to the respected concert industry trade magazine Pollstar and the Congressional newspaper Roll Call, the reviled ticket broker Ticketmaster and the giant national concert promoter Live Nation have recruited a lot of top-dollar lobbying muscle to help them sell the proposed mega-merger on Capitol Hill, in addition to a list of impressive and well-connected names on the companies' boards of directors.

"As previously reported by Pollstar, the boards include some powerful FOBs - Friends of Barack," the magazine notes. Live Nation's board members include director Ari Emanuel, brother of President Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and Ticketmaster's board boasts director Julius Genachowski, a Harvard classmate of the President and a co-leader of the transition team's policy work group on technology, innovation and government.

Ticketmaster has retained former Rep. Mel Levine (D-Calif.)'s lobbying firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and Live Nation has hired lobbyists Public Opinion Strategies. Lee Godown, longtime chief of staff to California Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez, and Daniel Kohns - Rep. Mike Honda's (D-Calif.) former communications director - both registered on behalf of the lobbyist firm and Live Nation.

CORRECTION/UPDATE: Glen Bolger, a partner in Public Opinion Strategies, has written to say that his firm "has NOT been retained for this project. We are not lobbyists. Odds are high that Roll Call meant to say Public Strategies, which is a lobbying firm." Indeed, Kohns is listed as working for Public Strategies on that company's Web site, though Sanchez is not.

Roll Call also reports that Live Nation is turning to powerhouse Democratic lobbyist Joel Jankowsky, former aide to House Speaker Carl Albert, in addition to Brunswick Group lobbyist and former Recording Industry Association of America CEO Hillary Rosen, as noted earlier on this blog

Writes Pollstar reporter Deborah Speer:

Odd how these circles go 'round - as head of the RIAA [Rosen] was on the opposite side of a controversy with one of Azoff's most noted management clients, Don Henley, when he was combating the Works for Hire recording practice.

Though the majority of Senators and Congressmen expressed degrees of skepticism about the merger, ranging from cautious wariness to outright disdain, during the two subcommittee hearings earlier this week, Ticketmaster/Live Nation obviously is not without friends in the Democratic party, and considerable pressure will be brought to bear on the Justice Department as it renders a decision (a process that, to date, remains a mystery to many reporters).

Then too there's the fact that, as one Washington, D.C. industry watchdog told this columnist, "For a precedent for the Obama administration vetoing this merger, you'd really have to go back to the Roosevelt years--and I'm talking Teddy, not F.D.R. Sad to say, the era of federal trust-busting is now ancient history."

Pitchfork Music Festival 2009: Save these dates

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Although they've yet to announce any of the performers, promoters of the 2009 Pitchfork Music Festival have said the event will once again be held in Chicago's Union Park from Friday July 17 through Sunday, July 19.

Tickets for the festival are set to go on sale on Friday, Mar. 13.

A key aspect of Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino's testimony on its proposed merger with Ticketmaster has been that the giant national concert promoter is severely hurting in these tough economic times. Statements along these lines were made again and again before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday and a House subcommittee today.

But in transcripts of the company's last three earnings calls statements to shareholders, Rapino paints a very different picture.

For the first quarter of 2008, his statement reads, in part:

Our competitive advantage lies in our global concert platform that spans multiple cities throughout 19 countries, staffed by the most experienced promoters and marketing personnel in the business, selling directly to over 40 million fans, servicing 1,000 artists annually through our 16,000 concerts. ...

We continue to refine our North American platform by exiting low-growth markets and expanding in the top 20 markets. The agreement to acquire the majority of the live music assets of Fantasma Production, a leading Florida-based promotion company, is part of this growth. The acquisition includes Fantasma's calendar events, two important outdoor midsize music venues, and two outdoor music festivals, significantly strengthening our position in the Florida market, where we historically have been underdeveloped.

MORE FOLLOWING THE JUMP

Robert Rawls, communications director for license committee chairman Ald. Gene Schulter, is contradicting numerous sources who've told the Sun-Times that the controversial legislation is once again hurtling toward a vote at the committee and the full City Council.

In an email, Rawls writes:

The Promoters Ordinance is not on the agenda for the March 11th meeting of the Committee on License and Consumer Protection. At this point, Alderman Schulter feels that more work needs to be done and does not know when this issue will be brought before the committee for a public hearing. As Alderman Schulter stated last spring, this ordinance was not introduced by Alderman Schulter. It was originally introduced in June 2007 by the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing at the request of Mayor Daley. As Chair of the Committee, Alderman Schulter has worked to consider this ordinance fully and deliberately before taking it to the City Council. Before the ordinance goes before the Committee again, Alderman Schulter looks forward to working with the Sun-Times to provide a copy of the current ordinance and as much additional information as possible to the music community.

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UPDATE: More on Rosen's involvement here.

During Tuesday's Senate hearing on the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger, I thought that woman peering out from behind Irving Azoff and Michael Rapino looked awfully familiar. And sure enough, James Love of The Huffington Post now reports that Hilary Rosen has been hired by the mega-corps to push the merger forward.

Rosen, you may recall, was the longtime head of the Recording Industry Association of America, the major labels' lobbying group, and it was under her watch that the record companies began suing thousands of their own customers for downloading music on the Net.

Couldn't find a better person to forward the notion that the merger is good for consumers, could you?

DEVELOPING: The Chicago City Council is gearing up for a second attempt to push through legislation that would severely curtail independent concert promoters, which opponents say would have a disastrous effect on the local music scene.

The council's license committee, chaired by Ald. Eugene Schulter (47th), drafted the so-called "event promoters ordinance" last spring with almost no input from the music community, rapidly moving it toward a vote before the full council in May. But aldermen tabled the controversial law at that time after an unprecedented outcry from the local music world.

Last year, council members vowed to work with the music community to "fine-tune" the law before a final vote.

Sources close to the procedure say that a retooled version of the law has now been ready since mid-February, and that the license committee is gearing up for a vote on Mar. 9 11 prior to sending the legislation back to the full council for what the committee hopes will be quick passage. Once again, however, the law is not being made available for public scrutiny, and no public hearings are scheduled to seek input from musicians, music lovers and indie concert promoters.

Ald. Schulter's office has so far not responded to a request for comment or a request to provide a copy of the revamped legislation to the Sun-Times. Stay tuned for more developments.

BACKGROUND READING ON THE PROMOTERS ORDINANCE

May 7, 2008: The city tries again to legislate Clubland -- without any input from the music community and The proposed law, and the Chicago Music Commission's response to it

May 9, 2008: Alderman Schulter's turn: The committee chair responds to music community worries about the promoter's ordinance

May 13, 2008: Promoter's ordinance tabled (for now) and Da Mayor speaks out on the promoter's ordinance

May 17, 2008: The fight against the promoters' ordinance continues

May 21, 2008: Ald. Schulter explains delay in promoter's ordinance

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My account follows the jump.

*** The Senate had its crack at challenging the proposed mega-merger Tuesday; today it will be the House's turn.

The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy will hold a hearing on "Competition in Ticketing & Promotion" at 10 a.m. Eastern/9 a.m. Central today, with a live Webcast accessible from this U.S.gov site.

This time, the witness list seems much more friendly to Ticketmaster and Live Nation: Top execs Irving Azoff and Michael Rapino are once again slated to testify, along with a representative of Global Spectrum Management, which has a contract with Live Nation at its Philadelphia arena. There also are a professor, some lawyers and someone from a think tank called the Federation of Public Interest Research Groups.

The committee won't be hearing from any independent promoters who compete with Live Nation.

MORE DEVELOPMENTS AFTER THE JUMP

The Appleseed Cast: Instrumental brilliance

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The best instrumentals function like great soundtracks, setting the scene for an imaginary movie that screens only in the listeners' minds. Witness "Sagarmatha," the recently released, largely vocals-free seventh album by Lawrence, Kansas-based indie-rock cult heroes the Appleseed Cast.

"At first, we were just planning on doing an instrumental EP," says guitarist Chris Crisci. "I don't know why we wanted to do that, but that was in our head. Then, as we were working on it, we realized that it should be a full-length album. We still wanted to keep it pretty much instrumental, but there were some parts where it felt like it could benefit from some vocal lines and lyrics, so it developed that way.

"I would love to do a soundtrack, but I don't think that's what we were going after. I feel like the last two records we did"--"Peregrine" (2006) and "Two Conversations" (2003)--"were very... not vocally-driven, but they had a lot of vocals on them. They were what I would consider straight-ahead rock songs. We never really intended to pursue that course for two albums; we just felt that we wanted to do some rock albums, and we thought we could do that better. But we definitely exercised that demon.

"This time, we just wanted to make something that retains our interest, but there is a little bit of selfish reasoning there," Crisci adds. "When we play a live show, it's really nice for me to take a break: The more songs we have that are instrumental, the more I get to rest my voice a bit!"

Chris_and_Aaron

Above: Chris Crisci and Aaron Pillar. Photo by Aaron Pillar.

This weekend: Lisa Hannigan, Spandexxx

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Irish singer and songwriter Lisa Hannigan first made her mark on the music world accompanying Damien Rice. Now she's touring behind a strong debut album, "Sea Sew," that's winning comparison to eccentric female musicians ranging from Jane Birkin to Edie Brickel to Bjork. She takes the stage at Martyr's, 3855 N. Lincoln, at 9 p.m. Saturday [Feb. 28] after an opening set by the Low Anthem. Tickets are $15; for more information, call (773) 404-9494 or visit www.martyrslive.com.

Launch by the DJ duo Rocktapussy (DJ Mother Hubbard and DJ A-Cup), Spandexxx is a monthly dance party celebrating female DJs and electronic musicians in a field dominated by men. Co-sponsored by Venus magazine, the party comes to Sonotheque, 1444 W. Chicago, starting at 9 p.m. Friday [Feb. 27] and featuring the entrancing grooves of Golden Filter, Yello Fever and Rocktapussy itself. The cover is $10; for more information, call (312) 226-7600 or visit www.sonotheque.net.

The health of the Chicago concert scene and whether competition that benefits music lovers will still exist if controversial giants Ticketmaster and Live Nation are allowed to merge took center stage Tuesday during a hearing on Capitol Hill.

The Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights heard testimony from industry watchdogs and independent promoters--including Jerry Mickelson of Chicago-based Jam Productions--as well as the Ticketmaster and Live Nation executives behind the proposed merger.

All of the senators voiced strong skepticism about the merger--including traditional foes Orrin Hatch (R-UT, and an amateur recording artist) and Charles Schumer (D-NY, and a Bruce Springsteen fan outraged by Ticketmaster's handling of the upcoming tour)--and they hurled barbed questions about skyrocketing prices, duplicitous ticket schemes and unfair competition at Ticketmaster head Irving Azoff and Live Nation boss Michael Rapino.

A native of downstate Danville, Azoff stressed his background as a music fan who traveled to Comiskey Park to see the Beatles and who promoted acts such as Dan Fogelberg and REO Speedwagon during his time at the University of Illinois. "This business is in far worse shape than many people realize," he said, adding that the merger is necessary to save it.

Rapino cited the benefits of Live Nation shows to local economies, claiming that one two-day event last summer at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisc., pumped $5 million into the area. He did not name the artist.

Rapino also argued that competition is alive and well. He cited the example of Chicago, claiming that Live Nation only promotes 16 percent of the concerts here versus 29 percent promoted by Jam. Nationally, he said Live Nation only controls 38 percent of the concert business.

Jam's Mickelson fired back with numbers of his own, noting that in 2001, Live Nation controlled 161 of the top 200 concert tours. Jam may promote more club and theater shows, Mickelson granted, but Live Nation dominates the larger and much more lucrative arena and amphitheater concerts.

"U2 doesn't call us. Shakira doesn't call us. Coldplay doesn't call us," Mickelson said, adding that the situation will only get worse if the merger is approved. He called it "vertical integration on steroids" and called the giant corporation "the poster child for why the country has and needs antitrust laws."

Washington, D.C. concert promoter Seth Hurwitz, co-owner of the legendary 9:30 Club, added, "How much control is too much? You can't blame Live Nation at this point [for wanting more] any more than you can blame a shark for eating people."

The hearing ended with Chairman Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) noting that the committee has urged the Justice Department "to examine [the merger] closely" before granting its approval. Beltway observers say this ruling will be the first significant test of the Obama administration's stance on antitrust issues.

WHO OWNS WHAT IN CHICAGO

Testifying before a Senate subcommittee in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Jam Productions cofounder Jerry Mickelson maintained that archrival Live Nation may promote fewer concerts in Chicago, but they control more of the top-dollar shows.

"They dominate the arena level. They control and have all of the outdoor amphitheaters... and with House of Blues, they are taking over the lower-level theater business as well," Mickelson said.

In the Chicago area, Live Nation owns the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park, the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisc. and the House of Blues downtown. It also has a contract to promote shows at the city-owned Charter One Pavilion on Northerly Island, and it often books the Congress Theatre in Logan Square.

Jam owns the Park West in Lincoln Park, the Riviera Theatre and the as-yet inoperable Uptown Theatre in the Uptown neighborhood and the Vic Theatre at Belmont and Sheffield. It also has an exclusive agreement to book shows at the Aragon Ballroom.

Live Nation and Jam compete to book major arena shows at Chicago's United Center and the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, though Live Nation has been winning an ever-increasing number of these shows as the company buys major tours from coast to coast, shutting out local promoters who might otherwise compete.

Neko Case, "Middle Cyclone" (Anti-) [4 STARS]

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Newly ensconced on a 100-acre farm in rural Vermont, former Chicago (and Washington state, Vancouver and Tucson) resident Neko Case is fascinated by the world around her throughout her sixth solo album. Tornadoes roar by, the 38-year-old singer and songwriter tells us she identifies with killer whales, magpies and numerous other animals and she warns us in a cover borrowed from the cult pop duo Sparks, "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth." But this is no National Geographical special. With her gorgeous, brassy voice and oversized personality, Case herself is a force of nature, and though the songs may be rich in metaphors, "Middle Cyclone" actually finds her writing more directly about love than ever before.

"Can't give up acting tough/It's all that I'm made of/Can't scrape together quite enough/To ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love," Case confesses in the title track, a quiet, minimalist showcase for her crystalline voice. But don't make the mistake of thinking she's an easy mark for Cupid or any other man. "The next time you say forever, I will punch you in the face," she warns in the very next tune.

As Billboard recently noted, Case is in the enviable position of straddling two devoted cult followings: the alternative-country/Americana fan base she's built up over six solo albums (her last, "Fox Confessor Bring the Flood," sold 194,000 copies in the U.S. in 2006) and the indie-/college-rockers she's wooed as the secret weapon in the pop supergroup the New Pornographers. Working with her core band--including guitarist Paul Rigby, bassist Tom Ray, pedal steel player Jon Rauhouse and her indispensable harmony vocal partner Kelly Hogan--Case easily segues from country rock to retro-pop, and from piano balladry to a delicious Harry Nilsson cover ("Don't Forget Me"). It isn't that she's trying to offer something for everyone; more like she just can't be contained--just like the natural world that inspires her.

Don't let the mounting indie buzz or the awkward, way-too-emo-sounding name put you off: The self-titled release by this two-year-old Brooklyn quartet is as accomplished a debut as the rock underground has produced in the last decade. Sure, the formula is derivative: Mix equal parts jangly pop on just the right side of twee (you hear the Pastels and the Field Mice, I hear the Wedding Present and Beat Happening, though Belle and Sebastian and the Sundays are equally valid reference points) and vintage '90s shoegazer fuzz and drone (see: Ride, Lush, the Jesus and Mary Chain and of course My Bloody Valentine), and voila, you have TPOBPAH.

Still, as formulas go, that one is as good as it gets, especially when the vocal melodies are as enticing as those of guitarist Kip Berman and keyboardist Peggy Wang. Add to those and the sonics the surprisingly dark and twisted undercurrents hiding just below the seductive surface--"This Love Is F---ing Right!" is a song about a relationship that's anything but, while "A Teenager in Love" portrays a troubled soul hooked on "Christ and heroin"--and you have a musical bow that justifies the many comparisons to these musicians' obvious heroes.

Demo2DeRo: The Cathy Santonies

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On the dreadful yet somehow oddly addictive sitcom "Full House," Kathy Santoni was the often talked about yet never seen nemesis of oldest daughter D.J. Tanner (Candace Cameron)--the too cool for school, wise beyond her years beauty who always made our heroine feel inferior. The Chicago quartet the Cathy Santonies could just as well have called themselves D.J.'s Revenge, since they even the score for uncool but hard-rocking girls everywhere with their ferocious mix of punk-rock venom and unrestrained head-banging glee.

"Our music is a subversive mix of riot grrrl and cock rock," guitarist-vocalist Mojo Santoni, bassist-vocalist Radio Santoni, guitarist Jane Danger and drummer Johnny Swanko write on their Web site (www.cathysantonies.com). You might not think those two genres make for easy bedfellows, but like chocolate and peanut butter, once you've put 'em together you've more than doubled the delights. These girls (and guy) ain't kidding when they boast, "We're cocky, loud, full of wild energy and catchy as hell!"

The foursome released a self-titled EP a few years back, and the five songs are streaming on their MySpace site at www.myspace.com/thecathysantonies. But the group is finishing up a new album, and anyone who's ever been tormented by a Kathy Santoni should scoop it up the minute it's available, because the last laugh is always the sweetest.

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My account follows the jump.

Updates on tomorrow's Live Nation/Ticketmaster hearing

The session actually is before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, so it is perhaps incorrect to say it's the first step toward the Justice Department deciding whether or not this merger will go through. (That was language I picked up from a concert industry trade publication in my earlier post.)

As for the stance that David A. Balto of the Center for American Progress Action Fund has on the merger, well, following the jump is an advance look at the testimony he will offer tomorrow on Capitol Hill. Bottom line: The group not only is strongly opposed, it's urging the Department of Justice to reopen the Ticketmaster investigation it abandoned in the mid-'90s.

AND: Also set to appear before the committee--and also presumably opposing the merger--is Seth Hurwitz, another independent concert promoter from Washington, D.C., and co-owner of that city's fabled 9:30 Club.

ALSO: From the Associated Press:


Ticketmaster has agreed to change the way it sells tickets over the Internet.

New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram announced the settlement Monday. She says the changes apply to all Ticketmaster sales nationwide.

The case stems from complaints received about ticket purchases for a Bruce Springsteen concert. Ticket seekers were redirected from the main Ticketmaster site to a subsidiary that charged more.

Milgram says Ticketmaster has not admitted wrongdoing but has agreed to pay $350,000 to the state. She says the company will also compensate ticket holders who complained and change how it handles secondary sales.

Ticketmaster did not return calls seeking comment Monday.


U2, "No Line on the Horizon" (Universal) [3.5 STARS]

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In the late '70s, as the punk explosion transformed the British and American rock scenes, some of the biggest groups of the preceding years drew inspiration from the new energy and aesthetic to craft albums which, in many cases, stand as great last gasps before impending dinosaurdom.

The Rolling Stones responded with "Some Girls" (1978), Led Zeppelin with "In Through the Out Door" (1979) and Yes with "Going for the One" (1977), to name a few.

Classic-rock superstars on the same level a generation later, U2 did something similar with "Achtung Baby" in 1991, at the height of the alternative and Britpop movements. But Bono and his bandmates arguably were even more courageous in abandoning the stadium bombast that had come to characterize their sound in favor of much edgier art-rock experimentation and a new ironic attitude that seemed to scoff at their earlier, often pompous and heavy-handed rattle and hum.

It was a good trick, but the Irish rockers could only really do it once, and after "Zooropa" (1993) and "Pop" (1997) continued trying to push the envelope with ever-diminishing results, the musicians retreated to bland, retro-minded U2-by-numbers conservatism in the new millennium with "All That You Can't Leave Behind" (2000) and "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004), in between Bono's decidedly non-ironic attempts to end world hunger, cure AIDS and stop global conflict.

These good acts stand in sharp contrast to blatant money-grabs such as the band's mega-merchandising deal with Live Nation or its high-priced stadium tours, and as the musicians edged closer to age 50, it seemed as if their own status as musical dinosaurs was a sad inevitability. Or was it?

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The antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearing on the proposed merger of the controversial ticket broker Ticketmaster with the giant national concert promoter Live Nation tomorrow, and the scheduled witnesses include Jerry Mickelson, co-founder of Chicago-based Jam Productions, one of the largest of America's few remaining indie promoters.

Though it is now in the minority among major U.S. cities, Chicago remains a deeply competitive market for live music, with Jam and Live Nation often vying for major arena shows, and Jam maintaining a firm grip here on smaller theater gigs. In 2005, Jam won a $90 million verdict against Live Nation in a highly publicized anti-trust suit after testimony that included executives at the larger company boasting that they'd love to "crush, kill and destroy" the regional promoter.

Also scheduled to testify in Washington, D.C. are Irving Azoff and Michael Rapino, the Ticketmaster and Live Nation executives set to become the reigning braintrust at the new Live Nation Entertainment, and David A. Balto, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a self-described "think tank dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through ideas and action, combining bold policy ideas to help shape the national debate to expose the hollowness of conservative governing philosophies."

Presumably, the Center for American Progress group stands in solidarity with Jam in opposing the merger, though Mickelson has so far declined to comment on the issue.

The subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights is chaired by Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and its members include Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who has called for an investigation into Ticketmaster's handling of ticket sales for the upcoming Bruce Springsteen tour, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, an outspoken critic of music piracy who also dabbles in music-making himself as a singer.

Entitled "The Ticketmaster/Live Nation Merger: What Does it Mean for Consumers and the Future of the Concert Business?," the session begins at 2:30 p.m. Eastern and will be Webcast on the committee's site at http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?id=3674.

Giant national concert promoters Live Nation--soon to be rechristened Live Nation Entertainment if the proposed merger with dreaded ticket brokers Ticketmaster goes through--have announced not one but two more concerts at the baseball stadium this summer.

Having sold out the previously announced concert on Tuesday, July 21, Billy Joel and Elton John will make a second appearance a few days earlier on Thursday, July 16. Those tickets go on sale Monday, February 23, at noon at prices ranging from $55 to $175.00 through the officially sanctioned Major League Baseball ticket brokers, www.tickets.com (1-800-THE-CUBS).

The Friendly Confines also will present the country-pop act Rascal Flatts with special guest Darius Rucker (a.k.a. Hootie of the Blowfish) on Saturday July 18. Live Nation did not announce any ticket prices or any details about ticket sales for that show.

In the past, Wrigley has only hosted music every other year, and never more than one act per season. This year, anyone living within at least a mile of the stadium really should plan on scheduling their summer vacation so as to miss all three shows, if at all possible.

In more Live Nation news, the company also announced an extremely unusual move for the Elton/Billy shows. According to its press release:

Due to the fact that there was no previous intention for multiple performances, purchasers of the July 21st concert who would prefer to attend Thursday, July 16th have the opportunity to swap their tickets for the added concert date. The tickets will be exchanged for comparable locations only and cannot be used for upgrades. Please visit http://www.eltonandbillychicagoticketswap.com to the deadline of 5 pm on Saturday February 21st to participate in this special offer.

What is that about? A major thrust of the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger is a desire by both companies to reclaim the portion of their business that has been ceded to the so-called "secondary market"--a.k.a. ticket scalpers, if you want to call them what they really are. Now, if we want to be generous, perhaps 1 out of 100 tickets that are resold are done so by legitimate fans who subsequently discover they cannot attend the performance they originally purchased tickets for; the rest are resold at obscene prices by scalpers, with none of that extra profit going to the promoters.

Is Live Nation Entertainment preparing to make the argument that a new policy such as this one will allow legit fans to resell tickets, while the mega-corp gears up to take over all secondary ticket sales itself? Stay tuned.

Finally, it's worth noting that tickets.com is adding service fees to those Billy and Elton tickets that are almost as obnoxious and unreasonable as those routinely tacked on by Ticketmaster--even for the special "neighborhood residents-only" pre-sales. As one correspondent wrote me:

Just wanted to let you know that I got Billy Joel/Elton John tix for Wrigley today through the neighborhood presale. I got 4 midlevel tickets and was charged over $90 in service charges by tickets.com, with an additional $4.50 to mail the tickets (cheaper than the $7.50 to print them). During the 2008 baseball season, the service charge for tickets in any section was $4.19 per ticket. Is the frightening future of online ticket sales already here? Does the Ticketmaster merger actually matter? Nothing would make me happier than to see you mention these ridiculous service charges in your column and inspire some outcry.

Consider the mentioning done. As for the outcry, it's up to consumer to let promoters and ticket brokers know when they really are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

Already victorious at the Golden Globes, where the music he crafted for director Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" won best original score, Indian composer A.R. Rahman is poised for even more accolades this weekend at the Oscars: Not only is his score once again in contention, he's been nominated for two of the best original songs ("Jai Ho," which powers the big dance number at the end of the film, and "O... Saya," which features underground darling and Sri Lanka-born rapper Maya Arulpragasam, a.k.a. M.I.A.). With the scores to 100 Bollywood films to his credit and sales of a staggering 200 million albums, critics have been comparing the 43-year-old composer to everyone from Bernard Herrmann to Andrew Lloyd Webber--though Webber himself says that Rahman is a talent akin to Paul McCartney.

Along with claims that the soundtrack stands on its own as a brilliant beginning-to-end album, much of this praise is hyperbolic. Yes, there is a deliciously invigorating and exotic buzz to his mix of techno, hip-hop, African rhythms, syrupy Bollywood string sections and timeless Indian drones, especially on the first half of the 13-song disc, with standouts including the opening "O... Saya," "Riots" and "Ringa Ringa." But M.I.A.'s 2008 hit "Paper Planes," which appears in two mixes, is better appreciated in the context of her 2007 album "Kala," while both the sub-"High School Musical" rah-rah cheerleading of "Jai Ho" and the beyond-Celine Dion ballad schlock of "Dreams on Fire" bring to mind comparisons to the very worst of Hollywood soundtrack smarminess, if not Lloyd Webber at his cheesiest and most forced.

Demo2DeRo: The Sleepy Kissers

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With a gloriously sloppy, grungy and beer-sodden sound reminiscent of some of the best Midwestern indie-rock of the '80s (heavy on the Replacements) as well as punk giants like the Stooges and more recent garage-band buzzes such as the Hives, the Sleepy Kissers have been honing their brand of fuzz since 2006, when the group was formed by bassist/vocalist Mariah, guitarist Mike, drummer Nick and guitarist/vocalist Paul. (No surnames necessary when a group rocks this simply but righteously.)

The quartet released a strong self-titled five-song EP last year (it's available for free download at http://www.thesleepykissers.com/music.cfm), and it's gearing up to unleash a full album this summer. Hopefully, the new disc will include inspired anthems such as "Sunshine Grave" and "Source of the Bull----," both of which are streaming on the group's MySpace page (http://www.myspace.com/thesleepykissers). But like all great bar bands, this one probably is best enjoyed in a great bar, and the Sleepy Kissers will be playing at one when they take the stage at Cal's 400 Liquors, 400 S. Wells, at 10 p.m. Friday [FEB. 27]. The cover is $5; for more info, call (312) 922-6392.

Touring in support of "Ready for the Flood," their first album together since Mark Olson parted ways with his mate Gary Louris in the cult-favorite alternative-country band the Jayhawks in 1995, the reunited duo comes to the Park West, 322 W. Armitage, at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20, with an opening act, the Autumn Defense, boasting another pair of musicians every bit as revered. (The group is the side project of Wilco's John Stirratt and Pat Sansone.) Tickets are $25 through www.Ticketmaster.com, or minus the service fees at the club's box office, (773) 929-5959.

You know a band is moving up the ladder big-time when a show is moved from the Riviera Theatre to the Aragon Ballroom. Thievery Corporation, the Washington, D.C.-based duo of duo consisting of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, are winning justly deserved acclaim for their electrifying mix of acid jazz, dub reggae and numerous groovy World beats, and they take the storied stage at 1106 W. Lawrence at 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20. Tickets originally purchased for the Riv show will be honored, and others are available for $41 through www.Ticketmaster.com, (312) 559-1212.

When it comes to assessing Chicagoan Steve Krakow's place in the rock underground, you can't do any better than the introduction Julian Cope, founding member of the Teardrop Explodes and brilliant psychedelic solo artist, wrote for his Head Heritage Website.

"He's a guy, he's a band, he's a multi-coloured forward-thinking arthole of Tardis Dementions," Cope enthused. "He's a Futuretro freak, he's a sibilant gas, he's a rock 'n' roll-a-holic... !"

Indeed, Krakow has his hand in so many projects that any list is bound to miss a few. He's the publisher, primary writer and illustrator of the fanzine world's encyclopedia of freaky music, Galactic Zoo Dossier; he's a force in booking local left-of-center shows ranging from Japan's Acid Mothers Temple to the Million Tongues Festival; he's an occasional presence on radio with his "Secret History of Chicago Music" exhumations (which he also plans to turn into a book), and he's the leader and organizer of the absurdly ambitious Vision Celestial Guitarkestra, which mounted a performance by no fewer than 100 guitarists at the Hideout Block Party last September.

With all of that, it would be easy if extremely unfair to overlook Krakow's band, Plastic Crimewave Sound, which has been making some of the most unique noise on the Chicago scene since 2001. "When you've been around for a while, you sort of get taken for granted," the guitarist and vocalist says. "At this point, we actually get a lot more attention when we tour. But we always try to make our local shows an event."

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Plastic Crimewave Sound: from left, Adam Krakow, Steve Krakow, Mark Lux and Lawrence Peters. Photo by Libby Ramer.

In a move certain to have a wide-ranging negative impact on the independent music scene in America, Chicago-based Touch and Go Records has announced that it's eliminating the part of its operation that has provided manufacturing and distribution services to dozens of smaller record labels across the country for the last two decades.

"Titles from these other labels populate the shelves of our [Northside] warehouse alongside the titles on our own two labels, Touch and Go Records and Quarterstick Records," said a statement released Wednesday morning by company co-founder and owner Corey Rusk. "Unfortunately, as much as we love all of these labels, the current state of the economy has reached the point where we can no longer afford to continue this lesser known yet important part of Touch and Go's operations.

"Over the years, these labels have become part of our family, and it pains us to see them go. We wish them all the very best and we will be doing everything we can to help make the transition as easy as possible."

The Touch and Go-distributed labels will need to find a new company to manufacture their CDs and, far more important, to assure their distribution to retailers across the U.S., by far one of the most daunting challenges in the indie music world.

Although some sources say as many as 20 of Touch and Go's 25 employees will be laid off, Rusk was hesitant to talk about personnel cuts. But he did say that, "I'm doing my best to be upfront with everybody as the transition happens over the coming months. It's painful for everybody involved."

Rusk said Touch and Go currently distributes about 20 other record labels, though many of those have smaller sub-labels associated with them. A quick look at the list includes some of the biggest names and most adventurous companies in the American rock underground, among them Merge Records (which has had gold-selling hits with the Arcade Fire), Jade Tree, Kill Rock Stars, All Natural, Atavistic, Drag City and Trance Syndicate.

Rumors that the Chicago company would cease all operations began to spread on Monday, but Rusk said that the stories that "Touch and Go is gone are not true."

According to his official statement, the label will continue releasing recordings from its own storied catalog: The company celebrated its history at the 2006 Hideout Block Party by presenting 31 of its acts ranging from industrial punks Big Black to art-rockers the Shipping News, California dance band !!! to Sicilian experimentalists Uzeda and the subtle guitar band Seam to the in-your-face hardcore group Negative Approach. But it's unclear whether the label will release new recordings from younger up-and-coming bands.

"Touch and Go will be returning to its roots and focusing solely on being an independent record label," according to the statement. "We'll be busy for a few months working closely with the departing labels and scaling our company to an appropriate smaller size after their departure. It is the end of a grand chapter in Touch and Go's history, but we also know that good things can come from new beginnings."

UPDATE: For many years, Touch and Go did distribute Merge Records, which recently sold as many as half a million albums with "Funeral" by the Arcade Fire. But the Chapel Hill, N.C. label has been selling its discs direct through the distributor ADA for the past few years.

Nevertheless, the loss of Touch and Go as a distributor to the indie rock world was underscored by Merge co-founder Mac McCaughan, who released the following statement:

Touch and Go basically allowed Merge to exist as something other than a singles label...we did our first full-length (the Superchunk Tossing Seeds comp) in 1992 because Corey agreed to take on Merge as a label under the Touch and Go umbrella. we've worked with Touch and Go since then -- 16 years -- and they are the most straight-up and ass-busting-for-music-they-love people we know.

Corey Rusk is the most meticulous, cautious, thoughtful business person i know which is what makes this whole thing so unbelievable and such a bad portent for the rest of the independent music business -- if a company that did everything the right way can't survive in this environment (and the environment existed before the current worldwide financial disaster -- the Bush economic legacy only piled on), then who can?

This is not even to mention the fact that Touch and Go put out some records that were incredibly important to me long before Merge existed -- Big Black, Scratch Acid, Die Kreuzen, Negative Approach, Butthole Surfers, and later on Slint, Jesus Lizard and the list goes on... -- a ton of records that are just important period.

It's a sad day for music, independent music and punk rock in particular, and the music business as we know it in the real world.

Click here for my 2006 profile of Rusk and Touch and Go.

A list of all Touch and Go/Quarterstick release can be found here.

The list of the labels distributed by the Chicago company is here.

Finally, here is the full text of the statement from Touch and Go's Corey Rusk:

It is with great sadness that we are reporting some major changes here at Touch and Go Records. Many of you may not be aware, but for nearly 2 decades, Touch and Go has provided manufacturing and distribution services for a select yet diverse group of other important independent record labels. Titles from these other labels populate the shelves of our warehouse alongside the titles on our own two labels, Touch and Go Records, and Quarterstick Records.

Unfortunately, as much as we love all of these labels, the current state of the economy has reached the point where we can no longer afford to continue this lesser known, yet important part of Touch and Go's operations. Over the years, these labels have become part of our family, and it pains us to see them go. We wish them all the very best and we will be doing everything we can to help make the transition as easy as possible.

Touch and Go will be returning to its roots and focusing solely on being an independent record label. We'll be busy for a few months working closely with the departing labels and scaling our company to an appropriate smaller size after their departure. It is the end of a grand chapter in Touch and Go's history, but we also know that good things can come from new beginnings.

Morrissey, "Years of Refusal" (Lost Highway) [3.5 STARS]

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Though it's sad to think of the personal turmoil endured by his troubled soul, there's no denying that Manchester-to-Los Angeles transplant Steven Patrick Morrissey is at his best musically when he's at his most miserable personally. Happiness just doesn't suit the man, as evidenced by his last proper studio release, the uncharacteristically sunny "Ringleader of the Tormentors" (2006), a decidedly lackluster affair that found Moz boasting, "There are explosive kegs between my legs."

Well, the kegs are gone on his ninth solo album, but the fire certainly is back, with Morrissey striking out as only Morrissey can at anyone and everything that's annoying him: pigs in grey suit, uncivil servants, bailiffs with bad breath, etc., etc.

Demo2DeRo: JoyFocus

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When it comes to Christian rock, I generally prefer to root for the other side, favoring those who still think of rock 'n' roll as the Devil's music. But as Chicago pop-punk giants the Smoking Popes have proven, a great love song is a great love song, whether it's addressed to God or a significant other, and while the Wheaton-based duo JoyFocus proudly heralds their beliefs, they'd don't shove them down anyone's throat.

"Yes, we believe in God and salvation through and only through the blood shed on the cross at Calvary," they write on their Web site, www.joyfocus.com. "Yes, we ourselves are Christians. No, JoyFocus is not our 'ministry,' it's our band. It is our preferred vocation and selected career path--nothing more. We are musicians, just like some people are librarians or waitresses."

Fair enough, and a fine band multi-instrumentalist Rikk Currence and singer Holly Joy have got, as evidenced by the effervescent mix of modern synth-pop, vintage Queen orchestral bombast, the occasional Prince-like funk flourish and all-around melodic goodness on their third and latest indie album since 2001, "Cyber Suburban Electro Rock Circus." That may be a lengthy title, but it also is an accurate description of the gleeful sounds streaming on the group's Web site--and that's the honest to God truth.

More Live Nation Entertainment spin

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Todd Martens of the L.A. Times' Pop & Hiss music blog has done a wonderful translation from corporate-speak to English of the official press release on the merger.

Click here to be enlightened.

Live Nation/Ticketmaster: Let the spin begin

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By mid-afternoon Tuesday, Live Nation and Ticketmaster finally had confirmed their merger as Live Nation Entertainment -- and the process of trying to portray this as a good thing for consumers instead of a disaster was well underway.

In an interview with the Associated Press, current Ticketmaster Chairman Barry Diller, who will also be chairman of the new company, was quick to say it will not raise ticket prices.

"Ticketmaster does not set prices. Live Nation does not set ticket prices. Artists set the prices," he said.

Of course, Ticketmaster DOES set the service charges, which can increase the price of a ticket by as much as 50 percent. And if Live Nation owns the venue, it DOES set the costs for an artists playing there, which DOES affect the price the artist decides to charge. (In other words, if an artist wants to charge $1 a seat, but the venue puts the cost of opening its doors at $5 per seat, the artist can't quite charge what he or she would really like to--unless of course they're willing to end up paying Live Nation to play.)

Diller also took aim at a new Canadian lawsuit essentially charging Ticketmaster with acting as the biggest, baddest ticket scalper on the block.

"They are just chasing cars down the road," he said. (Take that, Canada: You're nothing but the mangy dogs of North America!)

And Diller offered a little history on the merger:

"I have been trying and mostly consistently failing to put these companies together for many years now. Now is the time to do this."

So far, Wall Street does not seem to agree: Live Nation shares fell 42 cents, or 7.9 percent, to $4.87 in afternoon trading Tuesday, while Ticketmaster shares dipped 39 cents, or 5.9 percent,
to $6.18.

The local office of giant concert promoters Live Nation held a press conference Tuesday morning at the same time the company's top executives were preparing a statement on the biggest news in the history of the concert industry--but the Chicago execs pretty much declined to discuss what the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger will mean for concertgoers here.

"We're here to talk about Billy and Elton," Live Nation's President of Midwest Music Mark Campana said during the press conference at the Stadium Club at Wrigley Field. Aging middle of the road piano men Billy Joel and Elton John will be coming to Wrigley on their joint Face 2 Face Tour on July 21, and tickets go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m.

"What we can talk about is the fact that the announcement [of the merger] was made today, but I think what it's important to talk about here today is Billy Joel and Elton John," Campana reiterated when cornered shortly after delivering his prepared remarks.

As to how the showdown between Live Nation and Ticketmaster somehow turned into a marriage, Campana added, "We [Live Nation] are coming in as concert people, music people, in a business that hasn't been run by music people until [new Ticketmaster chief] Irving [Azoff] got involved."

According to Campana, the New York Times was incorrect in reporting the exact roles for each of the top executives at the soon to be renamed mega-corporation, Live Nation Entertainment. Barry Diller, the executive who launched the Fox Broadcasting Company and a previous force behind Ticketmaster, will be the new non-executive chairman; Azoff will be Chairman of the Board and CEO of Frontline Management and current Live Nation boss Michael Rapino will be executive chairman and president.

"Rapino will still be running the company," Campana said, though Azoff clearly will play a major role. A long-time artist manager and former head of the MCA and Giant Records labels, Azoff is one of the most controversial and polarizing figures in the American music industry, with the nickname "the Poison Dwarf." Born in Illinois, he got his start managing local bands during his time at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

Live Nation has been bringing one major act to Wrigley Field every other year since 2005, when it promoted two shows by Jimmy Buffett. Two shows by the reunited Police followed in 2007, while this year's attraction will be the local stop of the Face 2 Face Tour, with ticket prices ranging from $55 to $175 plus service fees.

The company has so far declined to say how much those service fees will cost. But when tickets go on sale Saturday, neither Live Nation nor Ticketmaster will be handling them: They'll be available only through www.Tickets.com (1-800-THE-CUBS), the official ticket broker of the Chicago Cubs and Major League Baseball.

Ticketmaster + Live Nation: Meet the new boss

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Already reviled by many music fans, the two monolithic companies most responsible for skyrocketing ticket prices over the last two decades are expected to announce a merger today that will make them the dominant force on the concert scene.

The 50/50 union of controversial ticket brokers Ticketmaster and giant concert promoters Live Nation to form a new company called Live Nation Entertainment with nearly $6 billion in annual revenues will be subject to federal approval, and it's expected to be the first major test of the Obama administration's anti-trust policies.

"The merger would create the most powerful and influential entity the music business has ever known," according to the industry trade Billboard. "As manager, ticketer, venue operator, merchandiser and more, this giant would tap into revenues, if not outright control them, from virtually every source in the chain: live performance, merchandising, ticketing, content, sponsorships, licensing and digital."

And, most experts agree, consumers will likely lose, paying even steeper prices.

Based in West Hollywood, Ticketmaster was founded in 1978. It rose to prominence in the early '80s when it was purchased by Chicago investor Jay Pritzker, and it drew criticism a decade later when Pearl Jam and other artists attacked what they called its egregious service fees.

Industry studies reveal that Ticketmaster adds between 15 and 50 percent to the cost per ticket--raising the final price of a $120 seat to between $138 and $180--with a portion of that fee being kicked back to the promoter and the venue. Nevertheless, a year-long investigation by the Clinton administration's Justice Department in the mid-'90s found that the "exclusivity agreements" the company forges with venues to create a monopoly on ticketing was not a cause for anti-trust action. (The Justice Department sought Pearl Jam's backing during its investigation; Pearl Jam did not prompt the investigation, as is often misreported.)

Based in Beverly Hills, Live Nation spun off from the media giant Clear Channel Communications in 2005. Its rise began in the early '90s when it started buying out smaller regional promoters and venues across the U.S. In the Chicago area, it controls the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, the Alpine Valley Music Theatre, the House of Blues and--until the lease comes up for review at the end of this summer concert season--the Charter One Pavilion on Northerly Island. Prices for its shows have risen steadily, and it has championed "corporate synergy" via relentless advertising to the customers in its seats. (The company has said 20 percent of its revenues come from corporate sponsorships, but it has lost 4 percent on ticket sales.)

Live Nation is a ruthless competitor. In 2005, Chicago-based Jam Productions won a $90 million verdict against the firm in a highly publicized anti-trust suit after testimony that included executives at the larger company boasting that they'd love to "crush, kill and destroy" the regional promoter.

Earlier this year, Live Nation and Ticketmaster were moving toward an epic showdown as the promoter prepared to end its deal with Ticketmaster and sell tickets to its events through its own ticketing arm, vowing to lower service fees. It first major attempt to do this was proclaimed a failure, however, when ticket sales for a tour by the reunited Phish were plagued with snafus.

It remains unclear what led the two giants to abandon their animosity and combine forces. The companies have made no official statement on the merger as yet, though several news organizations are reporting that the deal was approved by Ticketmaster's board on Sunday and by Live Nation's on Monday.

The Chicago office of Live Nation is holding a press conference at 11 a.m. today at Wrigley Field to make a major summer concert announcement. Local executives are unlikely to address the merger, and are in fact almost always reluctant to speak on the record about their business.

The merger means that some of the most shrewd and calculating names in the industry will now be working together at the top of the new conglomerate. The New York Times has reported that Barry Diller, the executive who launched the Fox Broadcasting Company and a previous force behind Ticketmaster, will be the new chairman, while current Ticketmaster chief and former record company head Irving Azoff will be executive chairman and Live Nation boss Michael Rapino will be executive chairman and president.

In recent months, Live Nation has been making headlines for forging "360 deals" with superstar artists such as Madonna and Jay-Z, controlling every aspect of the stars' careers. Meanwhile, as manager of acts such as Guns N' Roses and the Eagles, Azoff has been alienating both the major labels and struggling mom-and-pop record stores by selling his groups' new music exclusively through a single big-box retailer such as Walmart or Best Buy.

Notoriously unresponsive to its customers--the company has no office phone or complaint line listed in the Chicago directory--Ticketmaster became the subject of renewed criticism last week after fans, government officials and Bruce Springsteen himself objected to the company's handling of sales for the E Street Band's upcoming tour. Instead of getting the face-price tickets they sought, many fans were redirected to Ticketmaster's subsidiary Tickets Now to bid much higher prices in an auction, with Ticketmaster essentially acting like a scalper before the face-price tickets had even sold out.

Ticketmaster also is the subject of a recently filed lawsuit in Canada that charges the company with acting as a scalper and violating that country's laws.

Although executives so far are tight-lipped about changes the new company will make, industry observers predict:

* "Dynamic pricing"--corporate-speak for milking fans for as much as they're willing to pay--could become the norm, with ticket prices escalating as fans bid for seats instead of buying them at a set cost. While some fans might get bargains, as with the Priceline model in travel, the best seats would almost certainly be locked out in perpetuity for the biggest spenders. (To quote John Lennon: "Would those of you in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewelry.")

* Having suffered fans' anger and bad publicity for years because of high service charges, the Ticketmaster name will be buried. The service fees at the heart of complaints about the company could now be buried, too, with one ticket price that makes it impossible for fans to discern what bands are charging them versus what Live Nation Entertainment is tacking on.

* Live Nation Entertainment may favor its own shows, and it could stop selling tickets to shows by competitors in an attempt to eliminate the few remaining challengers. In the local market, Jam sells all of its tickets through Ticketmaster, as does the second largest national promoter AEG Worldwide, which promotes numerous arena shows here. Both promoters have so far declined to comment on the merger.

* With the same huge company controlling live performance while simultaneously managing artists, musicians may find that they have few or no options for playing elsewhere or charging fans more modest or uniform ticket prices. The situation could well be "Play by Live Nation Entertainment's rules, or don't play at all"--as Pearl Jam discovered when it effectively was unable to tour for two years during its feud with Ticketmaster.

Check this space for developments as they unfold.

The 51st Annual Grammy Awards: Wake me when they're over

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"Music's biggest night," Grammy producers called the 51st annual awards show. That claim can be debated, but one thing was sure during the live telecast Sunday from the Staples Center in Los Angeles: It certainly felt like the longest.

In the key categories, it was a great night for British artists. Multiple winners included Led Zeppelin's golden god Robert Plant, who won album of the year, best country collaboration with vocals, best contemporary folk/Americana album and record of the year for his staid and sleepy pairing with bluegrass artist Alison Krauss, "Raising Sand."

U.K. mood rockers Coldplay claimed best rock album for "Viva La Vida" and song of the year and best pop performance by a group with vocals for the title track -- even though it's become the center of a controversy since virtuosic shredder Joe Satriani sued the group for allegedly ripping off his instrumental "If I Could Fly."

And in the best new artist category, young British soul singer Adele Adkins beat teen-pop heartthrobs the Jonas Brothers. In claiming the prize, she instantly made several million young female enemies on these shores.

This weekend:The Godfathers, F---ed Up

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What Material Issue was to the alternative-rock explosion in the U.S. in the early'90s, the Godfathers were to Brit Pop in the U.K.: The band arrived on the scene just a bit too early to benefit from all that would follow, though a strong argument can be made that its 1988 album "Birth, School, Work, Death" is at least as good as anything Oasis has ever given us. The group is now in the midst of an extremely finite reunion tour, and it performs its only U.S. gig Saturday night (Feb. 14) at Metro, 3730 N. Clark, after opening sets by Javelinas and the Norwood Park All-Stars starting at 9 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 the day of the show; call (773) 549-4140 or visit www.metrochicago.com.

Insanely prolific, wildly chaotic and captivating onstage and gleefully boasting a provocative name they know can't be published in the newspaper, the Toronto art-punk band F---ed Up perversely released what may be the most melodic and accessible record of its career with last year's "The Chemistry of Common Life" on the Matador Records label. The band performs at the AV-Aerie, 2000 W. Fulton, after an opening set by Chronic Seizure starting at 7 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 14). Tickets are $10 in advance; for more information, visit www.emptybottle.com.

The Chicago pop band Company of Thieves is living out the sort of clubland-to-national stardom dream that isn't supposed to come true in the music industry anymore.

"It's almost unheard of in our time," bandleader Genevieve Schatz says with a tone of giddy disbelief. "We just feel incredibly lucky!"

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Left to right: Marc Walloch, Genevieve Schatz and Mike Ortiz.

This weekend: John Glick Memorial Show, Lykke Li

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For the fourth year since the tragic car accident that claimed the life of local musician John Glick (the Returnables) and his friends Doug Meis (the Dials, EXO) and Michael Dahlquist (Silkworm), friends and family are gathering to celebrate his life with a show at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, starting at 10 tomorrow night. The performers include the Methadones, Nervous Fingers, the Negligents and the Coronados, tickets are $8 and proceeds benefit the John Richard Glick Memorial Fund, which helps musicians in need. For more info, call (773) 276-3600 or visit www.emptybottle.com.

Whether you consider her the next great Swedish pop act since Peter, Bjorn and John (whose Bjorn Yttling produced her acclaimed debut "Youth Novels") or that country's answer to Bjork, Lykke Li is well worth a listen, and you can catch her live now as the indie buzz builds when she performs at Metro, 3730 N. Clark, after openers Wildbirds & Peacedrums starting at 8 p.m. tomorrow. Tickets are $18; call (773) 549-4140 or visit www.metrochicago.com.

Titus Andronicus: The real boss from Jersey

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One of the best surprises at last summer's Pitchfork Music Festival, the New Jersey art-punk quintet Titus Andronicus delivered an energizing but entrancing mix of layered shoegazer guitars and synthesizer and raw punk-rock fury.

In between climbing the stage scaffolding, jumping into the audience and waving an American Revolutionary banner, singer and bandleader Patrick Stickles addressed the crowd. "This is a really nice thing, like, all these like-minded individuals coming together," he said. "Community spirit is a nice thing."

Here the hyperactive 23-year-old vocalist inserted a dramatic pause worthy of a group that takes its name from a Shakespearean play. "Just remember that Monday morning when you're back in the real world, all this will make absolutely no difference." Then he launched into the anthemic "Titus Andronicus Forever," which found him howling the band's motto, "The enemy is everywhere!"

Given the intensity of Stickles' performances, it's surprising to hear him confess that midway through recording the band's debut album, "The Airing of Grievances," he took time out to visit a vocal coach.

In 2006, the charmingly bratty English singer Lily Allen started the year as an unknown posting songs on her MySpace page and ended it as a bona fide pop star, eventually selling 2.5 million copies of her debut album, "Alright, Still." That disc boasted a unique and instantly appealing sound that merged the slick European café pop of the early '60s with a more modern dance sensibility, but its real strength was Allen's larger-than-life personality: Here was a distinctively funny, sassy and honest woman cheerfully one-upping the boy who'd done her wrong by brutally mocking his shortcomings.

The question hanging over the follow-up was whether the 23-year-old star could possibly do it again, now that she's gotten her own talk show in the U.K. and reached a level of gossip-column ubiquity there akin to Paris Hilton in the U.S. Working with producer Greg Kurstin, Allen has crafted a much less retro, much more electronic sound on "It's Not Me, It's You," though there are still unexpected detours around the globe, including hints of country in "Not Fair" and polka in "Never Gonna Happen." And that trademark sass is back in full force, whether the singer is leveling both barrels at George W. Bush (bluntly telling the former President "F--k You" while borrowing a hook from the Carpenters), the war on drugs ("Why can't we all just be honest/Admit to ourselves that everyone's on it,") and the Almighty ("I don't imagine he's ever been suicidal/His favorite band is Creedence Clearwater Revival").

The big surprise is that far from being tapped out of ideas or over-exposed, Allen has only begun to reveal her many sides, and one of the disc's strongest moments comes when she drops the sarcasm to deliver the surprisingly moving and simple love song "Who'd Have Known." She also proves that her spirited exuberance is so appealing, she's hard to resist even when she's singing about nothing more than walking the dog, watching TV and ordering takeout ("Chinese").

Demo2DeRo: 20 Mark Helga

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To hear bandleader Phineas Gage tell it, the Chicago quartet 20 Mark Helga takes its name from "the German prostitute my mom thought my father hired in Berlin back in the day" (the Deutsche Mark predating the Euro as German currency, of course). And this kind of historically minded, gently ribald barroom humor permeates the band's earthy/underground take on classic rock, bringing to mind what may be Chicago's version of Minneapolis-to-Brooklyn transplants the Hold Steady.

A veteran presence on the local scene, guitarist-vocalst Gage formed the band with bassist Evan Faassen and drummer Joe Versino, eventually completing the group with former Rule 42 member Steve Olson on acoustic guitar. The band has been gigging out since the spring of 2008, and it's gearing up to record its debut album. In the mean time, it's posted the live demos for several strong tunes, including "Eclipse" and "The Great Divide," on its MySpace page at www.myspace.com/20markhelga1.

Demo2DeRo: 20 Mark Helga

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To hear bandleader Phineas Gage tell it, the Chicago quartet 20 Mark Helga takes its name from "the German prostitute my mom thought my father hired in Berlin back in the day" (the Deutsche Mark predating the Euro as German currency, of course). And this kind of historically minded, gently ribald barroom humor permeates the band's earthy/underground take on classic rock, bringing to mind what may be Chicago's version of Minneapolis-to-Brooklyn transplants the Hold Steady.

A veteran presence on the local scene, guitarist-vocalst Gage formed the band with bassist Evan Faassen and drummer Joe Versino, eventually completing the group with former Rule 42 member Steve Olson on acoustic guitar. The band has been gigging out since the spring of 2008, and it's gearing up to record its debut album. In the mean time, it's posted the live demos for several strong tunes, including "Eclipse" and "The Great Divide," on its MySpace page at www.myspace.com/20markhelga1.

The vocals were live in Tampa, but the music for the Super Bowl halftime set was all in the can -- just like Jennifer Hudson's national anthem, though at least she wasn't hoking it up screaming about guacamole dip and Disneyland, and sliding across the stage on her knees.

From a story in the Chicago Tribune, via the music news portal The Daily Swarm.

So in the end, the Walmart-sponsored Saint of Southern Jersey is every bit as glitzy, glossy and superficial a performer as, say, Janet Jackson or Madonna. He just pretends to be something different on TV.

Don't bash the Boss

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That's the message I hear from fans again and again, whenever I dare to criticize their man. As if Saint Springsteen is somehow above criticism.

No, he didn't lip sync during his performance, like Jennifer Hudson did. (Yo-Yo Ma and his cohorts faked it at the inauguration, too -- though all of them DID perform their respective pieces once.) But, hey, Bruce DID sell out to Walmart -- and then quickly admit it was a mistake, so as to cut off the bad publicity -- so doesn't that even the score?

In any event, here is some more feedback on the man, the myth, the legend and his Super Bowl performance.

Super Bowl Sounds: Springsteen and Jennifer Hudson

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"Tomorrow is Super Bowl XLIII, in which the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals will open for [Bruce] Springsteen," Seth Meyers said during "Weekend Update" on "Saturday Night Live."

And that's pretty much the way it played out Sunday evening--though not even the Boss' time-honored and well-rehearsed feel-good bombast could match the drama of James Harrison's interception and historic 100-yard touchdown return, which immediately preceded it.

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Thomas Conner

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

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