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Stars shine at The Metro; Milo Greene a pleasant surprise

25 Mar

Although they’ve been around since 2000, Stars is still going strong. The Canadian band came to Chicago’s The Metro on Saturday and played a sold-out show that was well worth the admission price.

Said the Whale
The night’s first act, indie rock band Said the Whale, wasn’t bad. They just didn’t fit the sound of the other two groups. The 5-member Vancouver band played an upbeat set that would have been perfect for a day at the beach. I wasn’t struck by anything particularly original, although I was impressed by the keyboardist’ ability to play the piano and sing for an hour while smiling the entire time. Check them out for an entertaining listen, but not much more.

Milo Greene
Milo Greene was the surprise of the night. Weaving complex memories that put in mind Explosion in the Sky, the instrumental-heavy group belted a cover of Sufjan Steven’s “Chicago” that may have been better than the original, alongside original compositions that will have me going back next time they’re in the city. Haunting and ethereal, their sound sticks with you long after their set is over.


The Stars
I expected the headliner Stars to be good, and, aside from a few moments when Torquil Campbell’s microphone was inadvertently switched off, they were. Campbell and lead female vocalist Amy Millan (also of Broken Social Scene) have distinctive, story-telling voices that sound just as good (actually, better) live as they do recorded.

What I didn’t expect was for Stars to be absolutely, mind-blowingly awesome. The music was good, yes, but the performers were great. Every single one of them threw themselves completely into what bordered on a two-hour show. They performed with an intensity I have rarely seen in a live performance and it made for an amazing concert. Even if you aren’t that in to indie pop with lyrics waxing cynical on love and sex, The Stars are worth it.

Of particular note was the closing number, which Campbell sang as an acoustic solo. Many Stars songs almost spoken lyrics, but Campbell proved his range and left the audience hypnotized with the power of his voice.

Bands hit the road young

27 Feb

As a twenty-something, I and most of my friends are caught in near constant crisis as to what exactly we’re supposed to be doing with our lives. It’s especially comforting, then, to discover some musical genius apparently starts young: all of the following bands formed in high school.

We may have some catching up to do.

The XX
Hailing from London, The XX (Oliver Sim, Jamie Smith, Romy Madley, and former member Baria Quereshi) got together as high schoolers back in 2005 and released their debut album, “xx” in 2009. Having seen international success, the group will be a headliner at Bonnaroo 2013.

Fleet Foxes
Founding members Robin Pecknold and Skyler Skjelset started playing together after meeting in high school. Due to lack of funds, their first songs were recorded in houses and garages, but local shows quickly won them attention. Their debut album went platinum in the UK.

Van Morrison
Although the Emerald Isle’s Van Morrison didn’t rise to fame until the mid-60’s (after a stint with Irish band “Them”), he started playing everything from guitar to saxophone to the harmonica back as a teenager. Known for hits such as “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Moondanace,” Morrison performs to this day and has won six Grammy Awards. He’s been inducted into both the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Local Natives
Indie band Local Natives formed after guitarists Taylor Rice and Ryan Hahn and keyboardist Kelcey Ayer met in high school in Los Angeles. After recruiting Matt Frazier (drums) and Andy Hamm (bass), the bandmembers crammed into a house in Orange County to put together their debut album, “Gorilla Manor.” The album debuted well and they’ve since toured with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and played at Lollapalooza.

Why 60’s album covers are worth it

19 Feb

“Nashville Skyline,” Bob Dylan, 1969.

While in the middle of Nothing-But-Cornfields, Illinois this past weekend, I stumbled across a book worthy enough to earn itself a mention on a music blog.

To me, one of the strongest arguments for keeping vinyl around is the art. It’s not just that many of album covers are gorgeous – they’re funky, mind-bending, and indicative of an era.  Album artwork can say as much as any piece of art in a museum, only it’s better since it comes with music. A good cover draws you in, makes you take a chance on a new band.

All of this made Storm Thorgerson’s Classic Album Covers of the 60’s a must-have. While there is some narration, this book is more a gallery of a decade, starting in the early years where bands wore suits and stood, smiling, in a line; moving through the jazz to psyychedlic to hard core psychedelic. There are pterodactyls, houses built out of grapes, musicians dressed as wizards and women floating underwater. There’s the nude portrait of Yoko Ono and John Lennon and Led Zepplin’s zephyr.

And, while the book highlights classic, timeless bands – The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Jimmi Hendrix and Bob Dylan – there are albums also chosen solely for the their amazing art, perhaps not well-known but still amazing to look at.

“The Fool,” The Fool, 1969.

I wasn’t alive in the 60’s. Thorgerson makes me wish I was. With every turn of the page I tasted an era and found another album I wanted to listen to. Scrolling through an ITunes library will never compare.

Joe Banfi’s EP seeks answers

8 Feb

Exactly 45 seconds in to Joe Banfi’s “Nomads,” I decided it needed to be shared.

“Nomads” is the title track of Joe Banfi’s newest EP. Released less than a month ago, the song catches you instantly with a deep and dark bass before backing off to let in the lead vocals, high-pitched and soft in comparison. It’s something of a shock as the song grabs you and lets go, only to climb right back into that former intensity. The rise and fall isn’t jarring, though – it’s a smooth ride right to the end. Of particular enjoyment is the emotion in each clearly-articulated word. The lyrics are irrelevant – you can find the story just in the singer’s tone. (Download a free MP3 here.) Note the rolling drumbeat that keep the song pushing forward.

The second track, “Family,” carries the melancholy confusion of the first, but more subtly. While “Nomads” opened with a crash of instruments, this track is more preoccupied with its lyrics. It built slowly, with strings approaching and retreating multiple times, eventually ending with what felt like something of an intentional down, for the artist as much as the listener.

“Olive Green” is the first song that climbs out of the sadness characterizing the first two tracks. Starting with a lonely sound, the background acoustic guitar slowly grows into the richness created by a layering of emotions.

This is just an EP, one characterized by a question that Banfi is unable before the album ends. As Brotherkid has pointed out, one gets tired of listening to hit after hit without the strength of a full album – but this is an EP that promises the album will come. It’s just not quite there yet, and in the meantime, “Nomads” is well worth mulling over.

Sadly, Joe Banfi is currently touring the U.K. and unlikely to make a stop in Chicago anytime soon.

Santah goes vinyl

19 Jan

In Chicago and looking for something to do tonight? Support a local artist by heading over to Saki Records (Fullerton Ave) to check out local band Santah’s vinyl release show.

“You’re Still a Lover,” first released in October 2012, is more than worth a listen when just streaming. Now you can get it in vinyl (along with a bonus track!)

You can give the album a pre-listen here and check out more about Santah here.

Thriving in the Chicago music scene

9 Jan

The music of the Chicago-based indie rock band Passerines might intitially seem laid back, but a closer listen quickly reveals the heavy layering of melodies and diverse influences (from jazz to David Bowie) that make up the group’s unique sound.

Chicago's three-piece Passerines.

Chicago’s three-piece Passerines.

The three-piece band – founded by Tim Young (vocals and guitars), with Kevin Fairbairn on bass and Taylor Page on drums – is new to the Chicago music scene, having formed summer of 2012. However, the group (named after the scientific term for “songbird”) is already glad to call the city’s music scene home.

“There are a lot of music scenes to be involved with in Chicago,” said Young, who considers them most heavily involved with “the punk-rock, do-it-yourself scene.”

The DIY/newness of the band means “doing everything yourself – paying for everything yourself, getting press yourself.” However, Young was also excited the group is still growing and exploring their sound.

“We’re still really new,” he said. “The guys are really into rock, underground ground…where I’m a little bit more interested aspects of jazz and classical music.”

With finances the DIY-band’s greatest challenge, the band’s current project – their upcoming EP (look for it sometime in March) – will likely be an online-only release.

However, “we would love to press vinyl,” said Young. “The intangibility of an MP3 is just boring to me. I think with the digital age, a lot has been lot in regards to musicians being paid and being able to sell their work.”

And, while Young acknowledged the struggles faced by bands attempting to be financially viable, he remains optimistic, hoping to have a whole album released and be touring the country within the next year or so.

“So far, a lot of roads have opened up to use. [Chicago] is a great place to come to and start playing. We’re fresh into it and that’s really exciting.”

See them at: Jerry’s – January 12, 9 p.m. ($5)

The Subterranean – January 31, 8:30 p.m. ($8)

Listen to their album here.

Maps & Atlases, give in to your desires

3 Jan

This past Sunday night, a return to Schuba’s tavern resulted in a 3.5/5 star show by Chicago’s Maps & Atlases.

A summary in 50 words or less: I got the impression they would have liked to play a purely-instrumental jam session and abandoned that whole “lyrics” nonsense. Maps & Atlases, as a member of your audience, I WOULD FULLY SUPPORT THIS DECISION. No-lyric songs = some truly intense music.

The show was opened by Gypsyblood. I spent half the time being impressed by the twist they put on what risked being mind-numbingly generic rock and half the time being impressed by how much their guitar player was into each song.

Check back next Tuesday (Jan. 8) for an interview with the Chicago band Passerines.