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April 2013 Archives

This is a debut? Ivan & Alyosha already seasoned

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They've made me write the column of criticism and so life was made possible.
--from The Brothers Karamazov

First things first: The band name is Ivan & Alyosha, but it's a quartet, not a duo.

"It's been a bit confusing," says Tim Wilson, Ivan & Alyosha's singer-guitarist, not seeming too worried. "Journalists are usually, like, 'Which one's the atheist? I wanna talk to that one!'"

Johnny Marr finds a voice in being 'The Messenger'

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When guitarist Johnny Marr entered a studio a few years ago to remaster the entire catalog by the Smiths, the 1980s band that made him and singer Morrissey famous, it was not a nostalgic enterprise.

"It didn't dredge up any personal things," he says. "I wasn't sitting in a darkened room with a bottle of wine, crying tears of sadness or regret or nostalgia. It was a job that needed to be done. It was a technical exercise, and it was bloody hard work."

July 12 in Chicago: Robert Plant vs. Bob Dylan

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Two classic rockers announced tours today, which will duke it out on the same summer evening in Chicago.

First, Led Zeppelin icon Robert Plant is hitting the road again, this time with his new band the Sensational Space Shifters.

Jazz Record Mart exemplifies Record Store Day

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This week's issue of Billboard magazine ranks Chicago's Jazz Record Mart among its list of top U.S. shops for vinyl junkies, calling the local institution a "must for friends looking for live tunes on Record Store Day."

Record Store Day is this Saturday -- a commercial holiday that began five years ago as a spirited international campaign to encourage patronage of local brick-and-mortar record shops. Now, on the third Saturday 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.

Game Theory, Loud Family leader Scott Miller dies

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I've got a feeling it's over now ...
-- Game Theory

On a recent weekend, I spent an afternoon reading (for some grad-school research) about game theory. When my head was imploding and I needed a break, I put on some Game Theory.

The quirky, mildly psychedelic pop band from the '80s has been a personal touchstone for many years, and I'm sad to report today that Scott Miller, who led Game Theory and later the Loud Family, reportedly died this week at age 53. No cause of death was reported Wednesday.

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The term "one-hit wonder" always has required a certain perspective. Many artists who land the singular hit in America score dozens elsewhere. But beyond mere charts and sales, even a one-hit wonder makes a deep impact in other ways.

For example, in "Let Them Eat Chaos," a current show at Chicago's Second City, actors Katie Rich and Ross Bryant play a Scottish couple who expresses their love by saying to each other, "I would walk 500 miles." A jealous boyfriend even quips, "I bet they're proclaiming their love for each other right now."

At least half of you, for at least half an instant, I'm guessing, just had two bespectacled Scottish brothers dancing in your heads.

"Whatever has happened and will happen, we at least have that calling card," says Charlie Reid, half of the duo the Proclaimers.

'American Idiot' an assemblage of Broadway idiocracy

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'American Idiot," the touring Broadway megamusical built around pop-punk trio Green Day's 2004 concept album, is one lame episode of "Glee."

A blaring show-choir romp through countless rock stereotypes and clueless affectations -- punk kids do not dance like this -- the show, now at the Cadillac Palace for a weeklong return engagement, is a musical in name only. The songs are stitched together by the thinnest of plots, and what narrative exists is difficult to discern. But there are 30 video screens and seizure-inducing strobes! This is a very Broadway idea of rock 'n' roll. It's "Rent" on steroids.

Video: R. Kelly joins Phoenix during Coachella

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Alas, no, he wasn't a hologram.

In a brief preview of what may be coming to this year's Pitchfork Music Festival, infamous Chicago R&B singer R. Kelly made a surprise cameo last weekend at the Coachella concert festival outside of Los Angeles.

Kelly joined the French pop band Phoenix toward the end of their headlining set before the festival crowd on Saturday. Together, Kelly and Phoenix mashed up his "Ignition" with their "1901."

Here's video of the performance ...

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For more than 30 years, Western pop culture has fused music with visuals. From the debut of MTV to today's means of scoring a hit via YouTube, music and video are -- as the logo for the annual Chicago International Music & Movies festival says -- "inseparable."

Few events celebrate this fact of life more adeptly than Chicago's CIMMfest, which runs its fifth incarnation April 18-21 at venues throughout the city.

Review: Flaming Lips, 'The Terror'

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lipsterror.jpgThe Flaming Lips, "The Terror" (Warner Bros.-Lovely Sorts of Death) 1<br />
and a halfstars -- Throughout their roller coaster career, from the skronky early days through the compositional peak of "The Soft Bulletin," the Flaming Lips have possessed at least an underlying jovial air. Lead singer Wayne Coyne's scraggly smile has rarely been a cynical smirk. The wild and inventive music, even when going on lyrically about the inevitability of death or describing a wicked spider bite, always has unearthed the hope and celebration lurking within. But when I caught up with Coyne last month at South by Southwest, he was serious, a bit more the intense mad professor than usual. He didn't smile as he said, "The new record is probably going to freak some people out. It is, on purpose, not a hopeful record."

"The Terror," indeed.

Old Town School showcasing its 'Musicology' on TV

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Cajun band Balfa Toujours (left) and singer Buika are among the performers scheduled on the new TV series "Musicology: Live From the Old Town School of Folk Music," premiering April 19.


Only a few TV productions have attempted to climb the massive mountain of world music. "Music Voyager," hosted by Putumayo label chief Jacob Edgar, trots the globe to capture musicians in their native settings, and the Link TV network mixes videos and concerts in an attempt to map the latitude and longitude of a planetary genre.

This week, though, Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music, in partnership with a local PBS affiliate, embarks on a similarly ambitious journey -- but without leaving home.

"Musicology: Live From the Old Town School of Folk Music," premiering at 9 p.m. Friday on WYCC-Channel 20, taps into the Old Town School's acclaimed series of world music concerts and captures them in a program mixing performance with documentary.

Review: 'Way to Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake'

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stars -- The most significant musical achievement of the 1960s was the overall transformation of singers from showmen to artists. The extra role demanded hyphenation -- singer-songwriter -- and the creation of music and its link to one's identity became as important (often more so) as its performance. Then, as that decade waned, a shy young Briton who hated performing retreated toward the far side of this new equation and produced some of the world's first and best bedroom-indie records. Nick Drake managed to have an enormous impact as an artist without trotting the boards like a modern-day vaudevillian.

Of course, he didn't get much chance.

New PSY song, 'Gentleman,' sticks to dancefloor

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"Gentleman," the new single from South Korean wunderkind PSY is due for official release tomorrow, but the song already has leaked online.

Hear it here, as long as this link remains active ...

Memo to Fleetwood Mac: Don't let me down again

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The classic rock institution that is Fleetwood Mac has embarked on its umpteenth reunion tour this spring. The band isn't supporting a new album. Nevertheless, despite saying never many times, they're going back again -- and again and again, with 66 arena concerts scheduled around the world this year.

It's difficult to get excited about this go-round -- even for me, a lifelong Mac addict undeterred even by the "Time" album. The biggest news out of the tour so far is that the band is performing "Sisters of the Moon," a 33-year-old "Tusk" track.

Yawn.

Margaret Thatcher's death a topic of song since '80s

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Thatcher-evil-harpy.jpgMargaret Thatcher has died, and I can count on my hands and feet several times over the number of songwriters who aren't crying any tears over the news.

Peppered with strikes and social-program slashing, the British prime minister's brutish 11-year reign proved inspiring to many musicians. The 1980s did not play second fiddle to the '60s when it came to angry social songs, and in the eyes of many young up-and-coming rockers and pop stars Thatcher's government provided endless material for melodic rage.

Many of them, in fact, dreamed of this very day. Quite longingly.

Roger Ebert was a writer extraordinaire

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I happened to be among a group of academics discussing criticism when I received the thumbs-down news about our colleague Roger Ebert.

In fact, a few hours earlier I had mentioned something of my own origin story as a critic -- how I'd been inspired by the usual music scribes, more popist than rockist, but that chief among my original inspirations was "At the Movies" or, as it was known around our house, "Burt & Ebert," for the stars' general tall-short resemblance to the "Sesame Street" duo.

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Since 2008, the Revival Tour has been an annual traveling conclave of punk musicians -- who all play unplugged.

Previous tours have found members from bands such as Against Me!, Flogging Molly, the Gaslight Anthem, Bedouin Soundclash, Chicago's Lawrence Arms and many more, each picking up acoustic instruments instead of the usual electric barrage.

"From the top, we play and sing together, showcasing a song from each artist's catalog that's on the bill that evening," the tour's founder, Chuck Ragan of the band Hot Water Music, said recently. "There're usually five to six artists as well as back-up accompaniment of fiddles, upright bass, mandolins, banjos and more. After this, most will peel off to spotlight one of the artists aboard who'll present their own works."

It's a modern hootenanny, and Tim McIlrath of Chicago's Rise Against couldn't wait to jump on the tour.

XRT all in for A-to-Z run through station playlist?

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Chicago's WXRT-FM (93.1) began a possibly interesting experiment today: The radio station says it's playing its entire current collection of songs, from A to Z.

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The rumor mongering can hush up now: Lollapalooza's 2013 lineup was officially announced this morning.

Turns out last week's leak was accurate -- likely why the festival's organizers bumped up the official marquee unveiling from next week to today -- and the main headliners are indeed Mumford & Sons, the Killers, Nine Inch Nails, Phoenix, Postal Service, Vampire Weekend and a New Wave double shot of the Cure and New Order.

Other than Mumford & Sons, that's a whole lolla comebacks.

Thomas Conner

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

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