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Kiefer Sutherland at Thalia Hall 5/21/2017

It’s easy to write off Kiefer Sutherland’s music career as a vanity project, but after seeing him live I can assure you it is not. I actually figured that out when I saw that his debut album was produced by Jude Cole, a singer/songwriter who’s been making music for over 30 years. Together they turned Sutherland’s collection of songs he’s been writing for as long as he’s been acting into a record that shows us a different side of the man most know as tough guy Jack Bauer.

As a fan of his film and tv work since I was a kid watching Stand By Me, I would’ve paid to see the show even if I thought it was going to be bad. But I had a good feeling after hearing Down In A Hole a couple of times. Even though he’s been branded as a country singer (by the media and probably in his own words) there’s a lot more going on than some tear-in-my-beer campfire ballads. In the song “Going Home” you get influences that span from classic rock to Motown. If you heard it without knowing the band, you’d never guess it was a “country” thing.

The live show was a lot of fun. Like most smart musicians, Sutherland understands that if you want your music to sound good, you need to surround yourself with talented musicians. His guitarists, Michael Gurley and Austin Vallejo, are both fantastic. They can play everything from the sickest blues riffs to a quiet lullaby and make it look easy. The backline of Jess Calcaterra on drums and Joseph DeLeo on bass kept things moving on beat for the full 80 minutes they were on stage.

Kiefer gave the audience some insight into his personal life, telling stories from his childhood as well as his more recent life situation. My favorite was about living with his father for a few months after his parents split up when he and his sister were four years old. His dad, Donald, after appearing in Kelly’s Heroes, had a red 1956 Ferrari two-seater in which he drove them to nursery school. Kiefer said that even as a four year old even he knew that it was a “fucking cool” car.

He also talked about hanging out with Merle Haggard, losing the love of his life, and an early heartbreak that led to the first song he ever wrote.

Down In A Hole is only 11 songs long, so to fill up the show they played some interesting covers. The first was Haggard’s “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down,” which is very much a country song. Then they shifted gears quite a bit. Introducing another cover Kiefer said that Tom Petty’s “never written a bad lyric.” That could be debated, but the version of “Honeybee” that they played was a lot of fun.

Talking about growing up in Toronto, Sutherland mentioned two things you HAD to listen to or you weren’t cool. One was Rush, which drew some applause, but he demured. “If I tried to hit one of those notes I’d be dead here on the floor,” he said. The other was Gordon Lightfoot. So they covered “Sundown” from the 1974 album of the same name. And the last cover of the encore was “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan.

Going in I thought it would be pretty good, but walking out I was really impressed by how much of himself Sutherland has put into his new endeavor. I expected it to be a little more laid back and passive, but it was a pretty exciting show. I would recommend to anyone who was thinking about it but not quite sure, or really anyone who likes having a good time and listening to good music.

The current leg of the tour is winding down in a couple days, but I’m sure they’ll be back on the road again soon. Check out his website for more info.

 

Hurray For The Riff Raff at Thalia Hall 4/28/2017

April 29, 2017 3 comments

As The Navigator tells the rough and tumble tale of early American life for Puerto Ricans, it made a lot of sense to showcase it at Thalia Hall. Nestled in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, home to a lot of the Hispanic culture in the city. Alynda Segarra and the latest incarnation of her backing band that make up Hurray For The Riff Raff really brought the album to life.

I was hoping for more early stuff-songs from Look Out Mama and Young Blood Blues, but I get that this album needs to be told as a whole so you have to play all the songs. A few people have mentioned trying to turn it into a stage play on Broadway. That’s an idea worth following through on, because the story is certainly an interesting one. Plus the songs are great. They did bring out a few oldies for me. Toward the end of the show they played “The Body Electric” and “Blue Ridge Mountain” from their previous album Small Town Heroes.

Segarra has really grown as a performer since I last saw her back in 2013. More a social activist now, she doesn’t shy away from speaking her mind. One song introduction included “This is a protest song…I want you to sing so loud Trump can hear you at Mar-a-Lago.” She also moved around a lot more, dancing to the beats of the street featured on The Navigator.

Singing under a banner reading “We’re All In This Together,” Segarra took time to relay the message that has been the driving force behind her entire career: be kind. Try to understand viewpoints other than your own and act with compassion. The audience was fully on board with this message, and you could feel the love and positivity in the room. At the end of the show a couple even got engaged!

It was a great way to end an amazing night of music. Here are some photos from the show:

Beach Slang at House Of Blues 4/6/2017

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I’m not sure who was having a better time during Beach Slang’s set last night at House Of Blues: the band or the audience. Everyone was in high spirits as they played their quick-tempered rock songs and intermingled them with some hilarious musical cues, including “Two Princes” by Spin Doctors, “My Own Worst Enemy” by Eve6, and of course “Smooth” by Santana featuring Rob Thomas. They even promised one fan in the crowd that they would learn to play “Two Princes” for real at their next show if that person comes.

Here’s a quick clip to give you an idea of how much fun they were having.

I believe this was the band’s first show in Chicago since their lineup change last year, and things seemed to go over pretty well. New drummer Cully Symington never missed a beat, and guitarist Aurore Ounjian’s nimble fingers deftly maneuvered through some great riffs. Lead singer James Alex showed a great affection for the audience and for Minus The Bear for bringing them on tour to open shows for them. He also, at one point, read a list of people he’s been told he looks like while on tour, and it was everything from Eddie Munster to Jack Black and Angus Young.

MØ At Metro 3/13/2017

March 14, 2017 Leave a comment

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This was my first time seeing MØ and it was a lot of fun. I’ve listened to her before, but can’t say I’m a die hard fan or anything. I actually went to this show to check out the opener, Tei Shi, who has a record coming out that I really like. She was a fitting warm up for the style of music MØ plays, and the crowd seemed to really enjoy her set.

Despite a long delay at the beginning of the show, and another in between sets, the fans maintained a high level of excitement that exploded into screams when she finally took the stage during the “Don’t Wanna Dance” intro. The performance was non-stop adrenaline, with MØ using every bit of the wide open stage setup, plus some when she came out into the crowd during “Slow Love.” And later she jumped into the masses and let them pass her around the sold out Metro floor like waves carrying her away from shore and then bringing her back.

 

Dunn Dunn Fest Returns Next Week!

February 9, 2017 Leave a comment

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since the last installment of Chicago’s finest multi-venue music festival, Dunn Dunn Fest. The yearly smorgasbord of great music is provided by Harmonica Dunn founder Donnie Biggins. Every year he finds amazing known talent and acts flying under the radar and puts them all together for a crazy three days of discovery and enjoyment.

Last year I spent my three days Of Dunn Dunn Fest at three different venues, listening to very different styles of music. Thursday I was at Beat Kitchen for Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes (with opening sets from Jared Rabin and Kansas Bible Company), Friday I got funky with Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, Nasty Snacks, and Alanna Royale at Lincoln Hall, and on Saturday I caught Frontier Ruckus along with the great Chicago bands Mooner and Martin Van Ruin at Schubas. This year’s lineup provides opportunities just as entertaining.

Below is what I would choose to see if I were going. Sadly, I’ll be out of town for the duration of the festival. Please take some videos and post them on the internet. For a full list of artists playing, check out the Harmonica Dunn website.

Thursday: The Kickback at Beat Kitchen

The band just added some more dates opening for Bush, but here you get to see their craziness headlining a small venue instead of opening in a 2,000 seat theater.

Friday: Low Cut Connie at Lincoln Hall

Three great bands, including Biggins’ own The Shams Band and St Louis glam-pop act Sleepy Kitty!

Saturday: Mike Doughty at Lincoln Hall

Dunn Dunn Fest and WXRT join forces to bring former Soul Coighing frontman/currently successful solo artist Mike Doughty to Lincoln Hall! Opening act is Wheatus.

Arkells at JBTV Studio 1/23/2017

January 23, 2017 Leave a comment


After catching their shows at SubT last year (one in the Spring and one in the Autumn), I could not make it to Arkells 2017 Chicago debut opening for Frank Turner at House Of Blues. They’re playing again tonight, but I am unable to make that as well. Luckily, they added a quick afternoon set at JBTV that I was able to attend. They brought out a lot of people for a noon Monday set, many of whom had been to their show last night and others who were going to go tonight (and a few who had tickets for both nights). I was probably the only one in the studio going to neither.


So, for my only Arkells experience of January I got to stand five feet from the band as they ran through some mostly acoustic versions of their songs. My fears of losing the high energy dynamic they usually have quickly subsided as Max Kerman’s infectious personality burst through as he sat behind his guitar and joked with the audience. 


The setlist was a little different from a normal Arkells show, but ended up being longer than I expected. Mostly songs from Morning Report, but they did “Whistleblower” from Michigan Left. We got “Drake’s Dad,” “My Heart’s Always Yours,” “A Little Rain (A Song For Pete),” and Max switched spots with Tony and played keys on “And Then Some” so Tony could play the mandolin he brought.


After the music, the band came out to the lobby to say hello to everyone. Max made his way through the room, making sure all who desired a photo or autograph got one. He even obliged me for a quick portrait.

If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend checking out Arkells when they’re in your town.

The Company You Keep Podcast Has Live Debut 1/12/2017 At Uncommon Ground

January 2, 2017 Leave a comment

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Philip Michael Scales started The Company You Keep podcast back in 2015, and this year he’s stepping his game up with a residency at Uncommon Ground on Clark to record the episodes live. Every second Thursday of the month you can find him interviewing music makers about their craft, their experiences, and anything else that comes up.

On January 12th he’ll be sitting down with musician/bar owner/concert promoter Donnie Biggins. Topics that are sure to be discussed: Biggins time in The Shams Band, promoting shows and running your own festival in Chicago, the new solo release Donnie put out last month, and owning a bar while maintaining a marriage and three young kids.

I’ve had the opportunity to chat with both of these individuals over the past few years, and they are engaging and funny, so I have high hopes for this first episode. You can RSVP and find links for tickets here. If you’d like to check out some prior episodes, you can find them on iTunes.

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