Thursday, January 31, 2008

Interview: Thax Douglas

Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips and Thax Douglas (R) discuss the merits of giving senior citizens a free ride on the CTA.

I caught up with local rock poet Thax Douglas earlier this week over some coffee at Schubas' Harmony Grill. He was there to read for local band Ultra Sonic Edukators (I couldn't stay long enough to give a good review of the show but I think this Chicagoist article does a pretty good job). When we first sat down he asked me if I wanted to go check out the opening band. Trying to make a somewhat short night of it because of work issues, I explained to him that I didn't have a ticket and I wasn't on the list. He gave me a quick smile and left only to return a short time later and inform me I was good to go. After reading poetry for bands all over Chicago for the past ten years, he's capable of these types of things. We went and watched opening band the Loyal Divide (fantastic, by the way) and returned to our seats in the restaurant. Proud and polite, Thax opened up about the local music scene here in Chicago, his own career, and what music site he enjoys reading (hint: it's not Pitchfork).

nql: How do you go about making contacts with a band?

Thax Douglas: Yeah, usually I’ll approach a band right after a show, or before a show, it depends. It’s very rare that a band asks me to do it.

nql: They don’t seek you out very often?

TD: No, because, it’s sort of like, well, I read for Girl Talk on Saturday which was wonderful and great. It was a good example of what I do when it’s most fun because I was expecting not to enjoy it because I just thought he was a shallow party dj. But I watched some of his performances on Youtube and I really got excited about it. So I just went to the show, and it helps that I’ve been doing this for ten years. It helps that I can get into the Metro. And at this point, the artists know who I am so it makes things a lot easier.

nql: You got me on the list here, is that something you can do anywhere in town?

TD: Everywhere except the Empty Bottle.

nql: Why is that?

TD: The Empty Bottle is kind of shallow itself. It has a real 90s idea of being exclusive. I think they think by doing that it will make them cooler or something like that.

nql: Did you see Dan Deacon at all?

TD: Yeah, I did. He was really good. And I didn’t read for him but I will next time. He gave me the greatest compliment that made me feel really good. He said in the DIY world around the country there are four or five names that always come up and mine is one of them.

nql: Rewind ten years to when you first started doing this, is that something you ever expected to hear?

TD: That’s why it felt really good. Here’s the story, I’ve been doing poetry seriously since ’87 and in ’91 I started doing poetry portraits of people. And it was partly inspired by the kind of poetry that I’m into which is Russian poetry from the last 100 years. About 100 years ago a Russian poetry movement Acmeism sprung up. And I’ll let you google it and look it up to see what it’s all about but it basically is a kind of poetry form that is very concerned with meter and rhyme which brings it closer to hip-hop than what I do. Acmeism is very metaphorical and very image driven but it treats the metaphors essentially in a way as if it takes place in the real world. So that’s why my poems are kind of like that. They are very strange but also very physical.

nql: So when you do a poem for say a band like the Walkmen, what do you think about, what is the process?

TD: I’ll be vague about it because I don’t like explaining exactly how I do it but I have it here. (pulls it out and reads a poem entitled “The Walkmen”). It’s a little goofy at the end because I used the word “force” twice which is usually kind of breaking a rule but I decided to stick with it. But yeah, I guess I get an image in my head, an abstract image and it just gets translated into poetry. And I sort of let that talent take its own force, you know. `

nql: Have you ever read for a band you’re not that wild about?

TD: The only time I did that, and even then they weren’t the worst band in the world, but it was for a band called the Mercury Program. And that was only because I thought they were another band.

nql: (laughs)

TD: And by the time I realized it, it was too late so I just went with what I had. And they’re by no means the worst band in the world but I just sort of thought they were a Tortoise knock-off.

nql: You seem to turn your back on the music snobbery that exists in this town, is that fair to say?

TD: Totally. I hate that. Although luckily in the past half-year it’s starting to fade. I’m not as angry about it as I used to be because I can see those people starting to lose power which makes me feel good. One of the unfortunate side effects of Nirvana’s success was that it brought a lot of people into music that normally would not have been into music.

nql: But is that necessarily a bad thing?

TD: Well, it sort of is because, you know, look at the 90s and take a place like the Lounge Ax. Sue (Miller) and Julia (Adams, co-owners of Lounge Ax) were into it because they loved the music and that’s how most venues were at that time. And after Nirvana, unfortunately, it not only became cool in a shallow sort of way it also became lucrative.

nql: You mentioned certain people were losing power, who are you referring to?

TD: My enemies in town are basically the major indie labels like Drag City and Thrill Jockey and stuff like that. Those people really hate me and at this point it’s kind of mutual. There have just been many times over the years where they have really damaged me by hurting my feelings personally or ruined an opportunity for me. There were a lot of people of the years who came to town and were very friendly to me but once they realized who the cool people were they didn’t like me anymore. Stuff like that happened for many, many years but like I said, that sort of feeling seems to have dropped off suddenly.

nql: I love the music scene here in Chicago, but I do agree when you go to shows there is often a sort of exclusive thing going on with the crowd.

TD: Totally. And the trouble with that is it starts attracting that sort of person and more of those types start coming to town. I also have a pop music sensibility and I kind of think Chicago music, going back to the 60s, bands like the Buckinghams, and New Colony Six, those were bands you would hear on the oldies stations and I thought that sort of thing was revised in the 90s with bands like Urge Overkill and stuff like that. And I sort of think this other Chicago stuff like Big Black or Ministry or even Tortoise were kind of interlopers. There was a lot of nasty stuff that happened in the 90s. I respect Steve (Albini) as an artist, and I even made record with him which was quite good—mostly because of him—but I’ve never been able to forgive just the sheer nastiness that existed against all these pop acts from town like the Smashing Pumpkins.

nql: Albini’s always seemed to have a bitterness that I’ve never quite understood the root of.

TD: What he did was he created an atmosphere of fear. And an atmosphere that made it cool to be extremely negative and divisive. And that’s still with us, although like I said, it’s starting to fade finally. Because the 90s are starting to fade, finally. But take Urge Overkill, there was someone who started a newsletter called the Stalker that was anti-Urge Overkill and just stuff like that. So I’ve always tried to keep my distant from those types of people.

nql: Well, you said the scene in town is improving. Is there anyone in town you can point to that you think deserves some of that credit?

TD: Well, I’ll tell you something it’s interesting. The band that is playing tonight, Ultra Sonic Edukators is kind of a part of it. There are all these pop bands that aren’t interested in being part of the ugly part of the scene. Even someone earlier in the decade like OK Go, they always wanted to be a part of that. They thought if you lived in Chicago you sucked up to those labels and all the publicists and journalists that worked with them. But I think things started to change with Fall Out Boy who I barely paid attention to at first.

nql: But you’re a fan now?

TD: I’m a huge fan. And nobody takes them seriously.

nql: Do you have any idea if that bothers them?

TD: No, because I only saw them once before they got famous and I really liked them but kind of forgot about them because they were a part of the so-called “emo” scene which I don’t like. Musically, the emo scene is pretty bad. So I never went to shows where Fall Out Boy would play and it just so happened that I heard them on the radio and I got excited. So I really became a fan of theirs after they became famous. And I got to read for them on Valentine’s Day in ‘07 at the Metro so I met them briefly. It was right when Infinity On High came out.

nql: Are they good guys?

TD: Well, they’re all really short.

nql: (laughs)

TD: No, they were really friendly backstage. Pete Wentz didn’t have to let me read for them and he’s the one that gave me the okay so I was fine with them. I just really take them very seriously as far as the music is concerned. You know, back in the 70s I took the Beach Boys seriously and at the time that was almost considered a very eccentric viewpoint.

nql: Well, you know, now all those indie kids really love that Pet Sounds album.

TD: Exactly. Exactly. But back in the 70s people thought you were putting on a pose if you said that about the Beach Boys. Just like I’m sure some people probably think I’m doing a pose for Fall Out Boy but I think they’re great. But the point is, through them I discovered a band called The Hush Sound who are on Pete Wentz’ label and they are doing a Beatle-esque sort of pop thing. And then all these other bands like Company of Thieves, Dr. Manhattan, Inspector Owl…they just seem to be coming one after another. Butterfly Assassins is another one. They’re all just like this new thing so I’m very happy about it. I feel like I can be more positive instead of just complaining all the time.

nql: You’ve been doing this for ten years, any particular reading or show stick out?

TD: Whenever people ask me that my stock answer is always Graham Coxon at the Double Door, I’m not sure why. But that’s the one I always think of. Basically every show is great. I’m usually pretty careful about what show I want to go to so each night is special for a different reason.

nql: How many shows do you go to a week?

TD: A lot. Actually, it’s been almost two weeks now since I’ve taken a night off. The 16th was the last night I took off, and I read at most of those shows as well. I’m back in the swing of things I guess.

nql: Do you ever get tired of it?

TD: No, that’s the thing. Before I moved to New York I stopped doing it for five weeks and that’s the longest stoppage I’ve had.

nql: Any reason for that?

TD: I was more sick of Chicago than anything else.

nql: How was New York?

TD: Oh, it was wonderful, I loved it. I didn’t stay because of the money. I don’t have an income.

nql: LCD Soundsystem has a lyric that says “New York’s the greatest if you get someone to pay the rent.”

TD: That’s basically it. In a lot of ways it’s not different from Chicago. My urban romance will always be Chicago. Where did you grow up?

nql: I grew up in a small town in downstate Illinois and moved here after law school. I always wanted to live here.

TD: Okay, so you’re probably living your urban romance right now. That means where you get used to the idea of living in a big city, living alone, and all the sophistications of being an adult. So Chicago is that city for me and in that way it’s not different from New York. I enjoyed walking all over New York. I hated Manhattan during the day because of all the human traffic jams, it felt like Tokyo. But I loved going to Times Square at 3 in the morning.

nql: Did it feel like you were starting all over again? I assume you couldn’t just go to New York and get into all the clubs for free.

TD: Well, that’s sort of the funny thing because that’s what did happen. One thing I really liked is that I got more respect there than I do here. I’m finally getting a little respect because I’ve been doing this for ten years. In New York, reading a poem before a band just seemed to be par for the course.

nql: Speaking of which, how well do you handle criticism? I’m sure you’ve been reading and heard someone hiss or say something unflattering.

TD: I’ve learned how to deal with that really well because I’ve been to enough shows. When I saw Smoking Popes at the Double Door who are this wonderful, legendary band somebody yelled “You suck” while they were playing. And if you respond back you’re just giving them what they want. I realized it doesn’t mean anything. When one guy yells “You suck” it doesn’t reflect how the rest of the audience feels and if you interrupt the show to respond to the harassing you’re just making the show worse for all of the fans.

nql: That’s a pretty obnoxious thing to do.

TD: It is. But people do it for all different reasons. You heard what the guy at the Walkmen show did? He yelled “Play something good!” between songs. He told me he was a fan of the band, but he was an outraged Packer fan. (The Packers had just lost the NFC title game minutes before the Walkmen took the stage).

nql: Was he the guy in the Favre jersey?

TD: Yeah.

nql: Okay, I saw that guy running through the crowd giving elbows and I almost made a snide comment to him about the game since I’m a big Bears fan.

TD: Well, he had bruises and he said he had been kicked out of a bar. But you just put up with that stuff. He claimed he was a fan, but he was yelling to play something good. I guess he wanted them to play his favorite song which they didn’t’.

nql: I assume he wanted to hear “The Rat”.

TD: He did. Is that their big hit or something?

nql: Yeah, that’s their big one. Do you have a favorite venue in town?

TD: Yeah, it’s the Metro.

nql: Why is that?

TD: It’s just the absolute right size for reading. It’s big enough and exciting enough that there is real glamour in reading there but it’s still small enough not to be exhausting.

nql: Do you like to reach out to the smaller bands and ask to read for them to maybe give them some publicity?

TD: It’s no idealism on my part it’s just that you notice that anybody like me who is a figure on the music scene who’s not necessarily a musician themselves, someone like Beatle Bob or John Peel, we have something in common in that we’re excited about the music we like and it doesn’t matter how big or how small the band is. It doesn’t matter if you’re the only person who likes them or if millions of people like them. And all those bands are equal. So it’s just as exciting to read for someone you like in front of 5 people as it is for someone in front of 15,000.

nql: What’s the biggest crowd you’ve read in front of?

TD: 40,000.

nql: Where was that?

TD: Lollapalooza for the Flaming Lips.

nql: Wow. How did you make contact with them?

TD: It just comes from doing this a lot. First of all, I wasn’t a fan of Flaming Lips for a long time. Umm, I was friendly with a band called The Sun and they opened for the Flaming Lips. But, going back before that, I saw this band do a bunch of covers of the Flaming Lips which made me really grow to like the actual band. So I read for the Sun at that show and then I approached Wayne (Coyne, lead singer for Flaming Lips).

nql: Do you still have any sort of relationship with Wilco?

TD: No. I broke up with them shortly after the Wilco book was released. I got a little tired of it. There’s a movie about me and you can watch it if you want and that touches on it a little bit. I just read so much and got so identified with them that I just got tired of it.

nql: You felt like you were becoming the Wilco poet?

TD: Exactly. And their fans are crazy too. I call them Tweedy birds.

nql: (laughs)

TD: They’re just obsessed with Jeff and they think by talking to me that that’s the next best thing to talking with him. So I actually wrote a long post to the fan site called Via Chicago that basically said why I was finished with Wilco. That was three years ago. I don’t want to go into great detail about it. But it was always very tense backstage for a Wilco show. And after reading for a lot of big bands, like reading for Bright Eyes, it was just so pleasant being backstage at their show, that it just radiated a sense of calm so I realized it doesn’t have to feel the way it felt before a Wilco show.

nql: Where do you see yourself five years from now? Is there any sort of goal or finish line or have you already met all that you set out to meet?

TD: I just want to be able to make a small living doing this. I always want to make enough so I can find my own place and not have to worry about it.

nql: If someone were to look into your stereo what music would they currently find in there?

TD: It’s funny, I don’t have a lot of records. Go to Youtube, I have a site called thaxdouglas and I have a playlist on there live from the video. I don’t expect you to watch all of it because it’s about 30 hours but if you watch a lot of the videos you’ll see a very intimate portrait of my soul. But the reason I’m telling you to look at it is because there are a lot of music videos involved and if you look at it that will give you a very good idea.

nql: Can you give me an example?

TD: I just want you to look at it. But even that doesn’t tell the whole story, Frank Zappa has been very important to me and there is no Frank Zappa on the playlist.

nql: Are there any music websites you like to frequent?

TD: I really like Brooklyn Vegan which is just a blog done by a guy out of Brooklyn.

nql: Sure, I know that site.

TD: In fact, whenever, I accidentally stumble upon a Pitchfork article I always immediately go to that site to cleanse my pallet.


This Week In Bloggystyle: Berto Ramon

Berto Ramon @ The Double Door

Local hip-hop group Berto Ramon have made a nice home for themselves inside the darks walls of the Double Door (best coat check deal in town). Following a hard-charged show last November at the dusky venue that rests near the Milwaukee/North/Damen interestion, the band will be back on Friday for another go-around . Fueled by the lyrics of MCs Just J and Boogalu--and backed up by violins, Latin percussions, guitars, bass, drums, a DJ, and keyboards--they possess a style that resembles some sort of Common/Black Eyed Peas/Clash hybrid....if that's even possible. Tickets are $10 at the door; Animate Objects and Othello open.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Record Review: Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend
NQL Rating System Rating: Very Good

One of the many benefits of being a staff writer for NQL, besides every other Friday being a half-day, is the opportunity to taste some tunes before they hit the stores. Consequently, Cloverfield's own Vampire Weekend's S/T (which means self-titled I recently learned) has been a daily friend of mine since that one night in December when I chose to risk everything and jog with music. Thankfully, these Columbia University grads debut is 10 songs and thirty-four minutes of good times, popped collars and catchy riffs that would make my arduous 3.25 mile trek seem more like a 5 kilometer afro-pop* awakening.

The polished guitar sound begins at the outset with “Mansard Roof.” A title that apparently refers to a late 19th century roofing technique that people in Europe and courthouses in the United States latched onto. Apparently, however, Vampire Weekend has themselves had an impact on those familiar with roofs that look like they would leak all the time. (Do a Wikipedia search of "Mansard Roof" and scroll down to the 7th paragraph.) The band has a very unique sound that is maintained throughout their next songs on the album, “Oxford Comma”, “A-Punk”, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “Boston.” I never thought a song with repeated cries for Peter Gabriel and the words “Cape Cod” in the title would fancy my aural appetite. But move over Rivers Cuomo, you have company, and they actually went to an Ivy League school when it was legal for them to date someone in high school.

The drum intro and chorus made “Campus” my favorite song on the album. As Ezra Koenig, with preppier echoes of Paul Simon, sings “How I am suppose to pretend/I am never going to see you again,” it is refreshing to know that random one-night-fucks apparently happen to smart kids as well. This is followed by “One”, “Bryn” and “Walcott”, where the band continues their ode to all things Cape Cod. Closing track “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” is a positive departure in sound and energy from the rest of the album and gives hope that this band will continue to evolve their distinctive sound. It’s significant that this album continues to grow on me weeks after first hearing it. The first listens, while different in sound, will take you back to how you felt when you first heard The Stroke’s Is This It?, Arcade Fire’s Funeral or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!’s S/T. Many a critic take solace in comparing The Strokes to Velvet Underground, Arcade Fire to Joy Division and CYHSY to the Talking Heads. Don’t do that with this album! This band will have plenty of opportunities with their hectic touring and promotion to define and separate themselves from any comparisons.

I recently heard the song "A-Punk" inside an Old Navy. Thanks to Pitchfork Media, the Target of "indie music", the days of being able to listen to music with your friends and taking a selfish pride knowing that it is relatively unknown to the masses are gone. Nevertheless, do listen to this album the way you listened back when you first heard the Strokes or Arcade Fire. That's the attention this album deserves...and this sort of attention can't be fairly given while trying on a pair of cheap cargo pants.

*Note: Apparently Vampire Weekend bought the rights to this genre of rock music. I have no idea what it means—other than the fact that almost every article in researching this album described them as having this sound.

--Matt Farra

Sunday, January 27, 2008

February Shows In Chicago

For all you Wilco fans, February is the month of their five day residency at the Riviera. Apparently they are going to touch upon everything in their entire catalog. Also, Liars will be in town on the 5th. Take earplugs.

Fri 2/01
VEE DEE, Terrible Twos, Gold @ Beat Kitchen 9pm

Prairie Cartel, Fun Club, Star @ Hideout 10pm

Hot Water Music @ Metro 8pm

DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist @ Park West 9pm

Ra Ra Riot, The Virgins, Essex Chanel @ Schubas 10pm

Sat 2/02

An Evening With John Hammond @ Schubas 7:30pm

Plaid, Eliot Lipp (Live PA Set), The Opus, DJ Warp @ Abbey Pub 9pm

G. Love & Special Sauce @ Riviera Theatre 8pm

Del Rey, Tight Phantomz, Minsk, Conifer @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Hot Water Music @ Metro 6:30pm

Sun 2/03

Gallows, This is Hell, Cancer Bats @ Metro 6:30pm*

Mon 2/04

Singer, fFlashlights @ Hideout 9:30pm

Tues 2/05

Liars, No Age @ Metro 8pm

Poison The Well, The Chariot, Dance Gavin Dance, Crime in Stereo @ Logan Square Auditorium 6pm

Mika @ House of Blues 6pm

Smallwire @ Museum of Contemporary Art (Presented by Schubas) 6:30pm

Wed 2/06

Daniel Johnston, OFFICE @ Metro 8pm

Thurs 2/07

Baby Dee, Mucca Pazza @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Basia Bulat, Pepi Ginsberg, Deanna Devore @ Schubas 9pm

Fri 2/08

Six Organs of Admittance, Mick Turner @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Will Hoge, Jason Isbell, Dawn Landes @ Double Door 7:30pm

MGMT, Yeasayer @ Schubas 7pm

Yeasayer, MGMT @ Schubas 10pm

Sat 2/09

Drug Rug @ Hideout 9pm

Jim Ward (of Sparta), Joe Pug, Secret Life of Sparrow @ Schubas 7pm

The Whigs, Tulsa, the Rikters @ Schubas 10pm

Sun 2/10

Cat Power, Dirty Delta Blues @ Vic Theater 6:30pm

Indian, Quatre Tete, Poison Arrows, Qualms @ Beat Kitchen 8:30pm

Soft, Unique Chique, Darling @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Keren Ann, Dean & Britta @ Lakeshore Theater 9pm

Kate Voegele, The Whitest Light @ Schubas 7pm

Mon 2/11

Nina Nastasia, Bitter Tears @ Hideout 8pm

Wed 2/13

Cameron McGill & What Army, The Bon Mots, Tennis Courts @ Schubas 9pm

Thurs 2/14

Flosstradamus @ Abbey Pub 10:30pm

Kevin Devine, AA Bondy, The Jealous Girlfriends @ Beat Kitchen 6:30pm

Kinectic Stereokids @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Fri 2/15

Wilco @ Riviera Theatre 8:30pm

Howie Day, Jay Clifford @ Schubas 7pm

Sat 2/16

Wilco @ Riviera Theatre 8:30pm

Super Furry Animals, Times New Viking, Jeffrey Lewis @ Metro 9pm

Loto Ball Show, Shooting Spires, A Tundra, We Will Eat Rats To Survive @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Solid Gold, LMNOP @ Hideout 7pm

Carrie Rodriguez, Barton Carroll @ Schubas 10pm

Sun 2/17

Holy Fuck, A Place to Bury Strangers, Airiel @ Schubas 9pm

The Loved Ones, The Arrivals, The Gaslight Anthem, Hifi Handgrenades @ Reggie’s Rock Club 6pm

Mon 2/18

Wilco @ Riviera Theatre 8:30pm

Wild Sweet Orange, Tom Schraeder & His Ego, Absentstar @ Schubas 8pm

Tues 2/19

Wilco @ Riviera Theatre 8:30pm

Russian Circles, Dalek @ Subterranean 9pm

Wed 2/20

Wilco @ Riviera Theatre 8:30pm

Dax Riggs (formerly Deadboy & The Elephantmen) @ Double Door 8pm

These Are Powers, Bird Names, Adam Griffin @ Av-aerie 9pm

Barcelona, The Silent Years, Tofer Brown @ Schubas 9pm

Thurs 2/21

Limebeck, John Ralston @ Schubas 7pm

The Dirtbombs, Lee Marvin’s Computer Arm @ Double Door 8pm

Plastic Crimewave Vision Celestial Guitarkestra, Spires That in the Sunset Rise @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Nicole Atkins & The Sea, Ryan Lyndsey (of Starlight Mints), Beat Union @ Subterranean 9:30pm

Fri 2/22

Say Hi (aka Say Hi To Your Mom) @ Beat Kitchen 7pm

Matt Costa, Johnathan Rice, Delta Spirit @ Double Door 8pm

Sole, The Apes, Telephone Jim Jesus @ Abbey Pub 8pm

Haymarket Riot, tornavalanche, Hitch, Balloons @ Beat Kitchen 9pm

The Chamber Strings, Sonoi @ Hideout 10pm

Jay Reatard, Submarine Races, Daily Void @ Reggie’s Rock Club 10:30pm

Shannon Wright, King’s Daughters and Sons @ Schubas 10:30pm

Make Believe @ Subterranean 7:30pm

Sat 2/23

St. Vincent, Foreign Born @ Schubas 7:30pm (2nd show at 10:30pm)

New York Dolls, We Are The Fury @ Double Door 8pm

Pit Er Pat, Mi Ami, Scalpels, Mayor Asprin @ Av-aerie 9pm

Wolf Eyes, Rubber O Cement @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Citizen Cope @ Vic Theater 8pm

RTX (Royal Trux), LA Kings @ Beat Kitchen 9:30pm

Mannequin Men, The Coathangers @ Ronny’s 9pm

The A-Sides, Division Day @ Subterranean 9:30pm

Sun 2/24

Angels and Airwaves (Tom from Blink 182), Meg & Dia, The Color Fred, Ace Enders @ Riviera Theatre 6pm

The XYZ Affair, Tell Your Friends, Chatty Cathy @ Beat Kitchen 7pm

Darkest Hour, Cephalic Carnage, Emmure, White Chapel @ Reggie’s Rock Club 5pm

Tues 2/26

Clutch, Murder By Death, Maylene & The Sons of Disaster, Hex Machine @ Metro 7pm

Wed 2/27

Crystal Castles, Health @ Abbey Pub 8pm

Gil Mantera’s Party Dream @ AV-aerie 9pm

Dengue Fever @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Thurs 2/28

Foo Fighters @ Allstate Arena 7:30pm

Pelican, Black Cobra, Unearthly Trance @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Brooke Wagonner, Jim Bianco, Jeremy Fisher @ Schubas 9pm

Men, Hey Willpower @ Sonotheque 10pm

Fri 2/29

The Hives @ Riviera Theatre 6pm

Sia @ Park West 6:30pm

Bang Camaro @ Double Door 8pm

Pela, Liam Finn @ Schubas 10pm

*As much as I hate the prospect of missing a legendary Cancer Bats show, I think I'm going to opt for the football game.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Walkmen--Schubas, Chicago, Illinois

I know I promised a full report of both Friday and Sunday of last week’s Tomorrow Never Knows Festival. Well, here’s the thing. For Friday I really have no excuse for missing it. Time rolled around, I was tired, it was freezing outside, and I just couldn’t motivate myself to make the trek to Schubas (I live less than two blocks away). The weather really wasn’t the problem--no Chicagoan should ever use cold weather as an excuse for missing something--I just didn't have the time. A bit of a shame too because there was a very good lineup and I’m having trouble locating any decent write-up of what went down. The Redwalls, Bon Iver, Illinois, and Wax Fang just down the street and I was nowhere to be found. Damn. If anyone was there and would like give a quick recap of the night please feel free to do so. In fact, it would be much appreciated. I meant to catch all of Sunday but arrived during the last song by White Denim (you can thank overtime in the NFC title game for that….well done, Green Bay). Not a total loss, White Rabbits and the Walkmen were still left to close down the festival.

White Rabbits seem to have that familiar sound that is migrating from New York City a lot these days only they do it better than most. Fans of local group OFFICE would probably like these guys. Their set, consisting mostly of songs off their first record Fort Nightly, reached a crescendo when they played the upbeat “While We Go Dancing”. Schubas was already packed with what I presume were mostly Walkmen people but White Rabbits kept everyone appropriately occupied. I bet we see them on the bill of a lot of the countless festivals coming up this spring and summer.

During the brief downtime I noticed every square inch of the back room seemed to be occupied. Maybe it just seemed really crowded because everyone still had on their winter coat. What Schubas lacks in coat check they make up for with a completely stunning girl tending bar in the back room. I think it’s a fair trade. About twenty minutes passed and then Thax Douglas read a poem that was coincidentally enough called “The Walkmen” and introduced the band. They opened with three new songs. I have no idea what any of the songs are called (I recognized the first one from a show of theirs this past summer) but they really kicked it into a higher gear on the third song and reminded me why I love the dynamic of this band. You can’t ask for much more than a lead singer snarling into a microphone, a posturing guitarist, a drummer reminding everyone if they look away they risk missing the show being stolen, and two guys anchoring down the band sharing duties on bass and organ. And assuming that this song will have a spot on the new album, I definitely see myself walking into Groovin’ High on an undetermined Tuesday come this spring when the album is released.

Moving along….alright, finally a song we recognize and……whoa….someone get Hamilton’s keys, he probably shouldn't drive the van back to New York after the show. They were playing "Little House of Savages” and he actually fell off the stage. I’m not kidding. I was in the middle of the room so I didn’t have the best view of what happened, all I saw was him take a dive and then sort of flail around like a fish out of water. According to a fan on their message board, Leithauser handed some guy in the front some money because he broke his glasses when he fell on him. Here's hoping it was a pair of those thick-rimmed hipster glasses.

If anyone was worried that a little too much booze might hinder the band’s performance then they probably haven’t seen the Walkmen too many times. They just laughed it off, charged ahead, and even turned the intensity up a bit with some more new songs. By the time they rolled around to “Thinking of a Dream I Had” the entire band may have sweated out all the toxins coursing through their veins anyways. Schubas is just a sweaty place. (Check out this clip of the band from last March’s show at Schubas. Peter Bauer on bass is sweating so much it reminds me of that scene from the movie “Airplane” where the protagonist is attempting to land the plane and sweat is just pouring down his face.) It wasn’t much better in the crowd, in fact I could hardly move. I was about twenty feet from the emergency exit but had there been a fire my chances of survival were not good.

For those in the crowd that came to hear their old hits they were probably at the wrong show. Almost half their set was new material. They scattered a few pleasers here and there like the aforementioned “Little House of Savages”, and “Thinking of a Dream I Had” with some “Wake Up” and “What’s In It For Me” mixed in as well. They didn’t play “We’ve Been Had” and they didn’t play “Gary Gaetti” but no one seemed to really mind. One comical part of the evening was after closing their first set with “All Hands & The Cook” (a personal favorite), they all left the stage drenched in sweat and went outside (yes, at Schubas backstage is outside) to inevitably catch pneumonia. Of course when they returned it was time for everyone to yell out requests. Here’s what I overheard:

Guy1: Rue The Day!

Guy2: Lost In Boston!

Guy3: All Hands & The Cook!

Guy1 (offended in a “I know way more about music than you do” sort of way): They just played that, dude!

Guy3: Oh…..Rue The Day!

See, this is why I go to a lot of concerts, to hear things like that. And for the record, none of those songs were played in the encore. If memory serves they hit up “No Christmas While I’m Talking” (lots from Bows + Arrows this evening) and “Another One Goes By”. Call it a hunch but I have a really good feeling about the new album. Some of their fans that they picked up after the release of Bows + Arrows seemingly dropped off with A Hundred Miles Off (for the record, not this one). By chance the new record reflects what I saw live, expect a lot of them to be back.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Record Review: Black Mountain

Black Mountain
In the Future
NQL Rating System Rating: Very Good

I grew up on classic rock (Hendrix, Zeppelin, The Doors) and jam bands (the Dead, the Allman Brothers, Phish), so it should be of little surprise that I dig Black Mountain, whose druggy album cuts stretch as long as sixteen minutes and rarely conclude before three. But where their first, self-titled album smacks of Sabbath (apologies; the comparison is inescapable) and Zeppelin, In the Future strikes me as more Floyd ca. Animals with more emphasis given to that record's darker corners.

In the Future baits and switches with opener "Stormy High," a tune that couldn't really have been called anything else, and which contains the most striking, immediate, pleasing addition to the Black Mountain repertoire: keys, glorious keys. After "Stormy High," the band dials things down on "Angels," a sensible mid-tempo number that leads to the quick of Future: lead single "Tyrants" and should-be-next-single "Wucan," the latter of which is a straight acid jam employing the hookiest guitar-and-keys interplay I've heard in some time, not to mention perfect use of vocalist Amber Webber. Drenched in echo, her voice fades in and out of the top of the mix as Stephen McBean (vox, guitar) and Jeremy Schmidt (keys) anchor the middle. To some, the staid rhythm will be a detriment, but to these ears the locked-in groove lends the track a propulsive openness that allows Schmidt's righteous solo the room it needs to stretch its legs.

At this point, the album's overall dynamic reveals itself as quite predictably loud-quiet-loud. That I see this as a flaw at all should speak volumes about the strength of Future's songs in sum. That I feel it necessary to point out that the sequencing of these ten songs could've been just a bit more creative is most likely my failing, not Black Mountain's. And I'm actually fine with the tracklist's undulations, obvious though they are. I don't think I could handle nine more "Wucans."

Following the aching "Stay Free" (which recalls Jagjaguwar labelmates The Besnard Lakes) and the super-noir "Queens Will Play," the album ends with a flourish of strength. "Bright Lights"—a living, breathing behemoth of a song—is daunting when viewed in an iTunes playlist but rather delicate and intimate when listened to, rivaling the proggiest of prog in scope and ostentation. But "Bright Lights" is one of the most listenable sixteen-minute songs I've heard, elucidating enough ideas to hold one's interest for its duration—an album-at-once, or at least an EP.

But the song I love most, and the one I return to, is closer "Night Walks," the perfect comedown to a flawed-in-all-the-right-ways album. Churchy organs drone and swell beneath Webber's pristine vocals as she sings, "Night walks with me / and the moon leaves me just enough light to see, / and my shadow my only company. / And it moves just like me, / and it walks just like me," suggesting a doppelganger, an "other" that's always with you, attached to your psyche in an elemental fashion. In literature and folklore the doppelganger is most often sinister, an "evil twin," but for Black Mountain the doppelganger is a friendly companion, a hiking buddy who knows your every step, but is also that part of you which craves its hiding place, its alone time, the quietest, darkest part of the night that sticks around even in daytime.

--Brian Herrmann

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tomorrow Never Knows Festival In Full Swing

The Tomorrow Never Knows Festival is currently taking place at Schubas every night until Sunday. If you want to read a quick lowdown of the festival, I think this does a pretty good job. A couple clarifications....I reported that the Sunday show headlined by The Walkmen is sold out. While technically true, you can still get tickets to that show by purchasing a five day pass. None of the other shows as of yet are sold out. Also, local band The Redwalls have replaced Cloud Cult as Friday's headliner. John Vanderslice, The M's, Young Galaxy, and Heypenny played last night and Bobby Conn, Nomo, and Hylozoists will be taking the stage tonight (Thursday). While only making it to these respective shows in spirit, I will be in attendance on Friday and Sunday and give a full report. So if you want to check out any of these bands, brave the cold and hit up Schubas. (If you want to check out Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, brave the cold and hit up the abortion clinic.) For good measure, here's the remaining Tomorrow Never Knows schedule:

Bobby Conn, Nomo, The Hylozoists @ 9pm

The Redwalls, Illinois, Bon Iver, Wax Fang @ 9pm

White Williams, Cadence Weapon, Ohmega Watts, Ecstatic Sunshine @ 9pm

The Walkmen, White Rabbits, White Denim @ 9pm

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Interview: Hamilton Leithauser Of The Walkmen

Blending artful songs with pure raw energy, The Walkmen have solidified themselves as one of the best rock bands on the scene today. They will bring their intense live show to Schubas next week (January 20th) for the Tomorrow Never Knows Festival. Since they are never shy about putting on an amazing concert, do what you can to get your hands on some tickets...just know that road will probably take you down craigslist as the show is sold out. I recently caught up with lead singer Hamilton Leithauser on the phone to discuss the album they're currently working on and life on the road. Oh, and he's not that impressed with Washington Redskins' owner, Daniel Snyder.

nql: Hamilton, how you doing?

Hamilton Leithauser: Hey, how’s it going man?

nql: Good. So are you guys at home right now, on the road, where you guys at?

HL: We are at home. We are about to go out next week (and tour).

nql: How’s the new album coming? I think last I read you had 9 tracks down.

HL: Yeah, we still have 9 down but we have written probably seven more or something like that. When we get back from this tour I think we’re going to go into the studio and finish.

nql: Now is it a spring release date?

HL: That’s what we’re shooting for.

nql: Has an album name been picked out yet?

HL: No, I wish, but there’s not.

nql: How did Schubas get into contact with you for the Tomorrow Never Knows Festival?

HL: We’ve done a lot of shows with them over the years and their promoter called and invited us. We always prefer playing there actually to anywhere else. It’s always a good time even though it’s kind of a small room.

nql: I saw you guys play there last March and you had a lot of new songs that had a lot of horns. Is the new album headed in that direction?

HL: Well, we actually aren’t going to bring the horn players with us on this tour because we have written a lot of songs since then that don’t really need them. So we’re just going to do it without the horns but the first batch of songs on the record have horns on them, and strings on a bunch of them.

nql: When your album comes out in the spring, how attentive will you be to the reviews?

HL: It all depends, when you’re happy with the record you’re happy with the record, and you don’t think differently of the music even if you do get slammed. But if we’ve worked really hard for a really long time and someone just writes it off it can be a bit of a bummer.

nql: When you do get slammed, is it possible to take it as constructive criticism or do you usually just take a more instinctive "fuck you" type of approach?

HL: Umm, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever read one where there was a serious criticism and the guy had any idea what he was talking about (laughs).

nql: Your website has a pretty humorous section titled “Reviews” where one would think they would find a review for your records but instead it’s just a bunch of reviews that you guys did of different restaurants or movies that I assume was done when you guys were on the road.

HL: Yeah, that’s exactly it.

nql: Do you have any place in Chicago that you’ve done that for or would like to do that for?

HL: I don’t think we have. I guess I’m usually having too much fun when I’m there. Usually you write a review when there’s nothing really else to do.

nql: You guys have played Chicago a lot. Any one visit stick out?

HL: Umm, nothing comes to mind. We always seem to have a great time while we’re there. But I can’t really come up with an example right now.

nql: One that sticks out in my mind was when you all played Pitchfork and a couple members from Man Man joined you on the stage when you closed with “Louisiana”.

HL: Oh, right, it was about 110 degrees. And our drummer didn’t even show (laughs).

nql: Wasn’t he about to have a baby or something?

HL: Yeah, and she was just due any day, in fact she was overdue, so he was supposed to be there but she just hadn’t given birth yet. So we had our friend fill in and we just tore it up the night before so it was a little rough. I don’t think we were really at the top of our game that day.

nql: I first saw you guys open for the Strokes one time back in probably ’04 and you seemed to instantly connect with a lot of people, even those who hadn’t heard you before. Do you think a lot of your fans come from your live efforts?

HL: Yeah, definitely. A year after we started playing we started to tour. We’ve had periods where we were off but not many. If you don’t tour you really lose the connection with people. It’s great to be home writing new stuff so you have something new to present, but when you’re out and you play every night it’s nice to be able to get a response to what you’ve been working on. When you don’t tour for awhile you can sometimes lose a little focus.

nql: I’m sure you get asked this a lot, but I think one time I saw you guys play you must have gone through so many lemons…

HL: Oh yeah, that’s what I do when I’m losing my voice.

nql: Right. So how do you keep from just flat-out destroying your voice?

HL: (laughs) You know, I’m not sure. We were playing in Cleveland once and I smoked a cigar before we played and I think that’s what must have done it because man I really blew it that night. Blew it to where I don’t think I could speak for a couple of days. I started getting a bit nervous.

nql: I saw you all play once, and my friend who obviously doesn't know you, but even she was getting worried for you. You must have family or friends that plead with you to take it easy when you sing?

HL: Yeah, they worry sometimes. We used to do these just huge rockers where it was fun to just put every ounce of strength you had into every word. But now we have a lot more songs that are string based or what not that are a bit easier on the vocals chords which I appreciate.

nql: Are you guys hitting SXSW again this spring?

HL: No.

nql: Had you been, can I assume you would not have been staying at the same hotel?

HL: (laughs) Yeah, probably not. I really hope someone does something bad to that place for me.

nql: Can you tell me what the scene was like when you were recording “Loop De Loop” for the Pussycats album? It just sounded like a big party.

HL: Oh yeah, it was a blast. We had 50 or so friends in the room and we just tried to get everyone as lubricated as possible and then just taught everyone the song. It was really fun. We did it three times in a row because everyone was having so much fun and I don’t think we even recorded the last one.

nql: I was going to ask you that because it sounds like one of those “alright, let’s just do one take, go crazy, and see what we get” types of thing.

HL: It was kind of like that, but then we got to the end and everyone had so much fun we were just like “Let’s do it again!” We had all the janitors from the building up there who we had gotten to be good friends with over the years and they brought their friends and we just had a blast. It was really good.

nql: And that building is no more, correct?

HL: The building still exists but Columbia University bought it. I think they bought half a square mile of real estate up there so the entire area is really going to turn around.

nql: Gotcha. What spawned the idea to do a remake of Harry Nilsson’s Pussycats record?

HL: Our studio was closing and it was kind of the first time we ever realized that we had a free studio (laughs). And we realized, oh God, we’re going to have to start paying for our studio hours when we get out of here. And we were trying to figure out if there was anything else we could record. We hadn’t written anything and we had just finished this album that took so long to do. We thought maybe we should do some covers just to have them in the future and we did a couple of songs from that record and then it just went really quickly, I mean it was like 15 minutes and we had them done. And we thought we should just do another one and by the time the night was through we had done all the ones we had wanted to do off the record. So then we just thought why don’t we just do the entire thing. Before we knew it, we were finished and we liked the whole product we had, so we decided to put it out. It’s kind of too bad we didn’t put our own spin on it but we weren’t really thinking about it at the time.

nql: So it was kind of a send-off to the studio type of thing.

HL: Yeah, and we just liked it once it was done more than we thought we were going to. So we thought what the hell, we might as well let people hear it.

nql: Being in a band, how would you describe the New York City scene in terms of competitiveness?

HL: I really don’t know. I don’t know that many bands here and I don’t go to concerts very often because I get enough when we tour so when I get home it’s one of the last things in the world I want to do (laughs).

nql: You all are playing with White Rabbits at Schubas and I’ve seen you play with Mazarin before. Do you typically pick your opening act or is that something the label does or how does that work?

HL: With Mazarin, it was more of a thing of us being really close friends with them. So we tour with them whenever we are both available and we always have a good time together. But other than that, usually someone else just comes up with the opening act and we’re just sort of “hey, sure”. We just decide when we want to tour and then someone else figures it out for us.

nql: It seems more often than not when I hear bands asked what new bands they are listening to they usually don’t have an answer because of time constraints or what not. Can you relate?

HL: It’s not that I don’t have time, I’m always trying to listen to new bands and find stuff I like you know, but I really don’t listen to that much rock music, I guess.

nql: So what are you listening to right now?

HL: One thing I’ve really gotten into and kind of rediscovered because I always liked him a lot is Ben E. King. I really wanted to try and copy his sound because I think it’s something we could do very well. So I’ve been listening to a lot of his records recently. And I’ve been listening to a lot of Creedence, I wish we could do some Creedence-style stuff.

nql: I have a Creedence album but it’s just one of those greatest hits with like 20 of their top singles and I’ve always wanted to find one of their classic albums but never know a good place to start. Any suggestions?

HL: Well, the thing is, there really isn’t that much undiscovered Creedence records. They kind of just have one sound which is fantastic, and more power to them to be able to do that many great songs with that sound.

nql: Have you ever had any ideas for any collaborations? I’m thinking maybe a Tom Waits boozey, piano-ballad-y type of thing would go good with your sound.

HL: We would love to do something like that, but we haven’t been approached and I don’t know how we would approach someone because we’re always so busy just writing our songs and once we’re finished we kind of just want to do them. We just don’t have enough surplus material to do another album with someone else right now but I think it would be fun, especially if it was with someone we really admire.

nql: I lived in DC the summer of ’04…

HL: Really, where at?

nql: In Dupont Circle, near 18th & P.

HL: Okay, Pete (Bauer) grew up right at 18th & Swan.

nql: Oh wow, so yeah, I was living there in ’04 right when I began listening to Bows & Arrows and because of that I always think of DC when I hear that record. Is that something you notice when listening to music or something you want people to notice when listening to your music?*

HL: (bit of a pause) Yeah, you know there’s always a record you listen to when you live in certain places that take you back to those places. I was listening to a lot of Pavement when I lived in Boston so whenever I hear Pavement I think of Boston. But that doesn’t really make any sense.

nql: (laughs) I think it was the video for “Little House of Savages” that was actually shot in the Circle (Dupont), right?

HL: It was in Malcolm X Park right off of 14th Street if you go down Florida.

nql: I guess I was thinking of the chess scene, I thought that was in the Circle.

HL: Oh, you’re right, that part was filmed in the Circle.

nql: Okay, I was going to ask you because I have spent some time in that park, were those dudes you were playing chess with the real deal from the Circle?

HL: Oh yeah, those were the real dudes, I mean those dudes are so good at chess. I was playing one guy and then my friend Ian went up and asked if he could film it. The guy started looking at me sideways and then at Ian with hate in his eyes and I think he then told me to get the hell off the table. I think he had this real paranoia thing going on. Some of those guys are a little shaky.

nql: (laughs) Was there even a single chess play made, or no?

HL: Yeah, I actually played a couple of games against that guy and then I played a couple other guys. We got a little nervous about approaching them because one of them was apparently kind of the great wizard of the park. And he’s the dude that’s actually in the video, and he was cool with it…and absolutely fucking amazing at chess. There’s a place down in Greenwich Village where it’s sort of like a co-op or a store, I really don’t know what it is, some sort of community hangout. And you go in there and there are about 30 dudes just in this harsh, florescent environment, and everybody is smoking cigs and cigars and stuff and drinking beers and it’s 11am and they’ll be in there all day for like nine hours playing chess. It’s a really weird collection of guys from all sorts of walks of life. And it’s just guys, all the time.

nql: No girls allowed?

HL: I mean, I’ve never seen one in there.

nql: Getting away from chess for a bit, when you’re going to be on the road playing a lot of the new songs do you feel pressure, especially if the album hasn’t been released yet, to fall back on some of the older songs that the crowd really knows?

HL: Yeah, you always kind of have to. We played in Austin, Texas the other day and actually I thought we were really great and we introduced some new stuff that was just written. And I got off stage thinking we had only played two new songs but we sort of forgot that all the other ones were new to the crowd, too. By the time we were finished I think we had only played maybe one song that people knew. And I think we realized that that’s just a little much, people want to come hear the songs they know.

nql: Could you sense the crowd wasn’t as receptive?

HL: No, they actually seemed to really like it and were a very enthusiastic bunch but you know it’s just one of those things where you play 8 songs and then someone’s like “Play 'The Rat'!”. So I just think it’s one of those things where people know what they want.

nql: I have a friend who swears the song “The Rat” is about the old baseball player Gary Gaetti.

HL: (laughing) Why?

nql: I don’t know, it may have been his nickname and I think there may have even been a line in the song that he pointed to that he thought referenced him in a way.

HL: That’s hilarious. But no, I didn’t have him in mind when that song was written.

nql: Okay, I will crush his dreams for you. Being from DC and now living in New York, where do your sports loyalties lie?

HL: Redskins. We had a bad day last Saturday.

nql: That was rough. How do you feel about the (Joe) Gibbs departure?

HL: I mean, honestly, I feel bad saying it but I question his senility sometimes. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they cut over to him and he was talking into his shoe or something.

nql: That game seemed to be going the Skins way and I even called my dad to see if he was watching it when they took the 14-13 lead but by the time he turned it on they were down 35-14 or something.

HL: I actually had a huge gang of people over here and I was out when that happened and by the time I got back it was just silent. I missed all the action.

nql: Any optimism for next year?

HL: It depends on who they bring in (as a coach). I guess they won’t lose many players which is good. I thought Todd Collins did a better job at QB than Jason Campbell.

nql: I agree. What’s the word on that situation for next year?

HL: Well I think Jason Campbell is regarded as the future hope for the team, he’s the one who’s supposed to really get the hype but it seems to me once he got injured we started winning a bunch of games which, I mean, is just the goddamn truth.

nql: Any particular coach you’d like to see get the job?

HL: I don’t know, but I was thinking you know what would be funny is if they brought in Andy Reid.

nql: (laughs) Why is that?

HL: I don’t know, it’s just seems like one of those things Dan Snyder (owner of the Washington Redskins) would probably do. I think Dan Snyder does everything he possibly can to try and make you hate the Redskins. He’s up in the booth with Jamie Fox and Tom Cruise. And he had that whole Christian thing going with Mark Brunel. It seems like they are just doing everything they can to make you not like them.

nql: Well, if that happens with Andy Reid, I hope they can keep his kids away from the Circle.

HL: (laughs) I know, I know. But no, bringing in Andy Reid would be terrible, but it just seems like the next logical move.

*This might be the dumbest question I've ever asked. It doesn't even hint at making sense. I appreciated his valliant effort to actually answer it. Just know this question was only left in the final cut for hilarity purposes and because it segued into talk about the video for "Little House of Savages" which I wanted to discuss.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Pictures Of Inaugural Chicago Public Radio Presents

If you read the post below concerning the very first in a line of Chicago Public Radio Presents with OFFICE you'll see that I callously remarked that cameras were not allowed within the Biograph Theater and proceeded to brag about lifting a picture from the Victory Gardens' website. And then ended with a most vapid, "Your move, Victory Gardens." Well, they moved. Andrew Gill of Chicago Public Radio contacted me and not only pointed me in the direction of the flickr page for the evening but was also nice enough to grant me permission to use the pictures on this site. Here is a sample of some of the pictures that were taken. The photographer did a great job, getting very good shots of the band and crowd (one guy has a most awesome Bears' jacket). If you would like to see all of the pictures from the evening, click here. And Chicago Public Radio.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

OFFICE--Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, Chicago, Illinois

Wednesday night kicked off the inaugural "Chicago Public Radio Presents" at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater. The idea at play here is a live show every month on a Wednesday of great musical varieties. Rock music, dance parties, Officer Ron Karkovice, variety name it. All sponsored by Chicago Public Radio, of course. Their first act in hopefully a long line of events was an evening with local act OFFICE. Pictures are strictly forbidden inside the theater so I left the camera at home. Don't feel sorry for me, the above picture was stolen from the venue's web site. Your move, Victory Gardens.

In the lobby of the theater is a nice bar with an assortment of drinks....none of which are allowed inside the theater. Man, no camera, no beer...what next? Am I going to have to check my pants at the door before taking a seat? Thankfully, no. I found a seat and immediately a guy and girl came and sat directly behind me. They guy took a look around and spit out, "Dear gawd, a lot of polyester died for these seats!" Oh, brother. Emcee of the evening, Tony Sarabia, took the stage and explained the idea behind "Chicago Public Radio Presents". For those unaware of who Sarabia is, he has been a staple with Chicago Public Radio for years, serving as host of Radio M. And he reminded us that this Friday from 9-11pm on RAdio M will be the "father of Japanese techno". I'm sure we'll all cancel our Friday night plans for that one, Tony. Kidding aside, Sarabia is great. And in a town with such a fantastic music community like Chicago, I find it imperative to support Chicago Public Radio. As Sarabia reminded us, there are different sorts of memberships with the cheapest being all of $10. So if you're not a member and would like to be, click here for information on how you can support the local music scene and Chicago Public Radio. Or just call 312.948.4855.

If you read the interview below with OFFICE keyboardist and overall multi-instrumentalist, Jessica Gonyea, she outlined what would be in store for the evening. But I'll go ahead and give a play-by-play as best as I can. First, band founder Scott Masson walked the audience through a over-head presentation of some of his early art when he was an art student and studying overseas in London in 2000. Because of the dim lighting it was nearly impossible to decipher some of the images but nonetheless they still looked interesting. One piece that stuck out was a collage of people in London talking on cell phones. Again, this was 2000 and the cell phone explosion that hadn't quite yet occurred in the States was in full bloom in Europe. Apparently intrigued, he took as many snapshots as he could of random people chatting, doing business, etc. on the run and strung them all together. He stated, "I wanted to put them all in sort of an art movement, if you will." Alright, I will. Most significant, he showed the audience a snapshot of the word "OFFICE" plastered on a storefront sign in London that eventually spawned his art/music project. Next, he brought out his guitar for a quick solo acoustic set of some of his early folky-pop songs. I thought all the songs were good but his songwriting style is much stronger with a backing band and this was pretty evident.

And right as I was thinking that, the rest of the band graced the stage so that was good timing. They were all dressed in their "office" attire that they used to wear in their early shows and opened up with "The Ritz" from their 2007 release A Night at the Ritz. And I had no idea, but apparently Justin Petertil has replaced Alissa Noonan on bass. Sorry, I kind of missed that one in the picture below. OFFICE is a fun band. For those of you who were seeing them at the Biograph for the first time, I implore you to take in one of their shows at another local venue where dancing is not only possible but is also strongly encouraged. Not that I didn't appreciate the setting of the Biograph. It almost felt like we were watching a movie about the band. And I think maybe that was the point.

They played a few more songs, mostly from the latest album including iTunes favorite "Wound Up", and then opened the floor for some questions. Tony Sarabia started it off and eventually asked Gonyea about the writing process of the band and whether or not it has become more democratic as more members were added. Sound familiar to you? Me too. I think Tony has been stealing my questions. The floor was soon opened up to the audience and Q&A eventually came to an appropriate end right after after one person asked each band member where they lived. Masson played a few more songs solo before the band came back out on stage to close the evening. Changed out of their "office" costumes, the band gave the audience a glimpse at how they perform today and perhaps in the future. They played some new songs that were a bit more hard charged than what is seen on the Ritz album but they never strayed from that OFFICE sound.

This "Chicago Public Radio Presents" idea has a lot of potential. The normal monotony of watching a band play for an hour and then go back stage while the crowd predictably and disingenuously claps for an encore was gone. A bit off subject, but just once I would like to see a band leave the stage, and while they're behind the curtain patting themselves on the back, the crowd in a moment of unity rises up and says, "Stay where you are, no need to come back out. We're good. Thanks for the evening." and leaves. Wouldn't that be great? Damn right it would. Of course, there would never be a reason to do that at an OFFICE show. I caught them during their residency at Schubas last year and it was just a gas. They are a valuable asset to the local music scene. If you were at the Biograph and enjoyed the show, do yourself a favor and catch them the next time they hit another venue. I'm sure it won't be long. And don't forget to support Chicago Public Radio.
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