Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Halloween Song: The Smithereens - "Blood And Roses (Voodoo)"

Halloween music can range from garage rock party songs to ethereal Celtic ballads; and from ominous to silly.

“Blood And Roses” brought national attention to The Smithereens in 1986 when it was one of several gems on the band’s debut effort Especially For You. The ominous bass playing from Mike Mesaros immediately establishes dramatic tension, and then vocalist Pat DiNizio depicts a relationship shattered by the inability to express or accept love. There’s nothing explicitly scary about DiNizio’s lyrics, but they create a sense melancholy and dread as they’re woven through the guitar-driven arrangement.

Those who’ve heard The Smithereens cover The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” in concert might have noticed an emotional connection between that song and “Blood And Roses.” It would be interesting to know if that was DiNizio’s goal. There are six different versions of “Blood And Roses” on ESP3CIALLY F0R YOU, the recently released two-CD 30th Anniversary edition of the band’s first album. There are a couple blistering live versions with extensive jamming; an acoustic performance, and some demos.

“Blood And Roses (Voodoo)” offers a different perspective. Though the arrangement packs its original punch, DiNizio and (I’m assuming) Mesaros, guitarist Jim Babjak, and drummer Dennis Diken add some goofy primitive grunting that eventually morphs into chants of “Voodoo!” Purists might balk at such nonsense, but a lot of Smithereens fanatics are likely to find this a fun alternative that also serves as Halloween music that somehow bridges the gap between ominous and silly.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Time Of The Season For Voting

Today's announcement of the 2017 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame nominees won't cause as much heated debate as the presidential election, but if past years are any indication, there will be some grumbling about who was chosen and who continues to be overlooked. Before moving on the nominees, here are a few quick notes about some Chicago-based journalists.

As noted in this past Sunday's Chicago Tribune, long-time Chicago area journalist Lloyd Sachs has written a biography of the highly successful and influential roots rock producer T Bone Burnett. Sachs currently writes for the Trib, but has been published in other publications over the years, and used to do a regular feature called Sachs And The Cinema for FM rock station WXRT. T Bone Burnett: A Life In Pursuit is now available on Amazon and in bookstores.

Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis have become two of Chicago's best-known rock critics via their syndicated Sound Opinions program on WBEZ. They'll be at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. to present Punk Rock 1977 – The Sound Of Genius, a look at the genre's earliest days in New York and London. Admission is free.

As for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame nominees, the list of 19 acts once again shows the institution's desire to embrace diversity. Classic rock, funk, techno, vintage soul, folk, grunge, prog, rap, garage, new wave, disco, alternative, and British Invasion are all represented. Anyone familiar with this blog could easily guess The Zombies as my first choice, but I'm also keen on seeing The Cars get in this time around. The other choices, all well known in their respective fields, are Bad Brains, Chaka Khan, Chic, Depeche Mode, Electric Light Orchestra, J. Geils Band, Jane's Addiction, Janet Jackson, Joan Baez, Joe Tex, Journey, Kraftwerk, MC5, Pearl Jam, Steppenwolf, Tupac Shakur, Yes. Fans can vote for their top five choices on the official Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame site.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Out-Of-This-World Halloween Songs

Saturday, October 29 will be this year's unofficial Halloween celebration night, with lots of parties in bars and homes. Here are some outer-space alien song profiles from previous years to put everyone in a fun, spooky mood.

Fingerprintz - “Shadowed” The English band Fingerprintz zipped through a variety of genres during a brief career that lasted from 1979 to 1981, but one thing that remained constant was lead singer-guitarist Jimme O’Neill’s penchant for matching disturbing lyrics with catchy melodies. "Shadowed," from the aptly titled Beat Noir, offers intergalactic espionage set to a pulsating dance club arrangement. There’s a breathless chase down dark streets involving “an alien presence” and our hero: “Outside forces, foreign bodies in the atmosphere/I’ve got to shake them off and rub them out and get away from here.” Guitarist Cha Burnz throws in one of his distinctive solos, and O’Neill’s echo-laden vocals evoke U2, especially if Bono had been into comic books and sci-fi movies.

Phil Angotti - “I See Spaceships” Taken from Chicago-based singer-guitarist Phil Angotti’s Life and Rhymes CD, "I See Spaceships" simultaneously evokes The Byrds and The Who while spinning a tale of intergalactic visitors who love to party. Backed by Casey McDonough on bass and Brad Elvis on drums, Angotti sings, “I’ll tell you my story but you won’t believe me” as the song kicks off. He goes on to describe how the little green men who crash-landed their saucer in his garden are now driving his car, and staying up late to party. Angotti, a 1960s fanatic, specifies that these Martians are listening to LPs and watching movies. They’re also often intoxicated, which might explain why their calls for help to their planet have gone unanswered.

The Red Plastic Buddha - “She's An Alien” There’s a surprising sense of humor woven through the mind-blowing imagery on the Chicago-based The Red Plastic Buddha psyche rock masterpiece Songs For Mara. "She's An Alien" is a prime example. After descending from the stars one evening to save the human race, an extraterrestrial gets sidetracked by earthly pleasures like getting drunk in bars. Lead vocalist-bassist Tim Ferguson charts her progress with observations like, “She wanted to fit in, she said, so she learned to play the drums/She got into my LSD, but it just left her numb.” Despite her seductive silver eyes, this alien is unable to get it on with earth men because,“things just don’t match up/Me, I got the bottle but she don’t have the cup.”

The B-52s - “Planet Claire” "Planet Claire" is a fictional orb with pink air and red trees concocted by The B-52’s on their self-titled 1979 debut album. The band used a toy piano, a fire alarm, and a walkie talkie on this song, along with lyrics that were pure nonsense. Opening with a lengthy and eerie instrumental passage, “Planet Claire” introduces an alien who came from the title planet via a Plymouth Satellite that she drives faster than the speed of light. Like all Clairelings, she doesn’t have a head, so it’s hard to imagine how she could see where she’s going. Then again, you could say the same thing about Earthlings who text while driving. Vocalist Fred Schneider affects an appropriately silly tone throughout the song, especially when he screams, “WELL SHE ISN’T” in response to speculation that the alien is “from Mars or one of the seven stars that shine after 3:30 in the morning.”


Friday, October 14, 2016


A hearty welcome to everyone who's visiting Chicago this weekend; whether it's for the Cubs/Dodgers National League Championship series, the Chicago Film Festival, or just to check out the city's multitude of cultural events and festivities.

Mono is going around. The Rolling Stones recently released their Mono box set; The Hollies re-released their 1960s Evolution and Butterfly albums on 180-gram vinyl in mono and stereo, and now The Kinks are getting in on the act. According to the Second Disc website, The Kinks – The Mono Collection—due in December—will offer 10 LPs on 180-gram vinyl, including the 1967 Live At Kelvin Hall. A 48-page book with rare photos is also part of the package.

Open House Chicago will offer tours of famous buildings in various neighborhoods tomorrow and Sunday. The behind-the-scenes opportunities include Zap Props in Bridgeport; The Forum in Bronzeville; the University Of Chicago Quadrangle Club in Hyde Park; the Elks National Memorial in Lincoln Park; Palette And Chisel Academy in the Gold Coast; the Athenaeum Theatre in Lakeview; the Northwestern University Charles Deering Library in Evanston; and the Portage Theater in Portage Park. Check the Open House Chicago website for the full list.

As the late Yogi Berra used to say, "It's deja vu all over again." WXRT morning DJ Lin Brehmer and news anchor Mary Dixon will be broadcasting live from Wrigley Field tomorrow, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. They did their show from the iconic baseball park last Friday when the Cubs opened their 2016 post-season run against the San Francisco Giants. The Cubs play the Los Angeles Dodgers tomorrow night.

"Just Your Fool," the first single from The Rolling Stones' upcoming album Blue And Lonesome suggests the band has successfully tapped into its blues roots.

Musician Steve Dawson, who has garnered critical acclaim as a member of the alt rock/country band Dolly Varden as well as for his solo career, will join writer Mark Caro in presenting Songs, Stories and Creative Sparks at SPACE in Evanston tomorrow afternoon. The 1:00 p.m. event will feature them discussing and reading from the new book they've written together, Take It To The Bridge: Unlocking The Great Songs Inside You.

It's only a week until the new Pretenders album Alone comes out via iTunes, in CD and LP formats, as well as in a signed CD/LP with litho print combination.

Just don't pawn it, babe. Congratulations to Bob Dylan on being awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Literature for "having created new poetic expression within the great American song tradition." In other rock star accolade news, Rod Stewart was knighted by Prince William at Buckingham Palace this past Tuesday.

Archie Powell and The Exports will be bringing fresh material with them when they play the Burlington bar in Lincoln Park on Monday, November 7. Personally, I hope the new songs are in the clever, power pop vein of their first few albums rather than the angst-filled hard rock of their last album Back In Black.

Theatre Nebula's production of The Rocky Horror Show opens tomorrow night at Cutting Hall and runs through October 29. If you catch a Metra train to Palatine, Cutting Hall is just a blocks away from the station. Pre-show dining options includes Durty Nellie's, Tap House Grill, and Emmett's Brewing Company.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Creative Sparks At SPACE

Musician Steve Dawson, who has garnered critical acclaim as a member of the alt rock/country band Dolly Varden as well as for his solo career, will join writer Mark Caro in presenting Songs, Stories & Creative Sparks at SPACE in Evanston this Saturday afternoon. The 1:00 p.m. event will feature them discussing and reading from the new book they've written together, Take It To The Bridge: Unlocking The Great Songs Inside You.

Dawson also teaches songwriting at the Old Town School of Folk Music. I interviewed him, along his wife—artist and Dolly Varden vocalist-songwriter Diane Christiansen—several years ago for the Illinois Entertainer. They came across as thoroughly engaging and funny as they discussed their music. I met with Dawson again in 2013 for an IE feature about Dolly Varden's For A While album. My article noted, "As a songwriter, Dawson draws inspiration from various sources, including the early 1970’s music of Neil Young, Gram Parsons, and Linda Ronstadt, as well as The Beatles. He agreed with the image of him being like an artist working from a palette"

Mark Caro covered media and entertainment at the Chicago Tribune for a number of years and has recently appeared in Chicago Sun-Times. He hosted a film screening and discussion series called Is It Still Funny? at the Music Box that aimed to determine how well classic comedies like Blazing Saddles, Duck Soup, Animal House, and Something About Mary have held up over the years. It should be interesting to hear what Dawson and Caro have come up with in this new collaboration. Admission is $12.


Friday, October 7, 2016


The Bangles will be involved in some impressive double bills during a three-night stand at The Whiskey A Go Go in Hollywood, CA. On December 8, they'll be joined by The Pandoras, on December 9, it's The Last, and on December 10, it's The Muffs.

A hearty welcome to everyone who's in town for the Chicago Marathon or the post-season match-up of the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field.

The Second Disc website recently reported on the upcoming Parlophone Records release Legacy, a two-CD set featuring 40 David Bowie tracks. "Space Oddity,""The Jean Genie," "China Girl," "Ashes To Ashes," and "Young Americans" will be included, along with some of his most recent songs. The career-spanning collection will be available on November 11.

The Hideout, one of Chicago's better-known clubs, is holding its annual Flea Market this Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at 1354 W. Wabansia. The rock and roll-flavored event will include vinyl records, clothing, musical instruments, and accessories.

The Smithereens will perform The Betty Babjak Memorial Concert, an all-ages show to honor guitarist-vocalist Jim Babjak's late wife, on October 29 at The Hungarian-American Citizens Club in Woodbridge, NJ. Original bassist Mike Mesaros will be performing with the band for the first time in 11 years, and Jim Babjak will reunite with his side project Buzzed Meg. Proceeds will benefit the Babjak Family and The Betty Babjak Memorial Fund to establish a scholarship for Rutgers students who have lost a parent to pancreatic cancer.

There will be no cover charge tomorrow night when Chicago alt-rock band Whitewolfsonicprincess performs at Phyliss' Musical Inn on Division Street. Steve Gilpin and The Hens are also on the bill.

The new album Alone from The Pretenders will be available on October 21 via iTunes, in CD and LP formats, as well as a signed CD/LP with litho print combination. 

Reap The Wild Wind on Lincoln Avenue. Former Ultravox frontman Midge Ure will be performing with his current band on Wednesday, October 11 at Martyrs'. The Mixture and DJ Scary Lady Sarah are also on the bill.

There's an opening reception next Thursday, October 12, at the Awakenings Gallery on Ravenswood for Graphic Relief, a new art exhibit that recruited cartoonists to condemn sexual harassment. Ten artists will be showing their work. There's an article by Aimee Levitt about Graphic Relief in the Arts and Culture section of this week's Reader.

Get your tickets before all of the good ones are taken. Ian Hunter and The Rant Band will be doing gigs at City Winery Chicago this coming Tuesday and Wednesday. Hunter's brand new album Fingers Crossed has been getting airplay on Little Steven's Underground Garage syndicated radio show.

The Cubs have just won their first game against the Giants as I'm finishing up this post.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Bright And Early

Nobody could ever accuse WXRT morning man Lin Brehmer of being a fair-weather fan when it comes to the Chicago Cubs. Over several years, he has joyously hosted the station's annual Opening Day Broadcast from a Clark Street tavern, even on cold April mornings when there was no hope the season would bring a winning record, let alone a championship. With assistance from morning news anchor Mary Dixon, fellow XRT personality Marty Lennartz, and assorted live bands, he would serve up sports, comedy bits, and rock music like a master chef.

Then the last two years came along, and as if heaven was rewarding him (and countless other long-suffering Cub fans) for his martyr-like endurance, the Cubs became serious contenders. Plus, Brehmer, Dixon, and company have once again been invited to broadcast live from Wrigley Field itself. It happens tomorrow morning, on the same day the Cubs will open the 2016 post-season against the San Francisco Giants.

They won't be squeezing any bands into the broadcast booth, but Lennartz and Cubs announcer Len Kasper (who does the twice-weekly feature Len and Lin feature on XRT) will be on hand as Brehmer spins some of his favorite tunes from the massive XRT progressive rock library and waxes philosophical about his beloved baseball team. The show airs from 6 to 10:00 AM.

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