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June 2013 Archives

Worried about the boy: Ezra Furman returns

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The last time I saw Ezra Furman, he was in his underwear.

Performing, no less. The mad Evanstonian -- one of the most visceral singer-songwriters I've encountered in this city -- stepped onto a bare stage during the South by Southwest music festival in 2012 in Austin, Texas, nearly bare-assed, wearing only socks and boxer briefs. The rest of him was just the same -- wild eyes, spasmodic moves, an unnerving earnestness.

"I was incredibly tired," Furman recalls. "That probably influenced the decision. Plus, that kind of environment needs a little ridiculousness."

At the time, Furman had just relocated to the Bay Area and self-released a new solo album with a title related to his exodus from the Chicago scene: "The Year of No Returning."

One year down, and he's returned -- sort of.

The Replacements to reunite at Riot Fest gigs

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Alt-rock anti-heroes the Replacements famously ended their decade-long run July 4, 1991, during a sad gig at none other than Taste of Chicago. But later this year, some form of the band is reuniting for at least three Riot Fest appearances -- including Chicago.

Music makes the best of Chicago summer street fests

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Chicago's summers are the best anywhere -- meteorologically, sure, but also because of the plethora of neighborhood street festivals practically every weekend.

The food, the beer, the curious crafts and arresting art -- come for all of that, but stay for the music. Many of this summer's street fests are can't-miss bargains when factoring in their concert lineups.

The city's web site has a complete schedule of the summer's street festivals. Here are eight suggested 'hood happenings, where the scheduled music gets well beyond the usual cover bands and tribute acts ...

Goodbye, Chicago: The other shoe has dropped

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Enjoying tea backstage at the Pitchfork Music Festival.

Many years ago, Mark Brown -- not our Mark Brown, a different journalist (go figure, I've known four Mark Browns in this business) -- signed off from his post as pop music critic at California's Orange County Register with a column describing something of an epiphany he had after being konked in the head with a shoe thrown from the stage by the singer for Candlebox.

"It was a sign from God: time to get out," he wrote.

My own decision to depart journalism has evolved over some time.

Kanye West debuts more 'Yeezus' tracks in concert

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The Kanye West hysteria machine is cranking up once again and, thanks to a new gig last night, new cell videos are rolling in.

Ahead of a typically hotly anticipated new album, "Yeezus," out next week, the Chicago rapper has been making a few concert appearances while, surprisingly, refraining from leaking the new tracks. But at Sunday's Governor's Ball concert in New York City, West unveiled several new songs and -- of course -- ranted a bit about the biz.

Guitarist Quinn Sullivan performs with Chicago's Shemekia Copeland
at the Thursday night opening of the 30th annual Chicago Blues Festival.
(Chandler West)

Conventional wisdom tends to support the idea that the blues require just that: wisdom. Age and experience. Kids don't yet have any real blues to moan, right?

Thursday night's opening of the 30th annual Chicago Blues Festival challenged that notion, delivering hot blues on an unseasonably cold night -- and without a gray whisker in sight. (On stage, at least.)

For a while, Thursday's shows seemed more like the Chicago Blues School Recital, with performers as young as 12 showing off their licks.


How much does language matter in pop music?

Most Americans didn't understand a word of "Gangnam Style," yet we clicked PSY's online hit up to a billion views. Likewise, the hundreds of other K-pop stars look to the model of Latin music as an example of crossover magic in America. The Billboard charts, too, are not averse to the occasional or partial non-English hit ("Alles klar, Herr Kommissar?").

So who's to say the new album out now, "Scott & Rivers" -- a collaboration between Chicago's Scott Murphy and Weezer's Rivers Cuomo -- won't succeed on its own, half-Japanese merits?

Chicago Blues Festival 2013: Six slots to see

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AX120_76AD_9.JPGFor its 30th incarnation in the city parks, the Chicago Blues Festival is looking to its roots. Themed "Rollin' Up the River," the 2013 blues fest casts an eye at the music's origins in the Mississippi delta -- and the great migration that brought so many of its pioneer musicians north to the Chicago clubs.

Friday morning, veteran guitarist Robert Walker will emcee a panel discussion about the Mississippi Blues Trail -- the stretch of Southern road known as "the blues highway" -- featuring Allison Washington, representative of the trail from the Mississippi Development Authority; writer and producer Jim O'Neal; and "Highway 61" radio host Scott Barretta. Let 'em school you at 11:30 a.m. Friday on the festival's Mississippi Juke Joint Stage in Grant Park.

Beyond that, the fest features the usual hours and hours of free music over four days on stages throughout Millennium Park tonight -- where Chicago's formidable Shemekia Copeland performs with fawned-over teenage guitarist Quinn Sullivan -- and Grant Park on Friday through Sunday.

Here's a half dozen best-bet events you'll want to wander by this weekend ...

Lollapalooza announces slate of indoor after-shows

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Lollapalooza after-parties deliver extra musical bang for either those who missed the chance to get festival tickets or those festivalgoers who simply cannot stop rocking when Grant Park goes dark.

The full slate of official post-fest, indoor concerts was announced this morning. The schedule -- on sale at 10 a.m. Friday here -- spotlights several artists with better venues and available time than they're getting in the sun-baked mud during Lollapalooza, Aug. 2-4.

Here's the lineup, including some pre-Lolla shows (and with *** indicating my recommended hot tickets) ...

AX050_1CC3_9.JPGThroughout these 50th anniversary concerts, one slot in the Rolling Stones' set list has been a revolving door for some high-profile guests. Last week, singer Mick Jagger welcomed blues guitarist Taj Mahal for a boogie-down run through "Six Days on the Road" during the band's first of three shows at Chicago's United Center. Friday night it was Sheryl Crow joining Jagger for "All Down the Line."

The guest for tonight's final Chicago show has been announced early: Taylor Swift.

Teen sensation adds youth to Chicago Blues Festival

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Buddy Guy always has been generous in sharing his blues-guitar spotlight with up-and-comers. When he brought 8-year-old Quinn Sullivan onto a festival stage, however, his trademark smile froze in astonishment.

"I had to unplug his amplifier to make sure it was him," Guy said after the 2007 show. "I'm like, 'There's no way in the world you can play these notes. He was hitting Eric Clapton, he was hitting me, Stevie, Jimi Hendrix. I couldn't even play a radio when I was seven or eight years old! Players like him come along once in a lifetime. I said, 'I need to let the world know about you.'"

He's done just that, and the world is finding out about this impressive young guitar phenom.

Thomas Conner

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


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