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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.

 

Hiber at Martyr’s 5/20/2017

Saturday night capped a journey for Danny Surico that started a couple years ago when his band The Future Laureates decided to call it a day (at least for a while). Shortly thereafter, Hiber was formed and some music was recorded for an EP. That was over a year ago, and finally What You Wanted is available for all to hear. The band celebrated with a show at Martyr’s to introduce everyone to the new sounds.

If you’re familiar at all with Danny’s songwriting, a lot of the songs will have some familiar notes. The live show features songs both old and new, ranging from traditional folk to rock, pop, and blues. The songs on What You Wanted, however, lean a little more toward the Paul Simon songbook than anything else. During the show they even covered another big Paul Simon fan, Josh Ritter.

What I was most struck with during the show, having seen what I believe was their first live set last summer at Ribfest, was how much Danny has grown as a bandleader. With the help of producer/bassist Yoo Soo Kim, Danny has arranged his songs for ultimate impact.

You can hear the full EP right now at The Deli’s website.

Jonah Parzen-Johnson-“Cabin Pressure”

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A couple weeks ago I was surprised to see a couple members of Zongo Junction playing in the current lineup of Hurray For The Riff Raff at Thalia Hall. I talked to Jordan Hyde afterward and mentioned that I had seen his old bandmate Jonah Parzen-Johnson play about a year ago at a bicycle shop here in Chicago. I hadn’t heard anything from Jonah for a while, and now on the heels of that conversation comes word that a new album is on the way.

Some new material got played at that little DIY show at Ancien Cycles, but I can’t remember if “Cabin Pressure,” the first single, was one of them. During his set he talked a lot about the pressures of building on other people’s music. The debt you owe them and the respect that you need to show, while trying to make something that expresses who you are can be overwhelming. The new record, I Try To Remember Where I Come From, deals with that directly.

I wouldn’t say experimental jazz is in my wheelhouse, but I do enjoy listening to Jonah marry the baritone sax with synthesizers to create something new. It sounds closer to something you’d hear from a band like Air, or producers like Nightmares On Wax, than typical sax soloists. If you don’t typically get into that kind of thing, this might be a good entry point.

You can find some tour dates, and an opportunity to pre-order the new record here.

Sorority Noise at Bottom Lounge 5/11/2017

Back in March Sorority Noise released You’re Not As _________ As You Think,” and it’s compelling combination of emo-punk riffs and message of self-worth and love have kept it in my top 20 records of 2017. I finally got to see them play live in Chicago tonight at Bottom Lounge.

There were crowdsurfers and singalongs, and not a whole lot of banter, but the music really spoke for itself. When they finally got to the end, lead singer Cameron Boucher talked about his battles with manic depression and the need for everyone to be understanding and support one another. It was a nice moment to reflect on the community bands help to create and how now, more than ever, we need to step up and not be jerks.

 

Sons Of An Illustrious Father-“U.S. Gay”

My feelings on Sons Of An Illustrious Father are fairly well known if you’ve spent any time reading this site. I think they’re one of the best bands going right now, and I’m very pleased that they also happen to be very nice people. They’re also very willing to speak out for the LGBTQ community, which they have done to great effect with their new song and video “U.S. Gay.”

The video premiered on I-D (part of Vice.com) and was quickly picked up by Out.com, so I hope a lot of people are checking it out. You can see it below.

 

When the band was in town in March, bass/keyboard/singer Josh Aubin told me they finished their new album and it will hopefully be out by the end of the year.

Valley Queen at Metro 5/7/2017

I got an email roughly 0.000003 seconds after listening to Valley Queen’s “Pulled By The Weather” asking if I’d be interested in checking out their show here in Chicago. I thought the song was really excellent, so I said yes. I checked out their EP, Destroyer, and found it an enjoyable listen. It’s a bit of soulful folk music, but when they hit the stage to play live, the guitars come to play and it turns into a full-on rock and roll show.

My initial reaction to the music was that it reminded me of Janis Joplin playing with Big Brother and the Holding Company. A couple songs later Courtney Barnett’s voice pops in a bit as well. It’s a good dynamic, marrying the older, classic sounds with something a little more contemporary. Natalie Carol’s voice can get up there with a range that is impressive to say the least. She can also shred, and does so at every opportunity.

The band seemed to be having a great time in front of the already pretty big crowd. Opening for Laura Marling, I wasn’t sure how the crowd would respond once Valley Queen started to get loud. Turns out they dug it. Lots of cheering after every song, and not the polite kind like I do when someone is trying really hard and it’s just not working. No, I imagine they converted a lot of new fans last night.

You can check out their stuff on Spotify, or you can head over to their Bandcamp page and buy their EP right now.

Ron Gallo at Thalia Hall 4/28/2017

When I saw the name Ron Gallo as the opener for Hurray For The Riff Raff, I assumed it would be a guy and an acoustic guitar playing some soft folk songs for half an hour before the main act came to the stage. That was, to put it mildly, an incorrect assumption. The three members of Ron Gallo came out and, after a brief explanation of who they are, ripped the stage apart. Ron Gallo’s frantic guitar work leads this garage/punk/blues band to all kinds of music sensations. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Check out this video from the show to give you an idea of their style.

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