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June 2012 Archives

Reviews: Joe Jackson/Duke Ellington, the dB's, more

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joeduke.jpgJoe Jackson, "The Duke" (Razor & Tie) 2<br />
stars -- Standards, songbooks, classics -- they're buzzwords that raise the neck hairs of any modern rock fan. (Even Beatles fans.) When your golden god covers Ella Fitzgerald, it's usually hella hellish. It's a wonder, however, that it's taken Joe Jackson more than 30 years of an eclectic career to finally get around to tackling Duke Ellington. Classically trained, Jackson scored early New Wave hits ("Is She Really Going Out With Him?," "Stepping Out") and has dabbled ever since in everything from symphonies to the Ellingtonia of Steely Dan. He's a perfect fit for the playful breadth of Ellington's catalog, even if his resulting charts here are a teensy bit bland.

'Paul Williams Still Alive,' but doc is DOA

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Paul Williams boasts an interesting and compelling life story. Unfortunately, even by the end credits, his documentarian remains somehow unconvinced.

Director Stephen Kessler ("Vegas Vacation") thus delivers a hand-wringing, self-indulgent film that is often trying, dull and, like a rainy Monday, is likely to get you down.

"Certain episodes could not be included for complicated reasons."

This is all ye need to know about the new R. Kelly memoir, Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me, available this week after several delays.

It's no tell-all. It's a tell-carefully-selected-parts. Kelly's admission of omission is up front, in the author's note.

Top 100? Some chillwave for a hot Chicago

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The weather forecast, last I looked, has Chicago knocking on or near 100 degrees today. I thought that didn't happen till we were in the field for Lollapalooza.

Need to chill? Here's a 20-song Spotify playlist of chillwave tracks for your icing-down pleasure ...

Video: Wilco's Jeff Tweedy learns ... Jeff Tweedy

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Like any musician, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy has his pre-show rituals. In the case of this video, they involve learning a bunch of his old songs he's about to play on stage.

"Rituals" (subtitle: "What Do People Do Before Their Big Moment") is a new series of brief video documentaries from Thrash Lab, part of Ashton Kutcher's Katalyst Network, showcasing musicians in revealing moments on and off stage. The latest piece catches up with Tweedy in March at the Vic Theater, preparing for his annual youth scholarship benefit show.

minal.jpgNo one really believed it was the end.

In 2008, Ministry -- pioneers of pop-industrial thrash metal, formed in Chicago in 1981 -- embarked on its C U Later Tour. After several groundbreaking albums (1988's "The Land of Rape and Honey," 1999's "The Dark Side of the Spoon") full of music both sleazy and politically agitating, as well as decades of drug-induced frenzy on and off the stage, singer and impish impresario Al Jourgensen said the band was over.

"It's the end of all of it," he told the Sun-Times that year. "I'm turning 50 in October, Bush is leaving and it just seemed that synchronicity was at work where you have a half-century milestone, you've been through a couple of Bushes and a Reagan and Clinton's scandals and everything and you just finally figure, 'That's about it!'"

It was a long goodbye.

Review: R. Kelly, 'Write Me Back'

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R. Kelly Album Artwork.jpegR. Kelly, "Write Me Back" (RCA) 3<br />
stars -- On "Love Letter," his 2010 album of Motown retreads, R. Kelly revisited the safe '60s and restrained his inner freak. It sorta worked, but it felt very much like a costume. The follow-up in this kinder, gentler phase of his infamy is rooted in '70s soul -- far more Philly than the Chicago native's South Side -- and is a much more natural fit for Kelly's considerable vocal gifts and lusty one-track mind.

Billy Bragg.jpgEarly in October 1997, Billy Bragg and his manager, Peter Jenner, finished a couple of concerts in Pennsylvania and jumped into a car. Bragg and the band Wilco had not yet begun recording their groundbreaking reinventions of Woody Guthrie songs, and Bragg had to see something before they started.

In a couple days, they were knocking around Okemah, Okla., Guthrie's birthplace -- walking Main Street to see Woody's name carved in the cement back in the '20s, picking over the overgrown ruins of his childhood home.

Review: Justin Bieber, 'Believe'

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justinbelieveCD.jpgJustin Bieber, "Believe" (Island) 2<br />
and a half stars -- The marketing mantra, now that our lil' Beebs has turned 18, is that Justin Bieber's sophomore album, "Believe," showcases his manhood. That is, "We're clearly seeing a more mature record this time around," Mike Posner, producer of the album's first single, "Boyfriend," told Billboard magazine last week. Grown up, not pin-up, yesiree.

He spells "M" ... "A," child ...

Mannish boy, indeed.

Review: Smashing Pumpkins, 'Oceania'

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oceania061512.jpgSmashing Pumpkins, "Oceania" (Martha's) 4<br />
stars -- Adapt to the new, sure. But when in doubt, stick to what you know best.

Starting late in 2009, Billy Corgan and his Smashing Pumpkins molded the distribution plan of their new music to the emerging habits of the web and its hit-or-miss consumption patterns. With an ambitious, 44-track song cycle in mind, called "Teargarden By Kaleidyscope," the band dropped a dozen songs a few at a time, like digital mini-EPs.

By last fall, however, Corgan lamented the effort, saying it was "a tremendous amount of energy to put out to just feel like you're throwing a pebble in the ocean."

Review: Fiona Apple, 'The Idler Wheel ...'

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fionaidler.jpgFiona Apple, "The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do" (Epic) 3<br />
and a half stars -- Whipping cords, maybe, but piano wire works just as well in the service of self-flagellation. Fiona Apple has made it an art -- her elliptical lyrics and oblique music fashioning both silken and steely threads with which, like a monk, she mortifies her flesh for our enlightenment. "That's where the pain comes in," she sings through tight lips, trembling, over a toy piano in the delicate, Tim Burton-worthy opener, "Every Single Night." She's completely on edge, struggling to keep it together, could snap at any moment. The nerves aren't wrenching her gut, they're the "white-flamed butterflies in my brain," and she warns, "Every single night / is a fight with my brain." Tonight, it's clear, she may lose the battle.

Whew, and that's just track one.

R. Kelly owes $4.8 million in back taxes

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R. Kelly has not received too many love letters from his creditors.

The troubled R&B star owes just more than $4.8 million in back taxes, according to documents held by the Cook County Recorder of Deeds. The singer allegedly stopped paying his taxes in 2005.

afrojack.jpgElectronic dance music, in just my lifetime, has proclaimed itself pop cultural emperor at least three times: early '80s, mid-'90s, now early '10s. Each time, fans and artists were overly confident in the prowess of their beloved blips, and the first two waves eventually (and inevitably) fizzled.

But this time, it's sizzling.

Last summer: Lollapalooza's rave tent, Perry's stage, was the hottest part of the annual pop music smorgasbord in Chicago's Grant Park. Once the square peg in Lolla's round niches, Perry's stage in 2011 expanded to a 15,000-capacity, open-air pavilion and remained overflowing all three nights of the festival, attracting far more than just diehard fans.

Last week: The creator of Live Nation, Robert F.X. Sillerman, told The New York Times his concert conglomerate had purchased a Southern rave production company, rechristened it SFX Entertainment (the name of his original concert business, which eventually became Live Nation) and was in talks to create a network of up to 50 more electronic dance promoters. Total amount he expects to spend during the next year backing and booking the genre: $1 billion.

This weekend: Chicago -- birthplace of house music, one of the strongest pillars of modern dance music -- gets its first serious, multi-day, electronic dance music throw-down, the Spring Awakening Festival, June 16-17 in and around Soldier Field. Skrillex and Afrojack are headliners along with Benny Benassi, Moby, Flux Pavilion, Carl Cox, Wolfgang Gartner, Diplo, A-Trak and more.

The 16th annual Hideout Block Party, now a joint venture with The Onion's A.V. Club, has announced dates and acts for its 2012 late-summer shindig: Sept. 14-15 with Iron & Wine, Glen Hansard and more.

Radiohead kicks its jams out @ FMBA

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Four years ago, electronic music pioneer Brian Eno released an acclaimed iPhone app, Bloom, which he called "part instrument, part composition and part artwork." The polyrhythmic space-jazz song "Bloom" -- which opens Radiohead's latest album, 2011's "The King of Limbs," and opened the band's concert Sunday night at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park -- sounds basically like a fuller experience of the app.

Bloom, the app, is all about layering. A base tone hums, and you poke the screen to start certain notes looping, which causes a ripple effect on the display. Add some here, add some there, they repeat, repeat, and fade. Then you add some more. Eventually you realize that's all you can do with it and move along.

"Bloom," the song, started stacking its layers Sunday night before the band even hit the stage. Indistinct, spooky voices began looping. Radiohead drummer Phil Selway started playing. Portishead drummer Clive Deamer (touring with the band for extra oomph) started playing. Guitarist and keyboardist Jonny Greenwood started playing drums, too. With the groove laid and locked, ponytailed singer Thom Yorke stepped into the purple lights and began piling on his coos and wails. "Don't blow your mind with why," he sang.

Take his advice. Don't look too deeply into this experience anymore. After 20 years in business, Radiohead is a jam band now, a group of frustrated DJs making electronic dance music with live bass and drums. Songs, schmongs -- it's all about the layering, the groove. Why ask why?

Roger Waters' 'The Wall' (no ivy) @ Wrigley Field

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(Scott Stewart/Sun-Times)

In a venue already known for an angst-ridden wall, Roger Waters returned Friday night to Chicago to rebuild "The Wall" in the outfield of Wrigley Field.

Waters, 68, first brought his ever-ambitious construction/demolition tour to the United Center in September 2010. Friday night's "The Wall" was largely the same rock opera, brick by brick -- but with a wall twice as wide, stretching beyond both foul poles.

The ultimate symbol for many of this song cycle's timeless themes of alienation, disillusionment and mistrust of authority, the white foam-brick wall -- built up during the first act, then (spoiler alert) knocked down at the end of the second -- is three stories high, 140 yards across and ablaze throughout the concert with high-definition graphics and video from 42 synchronized projectors.

Chicago Blues Festival playlist

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Follow our coverage of this year's Chicago Blues Festival -- how Buddy Guy helped Jimmy Reed's family rally together for the honorary Grammy, plus the story behind the Lighntin' Hopkins tribute --and get ready for the weekend's multi-venue concerts with this playlist of featured blues fest artist and legends:

The complete Blues Festival schedule for the weekend is here.

City Winery Chicago, a new restaurant and concert venue opening Aug. 1 in the West Loop, has announced its first round of music bookings.

R&B legend Sam Moore, of Sam & Dave, begins music at the new venue (Aug. 24-25), followed by a stream of adult fare from a variety of styles, often holding down two-night stands: the David Grisman Sextet (Sept. 6-7); Suzanne Vega (Sept. 8-9); Brazilian pop singer Bebel Gilberto (Sept. 14-15); Matthew Sweet (Sept. 20-21); Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople (Sept. 28-29); jazz vocalist Kurt Elling (Oct. 21-22); Shawn Colvin (Nov. 7-8); Israeli singer-guitarist David Broza (Nov. 12); Rosanne Cash (Nov. 18); Chicago's queen of soul, Mavis Staples (Nov. 23-24); and, in two New Year's Eve performances, Los Lobos (Dec. 31).

Too late, too soon: One Direction @ Allstate Arena

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(Photos by Chandler West/Sun-Times)

She was one girl among hundreds in line at a merchandise booth Saturday night inside Allstate Arena, waiting to buy One Direction mugs ($20), One Direction soda cups ($5), One Direction laminates ($10), One Direction glow sticks ($15), One Direction stickers ($5) and a dozen different One Direction T-shirts ($35-$40). Merchandise sales, in fact, opened on Friday to accommodate the throngs.

Hope, 12, was squeezing her mom's wallet and practically hyperventilating.

"I just can't believe it!" she gasped. "They're in this building right now! They're breathing the same air I am!"

If you haven't clued in to One Direction yet, be patient. A massive marketing machine is about to overheat in an effort to overexpose them.

Thomas Conner

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


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