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Tuning in with Thomas Conner

March 2011 Archives

The unthinkable is being thunk: Dave Davies said this week a reunion of the Kinks -- long thought an impossibility given the acrimony between the guitarist and his singer-songwriter brother Ray Davies -- is "down to Ray."

The classic British rock band officially split in 1996 after a lengthy fade, and the always feisty brothers have not been on speaking terms since. Last year, Dave refused to take part in a tribute for the band's late bass player Pete Quaife. In a lengthy Sunday interview with Britain's Independent, Ray explained the difficult sibling relationship, concluding, "Ray is a vain, egocentric, narcissistic arsehole, I won't have anybody call him that except me. Because I love him to death. He is my brother."

But Dave added that the two have discussed a Kinks reunion when Ray curates the Meltdown Festival in London later this year. "At least me and Ray are talking," he said.

Meanwhile, Ray's new record surfaces next week -- and it's a set of Kinks covers.

Patrick_Stump.jpgAs Internet news tends to do, this "announcement" got way out of hand way too fast. All Fall Out Boy singer Patrick Stump was trying to do early last year was focus a magazine journalist on his solo project, but perhaps he misspoke a smidge.

"I was doing an interview, and I said, 'For the purposes of this interview, I'm not in Fall Out Boy.' What I meant was: Right now, let's not talk about Fall Out Boy," Stump told us last week. "I underestimated the power of the pull quote. It was not said in a negative way. The guy was just starting to ask in-depth questions about the band, and I just said I'm not promoting them right now. It turned into 'I quit.'"

APTOPIX Obit Les Paul.jpgYou're in New York, you go see Les Paul. That was the music-lover's mantra, at least when I lived there a decade ago. Les Paul single-handedly designed, hewed and laid many of the foundation stones of modern popular music -- inventing the solid-body electric guitar, coming up with new ways to play the bejesus out of it, and being one of the first to successfully utilize multi-track recording. From "Guitar Hero" to Garageband, it all goes back to the late, great Les.

Uh oh, another Chicago tour -- a short bus, 20 strangers smiling gamely at each other, an edgy guide checking his watch and eager to start on time. Which one is this? A food tour? Architecture? Ghosts, gangsters, the great fire?

Phil Rockrohr, the guide at the front of the bus, plugs his iPod into the stereo system and cranks it. Suddenly Tutu & the Pirates' grinding punk-rock milestone "Wham Bam Son of Sam" is blaring, and we suspect Chess Records is not on the day's itinerary.

"Chicago Rocks: 1980-2002" delivers just what its greatest-hits title states, a whirlwind drive-by of where the city's punk, post-punk, alt-rock and modern rock bands lived, played and drank. Tours of Chicago's blues and jazz history pop up intermittently, but the new mini-voyage -- launching this weekend, with three-hour tours leaving each Saturday from Schubas bar and concert hall -- aims at tourists and residents for whom Naked Raygun, Smashing Pumpkins and Liz Phair are foundation music, not necessarily Muddy and Buddy.

The Pitchfork Music Festival has added some additional acts to the mild lineup announced earlier. Today they added Guided By Voices and Neko Case to the Friday bill; No Age, Gang Gang Dance, G-Side, and Chrissy Murderbot to Saturday; and the Fresh & Onlys, Radio Dept., HEALTH, Shabazz Palaces, Baths, How to Dress Well, Kurt Vile, and Twin Sister to Sunday.

What does music sound like in the Internet age? Extremely opinionated.

Ask Rebecca Black, whose online video for a simple (by every definition) earworm titled "Friday" (1<br />
star) went ludicrously viral, earning her unbridled <3 <3 <3 from her peer group (Black is 13 years old) and unedited vitriol in the comment fields. Barely a week after the song became an online woe and wonder -- up to 35 million views so far -- Black was on TV chat shows saying she's been cyberbullied because of it. We're not just talking critical obliteration ("the worst song of all time"), but horrific anonymous comments like this one: "I hope you cut yourself and I hope you get an eating disorder so you'll look pretty, and I hope you go cut and die." Hey, parents, still want your kids to be a YouTube star?

She's had some high-profile defenders, too, including Simon Cowell ("Anyone who can create this much controversy within a week, I want to meet") and, a few days ago, Lady Gaga. "I think it's fantastic," Gaga said. "I say Rebecca Black is a genius and anyone that's telling her she's cheesy is full of sh--." Of course, after saying this, Gaga admitted she hasn't yet seen the video.

If you haven't, by all means do. It's the pop-music equivalent of "Children of the Damned," a blank-eyed teen girl singing robotically about how Friday is between Thursday and Saturday and her unwarranted hesitation to call shotgun.

What do you think -- kick it in the front seat or shove it in the back?

(Further reading: 'Friday and the state of pop music, Rob Sheffield's amusing take on her.)

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The Residents ... whoever they are.


We complain about celebrity culture while we devour it. Jennifer Hudson gets more headlines for losing weight than she does for singing, Justin Bieber makes CNN as "breaking news" when he cut his hair, and we're all #winning with Charlie Sheen's tweets. Two bands are in town this week, however, who have maintained steadfast -- one might say obsessive -- determinations to run counter to, as well as artfully skewer, this flashy, corporate mainstream, in almost every conceivable way.

The first is the Residents, an anonymous "art collective" getting the jump on its 40th anniversary -- an unusually normal thing for it to do, considering that one of the first tours that introduced this group's offbeat, twisted and frequently hilarious mashups of bent music and jarring visuals was its 13th Anniversary Tour in 1985.

Despite the confusion and troubling news coming out of city hall regarding summer festivals, at least this good news came today: the Downtown Sound: New Music Mondays concert series is still on, with free music this spring and summer in Millennium Park.

The lineup still has several holes in it, but the 10 concerts announced today are ...

CD review: Britney Spears, 'Femme Fatale'

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(Jive) 2<br />
and a half stars

britneyfemme.jpgThe less interesting Britney Spears gets as a celebrity train-wreck, the more interesting she gets as a musician. Let me back up, as no one should ever refer to Spears ever as a musician. But recently, the dance music she's been creating has been more interesting and occasionally irresistible. The more mature, fully realized sounds we caught glimpses of on "Circus" are juiced, jazzed-up and rubbed in our nose on the utterly faceless but ever-so-catchy gym soundtrack "Femme Fatale."

AUSTIN, Texas -- Injuries and incidents of violence pockmarked this year's SXSW music festival in the Texas capital, causing organizers to consider scaling some things back for 2012.

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AUSTIN, Texas -- A rare, full "super moon" shone over the Texas capital Saturday night, but only one music star was big enough to eclipse not only that but nearly all of the annual South by Southwest music conference and festival: Kanye West.

Announced via a cryptic online video weeks before SXSW (with the audience enticed via a Twitter/texting RSVP, which the sponsoring company admitted failed terribly, with hundreds turned away) West hogged the spotlight on the festival's final night and set up shop in an unusual venue, a decommissioned downtown power plant. By early Saturday morning, fans were already lined up for the midnight show; at showtime, a mob of ticketless fans mashed the barricades outside, hoping to get in. The venue's capacity is just over 2,000; the event guest list received more than 10,000 requests in its first hour.

From 1 to 4 a.m., West trotted much of the roster of his G.O.O.D. record label across the stage, including Mos Def (who was surprisingly basic and dull), Pusha T (his "Fear of God" mixtape is due Monday) and Kid Cudi (a crowd favorite and a snappy dancer). Most blended in, one after the next, except the arresting Cyhi Da Prince (whose crazy-fast rhymes were paired with the masked Mad Violinist for "Sideways") and the aberrant Mr. Hudson (a bleach-blond white singer who sounds like Midge Ure and covered Alphaville's "Forever Young"). The concert was filmed for an online broadcast scheduled for April 22 -- Good Friday.

West himself slipped on stage without pomp and launched a set that swung between brilliant and boring.

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John Popper (from left), Crystal Bowersox and Brian Walker backstage after Bowersox's SXSW showcase Friday night at Austin's Driskill Hotel.

(Photo by Thomas Conner)


AUSTIN, Texas -- The way "American Idol" runner-up Crystal Bowersox and Blues Traveler frontman John Popper were getting along on stage at SXSW, you'd think they'd been BFFs for a long time. But they met just 30 minutes before the show.

Bowersox explained that she had contacted Popper online via a mutual friend (see below for geeked-out backstory) and asked the harmonica virtuoso to play during one song at her showcase Friday night in the Victorian Ballroom of Austin's Driskill Hotel. Popper wound up playing the whole set with Bowersox and her country-rock band.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Chicago's Cool Kids, Chuck Inglish and Mikey Rocks, show the folks gathered for SXSW just how much the music business has changed. Since popping up in 2007, the talented rap duo has yet to record a proper album. Instead, they've built a sturdy career on blog-loved singles, EPs, mixtapes and remarkably solid performances like their stand Friday night at Austin's La Zona Rosa. They're doing well enough that Mikey Rocks can strut the stage in a red Neiman Marcus tank top and rhyme about his "new pair of shoes," his "ATM credits," how he swaggers around "with a little bit of gold and a pager" and, finally, snorts derisively: "You shop at the mall!" Still there's talk of an album being recorded, but who cares? The crowd was singing and shouting and dancing wildly. Chuck and Mikey brim with confidence, pacing the stage while calmly but firmly delivering their lines -- not too wacked-out, but none of that rapid-fire stuff -- over rocking beats and minimal electronic sounds. But it's not all about the coin. "They say if you ain't got no money take yo broke ass home," Chuck said in "Basement Party," the closer. "I say if you got you two dollars, then come through to my party."

Next up was a rapper to watch: Mac Miller.

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(Photo by Thomas Conner)


AUSTIN, Texas -- Hanson returned this year to the festival that made them famous -- and then they got all Bob Geldof on us.

The three Oklahoma brothers first came to SXSW 17 years ago, strolling the streets as under-age hopefuls, singing for anyone who would listen (and getting kicked out of the Four Seasons lobby for doing so). One guy did, and the rest is "MMMBop" history. Now grown up, married, each with kids, they look around Austin and Zac, 25, sighs and says, "South-by definitely put a mark on us."

This year, the Hanson guys returned to SXSW to play a showcase -- only their second time to do so -- in support of last year's spot-on pop-soul record, "Shout It Out," their eighth. But then something else happened. Maybe it was the presence of Geldof, but Hanson decided to whip together, in the span of about two days, a telethon to raise money for the recovery efforts in Japan following the massive earthquake there and subsequent nuclear power threats.

"When we got to South by Southwest, we expected to see more of a unified effort," Zac said Friday afternoon from a makeshift base camp in an office building on North Congress Ave. "It was like, all we've got going is four tables at the convention center? That's not great. ... All these important people are here, from IFC to CNN, arts and culture people who should be talking about this, and no one really was. So yesterday we decided to throw this thing together, and started calling everyone we know to participate."

"And everyone we don't know," added Isaac Hanson.

The result, they hope, is a 12-hour live stream from noon to midnight Saturday, viewed at sxsw4japan.com (a different address from sxsw4japan.org, but related), featuring live and pre-recorded performances and messages from a variety of musicians. It was still early when I spoke with them, but on board a day ahead were Widespread Panic, the Boxer Rebellion, Ben Folds and the Courtyard Hounds.

The first SXSW S.O.S. went out Thursday morning, after Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco -- a buzzed favorite on the schedule especially since his controversial "Lasers" album just went No. 1 -- canceled his show, as did Cee Lo Green after him, both for undisclosed reasons. They were scheduled headliners at the Atlantic Records showcase at La Zona Rosa, but Atlantic has plenty of hot commodities to choose from right now. The new lineup became: B.o.B., Wiz Khalifa and Janelle Monae.

SXSW.Strokes.jpgJulian Casablancas fronts the Strokes. (Jack Plunkett/AP)

AUSTIN, Texas -- Ringing in the second full night of music at SXSW, as they rang in the 21st century, New York City's venerated Strokes plodded into a set cherry-picked from their retro-hipster catalog. In the early stages of a tour that appears to be dreadfully duty-bound, supporting the band's first new record in five years, "Angles," these once refreshing rock revivalists played a free concert for a capacity crowd at Austin's Auditorium Shores outdoor amphitheater. (Capacity of the outdoor venue is listed at 20,000; by mid-show, the entrances were closed to incoming fans, some of whom then knocked down the fences to get in.)

While the evening was temperate and breezy, the music wasn't quite the same. Opening the show with a wink-wink choice for this "comeback," singer Julian Casablancas slumped onto his microphone and wheezed, "I want to be forgotten / and I don't want to be reminded / You say, 'Please don't make this harder' / No, I won't yet." But it's not easy listening to a band that sounds so talented and proficient -- and so bored. The Strokes' Thursday night set clearly thrilled the mob of fans, but it sounded like "Angels" does -- labored, merely capable, not completely forced but close. Bob Geldof in his keynote Thursday morning said, "America, you look exhausted." Case in point: Julian & Co., not exactly a festival band (see last summer's Lollapalooza) playing-by-numbers and trying to determine what cultural contrast existed that made them sound genuinely fresh and exciting a decade ago. In the new single, "Under Cover of Darkness," Casablancas sings, "Everybody's singing the same song for 10 years."

I bolted and hit the west side of downtown to explore some unknowns -- the founding purpose of SXSW -- before closing the night with some other known quantities ...

Geldof.jpgAUSTIN, Texas -- A fine new biography of Queen by Mark Blake, Is This the Real Life?, was recently published. The first chapter details the band's performance at Live Aid in 1985, as fine a piece of stadium showmanship as you'll ever see. It inspired me to drop the cash on a used set of Live Aid DVDs, the four-disc set that was finally compiled a few years ago. Watching the whole spectacle over a long weekend while the spouse was away, I finally came to terms with the fact that, sure, Dylan was there, but so were Spandau Ballet and the Style Council (themselves the picture-perfect illustration of style trumping substance in the mid-'80s). It happened when Elvis Costello came onto the stage. He had one song. He didn't pick one of his own, he didn't push the hit, he instead sang "All You Need Is Love." Live Aid is peppered with such moments, when the music itself reminds us of why we're here -- much moreso and certainly more effectively than the marathon concert's occasional news reels about the African famine -- and what we should be talking about.

This is exactly the kind of thing Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof says is lacking in current music -- or, if it's there, at least the democratization of the Internet has prevented him from finding it.

Surprising and inspiring, more optimist than doomsayer, Geldof began Thursday's keynote address at SXSW 2011 with a pleasant ramble but focused his remarks on pop music's history of affecting social change, however indirectly, and the future of that crucial power.

AUSTIN, Texas -- SXSW is basically a musical March madness. Here's one man's brackets at the end of Wednesday night's series of showcases:

BRONCHO: When in doubt, follow Martin Atkins. The famed drummer for Public Image Ltd. and Pigface led a spirited panel Wednesday afternoon advising newbies to the music business, then started his evening at the Oklahoma showcase, seeing BRONCHO. Funny about that name: it's in all caps, for some reason, and it's pronounced so it rhymes with honcho. Tulsa's BRONCHO is the latest project from Ryan Lindsey, who manages to meld his experience in the alt-country band Cheyenne and early indie-rock hopefuls the Starlight Mints into a sweaty mix of loping cowpunk and Stiff Records guitar aggression. Atkins was bobbing his head, anyway.

Colourmusic: Another Okie quartet, Colourmusic, hoisted the freak flags over Austin's Sixth Avenue early, unleashing a squall of early Flaming Lips feedback, general high-pitched shrieking and, surprisingly, some meaty funk grooves. This is some serious evolution for a band that started as a more folk-driven, Britpop act (see their more accessible debut, the cumbersomely titled "F, Monday, Orange, February, Venus, Lunatic, 1 or 13") -- and then they met the Lips' Wayne Coyne. Underneath the Brainiac-like furor, though, are some solid, funky rhythms. One fan was moved enough to tear off his shirt, jump on stage and dance ecstatically for all to see.

Wandering Sixth Street ...

AUSTIN, Texas -- When I first attended South by Southwest, the annual pop music conference and festival in Austin, Texas (the music industry's spring break), it was 1996, just shy of the event's 10th anniversary -- and everyone was already complaining about how big it had gotten. Too many bands, too much press, too much traffic. The film fest had barely started.

This year is the 25th anniversary of SXSW's music showcases, which are now preceded by SXSW Interactive and the SXSW film festival. The whole things stretches on for 10 days, with a lot of entertainment, a lot of media and a ton of traffic -- and now most of the complaints about size and impact have shifted to Interactive. But we're all down here because SXSW still has a rep of previewing the films, music and online experiences that we'll be geeking out about for the rest of the year.

It starts the moment you get off the plane, where a brave singer-songwriter strummed her guitar on a makeshift stage at the airport bar next to the baggage claim escalators. For the next four nights, the Texas capital will echo with more than a thousand musicians hoping to turn the heads of writers, talent agents, music supervisors, film directors, label execs and more.

Jack White was first into the fray this afternoon ...

CD review: Jennifer Hudson, 'I Remember Me'

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(Arista) 3 stars

jhudremember.jpg"Ah, ah, ah -- I've been through some things."

Jennifer Hudson sings this to open her second album, "I Remember Me," out next Tuesday, and we know it's an understatement. Good and bad, her life since entering American pop culture more than five years ago has been one of extremes -- many happy successes ("American Idol," an Oscar, a Grammy, a baby) and one big tragedy (her mother, brother and nephew murdered on Chicago's South Side in 2008). She's not lacking for emotional material to drive a soulful album.

"I Remember Me," though, is not possessed of a shred of blues, self-pity or vainglory. "I named it 'I Remember Me' because I feel like in 29 years I have lead over four different lives," she said last month on the red carpet at the Oscars. "It is a disc of everything I've been through." Start to finish, these dozen songs brim with optimism, a powerful sense of self and not so much confidence as a deep, deep faith.

By the second song, "I Got This," Hudson has side-stepped any empathy we might try to bring to the listening experience and is reassuring us that everything's OK. J-Hud's on the case, not to worry. "Every single breath, another step on my road / I'm from the South Side trying to get to my goal." She sings. "Ain't no stopping me / Come on, follow me if you feel the need / Better believe, I got this."

Kanye West surprise to top off SXSW 2011 festival

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Finally, a hot-shot wild card shows up with a mysterious gig at this week's South by Southwest 2011: the return of Kanye West.

For a while, it was looking as if the annual music industry conference and concert festival in Austin, Texas, was going to be left to a strange cluster of '80s has-beens -- Duran Duran is all over town, the Bangles have a charity showcase, Men Without Hats is there, for Pete's sake -- and Bob Geldof is Thursday's keynote speaker. But this weekend, West "announced" an upcoming gig at 11:59 p.m. Saturday at the apex of the Texas event via this typically cryptic video:

West last appeared at SXSW in 2009, playing a two-hour showcase at a party sponsored by a clothing company and a music magazine. He played a lot of songs from his then-new album "808s and Heartbreak," and he was joined by a cast of great guests, including English soul singer Mr. Hudson; rappers Consequence (from Queens, N.Y.), Kid Cudi (Cleveland), Big Sean (Detroit), Tony Williams (West's cousin); fellow Chicagoans Leonard "GLC" Harris, Really Doe and Common; and neo-soul great Erykah Badu.

Who will he bring with him this year? And isn't his ginormous personality enough?

Stay tuned. This blog will be chock full of SXSW news and reviews the rest of the week, live from the self-proclaimed "music capital of the world."

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The party game should have been called The Six Degrees of Joe Boyd. A now-legendary music producer, the American-born Boyd (right, above) was a central figure in London's music scene during the mid-'60s. He ran Elektra Records' office there as well as the famed UFO club. In both capacities, he worked with artists such as Eric Clapton, the Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, Nico, Nick Drake and Pink Floyd. He's loaded with stories about many of rock's iconic figures and watershed moments. Before London, he was a part of the folk revival in the states, working with Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. When Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, Boyd was the guy who plugged in his guitar.

While Boyd was shepherding seminal music in the '60s, Robyn Hitchcock was hoarding it as a gangly teen and aspiring rocker. Within a decade, the eccentric and occasionally loopy Hitchcock was reproducing those sounds in his own music -- in the Soft Boys in the '70s, with the Egyptians in the '80s, on his solo albums still.

Now the two have joined forces for a short tour. Boyd tells stories, some of which he reads from his superb 2007 memoir White Bicycles, and Hitchcock chimes in with songs to illustrate a point, pop a punchline or simply revel in '60s nostalgia.

Same ol', same ol': Ravinia annoucnes 2011 pop season

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In announcing the 2011 concert schedule for Ravinia, president Welz Kauffman this week said the North Shore festival's non-classical lineup features "something palatable to both baby boomers and babies." Palatable, maybe -- but not very spicy.

Ravinia's summer pop shows are certainly heavy on the boomers, including returning acts such as Robert Plant (in June with his Band of Joy, following their April 9 date at the Auditorium Theatre), the Moody Blues, Peter Frampton, Hall & Oates and the first Ravinia performance by Chicago since 1972. Making Ravinia debuts this summer will be Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd and two nights with Steely Dan.

For the "babies," Ravinia's offerings include Chicago singer-actress Jennifer Hudson, Maroon 5 (two shows), Carrie Underwood, Lifehouse, Guster and (taking the "babies" remark literally) 11-year-old classical crossover singer Jackie Evancho. Yes, of course there's a BoDeans show.

CD review: Adele, '21'

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(XL) 2<br />
and a half stars

adele21.jpgThe most entertaining part about Adele's new album thus far has been the dozen times I've been asked by friends and acquaintances while it's playing: "Is she British?" They ask because they've heard or read this fact, but upon listening to the soulful singer's brassy, sassy new "21," they're compelled to double-check. She's not the first contemporary British chanteuse to mine and refine American blues and soul -- see Amy Winehouse, Duffy, Imogen Heap -- but she's certainly mastered not only the music's muscle (not to mention Muscle Shoals) but, this time around, the commercial sheen to make it highly marketable.

Ministry doc 'Fix' to premiere at CIMM fest

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Good news and bad news this week for fans of Chicago industrial rock icons Ministry ...

The good news first: The world premiere of "Fix: The Ministry Movie," will occur next month as part of the third annual Chicago International Movies & Music Festival, April 14-17 at various venues. "Fix" is the first time, if you can imagine, someone has filmed the ups and downs of Ministry's career, including some wicked backstage footage.

The "Fix" screening kicks off the fest at 7:30 p.m. April 14 at the Music Box; tickets go on sale tomorrow. Ministry bassist Paul Barker and the film's director, Douglas Freel, will be on hand for the premiere and will participate in a Q&A session after the film.

Ladies and gentlemen, Janet Jackson. Janet, this is your adoring public. You remember each other, right?

The clear purpose of Ms. Jackson's current Up Close and Personal World Tour, which launched its U.S. leg just last Friday in Houston and opened a three-night stand Monday at the Chicago Theatre, is to reacquaint loyal fans with the star who was first introduced to us as "Michael's kid sister." A carefully choreographed show, from the familiar dancing to the hit-or-hit set list, Jackson's tour attempts to cram in more than 30 No. 1 songs -- several of them unfortunately breezed through in medleys -- and add them up to a total that once again equals international mega-star.

Tickets go on sale at noon today for the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival, July 15-17 in Union Park, and this morning the fest announced its first round of performers, including Animal Collective, Fleet Foxes, the Dismemberment Plan, James Blake, TV on the Radio and Cut Copy ...

CD review: R.E.M., 'Collapse Into Now'

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(Warner Bros.) 3<br />
and a half stars

remcollapse.jpgMichael Stipe dives right into R.E.M.'s new album, in a clearly enunciated, halting bark emanating from somewhere between "Out of Time" and "Automatic for the People," to assure us right away: "This is not a challenge / it just means that I love you as much as I always did." Aw, you'd almost think he had hair again. He goes on, as if reflecting on the band's 21st-century records -- from the spotty, uninspired "Reveal" to the revved-up with nowhere to roll "Accelerate" -- taking a deep breath, eager to move on: "Just the slightest bit of finesse / might have made a little less mess / But it was what it was / Let's all get on with it now." With spirited, snaky guitars and an urgent electric piano rhythm, "Collapse Into Now" (out Tuesday) shambles forward merrily.

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Things were getting a little too big for Gregg Gillis, the laptop DJ who performs under the name Girl Talk. The venues were getting bigger, to the point where the set for Girl Talk's 2009 New Year's Eve show at the Congress Theatre featured an actual house built right on the stage. The crowds -- much of which routinely joined him on stage -- kept filling the venues. Even his level of fame was growing. A Pittsburg native, that city last year actually designated Dec. 7 as Gregg Gillis Day.

He decided he had to scale some things back.

"By the 2008 tour, that's when everything kind of got bigger -- and started to get out of hand," Gillis said from a rare layover at home.

Traditionally, a Girl Talk show features no security barricade. Fans can come and go from the stage freely, dancing and gathering around Gillis at his table of computers and mixing gear. But the bigger the venues, the bigger the crowds, the bigger the headaches caused by that well-intentioned idea.

"The shows were cool, but with half the people fighting to get on stage I wind up crushed against the table. I can't move or interact. I didn't mind a cable getting kicked out once or twice -- it's part of the fun -- but then it started being every show and causing some shows to end prematurely. It became detrimental. It was going to get dangerous. ... It used to be fun chaos, now it was damaging chaos."

A music district in Chicago? Rahm Emanuel talks tunes

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He likes the Stones, Lucinda Williams and Smashing Pumpkins. He even gets off the couch to go see the shows -- and wants to create a district for live music in Chicago.
Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel talked serious policy and personal reflections about music during an interview that aired Wednesday evening on WXRT-FM (93.1).

UPDATED 7:52 p.m.: With Atlantic's one-sentence statement ...

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Lupe Fiasco's "Lasers" album finally will be released to the public this Tuesday. It's been a long time coming -- his last record was "The Cool" in 2007 -- but it's not at all the album the Chicago rapper wanted to make. His valiant attempts to buck up and promote it are downbeat and disheartening.

When I first chatted with Fiasco during some down time last week in New York City, I congratulated him on the album's first single, "The Show Goes On," which had just gone gold (selling 500,000 singles). He huffed, his whole attitude was "whatever" as he responded: "It's their record. My words, their music. They forced this song to be a No. 1 single, and that's what they got. I can't take any credit for it."

He's referring to Atlantic Records, the once historic label (founded by Ahmet Ertegun) now a subsidiary of the Warner Music Group. According to Fiasco, various players at Atlantic thwarted his artistic mission on this, his third album for the label -- a process that dragged on for three years and ended only when several hundred fans scheduled a protest last October in downtown Chicago and outside the label's New York City offices.

Ahead of the protests, Fiasco tweeted, "Victory!" and Atlantic suddenly announced a March 8 release date for the album. Fans gathered anyway, and eventually were greeted by a Warner exec brandishing a boom box. He played the song "The Show Must Go On," and the fans applauded.

Now here comes "Lasers," at long last. Songs include "Letting Go" and "I Don't Wanna Care Right Now." On "Words I Never Said," his sharp tongue attacks both sides, from right-wing commentators to President Obama. The music is lively, flexible, full of cool synthesizers. It doesn't sound like a compromise.

But Fiasco said he's just happy, if you can call it that, to see the record out there -- mostly because it means he's two albums closer to the end of his contract with Atlantic.

"'Lasers' is a great album. I'm actually happy with the record. I feel I got to say what I wanted even with --" He pauses, maybe frustrated, maybe choosing his words diplomatically. "It doesn't make up for what it took to get through it. It's still being argued and debated upon. ... The climate of this record was very weird, in some instances surreal. I became very abstract. I had to create this commercial art that appeases the corporate side. I had to acquiesce to certain forces. Hopefully within that I snuck in some things I actually wanted to say any way I can."

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Lady Gaga performs Monday night at Chicago's United Center. (Tom Cruze/Sun-Times)


Andrew Myers dressed to the nines -- OK, the tens or elevens -- for Monday night's Lady Gaga concert, and as a result he experienced the fame monster firsthand.

"I can't go 10 feet without someone taking my picture!" said the 23-year-old from Batavia. It was part complaint, part thrill. Myers wore a hand-sequined, black thrift-store jacket, the back of which he covered in bright yellow caution tape. On his head, he wore a chef's hat. He'd plastered it stiff, wrapped phone cord around it and topped it with an old princess telephone. His makeup included a lightning bolt over his right eye. His friend, Andrea Glass, wore thigh-high, bejeweled boots she'd made out of red duct tape.

"We bought our tickets in September and started working right away," Myers said, gushing in the corridor of the United Center several minutes before the show began. "I didn't finish until today."

He started to say more, but a woman with an eastern European accent approached him, asking, "You OK, please? I take your picture?"

Thomas Conner

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

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