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December 2010 Archives


Weezer (File)

Whether you get slizzered (like a G6) or join sad ol' Dick Clark for a rockin' New Year's Eve, you'll have just a few days to catch your breath before Chicago's live music scene roars back to life.

The early winter weeks used to be quiet and subdued in the clubs and arenas, but no longer. With summer festivals sucking the creative air out of those rooms, Chicago's winter concert bills are heating up.

Here are some of the shows worth checking out between now and spring break ...

Sam Prekop's 'Silhouettes' turns on its heartlight

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Merry Christmas, groovy listeners!

Here's a video for the day -- a newly animated visual for "The Silhouettes" by Sam Prekop, lead singer for Chicago's Sea & Cake. The song's from "Old Punch Card," a CD out in September, but the video's new with animation by Jordan Kim, best known for his work on "Yo Gabba Gabba!" and once upon a time for Adult Swim's "Tom Goes to the Mayor."

It's sweet, kinda Christmasy (in the right frame of mind) and out of this world ...

List-o-mania: The best singles of 2010

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Perhaps more than in previous years, pop music in 2010 presented strong albums and strong singles -- rarely by the same artists.

The musicians working in the traditional album model -- maybe they were inspired by consistent reports of its demise amid a rising online-driven, YouTube-video singles culture -- delivered some doozys. Meanwhile, those who either don't have a full-length, multi-song statement in them quite yet (or ever) punched through some killer singles that enlivened our playlists and expanded the usual summer song glut both directions into spring and fall.

Here are my picks for the best singles of 2010:

List-o-mania: The best albums of 2010

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Janelle Monae

Perhaps more than in previous years, pop music in 2010 presented strong albums and strong singles -- rarely by the same artists.

The musicians working in the traditional album model -- maybe they were inspired by consistent reports of its demise amid a rising online-driven, YouTube-video singles culture -- delivered some doozys. Meanwhile, those who either don't have a full-length, multi-song statement in them quite yet (or ever) punched through some killer singles that enlivened our playlists and expanded the usual summer song glut both directions into spring and fall.

Here are my picks for the best albums of 2010 ...

What's 'net neutrality' and why should I care?

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The FCC is meeting this morning to consider a proposal about "net neutrality" (watch live here) a topic that no doubt causes your eyes to glaze over. But today's vote could impact the way you conduct business online, the way you receive your entertainment through the Internet, the blogs you read (ahem), the movies you stream and especially the music you download.

The commission today is expected to approve the plan, which should be something resembling these proposals published in October, which finally puts net neutrality -- the idea that Americans have the freedom to access whatever they want online through whichever software and service provider they choose -- on paper. That's a good thing. The catch ... well, there are two. First, many aren't really sure the FCC has the authority to do this. Second, if you codify something on paper for the U.S. government, it's best if the rules are complete and cover every eventuality, which these don't. The rules attempt to make it more difficult for your Internet service provider (Comcast, AT&T, RCN, whoever) to outright control or certainly influence what you can access online, but there are loopholes.

JewmongousFaceOffcolorHI.jpgIf you actually have no plans this Saturday night, you might be the target audience for Sean Altman's show. He caters to those with not much to do every Dec. 25.

"Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, they're always sort of special, lonely nights for Jews," Altman says. "There's nothing to do. I always try to book a show on Christmas to give Jews something to do on the loneliest day of the year."

This is not a concert, however, that features "Dreidel, Spin and Spin" or "Ma'oz Tzur," at least in any traditional form. Altman -- a founder and former member of the group Rockapella, which ruled modern a cappella music starting in the '90s -- now performs under the subtle moniker Jewmongous, slinging over-the-top comedy songs that deconstruct all things kosher.

Book report: Keith Richards, Jay-Z, Dylanpalooza, more

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In time for your last-minute Christmas shopping (OK, cutting it close), here are some of the season's best music books ...

By Keith Richards with James Fox
Little, Brown, 564 pages, $29.99

bookskeef.jpgOne of the letters reprinted in Keith Richards' rollicking memoir is signed, "Keith -- Who else would write such bloody crap?" His account of his life and that of the Rolling Stones, however, is bloody good.

Heaven knows the infamous guitarist has seen more of living than most of us could handle in several lifetimes, but what makes Life such a page-turner isn't the narrative (as you might imagine, the chronology's a bit ... choppy) or the gossip (there's not as much as you might expect); it's the genuinely interesting lessons and observations, from how Richards first learned to develop his guitar sound (he doesn't play guitar, he "weaves" it) to a detailed explanation of "the big rules of knife fighting" ("the whole point is never, ever use the blade"). The best parts of the book are in the first half -- which is plenty, the old burn-out produced 564 pages! -- in which we are reminded that the cartoonish legend Keef was indeed once a young working-class boy named Keith, who drew his musical foundations from two colorful grandparents.

Captain Beefheart, 1941-2010: like Zappa but not really

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When and where I was growing up, "art rock" meant the Talking Heads and Duran Duran's first album. Once we got to exploring, back through Bowie and the fairy bands (Moody Blues, Genesis, etc.), all art-rock roads led back to Zappa, then to his various minions. Frank Zappa -- who would have turned 70 tomorrow -- was a generous guy, and he helped bring along other arty performers like Alice Cooper and Captain Beefheart.

Beefheart, born Don Van Vliet, died Friday at 69. The AP reports: "The Michael Werner Gallery in New York confirmed Van Vliet died in California from complications stemming from multiple sclerosis. The gallery exhibits his paintings."

Where are you rocking on New Year's Eve?

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New Year's Eve is amateur's night, for the seasoned clubgoer and all-around reveler. But if you're going to venture out for the annual rite of horn-blowing and ball-dropping, Chicago's music scene usually makes it worth the effort. Here's a look at the liveliest of live music options for your aural entrance into 1/1/11 ...

We've already listed our holiday CD picks and some great Christmas-themed shows, but here's some more for the last days before the big day:

Whatever happened to holiday variety shows? Remember the Johnny Cash specials in the late '70s? They retreated to the cool bars. Scott Lucas & the Married Men, the rootsy side project from the Local H singer-guitarist, will present "The Hideout Holiday Music Hour" at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabanasia ($8). It's Lucas' own homage to "A Prairie Home Companion."


"At first we were only going to do a couple of Christmas songs, but we got carried away," Lucas said in an announcement. "We wanted to fashion a show after old-time Christmas radio specials -- like "A Prairie Home Companion," but also with an almost Opry-type of vibe. And the Hideout is perfect for that."

Can't make it. Tune into the Married Men site while opening gifts on Dec. 25 for a broadcast of the show.

More city layoffs strike a blow to music programming

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As the city continues dismantling the Dept. of Cultural Affairs, WBEZ blogger Jim DeRogatis is reporting that 20 more of the department's employees were laid off last week. Mike Orlove -- whose passion for great music enriched the city's World Music Festival and the free Downtown Sound concert series in Millennium Park -- is among the axed. (Not completely axed -- the positions are being shifted to a different dept., though it's not clear yet if they all will be rehired there. Awaiting some clarification. Orlove still has his city phone and email, but he won't comment quite yet.)

City spokesfolks assure that the events will go on, now under the umbrella of the Chicago Tourism Fund, and that the shift "should go unnoticed by residents and event participants." But after a few years of great Downtown Sound shows from the Feelies to Caribou to She & Him, if Steve Miller or Pat Effing Benatar show up on a New Music Monday I'll dismantle the pavilion myself.

UPDATE 4:30 p.m. -- Orlove lives. He just posted to his Facebook page this news: "I am fortunate to have the option of joining the Chicago Tourism Fund starting January 1 (2011). In this economy I feel extremely lucky. I am no longer a City of Chicago employee but (as far as I know) remain 100% involved in organizing events at Millennium Park, Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago SummerDance, World Music Festival, etc. along with the incredibly talented team of Brian Keigher, Carlos Tortolero and Helen Vasey in the new year."

The tourism fund is a private nonprofit. It's budget-cutting -- the city's shoving these jobs off its payroll (and benefits) in order to rack up more "savings." Hopefully the spirit of the work will continue, no matter who's counting the beans.

This is the Midwest, after all, where people take high school sports as seriously as a heart attack. Ten years after a game between the Bloom Township Trojans and the Brother Rice Crusaders ended with a tie-breaking shot at the buzzer -- even today there's controversy as to whether the final shot went up before or after the buzzer. A reality series called "Replay" attempts to settle these old scores, reassembling the teams and having them play a new game. Season 3 pits the slightly older, less-in-shape Trojans and Crusaders against each other once again.

Why am I talking about this on a music blog? Because it's such a hot issue it attracted the attention of four high-profile Chicago musicians, who recorded a song together for the show. "We Can Do It Now" features Jennifer Hudson, Common and Lupe Fiasco, with production by No I.D. -- available for free download here, or watch the video below ...

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced its next class of inductees, and your reaction might be, "Sweet Caroline!" They are:

The Alice Cooper Band
Neil Diamond
Dr. John
Darlene Love
Tom Waits

CD review: Crystal Bowersox, 'Farmer's Daughter'

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(Jive) 2 and a half stars

bowersoxcd.jpgCrystal Bowersox arrived for the ninth season of "American Idol" with one huge advantage, something most "Idol" contestants rarely possess: She had a life. She'd done some serious living already -- suffered abuse at the hands of her mother growing up in Ohio, struggled as a busking musician in Chicago's CTA stations and was bringing up a child as a single mother. She had real emotions to tap into, not just facial expressions and throaty crescendos crafted by a vocal coach. She had something to sing about. Even in the covers she was mandated to select on the show, you could tell -- this girl's seen something of life, maybe something like mine or yours.

Her national CD debut, "Farmer's Daughter," out today, is an unusual "Idol" album for those reasons.


(Keith Hale/Sun-Times)

When a bride flings her bouquet into the air, young single women, so goes the cultural cliché, get downright aggressive. When Justin Bieber throws his hat into a crowd of teenage girls, hell hath no fury like it.

Suddenly they're scrambling on the floor and shrieking and elbows are flying like playground point guards. One of the girls in front of me grabbed it -- a fresh, red Yankees ball cap -- and began to struggle for breath. She started to put in on, then she caught sight of the jealous, snarling looks on the other girls' faces. She clutched it tightly.

Such is the seething frenzy of Bieber fever. The 16-year-old wunderkind headlined Saturday night's B96 Jingle Bash concert at the Allstate Arena, muddling through a performance that already reeks of too much professionalism.


Alas, Pittsburg mash-up artist Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis) is not booked again in Chicago this New Year's Eve -- though they're close: Dec. 31 at the Rave/Eagles Club in Milwaukee (just $20 on Amtrak...). They at least released a DVD a while ago of their triumphant NYE show here on 12/31/09.

Since then, Girl Talk last month released "All Day" -- download it for free here! -- a mind-boggling album constructed entirely of sampled music, lyrics and raps from other artists. Each Girl Talk mix has become less frenetic than the last, and this one's a blast to listen to, whether you work out the identity of each sample or not. Sometimes just sitting back and letting it all roll over you. General Public turns into Jay-Z turns into ELO turns into Busta Rhymes ... Ice Cube turns into Devo turns into Lil Wayne turns into Joe Jackson ... you see the see-sawing nature of Gillis' primary sources. Small wonder it took him more than two years to assemble this.

Need a map for all the samples on "All Day"? Fast Company drew one for you (a portion is pictured above) here.


"American Idol" runner-up Crystal Bowersox (left) and bass player Frankie May. (AP)

Chicago resident Crystal Bowersox, the most recent "American Idol" runner-up, is on "The Tonight Show" tonight, where she'll be performing the title track from her post-" Idol" CD debut, "Farmer's Daughter," out Tuesday. She spoke with us from the set, waiting for Jay Leno to arrive:

Q. Are you nervous, or did "Idol" eliminate all your nerves about being on national TV?
A. I'm excited. I don't get nervous for it, I love it. I have such a good time doing this stuff. I like being busy.

Q. Tell me about the "Idol" recording process. I've always had the impression it's very tightly controlled, but "Farmer's Daughter" sounds like you got a lot of songs and sounds that you wanted.
A. In the past, it's been typically very tightly managed. Many contestants are completely new to the business. They don't know what's behind the curtain of Oz. They might get in there and not have the courage to stand up or put their foot down and say what they want. There's a little pressure, but Jive as a label understands I'm a little ... different than the typical "Idol" contestant. I don't want to do pop music. I want to do stuff that strikes a chord with people emotionally. I want to approach this a little differently.


(Photo by Holger Talinski)

In describing her most recent stage production, "Peaches Does Herself," Peaches (a k a Tornoto-born Merrill Beth Nisker), said she wanted it to be a show "that Broadway would never be able to present." A jukebox musical of songs from the pop singer's last 10 years of suggestive dancefloor hits, from "F--- the Pain Away" to "I Feel Cream," the show premiered in Berlin and featured simulated sex acts, dancers in plush vagina costumes and prosthetic penises, and lots of parading by a 6-foot-5 nude transsexual. Peaches herself undergoes a sex change during the show.

Broadway might shy away from that. Peaches, however, doesn't shy from Broadway. The button-pushing, gender-defying, self-described "stage whore" brings her latest show to Chicago this week just in time for Christmas: a solo performance of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical "Jesus Christ Superstar."

CD review: Daft Punk, 'Tron: Legacy' soundtrack

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(Disney) 1 and a halfstars

dafttron.jpgThe original "Tron" hit me where I lived as a geeky boy back in 1982, but try as I might I can't get excited about this reboot, "Tron: Legacy," opening in theaters Dec. 17. Given the exponential leaps forward in computing and gaming since the original film, it seems remarkably unimaginative for the follow-up to stick with motorcycles and Frisbees as the prevailing visual metaphor for data and code.

Daft Punk, the French team behind dancefloor staples such as "One More Time" and "Around the World," also follow the composing model from the first film, in which Wendy Carlos melded electronic music with a symphony for maximum effect. The difference: Carlos didn't have a legion of raver fans salivating for the arrival of his work. Daft Punk followers seem overly eager to hear the results of their acclaimed duo (and the soundtrack has already leaked widely online) and many might be disappointed.


The Far East Movement

This year's B96 Jingle Bash lineup makes for a good illustration of pop music's current interconnectedness, the incestuous relationships that spring up here and there to craft not whole albums but hot tracks and hit singles.

The Jingle bill this weekend, sponsored by WBBM-FM (96.3), is the usual package show, a run of short sets featuring up-and-comers (Minneapolis R&B singer Auburn, Chicago dance-pop group Jump Smokers) and established hit-makers (Nelly, Jason Derulo). But it's the top talent that provides a snapshot of hit-making in 2010: Justin Bieber, Far East Movement, Mike Posner and the man at the center of almost everyone's webs this year, last week's seven-time Grammy nominee Bruno Mars.

CD review: R. Kelly, 'Love Letter'

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(Jive) 2 stars

kellyletter.jpgChicago's most notorious R&B singer, R. Kelly, was honored earlier this month with two very different Grammy nominations. He picked up a nod for last year's confused, crowded jumble, "Untitled," for best contemporary R&B album. The lead single from this year's record, though, landed in the best traditional R&B vocal category. Titled "When a Woman Loves," it's representative of the entirety of "Love Letter" -- chock full of vocal talent that's largely squandered on perfectly pleasant but ultimately derivative songs.

3 Makes a Trend: Rolling Stones play extended and more

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A heap of Stones-related stuff has been out there this summer and fall. Here are at least three recent items of note:


George Harrison (Andrew Yearick) shows Brian Jones (Aaron Snook) a few things about the sitar in Signal Ensemble's "Aftermath."

Chicago's Signal Ensemble Theatre has extended the run of "Aftermath," a new play about the Rolling Stones. The show, which premiered in May and was remounted at Signal Ensemble's new Ravenswood space earlier this fall, was due to close this week but has been extended through Jan. 23.

The social network, now playing on the Billboard charts

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Billboard launched a new music chart this week: the Social 50, a ranking of artists based on their popularity in online social networks. Topping the inaugural chart is Rihanna at No. 1, followed by Justin Bieber, Eminem, Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj.

Here's how it works: Next Big Sound, a social network tracking service, rounds up data from Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, iLike and others, then applies a formula to tally the artists' weekly additions of friends, fans and followers. So if you tweet about how proud you are of Eminem's 10 Grammy nominations, that doesn't count for much. But if you click to follow Eminem's feed, it boosts his Social 50 ranking.

CD review: Plain White T's, 'Wonders of the Younger'

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(Hollywood) 2 stars

plainwonder.jpgMembers of the Plain White T's -- the suburban Chicago collective now cursed with the mammoth success of their 2007 worldwide hit "Hey There Delilah" -- claim their new album is inspired by "the feeling of awe and the yearning for adventure remembered from youth." Lead singer-guitarist Tom Higgenson says he saw a Cirque du Soliel show in Las Vegas that "gave me that feeling of being a kid and seeing 'Goonies' for the first time ... adventurous and imaginative and different." Indeed, "Wonders of the Younger" charges out of the gate with clear ambitions to be all those things -- hey, Green Day wrote a big Broadway show, and we can too! -- but doesn't commit to the mission.

In a public meeting downtown this evening, the Chicago Park District is unveiling some ambitious new plans for Northerly Island, the former site of Miegs Field airport and current home to the temporary structure that is the Charter One Pavilion summer concert venue.

The new plans, which reimagine the space as a 91-acre nature sanctuary, include replacing the pavilion with a permanent structure, which famed architect Jeanne Gang calls a "lower profile" music and performance venue with a green roof. The new venue would have a seating capacity of about 14,000 -- double the size of the current pavilion.

Chicago's queen of soul Mavis Staples is nominated for a Grammy for best Americana album for "You Are Not Alone," the acclaimed record she made with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy.

She leads the pack of Chicago contenders among this year's Grammy nominees, announced Wednesday night.

Eminem tops the list of nominations for the 53rd annual Grammy Awards with 10 nods, including album of the year for his acclaimed and impassioned "Recovery."

Other top contenders for the golden turntables -- announced Monday night during "The Grammy Nominations Concert Live," an hourlong concert on primetime network TV -- include Bruno Mars with seven, plus Jay-Z, Lady Antebellum and Lady Gaga tying with six. Country's Zac Brown Band kept its momentum going with four nominations.

Continue reading for more news and a complete list of nominees ...

About this Archive

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

November 2010 is the previous archive.

January 2011 is the next archive.

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