Prince & 3rd Eye Girl-PLECTRUMELECTRUM

September 30, 2014 Leave a comment

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How has he managed to stay this cool for this long? While most peers of Prince have aged into recidivism, putting out awful records to cash in on their name, The Purple One has stayed true to his artistic vision. Not only has he kept the music funky, he’s actually getting better. You can try to refute that point if you’d like, but I would urge you to check out his latest album PlectrumElectrum (1 of 2 brand new releases) before you speak out.

Playing with his band 3rdEyeGirl, Prince seems focused in a way he hasn’t been since Musicology. After seeing him play three times over the past few years without EVER seeing him touch a guitar, I’m happy to report that his axe comes out to play quite a bit here. The people who laugh at me when I list him in my top 3 guitarists of all-time will be regretting their actions after they hear riffs like the white-hot “AintTurninRound.” And when Prince isn’t ripping off tasty solos, he leaves it for 3rdEyeGirl guitarist Donna Grantis who is more than capable of spectacular sounds.

I’ve been surprised by how much I like the non-Prince sections of the album. 3rdEyeGirl isn’t just a backing band for the legendary star. No, they’re quite good all on their own, adding a little pop to this mostly rock and roll record. I don’t care that much for “Whitecaps,” but the track “BoyTrouble” is a straight 80’s funk jam with beats that would make Missy Elliott jealous.

I don’t have much else to say about PlectrumElectrum. Everybody will have their own opinion, but if you like your Prince in guitar god mode, this is the record you’ve been waiting for. And there’s still plenty for those non-guitar lovers as well.

CIFF Capsule Review: Force Majeure

September 29, 2014 Leave a comment

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Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure already won over many critics at this years Cannes Film Festival. Now it’s set to play here in Chicago for one of the most prestigious festivals in North America. Certainly a very European film, I think the darkly comic tone may help provide a foothold for American audiences to get lost in the story.

Östlund could not have chosen a better setting for this story. The idyllic ski resort is one of the most beautiful sites I’ve seen on film in quite a while. The snow-covered mountains evoke a heavenly atmosphere, though we quickly learn that this family ski vacation will be anything but.

The camerawork is phenomenal, but the two lead actors really drive the film. Lisa Loven Kongsli, as Ebba, gives a particularly special performance as a wife and mother holding things together by the skin of her teeth.

The film has two showings, October 10th at 8:15pm and October 12th at 5:30pm. Find tickets here.

Blake Mills at Mayne Stage 9/28/2014

September 29, 2014 Leave a comment

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Blake Mills is an interesting cat. He’s got a real laid back vibe, kind of a Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter-y thing. It lulls you into a false sense of calm, because out of nowhere he comes at you with these ferocious guitar riffs. He’s a bit hard to describe if you haven’t seen him live. He plays the songs that you know from the records, but they’re completely different-somehow more intimate and urgent, like he’s confiding something in you that’s eating him up inside.

This tour he’s currently doing is really cool. All small, seated venues that creates even more intimacy. Last night I caught him at Mayne Stage on the far north side of Chicago. First time at that concert space, and I was blown away by just how cozy it is. For a guy who toured with Fiona Apple on her last tour and played places that can hold thousands, this was a big change of pace. He seems to like it that way, though, as he remained seated all night as well.

The tickets say An Evening With Blake Mills, so the assumption that there would not be an opener was right on. Still, the concert started after a delay of about 20 minutes. Blake came out with his band and launched into a set that covered not just his new record Heigh Ho almost entirely, but also some Break Mirrors tracks and a couple covers.

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One of the great things about Mills is his encyclopedic knowledge of all genres of music. The covers that he plays are great on their own, but the way takes the spirit of the original and adds his own spin is a thing of beauty. His version of the Joe Tex’s soul stunner “I’ll Never Do You Wrong” came just three songs into the set, and I honestly would’ve been happy with an all covers set after that.

After three more brilliant tracks (2 from Heigh Ho, 1 from Break Mirrors), Mills brought out his special guest, Fiona Apple. She’s been coming out at every show so far this tour, so it wasn’t a shocking surprise, but a welcome addition to the show. What WAS surprising is the fact that their first song together was a cover of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe” in which Apple completely blew the roof off the place. I’ve only seen her live one time, but I’ve never seen her sing like that. Joplin-like, honestly. I’ve always wanted her to do a more bluesy record, and based on this performance I’m hoping for that even more now.

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They also performed “Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me” and “Seven,” which were both lovely. Apple left to great applause, and Mills and his band carried on without her for the rest of the show. As great as Apple’s appearance was, the fifteen minute jam that closed the main set stole the show in my mind. It started off as the Break Mirrors track “Women Know,” and quickly evolved into an epic virtuoso guitar performance that left many slack-jawed and shaking their heads in disbelief (maybe it was just me). You can click here for a quick little taste.

After receiving a standing ovation, the band came back out and did a great version of  Lonnie Johnson’s tune “Tomorrow Night.” And that song ended one of the best shows I’ve seen in a while. If you’re in the northeast you have a few chances to catch him before this tour ends. He’s hitting Cambridge, Brooklyn, DC, Philly, and NYC over the next couple weeks. Find tickets here and go if you can!

    1. If I’m Unworthy
    2. Hey Lover
    3. I’ll Never Do You Wrong (Joe Tex cover)
    4. Cry to Laugh
    5. It’ll All Work Out
    6. Three Weeks In Havana
    7. Gold Coast Sinkin
    8. It’s Only Make Believe (Conway Twitty cover with Fiona Apple)
    9. Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me (Fiona Apple)
    10. Seven (Fiona Apple)
    11. Half Asleep
    12. Under the Underground
    13. Before It Fell
    14. Women Know
      — Encore –
    15. Tomorrow Night

You can find more pictures from the show here.

My Top 10 Films Of All-Time

September 27, 2014 Leave a comment

It dawned on me this morning that if I’m going to be covering the Chicago International Film Festival starting next week, maybe I should give you some insight into my history with the pictures. I was actually much more interested in film than music throughout my teen years, absorbing as much as I could in the small town where I lived. It wasn’t until I went off to college that music became a much bigger part of my life as the internet and Napster brought everything right to your computer.

So, to bring you up to speed these are my ten favorite films of all-time. Hopefully it will provide some perspective on my coverage of the titles I get to see over the next couple weeks. Feel free to comment below with your own top ten and/or criticism/praise.

10. Pulp Fiction-This one started it all for me, really. I had seen a lot of the classics, but this was the first movie from the wave of auteurs (Tarantino, PTA, et al) who were coming on as I was starting to discover a lot of the same directors who influenced their work.

9. Casablanca-We had to watch this in an English class at my high school. Almost everyone either fell asleep or kept busy passing notes. I was riveted. It took a few days of class to get through the movie, and I couldn’t wait to sit down every day and start it up.

8. Network-I came to this one a bit late, having just seen it maybe 8 years ago for the first time. It’s strange that it feels even more relevant to today’s world than it did in the 70’s. Every performance is perfect, and it’s no wonder it won every award known to man.

7. Chinatown-I love everything about this movie. Polanski creates a perfect noir atmosphere in this detective story starring Jack Nicholson. A lot of ideas for this film show up in Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential and they’re brilliant in both.

6. Raging Bull-Scorsese is my favorite filmmaker, and Raging Bull is an absolute masterpiece of style and substance. The black and white photography is outstanding, De Niro and Pesci are incendiary, and the script is a brutal character study of a broken man.

5. Star Wars: Episode V-The Empire Strikes Back-Yeah.

4. The Godfather, pt II-The Godfather is a near perfect film, which is insane because The Godfather, Pt II is even BETTER! Al Pacino has been great in a ton of movies, but he’s never been better than his portrayal of Michael Corleone in this film. Coppola spent the 70’s making huge, sweeping epics and he’s revered now because they’re all so well done.

3. Back To The Future-Some people might think Back To The Future doesn’t belong in a list surrounded by some of these other films. Those people are wrong. Robert Zemeckis does the impossible with BTTF, he makes a time travel movie that doesn’t seem completely stupid. Add in the hilarious Christopher Lloyd and Michael J Fox’s winning personality and you get a movie so rewatchable I’m shocked I don’t have it on right now.

2. Vertigo-The films Hitchcock made with Jimmy Stewart are all universally great. Any one of them could make this list (and honestly, I almost added Rope at the end). After years of playing the sweet, charming guy in studio pictures, Stewart shows his range as he becomes unhinged in this psycho-sexual thriller.

1. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington-Any time I’m feeling down about the state of things in our country, I know that I can throw on Frank Capra’s patriotic “one-man-can-make-a-difference” movie and be optimistic again. Another Stewart-led title, with Claude Rains and Jean Arthur in great supporting roles.

Categories: Music Review

Common Shiner-Social Mediasochist (Video)

September 26, 2014 Leave a comment

This video has been making the rounds the past couple weeks, and I’m late to the party as always. Common Shiner’s latest video is a double-edged homage to 80’s horror and John Hughes movies featuring all your favorite terrifying monsters attending Wes Craven High School (not sure if that’s in Springwood, OH or Shermer, IL). It’s a fun clip that manages to hit all the touchstones in its short run time.

The band teamed up with Lowbar Comedy and writer/diretor Zoran Gvojic to great success, so we’ll hopefully see further collaborations down the road.

Top 10 Anticipated Films At Chicago International Film Festival

September 25, 2014 Leave a comment

IMG_0374.JPGYesterday I got the news that I was going to be able to cover some movies at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival. I’m deeply honored that they’re allowing me to do this, and I already have a handful of pictures I’m really looking forward to. Some are obvious, and some way out of left field. These are the ten I’m looking forward to the most, in no particular order. The fest takes place October 9th-October 23rd and celebrates it’s 50th anniversary.

Birdman-Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu is one of Mexico’s finest filmmakers, and he’s following his recent successes with a dark comedy starring Michael Keaton. I wish Keaton showed up in more movies because he is a treat in everything. I was excited for this the second I saw the announcement.

The Babadook-There are a lot of interesting horror movies in the fest this year. I don’t know if that was a conscious decision or not, but there are a few that look really good. This one already played at Sundance and Fantastic Film Fest to great reviews, so I’m very interested.

Creep-Another horror entry, but this one seems a bit different. Do you love the Duplass Brothers but wish Jay was featured in more movies that aren’t written and directed by the siblings? Well here’s your chance!

Winter Sleep-Winner of this year’s Palme d”or at Cannes Festival. It’s a character study drawing comparisons to Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage, so it sounds right up my alley.

The Last 5 Years-I’m no Anna Kendrick fan, but this sullen musical seems interesting. Based on the play of the same name, the story follows a couple’s relationship from each of their perspective’s. And it’s completely told through song.

Rudderless-William H. Macy’s feature directing debut is the story of a man, played by Billy Crudup, who starts a band playing songs that were written by his deceased son. Sounds a bit bleak, but I bet there will be some good music.

Low Down-More music, of course. This one features the brilliant John Hawkes as a jazz pianist. It’s told through his daughter’s perspective, played by Elle Fanning.

High Five-A story of aimless youth from Uruguay. I’m not sure why, but it seems pretty appealing to me.

Ne Me Quitte Pas-They had me at “dark comedy alcoholic bromance.”

St. Vincent-Bill FREAKING Murray!

Sound & Shape-Bad Actors

September 25, 2014 Leave a comment

IMG_0373.JPGIt’s been a couple years since Sound & Shape‘s last record, Hourglass, but they’re back and better than ever with their new release Bad Actors. It came out this week, so feel free to download it from iTunes and follow along (plus you get a bonus track doing it that way!). The Nashville trio don’t hold anything back on this behemoth of rock music, which is somehow more polished and raw at the same time.

The album starts off sounding like a throw-back to late 90’s alternative before building into a loud joyride for your ear drums. The first couple tracks dig a trench for the sounds to flow through, and it’s easy sailing when you get to “Hemmingway On Broken Hearts,” my choice for the best song in this set. Guitars blaze and drums crash all around, while Ryan Caudle’s voice nestles into your brain. Read more…

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