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November 2012 Archives

Review: The Who as two for 'Quadrophenia'

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Roger Daltrey (left) and Pete Townshend perform as the Who
on Thursday night at Allstate Arena.
(Tom Cruze/Sun-Times)

Before the Who's encore Thursday night, singer Roger Daltrey pointed out that the band had played Chicago on the original "Quadrophenia" tour exactly 39 years ago. Pete Townshend seemed skeptical of Daltrey's facts -- "Who told you that?" he asked -- but Daltrey's right: Nov. 29, 1973, also a Thursday, the Who played the International Amphitheatre on South Halsted.

Back then, as Townshend explains in his new memoir, Who I Am, "Quadrophenia" -- the Who's second rock opera, less known but worlds better than "Tommy" -- had been born as a desperate attempt to revitalize the faltering band. "My idea was to take the band back to our roots," he writes. "I was also looking for a way to stroke four eccentric egos, generate a sense of optimism and rally us."

But in 2012, with two of those eccentric egos now long gone, a new "Quadrophenia" tour is less rallying cry than last-ditch effort.

Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival skips Chicago

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On schedule, Eric Clapton's every-three-years Crossroads Guitar Festival has been scheduled for 2013 -- but not in Chicago.

The guitar legend's star-studded benefit will take place April 12-13 at New York City's Madison Square Garden. Guests include B.B. King, the Allman Brothers, Earl Klugh, Jeff Beck, John Mayer, Vince Gill, Robert Cray and more. Tickets are on sale today via Ticketmaster.

Leading up to the event, Clapton and his band will perform 15 shows on a tour stretching through the South. Alas, no Chicago dates there, either.

For fellow elves who share an interest -- if not my obsession -- with holiday music, here's our annual round-up of the most noteworthy new contributions to the Christmas canon:

xmasTT.jpgTracey Thorn, "Tinsel and Lights" (Strange Feeling/Merge) 4<br />
stars -- In every way that Annie Lennox's 2010 Christmas album failed so dreadfully, Tracey Thorn's succeeds beautifully. The Everything but the Girl vocalist, two years on from her latest underappreciated solo outing ("Love and Its Opposite"), manages her natural melancholy to deliver the right mood on each song. The selection of material can't be beaten -- this is a splendidly curated songbook of new Christmas standards in one cozy binding. The stage ballad "Hard Candy Christmas," Stephin Merritt's "Like a Snowman," Ron Sexsmith's "Maybe This Christmas," Randy Newman's "Snow," they're addressed on their own musical terms but with the saving grace of Thorn's voice -- a tender, imperfect and comforting instrument (often described as smoky, but actually it's pure fog). Not specifically holiday selections such as "Snow in Sun," "Taking Down the Tree," "Sister Winter," even an edgy, for Thorn, reading of the White Stripes' "In the Cold, Cold Night," make this an album that might sound even better the week after Christmas. Chilly and warm all at once, "Tinsel and Lights" is this year's gift you didn't know you wanted.
Add to your Christmas mix: The album's simple piano ballad "Joy" is strong and graceful and has the makings of a timeless holiday standard.

Making the perfect Christmas mix, bowing to a master

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Christmas mixes -- outside of hip-hop's now-branded "mixtapes" -- are the last bastion of compilation cool.

Be they digital playlists, burned CDs or (bless your lil' hearts) an actual homemade, hand-lettered cassette, some of us still get our holly jollies over Thanksgiving weekend gleefully selecting and cruelly excising nice and naughty tinsel-stuffed tracks with which to score the perfect holiday occasion.

Smashing Pumpkins' James Iha back with solo CD, show

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James Iha is America's Johnny Marr.

Both are talented rock guitarists with something of a signature style, and since the dissolution of their iconic bands -- Iha's Smashing Pumpkins in the '90s, Marr's Smiths in the '80s -- both have drifted in and out of projects, side and otherwise. Iha still records and performs with the band A Perfect Circle, he played with Taylor Hanson and Bun E. Carlos in the New Wave revival side project Tinted Windows, and he's recorded and produced numerous artists from his Manhattan studio.

Marr just announced he's finally got a solo album on the docket for February. Iha just released his second, "Look to the Sky"; his first was 14 years ago.

Ahead of an intimate Schubas show on Tuesday in his native Chicago, Iha talked about taking his sweet time, his old buddy Billy and old home Chicago.

Stuff 'It's Thanksgiving' -- here's a turkey-free playlist

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Remember how much you hated "Friday"? Better bite a turkey leg -- Thursday is even worse.

The latest song so horrible we can't stop circulating is "It's Thanksgiving," a game but lame attempt at crafting a pop song about America's harvest holiday.

Concertline: The Monkees, 'CNTRL: Beyond EDM,' more

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

Reunited for the first time in 15 years, the surviving Monkees (singer Davy Jones died in February at 66) are trotting through a 12-date U.S. tour. Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and, yes, Michael Nesmith -- who hasn't played with the other members in the States since the TV stars/music group split in 1971 -- are back hamming it up, running through old classics ("Last Train to Clarksville," "Daydream Believer," etc.) and paying tribute to Jones.
At 8 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State. Tickets: $63-$78. Call (800) 745-3000;

Electronic dance music has become popular enough to boast its own acronym, so now some of its icons are taking to the road not only to perform but to educate and inspire. Canada's Richie Hawtin and Germany's Loco Dice and a revolving lineup of guests are taking a production called "CNTRL: Beyond EDM -- Discovering Electronic and Techno(logy) Based Music" around to U.S. colleges and clubs. In Chicago, Hawtin and Dice, with Kevin Saunderson, Gaiser and Ean Golden, will lead a seminar about EDM at 5 p.m. Nov. 16 at Columbia College's 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash (for more info, see Then the DJs thrown down at 9 p.m. Nov. 16 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark ($21, 800-514-ETIX,

'Metalocalypse' brings brutality to Dethklok concerts

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"Metalocalypse" is not about heavy metal.

True, the animated TV series' main characters are members of a heavy metal band -- Dethklok, a band so unbelievably popular that they rank as the world's seventh-largest economy and maintain their own police force -- and the show's comedy is loaded with tropes and treats aimed at metal fans. But Brendon Small, the show's creative force, reminds us that the parody is about something more.

"It's about a group of celebrities that happen to be a metal band," Small said in an interview from Los Angeles. "It's about celebrities going through their stupid day. It's like what if the Kardashians were a metal band. The jokes are not exclusive to metal. It's comedy about inept billionaires -- would they be able to find their car in a parking lot, they don't understand the value of a dollar, etc."

No Kardashian, however, can shred like Small can.

Old Beatles albums look like new in box set

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Seems every Christmas there's a new stack of Elvis packages and box sets. This year the Beatles are back aboard the boomer money train with a reissue set priced by the pound.

Review: One Direction, 'Take Me Home'

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1Dhome.jpgOne Direction, "Take Me Home" (Columbia) 1<br />
and a halfstars -- In between world tours, Britain's biggest boy band One Direction managed to squeeze in a follow-up to its massively successful debut album, last year's "Up All Night." You already know what it sounds like -- not because the entire album leaked last week but because you've heard this kind of computer-generated, engineered-to-within-an-inch-of-our-lives pop music a hundred times before. "Take Me Home" is blinding with its Mentos gleam and sounds as if each song has been run through and approved by Hit Song Science, software that analyzes music patterns and matches them with those shared by the world's biggest hits.

Reviews: Soundgarden, Sonic Youth

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SGanimal.jpgSoundgarden, "King Animal" (A&M/Interscope) 2<br />
and a half stars -- Speaking to a junior high music class out in Westchester recently, I answered a question about how a music critic separates personal from professional opinions. Here's a good example, kids. Personally, I've stayed as far away from Soundgarden as possible. Can't stand singer Chris Cornell or, frankly, much else of what made Seattle famous 20 years ago. Professionally, though, I can't ignore: "King Animal," the first new Soundgarden material in 16 years, is a good rock record -- a beast, a lumbering monster, and it's winning over my personal side.

Concertline: Tame Impala, Bob Dylan, more

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

Tame Impala -- an acclaimed Australian trio that played Lollapalooza's first day in August -- just delivered a sophomore set that is the very opposite of a slump. "Lonerism" is still rife with sheepish lyricism but is much bolder and full of confident pop sensibilities. The heady swirl of the guitars, the obvious nods to Todd Rundgren, harmonic achievements that would bewitch Fleet Foxes -- it's a heady mixture and not so tame in concert.
The Amazing opens at 9 p.m. Nov. 13 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark. Tickets: $19. Call (800) 514-ETIX;

Bob Dylan is a pathological touring musician, a critic-proof rock and folk icon who apparently is going to stay on the road until he's buried alongside it. Swinging back through in support of his fine new album, "Tempest," he rocks an arena after a few years of playing Chicago theaters. Americana overload: Mark Knopfler opens the show.
At 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at the United Center, 1901 W. Madison. Tickets: $49.50-$131.50. Call (800) 745-3000;

The Handcuffs warm up and still throw sparks

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Brad Elvis' basement in Albany Park is a power-pop museum -- four storied drum kits, Sparks posters on the walls, Debbie Harry's shoe on a shelf. In one corner is a framed photograph of one of Elvis' old bands, Screams, showing Elvis leaping over his drum kit, doing the splits in mid-air.
"I can't do that anymore," Elvis says. "I'm not sure I could do that then."

Elvis is one of those guys who's been around the Chicago music scene for what seems like ever. He sports a jet-black dye job, but a few spots on his hands give away his wisdom. When I ask how old he is, he artfully dodges the question. Twice.

Screams hailed from Peoria and then Champaign, gigging a lot in Chicago and releasing a self-titled LP in 1979 showcasing a sound mostly straight outta Rockford (Cheap Trick) with a bit of punk around the edges. "We weren't Foghat," Elvis says.

Review: Aerosmith, 'Music From Another Dimension'

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AerosmithMFAD.jpgAerosmith, "Music From Another Dimension" (Columbia) 2<br />
stars -- The last several years have been a volatile soap opera for Aerosmith: Singer Steven Tyler fell off a stage in '09, allegedly left the band, went back in rehab, published a batty memoir, released a solo single and became an "American Idol" judge. Meanwhile, the remaining band rehearsed new singers, guitarist Joe Perry did his own thing, drummer Joey Kramer released a more sober (literally) memoir. On and on, round and round, same old song and dance. Where you fall on either side of caring about any of it will determine whether "Music From Another Dimension" -- the band's first album of new material in 11 years -- qualifies as a "comeback."

Thomas Conner

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


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