25th Nov2013


by rockchicago


The Holiday Season gets a taste of the Motown Sound as “Mary Wilson’s Holiday Spectacular Featuring Special Guests The Four Topsblows into the Windy City December 23, 2013 – January 5, 2014 at the Harris Theater (205 E. Randolph St.) Presented by Reach Out Entertainment and Starvox Entertainment and Marketing, audiences will be taken on a journey through some of the greatest Motown hits as well as Holiday classics by Mary Wilson, one of the original Supremes and the legendary Four Tops, celebrating 60 years of performing in 2013. Pre-sale tickets ($59.99 – $119.99) go on sale Tuesday, October 22 at 10 a.m. and can be purchased online at Ticketmaster.com with an American Express Card. General Public tickets go on sale Sunday, October 27 and can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com, HarrisTheaterChicago.org, by calling 312.334.7777 or at the Harris Theater Box Office. For more information visit marywilsonandthefourtops.com.

It is a dream to celebrate the Holiday season in Chicago,” said performer Mary Wilson. “To perform with my good friends The Four Tops while singing the great songs that introduced us to world combined with some of my favorite Holiday tunes, is the perfect way to usher in the New Year and celebrate the spirit of the season.”

Mary Wilson’s Holiday Spectacular” stars the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and Vocal Group Hall of Fame recipient Mary Wilson who will treat audiences to rousing renditions of some of the signature songs that catapulted the Supremes to become the most successful “girl group” in history. Favorites include “Stop In The Name of Love,” “I Hear a Symphony,” “Come See About Me,” “Can’t Hurry Love,” “Back In Your Arms Again,” Someday We’ll Be Together” and many more. Abdul “Duke” Fakir, leading The Four Tops will also bring the music of Motown to life with “Baby I Need Your Lovin’,” “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” “Bernadette” and “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got” and “In The Still of the Night.” Wilson and The Four Tops will then join together on stage, putting the Motown sound into everyone’s favorite holiday classics including “White Christmas,” “Silent Night,” “Winter Wonderland,” “My Favorite Things” and a special rendition of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” sung by Wilson and Fakir. These living legends bring their soul and passion to the stage, embracing the warmth of the season and welcoming in a new year with memorable songs that are sure to have audiences singing along and embracing the spirit and the sounds of holiday.

We are so thrilled to bring together some of Motown’s living legends and present them to Chicago audiences during the holiday season, said Starvox President Corey Ross.” Both Mary Wilson and the Four Tops have continued to delight audiences for decades and to see them join together on one stage and showcase their incredible talent will be a holiday treat for all.”

Performance Schedule and Ticket Information

Mary Wilson’s Holiday Spectacular Featuring Special Guests The Four Tops:”

Monday, December 23, 2013 – Sunday, January 5, 2014

December 23, 25 – 29, 31 and January 2 – 4 at 8:00 p.m.

December 28 and January 4 – 5 at 3:00 p.m.

December 31 at 10 p.m. (Special New Year’s Eve performance, details TBD)
*no performances December 24 and December 30

Tickets ($59.99 – $119.99) are available online at Ticketmaster.com, by calling
312.334.7777 or in-person at the Harris Theater Box Office (205 E. Randolph St.). Discounted Group Ticket reservations are available for groups of 10 or more at
Grouptix.net or by calling 773-327-3778.

30th Aug2013

Frankie Moreno: The New Star of Las Vegas

by rockchicago

On my second day in Las Vegas, I was eagerly awaiting to see the amazing performer Frankie Moreno. Frankie’s show is at The Stratosphere hotel, which is one of the tallest hotels in the country.

I am just going to say this right now. Frankie Moreno’s show is THE best show to see in Las Vegas! From the opener Tommy Ward to Frankie’s 10-piece band consisting of drums, bass, guitar, a 3-piece horn section, a string section and Frankie on piano and guitar.

I’ve seen a lot of performers and Frankie Moreno tops a lot of them. He is not only an amazing songwriter, but he can play piano better than anyone I have seen before. Frankie has written songs for people like Ray Charles, Air Supply and many more.

Throughout the show, Frankie performed some of his songs off his new debut self-titled album. He really has some great songs on the album including “Beautiful,” “Tangerine Honey” and “Black Mascara.” He also performed an incredible rendition of The Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby,” which was the best cover of that song that I’ve ever heard.

One of the things I loved about the show was that Frankie loved talking with the audience, which, as an audience member, makes us feel special. At one point, the stage manager brought a bottle of whiskey out and did shots with Frankie onstage. I didn’t know it was a special occasion, and I don’t think it was. Frankie’s brother Tony plays bass in his band and also helped write some of the songs, and their other brother Ricky is known as the “crazy one.” Ricky also does Frankie’s merchandise.

I don’t want to sound like I am obsessed with this show, but not only do I think that this show would be great in any state, but if you are ever visiting Las Vegas, you DEFINITELY have to see Frankie Moreno. Frankie was seen on TV shows like Dancing with the Stars, America’s Got Talent and first got discovered on Star Search.

To hear and see more about Frankie Moreno, visit his website at www.frankiemoreno.com

Reviewed by Kevin Pollack on 8/24/13

01st Aug2013

Brian Wilson Settles In At Ravinia

by rockchicago


On the heels of last year’s very successful Beach Boys 50th Anniversary celebration tour and the release of their first studio album of new music in 20 years titled “That’s Why God Made the Radio”, Brian Wilson seemed like a man who was very pleased to be back where it had all begun- a member once again of the band he and his brothers Carl and Dennis had put together in the early 1960’s. The success of the tour and the favorable reception to the new CD had appeared to reinvigorate the then 70 year old California rocker to the point where he seemed destined to carry onward and forward with more tours and Beach Boys studio recording releases to come. Unfortunately, his cousin Mike Love, who in 1998 won the rights to the name “The Beach Boys” in a lengthy legal battle, had other plans.

Prior to the end of last year’s 70-plus show reunion tour, Love was already moving forward with plans for a new tour without Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, and David Marks, as well as a majority of the supporting band, which was made up largely of Brian’s own touring troupe over recent years. Once again Mike Love was demonstrating himself to be the chameleon that he has shown himself to be over the course of history by making plans behind the others backs. Wilson was clearly disappointed in Love’s actions and lack of flexibility in keeping the most successful rendition of the band in decades going into 2013, instead of going back to Love’s pre-2012 reunion lineup. When that was brought to the public’s attention, Love responded by stating ““Let me get right to it: I did not fire Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys, I cannot fire Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. I am not his employer. I do not have such authority. And even if I did, I would never fire Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. I love Brian Wilson. We are partners. He’s my cousin by birth and my brother in music.” He then proceeded to in fact fire Brian Wilson, as well as Al Jardine and David Marks. Al Jardine attempted a petition drive to get the three performers re-instated, however that was to no avail. Talk about “All My Beach Boys”, to paraphrase a long time soap opera. That led to Wilson giving this statement to CNN: “I’m disappointed and can’t understand why he doesn’t want to tour with Al, David and me. We are out there having so much fun. After all, we are the real Beach Boys.”

To play on an old cliché, Wilson decided “if you can’t join them, beat them”. And that brings us to Ravinia in Highland Park on this stormy, wet Friday night in July for the performance of The Brian Wilson Band, the 5th of 6 BWB concerts scheduled this month. A single west coast show is slated for later this year, with possible additional shows being added around that one.


A twelve piece musical entourage featuring the afore mentioned Al Jardine front and center, with David Marks flanked to his left and Brian Wilson perched behind his white Baby Grand to his right, the band took the stage at exactly eight o’clock. From the opening “California Girls” through the 6th song “Girl Don’t Tell Me”, the band was well received, but for me there was something missing when compared to last year’s very enjoyable performance at the 50th Reunion tour show I had seen at the Chicago Theatre. In a word, the missing element was “energy”. I’m not saying it wasn’t upbeat, and there is no debating that this is a tight, well honed ensemble of talented musicians. But it just seemed rather placid to me personally. As well, there is one thing that puzzles me. And that is the need for five guitarists on stage. I haven’t seen that many ax grinders on stage at once since the encore at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival. But these guys are not, for the better part, “lead” guitarists. They play their instruments in very much the same way the band expresses its masterful vocal harmonies- but more subtle and to support the larger picture.

Although the show may have started out a bit under whelming in the sense of electricity, there were many fine moments. During the 7th song, “In My Room”, the band seemed to start to hit its stride a little bit more, and then a subsequent invitation by Al Jardine to get up out of their chairs and move around, the crowd starting coming to life in the Pavilion as well. A decent version covering The Crystals “Then I Kissed Her” with Jardine on vocals followed. Then, a solid melody of “Old Man River and Cotton Fields” changed up the tempo nicely. The 13th song, “Little Bird”, was sung by David Marks in tribute to Carl Wilson, and there was even a banjo brought out for that one.

After a 30 minute intermission, Brian reached back to his solo career for the title track of his 1998 CD release “Your Imagination”, a song co-written with long time local radio and webcast personality Steve Dahl. After a strong rendition of Pet Sounds, which demonstrated the musical talent of this outfit, the hit parade began, with the familiar crowd pleasers once again bringing the energy level in the Pavilion back up a few notches. A string of 7 golden oldies was followed by the more conservative song “Summer’s Gone” to close out the night. It was a fitting finale on this cool, rainy late July evening. It actually did feel like the summer was gone.

Reviewed by Patrick Kinsella on 7/26/13

Photos by Pedro de Jesus


Set List:

01. California Girls

02. Catch a Wave

03. Hawaii

04. Dance, Dance, Dance

05. Little Deuce Coupe

06. Girl Don’t Tell Me

07. In My Room

08. Surfer Girl

09. Please Let Me Wonder

10. Then I Kissed Her

11. Don’t Worry Baby

12. Old Man River/Cotton Fields

13. Little Bird

14. Do It Again

15. Summertime Blues

16. Do You Wanna Dance?

17. I Get Around


18. Our Prayer

19. Heroes & Villains

20. Your Imagination

21. Goin’ Home

22. That’s Why God Made The Radio

23. God Only Knows

24. California Saga: California

25. Sail On Sailor

26. Marcella

27. Darlin’

28. Pet Sounds

29. Wouldn’t It Be Nice

30. Sloop John B

31. Good Vibrations


32. All Summer Long

33. Help Me Rhonda

34. Barbara Ann

35. Surfin’ USA

36. Fun, Fun, Fun

…….Second Encore…….

37. Summers Gone

02nd Jul2013

Jackson Browne “Never Stops” with the Ravinia Crowd

by rockchicago


It was another beautiful night at Ravinia Festival. Especially for a Thursday to sing pop/rock icon Jackson Browne. Tonight, Browne was joined by Nickel Creek alum Sara Watkins with her brother Sean Watkins.

For the Watkins’ set, they played a lot of songs from Sara Watkins’ latest solo album “Sun Midnight Sun.” Having been a fan of Nickel Creek when they were big, I, personally liked Nickel Creek together more than Watkins solo. Even though it was just her and her brother on stage, I still think it would’ve been better for her to have a full band. It would have sounded a lot more fuller. For the last track of their set, Jackson Browne played with her.

For Browne’s set, which was most of the show, he performed songs from his vast catalog including songs like “Black and White,” “Call It A Loan,” “Never Stop,” “I’m Alive” and “Looking East”. For most of the show the Watkins’ joined in on vocals; Sara playing fiddle and Sean playing guitar.

Everyone was on their feet most of the night with Browne transitioning between playing guitar and piano. In between songs, he shared stories of being in the music business and the different acquaintences he’s met as well. To be honest, he’s a very funny guy.

It was the calm before the storm. The “storm” came when Browne performed songs like “The Pretender,” “Running on Empty,” “Doctor My Eyes” and the encore “Take Its Easy.” These are the songs where everyone was over the top.

Overall it was a great show. I was little upset that he didn’t play my favorite song of his, “Somebody’s Baby,” which was big in the 80′s. I best remember that song in the film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” But other than that, Brown proves he’s still got it.

Reviewed by Kevin Pollack on 6/26/13

Photo by Pedro de Jesus

07th Jun2013

Judy Collins & Don McLean Warm Up the Cold Ravinia Crowd

by rockchicago


It was cold thursday night as Ravinia opened its season gates for the first show of the Ravinia season in 2013: Judy Collins and Don McLean. For being the first night of the season, it didn’t seem as full as I thought it would be, and it was mostly an older crowd at that. Still, even though it was cold, it was a beautiful night to enjoy the folksy sound of Collins and McLean.

First up was Judy Collins. Wearing a robe-like jacket and holding her guitar with her pianist at his post, she began to sing through a catalogue of timeless songs including songs she wrote and songs that she covered by other artists. As she took us on the journey through her life in song, she also took us on the journey of her life, telling the audience stories of celebrities and musicians she encountered in her career. A fact she told which I already knew but thought it would be nice to share is that the song “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Still, Nash & Young was written about her. A lot of the stories that Judy told can be found in her book also entitled “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes.” Some of the highlights in Collins’ set included Jimmy Webb’s “Campo De Encino,” “Diamonds and Rust,” “Open the Door,” the gorgeously haunting “In the Twilight,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and the beautiful “My Father.” Collins closed with the song which brought her fame, “Send in the Clowns” from Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. As Collins walked off the stage, she came back with an encore of “Over the Rainbow” as sort of a sing-a-long. While I enjoyed her fluid vocals throughout the songs, you can tell, as she is getting older, she tends to crack at some moments. Either way, she made it to be a very enjoyable concert.


Next up was Don McLean. Best known for his classics “American Pie” and “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night),” McLean showed the Ravinia crowd that he had a lot more good music that he brought with him. As he started out with ballad “And I Love You So,” McLean noticed the crowd looked a little dead. Probably because it was getting pretty cold out, so he tried to warm the audience up by going into an upbeat version of “This Little Light of Mine.” Other highlights of his set included “Have You Seen Me,” “Jerusalem,” a great cover of Roy Orbison’s “Cryin’” and a beautiful song called “Crossroads.” By the time McLean got to the song “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night),” everyone was singing along. By the finale, everyone was on their feet singing his best known song “American Pie.” As he went into an encore of “American Pie” yet again, he ended the night going into a Johnny Ray cover to send everyone away with.

Overall, the two seemed like a good pairing for this concert. For both being in the 60′s and 70′s, they shows the Ravinia audience they still have what it takes. Along with the stories they both brought to share, they made everyone feel at home, despite the cold temperatures. Don McLean and Judy Collins will be coming back to Chicago in December, so be sure to keep an eye out for this one!

Reviewed by Kevin Pollack on 6/6/13

Photos by Pedro de Jesus (Ravinia)

09th Jan2013

2 Women of Songs & Comedy: Susan Werner and Sandra Bernhard

by rockchicago


This week I had the very unique opportunity to review two very different artists, both of whom use music, and humor as corner stones of their acts. First up, Susan Werner, whom I saw at SPACE, which is a wonderful venue for music in Evanston. For those of you who aren’t acquainted with Ms. Werner, here’s a bit of a back story. Born in 1965, Werner grew up on her family’s hog farm. But she took to singing rather than farming. When she was three, she grabbed attention at a family party with her rendition of a beer commerical. “That was it. My life direction was fixed” Werner told Paul McKay of the Ottawa Citizen.

Werner attended the University of Iowa, graduating with a voice degree. With her eye on big things, she moved to Philadelphia in 1987 to study opera singing at Temple University. She received her master’s degree from Temple.

A concert by Texas singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith unleashed Werner’s own creativity. “She was singing—her own songs about her home, Texas,” Werner told the Boston Herald. “I realized it was as noble, as honorable as classical singing. And I thought I could do this”.

And do it she did.

The evening started out with a strong Chicago connection as Werner gave us a charming ode to her new home town with the jazz tinged “Give Me Chicago Any Day,” complete with Michelle Obama references, and the heartbreaking break-up lament “Stay on your side of town”. Keeping the audience glued, she stripped down to plain black tee-shirt to get down to the business at hand and the very funny “Don’t work with your friends,” demonstrating Werner’s firm hand with a comedic lyric. From there, we had a stunning “I Just Want to be With You.” At this point Ms. Werner was joined by the extremely talented Trina Hamlin, on percussion, and back up vocals. The two combined for a Bonnie Raitt tinged “I Just Got On My Red Dress For You” that brought the house down.

Whether she was paying homage to her farm roots with the stirring hymns “My Lord Did Trouble Me”, and a down and dirty “If God is Great Why is Your Heaven so Small,”

“Barbed Wire Boys” a memorial to the Midwestern man, or fan favorites “May I Suggest/Movie of My Life.” Not one to rest on her laurels of the familiar, Werner shows no fear of putting her spin on others work as with Susan’s plaintive “Manhattan/Kansas.” Always one to challenge her audiences, she gave us a preview of her upcoming album The Hayseed Project, The Ballad of “Patrick Lundquest” a brilliant take on climate change from a framers eyes, and the hilarious “Pesticides Done Made Me Gay.”

In fine form as always, Susan Werner delighted one and all with her performance, voice, wit, and unending charm. She is the most underrated songwriter we have, bar none, and I will be looking forward to her next outing, and going back to see more at SPACE. An evening like this can easily be ruined by poor sound, and it’s nice to see someone with a true listening ear like Eric Molly running the sound board supporting such a wonderful artist. It says a lot about a venue. SPACE  is located at 1245 Chicago Avenue Evanston, Illinois 60202 www.evanstonspace.com


Next up Sandra Bernhard.

Whom I had the pleasure to see at The City Winery. Another hidden jewel in the city in the West Loop. Now no one ever called Sandra Bernhard a simple girl at heart. Ms. Bernhard, no longer an L.A. resident since she sold her house in the Valley, and no great devotee of the California cult known as Trader Joe’s, this Whole Foods organic-only New York-based mama wasn’t planning to return so soon to the stage, where she had such a success last summer with “Sandra Bernhard: I Love Being Me, Don’t You?”

But she was asked, she reports, to “throw together” another show, and she was happy to oblige her hard-core fans, who naturally just want to spend more time in her relentlessly ironic company and won’t really care that her latest piece is just a scattershot compilation of riffs and musical experiments.

A work-in-progress by Bernhard is indeed preferable to no performance by her at all. Even when her vamping goes nowhere, she has a way of keeping her audience in her crooked orbit. It’s a slightly surreal space. One that may leave you feeling at times as though you’re tumbling down the snarkiest of blog holes.

The targets of her mischievous curiosity include Bristol Palin, Tyra Banks, Cindy Crawford and Lady Gaga, the last of whom inspires Bernhard’s best bit of musical parody. Backed by a band, she does an extended take on “The Edge of Glory,” reinterpreting the song every which way and throwing into relief the hilarious monotony of its lyrics.

Bernhard struggled with her voice throughout much of the show. Her rendition of “Before the Parade Passes By” from “Hello, Dolly!,” a song she was provoked to do by perky Kristin Chenoweth after guest starring on the TV series “GCB,” left her gasping for water.

But pop has always been her métier, and she opened with a captivatingly hip version of Streisand’s “Stoney End” and closed with REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” that she robustly powered through.

The different segments of “Sandrology” are held together largely by non sequiturs. “Who knew Michele Bachmann and I had so much in common?” she asks apropos of nothing. Turns out they were both in Israel way back when, a coincidence that Bernhard chalks up to Bachmann doing “early reconnaissance work for the Rapture.”

Jumping from subject to subject (her daughter’s cell phone use, pink slime, celebrity fragrances), Bernhard may not have figured out how to artistically connect her material, but her social critique is reliably on the money. She’s still the urban-chic canary in the pop cultural coal mine, and hearing her sound her caustic alarms remains a giddy pleasure.

The City Winery is located at 1200 W. Randolph St. 312-733-9463, www.citywinery.com

Susan Werner reviewed by Ty Perry on January 4th, 2013

Sandra Bernhard reviewed by Ty Perry on January 5th, 2013

05th Dec2012

The Last Bison Bring the Bluegrass to SPACE

by rockchicago


John Updike once wrote, “a novel of real ambition must write its own language.”  While he was referring to a beautifully crafted story about contemporary India, his point was clear – sometimes the ways to express one’s self that already exist just aren’t up to the task.  The same is true for The Last Bison (formerly known more simply as Bison) whose powerhouse of a live show is already the stuff of legend.  Bringing it to Evanston’s elegant Space on a warm Monday evening, the band quickly staked out their own territory, inhabiting a new world of sound and welcoming us all along for the ride with open arms.

They hit the stage with a ready confidence, launching into tunes seemingly framed in bluegrass modes.  When an audience member called out “Elizabeth Cotten,” referring to the Appalachian guitar and banjo player who developed her own style known as “Cotten Pickin’,” Ben Hardesty, the lead singer and composer, admitted he’d never heard of her, although he should have, “since I’m from Virginia.”  Then he let us in on the truth behind the band: “Here’s the deal: we have bluegrass instruments, but we just fake it.”  The audience member was never heard from again as he and the sizable crowd were swept into the evening’s musical discoveries.

With seven band members on stage, playing instruments from an upright bass drum on the floor to a pump organ to xylophones to cello and violin, there was a lot to keep track of – a delight for the eyes and ears.  Having Hardesty at the helm is something lesser bands can only dream of – a dynamic captain navigating them through a complex weaving of styles and tempos, all infused with his emotional intensity and ability to connect with the audience.

As I struggled with the language to describe their show, I kept returning to a sense of the Baroque and chamber music, shot through with bluegrass and mountain stomp, held together with both eclectic excursions and powerhouse guitar strumming.  In conversations afterwards with some of the band members, all of this was true – and more.  The band is composed of families and close friends, all of whom are able to contribute different voices to an effective chamber symphony of American musical styles.

While some are lumping them along with crowd-pleasing sing-along acts like Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers because of the loose “folk-rock” category, to do so with The Last Bison is an injustice.  Their bold and confident sound is more demanding of the listener, not just going for simple pay-offs of verse-chorus-verse structures.  These songs call out for an engaged ear, and they fully evoked that from the rapt audience on this night.  It was a literary hootenanny, unafraid to grow quiet and then “bring the ruckus again,” as Hardesty announced towards the end of their engaging set.

There is an excitement and adventure to this band – a theatrical quality and energy to their show along with a library of styles.  With male band members in shirt sleeves and vests, while the women sported Victorian-esque dresses, the band tore through songs from their full-length CD (released under the name “Bison”) and their newly released digital EP, “Inheritance.”  Songs like “Woodcutter’s Son” followed their recorded arrangement but took on a new level of dynamism live.  Others, like “Switzerland,” redone for the new EP, benefitted from a backstory, then opened up into an extended live interpretation.

In the end, this was a night that saw both the survival and surpassing of the bluegrass tradition.  As The Last Bison reappropriated it, opening act Odd Folk embraced is before spinning it through modern (dare I say hipster) sensibility.  Consisting of current and former Columbia College students, they held their own as an opening act.  They weren’t used to a quiet, attentive crowd.  The lead singer, Paul, remarked several times they are used to playing in front of rowdier bar crowds and street audiences.  Hopefully more people will have the chance to hear this act in the appropriate venue soon – their opening set was a gem.

They more openly embraced the bluegrass tradition, even playing a traditional number like “Old Joe Clark” along with some of their more adventurous songs.  I was especially taken by Madeline’s haunting song, sung with a breathy innocence.  But their entire set was filled with new spins on the classic bluegrass vamps and jams.  I look forward to hearing more from these talented urban carriers of mountain music tradition, especially as they filter it through modern sensibilities.  Even more so, as I’m lacking the right words to describe their memorable performance of their uniquely blended passion-infused chamber-storytelling-post-rock-baroque-folk, The Last Bison quickly zooms to the top of my must-see bands for the future.

Reviewed by Neil Rigler on 12/3/12

26th Nov2012

Men Without Hats Does “The Safety Dance” at The Mayne with Bow Wow Wow

by rockchicago


Canadian New Wave Group Men Without Hats and England’s Bow Wow Wow played the Mayne Stage Saturday night. This was the first show I saw at the Mayne where the floor was a dance floor, which made perfect sense for this type of music. There wasn’t one song that didn’t make the audience want to dance. Each group played for an hour. Men Without Hats was very Synth Driven whereas Bow Wow Wow was all about the drums and bass. Men Without Hats came on first and played a set that included “I Got The Message,” “Head Above Water” “Living In China” the song they are best known for “Safety Dance” and an encore of Abba’s “SOS.” The only original member left in the group is singer Ivan Doroschuk backed up by two female keyboard players and a guitarist. Doroschuk sounds exactly the same as he did 30 years, and didn’t stay in one place long. With so many synth driven songs it was hard not move around.


Bow Wow Wow started with the band playing an instrumental before singer Annabella Lwin. The band consisting of original bassist Leigh Gorman, guitarist Phil Gough, and Devin Beaman on drums was incredible, especially the sound of the bass and drums which really drove the music. Bow Wow Wow was a lot of fun to watch. Their set included “C30, C60, C90,” “See Jungle” “Go Wild In The Country,” and their biggest hit “I want Candy.”

Reviewed by Alex Kluft on 11/18/12

Photos by Alex Kluft

20th Nov2012

Morris Day and The Time: Swagger With a Smile at The Venue

by rockchicago


If “class” and “swagger” had a child, that child would be named Morris Day.  Day’s effortless “cool” is an inviting look into a 30+ year career shaped by musical excitement and a flawless live show!

The lights dim at 9:10pm and the band walks out onto The Venue’s beautiful stage dressed in dark suits and sporting fedoras.  Drums, bass, two keyboards, and an electric guitar lay down the foundation of a swinging groove as the guitarist takes to the mic and questions, “ARE YOU READY CHICAGO?”.  The sold out crowd erupts and jumps to their feet.  The music intensifies and the lights begin to circle.  “Please put your hands together for MORRIS DAY!”.  Out comes the quint-essential hype man holding a gold framed mirror.  Following comes the strutting Morris Day.  Hype man and Day reach center stage, mirror is held up, Day pulls out a long comb from the inside of his gold, sparkle, zoot suit coat, the grooming ensues, and the crowd roars!

The opening hit “Get It Up” sets up the theme for the party with lyrics, “Get it up.  Get ready for a real good time.  I’m going to try to blow your mind.”  Within the first 2 minutes of the band’s appearance on stage, you are quickly reminded of the influence Prince had on his high school cohort.  The precision of the band’s flawless choreography, the powerful musical arrangements, and the front man’s commanding presence are all credited to Day’s time under Prince’s guiding wing in the late 70′s.

The first three songs were an assault of high energy tracks physically forcing everyone in The Venue to smile, clap, sing, and dance.  The dedicated fans bellowed out every single word as Day’s hypnotizing charm drove the musical train through their tenacious set list.

Finally, a “break” is given as the drummer, Jellybean holds down a funky groove and the rest of the band sits back in the cut.  Day takes to the microphone and  greets all of his adoring fans as he graciously thanks everyone for supporting their career “since 1981”.  Once again the crowd screams and smiles grow larger as they are reminded of how long Day’s music has enriched their lives.  These fans are hardcore.  Men in zoot suites and women dressed to impressed, fans wanted to show their support in every way possible.  Men wanted to be him and the women wanted to woo the self proclaimed playboy.

As quickly as they sat down, half of the crowd was brought back to their feet as Day dictated, “Band, hit me 5 times!”.  The crack of the snare drum, the synchronized bounce of the band, and the finger points and leg shakes of Day brought the energy in the room up yet another level.  Weather you knew the music or not, the simplicity of the lyrics and the message coupled with  the inviting depth of the music made the party environment comfortably nostalgic.

The intensity of the set came down 25 minutes in as Day and hype man made their way backstage.  The band began teasing a ballad as the bass player asked, “Do you want to sing the slow jams?”.  Women shrieked as the band jumped to the intro of another ballad.  Day’s voice is heard as he sings the first 3 lines of the song and then apologizes, “I’m sorry you have to hear my voice from back stage right now, but I’m half naked.”  Women shrieked even more as the band swells.  Day makes is way back on stage with a long tench coat draped over his zoot suit.  He brings the crowd and the volume of the band down with his hands, calls for “six hits”, and as directed, the band slams six tight punches as they plow right into “The Bird”.  All of a sudden, audience members flood the stage and swarm Day.  Emulating a much “cooler” line dance, the make shift back up dancers all follow Day’s lead as they wave their arms and glide their feet to song.

The feeling of an anxious unknown was prevalent through the 55 minute set as the band jumped from one song right into another.  The theatrical antics and constant connection to the fans engaged even the security staff who could not resist an occasional shimmy here and there.  Day left the stage and returned shortly for the expected encore.  There was one more song everyone needed to hear before the night was complete.  Day taunted the crowd and asked, “Is there something else you all want to hear?”.  Simultaneously, the crowd screamed “YES” as the lights lit up the entire venue.  As everyone hoped, the 1983 hit, “Jungle Love” satisfied their musical appetite and the 7 minute extended jam proved to be the climax of the entire set.

Morris Day and The Time are a prime example of artists and performers that continue to do what they love simply because they have to.  The live experience is the heart beat of this machine.  Sure, appearances in the movies Purple Rain and Jay And Silent Bob are credible, commercial accolades, but   you won’t see Morris Day and The Time at the Super Bowl or in a slick car commercial anytime soon.  They have stayed tried and true to their niche brand of entertainment and they are not begging to be noticed.  In an ever changing industry, genuine passion and hard work have consistently been rewarded through longevity.  Long live Morris Day and The Time.

Reviewed by Edmer Abante [a.k.a. MER] on 11/14/12

16th Nov2012

Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer Cozy Up at SPACE

by rockchicago


In the busy world of bands touring the country from one town to another, surprises, accidents, and late-minute changes are to be expected.  Spinal Tap’s manager Ian Faith even famously complained, “Do you what I spend my time doing? I sleep two or three hours a night. There’s no sex and drugs for Ian, David. Do you know what I do? I find lost luggage. I locate mandolin strings in the middle of Austin at 4:00 in the morning!”

So when Mandy Fer strode to the stage at the start of their set, my initial reaction was to see it as an interesting way to start their set – a choice they probably made because Mandy is a local, born and raised in nearby Deerfield.  True there were many in the audience there to support her, but she soon explained the real reason for her unexpected solo performance.  “Dave lost his voice,” she said, “and he’s out there somewhere looking for it.”  Sadly,  Dave’s honeyed John Gorka-ish voice would not make an appearance this night.  There was a stool and a djembe there on stage, open for him to potentially make a late appearance.

Instead of hand-wringing and sad faces, the show quickly turned into a showcase for Mandy’s abundant vocal and guitar talents. When they played here six months ago, Dave and Mandy were joined on stage by a bass and drums for a full band performance. Yet even on that night, Mandy’s guitar solos stood out, mixing a variety of influences and tunings.  “I was addicted to alternate tunings,” she explained, as she re-tuned her guitar before each song, “but after I met Willy Porter it was all downhill.”  In truth, her guitar work was stunning, shifting from Spanish-inflected strumming to blues-rock speedy run-throughs of notes to drop-thumb folk sweetness to quiet single-note textures.  She continues to mature and find the musical nuances in the complex constructions of their songs.

But now I need to shift to the main attraction: Mandy’s voice.  It’s not only the sweetness of it, or its amazing balance of pure tone and weathered edges, or its ability to be just as powerful in a whisper as in full volume – it’s her ability to combine all of those elements over the course of a single song.  From “Grow,” the set opener to “Golden Grey,” we were treated to a one-woman showcase of folk styles that pushed comfortably beyond that over-simplified label.

She shared a new song, a “freshie” as she termed it – one coming from her recent move from Flagstaff, Arizona to the San Juan Islands of Washington State.  She described the beautiful view from their cabin, stretching across fields of rye through forest to the ocean.  Had she not named those elements beforehand we certainly would have been able to detect them in the song.  She transported us across time and space, and the audience responded with silence and rapt attention.

By the time Dave joined Mandy on stage for one final song, she could already claim victory for a triumphant set – which made it an extra treat to have one more song from this wonderful duo.  Dave was able to add a variety of rhythms and beats to Mandy’s guitar and voice, and from where I was sitting close to the stage he seemed to hold it together pretty well, considering his ailing condition.

Mandy dedicated the set to set grandmother, Pearl, who at 93 was there in the audience to cheer her on.  That completed the home-spun feel of her set, which comes as part of a ten-week tour before they head off for their first European set of performances.  But for now, in a club that usually plays host to established stars keeping the glow of their careers shining brightly, on this night, one was truly born.

Reviewed by Neil Rigler on 11/15/12