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Khruangbin, Julia Holter and black midi

Pitchfork Festival 2019 - Chicago

by John Noyd

I went to this year’s Chicago Pitchfork in hopes of finding something new. My first time back since 2016, it soon became apparent how much the city had infiltrated and influenced the festival. Windy city artists as diverse as sizzling knob-twiddlers Bitchin Bajas, ultra-smooth DJ Valee, gospel legend Mavis Staples and sunshine folk-rockers Whitney populated all three stages. Fifteen young poets from Young Chicago Authors’ Louder Than a Bomb festival spoke volumes in their short performances between bands on the Blue Stage. Native son Ric Wilson brought the bombastic Lane Tech High School marching band, adopted daughter Lala Lala’s Lillie West fleshed out her stage with hometown aces Sen Morimoto, Kaina Castillo, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya and Vivian McConnell and goofball synth-pop duo Grapetooth brought their entire posse on stage to close out their set. The tribal vibe was infectious, and it was great seeing and hearing Chicago represented on so many different levels.

There was glitz and there was grit; rappers, rockers, jazzbots and funkateers. Ferocious commotion from a shadowy, sumptuous Low, a mad jagged black midi and intergalactic magicians The Great Black Music Ensemble stood shoulder to shoulder with chic sophistication from art-pop surrealist Cate LeBon, cool subversive disconauts Stereolab and multi-lingual groovologists Ibeyi.  There were national acts and international acts, from Texas’ exquisite fusionists Khruangbin and D.C.‘s sleek Flasher to England’s hip hip-hop icon Neneh Cherry and Japan’s theatrical kitsch ambassadors CHAI. Each night’s headliners united generations, delivering baby boomers, The Isley Brothers, Gen Xers, Haim and millennials Robyn. All in all Pitchfork seem to cover all its bases, but did any of it qualify as new?

What does new really mean, anyways? Rising stars? Break-through performances? Beyond the aforementioned events Pitchfork hosted alt-pop balladeer Jay Som introducing new songs from her forthcoming album, indie-rocker Snail Mail brought R&B chanteuse Clairo on stage after having fellow spitfire Soccer Mommy sing the night before at an after show and boppy iconoclasts Belle and Sebastian played their classic, “If You’re Feeling Sinister,” from front to back. Premieres, spontaneous collaborations; these are never before heard moments, but are they new? Quite a few Pitchfork artists are devilishly good at updating fertile traditions, adding new spins on old ideas like Standing On The Corner or infusing fresh energy to well-worn forms like Rico Nasty, but what about new music, daring, different music? Did Pitchfork deliver its promise of a hipster getaway where cutting edge met popular culture?

The answer is a resounding yes! Personally, electro-classical maverick Julia Holter, insurgent black midi and tasty Khruangbin opened my eyes, pricked my ears and punched me in the gut with their new takes melting delicious licks and wily styles into a unique musical hybrid that stood on its own.  Each year I attended I came away with new groups to follow and a renewed hope for a bright musical future. 2019 was no exception and primed the pump until next year when I anxiously look forward to discover what Pitchfork Chicago deems in, important and new.

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Phish performing at Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, Wisconsin in July of 2019.


by Jon Schinke

Legendary Vermont rockers Phish returned to Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin after nearly a four year absence to play a trio of unforgettable shows, capping it all off with one of the most memorable performances in the bands’ illustrious history on Sunday night.

The career-spanning set of shows saw the group dip into their massive catalog of material, playing songs from their inception in the 1980s, to songs off their most recent album, 2016’s Big Boat, as well as material from virtuosic guitarist Trey Anastaio’s solo career, including cuts from his newest project Ghosts in the Forest. The band even revisited tracks from their famed 2018 Halloween show, where they covered an entire album by a little known Scandinavian prog rock band, Kasvot Växt, which turned out to actually be Phish; yet another piece of lore “Phistory”. For more information on the Kasvot Växt Halloween prank, please visit your local search engine and prepare to “faceplant into rock”.

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Sleepwalkers bashing it out at The Shitty Barn

Sleepwalkers with L’Resorts

by John Noyd

If Sleepwalkers didn’t have such a talent for crafting mega-infectious songs, they’d make a great cover band. The Richmond band headed by brothers Austin and Michael York, possess a real knack for sounding familiar yet fresh, juicing proven grooves, tweaking heat-seeking solos and humbly indulging in pumped pomp that reminds you of a half dozen fun things all at once. Radiating a friendly confidence headlining a sold out show at Spring Green’s The Shitty Barn, the band for the most part let the music do the talking; pausing to mentioned the last time they were in the state they opened for the Lumineers and a lot of the songs in the set are from an album coming out July 19th, “Ages.”

When a band hones its chops locally, graduates to opening for a national band, then cuts a record that replicates the vitality of their live show with blockbuster chops, quick licks and zippy riffs, you know you are witnessing something special. I felt I was seeing Sleepwalkers at the peak of their powers on the verge of taking the next step up. The care Michael took adjusting his guitar pedals ever so slightly, fine-tuning his volcanic leads, reflected the attention the band put into the new album, a follow up to their 2014 debut.

A band-produced affair with drummer Alex De Jong manning the boards, “Ages,” blazes in power-ballads catapulted into heaven-sent harmonies and squealing burners churning with breathless road-tested boogie; a groovy fusion of Southern California pop, heartland party-rock and smooth Philly soul. Traveling songs that hug curves, rev motors and kick up dust, Sleepwalker tunes unfold like a birthday card, splashes of effervescent sentiment, bright-colored reverence and warm supportive details. In an amazing display of technical dexterity, the band brought the varied sounds and flavors of the album to life, leaving the Barn audience dazzled, ending their set with everyone on their feet enjoying a moment of pitch-perfect, hip-swiveling bliss.

Milwaukee’s casually upbeat L’Resorts kicked the night off with a brand of marimba-driven dance-pop that brought a sweet, tropical vibe to a beautiful summer night.

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Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander

Cheap Trick with Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts

by John Noyd

The three-ring circus that is Cheap Trick’s Rick, Robin and Tom, came to town the Thursday before Father’s Day to play a sold-out show at Madison’s The Sylvee and the sense of family was thick; from Rick’s son on drums and Robin’s son on guitar and backing vocals to the hugs and hellos flowing around the box office, glory days and nostalgia mixed with a beautiful summer night. The crowd itself favored Empty Nesters, but a few youth and families came to witness that by all accounts was an extra special night of rock. Between baptizing the new venue from a band that in all likelihood played every size venue in Madison at one time or another, celebrating both WIBA’s fiftieth anniversary and forty years since their chart-busting, “Cheap Trick At Budokan,” the, “Greatest Fucking Band in the World,” responded with non-stop rock featuring Link Wray raves, Bo Diddley mischief and Johnny Thunder rumble bouncing from deep cuts to big hits, friendly front-stage banter and roaming showmanship tearing through a twenty-song set that brought the fun out in everyone.

“Here’s one from our latest album; I bought one,” said clown prince and resident shredder Rick Nielsen, “It’s got four chords and we play most of them.” Showering the Sylvee with guitar picks, nicked riffs and twisted licks, Rick played to the side-stage photographers magically disappearing then appearing with a new guitar. From the Beatles embossed axe pulled out for a thundering version of, “Magical Mystery Tour, ” to Jeff Beck’s vintage Esquire on display during, “Voices,” and the five-necked beast that appeared only as a trophy near the final minutes, there seemed to be a guitar for every occasion. 

Musical pyrotechnics were not restricted to guitars as Daxx Nielsen ravaged his kit throughout the romps, stomps and barn-burners while a jaw-dropping twelve-string bass solo from Tom preceded his turn at lead vocals covering the Velvet Underground’s, “Waiting for the Man.” Loose, yet spot on, the energetic chemistry between everyone fueled earth-shattering fanfares, rampaging jams and block-buster ballads.

Singer, songwriter and frontman Robin wore many hats, both figuratively and literally during the hundred minute set; leading the crowd with a riveting, “We’re all alright,” trading guitar barbs in, “California Man,” and searching for Tom when he disappeared at the beginning of, “I Want You To Want Me.” Quick with a smile, ageless in his reviving thirty-year old hits, Robin’s ringmaster panache set a high standard from the opener, “Hello There,” to the final song, “Good Night Now,” with occasional rests to thank Madison, the opening band and remind everyone they’ll be opening for ZZ Top September 4th at Milwaukee’s BMO Harris Pavilion.

A situation arose where I was unable to see the opener, Rockford outfit Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts, led by one of Rick’s sons, but I could hear them blast away while local legend Art Paul serenaded the scalpers, late arrivals and smokers. By all appearances, a nice warm-up for a fiery night of sizzling rock ‘n roll.

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Superorganism - Majestic Theater May 2019

Superorganism with Simpson

by John Noyd

Bringing the same show they performed in the smaller Frequency down the street just over a year ago, the international collective known as Superorganism descended on Madison’s Majestic Theater to trip the light fantastic. The roomier accommodations made a world of difference, allowing a critical mass to form for some loud crowd-sourced joy that cashed in on Superorganism’s sing-along slogan-songs and freedom-seeking freakiness.  Cartoon anarchy delivered in a psychedelic cyclone, the eight-person ensemble’s stage-screens reflected skittery video glitter back at wacky laid-back theatrics to wrench the dulled mid-week senses from complacent blankness into fabulous interactive passion. Paying ball-pit lip-service in an over-stimulated playground, the band’s dynamic antics and porous choreography mixed slow-brewed funk trapped inside a rainbow-flavored lava lamp into wonky 8-bit sound samples spooning slacker adages as ironic spoofs and retro-future grooves. Sparkling marketing positing cosmic optimism with phosphorescent graphics, comic-book costumes and a day-glo Greek chorus; it all made for one mega-rad, ultra-fab Wednesday night.

“I had cheese curds for dinner,” said lead singer and sometime guitarist Orono Noguch, “and I think I did last time I was here.” Then she went off on a minor ramble about how every band probably mentions cheese when they play Madison before breaking into the next song. That down-to-earth smirk and casual attitude did much to keep the party light and happening in a dazzling display of showmanship glitz, open-hearted catharsis and woozy phat beats. Pop by its very nature is simple and direct, hiding its subversions in glossy diversion and sly ironies; art-happening enchanters, Superorganism put forth sublime pop whose indulgent tastes for eclectic cross-cultural fetishes turns doomed consumerism into virtual-reality safe-rooms, digital missionaries celebrating universal hallucinogenic raves.

It was the opener, Simpson’s first time in Wisconsin and her snappy raps kicked off an evening of audience participation and post-modern bonding with questions about cheese hats and country dialects. “Find me on social media,” she said, giving out her twitter name, WhoisSIMPSON, and sassing her DJ’s Instagram handle, Polygamy. while laying down an impressive set that flowed with ardent jargon and mastered sass. A perfect compliment to Superorganism’s internet aesthetic.

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