Seasons change, and so does the aural landscape

September 10, 2007


  • With summer concert season and the onslaught of festivals finally behind us, it's time for music fans to return to the clubs, theaters and arenas, and to head for the record stores (or their favorite download sites) for the record labels' big Fall releases.

    As always, the Chicago calendar is already packed with plenty of promising choices in the months to come. Here's a look at some of the biggest and a few that I'm most excited about.

    Steve Earle, "Washington Square Serenade" (New West Records, Sept. 25)
    Back from an unusual three-year sabbatical, the prolific Nashville-based singer and songwriter signed to a new label to follow up "The Revolution Starts... Now." The new disc is a quieter effort musically (with less electric guitar and more of a bluegrass feel) and lyrically (in place of the fiery political diatribes of the last disc, these songs were inspired by the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early '60s). But as always, Earle shows a passion almost unequaled on the current music scene. Expect a fall tour to be announced soon.


    PJ Harvey, "White Chalk" (Island Records, Sept. 25)
    Also back from a three-year break is British alternative-rock heroine Polly Jean Harvey, who reunited with longtime collaborators Flood and John Parish as well as recruiting Jim White of the Dirty Three and avant-rock keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman to help craft the follow-up to "Uh Huh Her." In a departure from earlier recordings, most of these songs were written on piano instead of guitar, and after an early listen, the New Musical Express promised "sparse sounds, spine-tingling pianos and vocals that bring a tear to the eye --in a good way." Harvey is also expected to tour before the end of the year.


    Genesis, 8 p.m. Oct. 2-4 at the United Center
    Yes, I know they were underwhelming at Live Earth, and sure, I'm disappointed that Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks made no effort to reunite with guitarist Steve Hackett, much less original vocalist Peter Gabriel. But I can't help it: The teenage progressive-rock geek in me is excited nonetheless, and while a scan of the European set lists indicates that most of the three Chicago shows will consist of late-era hits from the '80s and '90s, there are also some treats for us longtime devotees ("Firth Of Fifth/I Know What I Like," "Los Endos" and "The Carpet Crawlers"). Tickets are $57 to $227 through Ticketmaster.


    The White Stripes, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6 & 7 at the Aragon Ballroom
    Detroit's minimalist blues-rock duo is best appreciated in a theater, but Jack and Meg White have held their own at the Aragon before -- actually making that booming cavern sound halfway decent -- and they should be in fine form as they unleash the strong new material from their stellar sixth album, "Icky Thump." Cold War Kids open, and tickets are $38.50 through Ticketmaster.


    The Go! Team, 9 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Double Door
    Driven by studio wizard Ian Parton and fronted by irrepressible vocalist Ninja, the Go! Team released its killer first album, "Thunder, Lightning, Strike," on Columbia Records in 2005. The dance-rock band has returned to the indie-rock ranks for the recent "Proof of Youth," and it's keeping things real with this small club tour supporting the new Sub Pop release. Tickets are $15 at the box office, 1572 N. Milwaukee, or call (773) 489-3160.


    Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 at United Center
    Beyond the obvious celebrity curiosity of this famous though seldom-seen-in-public couple showing up together onstage, this glitzy double bill poses the intriguing question of whether Anthony, always a motivating live performer, will be able to elevate the contributions of his bride, who's been dire on record and even worse in concert. The two will each perform songs on their own in English and Spanish before hooking up for the most anticipated part of the show. Tickets are $45 to $200 through Ticketmaster.


    Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, on album ("Magic," Columbia Records, Oct. 2) and in concert (United Center, Oct. 21)
    Once again produced by Brendan O'Brien, the favorite sons of Asbury Park, N.J., will release their first new album in five years shortly before embarking on a tour that brings them to Chicago later in October. The languid folk-rock of "The Rising" (2002) left me cold, but Springsteen's longtime manager Jon Landau describes the new disc as "as a high-energy rock CD ... light on its feet [and] incredibly well played." And of course, fans always hold their heroes' concerts as second to none. Springsteen hits town on Oct. 21. Tickets, $65-$95, are now on sale through; (312) 559-1212.


    The Beastie Boys 8 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Riviera Theatre and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Charter One Pavillion

    More than two decades after New Yorkers Mike D (Mike Diamond), Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) and MCA (Adam Yauch) morphed from a hardcore punk band into a wildly creative crew of rappers alternately devoted to fighting for your right to party and spreading political consciousness, the trio is continuing to make hip-hop history by once again attempting to bring new dimensions to the live rap experience.

    Supporting "The Mix-Up," the instrumental album they released last June, the Beasties are playing multiple-night stands in many major cities, offering one full-scale concert (that's the show at Charter One here) and a second night at a smaller venue (the Riv) where they'll highlighting their instrumental material. They're billing the latter as "a Gala Event" and encouraging fans to "dress to impress" in suits and ties or dresses fit for a formal evening out.

    Reviews of the tour so far have described the full-scale set as typical of the fast-paced Beasties assaults of recent arena jaunts, with the trio drawing material from throughout their lengthy discography as well as including a few songs from "The Mix-Up." Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Natalie Nichols noted, "This mash-up of nostalgia and fresh excitement had such a party-all-night propulsiveness that everyone seemed stunned when the show slammed to a halt with the final, body-banging notes of 'Sabotage'."

    Meanwhile, Variety critic David Sprague caught the instrumental show in New York, and while it wasn't entirely lacking in vocals, the group did stretch out much more than usual into soul, jazz and dub reggae. "As they proved by back-loading the set with fan favorites like 'Sure Shot' and 'So What'cha Want,' the Beastie Boys still carry that old-school entertainer gene in their collective DNA," Sprague wrote. "But as long as they're willing to take chances like those woven into 'The Mix-Up,' they're not likely to go the way of the Borscht Belt anytime soon."

    Tickets for the Riviera ($48) and Charter One ($45) shows are available by calling (312) 559-1212;


    Van Halen 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Allstate Arena, and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at the United Center

    For my money, the pop-metal gods of the '80s were never better than when Diamond Dave was at the helm, because while David Lee Roth knew how silly the thundering spectacle could be, Sammy Hagar just never got the joke. (And let's just forget about Gary Cherone.) Now, the on-again/off-again reunion that fans never thought they'd see is finally a "go," and the hilarity is already ensuing.

    "Usually, when a band comes back like us, it's rockers with walkers," Roth said at the press conference announcing this jaunt a few weeks ago. "I'm shocked any of us are still vertical!"

    Less believable were claims by the singer and the other original band members, guitarist Eddie and drummer Alex Van Halen, that the new lineup, with Eddie's son Wolfgang replacing founding bassist Michael Anthony, is the best it's ever had. "This is not a reunion, this is a whole new band," said the 51-year-old Roth, adding that the group has "lots of dreams, lots of ambitions" (including the possibility of a new album) and that, "We really have re-formed this team like a brother team that it never was before."

    Maybe, but it was certainly tacky of Van Halen to airbrush Anthony off the cover of the group's debut album posted on its Web site (Wolfie wasn't even born when that disc was released, and the original art was soon restored after complaints by fans). We've heard this sort of talk from these boys before, only to find Eddie and Dave at each other's throats again a short time later. Tickets for both shows are $49.50 to $149.50 through

    Meanwhile, if you inexplicably preferred Van Hagar to the original Van Halen, or if you remain loyal to Anthony and his famous "downing the Jack Daniels during the bass solo" routine, the two orphans are doing a tour of their own that comes to the Chicago Theatre at 7 p.m. on Nov. 10. Tickets are $29.50 to $75. Call (312) 559-1212;



    Lupe Fiasco; "The Cool," (Atlantic Records, Nov. 20); and in concert (8p.m. Oct. 31 at the House of Blues)

    After the endless wait for the release of last year's "Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor," which scored three Grammy nods and spawned a hit with the unforgettable skateboarding single "Kick, Push," the Chicago rapper known to his mom as Wasalu Muhammad Jaco has quickly come back with a sophomore effort called "The Cool." The artist describes his new disc as "a bit more streamlined and a little bit more focused ... Not a concept album," but that may only be because he failed to tap Pink Floyd as musical contributors. (Ever the optimist, he's still holding out hope for a collaboration.)

    "The Cool" features tracks produced by Pro and Soundtrack, and Lupe has been hinting that Kanye West and Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes may make appearances as well. "The pieces won't come together, seriously, until like three weeks before it comes out," he has said. "We'll probably record everything in, like, a week ... Then fresh from the studio, fresh to mastering, so it eliminates a lot of time and error that was surrounding my debut."

    Even if those stars don't wind up on his new album, Lupe is also talking about the possibility of a full album from CRS (Child Rebel Soldiers) -- a supergroup featuring him, Kanye and Pharrell. (The trio came together to rap over a sample from Radiohead's Thom Yorke on the song "Us Placers" from West's recent "Can't Tell Me Nothin'" mixtape.)

    Previewing some of his own new material at Lollapalooza last month, Lupe was as energizing and inspiring a presence onstage as ever, and he's sure to be even better as the release of his newest music draws closer and he begins a new cycle of touring with this intimate show at the House of Blues. Tickets are $35 at the box office, 329 N. Dearborn. Call (312) 923-2000;