Monthly Archives: June 2013

(Not Quite a) Concert Review: Birds of Chicago 6/27/13



The following post was originally a status update on my personal Facebook page concerning my excitement about the Birds of Chicago concert I attended the night before. The more detailed the update became, the more it sounded like a concert review. What’s missing, of course, is specifics about the band’s song choices that evening, among other things. As stated in the entry, however, the gig was recorded for a live album that will tentatively be released in August or September. Besides a few minor changes, I decided to leave the rambling mostly intact. Hopefully there is enough meat on the bone to whet your appetite and pique your interest in some incredibly talented artists. Without further adieu…..

Still flying high from the Birds of Chicago show we attended last night! I would say it was the perfect evening, but it didn’t quite start out that way.

Our journey started in a van that lost its AC a few days prior. We thought, “no big deal, windows down, we’ve got this!” That was until we had been on the road for an hour and it began to rain.  Experiencing precipitation sixty minutes into a seventy-four mile trip would normally not be an issue either except our excursion took three hours due to heavy traffic. With little ventilation and a lot of humidity, we had to leave the windows at least partially down. That might explain why you received a damp hug, Mahra. 🙂 Again, getting a little rain-soaked wasn’t anything to fret about. We would dry off eventually and it actually felt kind of nice when a strong gust of wind made its way through the vehicle.

The greatest difficulty we endured was my rising anxiety as the hours continued to pass and I thought for sure we would get lousy seats due to arriving well after the doors opened. I kept telling myself that Evanston SPACE is one of the best venues to attend a concert and even the worst seat is not too far away from the stage. While this is one hundred percent true, I REALLY wanted to be as close to the action as possible. It should be noted that SPACE offers reserved tables in addition to the general admission seats we had purchased, so there are guaranteed seating options.

We finally arrived around thirty minutes before the show started. I dropped my wife off in front of the venue while I parked the van a few blocks away (YAY, FREE PARKING!). Since we got there fairly close to starting time, I had to park a little farther away than my previous trips to SPACE. So I called the Mrs. to let her know why I was delayed, as I briskly made my way to the concert hall. When she answered I could tell by the giddiness in her voice that she had something exciting to share. I thought maybe she ran into my friend Mahra, talked to the band or something to that effect. Nope! Despite our tardiness she was able to secure two front row seats with a perfect view of the entire stage!

The same building that houses SPACE also has an excellent Italian joint named Union Pizzeria. From our previous outings we started the tradition of ordering a pizza and dining before the show. SPACE allows you to bring the pie over to their half of the building and partake in it, which makes for a spectacular opening act before the headliners grace the stage. After we gobbled down some sausage and pepperoni goodness that was out of this world (Get it? We were at SPACE? *THUD!*), we had a brief encounter with Mahra, whom I hadn’t seen for almost a year. In fact, that fateful evening in 2012 was not only our initial introduction to one another but also marked the first time either one of us had seen Birds of Chicago, at that very same location.

At last, it was time for the band to take the stage. Although they have played gigs as a duo,  multi-instrumentalists JT Nero and Ali Russell chose to include a flock of seven other gifted musicians, as this was a very special occasion: their first live recording for an album to be released later this summer or early fall. Adding to the festivities was the couple’s recent announcement that they are tying the knot on July 6 and expecting a baby bird in December!

As was the case the previous time I saw them, BoC reached into my soul and caressed it with songs about love, hope and strong affections for their adopted Windy City. Their sound is not easily labeled but the following excerpt from the band biography is a nice starting point: “Nero’s fractured country-soul voice wrapped in Russell’s silver and gold tones is a fine thing. Not too perfect, not at all saccharine, you’ll hear echoes of mountain gospel, street corner doo-wop, classic soul. Accompanied by just a banjo and a guitar, it’s chilling. Fired by a full band, it’s a full tilt revival.”

What’s not included in that description is the chemistry and playful banter that I had previously only witnessed between other musician-couples such as Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine. There’s a lot to be said for the unique bond that a husband and wife act have, not only with each other, but the way that union enhances their relationship with the audience. No longer does it feel like there’s the band on one side of the room and the fans on the other, divided by an invisible, albeit see-through wall. Instead it feels like a gathering of like-minded friends who love spending the evening together. Of course an intimate venue like SPACE lends itself to such dynamics, though it also takes a willingness on the band’s behalf to bridge the gap that would ordinarily exist.

After treating the crowd to two long sets and a two-song encore, the Birds had meaningful conversations with all of the people who hung around afterward. Just like the care in which they approach their craft, JT and Ali (and really the entire backing band, which includes Nero’s brother Drew) took time to genuinely connect with anyone who approached them. Again, it was not an “OMG, I met the band” groupie situation, but instead an interaction between individuals who share a common, passionate interest.

While waiting to talk to Ali and JT we had another opportunity to speak with Mahra, at which time she graciously offered to take our picture with BoC. To say the couple are tremendously humble and kind is an understatement. They were as happy to see us as we were them and expressed their appreciation many times over. I asked them to sign the setlist I snagged from the piano, which they were glad to do. I also had JT sign a couple of CDs we purchased too. I know those actions scream “GROUPIE!” but trust me, it just isn’t like that.

Thankfully our drive home was much shorter than our earlier travels and contained a limited amount of rain. All we could talk about the whole time was how extraordinary the evening turned out to be and our love for Birds of Chicago.

In closing, I would be remiss if I didn’t explain that my worries about getting to the concert on time had started to melt away the moment we arrived. As I sat down next to the love of my life, much of the burden was lifted. It was completely gone by the time the band took the stage.

I also realized that although I mostly kept my composure in check, I was making a big deal over nothing. Whether we were ten feet from the stage or one hundred, I was very fortunate to be amongst friends (ones I was acquainted with and many I wasn’t), with a woman I adore, at a venue I love, witnessing a magical event only a select few were able to attend. That was something that traffic, rain, lack of air conditioning and anxiety couldn’t take from me. A perfect evening indeed!



Are Kim-less Pixies a Big Deal?



Much like the announcement Kim Deal was leaving the Pixies came out of left field, the news of a new single and video this morning came with little advanced fanfare as well. “Bagboy” is the first single released by the band since their 2004 reunion produced the download-only song “Bam Thwok-” ironically one of the few Pixies songs written and sung by Deal.

Given the infamous infighting between Deal and Pixies leader Black Francis throughout the band’s first incarnation, it came as no surprise that the bassist formally left the group two weeks ago. However, the cynics amongst the music world might point to the lusterless “Bagboy” as reason enough for her exit, though the background vocals sound an awful lot like Ms. Deal. Hours after the single was released, however, it was revealed that Francis’ friend Jeremy Dubs channeled his inner-Kim and sang the ditty’s chorus.

Whether Deal’s reasons for departing were due to more disputes with Francis or something else, the outpouring of support she’s received in the aftermath has been plentiful. That, along with the very mixed reviews this current release is garnering, makes one wonder how much support a Kimless Pixies will get. Meanwhile Deal has the Breeders to fall back on, along with many side projects to keep her busy.

Today’s developments have reaped quite a bit of attention, as witnessed by the buzz spreading across various music outlets and social media sites. But as the cliche goes, “everyone loves a good train wreck.” Only time will tell whether this new direction turns out to be a “Gigantic” success or “Death to the Pixies.”

UPDATE: The Pixies are no longer Kim-less, but a Kim by any other name than Deal might not prove so sweet.

Friday Filler 6/21/13



“And here to sing the National Anthem, Enigma recording artists The Dead Milkmen!”

While that would have raised quite a few eyebrows in 1987 and probably some today, the Milkmen were actually at Tiger Stadium as guests of utility infielder Jim Walewander. Walewander spent exactly 162 games in the majors (equivalent to one full season) over parts of four years. The ballplayer later claimed it was his association with the punk rock quartet that cut his career short and not his lifetime batting average of .215. Meanwhile, the Dead Milkmen went on to enjoy a lengthy career and are still making music today, along with playing an occasional gig. No word on whether Jim Walewander contributed to their success or not.
Walewander Milkmen

Keaggy and Hendrix: Phil-ing in the Blanks


Phil Keaggy
Some stories are so closely associated with an individual, that the mere mention of that person’s name immediately brings their defining moment to the forefront of one’s mind. Sometimes it is because a man or woman has achieved great success or accomplished a rare feat. In other instances somebody has gained notoriety or infamy due to ill behavior or committing a heinous crime. Another way a narrative and human being become inseparable is when a tall tale is told so often that fiction evolves into “truth.”

That happens to be the case with Mr. Phil Keaggy. If you are familiar with that name, in all likelihood your first thought upon reading it was, “gifted Christian guitarist who Jimi once said was the world’s greatest” or something to that effect. Not only have you heard the anecdote what seems like a million times, but you’ve probably recounted it yourself. Though it is mostly Christians who ignorantly spin this yarn, some non-believers speak of it as well-just not with the same enthusiasm or sense of pride.

There are also Eddie Van Halen and Eric Clapton variations, yet most often it is the Jimi Hendrix experience that is shared. Alas, it carries the same dead weight as the Cass Elliot choking stories. And despite having access to more fact-checking resources than ever before, [Insert name here]’s endorsement of Phil Keaggy as the “world’s greatest guitarist” parables will live on and poor Mama Cass will continue to be vilified.

The origin of this urban legend is not clear, though Snopes does a nice job of weighing the facts and debunking the fiction. The myth has been an attractive selling point for decades but Keaggy’s music does a fine job of (truthfully) speaking for itself and doesn’t need a guitar god’s seal of approval to do so.

Now that you have been enlightened, I believe it is your responsibility to educate others and put an end to the Phil falsehoods. If you have never heard of Keaggy and consider yourself a music lover, you have a responsibility too.

Sebadoh: The Secret Is Out



If the sun appears to be shining a little brighter and you have a little extra pep in your step, you must have already read the good news. If not, I will let you in on a little Secret: Joyful Noise Recordings, those flexi-loving sons of guns out of Indiana, have signed indie mainstays Sebadoh to their record label. The first order of business for Lou Barlow and Co. is a 10″ vinyl release of last year’s Secret EP, previously only available in digital format on Bandcamp and CD during their 2012 tour. This is just an appetizer, however, as Joyful Noise will also be serving up Defend Yourself, the band’s first full-length album since 1999’s The Sebadoh. The Secret EP is already available for pre-order (with immediate digital download) via the label’s website and officially hits the streets June 25. Defend Yourself has a release date of September 17.


Secret EP black vinyl

Sebadoh Secret EP
Secret EP Limited Edition green marble vinyl (300 hand-numbered copies)

Land of Linking: Another One Bites The Dust



It is the desire of many a baseball fan to criss-cross the country, hitting all of the Major League stadiums his or her time and wallet will allow. For some folks this dream becomes reality and they successfully attend games at a few different parks. However very few “hit for the cycle” and make it to every field.

While this lifelong White Sox fan would love to take part in such adventures, I am even more enamored with the idea of visiting various music locales throughout the country. Living close to Chicago, I have had the pleasure of attending shows at several establishments in the past twenty-five years, including the late, great Lounge Ax. Unfortunately a trek to Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey will remain a fantasy, as it was announced yesterday that the famed club is shutting its doors July 31. I guess the next best thing to being there is living vicariously through other fan’s recollections, including renowned music critic Jim Derogatis, who offered up his eulogy this afternoon. There is also a slew of concert footage shot at Maxwell’s on YouTube, such as this classic 1993 Stereolab offering:

If you care to chime in with your memories of Maxwell’s, please leave a comment below. R.I.P. to another legendary music hall.