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April 2012 Archives

Music reviews: Jack White, Bonnie Raitt, Lurrie Bell

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jwhiteblunderbuss.jpgJack White, "Blunderbuss" (XL) 3 stars -- After slashing through the musical culture as chief samurai of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs and (sort of) the Dead Weather, bluesy modern-rock icon Jack White finally has a moment to himself. Thirteen years after debuting with the now-defunct White Stripes, this is White's solo debut -- one that began on a lark when rapper RZA didn't show up for a scheduled recording session at White's Third Man Studios. The resulting whimsy is the salvation of "Blunderbuss," available Tuesday, a record that distills as well as stretches out each of his previous sounds and adds a refreshing new chapter to White's colorful tale.

Concertline: Counting Crows, Nick Lowe, more

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

They haven't put out new music in a while -- the recent releases have been last year's live album, a solo album of covers by singer Adam Duritz and now a band album of covers, "Underwater Sunshine" (Bob Dylan, Richard Thompson, Teenage Fanclub) -- but the well-meaning '90s band is still known for putting on a great show.
At 7:30 p.m. April 22 at the Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine. Tickets: $47.50. Call (800) 514-ETIX;

Two-time Grammy winner and Chicago native Dave Samuels is looked to as one of the nation's top vibes players, playing with musicians as varied as Oscar Peterson and Chet Baker to Frank Zappa and Bruce Hornsby. Samuels returns home this weekend (after some time) with his jazz trio featuring Hammond B3 and drums.
At 9 p.m. April 20 at the Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway. Tickets: $12 at the door. Call (773) 878-5552;

Taste of Chicago 2012 will be half as long and thus feature half as many main-stage music acts. But with tickets now charged for seats in the Petrillo Music Shell, shouldn't that mean a higher caliber of artist?

Judge for yourself: The city announced today four of the five acts scheduled to perform at this year's post-July 4 Taste in Grant Park -- Jennifer Hudson (July 11), Death Cab for Cutie (July 12), Chaka Khan (July 14) and Dierks Bentley (July 15).

Record Store Day and Chicago shop events

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Val Camilletti, owner and operator of Val's Halla Records, is ready
for the fifth annual Record Store Day this Saturday.
(Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times)

Record Store Day began five years ago as a spirited international campaign to encourage patronage of local brick-and-mortar record shops. Now, on the third Saturday of every April, participating independent record stores open early, have sales, spotlight live bands and stock what they can from an eagerly anticipated list of records released especially for the occasion.

The primary goal, as originally conceived by indie record shop employee Chris Brown, was to counteract plummeting store sales in the face of online competition. But it also had a cultural component -- to remind digitally duped music fans of the importance not only of liner notes and the tactile experience of records but of the community fostered by local shops.

"It's a wonderful idea, and the idea behind it is absolutely splendiferous," says the venerable Val Camilletti, owner and operator of Val's Halla Records, which this year is celebrating 40 years in Oak Park. "The idea is to pay homage to your local record store, say hello, have some coffee and donuts, hear some live music, enjoy some sales and all that good stuff -- to stop in and say, 'Hey, I'm glad you're still alive.'"

Read on for a list of selected RSD events Chicago and suburban record shops ...

Now that the Pitchfork lineup is set and Lollapalooza has announced its list of performers, the third annual North Coast Festival fires round one of its electronic/jam/hip-hop marquee.

The summer-ending, three-day music festival in Chicago's Union Park, Aug. 31-Sept. 2, will feature Pretty Lights, Axwell (from Swedish House Mafia), Atmosphere and Big Boi.

fun. lives up to its name @ the Vic

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Fun, period.

Naming your band that way -- as if to assert, "We are the ultimate definition of fun, end of discussion" -- is, aside from the lowercase pretension, a bit bold. It's also dicey. It means you've got to go on stage every night and live up to it, show it, prove it.

fun., the pop trio riding high on a heavy hit single, "We Are Young," delivered on the promise of that name in a short, sweet set Saturday night at Chicago's Vic Theatre.

Springsteen announces Wrigley show, Sept. 7

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Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band finally announced a Chicago tour stop today -- Sept. 7 at Wrigley Field.

As reported here back in January, the Springsteen Wrigley date has been in the works for that weekend after Labor Day.

Tickets for the Wrigley show are $45-$103 (limit of four per purchase of general admission in the field), on sale at 10 a.m. April 21 via or by calling 800-THE-CUBS.

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

It was a spirited rearrangement of our national anthem, and it wouldn't have been so dreadful if the guitarist had just played in tune with the rest of the band. Fortunately, after the NCAA debacle earlier this month, the Fray has a lengthy tour to distract them. The "Greys Anatomy"-approved Denver quartet is supporting February's "Scars and Stories."
At 7:30 p.m. April 17 at the Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine. Tickets: $35. Call (800) 514-ETIX;

Mastodon, the critics-darling, heavy metal band, is finally touring its fifth album, "The Hunter" -- a straightforward, no-nonsense collection of screamers after several heavily themed albums. Written with performance in mind, the band plans to play it in its entirety during shows this spring, on a co-headlining tour with Swedish hard rockers Opeth.
At 7 p.m. April 13 at the Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine. Tickets: $35. Call (800) 514-ETIX;

Taking Daryl Hall's 'House' concerts on the road

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halljones.jpgHow does a veteran pop and rock artist reinvent himself after retirement age? A duets album? Remixes and mash-ups? A tour of a classic album?

For Daryl Hall, 65, the most creative option turned out to be simply staying at home.

In 2007, the most vocal half of hit duo Hall & Oates launched a free monthly video program online, "Live From Daryl's House." A casual affair, the award-winning show simply spotlights Hall and invited guests (young and old) lounging about and playing songs.

"My guitar player and I were talking and said, 'Why don't we just sit on the front porch, play songs and let the people come to us?'" Hall told the Sun-Times during a recent tour stop. "I have this large area in my house. I thought we'd just take it inside and do it there. We started it on the Internet without going through networks or labels or gatekeepers of any kind. We had friends holding the cameras. We didn't know what we were doing. But then we got some guests, we got a director, more than one camera -- it developed very organically. It's not about a performance. We've tried to keep that spirit, anyway. It's about what happens when musicians hang out and don't do their act. That's where music is really at its core, where the good stuff happens."

Lollapalooza has revealed its official 2012 list of performers -- a typically wide-ranging smorgasbord of genres and styles topped by nearly a dozen main-stage headliners: the Red Hot Chili Peppers, freshly reunited bands Black Sabbath and At the Drive-In, the Black Keys, Jack White, Florence + The Machine, the Shins and Passion Pit, plus spotlighted electronic music including Swedish house titan Avicii, French dance duo Justice and DJ-producer Bassnectar.

In other words, the memo that leaked Monday was, amazingly, correct.

The annual music festival is scheduled Aug. 3-5 in Chicago's Grant Park.

Read the full Lollapalooza 2012 lineup below ...

Britain's Cribs wax nostalgic for 'Chi-Town'

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Speaking with Ryan Jarman, he doesn't come off as the clichéd rural rube who moves to the big city and then can't be kept down on the farm. But that's how the Brit rocker, lead singer of the Cribs, describes his fling with Chicago.

"Chicago called to me," he says, his northern England accent fluttering.

Actually, a girl called him, and he followed her. Exactly 10 years ago, the eldest Jarman brother -- the Cribs is a family trio of Ryan, bassist (and Ryan's twin) Gary and younger brother Ross on drums -- left the town of Wakefield in West Yorkshire and moved to Chicago.

The brothers had created the Cribs the year before, but nothing much had happened yet. Nor did it look likely to in rural Wakefield.

"Wakefield is the ultimate middle-of-nowhere kind of town," Jarman says. "I got to Chicago, and it seemed like such a supportive arts scene, with so many good bands. I wanted to stay. I wanted to stay forever."

As spring gets on with its inevitable springing, allow me to conduct a little seasonal clean-up of the CD pile. Here's a handful of choice recent releases I've been thinking shouldn't go unnoticed:

magfields.jpgThe Magnetic Fields, "Love at the Bottom of the Sea" (Merge) 2<br />
stars -- More woozy quips from these wry observers of the unrequited side of romance, "Love at the Bottom of the Sea" see-saws between Stephin Merritt's beloved humor and the crucial counterweight of Shirley Simms' and Claudia Gonson's underappreciated, sleepy-Ronettes voices. Merritt's cackle-worthy couplets are usually such gems they've made the accompanying musical dabblings on the last few Magnetic Fields' records (and Merritt's numerous side projects) almost irrelevant. Amid the glitchy digital circus of these tunes, Merritt's lyrics hit the funnybone ("Andrew in Drag," "I'd Go Anywhere With Hugh," "The Machine in Your Hand" that he describes as "a gadget with meat stuck to it") less often than previous outings, but it's refreshing to have Merritt's bored-bass voice more frequently balanced by the female Fields' lighter, winking smirks.
For fans of: Book of Love, Phil Spector, Belle & Sebastian

Past, future and Thomas Dolby @ Park West

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When we chatted last fall, Thomas Dolby said he was happy he'd taken a couple of decades off -- not only because he made a mint with his own Silicon Valley start-up, but because he managed to avoid the sad fate of his synth-pop peers, who spent the '90s and beyond slumping around the country on ramshackle '80s package tours. "I know some of my contemporaries from that period have been out there sort of doing the rounds, doing the rewind tours and the Vegas stints and things like that," he said. "I wouldn't touch that with a 10-foot pole."

There's a wee bit of Vegas in his act, nonetheless.

Pitchfork fest lineup wraps with Wild Flag and more

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The final round of performers has been announced to fill out the bill for the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival, July 13-15 in Chicago's Union Park. Added today: Wild Flag, Big K.R.I.T., Beach House, Chavez, Atlas Sound, Real Estate, Ty Segall, Oneohtrix Point Never, Cults, Nicolas Jaar, King Krule, Thee Oh Sees, Lower Dens, Youth Lagoon, Dirty Beaches, Lotus Plaza, The Psychic Paramount, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Milk Music, Outer Minds and A Lull.

kanye040512.JPGChuck D is often quoted as calling hip-hop "the black CNN." These days, it's more like TMZ with a beat.

No sooner did Kanye West's latest single, "Theraflu," surface late Wednesday night -- in which the Chicago-native rapper says, "I admit I fell in love with Kim" -- than TMZ reported Thursday morning that West and reality TV celeb Kim Kardashian are, indeed, dating.

West and girlfriend Amber Rose split up in 2010, and Rose later claimed that Kardashian was the reason. In "Theraflu," West adds that he became smitten with Kardashian "'round the same time she fell in love with him," referring to NBA player Kris Humphries. He goes on: "Lucky I ain't had Jay drop him from the team," referring to Jay-Z, West's current touring partner and co-owner of Humphries' team, the New Jersey Nets.

Chicagoans who want to skip the gossip decoding will enjoy another part of "Theraflu," the final minute in which DJ Pharris chimes in with a Google Maps-specific shout-out to Chicago's South Side, including calls to "47th Street! Garfield Park! / 79th! Stony Island! ... 64th and King Drive, what up!? / 83rd! Cottage Grove! The Gardens! / This Chicago, n----! / The Dearborns! 55th! / Cabrini Green! Terror Town! / West Side! Pocket Town, it's Chicago!"

Contest song not out to replace 'Go, Cubs, Go'

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Relax, sports fans. Steve Goodman's iconic Wrigley Field anthem isn't about to go, Cubbies, go.

A WGN Radio songwriting contest this spring "in search of the next great Cubs anthem" panicked certain die-hard Chicago Cubs fans, who assumed the radio station was out to replace Goodman's ballpark classic, "Go, Cubs, Go."

Concertline: the Cribs, SBTRKT, Peggy Seeger, more

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

Britain's the Cribs, returning to life without guitarist Johnny Marr, spent some time in Chicago recording part of their upcoming album, "In the Belly of the Brazen Bull" (due May 8) with Steve Albini. The first single ahead of that effort is a stomping anthem for our fair city, "Chi-Town." The oft-repeated chorus goes, "Meet me down in Chi-Town / in Logan Square underground / You know the one / we were always there." Sing along when they return for a show this week.
At 8 p.m. April 9 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport. Tickets: $20. Call (773) 525-2508;

Weren't we talking about dubstep all last year -- now there's post-dubstep? That's SBTRKT's forte, touring his turntables in support of a new self-titled album. The London musician-producer, born Aaron Jerome, is among the many masked DJs these days. His way with a tune, like "Wildfire," often sets him apart.
At 10 p.m. April 7 at House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn. Tickets: $18.50 advance, $20.50 day of. Call (312) 923-2000;

'Fela!' band takes Afrobeat from theaters to clubs

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The band performing in the touring musical "Fela!" is Bryan Vargas (from left), Dylan Fusillo, Greg Gonzalez, Jeremy Wilms, Yoshihiro Takemasa, Aaron Johnson, Alex Harding, Ricardo Quinones, Jordan McLean and Morgan Price. (John J. Kim/Sun-Times)

In 1983, Columbia College film professor Dan Dinello traveled to Nigeria to meet controversial politician and musical pioneer Fela Kuti. Dinello documented his Kafkaesque voyage in Finding Fela: My Strange Journey to Meet the Afrobeat King in Lagos, an ebook published last year ( In it, he describes the magic of witnessing Kuti in the open-air nightclub that was both palace and performing space.

"After midnight, Fela enters from the back of the Shrine. A path opens for him as people clap, cheer and shout greetings to the Black President. He waves and gives the black power fist salute," Dinello writes. "Fela's band consists of two drummers, two guitarists, four percussionists, bass, keyboards and a five-piece horn section, as well as four Queens in individual go-go booths. Fela climbs the stage and dances to the center and begins to blow sax. [I'm] overwhelmed by the intensity of the performance. He's always moving -- singing, playing sax and keyboards, dancing. It's so exciting I burst into tears. I've seen what I thought were transcendent performances by the Rolling Stones in the late '60s and Bruce Springsteen in the early '70s. But Fela takes transcendence to a new level."

That transcendence is the goal of not only a new musical -- the Tony-winning "Fela!" fresh from Broadway and currently in the final week of an extended tour stop in Chicago -- but of a related aggregate of musicians playing and promoting Kuti's music in theaters as well as clubs.

Wilco and fireworks at ballpark July 8

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For those fans who didn't snag tickets to one of Wilco's five Chicago shows in one week last December, the band is heading up an all-local bill this summer at a larger venue -- a suburban baseball park.

Wilco will perform July 8 at the Fifth Third Bank Ballpark (home of the Kane County Cougars) in Geneva. Also on the bill: singer-songwriter Andrew Bird and Chicago soul band the Congregation.

Thomas Conner

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


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