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Friday, December 28, 2018

It's still Christmas at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Posted By on 12.28.18 at 03:06 PM

Holiday greenhouse at the Chicago Botanic Garden - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • Holiday greenhouse at the Chicago Botanic Garden

If you’ve never been to the Chicago Botanic Garden, stop reading now and make a note on your 2019 calendar to get there this spring when everything bursts into fantastic, full-color bloom. Because, although the Garden offers year-round pleasures, that’s how it should be seen first.

Otherwise, the next week or so isn’t a bad time to drop in. The pre-Christmas hoopla's over, but the indoor holiday exhibit, the Wonderland Express, stays up through January 6, as does the garden’s judicious and stunning outdoor lighting.

Chicago Botanic Garden - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • Chicago Botanic Garden

The Wonderland Express, housed in Nichols Hall, consists of a dozen garden-scale trains running through a miniature landscape studded with more than 80 Chicago-area landmarks, all surrounded by tiny fir trees, relatively giant poinsettias, and numerous other plants.  President Obama's home is here, as is the former Sears Tower and Millennium Park. If you’re a railroad fan, garden enthusiast, architecture buff, or tyke, there’s something to interest you.

Chicago's Ferris wheel and skyscrapers, amid flowers at the Chicago Botanic Garden's  Wonderland Express - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • Chicago's Ferris wheel and skyscrapers, amid flowers at the Chicago Botanic Garden's Wonderland Express

Like the buildings in the Garden's outdoor railroad exhibit (which is closed for the winter), the landmark buildings here are entirely constructed of natural materials. This is ingenious crafting—by designer Paul Busse—but it makes for a monotone built environment.  Under deliberately subdued lighting, it's a sepia world that might strike you as either cozy or gloomy.

Waud felt figures at Lenhardt Library, Chicago Botanic Garden - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • Waud felt figures at Lenhardt Library, Chicago Botanic Garden

The adjacent Lenhardt Library has a small, charming display of handmade felt storybook characters.  And there’s a fanciful gingerbread village in an anteroom to the railroad exhibit that left me imagining a merry, bright, architecturally accurate, and totally edible Chicago.

The Wonderland Express is open 10 AM to 7 PM through January 6; tickets for this exhibit are $13; $10 for seniors and kids ages 3 to 12; free for children 2 years old and under.  Two-for-one coupons may be available online.  Entrance to the garden is free but parking fees of $25 per car and $30 per van, apply.  Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe;; 847-835-5440.

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Monday, December 3, 2018

Singer-guitarist Haley Fohr hunts for a path forward with a colorful Hideout residency

Posted By on 12.03.18 at 03:13 PM

  • Photo by Michael Vallera
  • Haley Fohr

Since fall 2017, Haley Fohr has been on the road playing songs from Reaching for Indigo (Drag City), the sixth full-length by her primary musical project, Circuit des Yeux. The singer-guitarist is finishing the tour and the year with a three-night weekly residency at the Hideout entitled Intentions of Sociable Creativity Through Light & Sound, which will retire the album's material, celebrate Fohr's relationship to Chicago's experimental- and improvised-music communities, and point toward the music she'll make in 2019.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Jonny Polonsky celebrates decades of guitar-pop perfection with a show in his old hometown

Posted By on 11.20.18 at 11:24 AM

  • Photo by Aurelien Budynek
  • Jonny Polonsky

In 2018, emerging musicians commonly hashtag artists they admire on Instagram or @ them on Twitter, hoping for a signal boost that might get them new listeners. In the 80s and 90s, though, the analog to this social-media circuit was tape trading (eventually people started using burned CDs, but "CD trading" doesn't have the same ring).

Among the most successful at this organic style of self-promotion was Jonny Polonsky, a Chicago-born, Wilmette-raised singer-songwriter who began hand-distributing his self-produced cassettes at shows around the city when he was still a teenager. By 1994, when he reached legal drinking age, he'd already made fans of the likes of Marc Ribot, Jeff Buckley, and John Zorn. That same year he released a demo produced by Frank Black, which quickly persuaded Rick Rubin to sign him to American Recordings. Polonsky's 1996 debut album, Hi My Name Is Jonny, brims with smart, pristine power pop, and it made him a critical darling; stints on Lollapalooza and other cross-country tours followed.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Pitchfork’s Midwinter brings Kamasi Washington, Slowdive, Laurie Anderson, and dozens more to the Art Institute

Posted By on 11.14.18 at 10:00 AM

Kamasi Washington - COURTESY OF SACKS & CO.
  • Courtesy of Sacks & Co.
  • Kamasi Washington

Today Pitchfork and the Art Institute of Chicago announce the debut of Midwinter, a three-night event that will fill the museum's galleries with live music from February 15 through 17. Among the acts slated to appear are Kamasi Washington, Slowdive, Laurie Anderson, Panda Bear, Mykki Blanco, and Tortoise, who'll play all of TNT to celebrate the album's 21st anniversary. In its size and diversity, Midwinter's lineup looks like it belongs to an outdoor festival, but many of these acts don't make the kind of music that goes over well with thousands of sun-baked, half-drunk young people who've been on their feet all day. I'd prefer to watch William Basinski perform The Disintegration Loops in a museum, where there's at least a nonzero chance that the atmosphere will be appropriately meditative.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Beach Bunny’s indie pop goes from dorms to DIY shows to Thalia Hall

Posted By on 10.31.18 at 03:26 PM

Lili Trifilio of Beach Bunny - OWEN LEHMAN
  • Owen Lehman
  • Lili Trifilio of Beach Bunny

Chicago native Lili Trifilio knows that heartbreak and growing up are inevitably painful, but as far as she's concerned, they're pains you can dance your way through. As front woman of indie-pop band Beach Bunny, she turns them into upbeat, danceable tracks you can sway along to. "I hope that when people listen to Beach Bunny and they're going through a hard time, maybe a heartbreak, that they can relate to the lyrics and find some peace in them," she says.

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Monday, October 29, 2018

Chicago noise-rock duo Djunah premier a video that puts the Brett Kavanaughs of the world on notice

Posted By on 10.29.18 at 12:57 PM

Nick Smalkowski and Donna Diane of Djunah - SARAH FOX
  • Sarah Fox
  • Nick Smalkowski and Donna Diane of Djunah

This April, members of Fake Limbs and Beat Drun Juel, two recently defunct staples of Chicago's noise-rock scene, debuted as the duo Djunah. Beat Drun Juel's front woman fills a similar role here, playing guitar and singing under the new stage name Donna Diane—except she also adds bass parts with a foot-pedal synthesizer, Michael Rutherford style. Fake Limbs drummer Nick Smalkowski anchors the songs with hearty beats that will sound familiar to fans of his old band—in fact Djunah is almost a hybrid of both member's previous groups, wedding Smalkowski's knotty, rock-solid rhythms to Diane's dramatic, sweeping melodies.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

At the Coven Classic, Akenya leads a band of talented Chicagoans in covers of Halloween-themed songs by women

Posted By on 10.24.18 at 04:19 PM

  • Courtesy of Akenya
  • Akenya

Every Halloween season, concertgoers can take their pick of shows where local musicians perform as far more famous artists—the kind who no longer play in the small clubs that tend to host these shows. Kickstand Talent buyer John Ugolini, for instance, will appear as Lou Bega at Beat Kitchen's Halloween Extravaganza XIV on Saturday—an especially brave choice, given that Bega has only one song that anybody knows. On Friday at Sleeping Village, Chicago party producers Slo 'Mo will throw the Coven Classic, which cofounder Kristen Kaza describes on the Sleeping Village website as a covers show of seasonally appropriate songs by "witches & b#$!s from Grace Jones to Nina Simone."

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Cave return with their first new music in five years, and it’s worth the wait

Posted By on 10.18.18 at 02:31 PM

Cave: Cooper Crain, Rob Frye, Rex McMurry, Jeremy Freeze, and Dan Browning - MICHAEL VALLERA
  • Michael Vallera
  • Cave: Cooper Crain, Rob Frye, Rex McMurry, Jeremy Freeze, and Dan Browning

If you'd asked me earlier this year, I would've assumed Cave was done. Multiple members of the Chicago-based five-piece had moved out of town. Guitarist and organist Cooper Crain was busy with Bitchin Bajas (where he's joined by Cave multi-instrumentalist Rob Frye) and the Haley Fohr collaboration Jackie Lynn, not to mention his work as a recording engineer. As far as I knew, the band had only played one local show in three years. They hadn't put out any new material since the 2013 album Threace—the 2014 odds-and-sods collection Release was all hard-to-find but previously released music.

Some of those members' moves turned out to be temporary, though, and Crain wasn't too busy after all. In July, seemingly out of nowhere, the band released a music video for "San' Yago," a love letter to Chicago-style hot dog shacks—and just like that, Cave were back.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Jazz bassist Matt Ulery blends styles and scenes with his multifarious new project

Posted By on 10.16.18 at 03:57 PM

Bassist and composer Matt Ulery - HARVEY TILLIS
  • Harvey Tillis
  • Bassist and composer Matt Ulery

For all the contributions that bassist and composer Matt Ulery makes to the Chicago jazz scene—whether via his own music or via platforms he creates—he rarely pats himself on the back. He's not a gratuitous self-promoter either, preferring to let his music speak for itself. And there's a lot of it to speak: the brand-new Sifting Stars is Ulery's eighth album as a bandleader since his debut in 2008. He also plays as a sideman in uncountable groups (ad hoc as well as established), leads weekly jams at the Whistler with drummer Quin Kirchner, and runs his own label, Woolgathering Records.

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Monday, October 15, 2018

German pop princess Kim Petras gets dark and campy with a Halloween-themed mixtape

Posted By on 10.15.18 at 05:38 PM

Earlier this month, Kim Petras released Turn Off the Light, Vol. 1. - THOM KERR
  • Thom Kerr
  • Earlier this month, Kim Petras released Turn Off the Light, Vol. 1.

German pop princess Kim Petras first got famous for something unrelated to her music: at the unusually young age of 12, she began hormone replacement therapy, at 14 she was officially registered as a girl, and by 16 she'd received gender confirmation surgery. But she's said in an interview with the New York Times that she doesn't care about being the first transgender teen idol. Petras, now 26 and based in Los Angeles, wants to be known as an artist.

Petras began her music career in earnest in 2017, and on October 1, she dropped her biggest release yet, the Halloween-themed mixtape Turn Off the Light, Vol. 1. It explores the darker side of her 80s-influenced sound, shifting from her trademark bubblegum pop to something moodier and more gothic. The mixtape's spooky electronic dance tracks ("Close Your Eyes," "Tell Me It's a Nightmare") are linked by largely instrumental breaks ("Omen," "Boo! Bitch!") with only occasional hushed vocals—and these passages carry you into the next song so smoothly that you might not even notice until you're halfway through it. Compared with the bright pop of her earlier work, Turn Off the Light, Vol. 1 is spookier and sexier, with darker lyrics and thickly stacked synth chords that evoke the creepy organ sounds in pulpy old horror movies.

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