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February 2012 Archives

The Monkees heartthrob Davy Jones dead at 66

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4045777.jpgPoor, poor, Marcia Brady.

Davy Jones, "the cute one" among TV's "The Monkees," died from a heart attack Wednesday in Florida. He was 66.

Much of what you've seen on TV having to do with music, from the co-ed covers of "Glee" on back through the creation of MTV itself, can be traced back to the Monkees -- and to Davy Jones, in particular. A short sprite with a winning smile, Jones epitomized television's visual translation of the pop idol and helped convince America that rock and roll had a place in its living rooms, after all.

The Pitchfork Music Festival has announced dates and its first slate of bands for its annual summer indie-rock party in Chicago's Union Park.

Vampire Weekend, Feist, Godspeed You! Black Emperor are among the artists announced this morning for the acclaimed independently run fest, which will take place July 13-15.

Van Halen @ United Center: Slow start, big finish

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(Photos by Curtis Lehmkuhl/Sun-Times Media)


Whatever you think of David Lee Roth -- and despite his rough start Friday night at Chicago's United Center -- it's good to have him back.

Seeing Roth on stage again with the band that made him famous, and vice versa, is like seeing your political party return to the White House: Finally, we can get some real work done and just, you know, forget the last several years.

The Indiana-born Roth was the first of three Van Halen administrations. Roth's high-kicking cabaret act established trade in the '70s and secured the band superpower status by "1984." (He returned for a 2007 reunion tour.) Sammy Hagar provided stable leadership off and on from the mid-'80s and into the new century -- but with the personality of Gerald Ford. Somewhere in there was Extreme singer Gary Cherone, Van Halen's Van Buren. Through it all riffed the namesake guitarist with the precocious grin, Eddie Van Halen.

Roth, however, probably would like to forget the first several songs of Friday's show, the fourth on the veteran rock band's current tour with its prodigal singer. They opened with "You Really Got Me," Van Halen's hit cover of the Kinks, and then it took nine more songs to work out some other kinks.

A look ahead at shows worth seeing (and hearing) this week ...

LUCKY BOYS CONFUSION
DuPage's own ska-punk revivalists came along in the late '90s as one of the few acts that mixed rap and rock and nearly redeemed the sins of the others who tried. They haven't recorded a full-length album in nearly a decade, but "Dumb Pop Song" is still smart fun.
Hear You Me opens at 8:30 p.m. Feb. 25 at the Montrose Room in the InterContinental Chicago O'Hare, 5300 N. River Road in Rosemont. Tickets: $12. Call (847) 447-4022; montroseroom.com.

PRETTY GOOD DANCE MOVES
The Chicago-native duo with the perfectly apt name finally released a debut full-length recently, "Limo," an ambitious series of "movements" spotlighting Brazilian Girls singer Sabina Scibba. It's spunky, it's bouncy, it's chill, and it's on tour around the Midwest.
Rambos, Pictures of Then and Billeh Ocean open at 10 p.m. Feb. 25 at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western. Tickets: $8, or an email to rsvp@emptybottle.com might get you in for free. Call (773) 276-3600; emptybottle.com.

Skrillex, Diplo, Moby, more for Soldier Field dance fest

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The rumors of a Skrillex show at Soldier Field are not exaggerated, after all.

Chicago will play host to an enterprising all-dance music festival this summer. An expanded Spring Awakening Music Festival will take place June 16-17 on the Stadium Green outside of Soldier Field.

Headliners include dance music's current superstar and recent three-time Grammy winner Skrillex (continuing an "insane" yearlong run for the young DJ), plus Diplo, A-Trak, Afrojack, Flux Pavilion, Laidback Luke, Wolfgang Gartner, Ferry Corsten, Markus Schulz, as well as a DJ set by Moby.

Music reviews: Sinead O'Connor, Van Halen, 'Chi-Town'

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Sinead O'Connor, "How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?"
(One Little Indian/MRI) 3<br />
and a half stars

sineadcd.jpgIf she'd stopped recording, her tabloid tendencies would have consumed her legacy. Thank heaven -- and despite several assurances of retirement -- Sinead O'Connor, 45, has soldiered on, dropping the occasional album to pierce the veil of her headline-making habits and remind everyone that, OK, she's a little off but she's also one of the most admirably soul-baring, undeniably gut-wrenching pop artists around.

O'Connor's ninth such effort is one of her best, and it comes on the heels of holiday headlines about her quickie Vegas marriage to a drug counselor and the crack she bought on their wedding night. Mood swings? O'Connor's still got 'em, but on "How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?" -- oh, sure now she's got a live-and-let-live attitude -- those same swings power a colorful and alluring emotional carousel. She may lack an editor in real life, but in the studio O'Connor remains focused and controlled, even graceful.

When Mick Jagger hands you a microphone, you've got to sing. Even if you're the American president.

During a celebration of blues music Tuesday night in the East Room of the White House, President Obama joined Jagger, B.B. King, Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy and others to sing a few lines of this city's unofficial anthem, "Sweet Home Chicago."

Fellow Chicago icon Guy referenced the president's recent (and credible!) Al Green impression at the Apollo Theater and prodded him, saying, "You gotta keep it up."

Jagger held out the microphone as the musicians started the song, and Obama sang, "Come on, baby, don't you want to go." He let King sing the next line before capping the verse himself, "Sweet home Chicago!"

Watch his latest musical moment ...

Del Fuegos once again hand in hand for reunion tour

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The Del Fuegos in 1983 in their native Boston: Tom Lloyd (from left),
Warren Zanes, Dan Zanes and Woody Giessmann.
(Photo by Wayne Viens)


The family ties within the Del Fuegos were as fractious and rollicking as the band's roots rock. They still are -- brothers Dan and Warren Zanes, whose infighting contributed to the Boston band's breakup by the end of the '80s, are grinning and bearing each other long enough for a reunion tour that begins this week.

But while Dan has made a new name for himself as a purveyor of "family music," fans can credit the reunion of the Del Fuegos to yet another Zanes: Dan and Warren's mom.

"Our drummer [Woody Giessmann] had done a favor for a family friend of mine, helped someone get into treatment," Dan Zanes tells the Sun-Times. "My mother said, 'Oh, Woody was so good and so helpful, and you know, he just wants one thing: He wants the Del Fuegos to get back together and do a show for his drug treatment organization [Right Turn]. I said, 'No, I can't do that.'

"But then I thought about it. My mother has never asked me to do anything. So I called the guys. Everybody was up for it."

Keeping Matthew Santos from 'Quickly Disappearing'

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santosmatthew.jpgRegarding Matthew Santos, some IT advice would be helpful. We need to clear our cache and reboot. Delete all files connected to Lupe Fiasco's "Superstar" and update to the Apple-cool, user-friendly Santos 4.0.

"Quickly Disappearing" is the Chicago singer's fourth album, out now, and let's hope the title turns out to be ironic instead of prophetic. Because it's very good, what he calls "neo-soul folk-rock" -- organic and soulful and moody, full of interesting musical ideas and dripping with serious vocal talent. Chris Martin and especially Jeff Buckley comparisons are rife, based on Santos' "Grace"-ful voice alone, but a better genetic match might be the easygoing, dreamy R&B/alt-pop of Josh Clayton-Felt.

But there's the problem: Few have heard of, much less remember, Clayton-Felt (School of Fish singer who made one stellar solo album, "Inarticulate Nature Boy," which isn't on iTunes or Spotify, before dying of cancer), and Santos -- despite worldwide exposure and acclaim just a few short years ago -- is perilously and unjustly close to a similar status.

Laura Veirs detours into children's folk music

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veirssmile.jpgLaura Veirs made one of my favorite records of the last few years, 2010's "July Flame" -- a delightful record of breezy, pastoral hymns to nature. Somewhere between Fleet Foxes' "White Winter Hymnal" and Gillian Welch's "Winter's Come and Gone," Veirs' seventh album is a warmer celebration of the lushness of summer with surprisingly austere arrangements of piano, guitars and banjos, and Veirs' wondrous, sometimes childlike voice.

"I still like it, too," she says of the album. "Sometimes they don't hold up over time. I feel the songwriting's there. I can go back and play those songs and still feel connected. That's not always the case. Songs lose meaning over time. Those songs I can still put my heart into."

Veirs' latest album capitalizes on that childlike voice. "Tumble Bee: Laura Veirs Sings Folk Songs for Children" is a new collection of precocious classics once popularized by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Peggy Seeger, Jimmie Rodgers and Harry Belafonte.

Beach Boys booked for Chicago, Milwaukee

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After their stilted Sunday night performance at the Grammys, the reunited Beach Boys -- Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks -- announced their intention to tour on the occasion of their 50th anniversary.

This morning the first regional dates for that tour come through: the old guys will be at the Chicago Theatre on May 21 and at Milwaukee's annual Summerfest on July 1.

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Chicago's Jennifer Hudson delivered a moving tribute Sunday night at the Grammy Awards by singing one of Whitney Houston's biggest hits, "I Will Always Love You." (Getty Images)


Even before the death of Whitney Houston the day before, the 54th annual Grammy Awards were poised to be a performance-packed soap opera.

Adele's back after throat surgery! Rihanna and Chris Brown are in the same room together! Lots of people have died, and sweet ol' Glen Campbell's saying goodbye!

But Sunday night's Grammys were telenovela-free and performance-focused. The actual gramophones, per the Recording Academy's strategy to battle declining award-show ratings, were barely a sideshow to the three-and-a-half-hour ceremony's 18 performances by more than 30 artists.

Early winners at the Grammys: Kanye West, Skrillex

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Tonight's telecast of the 54th annual Grammy Awards will feature nearly two dozen performances by more than 30 artists, and it'll be a miracle if it fits into its scheduled three-and-a-half timeslot. That chunk of time will feature only about 10 award presentations, which means most of the awards were given out earlier Sunday.

Among the early winners ...

Kanye West, who leads this year's nominations with seven, has picked up three trophies -- nearly sweeping the rap categories by winning rap album (for "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"), rap song and rap song collaboration (both for "All of the Lights").

For Whitney Houston, happiness was just out of reach

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whitney.JPGBarbra Streisand tweeted it best early Sunday morning: "She had everything, beauty, a magnificent voice. How sad her gifts could not bring her the same happiness they brought us."

Streisand's succinct eulogy for singer Whitney Houston -- who was found dead Saturday afternoon in her suite at a Beverly Hills, Calif., hotel -- rings true to the bell curve that was Houston's career.

Happiness is something not easy to ascribe to Houston. That's certainly easy to say about her personal life; younger people likely are aware of her as a tabloid train wreck far more than as a record-breaking, wildly popular diva. The majority of her headlines in the last decade have been non-musical: drug abuse and a marijuana bust, erratic behavior and that last-minute cancelation at the Oscars, her roller-coaster marriage and all its dirty laundry literally aired on the reality TV show "Being Bobby Brown."

But even when she was at the top of her game -- and the charts, and the world -- Houston never seemed completely happy.

Obama's official campaign music plays to the crowd

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The chief digs his music, that much is clear.

That was a credible Al Green impression President Obama slipped into a speech during a Jan. 19 fundraising event at the famed Apollo Theater. Not only did the YouTube clip of the singer-in-chief go viral, it became its own music-industry stimulus package: downloads of Green's "Let's Stay Together" briefly jumped nearly 500 percent.

So it's no surprise to see that track on Obama's official campaign playlist, unveiled on Thursday.

These are the songs he'll be blaring at campaign events, so perhaps we should be reading between the song titles for political messages in "No Nostalgia" (AgesandAges), "Keep Marchin'" (Raphael Saadiq), "Keep Me in Mind" (the Zac Brown Band") and -- uh-oh -- "Roll With the Changes" (REO Speedwagon).

Here's the complete playlist ...

A look ahead at shows worth seeing (and hearing) this week ...

CHICAGO MIXTAPE
chimixtapelogo.jpgSpeaking of mixtapes, Chicago Mixtape -- a spirited enterprise that delivers an album of cool new local music to your in-box every week -- is celebrating its one-year anniversary with, of course, a big concert. In that first year, Chicago Mixtape has spread the love of more than 300 bands (from brand newbies to icons like Andrew Bird and the Sea & Cake) and had to move its home-based start-up to a commercial level of service because of the bandwidth demand from more than 250,000 downloads. That means they could use some coin, and this weekend's concert -- featuring talented locals such as Elephant Gun, the Shams Band, Architecture and the Damn Choir, plus an art show -- is a fund-raiser.
Music starts at 8:30 p.m. Feb. 11 at Subterranean, 2011 W. North. Tickets: $10. Call (773) 278-6600; subt.net or chicagomixtape.com.

A-TRAK
For a fabulous fleeting moment about a year ago, a dance-pop confection by Duck Sauce, titled "Barbra Streisand," was a viral thrill online. (Now it's in my head again. And I really don't mind.) Duck Sauce is a DJ duo, half of which is headlining the bill of like-minded dancefloor fun this weekend at Chicago's Mayhem party. The show features A-Trak from Duck Sauce, supported by local DJs Gun Love, Trentino and Phenom.
At 10 p.m. Feb. 10 at the Mid, 306 N. Halsted. Tickets: $15-$20. Call (312) 265-3990; themidchicago.com.

Members of Megadeth are praying for you

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After the decades of substance abuse, fights, injuries, pathologies, legal hassles, breakups, floods, plagues of locusts -- it's a miracle the members of Megadeth are still able to stand, much less tour and record.

Small wonder they pray together backstage. Twice before each show, in fact.

"We haven't had bad stuff happen to us for a long time, but it used to be commonplace," says Dave Mustaine, the veteran heavy metal band's singer-guitarist and unmovable founding member. "We all -- well, not Chris [Broderick, guitarist] -- but we all enjoy praying before we go on stage. Our schedule is down to a routine. An hour before stage everybody has to leave [the dressing rooms] except family. Thirty minutes before, family has to leave. That's when me, Shawn [Drover, drummer] and Dave [Ellefson, founding bassist] do our first prayers. Ten minutes before stage, we then do a big group prayer. That's really grounding."

Madonna announces world tour, in Chicago 9/19

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Her Super Bowl halftime performance Sunday night was clearly a flashy commercial for her upcoming album, but now Madonna also has announced the details of her world tour in 2012.

Among the first 26 concerts scheduled across North America is a show Sept. 19 at Chicago's United Center.

Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum checks back in

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Jeff-Mangum.jpgJeff Mangum's fans called out to him during Monday night's concert at the Athenaeum Theater. Understandably elated to see Mangum after his 14-year disappearing act, fans shouted out questions between songs. Most of them were frightfully trivial, but one received a poignant answer.

"How do you feel about reincarnation?" someone asked.

"Well, I'm doing it right now," Mangum said.

Back in 1998, Mangum found himself knighted, canonized, deified. "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," the surreal second album from his folk-rock band Neutral Milk Hotel, quickly surpassed its critical acclaim to become a holy relic -- and that was before Mangum finished the tour (including a stop at Chicago's late Lounge Ax), folded his tent and retreated not only from the business but from sight altogether. Before long, he'd become the J.D. Salinger of indie rock.

Green Day's 'American Idiot' on theatrical tour

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"American Idiot" is no dummy when it comes to timing.

First, if you're going to push a show onto a Broadway stage in this era, it's gotta rock. Show tunes, schmo tunes -- the most intriguing hits in New York these days are rock musicals. "Million Dollar Quartet," "Memphis," "Jersey Boys," "Rock of Ages," "Fela!" and even a recent revival of "Hair" -- they all crank it to 11, at least by Broadway standards.

Second, America might be in the mood for a little less escapism (run along now, "Legally Blonde") and a little more social statement. After a year of protests in parks and a lack thus far of similar sentiments in new pop music, what if some biting social commentary showed up at, of all places, the thee-uh-tah?

"Biting" is too strong a word for "American Idiot," the Tony-nominated rock musical based on pop-punk trio Green Day's 2004 concept album, but its classic outsider-in-the-big-city narrative at least reflects some of the potent alienation and post-9/11 jitters of contemporary youth in the composite characters Jesus of Suburbia, Whatshername and St. Jimmy.

Madonna & friends romp through Super Bowl halftime

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Madonna, on the shoulders of LMFAO's RedFoo, during her Super Bowl halftime performance Sunday night in Indianapolis. (AP)


Leave it to Madonna to transition from over-the-top Roman decadence to a gospel revival meetin' within the span of barely 15 minutes.

The veteran pop star's satisfying halftime spectacle in the middle of Sunday night's Super Bowl XLVI hopscotched through her musical career and featured its own second string team of special guests.

Concertline: Estelle, Jeff Mangum, more

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A look ahead at shows worth seeing (and hearing) this week ...

SMITH WESTERNS
When we talked to Chicago's Smith Westerns last spring, the band members (ages 19 and 20) were lamenting the stereotype of their youth. After a year of solid touring and festival shows supporting their acclaimed sophomore record, "Dye It Blonde" (and its great singles), Max Kakacek and brothers Cullen and Cameron Omori likely have aged a few extra years. They're finally back home this weekend.
Porcelain Raft and Bleached open at 9 p.m. Feb. 3 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark. Tickets: $16 advance, $19 day of. Call (800) 514-ETIX; metrochicago.com.

ESTELLE
British R&B supertalent Estelle -- writer, singer, rapper -- received her due attention in 2008 with a Kanye West/will.i.am collaboration, "American Boy." Much acclaim and a Grammy nomination later, she returns next month with her third album, "All of Me." The BET Music Matters Tour brings her through Chicago with Luke James and Elle Varner.
At 9 p.m. Feb. 3 at Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee. Tickets: $20. Call (773) 489-3160; doubledoor.com.

Music reviews: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr

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Paul McCartney, "Kisses on the Bottom" (Hear/Concord) 2 and a half stars

maccakisses.jpgThe idea sounded perilous -- Paul McCartney, one of the most revered writers in pop music, shifting gears into interpretive mode for an entire album of standards from the '30s and '40s. John Lennon used to knock's McCartney's "granny music" in the Beatles (specifically deriding "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"), and now here's McCartney at age 69, a grandfather himself, cooing through Johnny Mercer and Fats Waller? Should we expect a double bill at casinos this summer with Michael Buble?

McCartney, though, has been a nostalgic old fuddy-duddy since he was a teenager. "Yesterday" wasn't his only misty-eyed glance backward, and he was especially reflective on his last album of original pop, 2007's "Memory Almost Full." which found him examining his "Ever Present Past" as well as singing, "Don't live in the past" ("Vintage Clothes"). Never one to take his own lyrical advice, McCartney told Rolling Stone last year he's wanted to do an album of standards "since the Beatle days" and delayed it further with good reason: "But then Rod [Stewart] went mad on it. I thought, 'I have to wait so it doesn't look like I'm trying to do a Rod.'"

Blessedly, McCartney does not pull a Rod. "Kisses on the Bottom" is a trifle, for sure, but a largely pleasant one.

Thomas Conner

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

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