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November 2010 Archives

Einstürzende Neubauten anniversary shows canceled

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What does the sad trombone sound like from a German industrial band?

The highly anticipated stateside return of Einstürzende Neubauten, scheduled for two different shows Dec. 8 and 9 in Chicago, will not happen. The band's U.S. tour, celebrating the pioneering noise outfit's 30th anniversary, has been canceled due to scheduling complications in our country's now notoriously rigorous visa process.

The shows will not be rescheduled. Get your refunds at the Vic Theatre or Metro box offices.

How would you get yourself into the Christmas spirit in, say, July? The annual crop of holiday albums -- most of them are recorded early in the year. The Indigo Girls, from Atlanta, laid down their tracks in May. Imagine them stumbling into the studio in tank tops and flip-flops, stringing up some twinkling lights, cranking up the A/C, mixing up an eggnog smoothie and trying to harmonize on "O Holy Night" like they really mean it.

This year's crop of Christmas albums features some that really capture the warmth, though some are hotter than others. We previously reviewed the season's two Xmas biggies: Susan Boyle's "The Gift" (which sold 330,000 copies its first week) and Mariah Carey's "Merry Christmas II You" (55,000 copies). Here are the best of the rest ...

CD review: Justin Bieber, 'My Worlds Acoustic'

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(Island) 2<br />

bieberacoustic.jpgAnother unofficial Justin Bieber Week in America began with his sweep of Sunday night's American Music Awards, beating out Lady Gaga, Eminem and Katy Perry for best artist. The next day, another trailer for his upcoming movie, "Never Say Never," showed up online with more concert clips, footage from an alarmingly well-documented childhood and some shots of him (the girls squeal!) shirtless. It wraps on Black Friday with the shopping-spree release of his latest CD, an acoustic retread of his hits.

John Mellencamp tries to exorcise his demons, and his past

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mellencamp112210.jpgJohn Mellencamp wants to go back and start again. He doesn't want to become Johnny Cougar again -- God, no. He has nothing but contempt for his own early work as a late-'70s/early-'80s, floppy-haired heartland poster boy. When he speaks of his first eight albums of pandering pop-rock -- full of Top 40 hits, mind you, like "I Need a Lover," "Hurts So Good," and signature songs like "Jack & Diane" and "Pink Houses" -- it's with a scoff and a sneer.

He's tried to reboot several times. The name change, for one -- Johnny Cougar, then John Cougar Mellencamp, cat-free since '91. The turning point came when Mellencamp, a native of Seymour, Ind., released 1985's "Scarecrow," a transitional album that gave us "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." but also rootsy, populist tracks like "Small Town," "The Face of the Nation," "Justice and Independence" and "You've Gotta Stand for Somethin'." It was a bid for critical respect, and it worked. (That same year, he helped found Farm Aid with Neil Young and Willie Nelson.) Each album since -- an admirable catalog of a dozen more records with a thoroughly Midwestern blend of Friday-night fun and corner-diner speeches -- has received various and consistent acclaim.

But people at the shows still expect him to do the splits.

"I talked to my next-door neighbor this morning," Mellencamp, 59, said during our recent interview from his Indiana home. "She was at the show in Bloomington [Ind.]. She said, 'Really, I like the old John better.' And I said, 'Well, Cathy, that guy doesn't exist anymore.' It'd be foolish of me to try and do at my age now what I was doing at 32. It's not dignified. Jumping off an amp at my age would be stupid. Singing 'Hurts So Good'? Please. If people are coming to see 'The Coug,' they should stay home."

CD review: Kanye West, 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy'

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(Roc-A-Fella) 4<br />

kanyefantasy.jpgAfter Kanye West dropped out of Chicago State University to focus on his music career, he didn't immediately become a rapper. His first notices and raves came for his production work. He caught a break crafting tracks for Jay-Z, then for Mos Def, Ludacris, Nas and others. He added a crackling urgency to their music -- new sounds, new styles, cleverly manipulated samples -- that grabbed ears and turned heads. Then and only then did Jay-Z let him do his own thing, signing him as an artist to Roc-A-Fella Records.

Those true talents -- seeing the big (usually huge) picture, hearing where all the pieces could go, honing and shaping each individual one, fitting it all together -- may have never been realized with such sync and success as they are on West's triumphant fifth album, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," out Nov. 22.

Lollapalooza sets up April fest in Santiago, Chile

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C3 Presents, the promoters behind Lollapalooza, have tried before to create and expand an empire of seasonal concert festivals -- successfully in the company's hometown with the Austin City Limits Festival, unsuccessfully with an event that was derailed in New Jersey. Now they've announced that they're taking the Lolla formula global: Lollapalooza Chile will premiere April 2 and 3 in O'Higgins Park in Santiago, Chile.

ohigginspark.jpgToday's announcement fawns about the park site -- "a gorgeous scenic locale in the middle of a bustling urban hub," with Lolla founder Perry Farrell adding, "O' Higgins Park has a gentle sloping grass viewing area with the Andes Mountains in the distance. There are many trees for shade. One of my favorite aspects to the park is a large round discotheque that houses up to 10,000 people. It is attached to an amusement park with a roller coaster and people scream on it all day. Right now you'll see families spending time in the park. Little kids roaming all over."

Farrell also says: "Local talent is essential to rounding out the experience of a Lollapalooza. ... We are also looking to bring some of those artists out to Chicago for a musical foreign exchange."

Is it just a one-way exchange? Plenty of great Chicago bands would go down well in South America. Come to think of it, they'd go down well at the Lolla in Chicago, too. Here's to more local talent at BOTH fests.

No acts have been announced yet for the new festival. Lollapalooza returns to Chicago's Grant Park on Aug.5-7, 2011.

3 more shows: Mike Reed, Nitzer Ebb, No Age

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One of the reasons the acts at Chicago's annual Pitchfork Music Festival are often strangely varied but neatly harmonious is that they're selected by a jazz man. German-born Mike Reed sometimes spends so much time working on that, though, that he neglects his own inventive music. This weekend, his band Loose Assembly reconvenes for its first performance in more than a year, debuting music from a new recording, "Empathetic Parts." The CD features legendary reed player Roscoe Mitchell, who also will be onstage. The setting couldn't be cooler: 4 p.m. Saturday at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park -- indoors, with the bandshell closed to the elements. Admission is free. Visit

Chicago fans of European industrial and experimental music are having happy holidays this year. Next month, Germany's Einsturzende Neubauten returns for two different shows, and this weekend England's Nitzer Ebb is back, supporting its first new release in more than a decade (January's "Industrial Complex"). Pioneers in electronic assault, the duo of Douglas McCarthy and Vaughn Harris reunited a couple of years ago to play some dates around a suite of remixes, then wound up writing new material. At 9 p.m. Saturday at Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee. Tickets, $25-$35. Call (773) 489-3160;

The drum-and-guitar duo of Dean Spunt and Randy Randall -- visual and performance artists as well as ex-Wives (a hard-core band) -- has been a buzz band on several bills this year, including their eye-opening performance in front of Pavement this fall at Millennium Park. Catch their finely crafted noise-pop in the perfectly snuggly confines of Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln. Lucky Dragons and Cacaw open starting at 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets, $15. Call (773) 525-2501;

Fran Healy, Brandon Flowers go solo for tour, CDs

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franhealy.jpgThe year 2010 may be counted as the period when all the alt-rockers went solo. Ed Kowalczyk showed up with a solo record that sounded just like his band, Live. Bloc Party's Kele Okereke, Sigur Ros' Jonsi, Beulah's Miles Kurosky -- they all stepped outside their bands for solo records. Even giants like the Killers (in America) and Travis (in Britain) took a break while their frontmen, Brandon Flowers and Fran Healy, respectively, toured without them.

"We've both left our wives," Healy says.

30 seconds over to Oak Park: Pezband singer returns

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OK, forget the Beatles and iTunes and all that. Let's move on to the Beatlesque ...

Power-pop fans can get back to where they once belonged -- in Oak Park tomorrow for an in-store by Mimi Betinis, the guy who lead long-gone local heroes Pezband. Betinis has a new album, "All That Glitters," full of Apple Records melodies and Badfinger chords. (Listen to the lead single, "Love Is a Thin Veneer," here.)

He'll break from his day gig as an art teacher for Chicago Public Schools to celebrate the CD's release and play a few tunes at 7 p.m. Friday at Val's Halla Records, 239 W. Harrison St. in Oak Park.

Apple to Apple: Beatles finally show up on iTunes today

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No doubt motivated by the distressing news that -- due to online sales -- the cast of "Glee" has now charted more songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart than they have, the Beatles have finally thrown in with Apple Inc. and posted their music catalog on the iTunes store.

Beginning today, 13 of the Fab Four's studio albums, as well as the two double-LP collections ("Past Masters" plus the "Red" and "Blue" round-ups), are finally available via the popular digital music outlet. Individual songs are priced at $1.29, with single albums at $12.99 and double-discs like "The White Album" at $19.99. There's also a "box set" of all the music and some extras for $149.

"I am particularly glad to no longer be asked when the Beatles are coming to iTunes," Ringo Starr said in a statement. "At last, if you want it -- you can get it now."

CD review: Lee DeWyze, 'Live It Up'

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(RCA) 1<br />

leedlive.jpg"Live It Up"? Curling up on the couch and flipping between PBS and C-SPAN would be more exciting than living it up with the big-time debut from "American Idol" season nine winner Lee DeWyze.

DeWyze triumphed as king of the dullards on what was roundly panned as "Idol's" dullest season. (Can't imagine Steven Tyler, set to debut as a judge on the 2011 season, ever giving this guy a pass.) On "Live It Up," he applies his perfectly pleasant singing voice -- a dead ringer for all that is occasionally good about Dave Matthews -- to a set of colorless tunes and remarkably hackneyed lyrics. Check the chorus of "Sweet Serendipity": "I'm always landing on my feet / in the knick of time / by the skin of my teeth." Or the title track: "One life to live / I'm gonna give it everything I've got." The Lee DeWyze Drinking Game, gulping a shot for every cliché, could induce alcohol poisoning by track five.

DeWyze, 24, used to sell paint in the 'burbs; for "Live It Up," he chose institutional beige. Of course, an "Idol" winner doesn't exactly make a lot of his or her own choices, and one could argue that DeWyze was programmed for blandness by the music machine's mass marketers. But this is DeWyze's third album -- "So I'm Told" (2007) and "Slumberland" (2010), his pre-"Idol" outings, are now more widely available -- and its lack of personality is not exactly a detour. These songs glide right by, imitating a half dozen other, better middle-of-the-road strummers (Jack Johnson on "It's Gotta Be Love," maybe fellow "Idol" winner David Cook on the one song with any teeth, "Me and My Jealousy"). It's superb background music -- just beware the conversation's lull.

CD review: Kid Rock, 'Born Free'

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(Atlantic) 1 star

kidrockbornfree.jpgThe reinvention of rap-rocker Kid Rock as a heartland classic-rock icon would have worked if his sense of humor had survived the transition. Once he realized he'd have bigger hits and more of them by aping Bob Seger, he ditched the corn rows and just got corny. His last record, 2007's "Rock N Roll Jesus," went all-in on the classic-rock formula -- blatantly copying every '70s crap-kicker from Lynyrd Skynyrd to David Allan Coe -- with the added detriment of the lamest lyrics you've ever heard. This month, Kid Rock spouted off about Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and his new gig as "American Idol" judge, saying it's "the stupidest thing he's ever done in his life. He's a sacred American institution of rock and roll, and he just threw it all out the window." Because this is a very serious topic, don't cha know, and Kid Rock now apparently sees himself as the guardian of classic-rock credibility.

Those who follow public arts policy and alarming developments such as the promoter's ordinance should check out the cover feature in this week's Time Out Chicago: "Who Is Chicago's Culture Candidate?" The mag polled a dozen declared candidates for mayor in the February race about their stance on various cultural issues -- from liquor licenses and food trucks to privatizing festivals and Lollapalooza -- and reported some interesting and occasionally wacky responses.

The most entertaining come from conservative editor R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., who "does not much care for pop culture" and insults Lollapalooza and everyone who attends: "I think that Lollapalooza is composed for the most part of mental defectives and cannot possibly believe that it would be a threat to any local band that was not itself composed of mental defectives." Perry Farrell should book this man as MC at once.

An encouraging sign: Only one candidate, current city clerk Miguel del Valle, readily voiced conditional support for the now-tabled promoter's ordinance (a proposal to force music event organizers and venue owners to buy licenses and insurance for their shows). Seven are against it, and Rahm Emanuel gave this evasive but somewhat positive answer: "There is a balance to be struck -- we should go after illegitimate underground promoters operating in Chicago, but we should not regulate to the point of choking off our vibrant small music venues."

CD review: Rihanna, 'Loud'

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(Def Jam) 3<br />

rihannaloud.jpgLast year, as singer Chris Brown began serving his probation and community service, Rihanna went into the studio to try and express how she felt as the victim of the decade's highest-profile domestic abuse case. The result, "Rated R," was occasionally powerful and moving, if a wee bit dreary. Where would she go from there? Back to the party, apparently. Her fifth outing, "Loud," out Tuesday, returns Rihanna to the spirited, Caribbean-spiced dance-pop that made her such a breakout star in the first place.

3 more shows: Glasser, Jeff Buckley tribute, Monica

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Daughter of a Blue Man Group member and a mother who once played with Human Sexual Response, Cameron Mesirow, aka Glasser, debuted this year with a vibrant album of angelic a cappella vocals occasionally augmented by primal percussion and lush electronics. Think Cocteau Twins, Bat for Lashes. Twin Shadow and Yawn open beginning at 10 p.m. Saturday at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln. Tickets: $12. Call (773) 525-2501;

Buckley's haunting voice and powerful music remains one of the lasting legacies of '90s music. His first appearances in Chicago were at Uncommon Ground (the Clark location) in 1994. Since his tragic drowning death three years later, that venue has played host to a tribute concert, supported by Buckley's family. Performers this year include Chicago artists Dastardly, Todd Kessler Trio, Arthi Meera & Tyler Beach, Nelken, Patrick Gemkow, Matt Crews, plus Deanna Devore (Toronto), Jann Klose (New York) and Spencer Michaud (Ann Arbor, Mich.). Music starts at 8 p.m.; dinner reservations at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. Call (773) 929-3680;

R&B's Monica takes her own sweet time between albums, but they're usually worth the wait. "Still Standing" arrived this year, titled to reassure fans, showcasing more powerful balladry from the Atlanta singer. She leads a bill of like-minded crooners, including Musiq Soulchild and Chrisette Michele, at 8 p.m. Friday at the Arie Crown Theatre, 2301 S. Lake Shore. Tickets, $65-$105. Call (800) 745-3000;

Robyn reboots and retakes America with 'Body Talk'

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She just finished taping a TV show. She's walking down a corridor, with a dozen people trying to chat with her, asking her questions, including me in her ear on the phone. She still has to make some arrangements for the upcoming U.S. tour, her third return to the States this year from her home in Sweden. She's on her way to an editing studio to tweak one last track on her next recording, and then she's off to a sound check for another concert.

How'd Robyn get so busy all of a sudden?

"I don't know, I think I'm just lucky," she says. "People get what I'm doing at the moment. Maybe the music environment now is a little bit more open to like unexpected things within pop music. People are used to the idea now of pop made by real people with their own integrity and personality. There's been a longing for that after the end of the '90s and that whole dark part of music. Music has been marketed very kind of aggressively to people, but now people start to enjoy making their own connections."

Ladies' night at the 2010 Country Music Awards

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As expected, the 2010 Country Music Awards was another celebration of the X chromosome. Wednesday night's telecast, broadcast from the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, showcased the talents of country's leading women -- including a tribute to Loretta Lynn -- and chart-topping bands co-led by women, including Sugarland and Lady Antebellum.

It was Miranda Lambert's year. The former "Nashville Star" competitor was nominated nine times and won for best album ("Revolution," released more than a year ago) and best female vocalist, among others. Bonus: Wednesday was her 27th birthday.

Latest video from OK Go, 'Last Leaf,' in an autumn mood

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Lasers and toast are cooking in the latest viral video injected into the world from Chicago's OK Go ...

FYI: A story of mine -- about universities offering new classes in the history of rock -- ran in print yesterday (and is here for the time being) that posted to the blog here many moons ago. Such is life in the print-digital divide. Bonus: Take this rock history quiz and see how you measure up.

First new Christmas albums: Mariah Carey and Susan Boyle

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Mariah Carey, "Merry Christmas II You" (Island) 2 stars

Susan Boyle, "The Gift" (Syco-Columbia) 1 star

mariahsusan.jpgI know, the forecast is aiming at 70 degrees today, and you haven't even begun thinking about which pie to bake for Thanksgiving. However, there are no Thanksgiving records (save maybe Windham Hill's lovely "Thanksgiving" collection from '98), and the year's first big Christmas CDs are already on the shelves begging for your festive attention.

Though not begging that hard, mind you. The powerful voices of Mariah Carey and Susan Boyle both celebrate the season with timid new albums, each miserly with inspiration.

Cee Lo Green, 'The Lady Killer'

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(Elektra) 4 stars

ceelolady.jpgWhen Cee Lo Green's jubilant single, "F--- You," became an online sensation at the end of August, I asked him what that near-perfect pop song should tell us about his forthcoming "Lady Killer" album, his first since hitting big as half of Gnarls Barkley ("Crazy"). "I don't have 14 'F--- You's' on the way," he said, chuckling. "A single is meant to signify an album's worth of work, but not meant to sum it up. The moods on the album vary as much as my mind does." He wasn't being very truthful. Nearly all 13 other tracks on "The Lady Killer," out Tuesday, are as irresistible as his f-word calling card. While the sounds vary considerably, the mood is singular: come hither.

3 more shows: Junip, Posies, Chicago Roots Collective

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This two-day roundup features local "roots" music bands, a definition that runs the gamut from basic rock 'n' roll to what amounts to electric folk music. The weekend slots more than two dozen bands and singer-songwriters into the Elbo Room, 2871 N. Lincoln, featuring BandCalledCatch, the Shams Band (my pick of the fest -- hot, horn-flecked rock), Goodbyehome, Molehill and Jackpot Donnie leading the bill tonight, and How Far to Austin, Cobalt & the Hired Guns, Todd Kessler & the New Folk, Mike Mangione & the Union and the Future Laureates on Saturday. Music starts at 8 both nights. Tickets, $10 each night or $15 for a weekend pass. Call (773) 549-5549;

Power-pop bills are rarely as exciting as Saturday night's featuring the Posies, the band that carried Big Star's banner into the '90s (they just released a new album, "Blood/Candy," their first in five years, with a lighter touch), and Brendan Benson, Jack White's foil in the Raconteurs but boasting a nearly flawless solo catalog. Opening is Aqueduct, the slamming keys and sharp melodies of Dave Terry. That's a lot of awesome under one roof. At 8 p.m. at the Bottom Lounge, 1375 N. Lake. Tickets, $20. Call (312) 666-6775;

Jose Gonzalez keeps coming back in different guises. First, we heard his somnambulent purr as a vocalist on a few Zero 7 tracks. Then, he toured and recorded his own songs. Now, he's back leading his '90s band, Junip, which gives his nasal drone a bit of heft. Sharon Van Etten opens at 10 p.m. Saturday at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln. Tickets, $15. Call (773) 525-2501;


Richard Thompson opens his new album, "Dream Attic," by shouting: "I love kittens!" If that makes you spit out your coffee, you must be part of the cult audience that's nurtured this British songwriter's career -- stop-and-start as it's been -- from Fairport Convention in the '60s through the seminal albums he made later with his then-wife, Linda Thompson.

"It's a good line to start with," Thompson says. "It sets the tone for the rest of the record. It's a fluffy record."

folds.jpgLong before they collaborated on a couple of music projects, Ben Folds and Nick Hornby met via e-mail. Folds, popular pianoman behind the Ben Folds Five in the '90s and a free-wheeling solo career since, was thanking the best-selling novelist and music critic -- and giving credit where credit was due.

"Nick had written an essay in his book 31 Songs -- or Songbook as it was titled in the States -- about the song 'Smoke' from the Ben Folds Five 'Whatever and Ever Amen' album, and he spent quite a bit of time on the lyrics, the importance of the lyrics -- and that's the only song at that point I hadn't written the lyrics to," Folds says, laughing. "So I wrote him an e-mail, saying, 'Hey, just want you to know, this is her name [Folds' ex-wife Anna Goodman] who wrote the lyrics.' We kept up with each other, and I took advantage of the fact I knew he was a fan and asked him to contribute lyrics for the Shatner record."

The working relationship between pianoman and novelist was planted there -- Hornby wrote words to "That's Me Trying," a song from the revelatory 2005 collaboration between Folds and "Star Trek" kingpin William Shatner -- and eventually blossomed into a full CD, the acclaimed new "Lonely Avenue," with Hornby's words and Folds' tunes.

Now Folds is taking the new songs on the road by himself, beginning a two-month tour Friday night in Chicago. We caught up with him last week on the phone as he was running an important errand in Nashville, where he lives, to chat about collaboration, electric pianos, reality TV and his possible next collaboration -- with Katy Perry.

Two Chicago bands already slated for SXSW 2011

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Applications to play the annual South by Southwest music festival next March in Austin, Texas, are open through Friday, but the fest has already announced a slew of bands who've been given slots to play.

Two Chicago bands have made the early cut:

Gypsyblood -- download their three-track EP here (highly recommended), featuring their stomping, careening post-Pavement rock, and see them next Friday (Nov. 12) on a Lincoln Hall bill opening for Fang Island.

Light Pollution -- returning to SXSW; check out the wavering vocals and Beach Boys-on-'ludes music of "Drunk Kids" and find their full-length CD "Apparitions" on iTunes etc.

Elvis Costello, 'National Ransom'

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(Hear Music) 2 stars

costelloransom.jpgThe ways we listen to music have finally caught up to artists like Elvis Costello. Only in an era of shuffled playlists and Jack FM could a record as audaciously varied as "National Ransom" find a large audience. Of course, this is what Costello has always done. We often still view Costello's early '80s career in a narrow, New Wave frame, but he was a stylistic island-hopper from the beginning. "Get Happy!!" is straight soul, "Almost Blue" is utterly country, "Imperial Bedroom" is practically Tin Pan Alley. The only difference now is that he can switch styles from song to song instead of album to album, covering -- in this case -- a dozen on one CD.

Concert promoter Jam sues Ticketmaster over contract

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According to a lawsuit filed Monday in Cook County Circuit Court, Chicago concert promoter Jam Productions is seeking to settle a dispute with Ticketmaster, based on an argument that arose once Live Nation merged with the event ticketing giant. At issue is who has rights to sell tickets at three of Jam's venues: the Park West, Riviera Theatre and Vic Theatre.

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