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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: 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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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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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Sunday Recap


The 2017 edition of the Pitchfork Music Festival is now officially in the history books. It’s been three incredible days of music, and arguably one of the festival’s best years in recent memory. Sunday brought another fair share of surprises and delights, though one truly disappointing piece of news created a minor hiccup in an otherwise smooth day (and weekend). That disappointing news was that experimental electronica duo The Avalanches were forced to cancel their set at the very last minute due to a serious family illness. These things happen, and of course wish nothing but the best for the group and those they care about. It would have been their first-ever show in Chicago, so hopefully they’ll make up the date at some point in the near future (though that would likely be at a separate venue for a separate ticket price). The cancellation resulted in a minor schedule change, moving Jamila Woods from the small Blue stage over to the much larger Green stage to take The Avalanches’ place. More on her performance in the recap below. Please join me after the jump for further details about all the various performances that took place on Sunday. And if you missed the recaps from Friday or Saturday, just click on the links and you’ll be transported directly there. Keep an eye out for photos posts here within the next few days.

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Saturday Recap


Two days down, one left to go. While I’m always impressed with the general lineup and flow of the schedule for just about any day of the Pitchfork Music Festival on any given year, there was something about Saturday this year that stood out. I had a strange sense of uncertainty about how some of the performances would go, and about how the crowds would react to them. Sometimes you’re expecting a rousing success and instead it turns out to be a tepid mess that nobody likes. Other times you watch an artist pouring his or her heart out while a bunch of people chat instead of paying attention to what’s happening on stage. The music festival world can be a complex and fickle beast. So on a day where it felt like there were more question marks about artists than usual, I’m pleased to report that the entire day went tremendously well. So much so that it handily bested Friday and I can’t imagine Sunday improving upon it. But we’ll just have to wait and see! In the meantime, please join me after the jump for a lengthy summary of every performance I witnessed on Saturday. They’re all sorted by paragraph, with the artist name bolded for easier navigation. I’ll be sharing a full photo set from Saturday at some point in the coming days, so keep an eye out for that!

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Sunday Preview


Here’s the portion of the preview guide where I provide sound and sane advice on how to make the most of your Pitchfork Music Festival weekend. Advice such as: wear lots of sunscreen and drink lots of water. The current forecast isn’t particularly hot, but that doesn’t mean you won’t wind up dehydrated. Try not to drink too much alcohol either, because as fun as that might be for you, most large crowds don’t like drunk people all that much. Plus, it’d be a big help if you wound up remembering everything you did and all the music you saw. To put it another way, drink all you like, just maybe don’t do it to blackout levels. Don’t forget to take a seat at least a couple of times each day. I’d recommend about 15-20 minute sit breaks every 3-4 hours if you’re going to be there all day long. There are some good, grassy spots in the shade at Union Park to hang out under, where you can at least hear, if not see the stages. Your body will thank you for the breaks, and you won’t wind up all sore and aching by the time Sunday rolls around. Make sure to explore! There’s a lot of really cool stuff happening just a short walk away from the stages, so if you’ve got a break between bands be sure to investigate some of the tents. There are posters, books and records all for sale, some companies give out free snacks to anyone passing by, and if your phone battery winds up drained there are some charging stations just in case. Everybody’s friendly and there to have a great time, so I hope you enjoy every aspect of your festival-going experience! Good luck!

So there’s your non-music advice column. Let’s get to the nitty gritty for Sunday, shall we? At this point in the weekend you’re probably a little worse for wear and just want to have a pretty chill final day. The great news is that this can be achieved with relative ease. Follow me after the jump, and we’ll break that schedule down by the hour.

In case you missed it:
Pitchfork Music Festival 2017 Lineup Playlist
Friday Preview Guide
Saturday Preview Guide

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Show Recap: BONZIE at Schubas [6-23-17]


On Friday night, Chicago’s own BONZIE (aka Nina Ferraro) held a record release show at Schubas to celebrate her excellent second album Zone On Nine. It was a wonderful and emotional set filled with powerful songs that pushed beyond the boundaries of traditional singer-songwriter expectations. In an industry full of easy to categorize artists, BONZIE stands out with her unique perspective, captivating voice and experimental arrangements. That she’s chosen to remain independent in spite of offers from record labels speaks volumes about the value she places on independence and doing things her own way. It’s worked well so far, and connected her with local legends such as producer Steve Albini and Tortoise’s John McEntire, as well as international notables including Portishead’s Adrian Utley.

The writing and recording of Zone On Nine took BONZIE on a lengthy journey across oceans and to a myriad of destinations. The music reflects this and is all the better because of it. Her live show is stronger than ever too, as the full band and backup singers created a rich tapestry that perfectly highlighted the complex emotions infused into every song. If the rapturous reactions from all the fans, friends and family in attendance were any indication, there are even greater things in store for BONZIE in the months and years to come. Pick up a copy of the new record, and go see her perform live if you get the chance!

Show Preview: NE-HI at Empty Bottle [2/24]


It feels like every calendar year there are about two or three local Chicago rock bands that manage to raise their profile high enough to earn attention and praise on a global level. Such hallmarks are important for any local scene as proof it is thriving, and to serve as an inspiration for those little guys trying to get their various music projects off the ground. In 2016 for example, Twin Peaks grew larger than they ever had before, earning steady radio airplay and touring around the globe. The same can be said for Whitney, though those guys had an obvious leg up by forming from the ashes of another higher profile Chicago band Smith Westerns.

So what local rock collective is set to break out in 2017? I’d put my money on the guys in NE-HI. They’ve grown a tremendous amount in the last couple of years, really expanding their sound into new corners beyond Wire-esque post-punk while also giving new focus to their songwriting. It all comes together in spectacular fashion on their sophomore record Offers, which is out on February 24th. Not coincidentally, their tour will lead them straight to the Empty Bottle that very same day for what promises to be an unforgettable hometown album release show.

Beyond sounding prolific and incredibly catchy on record, NE-HI are perhaps best known for their wildly fun live shows. Their songs get transformed into these hulking behemoths on stage that rattle your body in the best sort of way. It makes perfect sense that most of Offers was recorded live to capture that blissful yet intense energy. The riffs are tighter and the hooks that much more addictive than ever before. In certain ways it feels like they’re channeling the sunny and meandering side of Real Estate mixed with the garage rock heft and psychedelia of The Velvet Underground. It works surprisingly well, and I encourage you to check out the tracks below to hear exactly how that shakes out. Also, if you’re in Chicago please come out to the show and support local music!

NE-HI / Deeper / Cafe Racer
Buy Tickets
Friday, February 24th
9PM / $10 (advance) / 21+

Pre-order Offers on Bandcamp

Stay Young

Offers

Sisters

Lollapalooza 2016: Lineup Recommendations

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This year, Lollapalooza celebrates its 25th anniversary as a music festival. It’s had some ups and downs, including a couple of years when it went away entirely, but since settling down in Chicago back in 2005 things have been smooth sailing. Things have expanded exponentially in the last decade alone, with more stages, more artists and now more days than ever before. Yes, for the first time ever (and in celebration of this milestone), we’ll have four full days of music and mayhem. If three days and 130 artists somehow wasn’t enough to make your head spin, four days and 170 artists practically crosses the line between enjoyment and punishment. I’ve nearly killed myself in the past attempting to cover every single day of this festival for the last 11 years, and in all honesty I’m quite concerned with how I’m going to survive year 12. Don’t overextend yourself, drink lots of water, and wear comfortable shoes are just a few pieces of advice I can offer and will be abiding by myself.

That said, with four days of music it gives you an even greater opportunity to enjoy some of your favorite bands and discover some great new ones. Instead of analyzing every artist on the lineup, or even taking an hour-by-hour look at the insane schedule, let’s try something a little more sensible and manageable for 2016. In honor of 25 years of Lollapalooza, I’m going to recommend 25 can’t-miss artists who will be performing at the festival this weekend. They’re broken down by day, and distributed evenly across the weekend with the exception of Sunday, which has one extra artist just to hit that magic number. The only downside in limiting this to recommending six (or seven) artists per day is that a few really cool acts inevitably get left out. If you’re going all four days it’ll be tough to catch everything worthwhile as it is. The way these picks are structured, there’s not a lot of time slot conflicts happening, so you could theoretically see just about all of these artists if you play your cards right.

Join me after the jump for the full list of 25, complete with multiple audio/video streams from each. Best of luck to you if you’ll be in Grant Park this weekend. I’ll see you on the battlefield. Follow my Twitter and Instagram feeds for live, on-the-ground reports all four days.

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Show Preview: Cross Record at Schubas [4/30]


Let’s start with the basics. Cross Record is the wife and husband duo of Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski. They are based out of Dripping Springs, Texas (near Austin), where they own and run a ranch and recording studio. It’s where they crafted their latest album Wabi-Sabi, out now on Ba Da Bing! Records. If you’ve not yet heard it, stream “Steady Waves” and “High Rise” to get a better idea of what they’re all about.

The dark-tinged experimental folk that populates the record falls somewhere on the strange spectrum between Cocteau Twins, Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen, Mount Eerie, Chelsea Wolfe, PJ Harvey and Here We Go Magic. That may touch on a lot of different sonic markers, but the nebulous nature of their songs defies easy description. Each one is inherently beautiful, yet also raw, obtuse and deeply emotional with a sense of danger or evil lurking just underneath the surface. That’s a large reason why the album’s title is so appropriate, as it’s a Japanese phrase meaning the acceptance of transience and imperfection.

Cross Record’s show at Schubas this Saturday will mark something a homecoming for the duo, as they lived in Chicago until a couple of years ago. Their notoriety has increased considerably since their last visit thanks to the release and critical acclaim of Wabi-Sabi, so it’ll be interesting to see how the new songs shape the overall performance. No matter what, it’s certain to be a special night you’re not going to want to miss.

Cross Record, The Loom and Blind Moon
Buy Tickets
10 PM / $10 ($12 Doors) / 21+

Show Review: Local H [Metro; Chicago; 4/15/16]

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Local H is a Chicago rock and roll institution. They’ve been making music steadily for more than two decades now, with eight full lengths and a handful of EPs under the name. And that’s not even counting side projects. It’s the sort of work ethic many would call authentically Midwestern, built on the back of strength and perseverance. I call it aspirational. Most bands would kill to have well-respected careers that last half as long. It seems only right that Local H be celebrated for all of their accomplishments so far, with a continued eye on where they’re headed next.

While 2015 marked the band’s 25th anniversary of existence, 2016 marks yet another important milestone – the 20th anniversary of their big breakout record As Good As Dead. You know, the one with classics like “Bound For The Floor,” “High-Fiving MF” and “Eddie Vedder“. It’s remarkable how vital that album continues to sound today, to the point where it fits in nicely with other grunge-era notables like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots. What’s so impressive (and unique) about Local H is how Scott Lucas and Joe Daniels were able to capture all the noise, fury and hooks of their peers with just a single electric guitar and a set of drums. The ability to do more with less has been a trademark of this band since the beginning, and it continues to this very day.
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In honor of As Good As Dead turning 20, Local H have turned the tables a little and decided more is more for once by embarking on a three month U.S. tour where they’ll play that classic album along with other catalog-spanning cuts. Things officially kicked off this past weekend, with a pair of sold out shows at Chicago’s legendary Metro surrounding the record’s actual release date of April 16th. I was lucky enough to attend Friday’s show (Night 1), which wound up being the perfect showcase for why this band is so special.

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Lollapalooza 2015: Preview Guide

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Are you prepared for three days of music madness right in the heart of downtown Chicago? Yeah, me neither. Every year Lollapalooza starts out so promising, the sense of excitement palpable in the air as you walk onto the grounds of Grant Park. But if you take this music festival seriously, and you should, then by Sunday night you’ll be about ready to collapse, practically wishing for the sweet embrace of death. It sounds terrible and in many ways it is at the time, but once you’ve had a couple days to recover only the fondest of memories will remain. You’ll have seen many of your favorite artists perform, and might have even been introduced to a few new ones along the way. You’ll have eaten some delicious food, sipped some delicious drinks, spent quality time with friends and maybe even made a new friend or two as well. There’s so much to be gained from the pain and punishment we put our bodies through at this festival, especially walking back and forth from one end of the park to the other. If you play it right so you’re not running all over the place, and you’re cool with sitting down and taking a breather a couple times each day, the experience actually becomes quite pleasant. So beyond tips to minimize walking, I’ll also say to wear plenty of sunscreen and drink plenty of water. That’s just a rule of thumb for life in general actually.

But what about the music? Sure, you know at least a handful of artists playing each day of the festival, but there’s likely to be times where either you’ll be clueless about who you should see or two (maybe even three) of your favorites are all on at once and choosing between them seems too difficult. Fear not, loyal reader! I’m here to help. After the jump you’ll find an advice guide recommending artists worth seeing every hour of every day, all weekend long. You’d have to be some sort of superhuman to see all of these sets, but if you’re smart and economical enough you can catch most of them and wind up having a spectacular time. So enough with the chit-chat, let’s dive right in. Brace yourselves, this is going to be a bumpy ride.

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