Cass McCombs opened his set at a sold-out Empty Bottle Friday with the chugging new song Big Wheel and he ended with his somber 2011 classic County Line. The songs between, picked from his seven albums over a decade, highlighted McCombs consistently good songwriting and unique take on Americana.
Saying little more than thank you to the crowd for the applause, McCombs spent almost no time between songs, playing an efficient set that included some mini jams. If you’re a fan of his music, I highly recommend checking out his live show. He may not be much of a conversationalist on stage but he delivers a great performance.
Arbouretum opened the show with a fine set of heavy folk. The video below is taken from a California show performed by McCombs last month. The Empty Bottle gig featured the same glimmering backdrop.
Cass McCombs’ sprawling recent release Big Wheel and Others is the latest in a line of excellent and intriguing albums from the enigmatic singer-songwriter. Boasting 19 songs, Big Wheel also has the distinction of being by far the longest album McCombs released. On Friday, you can catch him at the Empty Bottle. Judging from his recent set lists, McCombs is going back years, drawing from all his albums and usually playing no more than three or four new songs in a night. This intimate setting should be a perfect venue.
London producer Jon Hopkins is getting a lot of attention for his latest album Immunity, and the notice is well deserved. Hopkins built his career working with others, notably as Brian Eno’s co-producer for Cold Play’s Viva La Vida. On Immunity, Hopkins actually makes a standout electronic album in a crowded field of decent artists.
Hopkins is the middle act of a lineup including headliner Clark and opener Nathan Fake, all playing Saturday night at Lincoln Hall.
If you’re a fan of Waxahatchee (like me), chances are you’ll like Swearin’, the band led by Allison Crutchfield. Allison is the twin sister of Katie Crutchfield, who performs as Waxahatchee. The musical styles of the two projects are not exactly the same (though they’re not radically different, either).
Where Waxahatchee may remind you of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, Swearin’ summons another ’90s icon, the Breeders. Neither of these Crutchfields are knockoffs, but the mid-90s reference points are obvious. Born in 1989, the Crutchfield girls began playing in bands together in their teens in Alabama.
Certainly, Allison Crutchfield and Swearin’ deserve to be more than a footnote to Waxahatchee’s great release this year, Cerulean Salt. Swearin’ made a fine album itself with the recently released Surfing Strange.
Swearin’ plays Township Thursday.
Brooklyn’s Barbez is an avant-garde outfit led by guitarist Dan Kaufman. On Barbez’s latest album, Bella Ciao, Kaufman draws from an ancient Roman Jewish musical style to pay tribute to the resistance movement during the Nazis’ occupation of the Italian capital.
Barbez plays Hideout Saturday night and that should be a very intriguing show.
Nightlands is the project of Philadelphia bedroom musician Dave Hartley, who makes some pretty compelling music on his album Oak Island. You can check him out Sunday night at Township. Hartley is also bassist for the great Philly band the War on Drugs.
If you’re going to the Men-Fuzz show at Logan Square Auditorium Friday, go early for openers Purling Hiss and CCR Headcleaner. San Francisco-based CCR brings the heavy, psychedelic and slightly scuzzy muck on the band’s debut Lace the Earth With Arms Wide Open. CCR, the first band, will definitely get the crowd warmed up. The show is presented by Empty Bottle.
Here’s a can’t-miss show: The Men and Fuzz, the latest project from Ty Segall, play Logan Square Auditorium Friday. The Men, which again made one of the best albums of the year, headlines. It should be loud and rocking.
Last May, Bill Callahan played Garfield Park Conservatory, a unique venue for a Chicago show. On Monday, Callahan is back to support his new album, Dream River, and this time he’s playing another unusual spot, Alhambra Palace west of downtown. It’s an early show and should be a good one. The new album gets better with each listen. Read my initial thoughts on Dream River here.
If you’re going to see Wavves at Park West Saturday, don’t you dare miss King Tuff. This is one of those shows where the opener excites me as much as the headliner. King Tuff is Kyle Thomas, a guy who has been rocking out for a number of years. (He used to be in the band Witch with J. Mascis.)
Last year, Sup Pop released King Tuff’s self-titled album and, this spring, Burger Records reissued one of the most fun, hook-laden albums I’ve heard all year, Was Dead.
Cave is playing a set on the Chicago River Wednesday. To be clear, that’s not a show by the river or near the river. The band is promoting its new album Threace on a boat early evening. Cave is expected to travel from Lake Michigan, floating west with a couple of stops along the way. The show starts at 5 p.m. and the band is expected to play about two hours.
A couple of years ago, these guys did a similar promotion on the back of a truck driving around Chicago. The local heroes are set to put out their new album next month.
Here’s some footage of the flatbed truck performance, which promoted the release of Neverendless.
The Replacements ripped through more than two dozen songs, ranging from the band’s earliest work to a (mercifully small) sampling from its final two albums, as Riot Fest came to a close in Chicago’s Humboldt Park Sunday. The show marked the first performance for the Mats (as longtime fans call the band) here since Paul Westerberg broke up the group following a Grant Park concert 22 years ago. As was the case then, Tommy Stinson was the only other original member to join Paul. The set drew heavily from what I consider the core Mats’ albums, Let It Be and Tim, and included songs from another favorite, Pleased to Meet Me. The fact that the band’s first album, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash was better represented than either All Shook Down or Don’t Tell a Soul was a major plus.
It wasn’t a perfect set but it was certainly efficient. The sloppy drunk shows are long gone and, to be fair, they really were history near the end of the band’s run. Paul joked with the crowd but there was actually very little spontaneity. This was a show for the Mats’ super fans who (older now) were less interested in shenanigans and much more eager to hear their favorite songs after a long wait. By that standard, I can’t say the show disappointed. Many of the songs sounded great live and their relevance hasn’t faded all these years later. Check out some really early videos here and watch a clip from Sunday below.
Alex Zhang Hungtai, aka Dirty Beaches, makes dark, desolate and sometimes sinister-sounding music that could be the soundtrack for a party thrown at the underbelly of some mythical urban hellscape. And I mean that in the best possible way. The Taiwanese-born Canadian made a really good “double” album Drifters/Love is the Devil this year. With eight songs on each album, Drifters is the collection of brooding post-punk songs, while Love is the Devil features mostly instrumental and largely ambient sounds. I prefer Drifters but am intrigued how Hungtai sews the approaches together in a single live set. Dirty Beaches plays Empty Bottle Thursday.
Opening for Dirty Beaches is Sisu, a band led by Dum Dum Girls drummer Sandy Vu. While far more conventional than Dirty Beaches, Sisu is a neat mix of electronic and rock. The spirit of Sisu’s new album, Blood Tears, reminds me a little of Frankie Rose, a former member of Dum Dum Girls. I’ve lost track of the number of side projects or new bands started by either a past member of Dum Dum Girls or Vivian Girls but I also can’t think of one that I’ve disliked.
Ell V Gore gets the party started Thursday night.
As fans, we can be pretty fickle. We want our favorite bands to keep growing and offering us new, interesting sounds. But if the experimentation veers too far from the music that initially drew us to a band, well, that’s just no good.
No Age takes chances on An Object, an album that is (for the most part) a lot more quiet, slower and quite a bit more experimental than even the band’s last release, the 2010 album Everything In Between. Indeed, No Age has come a long way from the hammering sound of Weirdo Rippers, a collection of singles that hailed the return of punk and noise to indie music. Weirdo Rippers is an indie milestone that put teeth back into indie rock.
Now that No Age, the duo of drummer Dean Spunt and guitarist Randy Randall, have completed their musical community service, why shouldn’t they stretch creatively? You can catch No Age at two Chicago shows this week. The band plays the unique Station to Station (at Union Station) Tuesday and Schubas Friday.
UPDATE: No Age also plays an early show at Empty Bottle Saturday.
Deerhunter played a number of Chicago sets over the years, hitting Empty Bottle, Pitchfork, Lollapalooza and even a spot below an expressway bridge (see video below). When Bradford Cox and his gang last played Metro, it was epic.
It’s unlikely Superchunk is ever going to record another anthem like Slack Motherfucker. Yet more than two decades after that unforgettable song, the band continues to make anthemic music that really takes off. Try not to like Me & You and Jackie Mittoo off Superchunk’s latest album, I Hate Music. The new release even sports a 75-second, mosh pit-approved number, Staying Home. Superchunk hasn’t really mellowed with age and, for that, I’m thankful. I Hate Music is honestly one of the best rock albums of the year.
Superchunk plays Saturday ahead of the Hold Steady (an unbelievable one-two punch) at the Hideout’s annual block party. The fest gets started Friday night with the Great Neko Case headlining.
Here’s a Superchunk oldie performed last year for Sound Opinions in Chicago.
Four years after Justin Vernon’s side band released its debut, Volcano Choir is touring a second album, Repave. Fans of Bon Iver should appreciate Volcano Choir’s music. It’s Vernon backed by a band that creates a big, full sound compared with the more intimate folkiness of Bon Iver. The downside is Volcano Choir isn’t quite as interesting as Vernon’s better-known project.
Still, this looks to be a good show. Volcano Choir plays Metro Friday night. Volcano Choir is actually Vernon’s second side project of the year. In April, he released Grownass Man as the Shouting Matches, a trio that plays more of a country blend.
The lead track on the new album is I’ll Trade You Money for Wine, a song Robbie has been playing for at least a couple of years.
Flume makes his return to Chicago Wednesday with a show at Metro. This sounds like it will be an elaborate production and I’m a little surprised it hasn’t sold out yet. This should be a pretty hot set.
Not only is Lollapalooza sold out but so are most of the official after shows. Empty Bottle says it will sell a limited number of tickets at the door for its shows. That means you could potentially still see Wavves Sunday night.
The Bottle also released a limited number of tickets online, though I expect these will go fast. Anyway, Wavves at Empty Bottle would be better than an entire day at Lolla.
Pitchfork released a bunch of videos from its Chicago festival performances last weekend. Among my favorite sets of the weekend: Savages, Metz, Woods, Foxygen, Trash Talk, Yo La Tengo and Mac DeMarco. I don’t promote a lot of hip hop but I really liked Chicago’s Tree. More than any other band, Savages lived up to my high expectations.
The biggest draw at Pitchfork Sunday is headliner R. Kelly. But Sunday (a day full of hip hop acts) also presents a chance to catch rising indie stars Foxygen and Waxahatchee. Yo La Tengo also plays in the afternoon.
My festival highlights, so far: Savages, Metz, Woods and Trash Talk. More on this later.
Headliner Belle & Sebastian brings the sound Saturday night at Pitchfork and there’s no shortage of bands to bring the fury. Swans, Savages, Metz, Pissed Jeans and others will offer hard-sound sets.
All of that seems to evaporate by just after 6 p.m. when the night gives way to a much less confrontational group of performances, including Breeders, (Beyonce’s sister) Solange and the Glasgow pop act oddly slotted as headliner. Must see: Savages, Swans.