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December 2011 Archives

Buddy Guy annual residency begins Jan. 5

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Buddy Guy returns home for his annual residency at his own South Loop club beginning Jan. 5.

The blues guitar legend will be at Legend's for 16 shows, each Thursday-Sunday through Jan. 29. Each Saturday show is already sold out.

Scenes app offers hipster education for iPad

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emusicscenes.jpgWhile lying around the old homestead during the holiday, use your iPad to school yourself as a music hipster. A nifty new free app, eMusic's Scenes, features bundled content for a variety of "scenes" -- including Italian opera (1810-1915), Memphis gospel (1945-1970), Brazilian pop (1950-2010), Detroit soul (1960-1975), Minneapolis rock and roll (1980-1995), Atlanta hip-hop (1990-2010) and more.

Each scene features a timeline and an overview, plus videos, photos, song samples and artist bios, plus extra features for eMusic subscribers. It's a fluid (though occasionally buggy) app that allows you to swipe through music history and plug into certain nodes along the way.

List-o-mania: The 11 best Chicago concerts of 2011

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Last March, on a panel at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, veteran rock critic Ed Ward said, "I feel sorry for kids walking down the street with white ear buds. They think music takes place in their head. Music doesn't take place in your head. It takes place in a room."

Indeed, in a world where we now watch more performances on devices in our laps and palms, it's healthy to get off the couch every now and then and experience the vibrations from flesh and steel across the room rather than from a tiny, tinny speaker.

Here are 11 shows from '11 that were better for being there ...

the-hood-internet-credit-courtney-allessio-2.jpgNew Year's Eve is a free-for-all celebration of what has been instead of what's about to be. At least, that's the way it's working out for online mashup sensations the Hood Internet.

"We've got all this new stuff coming up but, yeah, for New Year's we're keeping the new stuff under wraps," says Steve Reidell, a k a STV SLV. "These shows are all about -- well, it's a party."

Just two weeks ago the Hood Internet released its latest and self-titled compilation. The duo -- including Aaron Brink, a k a ABX, who recently relocated to North Carolina, though the pair still counts Chicago as its home base -- has been fixture in digital music since 2007 because of their clever mashups, mixing two or three pop songs (usually featuring at least one rap track) into a new and frequently danceable hybrid. Think Girl Talk, but with a longer attention span.

Their breakout track was a 2007 braiding of Broken Social Scene's "Shoreline" and R. Kelly's "I'm a Flirt." They've since spliced together such unlikely duets as Chromeo and Rihanna ("Don't Stop the Fancy Footwork"), Fleetwood Mac and Daft Punk ("You Make Lovin' Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger") and a hometown three-artist pile-up featuring Kanye West, Wilco and the 1985 Chicago Bears ("Superbowl Jesus").

What began as a fun studio experiment eventually turned into a steady live DJ gig for the two remixers, though it was a slow burn.

List-o-mania: The 11 best albums of 2011

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'Supergroup' Wild Flag unfurled the year's best record.


This year's best-albums list contains some curious numerology: three actors, two concept albums, one supergroup, two Chicago bands, Beyonce's "4" and zero Lady Gaga. It's also the Nigel Tufnel edition, cranking the picks up to 11 for '11.

It also arrives on a whisper of momentary good news for the music industry's numbers. Global music revenues are expected to rise 7 percent to $6.3 billion, according to Reuters, after a 2010 total of $5.9 billion. CD sales continue to plummet, but the momentum of online services as iTunes and Spotify are padding the gap for the time being.

As you go forth with Christmas cash -- or gift cards -- here are the albums from 2011 well worth the money ...

( Listen to a sampler of these albums in our Spotify playlist! )

List-o-mania: The 11 best singles of 2011

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Here's to the inevitable demise of the CD, which nearly killed off the single. This year, empowered by easy digital access, some great singles made the rounds. Here are 11 of the best:

1. "Midnight City" by M83
French musician Anthony Gonzalez is just killing time, "waiting in a car, waiting for a ride in the dark." From such a humdrum moment comes the year's most sweeping, inspiring piece of music. Even if the rest of the rather ambitious double-album tanked (it doesn't), this single provides an unbreakable lynchpin. Its barking loops, simple thundering rhythm and raking snyths exact their pound of gooseflesh -- and then comes the only sax solo of the year that serves the song beautifully without grating cheese or winking with a hipster's irony. "The city is my church," Gonzalez moans, calling all to gather and worship in his shadowy, neon-lit dreamscapes. Amen, and thank God digital files don't warp or wear out from the repeated listening such a beautiful track demands.

( Listen to all 11 tracks on our Spotify playlist! )

Music review: Common, 'The Dreamer/The Believer'

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(Warner Bros.) 3<br />
stars

commondreamercd.jpgWhen Common makes a puzzling or outright bad album, there's no reason for upset. For nearly 20 years now, his pattern has been clear: a misstep is always followed by a spectacular return to form. The head-scratching acid jazz experiment of "Electric Circus" (2002) blew a fuse, for instance, but "Be" (2005) was a refreshing reboot of this two-time Grammy winner's Chicago street cred. Likewise, after the clubtastic nonsense of 2008's "Universal Mind Control," Common now U-turns to reconnect with his South Side roots and deliver "The Dreamer/The Believer," his spirited and soulful ninth album.

Wilco starts week at the Civic Opera House

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(Tom Cruze/Sun-Times)


There's no place like home for the holidays. Wrapping the first leg of a tour supporting their excellent eighth studio album, "The Whole Love," Wilco returned to Chicago this week for a residency, of sorts -- playing five shows at five different venues. The first, Monday night at the Civic Opera House, showcased a manic, dramatic and occasionally over-the-top band worthy of the venue. It even ended with a diva.

"This is how I tell it," bandleader Jeff Tweedy sang, opening the show with the gossamer lilt of "One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)," the 12-minute closer from "The Whole Love." He then proceeded to backtrack the story of his band in a two-and-a-half-hour set that spanned Wilco's entire catalog. Considering the ups and downs of the last 16 years -- the low drama and presidential highs -- it's a tale that indeed belongs in an opera house.

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In the music world, there are few bad stories that begin with the discovery of a shoebox packed with mystery tapes.

"They've been here since I arrived in 1999," says Colby Maddox, archivist at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music, describing the two boxes he found in the school's basement. "We had just moved to this building [on Lincoln Avenue], and I finally got into it one day. They were DAT tapes, obviously transfers of a lot of old reel-to-reel recordings. A lot of it proved to be just junk, but" -- he chuckles -- "some of it was pretty great."

After 10 years, three grants and countless man hours deciphering the tapes, editing down the good stuff, transferring it all to digital files and getting legal clearances, these long-neglected recordings of Old Town School concerts will be available to the public as a four-volume, digital-only "box set" plainly titled "Live From the Old Town School," available Tuesday on Amazon, CD Baby and iTunes. The 127 selections span the decades, from Mahalia Jackson in the 1950s and Win Stracke, the school's co-founder, in the 1960s to Jon Langford in the '90s and Andrew Bird in this century.

'Transformative power': Paul Nelson bio, anthology

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paulnelsonbook.jpgMusic critic Paul Nelson didn't just interview some of the greatest rock musicians of the boomer era, he became their friends. He opened up to them. Some counseled him, a few loaned him money. When the wife of singer-songwriter Warren Zevon saw her husband needed an intervention to face his addictions, she paid for Nelson to fly from New York to Los Angeles -- not to report it, to be there as a close friend.

Some of the most striking moments in Kevin Avery's Everything Is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson (Fantagraphics, $29.99, 584 pages) are taken from Nelson's tapes of these personal, conversational interviews. In most instances, the interviewer-interviewee role is reversed. Nelson wrote for Rolling Stone and other music magazines, but also wrote about literature and film. In his last round of chats with actor Clint Eastwood, Nelson opens up about writing to a woman who'd sent him a fan letter (about one of his Zevon articles) and that he was hoping it might turn into a relationship.

"Jeez, I'm pretty lonesome," Nelson admits. "I mean, maybe this will be something."

"Sure," Eastwood responds.

Everything Is an Afterthought is as much a eulogy for the life and work of this influential critic and writer as it is a reflection of how otherworldly the entertainment industry of the 1960s and '70s appears from a contemporary perspective of online bloggers and digital music.

Coldplay sets tour, Aug. 7 at United Center

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Coldplay today announced its first North American tour in three years, trekking across the continent next summer -- including a penultimate stop Aug. 7 at Chicago's United Center.

We've already run through our annual accounting of the year's new holiday albums -- and, believe it or not, Justin Bieber's isn't horrible -- but since then some late offerings to the Christmas cache have come through.

Here's a look at the extras ...


In 2004, while his Smoking Popes were on hiatus, Chicagoan Josh Caterer's new band Duvall recorded a great pop-rock Christmas album, "O Holy Night." The Popes are a going concern again, but meanwhile Caterer returned to the North Pole and came back with a solo EP, "The Heart of Christmas."

Caterer played all the instruments for these five songs, mostly originals -- the title track, "The Baby From Bethlehem," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "Conroy the Gingerbread Boy" and "Austin Bound" -- in the same direct, melodious vein as both bands.

Caterer has assembled a band for a short tour, playing these and other songs from his many catalogs now. He'll be back home Dec. 14 for a show at Schubas.

'Alien Queen: The Concert' rocks theatrical comedy

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Jaclyn Keough as Hero Alien vert.jpgFreddie Mercury sang many Queen songs with the fierce determination of someone desperate to keep themselves alive amid dire circumstances. He probably wasn't thinking about space aliens -- but, hey, that's not exactly a bad motivation.

"To watch Sigourney Weaver singing 'Keep Yourself Alive' as she's running with a cat down the hallway -- it's just funny!" says Scott Bradley, the first half of the inventive Scooty & JoJo musical theater team (with Jonny Stax). "And it's beautiful, and the music's stunning."

The duo's latest onstage movie-music mash-up combines the storyline from the first two "Alien" movies with the aptly bombastic rock music of Queen. It's not a completely otherworldy idea; Queen's music is the only thing most folks still respect from "Flash Gordon," after all.

Like their previous productions -- from "Carpenters Halloween" (John Carpenter's horror classic scored with the Carpenters' sunny tunes) to "Tran: The Atari Musical" (Scott describes as a gender-bending "sex-farce version of 'Tron' with rock music from 1982") -- "Alien Queen" began life as a more traditional musical theater piece with puppets. Now it's morphed into a full-on rock experience as "Alien Queen: The Concert," returning for another engagement this weekend at Metro.

Music reviews: Roots, Woody Guthrie, Smiths, more

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The Roots, "undun" (Def Jam) 4<br />
stars

rootsundun.jpgIf you require a reminder that the Roots are so much more than a backing band, you couldn't ask for a colder cup of water in your face than their latest album. Last seen on record backing John Legend through a tepid set of soul covers, the nearly 20-year-old hip-hop and R&B band more recently made headlines in their day job as Jimmy Fallon's chat-show band; the Roots were reprimanded last week by NBC for playing 16 seconds of Fishbone's "Lyin' Ass Bitch" as GOP presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann appeared as a guest. That lil' prank had value, helping fans recall this band's social conscious, which they showcase here through a gritty cautionary tale of a thug who comes "undun."

Say what you will about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it at least has a tendency to reunite bands that no one thought would ever occupy the same zip code ever again. Will it bring back together the feuding original lineup of Guns 'N Roses?

GNR is among the class of 2012 to be inducted into the hall of fame, announced this morning. The other inductees are:

Music reviews: Drake, Rihanna, Childish Gambino

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Childish Gambino, "Camp" (Glassnote) 3<br />
and a half stars
Drake, "Take Care" (Universal Republic) 1<br />
and a halfstars

Now we're really seeing the impact made by Kanye West -- back when he was precocious and fresh and carving out a space in hip-hop for sheltered kids with zero street cred. The son of a Chicago college professor, West struggled to be "real" (whatever that means) by skewering hip-hop clich├ęs, bringing a chunky, clunky flow and, most importantly, occasionally being quite funny. Now, of course, West's innocence is long lost and he's gallivanting around the country with Jay-Z on their tour for the underwhelming "Watch the Throne" collaboration. But into the vacuum step two similarly sensitive hip-hop hopefuls: megastar Drake and the acquired but rewarding tastes of comedian Donald Glover.

Chicago Grammy contenders: Kanye, Wilco, Lupe, more

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Kanye West topped last night's Grammy nominations with a total of seven, all the while he was performing here in his hometown in the first of two shows at the United Center with pal and collaborator Jay-Z.

West's nominations split between his own acclaimed album, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," and the recent joint effort with Jay-Z, "Watch the Throne." In the category of best rap song, West's "All of the Lights" competes with "Otis" from "Watch the Throne."

Nominees for the 54th annual Grammy Awards include numerous other Chicago pop music acts ...

Kanye West and Jay-Z (the Throne) at United Center

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Kanye West has a rep for being, shall we say, opinionated about award shows -- which trophies he should have won, which ones young country singers shouldn't have. But as he and Jay-Z performed together Wednesday night in Chicago, the hometown rapper was surprisingly subdued about his seven Grammy nominations, announced on TV from Los Angeles while the concert here was in progress.

He barely mentioned it. "This song just got nominated for song of the year, by the way," West said as he started "All of the Lights," from last year's acclaimed album "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy."

Both "Fantasy" and the album this joint superstar tour is supporting, the West/Jay-Z collaboration "Watch the Throne," were nominated for best rap album -- West's effort deservedly so, the duo's CD not so much. Expectations for the pairing were epic and unattainable, yet the results still managed to legitimately disappoint. The title instructed us to look, rather than listen, and so seemed largely an excuse for one helluva tour.

Thomas Conner

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

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

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