Thursday, December 28, 2017

Direct Hit!

This band has gotten me through a lot of rough moments this year. And it's ironic it was at one of their shows I hit one of my lowest points. But they've helped keep me going. I can't recommend this album enough.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

As the end of the year approaches...

I know most folks are off this week, so I don't have much to say. But I do know I'm not going to miss 2017.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Taking it easy this week.

So here is a golden oldie of Pickle being adorable.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Extended vacation!

For the first time in my life I'm working for a company that is actually closed between Christmas and New Year's. Yay! Happy holidays!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Thursday, December 21, 2017

What does the future hold?

Like you, I have no idea what the future holds. But I do know there is no way 2018 could be worse than 2017, so there's that.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Here's a change from the usual pace—a little something more tender from Burkes.

I literally know zero about Burkes aside than the fact they’re from Chicago, sent me their EP in October, and it took me until yesterday to finally listen to it. Sorry dudes!

If you’re looking for any easy classification, I might describe them as mid-tempo power pop, if you believe power-pop can actually be mid-tempo. It’s sweet and delicate stuff but never feels like it’s going to crumble in on itself—there’s enough of an internal rhythmic drive to keep things clipping along. The singer also has a tender voice that's still self-assured enough to maintain some interesting stuff in the tenor range.

It's all a little mellower than I tend to trend, but for the end of the year it's a nice change of pace.

The opening tune on their self-titled EP should be enough to let you know if this is your thing or not. I get the feeling they’re pretty early on still, as far as the existence of the band is concerned, so I’m curious to see where they go from here. They don't seem to have any shows planned, but they've played Burlington and Beat Kitchen so keep an eye on those scenes.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Thank you...

I know 99% know this as the theme to The Golden Girls, but man, the original full-length version is such a jam. My hat's off to Boing Boing for originally posting this so I had something lovely and unexpected to stumble across today.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Get garage glam punk with Affordable Hybrid.

Photo by Johan Björklund
I was going through Ye Olde tankPHONE (which is getting slower by the day, so thanks for that Apple and iOS 11!) and came across this 7' from Swedish punk glam garage outfit, Affordable Hybrid.

It was hidden in my 2016 songs playlist. I do a playlist for each year both to help me make an actual list of my favorite songs and to have things I know I immediately like whenever I DJ. Of course, not I only DJ once or twice a year, so that's not as important. And, come to think of it, I don't think I did a favorite songs list last year, so ... I guess I don't even know why I still keep these playlists!

Obviously this tune fell through the cracks and I never ended up writing about it or DJing with it. But I'm glad I did keep it in that folder but it's just the right thing to help get me through the rest of this Monday.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The United States of Pop, 2017 edition.

I've always really enjoyed DJ Earworm's mash-ups, and while this year's "United States of Pop" isn't quite as awesome as previous years—let's face it, it was a pretty weak year for pop—he makes the best of it and still manages to crank out another, well, earworm.

Stream or download via the above player and let's all go POP!

Spoiler alert: I sobbed through the entire final quarter of this movie.

I was lucky enough to catch a screening of David Bowie: The Last Five Years when it played CIMMfest last November, and it is just as excellent and heart-breaking as you'd expect it to be.

I can't wait to watch it again when it finally hits HBO next month.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Diamond not-so-in-the-rough.

Hannah Diamond
PC Music popster Hannah Diamond just surprise released a new EP, Soon I won’t see you at all. It’s a lovely little glittering piece of pop that feels like a blast on sunshine shooting across the tundra. The best part about it? You can download the whole thing for free.

On a dreary Midwestern day this slice of shiny and sleek music feels like the perfect antidote to the winter blahs.

You can listen to the opening tack below, but I’m not sure why you’d do that when the whole EP is available for zero dollars.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Nefarious Fat Cats helped me remember that rock and/or roll is meant to be loved.

Photo by Patrick Houdek
It's been a rough year, and sometimes I start to doubt whether I really have much to say about the rock and/or roll anymore, but Sunday's show at Liar's Club reaffirmed my belief that rock can save your life. (So can a DJ, but that's neither here nor there.) The Nefarious Fat Cats (Scott Lucas, Jake Burns, John Haggerty, Mark DeRosa, Herb Rosen, and Joe Haggerty) played a benefit for KT's Kids at Liar's Club Sunday night, and I can't remember the last time I had that much fun being in the middle of a raucous crowd that was just so in love with the music.

Here's a taste of what it was like.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Surprise! It's Lemuria!

I think Lemuria is one of those bands that's kind of just always been around that I never really got around to checking out. They're surprise releasing a new album, Recreational Hate, this week and I had a chance to listen to it this morning. I can assure you I'll be checking out more Lemuria in the future!

The band made the announcement on their website:
Thanks to everyone who took a gamble and purchased the "secret LP" we put up for sale back in August. We're excited to unveil that the LP you ordered is our new studio album, “Recreational Hate”.   Your trust and subsequent purchase enabled us to achieve some great feats with this release, including working with the 4-time Grammy winning producer and engineer Chris Shaw. We chose to work with him, in part, for his very eclectic discography, including the Weezer “Blue” album, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Ice Cube, Wilco, Public Enemy, Modest Mouse, A Tribe Called Quest, Ween and Lou Reed.  You also gave us the opportunity to launch Turbo Worldwide, our new record label and home base for all things Lemuria.
Folks  that ordered blind are getting the album this week. Everyone else will have to wait until February of next year.

Crunchy guitar hooks and a variety of song treatments with interesting little musical touches really made my day this morning. And further makes the case for not putting together "year end" lists until the year's actually ended! If you dig The Rentals or early Weezer I think you'll dig this.

Check out the first single below, and you can get the whole album on their website once the pre-order goes live. It's really good.

Friday, December 08, 2017

It's been a week!

There have been highs, there have been lows, and there's been much to think about. But the one thing I'm certain of is that I am ecstatic it's Friday!

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Debbie Harry and Joan Jett in a video together? Hell yes!

Joan Jett helps Debbie Harry out at the anchor desk in the new video for Blondie's "Doom Or Destiny" of this year's Pollinator. And it kicks so much ass!

Also, if you haven't checked out Pollinator yet, you really should. Blondie is one of those bands who aren't phoning it in post-reunion, and would instead prefer to create albums that, well, still ick ass.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

MAMA makes the grade.

MAMA, photo by Amanda Olbrys from their Facebook page
A friend recommended I check out Chicago’s MAMA a few months ago and I went in without having checked out any of their music ahead of time. Sometimes I like to be totally surprised, and I definitely walked out of the show surprised.

They were playing in the back room of one of Logan Square’s diver dives, so I was expecting to hear some sloppy but good garage rock. Instead I was treated to something that had far more in common with someone like Thin Lizzy—all manic drumming, tight guitar lines, and vocal melodies anchored by hooks galore.

So of course as soon as I went home I bought their entire catalog on Bandcamp.

Their first releases have the core of what makes the band great, but I think last year’s Eye In The Sky is where they found the perfect balance between abandon and precision that I saw in that bar that night a few months ago.

The group is playing LiveWire tomorrow night (Dec. 7). If you bring bring in a non-perishable food item for the Greater Chicago Food Depository you can check out the show for free. Otherwise there’s an $8 cover. However you gain entry, I highly recommend you do. If you can’t make the show, the band gigs pretty frequently so I’d join their Facebook page so you can check them out next time they play.

Here’s some music to convince you. But it’ll be seeing MAMA live that’ll make you a full convert.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

How much new music did I listen to in November 2017? Let's find out!

When I'm feeling blue, looking at this adorable photo of Sasha the Cat helps.
Yeah, this was a miserable month for me. I'm pretty certain November 2017 will long be remembered as a personally really dark period. Because of that, when I did listen to music, which wasn't terribly often, I tended to go straight for comfort food.

I wish I could say I'm optimistic December will be different, but considering the current state of things, coupled with what appears to be the appearance of absolutely miserable winter weather, I'm not getting my hopes up.

As always, here’s a guide to my rating system.

Total number of new/upcoming releases listened to in October 2017: 19

Number of those releases that rated 7-10: 1

Number of those releases that rated 4-6: 14

Number of those releases that rated 1-3: 4

Highest rated album: Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Rest took the title this month.

New band I’d never heard of that caught me off guard: Telthon’s The Grand Spontanean epic punk opera caught me totally off guard. You should check it out too.

Most surprising discovery: Ana Scent’s slinky electro pop was recommended to me by a friend, and I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. They only have 3 songs right now so I’m curious to hear more.

Monday, December 04, 2017

I've barely touched my email or social media since last week.

I've been on vacation since Thursday, and have avoided most things digital over that time. Since Chicagoist shuttered I've been feeling like maybe I don't have to be so plugged in all the time. But that also means I've been spending a lot of time with "me," in my own head, without the immediate escape that would be offered scrolling through my feeds. There's a lot going on right now and I think it's better if I do focus on myself. It's much harder work, but I think I'll be better for it.

Naturally, I'll always keep up on my weekday posts here, but if you notice a little (or a lot) less of me in other digital corners, now you'll know why.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Pretty light month for me, music-wise.

We still have another day to go, but my list of albums listened to in the month of November is looking pretty slim.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Kickback melts an outdoor patio with 'Rube.'

The Kickback
I keep meaning to write a proper review of The Kickback’s Weddings & Funerals, but each time I was going to try and tie it to one of their shows, said show would get canceled. As I’m sure singer Billy Yost would say, “What did you expect?” Since it’s definitely one of my favorite albums of the year I guess I’ll finally get to write a capsule review of it when it inevitably ends up on my “best of” 2017 list in the next week or so.

I mean the furthest I got was a blurb back in May reading:
The new music finds frontman Billy Yost processing his recent divorce, and the result is an album of sometimes harrowing but always excellent work. It also sees the band as a whole pushing their sound in new directions without abandoning the left-of-center hooks and melodic sensibility that made us fall in love with them. Misery rarely sounds this entertaining, and we like it.
Here’s a live rendition of the band preforming “Rube” on the patio of Parson’s Chicken and Fish. Which, of all the things I’ve seen the band do over the years, might be is definitely one of the weirdest settings I’ve ever seen them play.

It could have been painfully awkward, but Yost and the band manage to mentally transport themselves to another space entirely and rip out a searing version of a song that already started of as scalding. I've been playing the album an awful lot lately for personal reasons, and it still stands up just as powerfully as it did the first time I heard it, so you should probably pick up your own copy if you haven't already.

[h/t CoS]

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Wisconsin's Telethon goes all in with a brand new, full-length, punk rock opera that might blow your mind.

I don’t think it will surprise anyone that I’m only slowly starting to get back into the groove of listening to new music. After the events of November 2, it’s taken me a while to even want to write at all again, much less listen to new stuff. But I am who I am, and of course it was only going to be a matter of time before I started digging through the inbox with anything resembling life again.

So what timing! The subject line in an email I got yesterday read “The 90-minute, 30-track punk rock opera that just might be your new favorite record….” And hot damn if that doesn’t sound like something I would love, right? Of course the danger is that often a promise like that falls really flat—but I couldn’t resist giving it a listen.

Luckily for my fragile and recovering soul, Milwaukee’s Telethon delivers on that subject line’s promise with their new album The Grand Spontanean: A Tale Told In Five Acts.

See? They're not all serious all the time.
Much like their neighbors Tenement, Telethon are ostensibly “punk rock” but veer all over the place genre-wise on The Grand Spontanean. The album comes with a meticulously put together playbill that outlines the troy within, but I’ll admit that since I’ve only had the music since yesterday I honestly have no idea what the grand storyline is. The grand, sweeping collection of music is probably bolstered by the album’s concept, but it stands completely on its own (so don’t let the term “punk rock opera” turn you off if you’re afraid it’s wither too high concept or prog to digest).

And I'm reading some press calling these folks "emo." Don't believe that either. It's just really good fucking rock and roll that isn't afraid of bursting expectations and boundaries in service of each song's specific wants and needs.

Throughout the album there are "fake" punk rock bands within the band (The New Improbables); guest stars galore including Laura Stevenson, Franz Nicolay, Roger Lima, Chris Farren, and Peter Hess. And the whole thing was prodcued by Jack Shirley, who has also been behind the boards for other recent faves of mine from Jeff Rosenstock and Joyce Manor (and I guess he’s also worked with Deafheaven, but I confess I’ve never really been able to get into them, so I’m less familiar).

The most amazing thing about this musical feat is that the band is currently offering the album for free or pay-what-you-want on Bandcamp right now. So you would be an absolute fool to not even just check it out.

Sadly, they don’t appear to have any shows currently scheduled, but after seeing where they’ve been playing in Chicago it appears MPShows is still way ahead of the curve and have already done a handful of events with the band, so hopefully it won’t be long before they make it back through town. Should they venture into your neighborhood though, I suspect theirs is a live act very much worth checking out.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A new soon-to-be holiday classic from Dude York!

I’m noticing more groups are releasing holiday theme albums populated by original material, giving me hope that while folks will always love the “classics” perhaps the canon has some room for a little growth and modernizing.

Dude York’s Sincerely came out near the beginning of the year and remains one of my favorite releases of 2017, but the group hasn’t rested on those laurels, oh no! They’ve kept busy touring throughout the year and yet still found time to record a new album of festive new tunes with a holiday bent.

Enjoy the video for the lead single “Break Up Holiday” above, and visit the player below to pick up the whole album and put t little grit into your Christmas / Hanukkah / Kwanzaa / Festivus / etc.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Slinky, sexy fun Swedish pop from Tove Lo, just for you.

Tove Lo
Let's brighten things up a bit today.

I'm really enjoying Tove  Lo's new album, BLUE LIPS (lady wood phase II). It's smart and edgy pop,

Her music is dirty, sexy stuff, mining that “I am the rebel of mainstream pop and dangerous!” thing. And I definitely appreciate she has so much songwriting credit through the whole album. She's not someone else's mouthpiece, or only talented because of her appearance or voice. I’ve caught her live as well, so can vouch that she’s the real deal and super entertaining even outside a studio.

You've probably already listened to or seen the video for the first single "Disco Tits," so here's one of the more mellow, slinky cuts off the album.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

It's getting really hard to be thankful, these days.

I am thankful for these goofballs.
The year of 2017, in particular the month of November, has been pretty much awful. So as I read feeds full of posts about how thankful everyone is for everything, I'm having a hard time identifying.

I've spent most of today going over what I am thankful for, though, and did manage to come up with a few things:
  • The support and love of family and friends during trying times.
  • Pickle the Kitten and Sasha the Cat, who always seem to know when I need them.
  • I finally got to see Tom Petty. 
  • My house.
It's not much, but it's all I could muster. Here's hoping this is just the lowest point and things start looking up after this. Here's hoping for a strong finish to the year with December!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Take this song and run with it.

Charlotte Gainsbourg's Rest is really helping be get through today. May favorite track is probably "Sylvia Says," but that doesn't seem to be a single (yet?), so here's another upbeat favorite.

The whole album is really great. I recommend it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

It's going to be a long winter pt. 2.

Does it just seem like nothing is getting any better, anywhere? It's really starting to get to me. I was hoping after a year of this I'd finally be in a place where it felt like progress was being made, but instead I feel like I'm right back at square one. I know I have no choice but to keep moving forward but it's hard.

The world feels like a very dark place right now. I'm hoping there's sunlight right around the corner.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

It's a Chance dance party!

When I saw this promo last night on TV I had just finished writing yesterday's piece on Elton John and I immediately burst out laughing. Were Chicagoist still around, this would be appearing there along with probably 300 words about how awesome Chance the Rapper is, but for now it will just have to live here and brighten the world from this perch.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

I’ve been listening to Elton John all day.

Elton John, photo by Terry O'Neill
So the new mega-collection of Elton John music popped into my inbox, and I just sort of absent-mindedly put it on. Almost 4 hours later I ended up starting again fro track 1. I guess I had forgotten what a huge fan of his I was when I was a kid, and how often I played my parent’s copy of Elton John's Greatest Hits on our huge “compact” home stereo.

Years later I would get Elton John's Greatest Hits Vol. 3—probably courtesy my billionth Columbia House Music membership—and while it’s got a few upbeat jams I think it’s the sad songs I connected with. I was probably just on the cusp of discovering all the other music with melancholic tinge that would carry me into my “cooler” late teens. But it did the trick.

Of course I also went through a period, probably about 13 or 14 years ago, where I dove deep into his older albums like Honky Château and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, mainly because they were being re-released and I just wanted to constantly pick up new music at Tower Records. Of course the re-releases also meant there were think-pieces reminding people like me that while John had lots of pop hits he had also done plenty of “serious” work, especially in the ‘70s.

This is all a long winded way for me to set the stage wherein I discovered that I think Elton John is musical comfort food for me! He keeps popping up in times where I am feeling particularly low, often without me even realizing it.

I watched the new documentary David Bowie: The Last Five Years on Sunday, and while David Bowie is probably my core musical comfort food, it had me sobbing by the end. So given the fact that I’m feeling a little emotionally raw right now I haven’t really been able to turn to Bowie’s music. So I’m glad Reg Dwight popped up with this marvelous new compilation at just the right time.

Monday, November 13, 2017

How much new music did I listen to in October 2017? Let's find out!

Sitting in judgement.
Well, this was a tad delayed, huh.

I was on a real listening tear in October, trying to get ahead of the 4th quarter flood of releases while also realizing that this year I would probably have to get a Best of 2017” list up in November instead of near the end of December. But hey, looks like the pressure is no longer me to do that any more!


As always, here’s a guide to my rating system.

Total number of new/upcoming releases listened to in October 2017: 76

Number of those releases that rated 7-10: 3

Number of those releases that rated 4-6: 50

Number of those releases that rated 1-3: 23

Highest rated album: The self-titled debut from Warbly Jets is really great. Straight from my notes is “Blur + Super Furry Animals + The Verve + Primal Scream = Warbly Jets. I REALLY LIKE THIS.” So, there you have it.

New band I’d never heard of that caught me off guard: WATERS’ I Don’t Wanna Grow Up was a total unexpected pleasure, even though I’ve been told I should have been aware of them quite a long time ago. Whoops!

Most surprising discovery: That Cut Copy could actually release a pretty mediocre album, which made me very, very sad.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Sneak peek into TSwift.

It should be up soon, but here's a peek into my review of the new Taylor Swift album.
To me this is Swift’s power—she is super famous but she is also just like us. To a point that is almost embarrassing. Like, is there a more perfect encapsulation of late night party longing than “You should take it as a compliment / That I got drunk and made fun of the way you talk / You should think about the consequence / Of your magnetic field being a little too strong.”? No. There isn’t. You feel the pain and frustration and longing because you have been there.
UPDATE: It's up! Read it now.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

I'm spent.

It's been quite a week and I just have zero juice in me, so instead this debut album from Warbly Jets.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

My thoughts on Chicagoist: part three.

Blame the guy on the left for "Tankboy" remaining my byline. Photo by Rachelle Bowden.
It's been quite a week of personal loss for me. At the same time, there is only so much mourning you can do before you simply have to move on. More importantly, there's only so much mourning you can do before people who were sympathetic just start to roll their eyes and get bored. So let's wind this down for now. Tomorrow I'll post about what the future holds, but consider this the end (for now) of the "My thoughts on Chicagoist" series.

Chicagoist got me on TV, on the radio, into magazines, onto panels, and into more amazing events than a human being should probably encounter in a single life. But none of that was what made my experience at the website so great.

I had the great fortune of bringing many great writers into the Chicagoist fold, helping them find their voice before they moved onto bigger and better things. The truth is every writer I added to the A&E beat made my life better, and the city's life better, by graciously sharing their talents.

And my co-editors through the years were tremendous partners as well. They pushed me to make my beat better, and pushed and prodded me into being a better, sharper writer.

There is no way I can personally thank every person I worked with here, but a single look at the Chicagoist staff page and the "thanks" section at the bottom, is proof of what an immense amount of talent I've had the honor of working with over the past 12 years at Chicagoist. And I'll get this out of the way at the top—thanks to Jen Chung and Jen Carlson for all their help through the years, and to Jake Dobkin for his unerring Dobkin-ness. Without that trio there wouldn't be a Chicagoist in the first place.

Chicagoist Prime and Jen Chung.
On the editorial side the early years have to include shoutouts to Rachelle Bowden (Chicagoist Prime!) and Scott Smith (who you can also blame for me continuing to use the name Tankboy since even back then he recognized the value of "brand recognition" in online media). And the return of Margaret Lyons to the fold brought a new era of focus to the site, along with an even sharper with to the tone. After her little Marcus Gilmer, who started as a music writer, ushered Chicagoist into an even bigger and better era of both content and recognition. Once he exited, Chuck Sudo left his longtime role as food editor to steer the ship, and though we constantly argued over Chicago Manual vs. AP style (he won, and AP became the standard) we, with the help of Sam Abernethy, started Chicagoist on its journey to add more original reporting to our already original food and arts coverage. We were a pretty tight knit crew and the site continued to flourish.

Here I'll take a slight detour and tip my hat to food editors Melissa McEwen and Anthony Todd. Melissa's crazy insane ability to take raw data and turn it into an entertaining post always amazed me, and Anthony ended up being a confidant when times got weird—that happens over a decade—even if he never could convince me to widen my palate much beyond my love of hamburgers.

Jesus, this is going to go on for a while.

One of Chicago's best blogs. Period. The Trib got that right, for sure!
Lisa White came in as an associate editor, and I was happy about her joining the team since we had already been friends for years, and when she took over when Chuck left the site got even better because she loved arts and food coverage equally, and had a deep understanding of both. At the time we were also starting to cover more and more "serious" news so she eventually brought Rachel Cromidas on, and her skills and experience at harder reporting added a new dimension to Chicagoist. When Lisa decided it was time for her to move on to new things, Rachel stepped in and helmed the site until its end. And over the last year I had the distinct pleasure to work with Stephen Gossett, who could somehow write thousands of words a day on a wide variety of subjects, and make each post insightful and smart (often with a knowing wink and sly smile) that I found, frankly, superhuman at times.

There are a ton of stories between the lines typed above. There were fights. There were laughs. There were meetings resembling stare-downs in Wild West saloons, and there was hugging (I hate hugging, but it was O.K. with these people) and deep friendships that all still remain in place. I've worked many jobs in my life, and usually when someone leaves they drop out of your thoughts, but the people above and I have kept in touch over the years and I could count any of them to bail me out of jail. Still.

And the A&E writers. There were so many over the years. I'm afraid if I start thanking each individually this post will rival the New Testament in length so I'm going to cheat and just mention Aaron Cynic (who primarily covered politics and the tin-foil cap beat (I kid, I kid, Aaron!) over the last 8 years, but also brought his talents to plenty of music posts, and Michelle Meywes (oh, wait, now her last name is Kopeny!) who I poached from Gapers Block (sorry, not sorry Andrew!) and remains one of my absolute favorite writers.

So, another detour. With Michelle, we started dating when I was at the -ist and she was at GB. And to be honest I wanted to steal her talents much earlier than I did, but we both agreed it was better for her to establish herself as a writer on her own, and not a writer whose editor was her boyfriend. She hasn't decided what her next steps will be, but whatever periodical or website snags her is going to be incredibly lucky. And I'm not saying that as her husband; I'm saying that as someone who views her as serious competition.

Early group photo. I think I was outside smoking? I was good at avoiding group photos.
Last night we were bowling at the kick-off of the Chicago Media Bowling League season, and she was talking with a teammate, and I overheard them discussing what they viewed as the best advice I gave them as a writer. I'll get it wrong, but consider the below my attempt to paraphrase the gist of their conversation. Also, young 'un, just starting journalists of all beats, you might find this helpful.

Bands are not your friends. Publicists are not your friends. If you're covering a story, the people you interview, and the subjects you are writing about are not your friends. I'm not saying you can't like these people, or that outside the piece they are your best friends in real life. But when writing, your only friend is the truth. And you should never let a personal relationship get in the way of that.

That seems like a good place to end. For now. Thanks for reading, friend.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

My thoughts on Chicagoist: part two.

The Wrens in 2009, photo by me
From our earliest years other periodicals constantly wrote Chicagoist off as a "news aggregation" site.* And then couldn't figure out how we kept slowly and steadily growing. But we were never a news aggregator at our core. Sure, we commented on the news of the day, but that was more a series of op ed pieces with sharp and intelligent voices.

But competitors missed the secret sauce our fans were already devouring.

Chicagoist dished out arts and food news in a way that broadened horizons while remaining palatable to the uninitiated. I don't think think it's a fluke at all that the majority of our editors-in-chief came from the background of writing about food or the arts for the site. People don't become a fan of a site for covering recent shootings or a sensational city council fracas or a sports star's alleged indiscretions; they do it because the writers and what they have to say can have an influence on the things that drive them day to day; the things they love; the things that make them feel.

And Chicagoist was the best at doing that in the city. We didn't make you feel dumb about what you didn't know, we made you feel like you had all kinds of new discoveries ahead of you and we were your guide as you traversed new territories. In Chicagoist's golden ages, we were the voice of the city to so, so many people. Many sites attempted this trick but none replicated it.

Sure, we were snarky, and could sound jaded, at times, but we were always on your side. We taught but we didn't lecture. We guided without preaching. We were one of the only places—anywhere—that would tell you about bands you would actually see without already being a fan, and convince you to try out food without the imprimatur of the bougie bent of most foodie sites.

We told you the truth. So you trusted us. And you were rewarded. And we were triply rewarded because there is nothing better than helping someone make a discovery that truly affects** them.

And we rewarded close reads. I won't repeat all the inside jokes, but there were days hundreds of readers got them and teased us for them. Because we were a community.

One Great Sandwich: PB&J from 2009
Maybe that's the thing. For much of our run we were a community. You came to us because we were family, albeit family in the way your older sibling is like, "dude, you need to know this." And sometimes you fought with us, and we swiped back; but we were all in it together.

Yes, that changed. As "new media" shifted we started to as well. We started to lose that community, but we never completely lost it (and I would argue since last July we had come a long way to bringing the "old" Chicagoist spirit back to the site after a year of turbulence that even the readers noticed, but readers not driven by Facebook algorithms were returning in greater and greater numbers—quality readership was back).

Watcha Wearin' fashion entry, 2009
Even when we were acquired, it was made plain our strengths were in arts and entertainment and food writing, because no one else was doing it as engagingly as we were on a regular basis. And, this is a story for a later installment, but I did try to leave the site at a point where I thought that kind of coverage was no longer being appreciated. But I was convinced to stay because the powers that be, despite what opponents to that thinking at the time might have believed, were certain that the arts and entertainment and food coverage were the soul of the site.

The reason you are hurting, and I am most certainly hurting, now, is because no one else in Chicago  fed your heart and your belly like we did. And both will feel empty now.

Tomorrow, "bands are not your friends", AP vs. Chicago Manual of Style, and the beginning but certainly not the end of my gushing about the people I worked with.

*Worth noting, we never, as a whole, ever indulged in that competitiveness that breeds discord among many local writing tribes. Did we have spats? Sure. But aside from a playful rivalry with someone like Gapers Block in our earliest days—which, by the way, had anyone noticed, also included us doing shows together, and DJing together, and supporting each other's events which should really tell you al you need to know about how serious even that "rivalry" was—nope.

**I've written professionally for close to 3 decades and I am still always unsure whether I'm using the correct affect vs. effect thing. But hey, that fallibility can be endearing, right? RIGHT?

Monday, November 06, 2017

My thoughts on Chicagoist: part one.

10th anniversary koozies. And yes we still have some in our house. Want one?
A key takeaway in this New York Times piece, that almost every other piece has missed while focusing on the DNAinfo portion of the story of the sudden shuttering of so many new outlets:
Gothamist, on the other hand, was profitable, and a fairly recent addition to the company.
In a perfect world, Mr. Ricketts would release sites like Chicagoist to run themselves again. Heck, I’d be happy to help run Chicagoist as a largely volunteer driven collective of smart writers covering arts and food and new with a biting edge again.

There is a place for it.

And if I can’t do it at Chicagoist I’ll do it elsewhere, and help bring another site to the heights Chicagoist earned.

But, maybe?

TO BE CLEAR I always respected the work of DNAinfo Chicago writers—I was long a fan of much of their much-needed writing covering the city's neighborhoods at a granular level—and also respected that Ricketts supported hyper-local news in the form that was almost a patron of the media (and anyone that thought any writer for DNA would ever self-edit to match Ricketts politics is sorely wrong).

But the -ists? As a collective, over the years, we did make money (you think we survived 15+ years without making a cent?) and as a whole we were self-supporting. And I know we never bent to anyone for ad dollars. (Hell I can think of more than one front page takeover that was unintentionally met with a review or news story that directly opposed the ad buyer's intentions.)

We built our reputation on writing that championed arts, culture, and food;  and offered a pointed take on the news of the day. To me the core of Chicagoist through most of its tenure—and I think many longtime readers would agree with me—was our original content. I brought on dozens of writers during my tenure and they all wrote smart, interesting takes on music, dance, theater, books, museums and more. And my compatriots brought on writers who tackled the city's food scene intelligently even before our corners were filled with Michelin recognized restaurants.

Our reputation, the one that made readers follow and grow the site, was built on turning people onto new stuff. But, I'll delve more into the highs and lows of that in a separate post. My point is, we were always, proudly, defiantly, an -ist.

And even post acquisition, we were never really all that integrated or subsumed into the Ricketts culture. Heck, last Friday was the first time the firewall came down and most of us in Chicago even spoke to our our DNA friends. Which is to say, until the end, we remained fierce outliers.

The woman that started Chicagoist, and the woman I married that I met through Chicagoist.
So while I wish we could just regain control of Chicagoist (which I’m sure is a legal warren of tunnels we could never navigate) I’d ask this:

Separate your eulogies between DNA and the -ists. We were always two different entities, each with individual strengths (and, probably, weaknesses) but we weren’t the same. The only way we’re the same is we are all victims of the journalistic slaughter of late Thursday.

But hey. Phoenixes rise, right?

Tomorrow I'll get mushy, and talk about the history of Chicagoist, and the writers that made it great (and some of the obstacles the site encountered through over a decade in the digital landscape) but for today I had to share these initial thoughts. I hope that was OK with you.

UPDATE: Read part two and part three of my thoughts as well.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Speechless about Chicagoist.

I need some time to gather my own thoughts about the sudden and unexpected shuttering of the website I dedicated the last 12+ years of my life writing for, but for now I recommend reading this wonderful and moving piece about the end of Chicagoist that Mich composed this morning.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

The Struts are truly rock stars.

The Struts, photo by me.
Monday night's The Struts concert was really, really great. And a reminder you can be arena-worthy and still remain gracious entertainers and good people. Check out my review and photos of the show on Chicagoist!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy halloween!

This Halloween has seemed much less festive than recent years. I don't know if it's the general social climate, or the fact that it's no longer a big drinking or partying holiday for me any more, or what. But hey, it's still one of my favorite holidays of the year, so however you're celebrating, have a good one!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Industrial Age.

Jesus Jones Liquidizer (1989)
Jane’s Addiction Nothing’s Shocking (1988)
Walt Mink Miss Happiness (1992)
Flaming Lips In A Priest Driven Ambulance (1990)
Mercury Rev Yerself Is Steam (1991)
Pavement Crooked Rain Crooked Rain (1994)

The above albums are listed in the order I experienced them from a period ranging from Junior in High School to a few years after I initially dropped out of college. (I have since gone back and graduated with my Bachelors so don’t use Tankboy as an excuse to drop out of college. Be cool! Stay in school!)

The reason these albums are important to me is they serve as touch-stones in particularly powerful moments in my musical development. Each album struck a deep chord in me by creating noises I’d heard in my soul, had been yearning to hear reconstructed and touched off great joy through the realization that other people heard the same weird sounds I did.

Jesus Jones were the first to really meld the electronic with the rock and /or roll with results that actually sounded organic in a day before samplers and synths could easily reconstruct organic bliss out of beats.

Jane’s Addictiction did for me what Led Zeppelin did for a generation before me as it melded the primal and mystical and plugging directly into my inner anger and hopefulness.

Walt Mink just kicked my ass. Period. Guitars ruled the world and J. Waronker’s drumming inspired me to learn the skins myself. Plus I won a t-shirt at one of their concerts becasue I knew Rosie Grier sang "It's Alright To Cry." Yay for trivia!

Both The Lips and Mercury Rev provided the soundtracks to my acid-soaked era and reassured me through the proof that there were indeed people out there far more fucked up than I could ever hope to be.

Finally Pavement provided the perfect segue from the hangover induced by the early ‘90s hopefulness brought on by the alterna-rock boom. It was growing obvious that Indie would not, in fact, rule the world but we could take solace that groups like Pavement still existed.

There are loads more albums that have deeply affected me but this small sampling seems to me the most personal and probably some of the deepest hitting. Tons of discs have continued to influence me but as time grows on their influence grows weaker and my tastes grow ever more defined. I’m still surprised by a bit of bliss out of left field but rarely does anything make me feel as giddy as these discs did at the times I encountered them.

These are the albums that made it impossible for me not to fall in love with music.


Chemical Brothers Exit Planet Dust (1995)
Fatboy Slim Better Living Through Chemistry (1996)

I always loved dance music.
These two albums taught dance how to truly rock.
It was about here that I stared spinning lots of electronic music.
I have since rotated back into the rock and soul category but these discs still pop up occasionally.


Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Orange (1994)

Take my word for it.
Grabbed a loved one, snuggle through the intro and then get down and dirty.
Truuuuust me...

Friday, October 27, 2017

Age of Enlightenment.

The ground work was laid so it was only a matter of time before my music collection began to grow exponentially with the crossing paths of college and my first credit card.

It took me seven years to pay off that initial debt and music was the reason. Okay, some cigarettes were involved as well but most of my dough was blown on music.

Chia Pet, The Blue Meanies, N.I.L.8., Operation Ivy, Psychic TV, Public Enemy, Sisters Of Mercy, Smashing Pumpkins, The Stone Roses, Blur
Notice how there are no dates above? This is because at this point specific albums had less effect on me and the cumulative presence of a group really began to get its grasp on my head and heart. Each of the bands above made a singular mark on me and caused me to shake my ass and bob my head whenever one of their songs came on.

It gets increasingly difficult to track what effected me now in this time period since I was immersed in just this total flood of new music. In addition I was getting turned on to catching as many live shows as I could bluff my way past the bouncers at the only dive bar in town that put on live music worth seeing named The Gallery. Incidentally The Gallery would figure large in my future as it’s where I got both my DJing and bartending start.

Nothing really stands out from this time period due to the immense amount of tunes I was processing but I do remember the feelings generated by lots of cool live shows and sitting on the hill outside of my dorm with my stereo speakers facing out the window at top volume. Oh yeah, once I moved into an apartment my time was consumed with making mix-tapes for our weekly parties. This is back in the days when the kids danced to the rock and my downstairs neighbors would grab me every Thursday and make me watch their ceiling as it bounced back and forth under the weight of the mad dancing occurring upstairs.

It was at this time that I realized music was a powerful communicator and I needed to spread its gospel. It’s also about this time I started my first band and got in the habit of wearing a hockey mask and a skirt onstage. Also I learned that a girl dancing naked to The Cult was a good good thing.

God the late ‘80s and early ‘90s kicked ass.


The Grateful Dead. I literally went through every single fucking musical genre at this point in life to see what stuck and what didn’t. I tried to dig The Dead since I dug smoking pot and hippies seemed okay (my view on this was to change soon enough) but I just couldn’t stand the band. I hated them. They became my musical arch-nemesis. I still think they are totally evil.

I do dig the Jane's Adiction cover of "Ripple" though. Funny, huh?

I hated the band so much that when Jerry Garcia died a number of my friends wouldn’t accept phone calls for weeks from me for fear I was only ringing them up to tease ‘em. Jesus, I'm not that heartless.

Thursday, October 26, 2017


I, much like most other folks, really hit my musical stride in high school. In junior high there was this girl at the Catcholic School I went to named Mary Jo Gormley. She had hair dyed gold and wore fishnets on her forearms and she kept carving the initials DK and mumbling about some guy named Jello. In a different world I might have been thrown head first into the punk scene but it was at this point I moved to Illinois and took up residence in a suburb just outside of Chicago.

It was right about then that I was introduced and immersed in my adolescent holy quad.

David Bowie Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)

The Who Quadrophenia (1973)

Pink Floyd Dark Side Of The Moon (1972)

Rush 2112 (1976)

This was probably the time period that cemented my future. I couldn’t live without the artists named above and I bought every single thing I could get my hands on to further my knowledge of each group. Pink Floyd appealed to the bleak outlook that permeates every teen’s brain from time to time. The Who provided the optimistic drive and bombast that surges through the veins of every hormone ridden boy. Rush continued that sugar rush with precisely pounding rhythm and soaring vocal melodies that I didn’t realize until later in life tend to make girls’ ears bleed.

And Bowie.

Bowie was the one that taught me styles were malleable and that sometimes the look was as important as the song when it came to the live presentation. He appealed to the art student in me and provided a catalog so huge and diverse I took endless delight in swimming through it and educating myself based on his influences. As time went on Bowie was one of the few that remained a brightly burning constant – as long as I overlooked most of the ‘80s which wasn’t hard since he had just so much to digest – and in recent years has pleased me with a fine return to form. As a matter of fact I saw him just last night in Chicago [This was originally written in 2004 and OH MY GOD how did I just toss that observation off ... it would end up being his final tour.] and he provided proof that rock and/or rollers need not relegate themselves to greatest hits tours or laughable albums of new material as long as they are willing to constantly challenge themselves in an effort to stay fresh without fear of falling flat on their face. Actually the aging artist that falls on his face grandly, as Bowie did on his outside album, often garners greater respect for at least being brave enough to take a risk when they could be coasting.

I digress.

It should be noted that none of the above artists were enjoying particularly wide-spread popularity at the time. I discovered all of them on my own with the aid of The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and The Trouser Press Record Guide as I thumbed through both while working a part-time job at my local Waldenbooks. This would also be the period of time I learned you could “trade” books for bootleg vinyl with the local head-shop/record store owner. It was the introduction to these bands that began to pave the way for the next, and most powerful, wave of musical influences…


The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

It should be duly noted that I really enjoyed this album and its movie's attendant Saturday night midnight movie showings as well. I was an artsy, freaky kid in the late ‘80s and unlike today there weren’t many places for us to congregate unless you traveled into Chicago and hung out at Clark and Belmont.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Dark Ages.

Streets Of Fire (1984)

Ghostbusters (1984)

Footloose (1984)

Top Gun (1986)

I think the next major stage in my musical development must have come at the hands of the movie soundtrack explosion in the early '80s. Sure, some radio had begun to filter into my ears -- and some of it was so racy that my babysitter had to cover my ears (cue The J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold” right about now) and that song about Johnny coming out to an empty garden to play got turned up every time it came in over the FM dial—but what truly marks this time in my musical development would be my discovery of the soundtrack.

To a little kid with not too much cash to his name, the soundtrack was an endless sampler of musical talent culled from my favorite movies of the time. The Jim Steinman led Fire Inc.’s rumbling anthems, Kenny Loggins both ushering me into the danger zone and teaching me how to cut loose, footloose and put on my Sunday shoes and Ray Parker Jr. and a dazzling array of celebrities invited me to call up the Ghostbusters. In retrospect a lot of these tunes were total crap. Hell, most soundtracks only have one or two good pop tunes on them and then an endless sea of filler that plays for three or four seconds in the background of a scene because the label needed to get the band some exposure. At least that’s the way it was in the ‘80s but I’m sure labels don’t do that sort of anything anymore in out illuminated world.


The main influence I think soundtracks had on me was getting me to accept various musical styles, side by side, as being equally worth my attention. It’s cheesy but impressive that Streets Of Fire mixed bombastic rock, doo-wop and ballads and to a kid that was pretty freakin' cool.

Jesus Christ Superstar (1971)

This is my musical grail...I can't even write about it. One day I will play Judas and get to sing those songs.

Let's move on.

Michael Jackson Thriller (1982)

Huey Lewis and the News Sports (1983)

Madonna Like A Virgin (1984)

Prince Purple Rain (1984)

Bruce Springsteen Born In The U.S.A. (1984)

Now we really begin to enter the world of albums. I was now growing addicted to both the radio and my walkman but the biggest development here was the idea of an extended long playing piece of work by a single artist actually being appealing.

I think Queen's soundtrack to Flash Gordon might have helped bridge this gap.

My taste was still crap but it was slowly improving. I had begun to grasp the important tools to separate pop from pap and was beginning to flex my own consumer dollar to reinforce my beliefs. Unfortunately this was in the days before SoundScan so my consumer vote was thwarted at every corner but dishonest retailers and shady accounting. No matter.

The above albums are really the first ones I can remember playing until they were nearly worn out. I owned both Thriller and Sports on vinyl and cassette tape so I could listen to them everywhere. As a matter of fact this is where cassettes begin to rule my life as I would sit next to my parent’s television, gaze into the ol' MTV and hold my little tape recorder up to the speaker to tape the songs I loved the most. “Goonies,” Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It”…it was here that my love of the mix-tape found its seed and it was here that I learned the lengths I would go through just to possess that…one…song…I just had to I would sit up until 3 A.M. waiting for the new Murray Head video to come on so I could tape that damn song about Bangkok…

QUERY: Just who the hell was Johnny and why was DeBarge constantly asking about him? Loved the song but I guess I never paid much attention to the lyrics…

ADDENDUM: Kick. I'm not sure how this missed the original cut when this series first ran in 2004. Maybe the headspace of that guy was just overlooking that very important album as he tried to look cool? I doubt it—there's plenty in this series that makes me look like the dork I am. I think the most obvious explanation is I hadn't recently listened to the INXS catalog for pleasure at the time, though I know they made MANY appearances in my DJ sets.

I suspect I'll wrote something longer next week about INXS in general, since the 30th anniversary of Kick has resurfaced, erm, a LOT. But for now, let's readjust my 2004 timeline and admit that INXS firmly fits within this era as having a profound effect on me.

Original version of this post published on January 13, 2004

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


As the high and low-brow seem to decrease the expanse that divides the two and sentimentality begins to overtake ironic detachment I think the world is finally prepared for music writers, or rock crit lit types, to begin unleashing the real songs and albums that helped inform our musical worldview.

Over the next week I’m going to try and outline the albums I believe, at my core, made me who I am today. Some of them will be old chestnuts that have been critically lauded from the get-go. Some of them are going to definitely fall into the “what-the-fuck?” category and some are probably best left in the “where-are-they-now?” files. Regardless, these are the albums and songs that turned me into a musical obsessive and a rock and/or roll convert for life.

KISS Ace Frehely (1978)

The Beatles Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

These are the first two albums I ever bought and I bought them together. I grew up in South Texas and the musical climate was rather, um, one-sided. I heard music with lots of horns and singing in a language I couldn’t quite decipher along with the occasional honky-tonk hit but for the most part is was a late ‘70s sequestered life-style.

My mom used to take me to this Mexican flea market frequently and it was there that I discovered the above two albums on vinyl. I knew the Beatles were cool because we had all kinds of songbooks of theirs by our piano. I had never heard KISS but I knew they were cool because there was a comic book that they were in put out by Marvel comics and Marvel comics was the coolest. Later, Marvel would also do a comic about Pope John Paul II. Ultra cool!

Anyway, I still remember throwing these discs on the record player at home and playing with the cardboard insert in the Beatles album but no being gutsy enough to actually detach and wear the cardboard moustache that was included with the album. The music kicked in and the squawking guitar, chugging drums and straining vocals hooked me immediately. I played that album over and over and it easily overtook the soundtracks to The Muppet Movie and The Jungle Book I had been grooving to at the time. Then Ace hit the turntable and while the effect wasn’t as powerful I did quite enjoy the massive amount of noise his guitar seemed to make in comparison with George and John’s more controlled effects.

Soon afterwards we got a station wagon with an 8-Track and it was in that wood paneled behemoth that I was introduced to Chuck Berry and his ding-a-ling and learned to rock out with Neil Diamond and his hot August nights.

The corruption had begun.

DISCLAIMER: For the record, I still love the soundtracks to The Muppet Movie and The Jungle Book as well ... it’s just that, well, the Beatles were just more rockin’, dig?

Original version of this post published on January 12, 2004