Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

February 2010 Archives

Billy Joel: "There was never a tour booked this summer!"

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Contradicting two earlier rounds of stories in Chicago newspapers and the concert industry trade press, piano man Billy Joel told Rolling Stone.com that he never canceled a concert this summer at Wrigley Field with tour partner Elton John because there never was a tour planned this summer to stop at Wrigley Field or anywhere else.

"Obviously, this has the smell of a really juicy story: 'Why did they cancel? Did Billy and Elton have a fight? What's going on?'" Joel told the online arm of Rolling Stone magazine. "The truth is, there's nothing going on. I had made up my mind a long time ago that I wasn't going to work this year."

Based on comments by Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and the fact that the Chicago City Council approved an ordinance setting aside July 7 and Sept. 17 and 18 for concerts at Wrigley this summer, the Sun Times reported in early February that Elton and Billy and the Dave Matthews Band were expected to fill those dates.

Last week, John told Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones that Joel "has decided to take a year off. It doesn't gel with my plans but he's a friend. And as an artist you have to respect his decision."

Joel added during his chat with Rolling Stone that he has had a tough year so far.

"There was an incident with my daughter that was very shocking. [Daughter Alexea attempted suicide. I got divorced. I worked a lot. I promised myself more personal time this year. I'm going to Italy, and I'll probably go to Paris. I'll probably take my boat to New England and hang out on the coast. I'll ride my motorcycle. I'll just be a bum."

Other acts rumored to be playing Wrigley in place of Billy and Elton include Phish and Paul McCartney, but no performers have been confirmed.

Thom Yorke at the Aragon, April 10 and 11

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Radiohead bandleader Thom Yorke will bring his other band, Atoms for Peace (formerly ????) to the Aragon Ballroom for two shows on April 10 and 11, according to promoters Jam Productions.

The group finds Yorke fronting the unlikely combo of Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco, session drummer and former Beck sideman Joey Waronker and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich

Flying Lotus will be opening both shows, and tickets go on sale Saturday, March 6, at 10:00 a.m. through ticketmaster.com (no phone, box office or outlet sales). Two-ticket limit per person; face price $50 (plus egregious Ticketmaster service fees, and no word on those as yet).

Alicia Keys: "I want to continue growing"

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As a virtuoso piano player and a sultry singer whose voice can embrace old-school soul and modern R&B as easily as streetwise hip-hop and dance-pop, there is no denying the talents of Alicia Keys.

Yet throughout a nearly decade-long career that has made the 29-year-old New Yorker and 12-time Grammy winner one of the bestselling artists of the new millennium, it also has been just as difficult to dismiss the facts that her music is often manipulated by the most crass machinations of the hit-making machinery--or that she has yet to produce music as deep and rich as her talents warrant.

Club-Hopping: The Frantic, Alkaline Trio

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Suburban Lemont may not have earned a reputation as a rock 'n' roll hotspot just yet, but the newish venue This Must Be The Place at 206 Main St. is trying to change that, and owner Dan Farnesi already has some bragging rights as the father of two of the members of stellar pop-punks the Frantic. The group will top the bill on Saturday [Feb. 27] at a benefit for the always-worthy Rock for Kids charity starting at 9 p.m. and also featuring Late Night Hooligan Riff Raff and the Nik Galik Band. The suggested donation is $10; for more information, visit www.BeThePlace.com or call (630) 243-1500.

If the demise of Fall Out Boy turns out to be true, that leaves Alkaline Trio as the best-selling mainstream punk band hailing from Chicago at the moment (though that may not really be worth bragging about). The group celebrates the release of its seventh studio album, "This Addiction," with two sold-out shows this weekend [Feb. 27-28] at Metro, 3730 N. Clark. Saturday's starts at 9 p.m., Sunday's at 6:30 p.m. and both feature openers Cursive and the Dear & Departed.

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The unlikely collaboration between legendary singer-songwriter Johnny Cash and producer Rick Rubin of Beastie Boys, Run-DMC and Slayer fame was an inspired final act for the career of an American treasure. Rubin's simple recordings highlighted the timeless nature of Cash's inimitable voice and a vision that consistently found God in surprising places, from Folsom Prison to the pit of despair in Trent Reznor's "Hurt." For the most part, the partnership deserves to be remembered as one of the most extraordinary in the history of popular music.

That's for the most part. Sadly, the 2006 collection "American V: A Hundred Highways," released nearly three years after Cash's death in September 2003, was a weak and disappointing coda recorded in the midst of his failing health, while he was grieving the death of his wife and with mortality hanging over every note. Rubin said at the time that it was the last installment of the series. Yet now comes another set of material from those same maudlin sessions, timed to what would have been Cash's 78th birthday.

The man in black started singing about death as a teenager, of course, and he never stopped--though he was most often railing against it, instead of rushing toward it. "There ain't no grave can hold my body down," he sings in this disc's opening line. But it feels less like a boast than a warning about grave robbers.

That once indomitable voice is often reduced to a sad and fragile croak, though as with its predecessor, the weakest part of "American VI: Ain't No Grave" is the song selection. Only three these tunes approach the strength of the best moments on the first four American Recordings albums: Tom Paxton's reflective "Wonder Where I'm Bound," Kris Kristofferson's "For the Good Times" and Ed McCurdy's enduring anti-war anthem, "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream."

Most of the other tracks should have remained as outtakes. Then there are two downright disasters that should have just been erased: a version of "Cool Water," written by Bob Nolan but popularized by Frankie Laine, and a closing cover of the traditional Hawaiian ballad "Aloha Oe," both of which play as pure schmaltz. Yes, Cash liked to play the former in concert, and the latter also was recorded by his former label mate, Elvis Presley. But that doesn't redeem them.

After the first four volumes of American Recordings plus the five-disc "Unearthed" box set, the final chapter of Cash's story already had been thoroughly documented. One epilogue combining the best tracks from volumes V and VI could have been forgiven, if only for archival value. As it is, Rubin seems to be shifting from paying tribute to exploiting, and we can only hope that trend ends here.

Gil Scott-Heron, "I'm New Here" (XL Recordings) 1 and a halfstars

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Born in Chicago but raised in Tennessee, Gil Scott-Heron is rightly hailed as one of the architects of hip-hop: His mergers of smart, political, streetwise poetry with jazz and R&B through the '70s predicted the sound that would explode in the '80s and become one of the dominant forces in popular culture to this day. "The revolution will not be televised," he famously warned. He turned out to be wrong about that, though it's certainly true that neither he nor the exact uprising he envisaged ever got the time they deserved on MTV.

Jailed several times over the last decade for drug possession and parole violations, Scott-Heron hadn't released a new recording in 16 years. Harboring dreams of what some have described as a Rick Rubin/Johnny Cash-like partnership and late-career revival, XL label head Richard Russell approached Heron while the artist was serving a three-year sentence on Rikers Island. Now we have the result of their collaboration, which was further enhanced by the star power and instrumental contributions of Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz).

Unfortunately, rather than the sympathetic ear for Cash's strengths that Rubin brought to that pairing, Russell fumbles with musical backings that are alien and unsuccessful, from the awkward mixture of Massive Attack and Robert Johnson on "Me and the Devil" to the misguided cover of the title track by indie rockers Smog. But rest of the blame belongs solely to the 60-year-old vocalist and lyricist.

The clarion call of that once potent voice is now a lazy slur, and rather than turning his formerly piercing gaze on recent events that seem like new chapters in his life-long novel--from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina to the election of President Obama-- Scott-Heron turns inward for bland philosophizing and surprisingly hollow personal reflections, as exemplified by the two-part opening and closing track "On Coming from a Broken Home," a tribute to his grandmother powered by a sample from Kanye West, who has previously sampled him.

Is Scott-Heron capable of better at this stage in his life and career? What could this album have sounded like if Kanye had been his partner instead of Russell? It's impossible to say based on the unfulfilling sounds of these 15 tracks, which clock in at less than 30 minutes. But it's only fair to compare them to the best this artist has given us in the past, and they fall far short of that storied mark.

Demo2DeRo: Urbanites

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Stream the band's music here.

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Photo by Jeff Kalch.

While NBC 5 weather princess Ginger Zee is unlikely to be eclipsed any time soon as the hottest Valparaiso-to-Chicago export, her Indiana neighbors in the art-rock quartet Urbanites are on their way to generating nearly as much excitement, at least in the indie-rock world.

Songwriters, multi-instrumentalists and long-time buddies Bradley Briggs, Steven Burkholder, DJ Field and Jeremy Schering started making music together in 2007 by swapping computer files of bits and pieces of songs in progress. Eventually, a debut EP, "A Ghost in the Electric City," took shape, and the four began rehearsing in the real (as opposed to digital) world.

Since then, the buzz has built thanks to shows at Metro, Double Door and Schubas. Now comes a second, much more focused and impressive EP, "The Years," which the group proudly notes was recorded live to analog tape at Chicago's Electrical Audio Studios, and which splits the difference between the glossy, arena-rattling grandeur of mainstream modern rockers such as MGMT or the Killers and much more methodical, introspective local post-rockers and indie-pop mavens like the Sea and Cake.

The group doesn't have any Chicago gigs listed on its Web site at the moment, but it is streaming six songs from "The Years," as well as providing a link to a free download.

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Peter Gabriel's impressive career neatly divides into three distinct eras: the progressive-rock years with Genesis (1969 to 1974); the first stretch of his solo incarnation (1977 to 1992), which saw him morph from a wildly inventive art-rocker into an unlikely pop star with "So" and "Us," and what will inevitably be the final act. And if the 60-year-old singer's output has slowed to a trickle during this last phase--with only two proper studio albums in the last 18 years--well, no one can accuse him of churning out recycled product like so many of his peers.

Yes, the covers album can be a sure sign of artistic bankruptcy, or at least a songwriting well run dry. But Gabriel's effort is distinguished by several twists, starting with his as-yet unfulfilled challenge to fellow musicians to return the favor by covering songs from his catalog. Next, the finest moments come not from fellow Baby Boom heroes such as David Bowie ("Heroes"), Neil Young ("Philadelphia") or Paul Simon ("The Boy in the Bubble"), but courtesy of much more current indie/underground acts including Bon Iver ("Flume"), Regina Spektor ("Après moi"), the Arcade Fire ("My Body is a Cage"), the Magnetic Fields ("The Book of Love") and Radiohead ("Street Spirit (Fade Out)").

On most of these songs, Gabriel bravely (and sometimes unsuccessfully) recasts the original upbeat readings into renditions that are much darker, more brooding and more introspective. But most daringly of all, given that his solo career has largely been defined by his innovative use of world rhythms, he relies solely on spare orchestral instrumentation and his voice, eschewing drums and percussion.

That voice has of course aged, but the growing scratchiness only enhances the fragile emotions and intimate vibe of the best of these readings. In the end, "Scratch My Back" doesn't break new ground, and it is unlikely to win new fans--unless we count some of the folks Gabriel has covered. But it ultimately is a much richer and more satisfying effort than his last studio disc, "Up" (2002), and it shows that he is still willing to stretch, take chances and challenge our vision of the singer we think we've known for more than four decades.

Demo2DeRo: Anxiety High

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Though bands such as Big Black, Naked Raygun, Pegboy and the Effigies all pursued radically distinctive paths during the indie heyday of the mid-'80s, to the extent that there ever was a "Chicago punk sound," its common denominators were relentless rhythms, churning, in-your-face guitars and a ferocity that always was leavened by a hefty heap of sing-along melodies. This formula never grows old or seems derivative in the right hands, and after likeminded locals Shot Baker, Anxiety High is its most promising purveyor on the current scene.

Though the quintet only came together in 2008, its members bear the pedigrees of several familiar groups: Guitarists Knife Jones and "Fish" Vogel were members of White City Black, and drummer Ken Wallin and bassist Aaron Cleall were the rhythm section of Land of the El Caminos (recently reactivated after a long hiatus). Looming largest of all, however, is Jim Nagrant, abandoning the drums he hammered with Phistine Verona to distinguish himself as the burliest, most unlikely but ultimately most endearing front man this side of Pegboy's Larry Damore.

The group's buzz has been building since a head-turning appearance at last year's Riot Fest, and songs such as "Sober," "The Mechanic" and "Fight" illustrate why as they roar via streaming audio from the band's Web site (http://www.myspace.com/anxietyhigh). But Anxiety High is best appreciated live, and after a bout of touring in the South (smart move, leaving winter behind), it next takes the stage at home on March 4 at the Rockbox, 2624 N. Lincoln.

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The generally reliable if increasingly snarky music news site the Daily Swarm is citing "multiple industry sources" in reporting that avant-pop dance diva Lady Gaga, punk-pop band turned bombastic stadium rockers Green Day and reunited alternative rockers Soundgarden will be three of the six main-stage headliners when Lollapalooza 2010 rolls into Grant Park on Aug. 6 to 8.

The story doesn't really have any more details than that, though it does note that this will not be Lady G's first Lolla appearance -- "A much less famous Gaga appeared as a brunette in 2007 with a side-stage, daylight time slot, dressed in knee-high fishnets and a disco ball bikini" -- and the site has the pictures to prove it.

Update: Lollapalooza spokeswoman Shelby Meade had no comment.

And another update: My competitor at the Chicago Tribune, Greg Kot, has added two more headliners to the list of acts likely to play Lollapalooza 2010 -- Arcade Fire and the Strokes -- as well as several other up-and-coming names that may take the smaller stages: Yeasayer, the xx, Dirty Projectors, Cut Copy and Hot Chip. He also cites industry sources.

The Sun-Times has been unable to confirm that Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, Jay Reatard and Jeff Buckley also will appear on the bill.

The Love Hangover: Tonight

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Dedicated to "the world weary and the true believers [in love] alike," the Love Hangover is a series of concerts that take place simultaneously at clubs in sceveral cities across the U.S. every year on the day after Valentine's Day, pairing up fine male and female duets.

This year's edition in Chicago takes place tonight starting at 8 at Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, and features Zebulun Barnow, Erin McGrane, Barclay Martin, Ingrid Graudins, Marshall Hanbury, Starina, Janet Beveridge Bean, Jim Elkington, Susan Voelz, Liam Davis, Matt Spiegel and Naomi Ashley. Tickets are $8; more info here and on the Double Door Web site.

Some thoughts on the worst rock movies ever

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To preview my appearance with "Sound Opinions" co-host Greg Kot at the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee on Friday, where we'll talk about and show segments of our choices for the best rock movies ever, the ever-snarky and controversy-courting Onion asked me to talk about the worst rock movies ever, and I was happy to oblige. (The article is online here.)

It's a big week for "Sound Opinions" movie events -- Greg and I also are hosting a showing of "Saturday Night Fever" at the Music Box Theatre Tuesday night. Details here, along with more info on the Milwaukee event.

Club-Hopping: Scott Lucas, Dame-Nation

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One week during a year-long separation from his girlfriend, Local H front man Scott Lucas wrote a set of songs and emailed her one a night with the hope of winning her back. Though he has long been one of the most underrated songwriters in Chicago, these songs reveal a more intimate side than Lucas has shown before, and he decided to record them with a more rootsy combo, a side project he's dubbed the Married Men. The band celebrates the release of "George Lassos the Moon" on Saturday, Feb. 20, at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, in between an opening set by Apteka at 10 p.m. and headliners Sybris. Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door; call (773) 525-2508 or visit www.schubas.com.

Hard rock and heavy metal aren't known as the most female-friendly genres, but Chicago Girls Rock is a group devoted to changing that perception, in part with events such as "Dame-Nation," a lineup of seven female-fronted bands storming the Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee, starting at 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, and scheduled to last eight hours. The performers include Whiskey Blonde, High Gloss Black, Sage4, F.H.O.D., Deadmanswake, Losing Scarlett and the Hannah Ford Band, and tickets are $15; for more information, visit www.myspace.com/chicagogirlsrock or www.chicagogirlsrock.com.

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Though he was a native of the U.K., Iain Burgess' name was ubiquitous on some of the most influential recordings from the Midwestern post-punk scene of the '80s, and he could boast of engineering credits on some of the best records Chicago ever produced, among them "Atomizer," "Bulldozer" and "Racer X" by Big Black, "Fly on a Wire" by the Effigies, "Throb Throb," "All Rise" and "Jettison" by Naked Raygun and "Three Chord Monte" and "Earwig" by Pegboy.

According to reports on numerous punk Web sites, Burgess died on Thursday of a pulmonary embolism, a complication of pancreatic and liver cancer.

Though Burgess moved to France in the early '90s. where he was a operating a studio in the countryside called Black Box, the massive, crunching, live-and-in-your-face sound that he captured on those Midwestern punk recordings of the '80s continues to be emulated by countless other producers and artists, and chief among his many acolytes was his friend and student, Chicagoan Steve Albini.

"Iain was a dear friend and mentor, and I consider him responsible for a good many of the best things that have ever happened to me," Albini wrote in a post on his own studio's Web site. "As is the case when someone important dies, I find it hard to imagine the world without him. Black Box survives as a testament and monument to Iain's imagination and perseverance. It's in the running for the best place on earth to make a record."

Burgess' discography also included work with the Bhopal Stiffs, Bloodsport, Ministry, the Defoliants, Heavy Manners, the Cows, the Poster Children, the Didjits, Breaking Circus and Jawbox, among many, many others.

A funeral service reportedly is planned for Feb. 19.

Puerto Muerto: Going down in a ball of flames

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Though they've always been wildly ambitious and impressively prolific in the studio, the moody musical duo Puerto Muerto holds a much lower profile on the local music scene than their sophisticated and entrancing sounds deserve.

"Thanks, and I think that's true," vocalist and percussionist Christa Meyer says with a self-conscious chuckle. "We don't party enough, and we don't play out enough. But we have a good time recording, and that's where it counts."

Indeed, since the chance meeting that led Meyer and guitarist-vocalist Tim Kelley to begin collaborating early in the new millennium, the couple, who soon married, have produced a dozen strong releases for the British indie Fire Records, starting with their acclaimed 2001 debut, "Your Bloated Corpse Has Washed Ashore."

As that title might indicate, Puerto Muerto has never made easy-listening music: From its debut through its stunningly powerful new album "Drumming for Pistols," the group's best songs evoke the raw emotions of Nina Simone, Tom Waits and Nick Cave at their most tortured, jamming just before dawn at the end of an all-night bender.

Think haunting but gorgeous torch songs for dark nights of the soul--and the new album may be even darker than that, for a number of reasons.

"When we were writing the record, the banks were collapsing, Bernie Madoff was getting in trouble and things were kind of imploding. I think it definitely captures that sense of doom," Meyer says. Of course, doom is not for everyone.

"We always toured overseas a lot, and since our label is based in the U.K., I guess somehow we concentrated more on the U.K. than here. We kind of felt disconnected from the Chicago scene because of that, and because of our aesthetic. I think people now like it more than they did maybe five years ago. Five years ago, people were like, 'What the hell?' Now, I think people are more open to it."

Sadly, this hometown embrace may be coming a little too late.

"This is probably going to be our last record, because I think I'm going to set out on my own musically and personally," Meyer says. "We haven't really let anyone know [before now], but we are getting a divorce. The promotion schedule is going to be interesting: In the past, it has always been O.K., and we have had a great time traveling and performing together. That's partially because the writing process was kind of seamless: It came from a natural place, and we didn't have to set up a time to hang out and write together. There was a definite intimate feeling to the process, and I don't think that would be coming from the same place if we weren't living together.

"But I think I'm ready [to move on]. When you start a band, you kind of see the whole world as this vast universe of musical ideas that you can pick from. The longer you're in a band and the more you put yourself in a box, the smaller your universe becomes. I'm ready to step out to another universe musically and kind of explore a little more."

Nevertheless, the new album may be the duo's finest moment, despite the behind-the-scenes drama--or maybe, in the mold of a classic "divorce album" such as Richard and Linda Thompson's "Shoot Out the Lights," because of it.

"The nature of marriage and intimacy are always shifting, even when things are going great," Meyer says. "Definitely when there is an imminent kind of break-up feeling to things, especially when you're recording together, it's very strange, yet it's also an artistically vibrant place to be. You always hear about people writing records when they are going through hell, and it's usually their best work.

"There is always a silver lining to personal pain, I guess. What I love about being a musician and a songwriter is that you can really put it out there, and hopefully someone will be able to relate to it and be touched by your pain. Hopefully they can come away with something really great from something in your life that was really negative. In that way, you're able to turn something sad into something really beautiful."

Whatever the future holds for Meyer musically, she remains proud of the band's recorded legacy. "I'm going to keep performing, and I would hope that people would get turned on to Puerto Muerto's music through whatever I do and whatever Tim does next," she says. "We have done too much work for too long to let it die, and we'll definitely try to nurture that little cult following."

But first, the pair will both celebrate the new disc and bid farewell with what promises to be an explosive free show on Monday at the Empty Bottle.

"We want to get some of the instrumentalists that played on the record to come out," Meyer says, referring to contributors such as tuba player Gary Schepers of Devil in a Woodpile and violinist Tiffany Kowalski of Bright Eyes and Head of Femur. "We want it to be a fun, crazy night--a big blowout. Go down in a fiery ball of flames! You only have so many chances in life to go down in a fiery ball of flame, and if you're going to bow out, you might as well do it dramatically."

FACTS

Puerto Muerto, Glorious Vapors, Daniel Knox

9:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22

The Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western

Free

(773) 276-3600, www.emptybottle.com

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One of the slipperiest things about great psychedelic rock bands is that they're working in a genre that rejects being pigeonholed by any label. "'Psychedelia' is such a broad term," Yeasayer keyboardist and vocalist Chris Keating told me when I profiled the band in the wake of its much-buzzed debut "All Hour Cymbals" (2007). "I hate the notion that the music gets labeled and then all of the sudden it's 1967 and Haight-Ashbury, headbands and tie-dye. I look at Public Enemy as a pretty psychedelic band--just the ideas behind where they're coming from, and sonically, the way they were mixing their records and piecing things together."

This is to say that the only thing fans who really understood the expansive sounds of these Baltimore-to-Brooklyn transplants could reasonably expect from their eagerly anticipated second album was the unexpected, and the quartet has delivered with considerable success.

Where the mixture of rock, electronic and worldbeat rhythms was the most obvious sonic signature on the band's debut, and those percolating undercurrents still power much of "Odd Blood," the vocals and a new focus on pop songcraft are what distinguish this disc, from the rousing sing-along hook of "Madder Red" (a standout in concert when the band played last year's Pitchfork Music Festival) to the intimate vocal delivery of the'80s-falvored electronic ballad "I Remember."

Like many psychedelic rockers, the members of Yeasayer are optimistics, if not utopians. "The world can be an unfair place at times/But your lows will have their compliment of highs," they sing on "Ambling Alp." The 10 tracks on "Odd Blood" pack enough sugary hooks to keep you high for a month, while the sophisticated arrangements and more mind-boggling than ever polyrhythms firmly mark the band as an equal to its neighbors and fellow travelers TV on the Radio and Animal Collective.

Demo2DeRo: The Stretch

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Though this reviewer will always be dubious of any group embracing the "jam band" label and citing Phish first and foremost among its influences, he's just as quick to hail a band that can master the serpentine but nonetheless propulsive grooves of the best progressive rock or the otherworldly vibes of psychedelic greats, and there is as much Yes and Pink Floyd in the mix for the Stretch as there was in the earliest days of Trey Anastasio & Co., circa, say, "Lawn Boy" (1990).

Chicagoans Mike Rizman (guitar and vocals), Kevin Greene (keyboards and vocals), Dugan O'Keene (bass and vocals) and Brett Baxter (drums) have been making music together--and threatening to make the leap from the legions of bubbling-under jamsters to the national notoriety of an Umphrey's McGee--for several years now. They first surfaced and made their recorded debut under the god-awful name of Uncle Boogie Pants, but wisely changed it to their current moniker for recent gigs and copies of their strong D.I.Y. album, "Volume & Verse."

Rizman's interstellar-overdrive guitar and Greene's washes of ambient keyboards are the most interesting sonic hallmarks of the band on album, and if the rhythm section doesn't lose the plot or the pulse, the band could be spectacular onstage. It doesn't have any gigs listed at the moment on its Web site (http://thestretchmusic.com) or MySpace page (www.myspace.com/thestretchmusic) at the moment, but check back, and be sure to stream the tracks "Frequent Naps" and "Head the Space" when you do.

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Legendary guitarist recently turned mobile phone salesman Eric Clapton will bring his day-long Crossroads Guitar Festival back to Toyota Park in Bridgeview on June 26 with performances by the Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, Steve Winwood, B.B. King, Jeff Beck, Vince Gill, Sheryl Crow, Buddy Guy and John Mayer, among others.

The event, which previously took place in Dallas in 2004 and at Toyota Park in 2007, will benefit Clapton's Crossroads Centre rehab facility in Antigua,and it will be presented by T-Mobile myTouch, the cellular company for whom Clapton has been hawking a special Fender guitar model cell phone.

Tickets are priced at $100 plus service fees, and they go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday [Feb. 20] via www.ticketmaster.com, 800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster outlets and the venue's box office.

"The Crossroads Festival is the realization of a dream for me, to gather a group of amazingly talented musicians to perform on one stage," Clapton said in a press release announcing the event. "The Crossroads performers are all musicians I admire and respect."

The full roster of performers is:

Albert Lee

Allman Brothers Band

BB King

Bert Jansch

Buddy Guy

David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos

Doyle Bramhall II

Earl Klugh

Eric Clapton

Gary Clark Jr.

Hubert Sumlin

James Burton

Jeff Beck

Jimmie Vaughan

Joao Gilberto

Joe Bonamassa

John Mayer

Keb Mo

Pino Daniele

Robert Cray

Robert Randolph

Sheryl Crow

Sonny Landreth

Steve Winwood

Vince Gill

ZZ Top

For more information visit www.crossroadsguitarfestival.com.

Jim, I couldn't have said it any better regarding The Who performing at the Super Bowl. WHO PICKS THE PERFORMERS FOR HALF TIME ANYWAY??? Maybe that could be a topic for a future column.

They might as well have Milli Vanilli perform! I mean, they don't really exist, just the like The Who no longer does. I couldn't wait to change the channel when they started their halftime show. Exasperating! I know that no matter who performs it won't please everyone, but some of these old time rockers are just way beyond relevant!

Just my opinion!

Gary

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I think Townshend, Daltrey, McCartney & Ringo should form a band (guitar, vocals, bass, drums, respectively) and call it WHO ARE THE BEATLES?

John

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My first chuckle of the day yesterday was the irony in the origin of your surname. 1495-1505; LL dērogātōrius cursing, equiv. Used as an adjective it is perfect.

Daltry and Townshend will always be "The Who" and will continue to be icons long after some of the other bands you have awarded stellar reviews. They have spawned a generation that yours, will never match in musical creativity.

They were grizzled old pros and my guess is, there wasn't a Who fan in the crowd that didn't want to jump up and fan the strings of their air guitar with Townshend....if only we had help getting out of our wheelchairs!

Townshend's glasses were totally acceptable to a generation that has abused their eyesight from watching laser shows for a lifetime. I'm surprised you didn't mis-identify the earplugs for hearing aids. I'll bet the hat helped reduce the camera flashes from the non fans taking photographs.

I wish I was around to read your reaction to the half time show from Super Bowl LXXIV. Unfortunately I doubt the "Sun-quirer" will be around then.

Until then....."Long live rock, be it dead or alive."

Ed Iphish, Chicago

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YOU REALLY HAVE A LOT OF NERVE INSULTING THE WHO!! YOU HAVE TICKED-OFF A LOT OF WHO FANS, FROM FRIENDS OF MINE WHO ARE IN THEIR 20's TO LONG- TIME FANS WHO ARE IN THEIR 60's!!! THAT 12 MINUTES OF THE WHO WAS REALLY A SHOT IN THE ARM TO US WHO FANS THAT LIKE THEM NO MATTER WHAT SOME TUBBY 4-EYED MUSIC CRITIC HAS TO SAY ABOUT THEM. YEAH, I INSULTED YOU , CAUSE YOU HAVE INSULTED 1 OF THE BEST BANDS OF ALL TIME. I WOULD REALLY LIKE TO SEE YOU SAY WHAT YOU WROTE RIGHT TO PETES FACE!! AS OLD AS HE IS , HE WOULD PROBLABLY HIT YOU SO HARD, HE'D KNOCK YOU BACK TO DIAPERS. BY THE WAY, HOW OLD IS YOUR FAT-ARSE??? I AM 50 & I STARTED LISTENING TO THE WHO AT 9 YEARS OLD , WHEN MOST OF THE KIDS IN MY 4th GRADE CLASS WERE LISTENING TO THE " ARCHIES "!! AS THE SONG GOES " WHO ARE YOU?" , YOU ARE CRAP. FOR 1 THING ,I DARE YOU TO PRINT THIS LETTER TO, 2, WRITE AN ARTICLE SAYING YOU ARE SORRY FOR WHAT YOU WROTE, 3 , E-MAIL ME BACK SAYING YOU ARE SORRY TO ME, 4, I HOPE FOR YOUR SAKE, YOU DON'T RUN INTO ANY WHO FANS THAT HAVE READ THIS ARTICLE, CAUSE THEY WILL PROBLABLY KNOCK YOU IN THE HEAD, & 5 IF YOU DON'T DO 1,2,& 3 , I HAVE ATTACHED A PICTURE OF ME, CAUSE I WILL WANT TO HAVE A WORD WITH YOU FACE TO FACE. HEY, I KNOW WHERE YOU WORK, & IF YOU DON'T WORK DIRECTLY FOR THE SUN-TIMES, WELL, I AM 1 OF THE MILLIONS WHO ARE UNEMPLOYED,SO WHEN I'M NOT LOOKING FOR A JOB, I'LL BE LOOKING FOR YOU. OH, I'M NOT STUPID ENOUGH TO HIT YOU & THEN GET SUED, BUT I WILL DEFINITELY GIVE YOU AN EAR FULL!!

YOURS TRULY ( A WHO FAN),
CHUCK

**********

F---ed Up: Larger Than Life

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After the ferocious explosion of the Jesus Lizard on opening night, the bands on the middle day of last summer's Pitchfork Music Festival had a tough act to follow. But Toronto's art-punk provocateurs F---ed Up were up to the task.

As the group tore through a riveting set of unrelenting yet ultra-melodic hardcore punk, including tunes from its stellar 2008 album "The Chemistry of Common Life," bald, bearded and beer-bellied singer Pink Eyes, a.k.a. Damian Abraham, spent most of the set in the field with the fans, standing atop the crowd barrier or using his teeth to tear apart any stray beach ball tossed his way in an ecstatic explosion of unbridled energy.

I spoke with this unique rock front man as he and the band prepared for three events in Chicago next Saturday, Feb. 13: two shows and an exhibition of his drawings at the Concertina Gallery, 2351 N. Milwaukee, from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

Celebrating its storied 50th anniversary, the annual University of Chicago Folk Festival moves into Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th, for three nights of concerts plus daytime workshops, dances and jam sessions tonight through Sunday, Feb. 12 to 14. Among this year's performers: Kim Wilson, Kurt Bjorling and Jim Stoynoff, the New Mules, Liz Carroll and friends, Aaron Moore and the James King Band. For a schedule of performances and other events, visit www.uofcfolk.org; to purchase tickets, visit the Mandel Hall box office or call (773) 702-7300.

Otherworldly music isn't just for Halloween, and Chicago's reigning Goth DJ Scary Lady Sarah will preside over two holiday events this weekend. Nocturna's "New Loves & Broken Hearts Valentine's Ball" takes place at Metro, 3730 N. Clark, starting at 11 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13 ($10 cover), and "Shimmer: A Shoegaze/Dreampop Valentine's Dance" starts at 10 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14, at Darkroom, 2210 W. Chicago (admission is free). For more information, visit www.americangothicprod.com.

Super Bowl halftime with the (sort of) Who

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Notoriously tough on body and soul, football is a young man's sport.

Though fans who know their history honor the accomplishments of the stars of the past, they wouldn't want the New Orleans Saints to bring quarterback Archie Manning out of retirement for the Super Bowl, any more than they'd expect the Indianapolis Colts to despair because Johnny Unitas died in 2002.

Yet since the infamous "nipplegate" incident of 2004, the NFL has turned to an increasingly hoary roster of classic rockers well past their prime to crank out their dustiest hits during halftime--nostalgic blasts from the past in the middle of the game of the moment.

On Sunday, in the wake of Paul McCartney (2005), the Rolling Stones ('06), Prince ('07), Tom Petty ('08) and Bruce Springsteen ('09), Super Bowl XLIV gave us the saddest, most tired musical spectacle yet: the band that pretends to be the Who.

The Who hasn't really been the Who for 20 years now: Drummer Keith Moon died in 1978, and bassist John Entwistle passed away the same year as Unitas. Yet Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey endure under the corporate moniker with a group of ringers that includes Pete's brother Simon on second guitar, Welsh session veteran Pino Palladino on bass, Ringo's son Zak Starkey on drums and longtime sideman John "Rabbit" Bundrick" on keyboards.

Wearing a goofy hat and shades (at night), Townshend got things rolling with the ringing acoustic guitar chords that signal the start of "Pinball Wizard," though the band only gave the crowd in a Miami a taste of that anthem before shifting into "Baba O'Riley" ("teenage wasteland"--ha!). From there it was part of "Who Are You," an equally brief snippet of "We're Not Gonna Take It!" (the "See Me, Feel Me" section from "Tommy") and a big finale of "Won't Get Fooled Again."

The newest song on that set list was 32 years old; the oldest was 41. But it wasn't even the tunes' over-familiarity that was the biggest problem.

Townshend (64) and Daltrey (65) were woefully flat and way out of sync during the unison vocal parts, and they relied on empty theatrics to convey the musical energy of the Who when the Who really were the Who. But the lasers, fireworks, geysers of flame and an elaborate illuminated stage that put U2's current tour setup to shame couldn't disguise the fact that these were two grizzled old pros going through the motions for a high-profile payday, with barely a hint of the powers they possessed at their peak.

Somewhere between the pointless button-pushing and pop pandering of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake and the recent procession of sad old Hall of Famers phoning it in, there has to be a happy medium for Super Bowl music.

Heck, shortly before halftime, the NFL ran a self-promotional ad that tapped the Arcade Fire for its soundtrack--proving once again that the big game's commercials are often a lot more entertaining than what happens on the field.

First batch of Pitchfork acts announced

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Reunited alternative-era heroes Pavement, modern rockers Modest Mouse, dance-rock wizards LCD Soundsystem, indie-pop diva St. Vincent, rapper Raekown and singer-songwriter Cass McCombs will be among the headlining acts when the fifth annual Pitchfork Music Festival takes place in Union Park on July 16 to 18, the promoters announced today.

Tickets for the festival go on sale at noon via www.pitchforkmusicfestival.com. Single-day tickets are $40, three-day passes are $90, and this year for the first time day one will feature a full roster of bands instead of the music starting on Friday night.

Promoters announced only about a quarter of the acts, with more names to be added to the list in coming weeks. Modest Mouse will perform on Friday; LCD Soundsystem and Raekwon will take the stage on Saturday, and Pavement, St. Vincent, Lightning Bolt, Cass McCombs, Here We Go Magic and Sleigh Bells will close things out on Sunday.

Pitchfork Music Festival goes on sale Friday

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Slated to take place July 16 to 18 in Union Park on the city's west side, the Pitchfork Music Festival will begin selling tickets on Friday, February 5th, via www.pitchforkmusicfestival.com.

Single-day tickets are priced at $40, three-day passes at $90, and promoters say that this year, opening day will start earlier with a more complete roster of bands. (At the last few festivals, Friday started in the early evening and featured only a few acts each year.)

No word yet on this year's performers, but promoters say "the first round of bands will be announced on Friday," with the rest of the lineup, as in years past, no doubt doled out a few at a time once a week or so, just to keep things interesting.

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The local office of the now-monolithic concert promoters Live Nation, soon to be merged with monopolistic ticket brokers Ticketmaster thanks to last week's ruling by the Justice Department, announced on-sale information today for the first concert of its summer season: the local stop by the Bamboozle 2010 Tour featuring Cobra Starship, 3OH!3, Travis McCoy, I Fight Dragons, Jump Smokers and more at Charter One Pavilion on Northerly Island on Saturday, May 15.

The most curious thing about the announcement -- besides who would want to see this particular grouping of mediocre pop-punk bands -- is that Live Nation's contract to book shows on Northerly Island, the site of Meigs Field until Mayor Daley's bulldozers demolished it in the middle of the night a few years back, expired at the end of last summer's concert season.

Live Nation's competitors in the local concert scene, including Austin, TX-based C3 Presents, promoters of Lollapalooza in Grant Park, had expected the Chicago Park District to issue a request for proposals for the concert venue before the start of the 2010 season. Instead, the Park District is letting Live Nation stay on, seemingly without consideration of other options for this summer.

"The Live Nation contract was extended for this season only while we spend the next several months putting together a scope for management of the Pavilion for future years," Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner wrote in an email. "It will go to the February board for information to the Commissioners."

The Park District's Board of Commissioners next meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 10, at Taylor-Lauridsen Playground Park, 704 W. 42nd St.

In a later phone interview, Maxey-Faulkner explained that the authorization to grant Live Nation another year on Northerly Island was made via a letter from Chicago Park District Superintendent Tim Mitchell because of 'special circumstances"--to wit, the city was planning to use the site for a venue for the 2016 Olympics, which, of course, is now moot.

The city is just now beginning to reconsider long-term plans for Northerly Island's development, and those may or may not include a permanent concert venue.

"Since we don't know what the future holds for Northerly Island, it didn't make sense to [put the concert venue out to bid for Live Nation to compete with other promoters] since it's only for one year," Maxey-Faulkner said.

Fall Out Boy, R.I.P.?

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Suburban-bred pop-punk heroes and guyliner champions Fall Out Boy, the most successful band to spring from the Chicago rock scene into the national pop spotlight since the Smashing Pumpkins during the alternative heyday of the early '90s, may be extending the hiatus they announced last summer into a permanent break.

Fittingly for the generation for whom they spoke, news of the split originated with bassist and lyricist Pete Wentz's semi-coherent posts on Twitter:

man. dont you get it? a hiatus is forever until you get lonely or old. i dont plan on either.

cant imagine playing in fob again. something would have to change in my head or my heart- not my wallet. itd have to be real

didnt want you to hang on a string, same time if it happens dont want to feel like a liar. it might happen w/ out me. oh well.

would you rather me lie to you through a publicist?

i want today to be over right now. theres nothing like applying 14 yr old emotions to 30 year old logic. its a tragically angst-y ending.

Meanwhile, in a more comprehensible statement to Spin.com, singer Patrick Stump said, "I'm not in Fall Out Boy right now. Whether we play again or not, I don't know. If we do, it will be for the right reasons. If we don't, it will also be for the right reasons."

That prompted drummer Andy Hurley to weigh in on this message board, where he is a frequent poster:

i really wish i could tell everyone if we were done or not. but i just dont know. its not looking great right now, but when we went into the break it was for sure that we'd come back in 2 or 3 years. i still think we will come back, but i just dont know. theres no official decision one way or another. pete loves fob. i love fob. patrick loves fob. and [guitarist] joe [Trohman] loves fob. its just that we're in different places right this very instant. which is why we took the break. i honestly think all the pressure of people asking stuff like they are on twitter every five seconds is more damning to the band than anything. the whole point of the break was to just get away, and not think about it, and in 2 years or so, come back and decide where to go from there. i believe in us, and i believe we will get in a room, hash out the bullshit like in some kind of monster (haha) and we will be super stoked to do another record. i know all of us are already, but just not at this exact moment.

the reason ive given of touring and recording straight for 7-8 years is absolutely true as well. it was just burning us all out. and everyone else. we did too much so fast. going away and coming back fresh could only be a good thing.

but i just dont know right now. i think we will be ok in time. maybe not. like i said though, i cant tell the future. because heres the thing, i want a definitive answer as bad as everyone else. i think thats whats causing all of this in the first place

Hey, boys: One of you call in that therapist who helped Metallica before it's too late!

Sade, "Soldier of Love" (Epic) [3 STARS out of 4]

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The queen of "quiet storm" R&B from the mid-'80s through the early '90s, Nigerian-born, British-raised Helen Folasade Adu has been missing from the pop world for nearly a decade, since the release of her fifth album "Lovers Rock" in late 2000. Sade--which, like PJ Harvey, has always been the name of the singer as well as her band--seemed to have said everything she wanted to say, varying the formula of intimate, sultry vocals and exquisitely recorded but minimally arranged instrumentation very little on signature hits such as "Smooth Operator," "Hang on to Your Love" and "The Sweetest Taboo," but nonetheless selling 17 million albums in the U.S. alone.

A staple in the then-new CD players of Reagan-era yuppies, some detractors branded the former fashion designer with epitomizing that era's sleek, superficial and materialist values. But there always were many facets to the diamond life Sade sang about, with a bottomless reservoir of soul obvious to anyone who really listened to her work instead of treating it as mere background music. So it will come as no surprise to those fans that Sade is exploring a much darker vibe on her long-awaited new disc.

As the title might indicate, the theme of love as a battlefield dominates these 10 tracks, and Sade certainly has earned her stripes: During her Greta Garbo-like exile, she endured the dissolution of a marriage in Spain and another relationship in Jamaica that produced a daughter before finding true love with a former Royal Marine in the English countryside. But like Mary J. Blige, she has emerged as an optimist, though one whose eyes are wide open. "There's no way I can find peace and the silence won't cease," she coos in the lovely "Morning Bird," though over a martial beat in the title track, she adds, "I've lost the use of my heart, but I'm still alive."

While the song "Soldier of Love" has a harder, angrier edge than anything Sade has recorded in the past, and her voice has become a little deeper and huskier at age 51, most of the other tracks settle into that familiar late-night groove as the singer reunites with her longtime band mates, including key player Stuart "Cottonbelly" Matthewman, who spent some of his long vacation working with another neo-soul great, Maxwell. Sony is banking on this album to duplicate the sales success of Susan Boyle, believing it's tapped a new market for "adult" (some would say "senior citizen") sounds. But don't let that stop you from enjoying these sophisticated and soulful grooves: Sade may not be giving us anything radically new, but it's a pleasure just to have her back doing what she's always done so well.

Magnetic Fields, "Realism" (Nonesuch) [1.5 STARS out of 4]

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Conceived as a contrasting bookend to the aptly titled "Distortion" (2008), the ninth album from absurdly prolific singer, songwriter and stylistic chameleon Stephin Merritt trades its predecessor's walls of guitar noise for tinkling bells, plucked banjo, wheezing accordion and bleating tuba for its auteur's version of '60s folk-rock. The New York artist has said he was aiming for Judy Collins, but with his baritone voice and fondness for baroque filigree, he actually comes closer to mellow Jethro Tull.

This isn't a new trend on the current indie-rock scene--witness the Decemberists--and though his barbed lyrical wit produces more than a few gems ("I no longer drink enough to think you're witty," he sings in the opening track, "You think you can simply press rewind, you must be out of your mind"), it's not a sound that really suits him. Several tracks miss the homey, rootsy vibe or stripped-down intimacy that seems to have been the goal, instead achieving a prissy, fussy tweeness--as the titles might indicate, "The Doll's Tea Party," "We Are Having A Hootenanny" and "The Dada Polka" are especially annoying.

Though plenty of critics continue to hail the Magnetic Fields' "69 Love Songs" (1999) as a masterpiece, that epic triple album easily could have been cut in half, and Merritt always has shared similar problems with fellow home recording maven Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices: a chronic inability to edit himself, and a reluctance or unwillingness to focus on his strengths at the expense of genre experiments that just fall flat. Excepting a few tunes spotlighting the gorgeous vocals of Claudia Gonson, "Realism" is one of those failures.

Demo2DeRo: Osvaldo Paese

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A prolific home-studio musician in the tradition of the Magnetic Fields--he claims to have written and recorded 300 songs to date--Osvaldo Paese is an earnest young singer and songwriter with seemingly boundless ambition and a wildly diverse set of influences. Though he's clearly enamored of the Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young schools, he describes his musical goal as evoking "Leonardo the Ninja Turtle singing the songs Britney Spears will be writing in the year 2169."

Nothing I've heard on his new seven-song demo, D.I.Y. album "Definitions" or the online jukebox on his MySpace page (http://www.myspace.com/osvaldopaese) is quite that far out. But my favorites in his catalog--"We Dot Com," "Whatever You Want Done" or "If You Had Nothing"--do sport a fascinating Beck-like love of psychedelic surrealism colliding with sudden clear-eyed social observations. "If you had nothing would you start living instead?" he asks amid the otherwise cheeky wordplay in the latter tune.

A versatile multi-instrumentalist particularly adept at Jimi Hendrix-meets-Syd Barrett electric guitar freak-outs, Paese performs solo acoustic at open-mike nights around town. Though he doesn't have any dates listed at the moment, he does offer a bounty of homemade videos on his YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/osvaldopaese), which means you can see him perform without even leaving the couch.

Club-Hopping: Zombiepalooza, Zach Deputy

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The tweens may all be gaga for vampires these days, but those with slightly more mature and refined tastes know that zombies are much cooler, and toppermost of the poppermost among the reanimated are the Zombeatles, a.k.a. the garage-rockin' "Fab Gore." They will provide the merciless beats as the Dolls of Doom unveil their burlesque wonders during Zombiepalooza at the Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, starting at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door; call (773) 478-4408 or visit www.abbeypub.com for more information.

Genre-blurring roots-rocker Zach Deputy is a larger-than-life presence--more than a one-man band, he's a veritable one-man orchestra and choir. Accompanying himself with electronic loops as he hammers away on guitar, Deputy wraps his nimble voice around startling heartfelt songs, which are really what it's all about at the end of the day. He performs at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, at 8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7, and tickets are $10. Call (773) 525-2508 or visit www.schubas.com.

Thomas Conner

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

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