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March 2013 Archives

Lollapalooza announcement, ticket sales move earlier

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The leaked Lollapalooza poster must be spot-on: Festival organizers have moved their official announcement of the 2013 lineup up from April 9 to next Monday, April 1.

Olly Murs, more for Fantabuloso concert series

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Olly Murs performing in December in New York. (AP)

If you've ever experienced one of the annual radio-station package shows, you know what marathons they can be -- starting around 6 in the evening, packing up to a dozen acts into all-too-brief performance slots, running for hours.

But WKSC "Kiss" FM (103.5) announced its lineup today for its own annual promotional concert -- turning one long show into four normal ones.


After canceling some dates due to a vocal chord injury sustained during a mugging, Chicago's Scott Lucas is ready to get the latest Local H tour back on the road.

"It looks like he's going to be OK," said Jill Mango, Local H's publicist, on Thursday. "He's not going to need surgery."

The incident took place Feb. 20 after a concert in Moscow.

The Joy Formidable doesn't care what you think

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The Joy Formidable doesn't always sound punk -- the bright vocals, the shoegazing guitars, the latest links in the Jesus & Mary Chain -- except when they talk.

"We're of a mindset of, you know, f--- you. We are what we are," bassist Rhydian Dafydd said.

During our interview -- earlier this month in a basement bar during the South by Southwest music conference and festival in Austin, Texas -- Dafydd and singer Ritzy Bryan uttered some form of the phrase "We don't give a s---" nine times. Drummer Matt Thomas was largely silent, sipping his wine but echoing the sentiment with his eyes.

Pitchfork Music Festival finalizes 2013 lineup

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Since the intrigue and amazement of their February headliner announcement -- Bjork, Belle & Sebastian and (yegods) R. Kelly -- the rest of the 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival lineup has been piecing itself together. Today, the festival announced the final round of acts.

Things just got good.

Northerly Island concert venue expands for big shows

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With city approval secured last week, Live Nation today announced extensive improvements coming to its concert venue on Chicago's Northerly Island -- improvements that likely mean up to eight 30,000-capacity shows at the downtown concert site each summer.

Since 2005, the Charter One Pavilion on Northerly Island has been hosting 7,500-capacity shows, up to a couple dozen a year. Boosting attendance for bigger shows is part of a plan with the Chicago Park District to increase district revenue from the site, according to Mark Campana, Live Nation's co-president of North American concerts.

Review: The Strokes, 'Comedown Machine'

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(RCA) 2<br />
and a half stars

strokescomedowncd.jpgAlternative Press magazine recently revisited one of its cover stories, a list of the "100 New Bands You Need to Know in 2001," complete with updates on what's become of each of them. The Strokes wasn't on the list, though by the end of 2001 the New York quartet was practically all anyone could talk about. A decade later, after releasing the email-assembled "Angles," they'd disintegrated considerably, and I described a 2011 concert as "labored, merely capable, not completely forced but close." If the Strokes had been on AP's list, one could imagine the update sounding like this: "Got everyone excited about a rock revival in '01, then painstakingly deconstructed that excitement with each subsequent release. Allegedly there's still something of an audience for their new album in 2013. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?"

Sonic Youth's Gordon, Moore in Chicago this week

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The future of Sonic Youth may be in doubt, but two sides of the iconic band will be in Chicago this week.

First, Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon takes the stage on Tuesday -- but don't panic if you don't have tickets yet.

Reviews: Depeche Mode, Suede, the Ocean Blue

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DMDM.jpgDepeche Mode, "Delta Machine" (Columbia) 3<br />
stars -- One year before Depeche Mode unveiled its brooding self to the world, a record dropped by a group called the Silicon Teens. Titled "Music for Parties" (1980), the album featured bright, rollicking versions of rock and roll classics ("Memphis, Tennessee," "You Really Got Me," etc.) played entirely on synthesizers. Though the videos showed four alleged band members dressed well and partying heartily, the Silicon Teens were a virtual band -- entirely the product of one Daniel Miller. "Music for Parties" was issued on Miller's indie label, Mute Records, which then signed Depeche Mode within the year.

The music Depeche Mode began cranking out aligned with that aesthetic -- applying recognizable pop formats to purely synth-based compositions. By the end of the decade, Depeche Mode peaked by transcending mere translation and carving out their own artistic niche, gloomy as it was. "Delta Machine," though, balances one of pop music's most recognizable overall sounds with something of that original penchant for filtering classic music into futuristic forms. It's even in the title -- "Delta Machine" is an album of synthetically encrypted blues.

SXSW 2013: The index

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A flier for Chicago's Hidden Hospitals suffers the fate of all marketing
materials at SXSW: blown into a dusty corner.
(Thomas Conner)

Five days of music and music-related jabbering at SXSW 2013, and here are links to the thousands of words written on the subject by myself and folks across the Sun-Times Media team ...

SXSW: True Believers and John Fogerty

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For the Sun-Times

Shiner bock, barbecue and Alejandro Escovedo. No visit to South by Southwest can be complete without these Austin essentials. My required dose of Escovedo came Saturday night at the Moody Theater, where his reunited roots-rock band True Believers played on a bill with John Fogerty.

Affectionately called the Troobs and known for the songwriting and fearsome three-guitar attack of Alejandro, his brother Javier and Jon Dee Graham, the band made two records in the mid-Eighties, flirted with major labels and broke up. Little known outside of Austin, they remained beloved there.

Arrayed with their axes from left to right across the stage were Javier, the technicolor gaucho in a red embroidered Western shirt and black hat with a long red scarf on it, lithe Alejandro like a silent assassin dressed head to toe in black, and the big graybeard Jon Dee, stomping on the terra and barking lyrics in a growl.

SXSW: Wanderings, discoveries, random notes

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AUSTIN, Texas -- If it's Sunday, that means my notes are full of jottings about a dozen other bands I saw and haven't written about yet in the mad rush that is SXSW. Deep breath, here's a wrap-up of the other tunes worth mentioning ...

SXSW: Justin Timberlake, Prince, Smashing Pumpkins

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Prince 4059 4x6low.jpg

(Michael Jackson/For the Sun-Times)

The final night of SXSW featured two big legacy acts. OK, from a Chicago perspective it was three.

Justin Timberlake, making good on rumors, blew into town after a week on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" to play an intimate club gig. Here's a star who will fill Chicago's Soldier Field this summer, but here in Austin he played the 800-capacity Coppertank Events Center.

SXSW: Giant Sand doesn't show

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For the Sun-Times

AUSTIN, Texas -- If "phoning it in" is a well-known pejorative for failing to deliver, what do you call it when a show's headliner only appears briefly via web video?

Skyping it in?

Whatever the term, that's exactly what Giant Sand singer and songwriter Howe Gelb apparently did at South by Southwest on Saturday night.

Morrissey cancels tour: 'I hope this isn't the end'

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Third time is not the charm for Chicago fans of Morrissey. The British icon -- whose U.S. tour has been beset by illness and difficulties, resulting in two postponements of his Chicago Theatre engagement -- has finally up and canceled the rest of the tour.

There will be no rescheduling this time.

SXSW: The rebirth of Detroit punk trio Death

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The Hackney brothers in their (until now) unknown '70s heyday.

Black musicians did a lot of great things in Detroit in the '60s and '70s. Rock and roll -- much less anything that would later be called punk -- wasn't always one of them. At SXSW this year, though, a band was on display that defies that notion: Death, a fraternal trio and a rare group that can justly support the claim "best band you've never heard."

SXSW: Green Day roars back to life

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Billie Joe Armstrong plays guitar behind his head
while gazing at the crowd Friday night at SXSW.
(Getty Images)

AUSTIN, Texas -- In the middle of "Stay the Night," Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong paused at the microphone, stared at the crowd for a moment and sighed, "Ah, welcome back!"

A turnabout of words. No doubt he was happy to see us -- a crowd not even close to capacity at the Austin City Limits Live theater, but certainly a welcoming one. This was Green Day's return to action after Armstrong's profane meltdown last September at a festival in Las Vegas, complete with tantrum and smashed guitar. Days later, the band announced Armstrong was seeking treatment for substance abuse and a slate of arena dates was postponed.

Friday night at SXSW, though, Armstrong couldn't have looked more refreshed, reinvigorated and grateful.

SXSW: Snapshots of Earl Sweatshirt

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For the Sun-Times

AUSTIN, Texas -- When the young L.A. rap collective Odd Future became the center of attention two years ago, Earl Sweatshirt gained notoriety for what he wasn't more than what he was. In fact, he was out of the picture, sent away to boarding school in Samoa by his mother, so popular imagination filled in what fans didn't know about Tyler the Creator's enigmatic, brainy alter ego.

Now 19, Earl--born Thebe Kgositsile--is not only out of school and back on the rap scene but coming out from Tyler's shadow with a solo album expected this year. A brief SXSW set on a tiny outdoor stage last night gave glimpses of some of that new material and added a few snapshots to the emerging portrait of Earl.

SXSW: Usher appears with Afghan Whigs

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For the Sun-Times

AUSTIN, Texas -- Most rumored celebrity sightings at South by Southwest don't pan out, but this time was different: Pop R&B superstar Usher really did join veteran indie rock quartet the Afghan Whigs onstage Friday evening at Fader Fort, a non-SXSW-sanctioned outdoor venue located just east of downtown Austin.

A few songs into the Whigs' set, the band began playing Usher's "Climax." Wearing a hat and a heavy, glimmering chain around his neck, the star himself emerged and started to sing. "Surprise, surprise," he deadpanned. The crowd roared.

SXSW: Killer Mike makes a play for hip-hop's crown

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For the Sun-Times

KillerMike_3.jpgAUSTIN, Texas -- Rap royalty came to Austin on Thursday night in the form of Ice Cube, LL Cool J and Public Enemy. But while hip-hop's former kings were cavorting for an exclusive crowd on a garish corporate-sponsored stage, a young prince -- Atlanta MC Killer Mike -- was proving he now deserves the crown.

The contrast couldn't have been starker. The superstars were ensconced behind a high fence, surrounded by satellite trucks that webcast their appearance to the world and dwarfed by giant ads for the snack-food corporation that was footing the bill. The hulking Killer Mike -- so named for his deadly tongue -- paced beneath a tent in the back yard of a bar in an outlying location, armed with nothing but his intellect, humor, ferocity and a DJ for backup.

For the Sun-Times

AUSTIN, Texas -- South by Southwest is often about discovering new sounds, but sometimes you're well advised to stop chasing what's next and listen to what came before.

Opportunities to hear influential older artists abound in Austin this year, among them Shoes on Wednesday, the Sound City Players last night and Zombies, True Believers and others still to come. But no band here--and few if any in American pop history--boasts a greater legacy of artistic influence, commercial success and cultural taboo-breaking than the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.

Nominally a group of session players, the musicians informally known as the Swampers were much more than that. Beginning in the mid-1960s, they wrote, recorded or produced songs with dozens of iconic artists. From a humble corner of northeast Alabama, they not only churned out chart-topping hits but helped define the sound of soul music and bridge cultural divides, bringing together white and black artists and blending the genres of rock and R&B.

Lupe Fiasco imagines life of slain Chicago infant

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Jonylah Watkins' life certainly ended too soon, but in a new song by Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco she grows up and becomes a promising doctor.

The infant, killed in a shooting on Monday while her father was changing her in the passenger seat of a car, is the namesake of "Jonylah Forever." Fiasco released the song yesterday in tribute to the slain girl.

It's a simple, moving track that imagines what Jonylah's life might have been like -- avoiding gangs, attending King College Prep (where she "bumped into Hadiya teaching art," referencing Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old King student fatally shot in January) and eventually graduating medical school with honors and turning down a high-paying job because "they need me in the hood / and that's where you reside."

Listen to the track here ...

SXSW: Flaming Lips bring 'Yoshimi,' 'The Terror'

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Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips backstage before the band's
Thursday night SXSW showcase.
(Michael Jackson/For the Sun-Times)

AUSTIN, Texas -- "The new record is probably going to freak some people out," said Wayne Coyne. "It is, on purpose, not a hopeful record."

He's talking about "The Terror," the Flaming Lips' new nine-track album due in late April, and as he does it's easy for him to get a little heavy.

"There are things we have to face as human beings, truths we must explore," Coyne says. "'The Terror' is a certain kind of terror, an uncanny sort of break in nature or your own life. It's not an insane, monster terror. It's the terror of realizing that love isn't the magic bullet. We all wake up with dread of the unknown. It's not about fear of dying, but about the fact that we just don't know what's going to happen anywhere, anytime."

SXSW: Dave Grohl's Sound City Players rock long

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Dave Grohl and Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks at the premiere of the film at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in January. The pair performed Thursday night at SXSW. (AP)

AUSTIN, Texas -- "It's gonna be a long f---in' night," Dave Grohl promised at the start of his Thursday set with his live musical collage, the Sound City Players. Then the supergroup -- Grohl on bass with his Foo Fighters, led by omnipresent hard-rock maestro Alain Johannes -- kicked off a song that found Johannes pleading, "I hope it won't be long."

Dave Grohl's Sound City Players are a hodge-podge of recognizable names spanning three generations, a promotional ploy for Grohl's new documentary ("Sound City: Real To Reel," about the legendary Los Angeles recording studio) and its accompanying soundtrack. The group features Grohl and his band with Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Rick Springfield, Lee Ving (Fear), Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick), Brad Wilk (Rage Against the Machine), Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour), Chris Goss (Masters of Reality), Johannes (Eleven, Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures) and bassist Krist Novoselic (Nirvana).

They've performed a handful of shows since early January in New York, Los Angeles and London. Grohl said at the beginning of Thursday's SXSW concert outdoors at Stubb's BBQ that this one would "probably" be their last. "So we're gonna make it extra long, extra special."

SXSW shows off Chicago hip-hop all day, night

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(Geoff Henao)

For the Sun-Times

AUSTIN, Texas -- Chicago hip-hop -- in all its variety -- was on full display Thursday in Austin for SXSW.

Chance the Rapper led things off with the first of three sets for the day by rocking the Karma Lounge for the Drive The Noize Showcase put on by Chicago start-up CrowdNoize.

After the early afternoon set Chance, and seemingly everyone else associated with the words Chicago and rap music, descended on the Red Bull Sound Select stage for a Chicago hip-hop showcase featuring ShowYouSuck, Chance, Spenzo, L.E.P. Bogus Boys and a re-connection of the Cool Kids before Master P topped things off for the day.


AUSTIN, Texas -- Dave Grohl stepped to the podium Thursday morning to deliver the keynote address at SXSW 2013, rolled up his sleeves, tucked his hair behind his ears -- and put on reading glasses.

The move spoke not only to rock's AARP eligibility but to the paternal tone of his address. Largely an autobiography of a lifetime spent pursuing some measure of independence in his music, Grohl's speech aimed not at the media and industry crowding the Austin Convention Center ballroom but at any indie-rock kids who might hear him.

"There is no right or wrong there is only your voice," he dispensed. "It's your voice. Cherish it, respect it, challenge it ... Everyone's blessed with at least that."

SXSW grows up, Nick Cave gets daaahk, Waxahatchee

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Nick Cave performs Wednesday evening at SXSW. (AP)

For the Sun-Times

AUSTIN, Texas -- South by Southwest is no longer a cottage industry. The cottage was razed to make way for fancy condos long ago. Now Austin's springtime cottage industry is complaining about how SXSW is too crowded, too commercial, the bands too big, the lines too long, and the whole event just not what it used to be.

The changes are undeniable, of course; SXSW has grown up, and its growing pains continue. But Wednesday's first full night of concert showcases offered exactly what the festival is famous for--a profusion of sounds spilling into the streets, unheard new artists next to established veterans in a bustling carnival--and put the focus where it belongs, on the music.

The night's first sets at Stubb's, a signature SXSW venue, encapsulated all things great and terrible about the event circa 2013. There was a daunting line more than two blocks long, but staff and volunteers moved it quickly. Some in the crowd seemed interested in anything but the band onstage, but the community policed itself (one yakker was silenced by a white-haired Brit remarking, "I traveled 5,000 miles to hear Nick Cave, not to listen to you"). Best of all, the performances showed both old masters still at the height of their powers, and a brand-new band that lived up to every bit of its buzz.

SXSW: The return of Dixie Chick Natalie Maines

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Natalie Maines performs Wednesday night with Ben Harper at SXSW. (AP)

AUSTIN, Texas -- Really, no hoots and cheers when Natalie Maines, covering Pink Floyd's "Mother," sang the song's line about running for president?

Maines, the singer for country's Dixie Chicks, returned to the spotlight in a Wednesday night showcase at the Austin City Limits Live theater during SXSW. Once the flashpoint for debate after disparaging President George W. Bush (telling a London audience in 2003, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas"), the Lubbock native was back in Austin a decade later to unveil the new Natalie. Performing the entirety of her new album, "Mother" -- her solo debut since the Dixie Chicks went on hiatus in 2007 -- Maines appeared stolid and confident.

SXSW: Chicago's Wild Belle ready for summer

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AUSTIN, Texas -- SXSW originally was created to showcase music that was new, fresh, creative. Wild Belle returned to the festival Wednesday night boasting all three.

The Chicago-area, brother-sister duo of Elliot and Natalie Bergman kicked off the Wednesday showcases with a packed house at the roomy upstairs Haven club, with lines of eager badge-holders and fans stretching in two directions down the block. Leaning heavily on their new album, "Isles" -- released Tuesday on major label Columbia -- the Bergmans and their band bounced effortlessly through their reggae-driven pop. It was music for the Austin weather: warm, breezy and revitalizing. That they performed a song about being "bundled up like chickadees" in Chicago seemed almost to taunt the folks back home.

SXSW: 'Born in Chicago' explores '60s blues hand-off

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AUSTIN, Texas -- A day after it was announced as a featured documentary at next month's annual Chicago International Movies & Music Festival, "Born in Chicago" had its world premiere here at SXSW on Wednesday afternoon.

The film, directed by John Anderson, chronicles the history and tall tales from the generation of young, affluent white kids who gathered in Chicago during the 1950s and '60s, learning to play the blues from the men who had honed the music on their own. Narration by Marshall Chess (son and nephew of the Chess Records founders) mixes into interviews with Elvin Bishop, Charlie Musselwhite, Nick Gravenites, Barry Goldberg (who co-produced the film) and excellent footage of the late Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield. On the other side are snatches of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, plus interviews with Sam Lay and the great Hubert Sumlin.


Shoes, from Zion, Ill., kick off their SXSW week with a day gig
Wednesday afternoon.
(Thomas Conner)

AUSTIN, Texas -- Janice Greenberg actually teared up a bit at the Camper Van Beethoven show.

The 46-year-old mother of two from Sonoma County, Calif., stumbled into the Jr. club Wednesday afternoon, squinting from the bright-to-black transition and her jaw hanging down. The band was running through its well-known 1980s indie-rock standard, "Take the Skinheads Bowling" -- but it was, Greenberg discovered to her considerable dismay, their last song.

"I had no idea that they ... are they even ... I didn't know they were here!" she said, close to a wail. "I love Camper!"

You don't have to be in Austin to see SXSW shows

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Wanz (left) and Macklemore perform at the iHeartRadio showcase
Tuesday night at SXSW in Austin, Texas.
(Getty Images)

The lines are long, parking's a nightmare and every venue is thick with schmoozy tastemakers. So why actually attend SXSW when you can enjoy the shows from your Chicago couch?

In the 21st century, you don't have to be in Austin to sample some of the wares on display during this annual music showcase. Here are some of the streaming options available Wednesday-Saturday from the "live music capital of the world" ...

SXSW 2013 opens with names big and small

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Mayer Hawthorne performs at the Samsung Galaxy Sound Stage
on Tuesday at SXSW.
(Getty Images)

AUSTIN, Texas -- "It's like Comic Con, but without anything cool."

That early review of South by Southwest came from one of the multitude of hipsters strutting through the Austin Convention Center on Tuesday -- the final day of SXSW Interactive and the first day of SXSW Music. This annual conference and festival in the Texas capital has grown into a 10-day event encompassing rollouts of films, digital ventures and new music. The movies and online jibber-jabber started March 8; the music blares on through March 17.

The relative coolness of what lies ahead remains to be seen, but it's already shaping up to be a typical mix of fresh-faced new bands -- the showcasing of which was SXSW's original mission when it began in 1987 -- and big-name celebs.

Review: Justin Timberlake, 'The 20/20 Experience'

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(RCA) 3<br />
JT2020.jpgTwo very different fanbases squealed sighs of relief this month upon seeing their musical heroes return to action. This week, David Bowie, 66, released his first album in a decade, "The Next Day." Next week, Justin Timberlake, 32, delivers his first album in six years, "The 20/20 Experience" (currently streaming on iTunes ahead of its release next week). I wouldn't dream of comparing the sound and vision of these gents, but (aside from the temporal puzzles in their titles) the two albums share a particular foundational perspective -- that of an iconic artist seeking to make solid new music without hitching rides on any shiny, new bandwagons.

Timberlake's outing is promising, though the full delivery of that promise requires patience and repeated listening. This album's a grower, not a shower.


Chicago has produced some of the finest Irish rock bands in the country -- two of which are back together and celebrating milestone occasions this St. Patty's weekend.

First, the Drovers -- formed on St. Patrick's Day back in 1988 and widely acclaimed as one of the genre's finest -- are reuniting for a special, one-night-only concert at the Abbey Pub. It's the band's first performance in a decade, and it marks the return of singer-fiddler Kathleen Keane after 21 years.

Then, Irish punks the Tossers (pictured above) celebrate a new album and their 20th anniversary with -- what else? -- their annual pre-St. Pat's bash at Metro.

"We're not doing anything fancy for it," says the Tossers' singer and mandolin player Tony Duggins. "There's never been nothing fancy about us."

Review: David Bowie, 'The Next Day'

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bowienextdaycd.jpgDavid Bowie, "The Next Day" (ISO) 3<br />
and a half stars -- Throughout the '90s, David Bowie ran from his past. He swore off his catalog in concert, couched himself in a middling rock band (Tin Machine) and embraced the emerging electronica music -- even touring with Nine Inch Nails, looking frightfully the follower rather than the usual leader -- with results ranging from OK ("Earthling," 1997) to oh-dear ("Hours...," 1999). Then, recognizing that he had built for himself a wheelhouse containing many mansions, he did the smart thing at the turn of this century and went back inside. "Heathen" (2002) and "Reality" (2003) are two of Bowie's most accessible and enjoyable records, not only because of their renewed songwriting focus and alluring tunes but because he made them with Tony Visconti, the trusted producer-pal who helmed most of Bowie's landmark albums in the 1970s. Together they drew inspiration from Bowie's past without retreading it. "Heathen" rang a lot of familiar Bowie bells, and "Reality" started to fashion something like a new sound -- a sound that "The Next Day" capitalizes, underlines and emboldens.

Ravinia rewinds for nostalgic 2013 pop lineup

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Nestled within the Ravinia Festival's annual summery slate of intriguing classical and jazz concerts are regular pop and rock bookings-- a festival within the festival that could use its own name.

For 2013, we could call it Retrofest or, for the picnickers on the lawn, Rewind and Unwind.

This summer's pop shows at the beautiful North Shore lawn and pavilion are heavy on nostalgia acts and package tours. Boomers are awash in the requisite Judy Collins (June 6), Jackson Browne (June 26) and a Beach Boy (Brian Wilson with "special guest" Al Jardine, July 26) shows, plus the nearly perennial appearance by Donald Fagen (this year back in his original Steely Dan, Aug. 1-2). Gen-Xers can relive the '90s with wondrous one-hit package bills like the Under the Sun Tour with Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Vertical Horizon and Fastball (July 20) or marquees such as Melissa Etheridge, Joan Osborne and Paula Cole (June 29) and the Goo Goo Dolls with matchbox 20 (July 2-3).

Thomas Conner

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


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