Around this time every year I write a snarky post about the things that disappointed me in music throughout the year. Generally it’s just some garbage about Nicki Minaj being a talentless shrew, or Bon Iver being so boring I’d rather lay in the grass and wait for it to envelop me than listen to his droning on about whatever pretentious drivel he’s got on his mind. But I don’t really think any of that matters this year.
Honestly, in a year that’s been such a maddening, infuriating, make you wanna live under a rock and/or blow your brains out 365 days (thank Christ this wasn’t a leap year-Dylan probably would have died), I don’t see much point in talking about how bad Life Of Pablo is. Or questioning the sanity of those that keep telling me it’s good. Or asking those people which tracks, other than the ones where Chance The Rapper takes the reins, are actually worth listening to. If you like Life Of Pablo, so be it. Enjoy. Don’t let me rain on your parade.
David Bowie put out a great album, Blackstar, and he’s gone. Leonard Cohen released an equally great album. He’s gone, too. Prince…Well, Prince was being Prince (the one we loved, not the one with the sacred addiction to opiates), playing shows with little notice to audiences of loyal fans who are now without the man who taught them that being weird was ok and long as you were true to yourself.
The 2016 bullshit pot boiled over long ago and we’ve just been stewing in it for the past few months. This year can’t end fast enough, and I think most people will agree that’s true. I mean, many people are saying that. I’ve heard it from many people. Our new Russian overlords probably thought it was ok. Shit. They probably didn’t even like Prince. They’ve always been more of a Billy Joel crowd.
Obviously some of the crap that we got in 2016 was our own doing, which kinda sucks. It’s also good, because who better than us to get everything back on the right track? The Dakota Pipeline got postponed, Hillary’s wandering the woods changing lives, and Frank Ocean put out two new albums. There are glimmers of hope to which we can still hitch our wagon.
So yeah, 2016 was a raging dumpster fire. Let’s move on and honor those we lost by continuing to fight.
You probably know Donnie Biggins from the booking wing of his business, Harmonica Dunn. He puts on great shows all around Chicago, showcasing local talent and up-and-comers from around the country. Or maybe you know him from Tonic Room, the bar he owns and operates in Lincoln Park. You SHOULD know him as a member of The Shams Band, and now as a solo artist making great music of his own.
Profiles, Donnie’s debut solo LP, came out on Friday. To celebrate, there was a 2 night residency at Tonic Room featuring the new album in it’s entirety plus some great sets from other bands. One of my favorite local groups, Martin Van Ruin, played with him on Friday so I chose that show to go support my friend and a musician I respect immensely.
If you’d like to check out Profiles, click here. I’m not reviewing the record yet, but the show was great. One song that featured the great guitar work of Ryan Joseph Anderson really blew me away. Find the video below:
Martin Van Ruin:
Friend of the site Kate Epps has a new musical project called Honey Gentry, and today she released the second single. It’s a brooding lullaby with a dreamy, eerie familiarity. A little over a year ago she put out a solo EP called Soft Pink, and on her new material she’s joined by guitarist Ruben Elbrond-Palmer. His work helps to give this song a compelling sound much different than the acoustic version which was also just released.
Epps excels at writing late-night, staring at the ceiling, existential lyrics to which anyone can relate. She rips away at the surface until the emotional resonance is all that remains. Honey Gentry is no different, trading cleverness for deliberate phrasing and a genuine sense of longing.
Over the last decade I’ve seen pretty much every iteration of Conor Oberst‘s live show. Most recently, I caught him with Dawes as his backing band at Metro, which was great except that Dawes also opened and played a set that I thought would never end. Even better was his set with The Felice Brothers behind him in Santa Monica in 2013. He also had the benefit of joining forces with First Aid Kit at that show. Saw him with The Mystic Valley Band before they were called The Mystic Valley Band (Jenny Lewis opened and it was not good, but did not lessen my affection for her music). All these great shows, and still there’s something special about seeing him solo. Just the man and his incredible songs.
Ruminations came out to mixed reviews among my circle of people whose opinions I value. Some loved the rawness of it, some found the reliance on harmonica a bit too on the nose for an artist hailed so often as the “next Dylan.” I find myself in the middle-it’s certainly not my favorite Oberst album, but there’s a lot to like. He includes a lot more pop culture references in his lyrics, leading me to believe he might actually be of this Earth and not just some spirit sent from the beyond to deliver music that speaks to me. Hearing them performed live lent a bit of credibility to the recorded versions as well. One could assume they were just recorded to sound slightly better than demos, but seeing him play piano and sing the words, it comes through as genuine.
The evening consisted of two sets of music: the first, all of Ruminations from front to back. The second, a collection of old Bright Eyes and solo songs from Lifted to Upside Down Mountain. My favorite track from the new album is “A Little Uncanny,” and that was certainly a standout during the concert. The album closer, “Til St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out” also stood above some of the other songs in this setting. “Gossamer Thin,” which is probably my second favorite, played a little slow.
Conor is a born storyteller, so I always look forward to hearing what he has to say in between songs. Last night didn’t disappoint. Halfway through the second set he sat down at the piano and went into a spiel about the election, calling Trump an orange rat. Someone in the crowd shouted “Fuck Trump!,” to which Conor replied “I don’t want to fuck Trump. He’d probably give me orange rat AIDS. Besides he’s already fucked enough 15 year old girls in beauty pageant dressing rooms.” Needless to say, I was thrilled to hear some bile thrown Trump’s way after the news networks have scattered trying to make his bullshit sound like something a normal human being would say or do.
After that little tangent, he talked about how waking up the morning after the election to find out Leonard Cohen had passed made everything even worse. Then he launched in to a great cover of Cohen’s “Passing Through.”
The old songs that made up the second set were a good mix. I thought for sure he would play “Lua” or “First Day Of My Life,” but neither were heard on this night. He did play a fantastic version of “The Big Picture,” which I hadn’t heard in a long time. He dedicated “Cape Canaveral” to the Hubble Telescope, noting that pretty soon “science will be outlawed.” The show ended with “At The Bottom Of Everything,” a pretty fitting song considering the current state of things.
Conor hits LA for a couple shows next month and then he’s spending January in Europe. I can’t be sure, but I’d suspect that he’ll be back in the spring/summer for a bigger run of shows and likely some festivals (fingers crossed for Pitchfork or 80/35!)
You All Loved Him Once
Next Of Kin
The Rain Follows The Plow
A Little Uncanny
Till St Dymphna Kicks Us Out
Lenders In The Temple
Passing Through (Leonard Cohen cover)
The Big Picture
At The Bottom Of Everything
Kevin Pariso came home to Chicago on Wednesday to open for The Jezabels with his band, the Brooklyn-based Surf Rock Is Dead. The surfgaze tandem played a noisy set full of fuzzed-out guitars from Pariso and thumping bass lines from Melbourne native Joel Witenberg. They traded off vocals, though the sound mix at Double Door drowned both a bit.
Check out the band’s EP from last year, SRiD. They played some new stuff, so be on the lookout for a new release coming probably early next year.
It seems like every time The Jezabels come through Chicago I have a conflict on my schedule. Wednesday night was the first time I was actually able to see them play live after 5 years of trying. Back in 2011 I interviewed the band at SxSw, and they seemed like very nice people. The fact that they also play good music is a great bonus. I was hoping to hear “Noah’s Ark,” the great bonus track from Prisoner, but that wasn’t in the cards.
There was a good amount of cheering when Sam Lockwood, Heather Shannon, and Nik Kaloper took the stage, but the biggest applause came when lead singer Hayley Mary appeared in her Be My Holiday leather jacket. From that point on it was a pretty steady set-no lulls, no huge moment. It was a great way to spend Thanksgiving eve.
Much of the hour-plus of music came from their latest record, Synthia. I still prefer stuff from Dark Storm and Prisoner, but they take some chances on Synthia that make it an interesting listen. It’s also the most accessible of their albums, so if you’ve never heard them before, it’s a great place to start.