Commentary: Run The Jewels at Metro

[Photos by Jon Pliske]

"The people made us a rap group"
“The people made us a rap group”

It’s hard to write an objective show review about a group that you really like. Especially when you’ve seen them four times. Especially when their modus operandi is “fuckboys beware” and they have a side project called Meow the Jewels.  Especially when they are Killer Mike and El P.


Are you guys okay if I forgo a set list and a metaphorical description of the energy of the crowd from that night at the Metro?

The show ruled, they played all of the songs you would want them to play, I love the Metro, and Run the Jewels might be my favorite hip hop act on the planet right now.


Alright? Cool? I think we have some more important things to get to.

Okay. Last week a Grand Jury refused to indict an NYPD officer for choking a man to death. Eric Garner. The craziest thing is, this isn’t an isolated incident. I won’t get into the laundry list of “reasons why living in America right now is fucking terrifying.”

In this country of ours, you can murder someone *on film* and get away with it. It’s crazy. It’s… wrong. It’s inhumane. It’s evil.

This has what to do with Run the Jewels? Well, everything. Hip hop and societal anxiety surrounding the issue of race/gender/poverty are intrinsically tied to one another. There has always been tension between institutionalized racism (police brutality, mandatory sentencing etc.) and Hip Hop music.

From Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” to Public Enemy’s Fear of Black Planet; from Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool to Ice T’s early stuff, et al. So called “conscious” Hip Hop — Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Brother Ali, Immortal Technique, Cunninglynguists, just to name a few. These are all artists who have used their talent to voice dissent against a system that has refused to include them. I am not just talking about being black, or being white, or whatever else. I am talking about being powerless in a society that doesn’t care about you or your future.  (My friend Ben made a good point here- what about Punk Rock and Henry Rollins et al? Punk Rock was around saying “fuck you” to the system and sticking safety pins through it’s ears while Hip Hop was still a glimmer in Soul music’s eye… but perhaps Punk doesn’t have the same relationship with race/class issues that hip hop does… but that’s for another time).

In the last 15 years it is pretty obvious that Hip Hop has gone away from the fringes of society, out of the hands of the “undesirables” and into the hands of Katy Perry and the people who orchestrated her bionic breasts. Right? Top 40 is fun to dance to and makes money. That is why Taylor swift was given a “ghetto blaster” and Jason Aldean had Ludacris guest spit on a song that I am pretty sure is an extended Chevy Truck commercial. Also, who the fuck is Jason Derulo?

The popular musical landscape is littered with shiny pop music that says little and means even less. Haters gonna hate, and we will shake it off, right?

No. Fuck that.

Fuck all of that.

We need music to do what only it has the power to do. We need it to be a reflection of our humanity. If that reflection truly is One Direction and Ariana Grande… well… I quit.

We need music and more specifically Hip Hop to be an agent of change, and to bring us together, and to make us feel things again.

Rolling Stone just named Run the Jewels 2 as the best Hip Hop album of the year (let’s pretend they didn’t give the album of the year to U2). It is pretty clear. This record released without fanfare or marketing dollars is what we want and what we need because it addresses how precariously balanced we are on the precipice of becoming totally fucked.

Let’s rewind that back for a second. Run the Jewels started as a side projects of sorts. El P had a bunch of stuff he wanted to get into the studio with after Cancer 4 Cure and Killer Mike happened to jump on some songs. Then some more. Then people told them it was good, and they turned it into an album. El P even said, “The people made us a rap group. We never set out to be one.”

They released RTJ 1 as a free download because they didn’t want to mess with all of the bullshit that comes with pushing a major record release. They wanted to get their music into the hands of the people who wanted to hear it.

Turns out, we wanted to hear it.

We are thirsty for music that has meaning and speaks to our angst. We want and need music that is honest and articulate, music that stands for something and stands up for us. This so called “conscious” Hip Hop can no longer be just the stuff of bleeding heart liberals, academic Hip Hop heads and chatty grad students. Hip Hop is conscious. Hip Hop is consciousness.

We may not be able to dismantle this horribly flawed system on our own. We all got bills to pay and shit to do and dogs to walk and gluten-free manicures to get. But we can lend our voices in dissent. We can start an open dialogue. We can vote and we can be activists in our communities and we can learn from each other and we can be kind. We can support those whose voices speak the truth and reach many. We can get together and listen to good music and go to rap shows and smoke blunts. We can be Jewel Runners. Alright?


Okay Killer Mike and El P, you have our attention. Lead the way, homies.

Venue Spotlight: Thalia Hall


[Written by Ashley Downing + Frazier]

One of the many things Chicago is known for is our expansive music scene. This city has live music continuously pouring out of nook and cranny. There are countless factors involved in making a venue successful, none of which are simple or easy to quantify. Of course it’s important for everything to look and sound good, but the total package is much more nebulous than that.

Recently, we’ve seen wild-man Anders Osbourne and rock darlings Lake Street Dive at a new venue in the city called Thalia Hall, located a bit off the beaten-path in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago (1807 S. Allport). While it’s been open for a couple of months, it took us a little while to realize what we had here. This place is basically a live music oasis in a neighborhood mostly dominated by restaurants — there’s nothing else like this place in Pilsen… or the rest of Chicago for that matter. Simply put: in only two visits, we can say that Thalia Hall is already one of the very best music venues in Chicago.

The historic, three story building was recently renovated to its original grandeur, making the place perfect for social gatherings involving good food, good drinks and live music. The moment you walk in the building it’s impossible not to feel the energy of this place. The all-around vibe of this spot is welcoming, making you feel comfortable as soon as you cross the welcome mat and step inside. The newly restored property features a prohibition style ‘Punch House’ bar in the basement, a badass beer-centric restaurant (Dusek’s Board & Beer) on the main floor and, finally, Thalia Hall: a spectacular vintage ballroom on the top. Upon entering you feel mesmerized by the fact this place even exists — it’s like stepping back in time, but with the modern acumen you’d expect from the Schuba’s/Lincoln Hall family. When restorations were done in the ballroom, they left some of the rough edges around to show the age building, which was a really nice touch. In some spots, cracks were even left in the paint, letting the walls tell their own story. The place has so much character and history that it almost feels alive.


As a venue, Thalia Hall has everything set in the proper place, from the bars to bathrooms. There’s plenty of room to move and the whole places just flows well. The VIP area is upstairs with specialized seating and balcony accommodations. The bars are well-spaced and run smoothly, and the selections they offered were a great surprise — they had numerous craft beers on draft and in bottles as well as a unique selection of mixed punch cocktails, all of which were priced at less than ten dollars. We highly recommend the intriguing, tequila based “Space Juice” cocktail. All of the punch drinks they serve are wild and strong concoctions structured through the science of mixology.

Sometimes you need a break from the music and the crowd of people inside the venue and it is nice to be able to step outside and get a breath of fresh air (or or have a smoke). We never recommend leaving the show, but at times you just feel the need to get away for a moment. Many venues in Chicago refuse to allow re-entry for various reasons, which is understandable but always a bummer and a bad look as well. But Thalia Hall has it figured out. They had a great re-entry system set-up with staff checking you in and out of the venue, leading you to a special spot roped off on the sidewalk next to the building. With the staff there to make sure it went accordingly, the set-up worked astonishingly well and having that option can sometimes make your evening more enjoyable.

But at the end of the day, everything else at a venue aside from the sound quality is bonus material; if a venue sounds really damn good — we will be back no matter what. And this is where Thalia Hall shines. Not only does it have all the favored bells and whistles, it boasts the sound quality to back it all up, which instantly makes it one of our favorite spots in the city. It’s obvious this place spent the time and money on the optimal sound system for this unique space. And what’s most surprising is that the best sounding spot in the whole room in the center of the balcony, which is quite a rarity but a great thing for those of us who love the balcony.


We’re really looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Thalia Hall. This building is a gem and Chicago is lucky to have it. Although we don’t get out to Pilsen very often, there’s no doubt we will be carving out some time to visit this place and its siblings, (Dusek’s and Punch House) often.

The Tonic Room Ghost

There’s always been something a little creepy about Tonic Room. This lounge-like bar with minimal lighting and crimson walls has been providing Chicago with a steady stream of live music for many years now, but the lengthy history of this particular building leaves many to believe it is haunted. Specifically, there is a rumor floating around of a woman being murdered in the basement and that her spirit still haunts 2447 N. Halsted. However impractical it seems to entertain such an uncanny idea, Tonic Room’s history is one that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and run for the hills.

tonic room
Photo by Chris Monaghan

The current ghost theory undoubtedly stems from the 1970’s when the building was owned by Fredric de Arechaga, who took over his mother’s occult supply store after she passed away. Arechaga was a mystic that founded a whole religious order based on Pagan principles. While the front of his store sold herbs, candles, and amulets, the back room housed a Babylonian Temple where Arechaga hosted rituals and worshiped with his many followers. The fact that music and dance were often an integral part of each ritual is particularly intriguing, but the common practice of sacrificing animals was what people found most disturbing.

The mysterious order has since dissolved and long gone are the days of ritual killings, but remnants of the occult temple are still visible today. When current owner, Nic Nepo, bought the place he discovered a pentagon drawn on the basement floor. Then, during a construction project, he uncovered a sacrificial dagger buried between the walls, no doubt an artifact left behind by Arechaga. When asked about the ghost Nepo replied, “I don’t know what to believe these days.” He then shared a story about a former Tonic Room bartender that claimed to have had a first hand experience with paranormal activity.

The story goes something like this: Two bartenders were closing down the bar and having a few drinks in the basement to cap off a long night of work. One of the bartenders commented to the other that he didn’t believe the building was haunted, mocking and taunting the notion of a ghost before turning off the lights and heading home. The following day that same bartender was found in the basement of the Tonic Room unable to move — his body completely catatonic. He had to be carried up the stairs and was immediately rushed to the hospital. The bartender claimed a supernatural being had a hold on him and somehow got in his head. Terrified by the experience, he never returned to work again.

While unsettling, there is no actual evidence to support the theory that Arechaga’s rituals included the sacrifice of humans (as well as animals), but when you rewind the clock even further back, you will find that the early history of 2447 N. Halsted is wild as well…

The building was originally built in 1894 and housed a brothel where ladies of the night would use the upstairs rooms to bed their customers. It eventually became a popular hangout for the North Side Gang: Chicago’s Irish mafia in the 1920’s. They ended up turning the place into a speakeasy during prohibition when alcohol was illegal for over a decade. An underground war notoriously took over the city during this time and Lincoln Park became a hot spot for organized crime and brutal murders. This violent era in Chicago’s history was part of the reason it was nicknamed “Windy City” because politicians, police, and the mafia were practically one in the same. Territory wars fought over underground bootlegging resulted in many murders. Al Capone, leader of the Italian South Side Gang, specifically targeted Lincoln Park with hits like the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. This infamous incident took place less than one mile from where the Tonic Room stands today. Then, five years later, John Dillinger was shot down by police in the alley between Halsted and Lincoln Avenues, after catching a movie at the Biograph Theater just around the corner. The original Chicago gangsters were just as bad ass as the gangsters of today, only the had the police on their side as well. If someone had been murdered at this building, there is a very good chance their leg was tied to a brick and dropped in Lake Michigan.

Today, Tonic Room still carries on Arechaga’s legacy of song and dance, as well as the North Side Gang’s love of spirits. The building’s thick history lends itself to many theories and speculations to the point where entertaining the idea of a ghost doesn’t seem so impractical after all.

Classic Album Rewind: Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

There are certain albums that enter your life and change everything. I remember the first time I heard The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and I knew nothing would ever be the same. I played that album everywhere I went on a discman I got for Christmas around the same time I picked up the CD. While Lauryn’s lyrical content struck a nerve with me back then, it wasn’t until I recently revisited the album that I recognized just how penetrating her influence was to me. lauryn hill

Lauryn moved on from the Fugees to a solo career with the hopes of speaking her mind in a more organic fashion. The Miseducation was released in the latter part of 1998 and debuted this artist in a stripped down, unashamed style that crossed musical boundaries. Though fundamentally hip hop, Hill infused each track with elements of gospel, blues, jazz and reggae.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is very much a body of work. It opens with a teacher calling role and Lauryn Hill being absent from class. It then fades into the Jamaican spit fire track, “Lost One,” but between tracks, the teacher’s voice returns as he leads a discussion with students about the meaning of love. These interludes tie the album together in a way that makes each song have a deeper meaning, as if they were each lessons about learning things the hard way.

The majority of the album was recorded in Jamaica at Tuff Gong Studios, a studio built by Bob Marley. But the connection between these two ground breaking artists runs much deeper than that. In fact, the album was fundamentally inspired by the birth of Lauryn Hill’s first child and Bob Marley’s grandson, a boy named Zion. One could argue that “To Zion” is the only true love song on the whole album. The sweet melody of a classical guitar (Carlos Santana) opens a devotion from a mother to her child. This song’s delivery is like spoken word poetry and compares motherhood to a religious experience. Towards the end, a gospel chorus begins to chime in, solidifying the song’s meaning.

Lauryn Hill does much more showing than telling throughout her debut album. This was especially true with the neighborhood anthem “Every Ghetto, Every City,” where she paints a picture of her youth. Then there are the songs that capture emotions with just her vocal performance. For example, Hill dips into the tragedy of love gone wrong with songs “Ex-Factor” and “I Used To Love Him.” The pain in her vocal delivery is enough to send shivers down your spine because her message was an honest reflection of the human condition. Like a true artist, Lauryn Hill distinctly notices, absorbs, and reflects the world around.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill ends with its title track: a piano laced vinyl popping through the speakers. And without a single hip hop verse in the whole tune, Lauryn Hill established a permanent landmark for women in hip hop. In 1999 Lauren Hill won five Grammy awards, including Album of the Year.

A Transcendent Experience at 2014 Summer Camp Music Festival


[Photos by Dann Wunderlich]

It was the last night of Summer Camp and Umphrey’s McGee was throwing one hell of a late night party on the quaint stage in the fest’s red barn. Over the course of Memorial Day Weekend this band had already played six sets of music and this final performance would be their seventh, an unprecedented festival achievement for this grassroots band with humble Midwest beginnings. The weekend itself could not have been more perfect and the stars somehow aligned so that the weather, the music, and the vibe were exactly what everyone hoped it would be.

With a limited capacity in the barn’s confined quarters, tickets for the show sold out immediately after they went on sale. Therefore, the only way to really secure access to this special event was to upgrade to VIP. So the barn eventually filled with a special mix of Umphrey’s most passionate fans bubbling with anticipation as they awaited an intimate show featuring their favorite band. The air of the room grew thick with a musty haze of individuals who hadn’t showered in days, yet no one really seemed concerned, for the last day of a festival is often a great equalizer for all in attendance.

Finally, the sweet music of Umphrey’s McGee engulfed the barn, bringing an end to an already perfect weekend. Though billed as a late night, it was technically an early morning set that didn’t begin until about 2:30 AM on Memorial Day. After a steamy “Day Nurse,” Umphrey’s frontman, Brendan Bayliss, welcomed fiddle player Allie Kral onto the the stage for what would be one of the most memorable moments the fest has ever experienced.

Allie is a well known favorite at Summer Camp Music Festival. This darling fiddler was a member of the bluegrass band Cornmeal for over a decade until she decided to leave the group in order to pursue a career as a solo artist. She spent the past year travelling around the country, touring and sitting in with a variety of bands, along with participating in a number of one off shows along the way. Her triumphant return to Summer Camp this year as an “Artist at Large” was beyond impressive and included sit ins with moe., Floodwood, Greensky Bluegrass, Blues Traveler, Everyone Orchestra and Victor Wooten, just to name a few.



This late night performance with Umphrey’s McGee was not Allie’s first experience joining the hard hitting progressive rockers. In fact, most die hard Umphrey’s fans would argue that her addition to the songs “1348” and “Hajimemashite” back in November of 2011 was one of the best Umphrey’s sit ins to date.

Therefore, when Allie stepped on stage that night, it was obvious that barn was about to experience something special. While both sweet and humble, this beautiful human was also blessed with a stellar sense of humor. As she took to her spot between Umphrey’s towering bassist, Ryan Stasik, and maniac guitarist, Jake Cinninger, the men noticed she slipped the strap of a purple bra over the end of her violin and all three chuckled as they watched it dangle from the scroll. This witty gesture poked fun at Umphrey’s rockstar novelties and signaled this chick was ready to hang with the men.

The room almost seemed giddy, for they knew what was to come: magic.

Allie plugged in and a song slowly began to take shape. “All my friends are here now, this is what we came to do…” Jake sweetly sang into his microphone. Everyone in the room had their eyes glued to the stage as tingles began to creep up their spines. “Gulf Stream” is a song often loathed by many die hard Umphrey’s fans. It’s repetitive, predictable progression is often seen as a waste of valuable concert time when Umphrey’s could be improvising and melting face. But this was different. The short repetitive lyrics, though elusive in their meaning, seemed completely appropriate given the circumstance and, somehow, Allie’s presence brought “Gulf Stream” full circle.

The song steadily began to pick up energy and grow into the sweetness of Allie’s notes as she swept her bow slowly across the patient strings of her violin. Every now and then she would look up, smile, and nod, knowing that this moment was meant to be. Everyone in the room aligned with her frequency as “Gulf Stream” began to take flight. This was the moment the weekend had been leading up to; the band knew it, lighting designer Jefferson Waful knew it, and the crowd of seasoned fans were shaking in anticipation.


Allie faced Jake, ready to kick their musical conversation up a notch. After a few back and forth progressions Jake quickly turned to adjust one of the pedals by his feet, and then: nothing. He aggressively strummed a chord… still nothing. He looked down at his pedal, adjusted it with his foot, but then again: nothing happened.

The rest of the band kept playing, but their eyes began to widen with tension. The paradox of  the whole scene and “Gulf Stream’s” lyrics did not go unnoticed. The air grew awkward as Jake threw up both hands trying to get the attention from someone off to the side of the stage, motioning that something was wrong with his rig.

Bayliss took a step towards Allie, rhythmically strummed his guitar in an attempt to save the jam. But suddenly, Allie not only acknowledged his cue, she took a step forward and heroically began to dominated the stage with her violin. The whole room was in awe. With Jake still attempting to get juice, the band almost seemed lost, but like a butterfly taking flight Allie soared through a solo all on her own. She eventually dropped her head down, letting her hands and violin throw the room into that moment they had all been waiting for, that moment where you feel like you are exactly where you are supposed to be, a moment that entices a paradigm shift. “Gulf Stream” would never be the same.

When Allie finally lifted her head and noticed Jake was ready to join in the conversation, it was almost too late. This princess of the jam scene had now become queen. Politely, she welcomed Jake to the party and entertained a small jam which eventually peaked into a cover of The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” but the transcendent experience was already solidified; it was the moment that jam fans live for.

The fact that this incident was so perfect, yet off the cuff, made it more special than anyone could have anticipated. Allie’s absence from the Chicago music scene over the past year was noticeable and her return, both to Summer Camp and to Umphrey’s McGee, was coveted by everyone in that barn. While only filling a small ten minute segment of that specific late night show, it was quite possibly the best 10 minutes of the weekend, a shining moment in Summer Camp history, to say the least.

Sense of Humor Rankings for Jamband Fans


Sense of Humor Rankings for Jamband Fans

1. Disco Biscuits
2. Widespread Panic
3. Umphrey’s McGee
4. String Cheese Incident
5. moe.
6. STS9
7. Grateful Dead
46,758. Phish

The range of this scale is simple: if you make fun of the Disco Biscuits to a Disco Biscuits fan they will likely get a kick out of it and join in with you; if you make fun of Phish to a Phish fan they will start plotting ways to kill your entire family.

Any human can be pushed over the edge; this exercise is based on the premise that you made a critical/disparaging/shit-talk comment to someone assuming they can take a joke about their favorite band.

The common thread amongst all these bands is that their fans overlook certain glaring flaws because they love them so damn much. All bands have their flaws, but jambands have a peculiar way of having some obvious & insurmountable flaws that diehard fans either selectively ignore or learn to love.

And setlists. A fan of any one of these bands can & will spiral into a discussion about setlist minutiae at the drop of a hat. Don’t ever let a Phish fan pontificate about opening songs at shows. They’ll tell you about that one time they called a “Tweezer” opener back in ’98 and then you’ll have to kill yourself.

1. Disco Biscuits

The Disco Biscuits have the fans with the best sense of humor, period. Barber is obsessed with cheesesteaks. Brownie is too stoned to keep up. Allen is actually a robot. Bisco Bashing is all over the internet and their fans pretty much go along with all of it. Because most of it is warranted. They’re sloppy as hell at times, overwhelmingly repetitive, their guitarist has been known for being too fucked-up to play, and they often sound like some demented storm warning siren. Yet, their fans are nearly indifferent to criticism, they just don’t seem to give half a shit. Insults bounce off of them like schwill requests & bunk doses. The best part of it is: they seem to almost revel in their band’s flaws, which is why they sit perched atop this very important list. And even if a rogue uppity fan DID want to put up an argument to a hater, they’d likely be too far gone into a ketamine hallucination to make it happen.

2. Widespread Panic

There is a caricature of the Panic fan. A drunken and/or spun-out goon who needs a ride to the next tour stop and has some really shitty coke to trade for it. This isn’t too far from the truth and they all know it. But what separates Panic fans from the bands below on this list is their willingness to jump in on a bashing binge. Bust out a classic mockery of John Bell: “Owwwwww that cole cole Chilleh Wowterrr” and they will laugh their asses off. There is no denying that Bell often sounds more like stomping on a goose than a human vocalist. Yet, Panic fans embrace the hell out of it and hardly mind if anyone disagrees. They’re the white trashy aunt & uncle at your family reunion who are the REALLY HAPPY kind of drunk who laugh and chain smoke and somehow drink an entire 30 rack of Milwaukee’s Beast and eventually pass out under a truck. They’re great fun.

3. Umphrey’s McGee

This is where things start to get dicey. Umphreaks are right about in the middle on this scale – some fans will get down on bashing and some will get mildly offended. Everyone generally recognizes that Bayliss isn’t much of a singer, and that they have a tendency to turn any song into some over-shreddy, prog-jam that’s too complicated for its own good. Some fans won’t even bother trying to argue with haters, while some fans will go off & try to persuade people who will never agree that Jake is the best guitarist on the planet or that Myers can drum circles around their favorite drummer. The ones who get pissy will nearly always turn to Phish and start claiming that UM shits on Phish. UM fans are noticeably competitive, which is mostly an inferiority complex brought on by the fact that they will never be more popular than they already are.

4. String Cheese Incident

What separates Cheese from other bands on this list is the fact that girls actually attend their concerts. Every other band on this list has about a 4:1 male-to-female ratio at their shows, whereas Cheese seems split 50/50. That’s because Cheese is soft. Very soft. When your lead vocalist has the vocal register of a prepubescent girl, it’s pretty hard to even pretend to be tough. Also due to the female ratio, the argument factor is lowered because the girls are too busy Instagramming their LED angel wings to be bogged down in music discussion. But Cheese’s male fans will get pretty uppity if given the chance, especially when you call them soft. “But their jams are so dirty!” Says the half-gram of molly you shoveled down your gullet. When Cheese isn’t noodling, they can be found trying to blend electronic music & bluegrass, which nobody else does for a reason. Yet, SCI diehards will defend this to the death, claiming “natural progression” and other such justifications for poor musical decisions. It’s a confusing group who will get aggro if you give them the chance.

5. moe.

moe. has the most male-heavy fanbase on this list. The real kicker, though, is the general age of the fans. Which is: approaching the antique phase. This is a band whose fans are known to huff duster in the crowd and mix their Ensure powder with liquid nitrous, which apparently gives some type of meaning to their aimless, meandering jams which rarely reach any sort of peak or destination. moe. fans are also quite competitive, but they often try to play counterpoint to Umphrey’s by saying, “At least we have some soul.” This is little more than justification for their lazy & uneventful music which plays out like downing a combination of NyQuil and Xanax a.k.a. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. moe. fans will nearly always put up a valiant fight in defense of their band, which, due to their senility-racked minds, ends up in some pissing match over which jambands’ faults are the least annoying. At which point you’ll really need that Xanax.

6. STS9

Somehow STS9 fans are able to overlook the fact that they’re a jamband who no longer jams and mail in more setlists than any other band on this list. “But it’s all about the vibe, bro. Getting to the next level of interconnected spirits and shit.” Sure, those bunk pressies you got in a trade for your favorite hat pin are making your jaw move uncontrollably, but they don’t make ignorant words involuntarily come out of your mouth as well. STS9 fans get particularly uppity when you tell them how much better they used to be, usually deferring to some bullshit about “refining their vibe” or “aligning their chakras,” because they know deep down that this band is a shell of its former self. Clinging to the past is a dangerous game and STS9 fans are typically married to it. But with David “Captain Laptop” Murphy out of the band, maybe there’s some hope for the future.

7. Grateful Dead

Much of the vigorous defense of this band is due to the fact that Jerry Garcia is dead. Jerry is a deity in the jamband world, worshipped to the point where jokes about his ashes having healing power are actually true, man. The Dead obviously carry the most nostalgia factor on this list, many people who absolutely love this band are old as shit and spent their childhood growing up with them. So it’s easy to see why they take criticism of the band straight to their rusty, tattered lil hearts. Any slight is immediately met with an offended response, like you’ve taken a dump directly on their dinner. It can get ugly in a hurry, but if you quickly compliment their GDF Wings pin, toss a couple drops of pure liquid L on their tongue, and tell them you know from experience that their crystals are the most potent on lot, they will probably relax enough to be tolerable. But be warned: this is a vicious group who will cut you with that loose, jagged wire on their Watermelon Tourmaline Wrap without warning.

46,758. Phish

Jerry might be a deity in the jam scene, but somehow another Anointed One has risen to even greater reaches of Almighty Jam Heaven. And he’s a fucking ginger! If you wanna see absolute rage pour out of an “enlightened” person, talk shit about Trey Anastasio to a Phish fan. There is something about this band that makes seemingly normal people suddenly obsess over Phish to the exclusion of all other music. Many Phans formerly liked the other bands on this list, but have since moved on to the high-most plane of music fan snobbery. They condescend to fans of every other band and will never hesitate to remind you that “every member of the band is a virtuoso, bro.” The Phans’ preferred habitat (aside from pounding down balloons in the lot) is the internet, where they collect in a place called PT, which is basically the tepid puddle in the abandoned corner of the internet’s sewer. Phish fans usually troll en masse every article/blog they can find and bombard the comments section like a pack of stoned internet hyenas. At some point in human history, psychologists will determine that becoming a diehard Phish fan is some sort of Adult Onset Autism, with symptoms including out-of-control, Rainman-style Trolling Syndrome, Ego Hypertrophy, Obsessive Compulsive Douchebaggery (OCDB), and Cargo Shortosis. In early 2013 some naive fashion blogger decided to write an admittedly awful article about her shitty experience at a Phish show aka White People Spinning In Circles For HOURS. It wasn’t even worth responding to, it was trash, the kind of thing any fans of any other band on this list would ignore out of simple good sense. Yet, within one day the PT crew assaulted her article with so many eGrenades that she pulled the blog entry and probably hung herself from her little brother’s treefort right afterwards. The Phish Phan is the wolverine of the jamband scene, except totally biting YOUR arm off if you even dream of any other song ever written being better than “You Enjoy Myself.” Approach them at your own risk. No amount of personal protection is too much — anything from a can of Chemical Billy to a full bear attack suit might be called upon to save your life.

Classic Album Rewind: OutKast – Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik


[Words by Carmel O’Farrell]

Outkast’s debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, was released 20 years ago, on April 26th, 1994. This album put southern hip hop on the map while the rest of the country was getting sucked into an East coast/West coast battle. In the same year Tupac released “Hit ‘Em Up” Outkast was spreading a different message, deviating from the violent, bi-coastal rap game. They were sincere in their message that life on the streets was a struggle and they looked up to the player lifestyle as a salvation.

Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000) and Antwan Patton (Big Boi) first met in Atlanta when they were only 16 years old and within three years they would create OutKast and release Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Even though they were only teenagers at the time, these youngsters were spitting wisdom way beyond their years. Their debut album was honest about where they came from, presenting a fresh perspective to the world of hip hop.

Produced in Atlanta by Organized Noize, they recorded over 30 tracks for Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and included the Goodie Mob along with other members of the Dungeon Family throughout the record. From the beginning this team embraced soul and funk, not just by sampling, but by producing their own soulful hooks that made each song feel like an instant classic. They also used live instrumentation during the recording process, something missing in most hip hop at the time. This bridged the gap between hip hop and rap music and created a sound almost everyone could relate to.

Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was the farthest thing from watered down and its content reflected Big Boi and Andre’s reality at that time. It also included clever use of southern slang, capturing urban life in Atlanta. The album starts off with “Peaches,” a silky smooth female voice introducing the album with a thick southern vernacular. Her disc jockey delivery is a nod to radio stations of the 1990’s, when DJ’s were practically celebrities controlling the public’s exposure to music. She claims she’s going to “take you deep” before the album ventures into its first official song.

Overall, this sense of place resonates throughout the album. Interludes segue between tracks capturing the essence of the South while police sirens in the background recognized the struggle they faced on a daily basis. The duo possessed a southern pride, talking about their neighborhoods, the streets and what it’s like to be an African American teenager in the south.

“Myintrotoletuknow” is basically an overture to the album, covering everything from hookers and pimps to gang banging and gun violence. The song compares the rap game to hustling, being on the streets and smoking weed. This was their reality. The mechanical “Call Of Da Wild” talks about dropping out of school, which Andre 3000 actually did his senior year before OutKast’s first album was recorded. They even hustled on the streets to help pay for recording time before they eventually got signed by LaFace Records.

But their lyrical content took their gangster lifestyle a step further by presenting these issues from a politically conscious point of view. “Git Up, Git Out” encouraged teenagers to do something with their lives and “Ain’t No Thang” acknowledged gun violence in the streets and the desire to rise above it. OutKast did not over glorify the harsh realities they grew up in and it was clear that they yearned for a better life.

The heroes of their story were the players of Atlanta; the men driving Cadillacs and looking fresh. “Player’s Ball” was the first single off the album to grab the country’s attention by painting a mural idolizing these men and offering a better way. Considering Andre 3000 and Big Boi were barely men at the time, songs like “Player’s Ball” and “Funky Ride” communicated their fascination and idealization with a player’s lifestyle. In their eyes, these were the men making it; this was who they wanted to be when they grew up.

A freshman hip hop album is almost always an artist’s most honest work because songs are written while they are still struggling with real life problems. But after they make it big, rhymes typically lose touch with the streets and inspiration dwindles. In contrast, OutKast embraced change as they grew into adults and over the years they have stayed true to the South. Furthermore, their foundation of funk and soul allowed them to explore a completely different rap game while their contemporaries vanished in the East coast/West coast violence. OutKast introduced a new form of hip hop to the world with Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and their insights of the streets were elevated in a way hip hop had never experienced before. Their talent was unhinged and their expression of creativity simply couldn’t originate in New York or L.A..

If you ask any OutKast fan which album is their favorite and I guarantee no one will say Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Yet, when put into context, this album managed to change the rap game, laying the foundation for a southern hip hop scene. Now, twenty years later, Andre 3000 and Big Boi are back at it again, taking over practically every major music festival out there and, needless to say their influence continues to shape the world of hip hop.

theNEWDEAL is Back, Back, Back!

And you thought they were…

It just hasn’t been the same without them… The New Deal’s last show in Chicago was at House of Blues in 2011, as a North Coast Fest after-party. They’d announced they were ending the band, so we all knew it was a pretty special show. But what we didn’t know was how much we’d miss them. tND had become pretty much the apex of jam-electronic music, with a style that was easily biteable but impossible to match. They carved out their own space in the world of electronic music and had the rabid fanbase to back it up. So the past couple of years has had a large void in this space — no one really stepped up to take their title. But now… they’re Back, Back, Back!


Official Info:

theNEWDEAL is back – Two years after the end of a successful fourteen-year run of over 1000 live shows, theNEWDEAL is announcing today a return to American festival stages in the summer of 2014.

“It feels like the right time for us to be playing together again”, says bassist Dan Kurtz. “theNEWDEAL needed some time to find some new musical inspiration and get some perspective on what is important about what, and how, we play together.”

“We just needed a break to go do other things”, adds keyboardist Jamie Shields. “When the thing you love begins to feel only like work, it’s time to step away”.

Darren Shearer, theNEWDEAL’s original drummer, has decided not to continue in this next phase of the band’s career. In his place, Dan and Jamie are excited to welcome Toronto-based drummer Joel Stouffer. Joel is one of only two drummers who has ever managed to fill Darren’s shoes in the past, having played brilliantly with the band when Darren broke his hand in 2011. Joel has spent the last seven years touring the world with Dan in Electropop band Dragonette.

theNEWDEAL first began in Toronto in 1999, and came up through the American Jam scene in the decade that followed. Since the theNEWDEAL’s beginning, it has been hard to categorize this band, which shows in the wide range of artists that they have played with (Everyone from Herbie Hancock to the= Roots, from Moby to Fatboy Slim). A long-time staple of the Jam scene, theNEWDEAL’s improvisational interpretation of Electro House, Trance, Breakbeat and Drum & Bass has brought traditionally electronic music to the live music scene, adding a “human element” and vibrance that can sometimes get lost in the sea of computerized perfection.

Summer and Fall 2014 dates will be announced over the next week.

Press/Media/Marketing: Michael Klein –
US and International Bookings: Phil Egenthal –
Canadian bookings: Colin Lewis –

Well, they already have one booking down… the inaugural Hudson Project Festival in Upstate, New York!


Classic Album Rewind: Madvillain – Madvillainy

In an effort to create new types of content for Soundfuse, we’re starting the Classic Album Rewind series of articles. To embrace the #tbt trend, we’re posting these on Thursdays; it won’t happen every Thursday, just about when we get around to them. These aren’t intended to be obvious choices — more in the realm of our own personal, sentimental canon. This isn’t going to be some ‘best albums of all-time’ shit, it’s going to shine a light on lesser known and possibly under-appreciated work that more people need to know about. Though it is possible that sometimes these will just be used to gush about truly classic records. This is the Classic Album Rewind.


This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the release of Madvillainy, a seminal record in the history of underground rap music. When two of the genres most enigmatic characters come together on a record it’s bound to be some next level shit. But when MF DOOM and Madlib got together in the studio what came out was far more than the sum of their two parts — Madvillainy is a cornerstone of rap history that has somehow largely escaped greater acclaim. Sure, music nerds have always held this album in high esteem, yet it’s never mentioned amongst The Chronic, Illmatic, and 36 Chambers of the world. It should be.

For one thing, a hip hop concept album is a rare animal, not many of them exist in the wild. Not only is the mere existence of this album a milestone, the execution is completely flawless. If the concept album savant Pink Floyd were a hip hop group, they couldn’t make a hip hop concept album any better than this. While the heavy use of superhero vs villain themed old movie/radio samples really hammers the point home, the ‘concept’ comes out in more subtle ways as well. Madlib’s scattershot beat themes and rapidfire tracks (22 of them with an average length of 2:05) somehow all come together with the brilliant use of spoken word, sample-driven interludes. Whether on their own or craftily weaved into longer tracks, these short segments foster the climate of the album. Sometimes DOOM’s lyrical content finds its way to the hero vs villain theme, but it’s the old timey samples & sounds in Madlib’s beats that compose the archetypal ‘concept’ framework of the story.

The concept aspect is cool and everything, clearly an integral part of the album, Madvillainy wouldn’t be the same without it… but it boils down to the combination of DOOM and Madlib, two of the absolute best at what they do. Some of the best beats Madlib has ever made are on this album, and they’re all over the fuckin map too. “Raid” is this bouncy, happy-go-lucky piece that represents the light end of the spectrum, while “Money Folder” is all dense basslines with a snare + hi-hat loop driving the beat on the heavy end. “America’s Most Blunted” uses jangly guitar chords to energize a totally blazed bassline & simple cymbal brush beat combo. “All Caps” might the best beat on the entire album: the production is completely immersed in the concept, seemingly built entirely of samples from a superhero cartoons over an understated shaker rhythm that emboldens the melody. “Rhinestone Cowboy” shows that completely whacked-out side of Madlib with weird samples chopped & looped to make give it an almost disco-era throwback vibe, like the way hip hop would have sounded before hip hop was invented. And then there’s possibly the greatest hip hop instrumental track ever produced, “Supervillain Theme,” which obviously slaps you across the face with the concept. This is the score for the fight scene of this story: big drums, big bass, punchy guitar loops — it’s peak-level energy and damn near perfect… except for the fact that it’s all over in under a minute.

But wait, there’s more. Madlib is unquestionably at the top of his creative game, but that bad man DOOM is not to be outdone. Dude is in a league of his own when it comes to creating rhymes out of any & all words at his disposal. It’s nonsensical, but it’s not supposed to make any sense, it’s all about the sonic value of the words in a clever sequence. DOOM’s vocabulary is more like a keyboard with a thousand different keys rather than an organized language. Nobody can do quite what he does and anyone who tries just sounds like a cheap ripoff. DOOM is word virtuoso. Here are are some of the peak-stupidity tongue-twisters on the album (stupidity in this case means utter, unmistakable brilliance):


and livin the true gods / giving yall nothing but the lick like two broads / got more lyrics than the church got ooh lords / and they hold the mic and your attention like two swords / or either one with two blades on it / hey you, don’t touch the mic like it’s AIDS on it

when he at the mic you don’t go next / leavin pussycats like why ho’s need Kotex / exercise index / won’t need bowflex / and won’t take the one with no skinny legs like Joe Tex

“America’s Most Blunted”

Quas, when he really hit star mode / never will he boost loose Phillies with the barcode
or take a whole car load on the ways to trip / or sip White Owl laced tip from tip with yip


everything that glitter ain’t fishscale / lemme think, don’t let her faint to Ishmael
shot of jack / got her back / it’s not a act, stack / forgot about the cack-a-lack / holla back, clack clack blocka
villainy, feel ’em in your heart / chock the chart, top a start shit, stop and be a smart shopper

a whole host of rollercoaster riders / not enough track, hot enough black when it’s too hot to handle
you got blue sandals, who shot you, who got you new spots to vandal
do not stand still, boast yo skills, close but no krills, most for pole ills, post no bills
coast to coast Joe Smo’s flow ill, go chill, not supposed to overdose No Doz pills

“All Caps”

all bets off the villain got the dice rig / and they say he accosted the man with the sliced wig
allegedly the investigation is still ongoing / in this pesky nation he got the best con flowing
the pot doubles / now they really got troubles / madman never go *pop* like snot bubbles

The concept is next level, each of the stars are at the top of of their game, these things makes this a top shelf album. But what puts Madvillainy over top are all the quirks, the unique flourishes that only Madlib could conjure, and the obsessive attention to detail. Like when DOOM says “jazz standard” and Madlib cuts the beat and drops in a ten second traditional jazz sample. Or when the sound strategically toggles from the left to the right headphone fields to grab your attention at the right times. Segues are interludes are songs and none of it has any real boundaries. All while peculiar, crackling samples of thematic dialogue from parts unknown fuel the entire thing… The album ends saying, “Collectively they are the components that fuel nightmares for decades to come… the villains.” Madvillainy has lived one full decade seemingly untouched by time, additional decades will follow easily.

A few words about SFX Entertainment


I have this thing that I do called a “foot in mouth check,” where I check up on something I’ve previously talked shit about to make sure things haven’t changed and my shit-talk is still on-point. Well, I’d like to publicly announce a major foot in mouth check fail… My loudmouthery about the rise of SFX Entertainment.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve been very vocal on social media about the rise of SFX Entertainment. Their strongarm tactics in regards to the Double JJ Ranch and, consequently, Electric Forest Festival struck a nerve in me. My absolute favorite festival was suddenly in jeopardy because some corporate fatcats at SFX wanted to own that land and Electric Forest (as currently constructed) was caught in the crossfire. I continue to stand by my position that monopolizing the music industry is bad for everyone but the bank rollers. Nonetheless, after doing some research and speaking to some people who know a lot more than I do, I’ve come to some realizations; mainly that my ranting on Facebook and Twitter has been hypocritical and embarrassingly naive.

My call of “DO NOT SUPPORT SFX” was wildly hypocritical because, unbeknownst to me, I’ve attended, covered, and even helped promote some events that SFX has been involved in. It wasn’t a difficult mistake to make — much like the rest of America’s corporate monsters, SFX has their irons in innumerable fires, and many of them are behind-the-scenes, not public knowledge type stuff. Things you wouldn’t necessarily expect either. When you add in the announcement this week of SFX purchasing the independent Chicago promotion behemoth React Presents, along with their ticketing service ClubTix, suddenly the SFX presence is right in our lap in Chicago. From now on, every time I share/post a ClubTix ticket link (this happens very often) I will be promoting for SFX by proxy. Hypocrisy in a nutshell. Whoops.

But most of all, I was being really naive about this whole thing. Corporations own America from the White House down to the drinking water, there’s no escaping the corporatization of this country. And unfortunately, even the things many of us love — like the live music experience — is viewed as nothing more than a commodity by a bunch of suits who want to own everything. When SFX announced their partnership with media conglomerate Clear Channel, it should have been blatantly obvious that another monopoly was coming to the live music industry. We’ve already seen this scenario with Live Nation buying up everything they possibly can… now EDM is the big wave rolling in for corporations to devour. It makes all the sense in the world.

This was unavoidable and, at the end of the day, completely predictable. It’s kinda ridiculous that I even got worked up over this at all. I mean, if Electric Forest gets canned because of this nonsense I guess I’ll have some justification. But at this point it looks like EFF is going to happen as usual, so for now it seems like a lot of misguided energy. Nonetheless, it’s still an unsettling situation. The ‘vampire squid’ nature of companies we all love to loathe — Monsanto and Goldman Sachs to name a couple — is deeply engrained in SFX Entertainment. Just another massive, shadowy corporation with seemingly unlimited financial resources but an entirely bankrupt conscience. The bottom line is every line and it doesn’t matter if everything else suffers as long as the profits double year over year. On one hand there’s definitely cause to be concerned, on the other hand… there isn’t a damn thing anybody can do about it. No matter how wrong it feels, it’s just the way things are in 2014. What a fool I was to defy it.

Frazier’s 15 Favorite Shows of 2013

Now that the dust has settled on 2013 it’s time to look back on the live shows. This is the most subjective list of them all, which is especially fun for me to write because it’s pure self-indulgence. It’s safe to say that 2013 was the best year of my life, at least musically-speaking. While this year didn’t have the heavy-hitters like Radiohead and Roger Waters of 2012, I saw more music that I ever thought was possible and a whole lot of it was pretty fucking awesome. I wanted to make this list a top 25, but over the course of charting my year I realized that a better cutoff was a top 15. These are the shows that really, really stand out for me.

It’s crazy how many amazing shows didn’t make this particular list: I got to see the best STS9 show I’ve seen in years, The Main Squeeze burst onto the scene with an insanely rowdy show at Double Door, I finally got to see Consider The Source and it was opening for UV Hippo at Bell’s Brewery, there’s the ENTIRETY of Hyperion Festival, Umphrey’s at Red Rocks & Chautauqua, the best Umphrey’s ‘Brendan & Jake’ show I’ve seen yet at Cubby Bear, I got to rage at the top of the fucking Sears Tower, every time I saw Greensky Bluegrass and Snarky Puppy, I got to see Souls Of Mischief & I didn’t even think they were still a thing anymore, and then there’s all the incredible Chicago festivals… Simply put, there’s too much to even mention briefly in list form. On second thought, 2013 was the best year of my life. Period. Here’s a little glimpse at the music that made it so great.

15) October 10th – Zappa Plays Zappa at Copernicus Center

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Roxy & Elsewhere was my first Frank Zappa album and continues to be my favorite one. I know all the words to Dummy Up and I’ve tried to do the Be-Bop Tango in my living room. I think we’re pretty lucky to have Dweezil Zappa out there fanning the flames of Frank’s music and he’s doing a damn fine job of it as well. On the 40th anniversary of Roxy & Elsewhere they played it cover-to-cover at Copernicus Center, my first time at this gorgeous venue and it was everything I wanted out of the show. It’s hard not to have expectations when it comes to a thing like this and I’m excited to say they were easily surpassed. Zappa Plays Zappa is the shit.

Original review: Zappa Plays Zappa at Copernicus Center

14) March 28th – Alt-J at Metro


[Photo by Heather Ahrens]

The moment I discovered Alt-J I was hooked. As were a whole lot of other people. When your first show ever in Chicago is at Metro you’re doing something right, and when it sells out months prior to the show that’s what you call blowing up. I had their debut album An Awesome Wave been on repeat for months leading up to the show and I was as excited as possible for seeing a band for the first time. I decided to invite another photographer to the show so I could leave my camera at home and plunge myself into the center of the crowd with no responsibilities aside from soaking in the music. And it was glorious. It went exactly to plan: as they played “Fitzpleasure” I was swamped in the sea of people, in the perfect position to plug into that crazy electricity that only happens at a transcendent concert like this.

Original review: Alt-J at Metro

13) December 12th – Lettuce + The Nth Power at Concord Music Hall

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Twenty thirteen was the year of the funk revival in Chicago. I’m not saying it wasn’t here in previous years but holy shit was there a lot of it this year. And when I look back at the entire smorgasbord of funk as a whole, the last show of the year was the crown jewel of them all. I’ve been saying Lettuce is the best funk band in America for years and they were fucking incredible once again. Lettuce’s performance on its own likely would have good enough to land on this list, but it’s The Nth Power opening set that made this show especially awesome. These guys blew me away — Nick Cassarino might be the best guitar player that no one knows about and Nikki Glaspie has officially reached the upper echelon of drummers in this realm of live music. I knew they were soulful & funky but I had no clue about their penchant for aggressive jams, which absolutely stunned me as they happened over and over again. The Nth Power is about to blow up and I’m stoked I got to see them before it happens.

Original review: Lettuce and The Nth Power at Concord Music Hall

12) April 13th – Atmosphere + Brother Ali at Metro

4.13.13 Time Travel Reunion- Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Evidence and others at Metro-52.jpg

I’ve seen Atmosphere many times over the years — they’ve always been one of my favorite hip hop acts and I will try to see them as often as I can. That said, I’ve left a few shows seriously craving more. Not this one. This was the Atmosphere show I’ve been wanting to see for a long damn time. Slug was especially weird on this night, in the best possible way. His slightly disturbing sense of humor one of the things I love most about Atmosphere. Metro was packed and the energy throughout the show was at 11 — Slug had the crowd in the palm of his hand and definitely chose a perfect cross-section of material to play. Then to top it off they brought out Brother Ali and some of the rappers from the opening acts and had a massive freestyle battle where Ali completely stole the show. I’ll take a lot more of that, please.

Original review: Atmosphere, Brother Ali, and Evidence at Metro

11) April 20th – Bonobo at House of Blues

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After releasing his fantastic album The North Borders, Bonobo went on tour with a live band and took his music to the next level. His music is already amazing, but played with live instruments and vocals it went to a very special place. This show was overflowing with energy, but completely different kind of energy than what you’d expect at a “sold out electronic music show.” This show had a unique kind of energy, a ‘swoon-rage’ of the likes I’ve never felt before. The music was so beautiful in so many ways, the strings and vocals and lush productions, but the whole time there’s that BASS that just moves your body involuntarily. An entire show of music that gave me the tingles. It was controlled aggression, as dirty as sparkling clean gets, and it was unlike anything else I saw all year.

Original review: Bonobo at House of Blues

10) November 13th – Pelican at Bottom Lounge

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Now this was a fuckin rawk show. Fresh off the release of their latest (and best) album, Forever Becoming, Pelican returned home to Chicago and played a show befitting of the stature of their album. It’s so awesome to see these guys transition so well with a new guitarist — Dallas Roberts feels right at home. It was awesome to hear so much of the new material, but they sprinkled in some older stuff as well. There are few bands as visually stimulating as Pelican, especially guitarist Trevor de Brauw, and their energy was off the charts. Maybe the best thing about Pelican is that their crowds, while rowdy, aren’t the mosh pit madness that follow other bands of their ilk. This show was the best kind of controlled violence.

Original review: Pelican at Bottom Lounge

9) August 2nd – SBTRKT at The Mid (Lollapalooza After-Party)


While Disclosure might have been the money-maker on this bill, there was no question who dominated this night. Disclosure is definitely better at the live production thing than DJ sets, and I thought SBTRKT was the same way. But after this show I’m not sure anymore. SBTRKT is on another fucking planet in all realms on music playing & production, but what he showed me on this night is that there is nobody on Earth who plays a DJ set like this. I was extremely fortunate to be able to watch this guy from behind the DJ booth and I was entranced by what he was doing. With a massive Traktor controller setup it was like he was the pilot of a dance music machine that only he knew how to drive. He played a great blend of other artists and his own material — including the filthiest “Wildfire” ‘remix’ ever. But it’s not like this was a straight DJ set, nearly everything was live remixed somehow to have that distinctive SBTRKT flavor. And when he did that shit to Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools” and Chance The Rapper’s “Good Ass Intro” I nearly lost my mind. After being blown away by his live show multiple times in a row, I suddenly find myself fiending to see another one of his DJ sets — there is nothing else like it in the world of live music.

Original review: none

8) October 10 – Herbie Hancock Quartet with Zakir Hussein at Symphony Center

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By far the weirdest show of 2013. There’s no way to describe the terror of Herbie Hancock’s ego taking over one of the most transcendent musical experiences of my life and turning it into horrifying funeral music. This show could have possibly been number one on this list had this not happened. What guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke did just before Herbie’s outburst was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard. He pierced the time/space continuum with a combination of distorted guitar and African lyrics that was mind-boggling. Then Zakir Hussein came out to join him and took the jam to an even crazier place. Speaking of Zakir, getting to see him play with Vinnie Colaiuta was unbelievable. Colaiuta instantly became the best drummer I’ve ever seen, his skills are on a completely different level than what I’m used to seeing. Despite the fact that Herbie went on to chase off 75% of the crowd — a crazy sight to behold at a venue like Symphony Center — with a 40-minute solo section that was nearly intolerable, this show contained so much unhinged musical brilliance it still lands this high on my list. Remember the names Lionel Loueke, Zakir Hussein, and Vinnie Colaiuta — they are three of the most talented musicians on Earth right now.

Original review: Herbie Hancock Quartet with Zakir Hussain at Symphony Center

7) August 26th – Bone Thugs N Harmony at Double Door

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Nearly 20 years after buying my very first copy of E.1999 Eternal I finally got to see my favorite rap group of all time. And right around the corner from my apartment at Double Door to boot. I’m so stoked that this show happened at Double Door, I can’t imagine a better place to finally see my first Bone Thugs N Harmony show. The place was packed and sweltering and they made us wait an extra hour but oh man was it all worth it. They played ALL the hits, a huge medley of their collabs with 2pac, Biggie, and Eazy E, and the one song I wanted to hear more than any other, “Crept And We Came.” But the best part were seeing Bizzy and Krayzie live, who completely destroyed my expectations of their live abilities — they were both ridiculously sharp and nailed every last bar. I’m so stoked I got to see this show when I did because Bone is no longer touring or recording as the full five-piece group. Got this one in jack in the nick of time.

Original review: Bone Thugs N Harmony at Double Door

6) October 24th – Disclosure at House of Blues

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I’m pretty sure 2013 was the year of Disclosure. These kids blew up in every conceivable way and deserve every bit of it. I can’t stress enough how important it is to see some truly talented musicians rise to the top of the EDM world. At a time when talentless, formulaeic, and just plain trashy EDM is all the rage, to have Disclosure as a counterpoint in the game is huge for music lovers like me. These kids are the truth. Seeing them perform their music live is everything you could possibly want in live electronic music. Their material is already engaging enough, but when they polish every sound up with live percussion, synths, bass guitar, and vocals it launches their music into the next orbit altitude. This was definitely one of the best shows I’ve ever seen at House of Blues, it was completely packed and the crowd hung on every note. When you wear out an album like I did with Settle it’s easy to let your expectations get out of control. Disclosure’s live performance on this laughed in the face of my expectations and made their ceiling seem higher than I could have imagined.

Original review: Disclosure at House of Blues

5) May 11th – Snarky Puppy (Night 1) at Reggie’s

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I will never ever miss a Snarky Puppy show in Chicago as long as I live here. Over the past few years there is no band that has impressed me more than these guys. It’s one thing to watch their DVDs and study their ‘studio’ releases, but seeing them live is a completely different monster. They generate an energy inside of me that is impossible to explain and their genreless style continues to boggle my mind every time. I’ve seen them maybe ten times over the past few years but this show at Reggie’s, the first night of a two-night run, is the best I’ve seen. For one thing, there was a crowd around the corner at Reggie’s, which I’ve never seen before, which meant that the place was jam packed. But not only that, this crowd was absolutely on fire the entire time. Apparently Snarky Puppy makes a lot of other people lose their shit too, because this easily the most energetic Snarky Puppy show I’ve been a part of. The “Binky” they played was legendary status and the debut of “Shofukan” might be the single sickest song I saw the entire year. Snarky Puppy is the next level’s next level. I cannot get enough of this band.

Original review: Snarky Puppy Two Night Run at Reggie’s

4) November 1st – Umphrey’s McGee at Riverside Theatre in Milwaukee, WI

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It wasn’t if I was going to gush about Umphrey’s, but when… Granted, it’s very tough for me to place Umphrey’s amongst everything else I see, they’re just in a different realm of fandom & obsession than everything else. So I settled on #4. Whatever. I saw Umphrey’s a whole lot in 2013 but there’s no question that this show was the best I saw all year. They were on a serious upward trajectory in 2013 and they finished the year playing out of their minds. Every single detail of this show was the ideal Umphrey’s experience for me. For one, Riverside Theatre is THE SHIT. Easily my favorite place I’ve ever seen Umphrey’s. But what really stands out to me, naturally, is the level at which they improvised. There were numerous fantastic jams throughout, but each set had one jam that completely destroyed me. Even beyond those “Wait, what the fuck song is this again?” moments that I love about this band and into the “Holy fuck is this actually happening right now?” zone. The first set’s “Sociable Jimmy” is about as dark & weird as it gets, and the second set’s “Wappy” is what dreams are made of. I want to go back right now.

Original review: Umphrey’s McGee Halloween Three Night Run at Riverside Theatre in Milwaukee, WI

3) July 20th – Fameus Lounge on the Spirit of Chicago yacht

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This is a weird one to place. No doubt this was some of my favorite electronic music of the year — I’ve always wanted to see Orchard Lounge with live drums and there is no one better suited for the job than Allen Aucoin. This set was magic. But c’mon… this was more than just a concert, this was the fucking party of the year. It doesn’t get any better than partying on a YACHT with a crew of nothing but awesome people. Otter Presents is onto something really special here and for their first major show of 2013 they hit a grand slam. There really isn’t much else to say, this was more fun than should even be possible to have.

Original review: Otter Presents: Fameus Lounge on the Spirit of Chicago Yacht

2) May 20th – Janelle Monae with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Center


[Photo by Todd Rosenberg (courtesy of Chicago Symphony Orchestra)]

As far as live music goes seeing someone as talented as Janelle Monae backed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is as special as it gets. When I think about this show the only word that comes to mind is special. There were moments when I had tears in my eyes. There were moments when I wanted to jump of my seat to dance like an idiot. And there were moments that, as corny as it sounds, pretty much took my breath away. I don’t think there is a better singer alive right now than Ms. Monae, and the arrangements the Symphony built around her music were stunning. I’m undyingly grateful to Symphony Center for appreciating what I do and allowing me to witness such amazing things at their venue. This show was one-of-a-kind and I’m still shocked at how lucky I am to be able to experience it.

Original review: Janelle Monae with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Center

1) June 30th – Nigel Hall Band at Electric Forest Festival

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The best set from the best festival of 2013. Super funk throwdown at 3am in the middle of Sherwood Forest… COME ON! This environment combined with a stage full of some of the most talented funk musicians on Earth created the perfect storm of live music. Time stood still for this set; it was happening, it was awesome, it would certainly come to an end eventually, but for those 90 or so minutes there was nothing else happening on Earth — this was the peak of existence. The best part of this set was the fact that nearly all of the friends I knew at EF were all right in front of the stage, the epicenter of funk drew all of us in. Looking back on this year, there’s no doubt this is the live music memory that will always define the insane amount of fun I had in 2013.

Original review: 2013 Electric Forest Festival

Top Ten Hip Hop Albums of 2013

Luckily for everyone who has ears, 2013 was a super solid year as far as hip hop is concerned (sorry, indie rock). Here’s my short & sweet list of the best (aka my favorite) hip hop albums of 2013.

10) Oddisee – The Beauty in All 


If you ain’t hip to the man Oddisee, my advice is to get hip. As soon as possible. Washington DC come Brooklyn native Oddissee is known for soulful, killer beats and thoughtful rhymes. The Beauty in All  released vis Mello Music is the instrumental follow up to 2012’s People Hear What They See. In my humble opinion, one of the best releases of last year. Oddisee has unfailingly consistent game. Production is always beautiful. Kick back and get lost in the The Beauty in All, you won’t be disappointed.

9) J. Cole – Born Sinner


Cole’s sophmore album just confirms that the hip hop stage needs this man. He is what Kanye was, and what Drake could have, should have been. A lyrically strong hard working MC who has smart production and an old school flow. The everyman’s rapper.  Born Sinner is a totally listenable, well crafted album from beginning to end. While it is not exactly creatively “cutting edge,” its samples are chosen beautifully;  a “thank you” to the legends of the genre that deserves it’s place as an offering at the high alter of hip hop.

8) Kanye West – Yeezus


While it pains me to have Kanye on my list, because I am mad at Kanye for his bullshit shenanigans, you can’t ignore this album. It’s good. Rick Rubin worked on it. You have all heard it and have your opinions on the man, the myth, the monster that is the present day iteration of Kanye. I will leave it at that.

7) Ghostface Killah & Adrian Young – 12 Reasons to Die 

Ghost the Gif

This is the most relevant the Iron Man has been in years. With help from composer turned professor Adrian Young, Ghost made an album that is sonically big, interesting, and brilliant. Ghost turns into this strange John Wayne character, and hip hop is his Wild West. It is part narrative and part film score. It just proves that the Wu have always and will always deserve their spot at the top of the hip hop food chain.

6) Childish Gambino – Because the Internet 


Oooweee Gambino! Don’t hurt em! The sophomore effort from Gambino has all of that West Coast shimmer and sheen that made Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange truly special, and enough thoughtful prose (or, “heat” as I like to call it) to make this album a real heavyweight contender this year. It doesn’t hurt that he has some slick features from the likes of our boy, Chance The Rapper, amongst others. It is honest, it is real, and it sounds like a dream.

5) Robert Glasper Project – Black Radio 2


I guess Glasper technically isn’t “hip hop.” He is “jazz hop” or some other bullshit genre title that we use to describe folks who we cannot really describe. The follow up to critically acclaimed Black Radio (homie won a Grammy!), Black Radio 2 is more of the same brilliance. You can’t really argue with an album that has Common, Dwele, Jill Scott, Anthony Hamilton, Brandy, Snoop Dog, Lupe Fiasco and Faith Evans on the roster. It’s not even fair. That’s some 1993 Chicago Bulls lineup shit.

4) Danny Brown – Old


Detroit native Danny Brown grows up in front of our very eyes on Old. Yeah, we have moments of that high pitched thing that he does, but we also get a whole lot more storytelling, honesty, and beautiful production than we are used too.

3) Black Milk – No Poison No Paradise


Another Detroit dude, Black Milk has been putting out good music for years, but No Poison No Paradise really takes the cake. The samples and instrumental parts of the album are lush, riddled with that old Motown sound. They provide a great platform for Milk to unleash his methodical, thoughtful lyrics.

2) El-P and Killer Mike – Run the Jewels


This could have been the sleeper album of the year. Released for free with seemingly no agenda, El-P and Killer Mike set out to have some fun with the music that they love. We are lucky that we get to hear the end result. Released on Fool’s Gold records this summer, Run the Jewels proves the thing we learn over and over again in music; collaboration, when done well, is a corner stone of artistry.

1) Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap


You knew this was coming. Nuff’ said.

Frazier’s Top 25 Albums of 2013


25. Umphrey’s McGee – 2012 Hall of Fame

It was a battle whether or not to include this “album” on the list since it’s neither an actual album, nor a true live album. This is a compilation of the best live songs Umphrey’s played over the course of 2012… as voted on by the fans. It’s an incredible concept that not even one other band has even approached. Since these songs are all from different shows, Umphrey’s sound engineer Kevin Browning caresses them together using precise fading and deft use of audience cheering/sound to make this thing flow beautifully. And if nothing else this “album” needs to be mentioned because of the version of “Puppet String” it features. This was the first time they ever jammed “Puppet String” out, and the jam ended up being a mind-screwing double bounceback variety with as good of an improvisational rock peak as exists… It’s just fuckin’ ridiculous.


24. The Floozies – Tell Your Mother

There’s nothing earth-shattering going on here. The Floozies certainly aren’t trying to impress anyone with technical prowess on Tell Your Mother — they’re trying to make you dance like a crazed animal. Their raunchy sense of humor pervades this whole record, it seems like the Hill brothers had their tongues in their cheeks during the entire recording process. One of the best parts of the album is their hilarious use of samples, most notably Will Ferrell’s voice from Anchorman in “Indubitably.” This is the kind of filthy, dirty, grimy electro-funk that will light a fire at any dance party.


23. Sage Francis – Sick To D(EAT)H

Any new material from Sage Francis is a good thing, even if some of it is older stuff re-packaged in new ways. The differentiation between an “album” and a “mixtape” is blurry and remains a phenomenon confined to the world of hip hop. Nonetheless, this (like the other mixtapes on this list) is a full-length, complete work worthy of being examined like a proper record. The raw, unpackaged nature of this mixtape is actually quite refreshing — it’s great to hear so many different sides of Sage and such a strong focus on him rapping with guests. His last couple of studio albums have felt so polished that this Sick To D(EAT)H feels almost as if it’s something we shouldn’t even be hearing. If you’re a fan of Sage Francis at all, you will love this release — it’s a side of this enigmatic lyricist we don’t often see.


22. Cut Copy – Free Your Mind

Cut Copy really nailed this album cover. It might look simple but the colorful aesthetic speaks directly to the bubbly & gregarious nature of Free Your Mind. This is one seriously fun dance rock album, an up-and-down ride that stays light throughout but often veers into dirtier moods. “Footsteps” is just a pure dance track with a lighthearted energy thanks to well-timed loon call samples and kitschy cowbell percussion, all backed by a deep house tempo and synth lines. The gem of this album is “Let Me Show You Love,” a slower, funky track led by a big beat and a filthy synth line. Although there are some tracks that feel like filler, including some odd interludes that don’t really add much to the album, overall this is a great album, one of Cut Copy’s best.


21. Snarky Puppy – Family Dinner Vol. 1

Leave it to Snarky Puppy to think way, way outside the box with their latest “studio” album. We’ve seen this production before: recorded live in front of a small audience, with each song’s final version being recorded in one complete take. It’s an ambitious approach to album recording with very few contemporaries. This album is different from what they’ve done in the past due to its focus on guest vocalists — a different one for each of the eight tracks. This causes a sense of discontinuity in the album and creates a lack of cohesiveness that Snarky Puppy albums are typically known for. Nonetheless, there are some phenomenal songs on this album; namely “Amour T’es La” featuring Magda Giannikou, a joyful romance song sung all in French, and “Something” featuring jazz vocals from Lalah Hathaway, a prototypically ‘Snarky’ song with the added bonus of Hathaway doing things with her voice — like singing in chords — that aren’t really possible. It’s not their best album, but Family Dinner Vol. 1 is certainly brilliant in its own way.


20. Foals – Holy Fire

Holy Fire is one of the strongest rock albums of 2013, establishing Foals among the harder rocking of the current crop of “indie” bands. Songs like “Inhaler” and “Providence” make you feel like Foals could be the best rock band on Earth, but this feeling is fleeting and ultimately inconsistent throughout the album. They seem to have a slight identity crisis in terms of how they can best use vocals — sometimes the vocals blend into their sound well, other times they seem discordant and out of place. Nonetheless, the overall attitude & aura of this album places it among the year’s best… and seriously, listen to “Inhaler,” it will kick your ass.


19. Run The Jewels – s/t

Talk about the perfect meeting of artistic minds. El-P has made a name for himself for being one of the most aggressive hip hop producers in the game and Killer Mike is known for being a lyrical technician who drops nothing but harsh truths & wake up calls. Their respective styles match perfectly with each other, and with El-P being one hell of a lyricist himself, Run The Jewels is a violent storm of rap. It just doesn’t get any harder than RTJ, it’s an all-too-short record but every song is a sledgehammer to your ears; there’s an insane amount of energy on this album and not one drop of it is wasted. Obviously the track featuring Big Boi, “Banana Clipper,” is a high point of the album. Mike and El-P trade short verses — skipping over any hooks or choruses — and set the table for Big Boi to end the song with a quick & potent verse. But if you wanna cut to the heart of this project, it’s “Sea Legs,” a gritty, unsettling track with one full verse from El-P, the hook, then a classic malevolently smooth verse from Killer Mike. Run The Jewels is the raw shit.


18. Talib Kweli – Gravitas

Sneaking in just before the finish line of 2013 was Talib Kweli with Gravitas. And it’s a good thing he did because it’s instantly one of the finest hip hop records of the year; given more time to really digest the material it would probably be much higher on this list. Nonetheless here it is because it’s a monolith of hip hop greatness. From start to finish this record is high energy, with huge, bold beats and Kweli’s trademark flow on it’s A-game. Collaborations with Raekwon and The Underachievers are high points of the album, and it’s pretty amazing that we’re still hearing unreleased J Dilla beats with the closing track on the album “Colors Of You” produced by the late hip hop legend. Gravitas is Kweli at his finest.


17. White Denim – Corsican Lemonade

Wait, this is a new album? Are you sure this isn’t from the 70s? Throw everything you thought you knew about ‘classic’ rock out the window, because White Denim is doing that shit in 2013. In an era where rockers seemingly avoid the easy-going, easy-to-digest, accessible wonder that is the rock music you hear on your dad’s FM radio, White Denim is embracing the hell out of it. These guys are all about solid riffs, a steady drum beat, and some of the most perfect rock vocals you’ll find. Aside from the opening song “At Night In Dreams,” which leans a bit more aggressive, this is a strikingly consistent album. It gets slightly psychedelic at times, especially when they kick in the vocal effects, but overall this is a wholesome, throwback classic rock album that will make you feel nostalgic in a hurry.


16. AlunaGeorge – Body Music

While unquestionably a huge beneficiary of Disclosure’s UK garage wave, AlunaGeorge produced a fantastic album in 2013 that deserves plenty of recognition on its own. Sure, they got a huge boost with their guest spotted on Disclosure’s track “White Noise,” but Body Music came out shortly after and established AlunaGeorge as one of the best acts of this genre. Tracks like “You Know You Like It” and “Your Drums, Your Love” are perfect examples of how perfect Aluna’s voice is for this type of smooth but bass heavy music. Their remix of Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” is fairly brilliant in how much they altered the original to something all their own. But the gem on this album is “Lost & Found,” a perfect example of the apex of a UK garage-pop banger and one of the best dance tracks of 2013.

Chicago’s Top Five Music-Related Stories in 2013

5. Chicago’s SuperJam Ambassadors (FiyaWrapper, Otter Presents, Abbey Pub)

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FiyaWrapper’s Funk SuperJam Vol. 2 at Concord Music Hall

If you’re a fan of live, improvisational music the phrase “SuperJam” is music to your ears. Well, luckily for Chicago, we had three major entities pushing this concept to new heights in 2013: the promoter tagteam of Fiyawerx Productions and Silver Wrapper launched their FiyaWrapper series of funk SuperJams; Dan Rucinski at Abbey Pub continued his Full Court Press series of all-star Chicago musician jams; and upstart event producers Otter Presents brought the SuperJam concept to some wild Chicago locations like a yacht on Lake Michigan and the top of Sears Tower. All of these events put the emphasis on putting a mix of insanely talented musicians on the same stage and setting them loose. There is nearly always a framework of covers that these groups use as a springboard to those kind of one-off musical moments that the superfans live for. It’s going to be an absolute treat watching all three of these SuperJam creators grow & progress in 2014.

4. Big festival takeover — Six major music festivals in Chicago


Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, North Coast, Wavefront, Spring Awakening, Riot Fest. There are now six (6) major music festivals that occur within the city limits of Chicago. Where’s the saturation point? It certainly doesn’t seem to have happened yet. Lollapalooza made more money the the GDP of half the countries on the planet. Pitchfork and North Coast killed it, as always. Spring Awakening seemed to only get stronger. And relative newcomers Wavefront and Riot Fest completely solidified their place in the Chicago music community. It’s crazy to think that this level of music festival success can continue forever. Yet, it’s also entirely possible that we see a seventh festival before we see the number drop to five. Is there really any argument that Chicago is the live music capital of America right now? I mean, SIX FUCKING FESTIVALS. Your move, every other city.

3. The closing of Congress Theater


You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief when the Congress Theater finally closed this year. Or was it an all-out celebration? It was nearly unanimous amongst Chicago music fans that the Congress Theater was the biggest shithole in the city; nobody actually liked going to Congress, we just went because promoters kept putting good music there. From the atrocious acoustics to the deplorable bathrooms to the thuggish ruggish security who had no qualms about violating you at every opportunity, there were literally no redeeming qualities to this place. Congress’ closure was a long time coming, as resident Chicago curmudgeon/journalist Jim DeRogatis launched an all-out campaign against anything and everything Congress related. The final blow landed when city inspectors discovered a laundry list of thirty-six (36) major violations, everything from leaky pipes to egregious fire hazards. As diehard music fans, we always wished the Congress Theatre could be a haven for live music, this city would be much better off for it. It just never happened. And since that was the case, the best scenario was to simply shut the bitch down. Good riddance.

2. The opening of Concord Music Hall


With the fall of one venue came the rise of a new one. Just as Congress Theater was on its death bed, Concord Music Hall rose up just a couple of blocks down the street. This new venue, with around half the capacity of Congress, essentially became the new hot spot in a matter of weeks. With React Presents, Riot Fest, and Silver Wrapper running this show, it’s pretty much a guarantee that they will continue to have amazing music every weekend of the year. It’s one of the more unique rooms in the city, with a three-level main space and two large side balconies that provide some very interesting vantage points. The sound in the room is phenomenal and there are enough light trusses in the ceiling/stage area to make any light designer giddy with excitement. This place became one of the top venues in Chicago almost instantly and we are extremely lucky to have such a great new place open this year. While there are definitely a few sticking points — woeful beer selection, alcohol prices that rival downtown clubs, and security guards who take their job way too seriously — the opening of Concord was one of the best things to happen to the Chicago music scene in a long time.

1. The rise of Chance The Rapper


The difference between Chance The Rapper in 2012 and Chance The Rapper in 2013 is like the difference between a struck match and a housefire. Kid went from high school detention to a sold out national tour and collaborating with Justin Bieber. Ummm, what? It’s nearly impossible to have a better year than Chance had in 2013 and before our eyes, we’ve seen the rise of a new superstar right in our backyard. Think about it… with Kanye now residing somewhere in his hideous monster of an ego, and Common and Lupe Fiasco only living here part-time, Chance suddenly became the biggest rap star currently residing in Chicago. Aside from professional athletes, is there anyone as recognizable in this city as Chance right now? It’s crazy to think about just how much this kid has blown up. In the span of only a year, Chance launched himself into the same league as Common and Lupe — a truly remarkable feat. He is without question the new face of Chicago’s rap scene and the sky is the limit for what this kid can do. One interesting angle about him living in Chicago: will he stay on the South Side now that he could get some baller ass place in River North? It really doesn’t matter as long as he stays here and keeps representing Chicago in such an awesome way.

The Art of the Mashup — Umphrey’s McGee Halloween

[Words by Carmel O’Farrell]

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The Art of the Mash-Up

Double, double toil and trouble,
Fire burn and Cauldron bubble…
Cigar of Floyd and MGMT
Kiss of Prince and White Zombie
Rush’s Spirit and Zappa’s Tiny Lites,
Jackson’s Thriller and Ween’s Long Nights
In the Puppet Kitchen they all go,
It’s time for Umphrey’s Halloween Show.

Umphrey’s McGee’s Annual Halloween Mashup show is a novel approach to an old tradition. In the land of jambands, Halloween shows are notorious for cover songs. Phish usually takes on a full album while other bands like STS9 develop electronic versions of iconic songs from the past. Umphrey’s McGee, on the other hand, has decided to take it one step further. Over the past five years, Umphrey’s has perfected the art of mashing up covers where they seamlessly blend two or more songs together as if they were always destined to be together. Umphrey’s wasn’t the first to invent the mashup song but they’ve definitely perfected it. Their version infuses one song into another so that both tunes can be played simultaneously. By taking the lyrics of one song and singing them over the notes from another, they create an entertaining piece of music that’s able to bounce back and forth seamlessly.

It was in 2008 that the idea of mashing up cover songs and serving them up on Halloween finally came about. Earlier that year Umphrey’s started performing “Come Closer,” a mash-up originally produced by DJ Zebra that combined “Come Together” by the Beatles and “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails. This mix of two songs that couldn’t be more different had everyone’s jaw on the floor. Umphrey’s has played “Come Closer” live 19 times in the past five years making it the most played mash-up to date. Even though they didn’t come up with the idea themselves, they saw the potential that mash-ups had to offer and how much their audience enjoyed hearing them. So later that year the idea popped up to do a whole show chucked full of mash-ups and thus, the Halloween Mash-up Show was created.

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History of the Umphrey’s McGee Halloween Mashups:


  • “The Triple Wide/Robot Rock” – Daft Punk mash-up; with Jamie Shields on keys and Darren Shearer on percussion
  • “TNT/Paranoid/Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” – AC/DC / Black Sabbath mash-up with Bon Scotty Osbourne (Whitfield Crane) on vocals
  • “Phil’s Farm/7 Nation Army/Money/How Many More Times” – The White Stripes / Pink Floyd / Led Zeppelin mash-up
  • “Another Brick in the Wall/Thriller” – Pink Floyd / Michael Jackson mash-up
  • “Sad But True/Clint Eastwood” – Metallica / Gorillaz mash-up

Band costumes: Brendan was Rick James Bond, Jake was Bezel Bob Dylan, Joel was Sugar Ray Charles, Andy was Ronald McDonald Trump, Kris was Incredible Hulk Hogan, and Ryan was Pittsburgh Van Pirate.


  • “Sweet Sunglasses” – Sweet Dreams (Eurythmics) + Sunglasses at Night (Corey Hart) + Electric Feel (MGMT)
  • “Night Gambler” – The Gambler (Kenny Rogers) + Night Fever (The Bee Gees) + Rapper’s Delight (The Sugarhill Gang) + Bring the Noise (Public Enemy; with Andy on vocals)
  • “Land Of Wappy” – Wappy Sprayberry + Land of Confusion (Genesis) + Seek & Destroy (Metallica)
  • “Nemo’s Fat Bottomed Good Times” – Nemo + Fat Bottomed Girls (Queen) + Good Times Bad Times (Led Zeppelin)

Band costumes: Brendan as Captain Kirk Hammett, Jake was George Harrison Ford, Joel was Dirty Harry Caray, Andy was Wizard of Ozzie Guillen, Kris was Payne Stewart Copeland, and Ryan was Brett Michaels Jackson.


  • “November Walk” – November Rain (Guns N’ Roses) + Cemetery Walk mash-up
  • “The Way You Rule the World” – Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Tears for Fears) + The Way You Make Me Feel (Michael Jackson) mash-up
  • “Bitter Sweet Haji” – Hajimemashite + Bitter Sweet Symphony (The Verve) mash-up
  • “1901 Jump” – 1901 (Phoenix) + Jump (Van Halen) + Fuck You (Cee Lo) mash-up
  • “Don’t Stop the Spirit of the Radio” – Don’t Stop Believin’ (Journey) + The Spirit of Radio (Rush) mash-up

Band costumes: Brendan was Yoko Bono, Jake was Paul Stanley Cup, Joel was Pope John Paul Shaffer, Andy was G.I. Joakim Noah, Kris was Larry David Letterman, and Ryan was Dr. Evil Knievel. Kris read a “Top Ten” list of Halloween costumes after Walletsworth.


  • “Addicted to Kiss” – Kiss (Prince) + Addicted to Love (Robert Palmer) + I Can’t Dance (Genesis) mash-up
  • “Come As Your Kids” – Kids (MGMT) + Come As You Are (Nirvana) + You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) (Dead or Alive) mash-up
  • “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five Wellwishing” – Nineteen Hundred and Eight Five (Wings) + Wishing Well (Terrence Trent D’Arby) + Wellwishers mash-up
  • “In The Puppet Kitchen” – Puppet String / In The Kitchen (two original Umphrey’s songs)

Band costumes: Brendan was Keith Richard Simmons, Jake was Dimebag Daryl Hall, Joel was Vince Neil Armstrong, Andy was Raggedy Andy Rooney, Kris was Pamela Anderson Cooper, and Ryan was Karate Kid Rock.


  • “Life During Exodus” – Life During Wartime (Talking Heads) + Exodus (Bob Marley) + City of Tiny Lites (Frank Zappa) mash-up; with Charlie Otto (This Must Be the Band) on vocals
  • “Ace of Long Nights” – Ace of Spades (Motörhead) + It’s Gonna Be a Long Night (Ween) mash-up
  • “Frankie Zombie” – Thunder Kiss ’65 (White Zombie) + Relax (Frankie Goes to Hollywood) + Have a Cigar (Pink Floyd) mash-up

Band costumes: Brendan was Jay ZZ Top, Jake was Johnny Cassius Clay, Joel was Nacho Liberace, Andy was Ludachrist, Kris was Elton John McEnroe, and Ryan was Salvador Dali Parton. Cheap Sunglasses (ZZ Top) was teased before Loose Ends and La Grange (ZZ Top) was teased before Ace of Long Nights

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There is something unprecedented and exclusive about Umphrey’s Halloween shows. These runs have been known to produce some of the band’s best work and handful of the songs have even made it to their Hall of Fame records. Most of the covers are debuts and many of the mash-ups will never be played again. During 2011’s Hauntlanta run, Umphrey’s threw down a double encore that included “In the Puppet Kitchen,” a mash-up of Umphrey’s originals, “In the Kitchen” and “Puppet String.” This two-for-one combination was so amazing, fans voted it into 2011 Hall of Fame the following year. Furthermore, that Atlanta show was the only time “In the Puppet Kitchen” was ever played live in its entirety.

Not only does Umphrey’s spend months developing these mash-up songs, they also create mash-up Halloween costumes. Basically, each band member merges two iconic figures into one costume and attempts to stay in character for the entire Halloween mash-up show. For instance, in 2009 band members Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss were disguised as George Harrison Ford and Captain Kirk Hammett, respectively. This play on the Beatles/Star Wars and Metallica/Star Trek was beyond entertaining for the audience, especially since each member of the band tries their best to embody the characters they are imitating. It takes a great deal of dedication to play a whole show in a ridiculous costume, but just once a year Umphrey’s loves to entertain their audience with these hysterical gimmicks, making them one of the most entertaining bands you’ll find.

This year Umphrey’s will be closing their fall tour with the longest Halloween run to date. The first night of the run will host the mash-up show and will actually be held on October 31st. Like previous years, they have chosen the best venue in town to host their Halloween party. The Riverside Theater in Milwaukee offers its audience great lines of sight from almost every seat in the house, excellent acoustics, relaxed security and some of the best beer selections Brew City has to offer. Umphrey’s loves the Midwest and we’re stoked to have Halloween back around here.

Chance The Rapper vs Chief Keef: Not a rivalry but a microcosm of gun violence in Chicago

[Chance The Rapper and Chief Keef]

Violence in Chicago is a nationwide topic right now. We’ve become the prototypical ‘gang violence city’ and a hub of contention in the volatile gun control debate. There’s no arguing that what’s happening here is completely out-of-control, an embarrassment to ourselves and our country. The fact that this problem exists is undeniable, there’s no hiding the enormity of this situation. Last month the FBI officially named Chicago as America’s murder capital with 500 homicides in 2013…

So how the hell does rap music play into this? Well, it’s become a microcosm of the gun violence issue. Suddenly there are poster children for two opposite sides of this debate and they happen to be the two stars of the current Chicago rap music world.

In the midst of all this gang/gun violence chaos, Chicago’s rap scene is thriving. Thanks in part to super-blog Fake Shore Drive, the wealth of talent in Chicago has a legitimate national outlet to be showcased. The two primary voices in Chicago — the two stars of this rising movement — are Chance The Rapper and Chief Keef. Maybe you’d think that because these guys are both from the Southside and came up at the same time that they’d have similar stories. The truth is, these two kids couldn’t possibly be any more different.

Musically speaking, they’re worlds apart. Chief Keef is a figurehead in the drill movement, a brand of rap music with overtly violent overtones and an extremely aggressive disposition. His flow is one-dimensional, he has a puddle-depth vocabulary, and his music is on the intellectual level of an episode of Honey Boo Boo. On the other hand, Chance The Rapper combines nearly every trait you’d hope to find in a rap star: he possesses the storytelling ability of Slug (Atmosphere) with the uncanny ability to alter flow & tempo on a dime like Kendrick Lamar and a side of absurdly creative wordplay a la MF DOOM. It’s insane to think that these kids are technically in the same genre, yet they’re really not even on the same planet.

The most insanely obvious difference of them all is their lyrical content. We have Chief Keef waxing such brilliant gems as:

“I’m Southside, I’ll pop out / OBlock bring them Glocks out / 300 bring them chops out /
We shoot up your block now”


“I done got indicted selling all white / But I won’t never snitch none in my life / I keep this shit 3hunna bitch, I’m going right / With my niggas when it’s time to start taking lifes”

While Chance The Rapper says:

“They merking kids, they murder kids here / Why you think they don’t talk about it? They deserted us here / Where the fuck is Matt Lauer at? Somebody get Katie Couric in here / Probably scared of all the refugees, look like we had a fucking hurricane here / They be shooting whether it’s dark or not, I mean the days is pretty dark a lot / Down here it’s easier to find a gun than it is to find a fucking parking spot.”

There’s one guy not only openly endorsing violent gang behavior but essentially confessing his involvement in gunplay & murder. The other guy’s basically pleading to everyone listening that violence is out-of-hand and that Chicago needs help. One of Chicago’s rap stars is a fucking gangbanger, actively glorifying the actions that make Chicago the murder capital of America while the other is a wildly talented wordsmith and an advocate for change.

To make matters worse, Keef seemingly can’t help himself from getting arrested and has been convicted on criminal charges a number of times. So guess which one gets the huge record contract? Which one gets a guest spot on the new Kanye album? If you scour the internet you won’t find a scrap of actual beef between Chance and Keef, there is no rivalry, even though it seems like there should be. Chance does everything right, Keef does everything wrong, and in an ass backwards twist of fate, Keef has gotten the lion’s share of attention & money.

This whole situation speaks to a much larger point: what’s currently being done about violence in Chicago has apparently made zero progress. While many people effortlessly point the finger at the gang culture on the Southside or inadequate gun regulation, they are missing the point that the entire system has been set up for this to happen. Otherwise how could you possibly explain a bonafide gangbanger getting a six (6) million dollar record deal and becoming the face of our city’s rap scene? It’s because the entire American culture of excess has selective blindness, that the epitome of hypocrisy is Chief Keef being celebrated in the midst of this gang violence war.

We had 500 homicides in Chicago last year. Five hundred people, most of them between the ages of 15-25. That’s an entire high school graduating class. The story of Chance The Rapper and Chief Keef doesn’t cover the entire issue of violence in Chicago, not by a long shot. But it illustrates that this issue is as complex as any in America. It shows with certainty that this is a systemic problem, one that is affected by the entire country by providing an environment where gang violence is not only tolerated, but perversely rewarded. Kanye knew exactly what having a verse on “Hold My Liquor” from Chief Keef would mean – controversy sells. As a nation we’ve become cognitively dissonant when it comes to entertainment, willing to disregard painful truths as long as we can stay stimulated. It’s a real ‘what the fuck?‘ situation when a kid gets a massive rap record deal at the same time he’s out slanging coke and shooting up the streets. Clearly, a few Band-Aid fixes to gun laws aren’t going to get it done, and neither is the preferred reaction of Northsiders: “That shit doesn’t affect me, that’s not my neighborhood.” It’s going to take a massive, coordinated cultural shift to truly ‘do something’ about gun violence in Chicago and the country as a whole.

As far as rap goes, luckily the ship is starting to right itself in Chicago. After this Summer, Chance has completely overtaken Keef to become the brightest star in Chicago rap. Talent has rightfully trumped controversy; doing things the right way earned more success than doing things the wrong way. Does this bode well for the gun violence issue on a grand scale? Probably not, America is fucked. The story of Chance The Rapper and Chief Keef is only a microcosm — there certainly aren’t any answers in a metaphor that isn’t even a rivalry. Maybe just a little bit of hope.

Album Review: Vic Mensa – INNANETAPE


The whole dang innanet has been a buzz for months, waiting for the solo release from former Kids These Days front man Vic Mensa.

The Save Money soldier has been on a heck of a journey these past couple of months. From finding his own voice in a post-Kids These Days world, to being dropped into J.Cole’s “What Dreams May Come” tour last week, the hype leading up to this mixtape is very real and well deserved.

Vic Mensa may be one of the most talented lyricists out there: part of a new breed of young bucks that aren’t tied to any particular system, who aren’t afraid to say exactly what they think, who aren’t afraid to change the conversation about hip hop. It doesn’t hurt that he is one of our own homegrown Chicago boys either. Oh yeah, he also spits hot fire. In case you didn’t know.

Vic has been leveraging this hype to the benefit of INNANETAPE. He has beats from some of the most current producers in the game; hell he has Thundercat and Om’mas Keith (the genius behind Frank Ocean’s Grammy winning Channel Orange) on a track together.

Chance and Vic
Chance and Vic

I have been hearing a lot of comparisons made to Save Money compatriot, Chance the Rapper. In truth, it is a little unfair to compare the two. Acid Rap was an insta-classic. I don’t know how many of those records we get, ever. It is nearly impossible not to compare the Save Money bredren; the two of them are tied together forever through mutual shared experience. They have been in each others music videos, they have played each others shows, they have featured on each others mixtapes, they have grown together, they are both from Chicago and both in the Save Money crew. On this piece, INNANETAPE, Vic sounds a lot like Chance.

I’m going to chalk that up to Save Money being responsible for the new Chicago sound.

INNANETAPE is not an insta-classic like Acid Rap. That’s okay. Vic Mensa is going to be just fine. Vic Mensa is not Chance the Rapper.

Vic Mensa is the strangest of the up and coming Chicago rap scene. He isn’t afraid to disrupt everything. He isn’t afraid to challenge his listener. He references everything from the illuminati (not sure why) to famed Canadian interviewer Nardwuar, from Chicago violence to Kenan & Kel. He isn’t afraid to use his vocabulary and he isn’t afraid to pit his voice against his beats and production. This internal competition often makes INNANETAPE sound a little frantic. At times, this record sounds like you are taking a journey through the Save Money Carnival Fun House — distortion mirrors, bearded ladies and everything.

Don’t let that discourage you. Just know that Vic Mensa is for sure going to make sure shit gets real weird.

Take any one of the brilliant tracks on that mixtape (“Orange Soda”, “Lovely Day”, “Time is Money”, “YNSP”),  hold em close… and watch as Vic Mensa takes the world by storm.

Here is the download at the jump c/o the good people over at IllRoots.

Album Review: Drake – Nothing Was the Same

Nothing Was the Same Album Art

I don’t know why Drake gets off so easy. Is it because he’s Canadian? Do we expect less from him because he is an actor-turned-rapper? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that the most interesting thing about his new album is the internet’s response to it.

Who are these folks lauding Drake as the new voice of hip hop? Who are these people calling this album a classic? Pshhh. Go listen to Voodoo by D’Angelo if you really want to hear a classic R&B album. Go listen to Ready to Die by Biggie to hear a classic hip hop record.

At best, Nothing Was the Same is a The Weeknd album with a couple good features. At worst it is the epitome of emo-hop (emo hip hop, get it?). The only reason we tolerate the existence of this album is because nobody really knows what to do with Drake. Take Care was different — even as a person who sports no affinity for the man, I can admit that. Different is important to music in this day and age.  Is Drake a soft rapper? Or a tough R&B singer?

If you are going to try and be a singer/rapper, you should probably make sure that you are correct on both sides of the coin. That is hard to do when cats like Frank Ocean out sing you, and Chance the Rapper out raps you.

That being said, let’s start at the beginning…

We have some powerful production on this record: ethereal, laid back, and we can thank Toronto native Noah “40” Shebib for the sound. It comes in remorseless on the first two tracks on the album “Tuscan Leather” and “Furthest Thing.” It is almost a shame that the production on this album is so strong. Feels like a waste.

Then we have the already widely discussed “Started From the Bottom.” As a fake native Torontonian relocated to Chicago, let me offer you a translation: Drake is from Forrest Hill (Evanston). He started at the “bottom” by having to get a part time job at Shoppers Drug Mart (oh no gotta get a job at CVS!) while attending Forrest Hill Collegiate Prep (Jones College Prep) until the age of 15 where he got cast in notoriously preachy Canadian after-school special tv show Degrassi (Saved By the Bell..with more drug usage and teen pregnancy). Not that all rappers need to come from the Ida B Wells housing projects, they don’t, but don’t tell me that having a Bar Mitzvah and working at a drug store until you get discovered as a teen is the “bottom.” That’s all I will say about that.

Then we have “Wu-Tang Forever,” a song that derives it’s name from the hook (It’s Yours) that is a reference to  “It’s Yourz,” produced by the RZA from 1997’s Wu-Tang Forever. Sure, throw props to the Wu, as you rightfully should as an artist within a genre that they helped to define. But at least have some conviction brahj, there has never been such a hilariously misplaced ode.

You know? This song by song breakdown of this album is almost too much for me to bear, so let’s get down to the important stuff.

We have Jay-z guest flowing on “Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2.” Jay once was the voice of the people, I suppose, but on this feature you almost wish that Kendrick Lamar was still ghostwriting for him. Glad you got Jay on the album Drizzy, just wish it was a better song/feature.

Drake proves that his rap skills have improved, he can rap if he wants too. The funny thing is, it doesn’t seem like he really wants to. Instead he would rather sing… kinda. This album is half “look where I am,”  half  “girl come back to my crib… please… I’m sensitive I swear.”

If you’re into The Weeknd? You might love this album. If you’ve never heard an actual classic rap record? You might love this album. If you just got your teenage ass dumped via text message, you might love this album.

If you were looking for a new voice in the game with something different, provocative, or interesting, you might not love this album.

Come on Drake, we’re listening, give us a reason to root for you home boy. If people are going to follow you blindly, the least you can do is give em’ something worth following.

Soundfuse x Reverb Soul: Fractography

One of the best things about running Soundfuse is getting to meet so many insanely talented people. From musicians to light designers to photographers and everything in between, the world of live music is packed with passionate & skilled artists. One of my favorite people I’ve met over the years is Jay Miller, a widely-talented artist from central Illinois who runs a website called Reverb Soul. I got to know him as a photographer and videographer but recently he has really stepped up his game as a graphic artist, specifically with a type of art he calls ‘fractography.’ You see, Jay loves fractals and has been playing with fractal rendering for years. Obviously something sparked when he decided to combine his love for concert photography with his passion for fractal art and he launched his 30 Days of Fractography project.

I was so impressed by the work I saw from him that I was compelled to reach out about a collaborative project. I haven’t seen any other artist do anything even remotely like this and I was drooling over the possibility of seeing some of my favorite photos fractographized. So what you see here is just that: Soundfuse x Reverb Soul. I chose a smorgasbord of my personal favorite images — ones I thought Jay could really get crazy with — and sent them to Jay with 100% freedom to go apeshit with his fractal art. Much to my pleasure, the result was even better than I could have imagined. Jay absolutely crushed this project — this is some next level shit. Makes me want to do a whole lot more of this in future… but for his sake I hope I have to pay him a lot more money when it comes time for round two. Thanks Jay, this one means a lot to me.

Radiohead at Palace of Auburn Hills – June 11, 2012

Radiohead - ReverbSoul/SoundFuse Fractography Collab

Justice at Congress Theater – October 24, 2012

Lotus - ReverbSoul/SoundFuse Fractography Collab

Brothers Rage with Brendan Bayliss at The Store – December 12, 2012

Radiohead - ReverbSoul/SoundFuse Fractography Collab

Lotus at Riviera Theatre – December 28, 2012

Lotus - ReverbSoul/SoundFuse Fractography Collab

Orchard Lounge at Smartbar – February 22, 2013

Radiohead - ReverbSoul/SoundFuse Fractography Collab

Justice at Congress Theater – October 24, 2012

Lotus - ReverbSoul/SoundFuse Fractography Collab

Pretty Lights at 2012 North Coast Music Fest

Radiohead - ReverbSoul/SoundFuse Fractography Collab