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Tuning in with Thomas Conner

January 2011 Archives

Afrika Bambaataa appearance Wednesday canceled

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Hip-hop pioneer DJ Afrika Bambaataa was scheduled to spin tomorrow night (Jan. 26) at the Mid. Not anymore -- he's canceled due to illness and hopefully will reschedule. Information about refunds is here.

A statement from the club's promoters says: "Afrika Bambaataa has become ill and is unable to make it to Chicago tomorrow, so the event is canceled. Although it isn't serious, he is in the hospital and we should send him our positive energy for a fast recovery. We are working to reschedule this event, but must wait until Afrika recovers
to plan a new date."

Bambaataa's scheduled gig Thursday night in Grand Rapids is not showing canceled yet.

Read my interview with DJ Bam here.

CD review: Wanda Jackson, 'The Party Ain't Over'

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(Nonesuch) 1<br />
and a halfstars

wandaparty.jpgThe party may not be over, but let's come up with an excuse to duck out. Wanda Jackson, whose career as an icon of her genre is now at least three times as long as her original heyday, returns this week with a new set of tunes and a high-profile collaborator. But this party's crowded and loud and kinda uncomfortable.

Jack White, he of the White Stripes, first worked with one of his classic country heroines in 2004, when he produced Loretta Lynn's "Van Lear Rose." At best, that album was a solid-oak monument to an Americana artist justifying her reverence ("Portland, Oregon" remains an awesome accomplishment in bridging the sounds of two generations); at the very least, she wasn't singing Beck covers for Rick Rubin, a la Johnny Cash. White's results with Ms. Jackson, however, aren't nearly as sturdy.

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Linkin Park wasn't supposed to still be around by now. Appearing on the scene in 2000, the band barely distinguished itself from its contemporaries in rap-rock, the harsh hybrid of rage and rhyme that ruled airwaves at the turn the century with chart-topping and aptly named bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit.

But Linkin Park possesses commercial instincts the others didn't. From the 2000 debut of "Hybrid Theory," a multi-platinum cash cow whose liner notes started a band tradition of providing lengthy product endorsements, through a new album, the kinder and gentler "A Thousand Suns," Linkin Park has sought to express its angst, sure, but always just within the confines of what sells.

"We're not trying to make a song that, well, that's what other people are going to listen to -- that's going to be a hit," LP's MC Mike Shinoda insisted in a recent teleconference with journalists about the band's North American tour, which began last week. It was a conversation that included as in-depth a discussion of marketing experiments as creative decisions.

In fact, if you want to get a glimpse at the different sales strategies being auditioned by the unsettled music business these days, look no further than this band's tour. For good or ill, Linkin Park is on the cutting edge of plugging their music into new business models. Here are just a few of the ways the band is seeking to separate you from your money ...

afrikabambaataa.jpgThey say the devil is in the details. For DJ Afrika Bambaataa, the devil is hard at work in the lack of them.

"Hip-hop has been hijacked by a Luciferian conspiracy," he says, quite matter-of-factly. "People have used hip-hop in a lot of ways that cause a lot of mind problems. They use the word wrongfully. They use it to mean a part instead of a whole. Like many of these [radio] stations say they're hip-hop, they're playing hip-hop. I go to these stations, and these so-called program directors don't know jack crap about hip-hop culture. They know rap to a certain extent. But I question them. I say, 'Where's your go-go, your hip-house, your electro-funk, your raga, your R&B and soul?' They get real quiet."

Two more shows: Sad Brad Smith, Leon Redbone

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SAD BRAD SMITH
Bradley Grant Smith is a Chicago actor who wrote and recorded a song that found its way into a poignant moment in the Oscar-bait George Clooney film "Up in the Air." That song is not on his self-released debut full-length, "Love Is Not What You Need," which he's celebrating the release of in concert. But the light, acoustic sound -- melancholy colors but cheerful tones, like a Well-Drawn Boy or a ukulele-free Dent May -- is intact and worthy of the celebration. Hear him at 8 p.m. Sunday at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport. Midnight Moxie opens. Tickets, $10. Call (773) 525-2508, schubas.com.

LEON REDBONE
With one of the most easily identifiable voices in modern music, Leon Redbone has celebrated stuff so old-timey most of it predates him. Dig those flapper-era tunes you heard in "Boardwalk Empire"? Redbone does those, the freewheeling '20s and '30s stuff that wasn't about the Dust Bowl. Expect some funny stories, too, at 7 p.m. Jan. 23 at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln. Tickets, $24-$28, (773) 728-6000; oldtownschool.org.

Liz Phair: Have we forgotten how to have 'Funstyle'?

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lizfur.jpgLiz Phair knows the indie-rock party line. She's heard it stated and restated for coming up on 18 years: Her first album, 1993's landmark-knighted "Exile in Guyville," was feminist rock 'n' roll genius on every level -- and everything else she's ever uttered since, as speech or song, is utter crap.

Perhaps that's because "Guyville" is such a strong, confident statement from a Wicker Park woman who seemed quite uncompromising, and each follow-up record has seemed unsteady, whimsical and quite compromising. When Phair surprised fans last summer with a new album, "Funstyle," released through her website, the wrath returned. Critics were universally dumbfounded by the album's tuneless talent, dreadful rapping on one track ("Bollywood") and wide-of-the-mark execution, few more colorfully than those around her adopted hometown. The A.V. Club called "Funstyle" a "box of dirt." Pitchfork said it was "horrible on just about every conceivable level." The Reader said listening to it gives you a good case of the "douchechills."

But unlike Phair's stab at mainstream pop in 2003, much of the vitriol flung at "Funstyle" was tempered ever-so-slightly by an underlying fascination. In my own review, I held out hope that Phair was in on her own joke (one song, "U Hate It," foretold all the bad reviews, and the music was posted with a note explaining "How to Like It"). It's a difficult work of art but, for better or worse, it's certainly daring. When we consider art outside the typical commercial, consumerist frame of pop music, that trait is usually respected, if not always revered.

Before she started another tour this month -- on which she and a full band will indeed perform songs from "Funstyle" -- we caught up with Phair to find out just WTF is going on.

CD review: Smith Westerns, 'Dye It Blonde'

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(Fat Possum) 2 and a half stars

They say it's all been done before
and there's really nothing new.
I guess that's just your point of view.
-- the Redwalls, "Modern Diet"

smithdye.jpgThe blogs went berserk over the 2009 lo-fi debut from Chicago's Smith Westerns (no "the," please). The buzz grew exponentially, the band toured widely as an opening act for bigger names, and the follow-up generated great expectations. Now comes the reckoning. Can they justify the hype?

Mostly, with reservations.

Two concert announcements: Arcade Fire, Robert Plant

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Arcade Fire headlined Lollapalooza, landed their "Suburbs" album on numerous best-o'-2010 lists (including mine) and aren't done yet. The Grammy-nominated band will return to Chicago this spring as part of a newly announced series of concerts.

The band comes April 25 to the UIC Pavilion, 1150 W. Harrison. Bonus: The National is opening.

Tickets are $51 and on sale at 11 a.m. this Saturday (Jan. 22) at the UIC Pavilion box office, all Ticketmaster outlets, (800) 745-3000 and ticketmaster.com.

Also ...

Zach Weinberg has a background in D.I.Y. punk, but if you come to his show this week he's going to expect you to dance.

"I get a little nervous inviting friends from the punk scene to these shows," Weinberg says. "It's nerve-wracking to show them my other side. Our first show was right before Thanksgiving, playing with [Chicago band] Young Man. I'm always afraid the punks aren't gonna wanna dance. But people were really moving. It was great."

Weinberg is a transplant from Toledo, Ohio. His drumming propels the piercing noise-rock of Cloud Mouth. He's in college at DePaul and has been touring the nation's low-level punk scene since his early teens.

But a funny thing happened before he left Toledo nearly four years ago. He discovered Motown.

CD review: The Decemberists, 'The King Is Dead'

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(Capitol) 3<br />
stars

decemberistsking.jpgIf news of a new Decemberists album had you clearing an entire day in your schedule just to listen to and decipher the thing, relax. The band's sixth outing, "The King Is Dead," is a refreshingly succinct and basic roots album that will fit snugly into your Tuesday and revive your spirit like a surprise chat with an old friend.

After several albums of what were already ambitious, folk-based pop songs, the Decemberists dropped "The Hazards of Love" on us in 2009. A full-blown concept album, it was a bold undertaking and an overall creative success. "Hazards," though, had plenty of them and required time to digest. "The King Is Dead" goes down nice and easy.

The Besnard Lakes boil over at Lincoln Hall

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(Michael Jackson/For the Sun-Times)


The Beach Boys played over the PA, and singer-guitarist Jace Lasek methodically tuned his guitars. He had half a dozen of them racked and ready. One by one, tuning, testing, getting the pitches just perfect. Not a roadie or a tech, Lasek himself. Then the stage filled with smoke. Carl Sagan replaced Brian Wilson. "This is a time of great danger," the late Sagan intoned, "but our species is young, and curious, and brave. It shows much promise."

Lasek and his Canadian crew then proceeded to blind us with their science.

This week saw notable releases from two Chicago music-makers working slightly outside their usual groove ...

First, check out Kid Sister's new mixtape, "Kiss Kiss Kiss,' named for the single she dangled a few months ago and fans started clamoring for. Fluidly mixed by Fool's Gold co-founder Nick Catchdubs, the 13 tracks feature input from a wide variety of stylists and singers -- Paul Wall, Gucci Mane, Green Velvet, Carte Blanche, Scoop DeVille, Nina Sky, Caspa and more -- it's still very much a Kid Sister joint, precisely balancing trebly dancefloor beats with smooth R&B and hip-hop flair. I haven't heard both worlds so well-mixed, though with less sass, since C.C. Lemonhead and Jay Ski's Quad-City DJs project in the '90s. The music comes alive and pops right out of your computer, just like Kid Sister does in this cool new video for the Carte Blanche collab "Do! Do! Do!":

Download "Kiss Kiss Kiss" here; all it costs is your e-mail address.

At the distant other end of the musical spectrum, Chicago psych-pop band Netherfriends have stepped outside their usual cheeky music and released an album that sounds like what you'd want to listen to after hours of wee-hours clubbing with Kid Sister. As Shawn Rosenblatt explains in a cautionary note accompanying the tracks, "This is not a typical Netherfriends release. This album is basically an improv album with elements of ambient and drone." The set's title, "Alap," refers to a spontaneous form of Indian classical music. The results are most pleasing and requiring of an Eno-esque description involving warm jets or airports or music with discretion. Each song is named for a day of the week, not in order, and the ebb and flow of the synthesized sounds feels like the recall of last week's memories. Soothing, distant, ephemeral.

Download it here; name your price.

Chester Hanks is known by many names. His friends call him Chet. The media calls him "the son of actor Tom Hanks." Today, he's officially christened as Chet Haze.

Yes, that's his rap name, now revealed on a track making its rounds online -- a song celebrating the wild party life at (wha?) Northwestern University.

The track, "White and Purple," a remix of Wiz Khalifa's "Black and Yellow," celebrates the wild nights students spend smoking pot in Evanston:

I'm livin' college life
Homie, tell the world it's mine ...
White kicks, purple kush
This is college:
hittin' blunts after hittin' books

"Any kids really living the college life can relate to it," Hanks, 21, said in an interview today with the NU student newspaper. "I don't think it's something that should cause anybody to be angry or offend anyone."

The younger Hanks is a sophomore theater major at NU, due to graduate in 2013, where he says he likes to "chill" at the Pi Kappa Alpha frat house.

Before anyone goes tsk-tsk-ing him, however, remember that prior to maturing into one of America's most respected and level-headed actors, Tom Hanks was introduced to the popular culture by saving his own privates as a cross-dresser and a hardcore party animal. "I'm not my dad. I am my own person," Chet Hanks claims, but maybe the rapper doesn't fall that far from the Forrest, after all.

Music Under the Dome kicks off with David Singer

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A wee bit of good news from Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs (as they wrestle with a staffing shell game, plus the limbo of who will book this year's city festivals): the Music Under the Dome series kicks off this week, offering concerts under the Tiffany dome in the Chicago Cultural Center's Preston Bradley Hall, 78 E. Washington.

Thursday night is David Singer with his band the Sweet Science, whose "Arrows" record was widely praised as one of 2010's best. Singer writes intricately formed, highly literate rock songs. Singer's MySpace profile photo is currently an old Woody Allen still, and his music is often just as intellectually probing and occasionally hilarious. It's a good midweek, after-work option -- and it's free! Music starts at 6:30 p.m.

CD review: Cake, 'Showroom of Compassion'

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(Upbeat) 2 and a half stars

cakeshowroom.jpgSome musicians when freed of a record label and its rigid marketing schedule just turn the spigot, releasing everything that flows out of them and letting the fans sort it out. Others take their sweet time. They relish the absence of minty breath on the back of their necks and slowly labor to craft the music exactly the way they want it. Cake is the latter, and they somewhat accidentally let nearly seven years pass between their last album, 2004's "Pressure Chief" on Columbia, and this new one, which sprung from their solar-powered California studio on their own indie label. Listen to the albums back to back and you'd never guess much time had passed.

Five other must-see bands at Tomorrow Never Knows

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It's been 25 degrees pretty much every day for a few weeks now. So you're conditioned, you can hack it. Chicago's annual Tomorrow Never Knows festival starts Wednesday night at three North Side venues, and there are some great bookings you won't want to miss, including area rapper Freddie Gibbs. Here are five other reasons to brave the cold:

gibbs.jpg

Freddie Gibbs doesn't understand what's happened to rap. Unapologetically gangsta -- with the criminal record to back it up -- the Gary, Ind., rapper looks around at these sensitive types, fashion bombs and party boys populating contemporary hip-hop. He rants about it, he rhymes about it ("Rap is for ... divas," he raps), he tweets about it. Lordy does he tweet about it. When his feed isn't spewing about the Bears, it's jabbing at other rappers he judges to be inauthentic.

"It's all just corny," Gibbs said during an interview last week from Los Angeles. "It's n----s doing something because the next man is doing it. The way everybody be rapping now -- they say a word, they use this metaphor, talking a lot of bullsh--. Dudes with hairstyles, all kinds of dumb sh-- in rap ... not enough originality. Boys who grew up in the suburbs, talking sh-- about the streets. ... I speak my mind. I'm throwing out shoes. Motherf-----s need to put 'em on and wear 'em."

But Gibbs is no dummy: "Kanye? He's one of the most talented motherf-----s doing it, doing music, period. I'd definitely work with him."

Crunch the numbers: Janet Jackson, 44, has announced a tour of 35 international dates on which she'll perform, at each show, her 35 No. 1 hits. It's all in support of a new greatest comp, "Number Ones."

She hits Chicago on March 7-8, playing two nights at the Chicago Theatre. That's an intimate venue for a very arena-level star.

"I will be as up close and personal as possible," Jackson said in today's press release announcing the tour. "These concerts are not about special effects. This is a love affair between me and those of you who have supported me and my work for all these years."

Tickets for the shows go on sale at 10 a.m. this Saturday (Jan. 15). They're $50-$200, available at the Chicago Theatre box office, all Ticketmaster outlets, online or by phone at (800) 745-3000.

Weezer plays it 'Blue' for first of two Aragon shows

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wez6.jpg

(Oscar Lopez/For the Sun-Times)


Rivers Cuomo kicked a soccer ball on stage as Weezer began its Memories Tour concert Friday night, the first of a sold-out, two-night stand at Chicago's Aragon Ballroom. The band launched into the tour's namesake song: "Memories" from the band's eighth and most recent album, "Hurley." "All the memories," Cuomo sang. "How can we make it back there? / I want to be there again."

This tour is about realizing that desire. "Hop on board the Weezer time machine!" Cuomo said, as he began introducing each song in the band's set of hits in reverse chronological order. Each night of this brief tour there's also a second set, a complete performance of one of the band's first two albums; Friday's time trip ended in a deadpan run through the band's 1994 self-titled debut, a k a "The Blue Album." Saturday night the band is scheduled to wrap with the once-controversial 1996 "Pinkerton" album.

(And here's a review from the Saturday night "Pinkerton" show.)

Did Anyone Hear This?: The band Japan (RIP Mick Karn)

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Two music obits made news on Tuesday. We lost '70s singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty -- he of the songs "Baker Street," "Right Down the Line" and the Steelers Wheel hit "Stuck in the Middle With You" (so now there are clouds to the left of him, angels to the right ...) -- but I want to mention another loss from the same day, because I doubt many will: Mick Karn, 52, bassist for the band Japan, lost his battle with cancer.

Chicago's city council has a proposal before it -- just one -- to privately run the city's summer music festivals, but while time is of the essence aldermen are balking at the bid and trying to slam on the brakes. What's at stake: Whether there will be any acts music fans would actually want to see at this year's Taste of Chicago, blues festival, jazz festival and more -- and how much it'll cost you for the privilege.

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Weezer broke in 1994 by injecting melody and (thank God) a sense of humor into the dour grunge that had taken over rock 'n' roll three years earlier. But charming as the songs ("Undone -- The Sweater Song") and videos ("Buddy Holly") were, there was nothing about that self-titled debut, known as "The Blue Album," that insisted this band had legs, that they'd survive the millennium. The follow-up, 1996's "Pinkerton," was a radical turn from sunny, cheeky pop-rock into assaulting metal and naked mental anguish. It didn't connect -- at least not immediately -- and Weezer disappeared for nearly five years. Singer Rivers Cuomo went into seclusion, leaving behind rumors about his mental state, and bassist Matt Sharp simply walked away.

During the absence, however, the art and bravery of "Pinkerton" began to sink in, and the tunes from the debut stayed on radio, refusing to grow stale.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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