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Tuning in with Thomas Conner

May 2010 Archives

New Kanye West song: 'Power'

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052810kanye.jpgKanye West wisely dropped out of sight after (again) embarrassing himself -- and Taylor Swift -- at MTV's Video Music Awards last year. Has enough time passed to (again) forget about his immature shenanigans? Because today he dropped a new single, "Power."

Listen to "Power" here!

He's definitely not slinking sheepishly back into the limelight. "Power" (whether this is a finished version or not) is indeed powerful -- a muscled rhythm, a curious sample and some choice words. He's been working on new tracks in Hawaii for an album tentatively titled "Good Ass Job." He even showed up in New York this week to preview some of them. It sounds as if 'Ye is at least glancing back to his rap roots. (Translation: No Auto-Tune!)

Diana Ross ageless in concert at 66

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At least three times before Thursday night's Diana Ross concert at the Chicago Theatre, I overheard people in the crowd explaining why they were there. Each statement went something like this: "I'm just glad to have the chance to see her. You never know how many more tours she's got in her."

Ghoulish? A little. Ageist? Probably. But it's a fair question: Why pay to see a senior citizen sing?

50 Cent keeps tinkering, but to what end?

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50 Cent released his fourth studio album, "Before I Self Destruct," just last fall, and he claims his fifth is almost finished. You might just get to hear it, maybe as early as this summer -- if he's in the mood to let you.

"I don't know. It might not come out," says Fiddy, a k a Curtis Jackson III.

He's debating with himself.

He's still toying with ideas.

He's also recording a completely different album, simultaneously.

(He's also losing a freakish amount of weight, apparently.)

Saw the "Glee' concert Tuesday night, then last night we caught up with Tuesday night's TV episode. The episode, titled "Theatricality," really brought home a lot of what the show's about -- and what it means for the pop music experience it exploits so shamelessly and occasionally artfully. It pulled me back into the Gleek fold.

So, here are three extra post-concert thoughts ...

Chrissie Hynde runs with the Fairground Boys

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Chrissie Hynde (left) rocks out with her new partner JP Jones at a JBTV taping in Chicago. (Tom Cruze/Sun-Times)


Chrissie Hynde is back in the states, shopping around a new album -- her first without the Pretenders. But it's not a solo album. Hynde (how's this for rock 'n' roll at age 58?) met a guy in a bar a while back, they flew to Havana and wrote an album together. The guy is J.P. Jones, a feline Welsh guy who had a band overseas called Grace. Some of his mates are playing behind him and Ms. Hynde, and the new collective is called JP, Chrissie and the Fairground Boys.

The record will be out in August, but Hynde, Jones and guitarist Patrick Murdoch have been drumming up some attention for the new tunes by playing acoustic gigs at radio and TV across the country. They taped a segment here for Chicago's JBTV on May 13; that episode airs at 11 tonight on WJYS-Channel 62 and will be available online Thursday a.m.

They played eight songs -- including "If You Let Me" (that'll be the first single), "Fairground Luck," "Australia," "Perfect Lover," even Bon Iver's "Skinny Love" -- fairly gritty stuff but with a pretty fine grain. Jones may be from Wales (and proudly so), but he's very Americana. Which, they both say, is why they're here instead of Jones' native and Hynde's adopted homeland of the UK.

"There's nothing happening in music over there right now," Hynde told me after the taping. "It's all pop crap. ... We came over here five weeks ago looking for interest. People don't do it like this anymore. There's still all this waiting and planning a strategy. I just wanna get on with it. Why not? I mean, we met in a bar."

You can just meet Chrissie Hynde in a bar?! I need to drink more.

Catch the JBTV clips, and stay tuned. I'll write more about the music and our interview later, when there's a record you can hear. In the meantime, check out a sampler here.

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The cast of "Glee" in concert Tuesday night in Rosemont. (Scott Stewart/Sun-Times)


Working on "Glee," the hit Fox TV show about unnaturally talented show choir teens, must be absolutely exhausting. The show airs weekly, and each one is packed with not only the usual rigors of a TV production but sometimes up to half a dozen full-strength, choreographed music numbers.

It's like making an entire album every couple of weeks -- the show has already produced three soundtrack CDs, with a fourth on deck -- and staging the concert to go with it.

And now they've staged a concert to go with it.

U2 postpones Soldier Field, 15 other dates

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Is he singing or crying out in pain?


As feared when Bono's emergency back surgery last week forced U2 to postpone its June 3 Salt Lake City show -- the first date of this leg of the band's U2 360 world tour -- now the rest of the tour is coming down, allowing Bono to recuperate.

That includes nixing the July 6 concert at Soldier Field.

Stay tuned for details here about what to do with that ticket you're holding. Just hold onto it for now.

What we know now is that all the North American dates being canceled -- 16 shows from Salt Lake City through to New Jersey's Meadowlands Stadium on July 19 -- will be rescheduled in 2011.

Bono underwent emergency surgery Friday in a hospital in Munich, Germany, and had to recover there for a few days. He was injured during a rehearsal.

He was released today with doctors' orders "to start a rehabilitation program and to recuperate for at least eight weeks," according to a statement from the concert promoter, Live Nation.

The diagnosis from Dr. Muller Wohlfahrt: "Bono suffered severe compression of the sciatic nerve. On review of his MRI scan, I realized there was a serious tear in the ligament and a herniated disc, and that conservative treatment would not suffice. I recommended Bono have emergency spine surgery with Professor Tonn at Munich's LMU University Hospital on Friday."

The doctor who operated on Bono, Professor Tonn, said the singer was partially paralyzed in one leg when he arrived on his operating table. He adds: "The prognosis is excellent, but to obtain a sustainable result, he must now enter a period of rehabilitation."

To quote another stadium-sized rock band: What a drag it is getting old.

U2 brought the tour to Soldier Field last September in its first go-round. Here's DeRogatis' review of the experience.


Soul man Maxwell mines indie-rock for inspiration

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Maxwell's about to polish off his next record -- a "sequel" to last year's "BLACKsummers'night," more on that in a moment -- and you might be surprised to know from what other bands and musicians the neosoul R&B pioneer has been drawing his inspiration.

"These days I'm all about the xx, the Temper Trap, Fleet Foxes," he says, rattling off some of indie-rock's hottest bands. "I mean, I love Al Green, of course, but this is how the world is. There's more soul out there than what we call soul music."

Driveshaft could have covered it

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A great missed opportunity in TV-local music history: They shoulda played the Smoking Popes' "Follow the Sound" over the closing credits of the "Lost" series finale ...


R. Kelly still believes he can fly

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(Sun-Times file photo)

Prepare ye for the triumphant return of acquitted lover man R. Kelly.

Even during the R&B champ's Chicago trial for 14 counts of child porn, he continued churning out what he churns out best: bawdy songs bragging of truly bent sexual encounters. But after the trial, Robert spent some time in 2008 traveling and performing in Africa, in an attempt to "really get into things, some humanity stuff."

While the title of the new R. Kelly song, "Sign of a Victory," is fodder for more jokes about the trial, its breathly, vaguely African sound returns us to the Other R. Kelly -- the one who, perhaps in the glow of the morning after one of his sexcapades, sings vaguely inspirational anthems that don't say much but make us feel oh-so good. The new song is simply "I Believe I Can Fly" retooled belatedly for the soundtrack of "The Lion King."


Over a breathy choir and, somewhere underneath there, some tribal percussion, Kelly strings together several cliches ("I can feel the spirit of the nations / I can feel my wings ridin' the wind") before, kinda hilariously, inserting a topical line out of nowhere ("You open your eyes to global warming") that has no apparent relevance to anything else in the song. But it makes you feel oh-so good.

No doubt it will work that same magic on the crowds at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where on June 11 Kelly will perform the song with the Soweto Spiritual Singers during the event's opening ceremony at the Johannesburg Soccer City Stadium.

When the single is available, proceeds will benefit African charities, including the official World Cup campaign "20 Centers for 2010."

Kelly said last week in a statement: "I feel blessed that 'Sign of a Victory' was selected to be part of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The FIFA World Cup is an event that brings the world together and inspires us to be and do the best we can. It's this uplifting feeling that I tried to capture in the song.

0 to 60 in about one month

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And one last me thing: I'll be phasing into this music gig slowly over the next few weeks, also phasing out of my previous online-only duties at le Sun-Times. The blog should be pretty active, revving up to full speed by the end of June.

Follow me if you like what you see

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Social media-wise, I'll operate this way:

My Twitter feed, @chicagosmusic, is my public space. I'll tweet links to some of my stuff (not all of it, promise), music links I think are relevant to y'all, limited observations. Follow me, I'll follow you. Bring it.

We're talking about music, after all, so when there's something to hear as well as kvetch about, I'll tweet the song link (if available) through Blip.fm. My feed there is also chicagosmusic, and it's connected to Twitter. (For instance, the title of this blog post is a Jason Falkner allusion.)

But I don't want to be your Facebook friend. No offense. I'll keep that space for my actual friends, people I know, etc. Given that site's recent privacy jacking, I might not even stay there much longer.

So ... who's the new guy?

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5-20-10 Hein Conner-crop.jpgI'm told I'm supposed to let you, dear readers, know something about myself -- where I'm rooted musically, what critics inspired me to be one, where I stand on Lady Gaga, whatever. I trust if you've dialed up this particular blog at this particular moment, you might be interested in a little exposition about the new guy -- but that, like me or loathe me, you'll be back and that this is a relationship we can develop over some time. Eventually, I'll go on about one of the Wainwright family for the umpthousandth time or you'll realize I reference '80s college rock a little too much (and that I still hearken to it by the term "college rock") or you'll discover that, hey, I like Vampire Weekend, and you'll have a pretty good idea about my where I'm coming from.

But, to get started, here are a few things, on the off chance you care ...

A moment of silence, please

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DeRo has left the Sun-Times. Long live DeRo.

But reports of the death of music coverage and criticism at the Sun-Times have been greatly exaggerated.

Please stay tuned ...

Those who persist in denigrating rock 'n' roll as "mere entertainment" scoff at the very notion, but my driving force as a critic always has been the conviction that the next show I see will be the one that will change my life.

I've had the privilege of enjoying countless nights like that during 15 years as pop music critic for the Sun-Times. Now that has come to an end: I am moving on to become a full-time faculty member in the English Department at Columbia College, though I will continue co-hosting "Sound Opinions" for Chicago Public Radio, as well as writing about music in the new venue of blogs.Vocalo.org starting June 1.

The purpose of my Friday column is right there in the name--"Live," a celebration of great live music via previews and profiles of noteworthy artists hailing from or coming to Chicago. By my calculations, I've written more than 700 entries through the years (in addition to album and concert reviews and news stories). To say farewell, I thought it fitting to choose the 15 best concerts I've covered for the paper. Listed chronologically, I chose them without consulting my notes or archives until after the fact: These are the shows that instantly spring to mind whenever I'm asked, "What are the best concerts you've ever seen?"

I hope you were there to experience some of this music with me. I thank you for reading me, and I hope to see you at the next concert that will blow our minds.

1. Nirvana at the Aragon Ballroom, 10/23/93

At the first of what turned out to be Kurt Cobain's last shows in Chicago, a night that included transcendent versions of "Jesus Don't Want Me for a Sunbeam," the song we'd come to know a decade later as "You Know You're Right" and pretty much every other tune you'd want to hear the most important band of its generation perform ended with him climbing to the top of a towering prop tree, teetering 15 feet above the stage, then diving to the floor. It was electrifying and unforgettable.

2. The Jesus Lizard at the Vic Theatre, 11/13/93

One of the best live bands this city ever has produced, this was the night Jesus Lizard fans remember best. Singer David Yow spent half the set throwing himself at the crowd and riding atop their up-stretched arms, and the music never hit harder.

3. The Flaming Lips at Metro, 2/18/94

In the months after the release of "Transmissions from the Satellite Heart" in June 1993, one of the best albums in the Flaming Lips' career was withering and dying on the vine--until Chicago took it to heart, spiking sales, turning "She Don't Use Jelly" into a major hit and saving the band's career. Oklahoma's psychedelic-pop madmen performed this free show to say thank you. The old two-guitar, bass and drums lineup never sounded better--and it still puts the balloons- and plushies-adorned spectacles of recent years to shame.

4. Hole at the U.I.C. Pavilion, 9/3/94

Still mourning the death of her husband Cobain several months earlier, Courtney Love returned to the stage with a vengeance, opening for Nine Inch Nails and coming on like a flamethrower in a tissue factory. Yes, kids: She really was justifiably famous once as something more than a celebrity train wreck.

5. Barry White at the Chicago Theatre, 7/22/95

The idea of a guilty pleasure is a Catholic concept I left behind with my altar boy's frock. I will not apologize for loving R&B's immortal Round Mound of Sound, who not only played all of his enduring make-out hits with his 30-piece Love Unlimited Orchestra on this memorable night, but did it while flanked by two lingerie-clad dancers gyrating in massive champagne glasses.

6. Bob Dylan at Metro, 12/13/97

At the height of his powers during what may prove to have been his last career resurgence, tearing through his set with a ferocious guitar-driven band, Robert Zimmerman scoffed at the notion of nostalgia and played this sublimely intimate venue with an intensity seldom heard in artists one-fourth his age.

7. PJ Harvey at the Vic Theatre, 10/28/98

"Simply put, if there is a more intense female performer in rock today, I have yet to encounter her," I wrote in my review. And I'm still hard pressed to name anyone better.

8. Kraftwerk at the Riviera Theatre, 6/10/98

The legendary "Beach Boys of Dusseldorf" and progenitors of modern electronic dance music hadn't performed in the U.S. for decades when they made this rare appearance outside the walls of Kling Klang Studio, which they actually packed up, brought with them and reconstructed onstage for a crowd so thrilled that it didn't even care that it was missing one of the Bulls' key championship games.

9. D'Angelo at the Arie Crown Theatre, 3/31/00

Virginia-born Michael D'Angelo Archer remains the most inventive, original and moving voice in R&B since the great Marvin Gaye. When he toured in support of his masterful "Voodoo," he started out by merging Gaye, James Brown and Iggy Pop--and then he kicked things up a notch.

10. Screeching Weasel at the House of Blues, 10/28/00

A contender for the most irresistible pop-punk band after the Ramones, I never saw Screeching Weasel during its early heyday in the Chicago suburbs. But I still smile like an idiot recalling the electric thrill of this reunion show, one of the last featuring the original tag team of Ben "Weasel" Foster and John "Jughead" Pierson.

11. Wilco at the Petrillo Bandshell, 7/4/01

I've seen a lot of great Wilco shows--and some mediocre ones, too--but this one stands as a triumphant celebration during the tense days when the band was uncertain whether the best album of its career, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," ever would see the light of day, thanks to the idiocy of the major-label system. Then, too, there was the fact that after Sept. 11, these songs would forever sound entirely different.

12. The Rolling Stones at the Aragon Ballroom, 9/16/02

Better even than the more intimate small-club show at Double Door, this was the night the world's greatest rock 'n' roll band proved it could still deliver when it cares to, digging deep into its legendary canon to unearth R&B, reggae, disco and country-blues rarities it had hardly ever played live, all on top of a hefty sampling of "Exile on Main St."

13. Kanye West at the House of Blues, 2/11/04

A day after the release of his debut album, the soon-to-be-superstar proved to be as exciting onstage as he was in the studio, rolling through all of "The College Dropout" with backing from a then up-and-coming keyboardist named John Legend, hip-hop violinist Miri Ben Ari and his mentor and fellow South Sider, Common.

14. Neil Young at the Chicago Theatre, 11/12/07

Young has given me so many incredible nights, it's hard to choose just one. But on the evening of his 62nd birthday, he followed the model of his classic 1979 concert film "Rust Never Sleeps" by performing one set in solo acoustic mode and another with the full-on electric fury of a great band featuring some of his best-ever sidemen. There was something for everyone, and all of it was great.

15. Ida Maria at Lollapalooza, 8/8/09

The best live music experiences rarely happen in venues much larger than the Aragon or the Chicago Theatre; at the festival I've called "Walmart on the Lake," the sound and sight lines always are compromised, and the vibe is more akin to the beer-soaked bleachers at Wrigley. But there can be exceptions, and the most memorable I've had at Lolla Mach II came from this Norwegian powerhouse, who braved the midday sun and threw herself into indelible anthems such as "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked" while out-Iggy-ing the great Iggy Pop himself.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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