Monthly Archives: October 2014

Chicago Humanities Festival Pick – Words with Friends: Stephin Merritt

We need more than two letters to define the fabulous and multi-faceted career of Stephin Merritt. Best known as the voice and songwriting talent behind The Magnetic Fields, Merritt has just penned 101 Two-Letter Words, a collection of poems for each of the 101 two-character phrases permissible in Scrabble. The book, illustrated with cartoons by the incomparable Roz Chast, is a witty resource for language aficionados and Words with Friends addicts everywhere. Along with Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! host Peter Sagal, Merritt joins us for an evening of wordy wonders—and maybe the largest-ever Scrabble game.

Concert Review: American Authors with The Mowgli’s and Oh Honey at Metro (October 29, 2014)

It’s a cool Chicago evening as we cruise to the Metro in a Honda.  It seems very appropriate as this tour is sponsored by Honda.  When corporations sponsor music events, it can at time get obnoxious, but for this show it was very tastefully done.  It allowed for a large screen to be placed at the back of the stage which displayed Oh Honey as we entered.  Throughout their set, they were very happy to be on stage and the audience who had arrived early were very pleased with their performance.  They closed out their set with their very catchy hit, “Be Okay”.  It feels true as they sing “What’s the point of dreaming when your life is great?”

During the set break, the screen plays music videos in high resolution of bands such as Grouplove and Neon Trees.  They also throw in an ad for a Honda motorcycle, but it is in the style of a music video, so it blends in nicely.  Then the screen displays “Mowgli’s” and the house lights go off.  An official voice announces, “Honda Civic presents: The Mowgli’s”.

All seven members of the band come out and completely fill the stage as the audience cheers.  They launch into their musical style of joyous rock and roll.  The lead singer tells the crowd Chicago is one of their favorite cities, and we believe them.  The guitarist on the left is even wearing a Scottie Pippen jersey, Bulls #33.  With one song remaining, the band asks what song the crowd wants to hear.  The band plays an extended while the lead singer says “The next song we will play is called…  San Francisco!”  The young crowd begins to jump as they close their set with their biggest hit to date.

After the stage is set for the next act, the entire Metro goes dark.  We can just barely see the drummer take the stage.  He bangs the drum twice and the screen blinks bright white with each slam knocking everyone back with the shock of such a bright light.  This attack of light and sound continues as the rest of American Authors take the stage and begin their first song.  Midway through their set, they cover Coldplay’s “Yellow”.  It’s a bit of an uninspired cover, but they redeem themselves later with a great rendition of Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me”.  During their entire set, they take full advantage of the screen including turning the venue into a disco during “Hit It”.  To close out their set, they play “Best Day Of My Life” to everyone’s delight.  We were surprised this wasn’t the final song of their encore and so we weren’t sure if they would return to the stage.  However, they did return.  They started their first encore song completely acoustic without microphones and amps.  Halfway through the song they switched to full on sounds and the effect was quite impressive.  They closed their set with “Oh, What A Life”, and we all agreed!

All in all, it was a fantastic show.  With this as an example of corporate sponsored touring, the future is bright!

American Authors

See the preview for this concert here.

Intern Pick! RAC with The Knocks and Speak at Concord Music Hall (November 1, 2014)


This solo project by André Allen Anjos is a live music experience that is very unique. The last time he was in Chicago, RAC played a majestic afternoon set at the Grove at Lollapalooza, impressing all fans from diehard followers to groupies waiting patiently for “The 1975”.

His live sets are unique because he sets a beat to well-known songs, and has a band that plays live instruments to add his own melodic, catchy, and groovy touch. Combining some of his songs that are rapidly gaining popularity (“Cheap Sunglasses”) with remixes of festival favorites from “Sweet Disposition” and “I Wanna Get Better”. His ingenious variety in his sets along with his catchy beats allow for the ultimate feel-good concert experience of dancing and singing along. This is a must-see for Chicago concert fanatics.

The Knocks

Similar to RAC, the Knocks have rapidly gained exposure through remixes. They have used remixes to draw attention to their own produced tunes. They have been named by NME magazine as one of the 20 hottest producers in music, and have shared the stage with huge artists such as Calvin Harris, Two Door Cinema Club, DeadMau5, Tiesto, and more.

This concert will be nothing short of a melodic euphoria. These artists put on fantastic shows that all fans of live music can certainly appreciate.

::Matt Peters

Intern Pick! The New Pornographers with The Pains of Being Pure At Heart at Riviera Theatre (November 14, 2014)

The New Pornographers with The Pains of Being Pure At Heart at Riviera Theatre (November 14, 2014)

The New Pornographers

A seven-piece pop supergroup from Vancouver, The New Pornographers are veterans of indie rock and power pop.  Featuring Dan Bejar of Destroyer, Kathryn Calder of Immaculate Machine, Neko Case of solo fame, John Collins of Destroyer and The Evaporators, Todd Fancey of solo fame, A. C. Newman of solo fame, and Blaine Thurier (a film producer), the band is filled with accomplished songwriters.  It’s no wonder The New Pornographers still have such catchy music, after 15 years and 6 albums, without sacrificing the artistic integrity they so effortlessly crafted.  With influences ranging from folk to punk, their catalog is replete with surprises.  Obscure, playful lyricism and layered pop melodies tend to make the band sound much smaller than it is, which is to say that each musician is used purposefully without overwhelming the arrangement.  Put simply, the band never feels crowded.  A playlist is absolutely necessary to begin to understand this group, because a single song cannot capture the expansive reach of their perfectly tempered sound.

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart

A five-piece indie pop band from New York City, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart is a skilled group with a strong focus on solid songwriting and memorable hooks.  Their sound hovers from indie pop to shoegaze to dream pop.  Similar to The New Pornographers, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart are adept and incorporating electronic elements into their music while maintaining an organic, at times almost acoustic, sound.  Whether intentionally or otherwise, they sound a bit like The New Pornographers playing Smiths covers.

Talha Obaid

MNF: Monday Night Frenzy: Shwayze with KIDD RUSSELL, Cam Meekins, Carlton, and Nikko Gray at Reggie’s Rock Club (November 3, 2014)

Shwayze with KIDD RUSSELL, Cam Meekins, Carlton, and Nikko Gray at Reggie’s Rock Club (November 3, 2014)


Shwayze claims to have grown up in a comparatively tough trailer park in one of Malibu’s less prosperous neighborhoods. Born Aaron Smith in 1986, legend has it Shwayze was working as an assistant to his handyman grandfather in 2005 when he began an impromptu on-stage freestyle with a friend, drummer Alex Orbison, prior to a local gig by Orbison’s band Whitestarr. Adler, Whitestarr’s singer/songwriter, was impressed enough with the young rapper that he started collaborating with him. Co-writing the songs with Adler producing, the duo came up with a mellow, largely acoustic sound akin to a hip-hop Jack Johnson, far removed from the glammy Southern rock revivalism of Adler’s own band. Shwayze signed to Geffen Records in 2007 and his self-titled debut album was released the following year, preceded by the single “Don’t Be Shy” and followed by a stint on the 2008 Vans Warped Tour. A year later they returned with the electro-influenced album Let It Beat along with the single “Get U Home.” ~ Stewart Mason, Rovi

Kidd Russell

Kidd Russell wrote a rap song about today’s holiday honoring Casimir Pulaski, the Polish freedom fighter who came to fight in the American Revolutionary War. Russell’s “Pulaski Day” is pretty much the opposite of Sufjan Steven’s “Casimir Pulaski Day” that every one else will be playing.

According to Russell’s website, he used to freestyle with professional wrestler Colt Cabana, who got Russell his first gig. Cabana also promoted the “Pulaski” video on his Twitter. The video has some sweet skyline shots. As for the lyrics, we agree it’s good to be in Chicago any day, but we’re not totally sure what it means to “party like Pulaski Day.”

Cam Meekins

With a flow as smooth as the pros, a shocking level of creative intelligence, maturity beyond his years and confident swag that will catch anyone’s attention, Cam Meekins is the definition ofthere’s more than meets the eye. Taking his nice and neat look for granted would be a mistake. Cam strings together lyrics that surpass his young adult peers and could challenge any of his superiors. More than just a hip hop artist, Cam is a learned musician, songwriter and visionary in control of his own destiny.


Carlton is an alternative-pop trio based in Los Angeles, California. They are characterized by well crafted pop songs with an energetic live show. They released their first self-produced EP “Stretching” in October of 2013 and have stayed busy touring up and down the west coast since then. In June of 2014, Carlton released their new single “Drift” to high critical acclaim, earning them features on notable music blogs such as Good Music All Day, The Burning Ear, and Kings of A&R. Carlton is currently working on a new release and will be touring with Shwayze on the 2014 Feel Good Tour this fall.

Nikko Gray

Nikko Gray is a singer-songwriter who was raised in the UK and the Netherlands but lives in the Los Angeles area now. She’s still relatively little-known U.S., but 2011 might be the year she raises her profile. She’s already off to a good start with the release of “Beautiful You Are,” an atmospheric, sensual ballad that’s just been posted on her Bandcamp site.

Halloween Pick: Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness with Hunter Hunted at Vic Theatre (October 31, 2014)

Andrew McMahon

Andrew McMahon wouldn’t know how to stop making music even if he tried. Having been in different bands since he was in his early teens, from Something Corporate to Jack’s Mannequin and now making solo records, this week saw him release his highly anticipated new album Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. Fusing catchy melody over an ever present piano, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness has everything fans have come to expect from the great songwriter. Measured lyrics and careful attention to detail weave themselves throughout the album. However, the record is in many respects a departure from what Andrew has released before. With an experimental production style and decidedly modern pop edge, don’t be surprised if Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness manages to infiltrate the pop charts. –

Hunter Hunted

The band members are Dan Chang and Michael Garner. The Los Angeles duo weave intricate vocal harmonies and heart beat rhythms into voluminous, soaring songs that toe the line between California indie and folk rock.

Midweek Pick: American Authors with The Mowgli’s and Oh Honey at Metro (October 29, 2014)

American Authors
A four-piece alt-rock outfit based in Brooklyn, American Authors use their razor-sharp musicianship and natural mastery of songcraft as a jumping-off point for sonic exploration. On their debut album Oh, What a Life, singer Zac Barnett, guitarist James Adam Shelley, bassist Dave Rublin, and drummer Matt Sanchez weave in everything from hip-hop grooves and Afro-Latin rhythms to dance-pop synths and Queen-inspired vocal harmonies—all while staying true to a rock-and-roll energy and melodic sensibility that’s highly refined. Featuring their breakout hit song “Best Day of My Life” and follow-up single “Believer”,” the sunny yet soulful Oh, What a Life is also built on a magnetic sense of optimism that’s carried American Authors from their formation at Boston’s Berklee College of Music to their down-and-out early years in Brooklyn to their current status as an internationally touring band on an ever-growing rise.
The Mowgli’s
4 childhood friends from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, augmented by 3 mid-western transplants, The Mowgli’s are a quintessential California band. Inspired by the magnetism of San Francisco, the grind of Los Angeles and the serenity of the Big Sur Coast, their songs are a joyous revival of rock n’ roll, a twisting indie-folk dance and a heartfelt protest ballad.

Sliding from indie pop to country and a host of genres in between, the band evokes modern artists such as Fun., Grouplove and Edward Sharpe And the Magnetic Zeros, whilst having their roots in the music of Neil Young, The Byrds, The Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac.

Oh Honey
Nowadays, “Oh, Honey” is not just something muttered under your breath at the bar. Instead it’s something worth singing out. In Brooklyn – ironically enough – honey farms seem to be on the up, especially for the residents of Williamsburg. Not just a way to make ends meet, the honey produced by these farms is worth commenting on, actually it’s worth singing about. Mitchy Collins and Danielle Bouchard decided to load up the succulent bandwagon and begin their own abundant crop venture. In searching for their niche as honey farmers, the duet discovered the mellifluous blend of their inner voices outside, wrote a few original songs, and never looked back!

Chicago Humanities Fest Pick: Rene Marie at Francis W. Parker School (November 4, 2014)

Rene Marie at Francis W. Parker School (November 4, 2014)
Poised to explode on the national scene, René Marie brings her infectious jazz stylings to a rare Chicago appearance with her trio. Fresh off her acclaimed album I Wanna Be Evil (With Love to Eartha Kitt), she pays homage in this program to the fiery chanteuse with sensual and clever interpretations of Kitt’s diverse repertoire and favorites from the Great American Songbook.

Courtney Barnett and San Fermin with Mikhael Paskalev at Metro (October 27, 2014)

Courtney Barnett

She is an Australian singer-songwriter and guitarist from Melbourne. Known for her witty, rambling lyrics and deadpan singing style,[1] she attracted attention from the North American and UK music press in October 2013[2] with the release of her debut full-length recording and well-received performances at the CMJ Music Marathon. At the latter event, Barnett was mentioned by both Rolling Stone[3] and The New York Times[4] as a standout performer.

San Fermin

The band is the work of Brooklyn composer and songwriter Ellis Ludwig-Leone. His self-titled debut album is strongly influenced by his unique background in classical music, which includes a job assisting composer/arranger Nico Muhly.

After finishing his musical studies at Yale, Ludwig-Leone wrote the album in six weeks while holed up in a studio on the mountainous border between Alberta and British Columbia. He focused on lifeʼs top-shelf issues – youth, nostalgia, anxiety, unrequited love – and tied these vast themes to different characters through vocal contributions from longtime friend Allen Tate, as well as Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius.

Mikhael Paskalev

His music is pop with roots in indie and alternative country rock. Inspired by names such as Paul Simon, The Shins, Edward Sharpe, the Mamas and the Papas and the Everly brothers. Paskalevs set is dynamic and varies from songs accompanied only by his nylon-strung guitar, to a six-piece band with the occasional trumpet and a circus of energy. The songs are mainly recognized by the instrumentation and the strong melodies, at times shamelessly catchy, but never leaves a lovely and raw soundscape.

Pick of Next Week: Tribal Seeds with Ballyhoo! and Beyond I Sight featuring Gonzo at Bottom Lounge (October 24, 2014)

Tribal Seeds with Ballyhoo! and Gonzo & Beyond I Sight at Bottom Lounge (October 24, 2014)

Tribal Seeds

From San Diego, California, award-winning reggae group Tribal Seeds have become known for their spiritually driven, refreshing rock vibe they have infused with the roots style of reggae music. Originally started by two brothers, Steven Rene Jacobo (lyrics, vocals, guitar) and Tony-Ray Jacobo (producer, keyboards, vocals). Tribal Seeds now boasts six members, including: Carlos Verdugo (drums), Victor Navarro (bass), E.N Young (keyboards, vocals) & Ryan Gonzo (guitar, vocals).


A rock band with punk energy and pop reggae grooves, Baltimore’s BALLYHOO! are a fun, fan-loving powerhouse. These road dogs have tirelessly toured coast-to-coast taking their music to the people. Between the road and the studio, BALLYHOO! have crafted a sound distinctly their own; fresh, fun, and embodied by the soul of the party lifestyle. Lead singer and guitarist, Howi Spangler, has a reputation for mixing slick lyrics with his smooth but powerful voice. Drummer Donald Spangler lays out the hard-hitting beats. Scott Vandrey layers in the finishing touches to the band’s signature sound on keys. The band recently welcomed Nick Lucera as their new bass player.

Beyond I Sight featuring Gonzo

Composed of seven of Southern California’s most talented reggae musicians hailing from various parts of Orange County and Los Angeles, Beyond I Sight has quickly risen to the top of the roots reggae scene. Deep bass lines and strict drums layered with tight skanks, rich keyboard layers and dub heavy horn lines are the foundation of this groups uniquely innovative sound. Combined with the smooth vocal styling of front man Ryan Gonzo (former guitarist/singer of Fortunate Youth, current guitarist/singer of Tribal Seeds), Beyond I Sight has emerged as a roots force to be reckoned with.