Faronheit | A Chicago Centric Music Blog

The hottest music from Chicago & beyond

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Show Review: Avey Tare [Co-Prosperity Sphere; Chicago; 4/6/19]


One of the things I admire most about Avey Tare (Dave Portner) is his lack of complacency. At no point in his solo work or as a member of Animal Collective has he adhered to expectation or perceived boundaries, and that wild card nature has often resulted in brilliance (with the occasional misstep). You’re never quite sure where he’ll evolve to next, but can rest assured it will never be boring.

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Tuned In: Jen Kirkman

Tuned In is a feature in which special guests from the world of pop culture share a playlist of songs based on a topic or theme of their choice.

Jen Kirkman is not only one of my favorite comedians, but also one of my favorite people. If for some reason you’re not familiar with her stand-up, she’s got two fantastic and hilarious specials available on Netflix called Just Keep Livin’? and I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine). You can also find them on your favorite audio streaming or download service (Spotify, Amazon, Apple) if that’s your preference. Let those serve as an introduction to her unique perspective and a way to inject some much-needed laughter into your life.

In addition to consistently crafting new stand-up material and touring around it, Jen Kirkman has written two very funny and very smart books that made the NY Times bestseller list, has a weekly podcast talking about her life and things happening in the world, spends time writing for the Golden Globe and Emmy-winning Amazon show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and maintains a strong, bullshit-free social media presence. She’s so hard-working and multi-talented there are definitely other things I’m forgetting too (talk show appearances, Drunk History segments, etc.), so the best way to keep track of everything is by joining her email newsletter.

There’s also Kirkman’s taste in music, which is as delightful and whip-smart as her comedy. She’s gotten downright poetic in the past when talking about the brilliance of David Bowie, Prince, and Morrissey, among others, and has often cited Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” as her go-to karaoke song. It’s no surprise then that she puts a tremendous amount of care into crafting a pre-show playlist for her tour dates. Here are ten fantastic songs she’s selected that help put her in the right frame of mind before a show. You just might hear some of these before her set at Thalia Hall on Thursday, January 17th. It promises to be a great night kicking off her extensive tour for 2019 with plenty of laughs and brand new material. Plus, she’ll be signing books after. Buy tickets in advance now, because there’s a very good chance this show will sell out!

Jen Kirkman
Thursday, January 17th at Thalia Hall (1807 S. Allport St.)
8PM / $26 / 17+
Buy Tickets

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Show Review: Preoccupations + Protomartyr [Thalia Hall; Chicago; 12/6/18]


“I’m learning to like Chicago,” Protomartyr singer Joe Casey said toward the end of the band’s set at Thalia Hall on Thursday night. Protomartyr hail from Detroit, which has a storied Midwestern rivalry with Chicago, so the minor bit of animus is understandable. He also may have been kidding, but his detached demeanor on stage made it difficult to tell. That’s by design of course, befitting a singer and band that crafts songs so relentless and emotionally intense they often seem on the verge of total collapse. You can’t allow your feelings to become too invested when performing songs about the ails of the world, lest they hold you in a masochistic pit of despair.

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Show Review: Car Seat Headrest [Riviera Theatre; Chicago; 9/7/18]


There’s something different about Will Toledo these days. It’s not so much a look as it is a feeling. He seems freer, happier, and more energized on stage than he ever has before – or at least compared to the couple of other times I’ve seen Car Seat Headrest perform. And while there are any number of reasons why this might be the case, my sneaking suspicion has to do with Naked Giants. Specifically, their presence as openers and additional members of Car Seat Headrest has shifted dynamics in a very exciting direction.

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Show Preview: Amen Dunes at Lincoln Hall [8/21]


What’s most fascinating to me about Damon McMahon’s work as Amen Dunes is how it’s evolved over time. His 2009 record DIA provided an introduction to the project that was a little similar to Bon Iver’s origin story in that he recorded the songs on his own while locked away in a cabin. But the music of Amen Dunes was much more obtuse and experimental in comparison to Bon Iver’s, with a psychedelic and occasionally aggressive edge that pushed it into the territory of bands like Spacemen 3, Robyn Hitchcock, and The Velvet Underground. A couple of years later, he’d pull together an actual band to help fill out and sharpen his sound while further evoking classic influences.

Each new Amen Dunes release has also gotten bigger and more accessible than the one before, and with the expanding palette has come contributions from members of Iceage, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor to help add new wrinkles while also cutting into the beating heart of the intimate and familiar. Even the simplest of melodies somehow manage to come across as a dynamic undertaking, and that sense of large-scale drama is at least partly owed to McMahon’s dynamic voice, which stretches and contracts according to the needs of the track. It’s the biggest reason why 2014’s Love was such a critical darling, and plays an essential role in helping to make Freedom one of this year’s best records. His voice is clearer than ever on the new record, and feels oddly familiar yet entirely unique, like a combination of Kurt Vile, Adam Granduciel (The War on Drugs), Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, J Spaceman, and Mick Jagger. You can’t always understand every single word he’s singing, but somehow it all makes sense, particularly in an emotional context.

Part of what makes any Amen Dunes record a compelling listening experience is that every song feels like a self-contained journey in service of a larger whole. You can drop in just about anywhere and find fulfillment, despite a minimal number of hooks or an overarching theme. Freedom does this best by crafting a seductive atmosphere of songs that shimmer like sunlight catching a piece of tin foil. The songs are slightly hazy, remarkably smooth, and politely insistent. You can dance to some of them, though they mainly hang out in a sort of mid-tempo range that at the very least leave your toe tapping. There are stories in these songs, packed with minor details to make them feel lived-in and real, but simultaneously withholding enough other bits of information to prevent it from coming across as too autobiographical. These things may have happened to somebody, just likely not McMahon himself. Many of the themes, including grief and family, stem from the struggle and emotional wreckage that resulted from his mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis a couple years ago. Instead of wallowing in sadness however, the record is more propelled by the emotional tension and relief that can be wrung from the instrumentals rather than the words themselves.

Seeing as how we’ve reached a point where Amen Dunes has never sounded better or more confident, now feels like the perfect time to see these songs performed in a live setting. It just so happens that McMahon and his band will be playing a show at Lincoln Hall next Tuesday, August 21st. It will mark his first time in Chicago since Freedom was released back in March, and promises to be a special night. Tickets are still available, so check out the details and come on out for what promises to be a great night of music!

Amen Dunes / Okay Kaya
Buy Tickets
Tuesday, August 21st
8PM / $15 (advance) / 18+

Lollapalooza 2018: 20 Artists to See


So you’ve decided to attend Lollapalooza 2018. Congratulations! You have made a smart investment in your musical future. At four days and 170+ artists however, there’s a whole lot to digest. You can’t see and do everything no matter how hard you try, so choices need to be made. Some choices are easier than others, but if you’re looking for a bit of guidance, allow me to play Pied Piper and point you in the direction of some bands and artists to see over the course of the weekend. Part of the goal here is to point out some lesser known or up-and-coming artists you might not be familiar with yet, but who are worth the effort to try and see (even if they perform early in the day). There are a few veterans sprinkled in for good measure as well, but no headliners because you can presumably figure those out on your own. Five recommendations per day with minimal time conflicts between them, so if you hustle around Grant Park here are 20 performances that will turn your festival experience from good to great. Join me after the jump and we’ll get started!

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2018: Friday Recap


The weather was top of mind heading into this Pitchfork Music Festival weekend, primarily because the forecast predicted scattered thunderstorms all three days. Prepared to go with the flow whatever that might wind up being, I arrived at Union Park on Friday armed with a poncho, umbrella, and plastic bags for my cell phone, wallet, and camera if needed. It began to rain as I approached the entrance gate, so the poncho became a fashion accessory immediately. Undeterred by the showers, I wandered a short distance to the Red stage, where the ferocity of Melkbelly‘s guitars made for a rather appropriate weather soundtrack. They’re Chicagoans, so they fully understand how everything from temperature to precipitation can turn on a dime in this city. And turn it did, because not only did the rain stop after about 15 minutes, but the sun was shining by the end of Melkbelly’s set. It almost felt like a weird bit of coordination, as the band’s performance only got stronger, louder, and heavier as the weather got better. Did they scare the clouds away? When your show has such a high level of intensity, anything seems possible. They set the bar high right at the start of the day, and woe to whatever artist had to follow them.

The artist that followed them was Lucy Dacus. Even though she was coming in hot off her magnificent new record Historian, pretty much anything she did would be viewed as a slight letdown compared to what Melkbelly had just done. The good news is that Dacus didn’t attempt to be anything other than her truest self on stage. As such, there wasn’t anything particularly flashy or gimmicky in her performance, just some rock-solid songs and some good interplay with her band members. After spotting a few ominous-looking clouds in the distance after her first couple of songs, she quickly called an audible and changed the set list on the fly “out of fear” the weather might force them to end early. “I’m also a little worried about the possibility of getting electrocuted,” Dacus confessed. She needn’t be concerned however, as the rain never came and she finished the set without any problems. It was my first Lucy Dacus live experience, and if I’m being honest it was perfectly lovely.

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2018: Sunday Preview


Ah Sunday. If you’ve been attending the Pitchfork Music Festival for two days already, chances are your body will be beaten and tired. Drag yourself out of bed, pour some caffeine down your throat, and gear up for one last day of amazing music. Much like Friday, Sunday is packed with local Chicago performers who are both legends and up-and-comers. It promises to be a great day, and if you’re not sure about who you should be seeing, well, that’s kind of the purpose of this preview guide. So follow me past the jump and we’ll get right into it, yeah?

Before we get started:
Click here for a playlist of the entire Pitchfork Music Festival 2018 lineup
Click here for the Friday Preview Guide
Click here for the Saturday Preview Guide
Click here to buy tickets to the 2018 Pitchfork Music Festival
Check back for coverage of the festival all weekend long!

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2018: Saturday Preview


Back in February, a new program based in the EU called Keychange, which is focused on helping women transform the music industry, announced that they had partnered with 45 different music festivals from around the globe in a pledge to help create fully gender balanced lineups by 2020. Considering how lopsided the current festival landscape is, with major festival lineups like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza averaging somewhere around 20% female, committing to a 50/50 split will certainly take some work. Unfortunately most large festivals haven’t joined Keychange’s pledge, so the numbers will likely remain skewed for the foreseeable future. The folks behind the Pitchfork Music Festival also didn’t agree to have a gender balanced lineup by 2020. Instead, they’ve done it by 2018. Pitchfork is only one of two festivals (the other is Panorama) to do it this year, and while there’s been very little attention given to this fact, it’s absolutely worth noting and celebrating. Will they choose to continue booking lineups this way in the future? I guess we’ll find out in 2019 and beyond. For now though, it’s heartening to know that Pitchfork is taking the lead in helping to create a more progressive and hospitable festival experience for persons of all genders and types. There’s a whole lot of talented women and men set to perform at Pitchfork on Saturday, and if you’re interested in learning more about them and who you should make an effort to see, read on below.

Before we get started:
Click here for a playlist of the entire Pitchfork Music Festival 2018 lineup
Click here for the Friday Preview Guide
Click here to buy tickets to the 2018 Pitchfork Music Festival
Check back tomorrow for the Sunday preview guide, plus coverage of the festival all weekend long!

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2018: Friday Preview


One of the best things about Friday at Pitchfork Music Festival every year is how relaxed the overall vibe is compared to the rest of the weekend. It’s less a product of the artists on the lineup and more the result of lower attendance (because many people are working), later arrivals (some show up after work), and people wanting to conserve their energy for the days ahead. You spend the day getting your bearings, learning where everything is located, and trying not to over-extend yourself. Yet it’s still a blast and the lineup is certainly nothing to sneeze at either. This year one of the biggest features of Pitchfork Fest is just how LOCAL it is. Yes, it’s very local every year, but that’s mostly reflected in the vendors and fun side attractions rather than the music itself. There are always a handful of Chicago artists and bands on the lineup, which has been nice but felt more like an afterthought than an actual intention. With 13 Chicago acts (out of 42 total) on the 2018 lineup, that’s no longer the case. Not only that, but the artists that were booked are all highly respected and critically acclaimed. If this is something Pitchfork hopes to continue in the future I worry they may run out of good choices, even though the local music scene is pretty massive. But we’ll take what we can get, and this year promises to be one of the best yet. There are five Chicago artists performing on Friday, including two bands that kick off the festival proper. Learn a bit more about all of them, and check out my personal picks for who to see hour-by-hour below.

Before we get started:
Click here for a playlist of all the Pitchfork Music Festival 2018 lineup
Click here to buy tickets to the 2018 Pitchfork Music Festival
Check back later this week for the Saturday and Sunday preview guides, plus coverage of the festival all weekend long!

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2018: Hear the Lineup


It’s the most wonderful time of the year. With the music for festing and everyone telling you have a cold beer. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yes friends, it’s time once again for Christmas in July, aka the start of music festival season in Chicago. I’m thrilled to once again to spend the week providing wall-to-wall coverage of this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. The next seven (or so) days will be jam packed with previews, reviews, highlights, and music direct from Chicago’s Union Park. The 2018 Pitchfork Music Festival officially begins this Friday, July 20th, and runs all weekend with 40+ performances from a diverse set of artists and bands from the (figurative) past, present, and future. So whether you’re already planning to attend, are thinking about attending, or are simply wishing that you could go, my hope is there’s something for everybody with this extensive guide to one of the best and most unique music festivals on the planet.

Before attending a smaller, more boutique festival like the Pitchfork Music Festival, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the lineup. Pitchfork historically has one of the most well-rounded lineups every year, and often includes smaller, up-and-coming artists you’ll be hearing much more about in the coming years. Not every band is a household name, so if you’re not up on, say, Irreversible Entanglements, you might want to know what they sound like before choosing to include them as you plan out your schedule for the weekend. This is where a playlist comes in handy. Below you’ll find a variety of ways to learn a bit more about the artists performing at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, including tracks to stream on YouTube and Soundcloud. If Spotify is your preferred streaming service, I’ve also assembled a playlist (ordered by day and set time) at the very bottom of this post featuring two songs from just about everyone on the lineup. Click around, explore a bit, listen to some tracks, and get your bearings before this weekend!

If you’re thinking about attending this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival but don’t have your passes yet, here’s where you can go to find out more information and purchase tickets. The official preview guide starts tomorrow, with an hour-by-hour breakdown of the best acts to see on Friday. Join me, won’t you?

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Show Review: The Kills [House of Vans; Chicago; 5/19/18]

Photo credit: Daniel Boczarski

It’s equal parts astounding and impressive that The Kills have been around for 15 years. For a band formed on the perilous dynamic of Alison Mosshart’s wildly frenetic, outsized vocalist and Jamie Hince’s ultra-cool, blues-indebted guitar work, one can envision a world where they burn out quickly over two or three impressive records then leave behind a beautiful corpse. Thankfully they’re smarter than that, and their longevity can be credited, at least in part, to their commitment to evolution while still maintaining the core tenets of their sound. No two Kills records sound the same, but you also wouldn’t think any of them were made by a different band.

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Show Preview: Alex Cameron at Lincoln Hall [3/7]


To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what to make of Alex Cameron. The Australian musician is a bit of an oddball, but he’s so carefully skating the line between sincerity and parody (or truth and fiction) that it’s difficult to get an accurate beat on who he is or what he’s trying to accomplish with his music. Which isn’t a bad thing, mind you – that sort of vague template he’s presented over two full length records is dynamic and entertaining.

Alex Cameron’s debut album Jumping the Shark, for example, introduced him as a sort of worn-down sleazeball drunk. It’s a role he played into for live performances as well, applying makeup and fake wrinkles on his face to look older and creepier. Not entirely sure why anyone would voluntarily step into such a lecherous persona, but he managed to make it work by fully committing to the role and crafting smart yet gritty synth-pop songs to go along with it.

For a follow-up, 2017’s Forced Witness pivoted into a style and sound that might best be described as acerbic sheen. The songs sound much cleaner in execution, and he’s gotten rid of the wrinkles, yet the lyrics remain dark and disturbing. Each song paints a portrait of a deeply ugly, chest-thumping man’s man, as well as the sort of guys that might ascribe to a similar mentality. You probably know the type, straight from the coked-up, Wolf of Wall Street and American Psycho universes.

The characters in Cameron’s songs may be total assholes devoid of respect for women, but what makes them so compelling and the reason we listen to them ramble about perverse and disgusting things is that each one reveals deeper layers of insecurity and monstrosity. Underneath the surface of braggadocio are scared boys leaning into their worst impulses mostly because they don’t really ever face any consequences for their twisted actions.

When you combine those themes with slick, ’80s-style cheese pop (the kind that frequently includes jazzy saxophone solos), the whole exercise becomes astounding in its audacity. It’s impressive how many ludicrous things Cameron manages to get away with, all while somehow pulling memorable hook after memorable hook into the fray. Listening to it on record is one unique experience, but watching him sing these songs on stage is a whole other one. So if you’re up for catching a performance that’s weird, wild, and entirely unpredictable, don’t miss Cameron when he drops by Lincoln Hall on Wednesday, March 7th. The fantastic Molly Burch is opening the show too, so that’s an added bonus!

Alex Cameron / Molly Burch / Holiday Sidewinder
Buy Tickets
Wednesday, March 7th
8PM / $15 (advance) / 18+

The Ten Best Concerts of 2017


Just like an album or a song, a truly great live show can change your life. Unlike an album or song, live shows are a communal experience that only exist for a brief moment in time before they become a distant memory. That’s why it’s so important to be as present as possible when you’re at a venue or music festival, to keep that memory locked inside your brain instead of locked inside your phone. Of course I’m as guilty as the next person for taking photos during a show (see all the examples below), but I do my best to only take a few and then put the device away.

Having said that, 2017 marked my busiest and most exciting concertgoing year to date. According to calculations, I attended shows on 71 days this year, and that’s not including the insanity of multi-day festivals such as the Pitchfork Music Festival, Lollapalooza, and Riot Fest. When all is said and done, my best guesstimation is that I saw 167 performances total, which takes opening acts and festival sets into account. So yeah, a lot of live music. It’s not nearly as much as the 500+ shows NPR’s Bob Boilen has pulled off in recent years, but I’d like to think it’s a solid amount for somebody that also has to maintain an active work and social life (not saying Bob Boilen doesn’t have either of those, but he arguably has more…flexibility).

Needless to say, it was tough choosing only ten performances from 2017 to highlight. Then again, this list could easily have been the ten best live shows I attended at the Empty Bottle this year, since they hosted an incredible array of big name bands and artists vastly underplaying at their tiny venue in celebration of their 25th anniversary. Instead, things are just a little more diverse than that, focusing on the moments that really stood out to me for one reason or another. Some were emotionally moving. Others were genuinely surprising or fun. The thrill of discovering something new, and the pleasure of hearing a set list comprised of many of your favorite songs. There was so much to love, and it’s my sincerest hope that you are inspired by this list to check out more live music no matter where you live. After all, science says that regularly attending concerts makes you happier.

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Show Review: The National [House of Vans; Chicago; 10/30/17]

On an exceptionally chilly Monday night on the Near West Side of Chicago, a few hundred people gathered at House of Vans for a remarkably intimate set from The National. The band had flown into town from Europe for a special performance at the Obama Foundation Summit, but arrived a couple days early to give fans an extra special treat. Tickets to the show were being given out for free through an online lottery, and considering the 500 person capacity of the venue, it’s safe to assume that a lot more people entered than actually won. Those with luck on their side were treated to an engrossing and often aggressive performance that skewed towards the dark and political.

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