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Tuesday, September 21st, 2004

Another Morning

So I’m doing it. After a good deal of procrastination, I’m committed to going to Chicago for the weekend of November 13th to see the reunited and rejuvenated American Music Club with Will Johnson. I’ve booked the vacation time, bought the concert ticket online (god bless Scubas) and am booking a flight in a couple days (as soon as my Visa billing period rolls over…). Their Love Songs For Patriots doesn’t come out domestically until October 12 but is already available in the UK – I just ordered a copy, so unwilling am I to wait (and it was cheap!). But Chicago, yeah. Anyone have any suggestions for other things to do/see/partake in while I’m there? I’m planning on flying in on the morning of the 12th and coming back the afternoon of the 14th, so we’re talking about two days or so. I’ve never been – all I know about Chicago is what I saw in the opening credits of Perfect Strangers. Anyway, back to AMC.

Reviews have started coming in from across the Atlantic and they’re very very very very good (Mostly, anyway). BBC 6 has some samples from the record. If you want to check out some older stuff, I can heartily recommend the 1984-1995 compilation available only from shows and through the band’s website. A collection of singles, rarities and alternate takes it functions well as both an introduction for newcomers and an archive for fans. The Guardian also took the time to talk to Mark Eitzel about hats, how the reunion came about and why they split in the first place. Finally, worth watching is this beautifully-shot documentary short on the band by Matt Arnato, circa Mercury (1993). If you’ve never heard American Music Club, you really must – I would put Eitzel up there as one of the best songwriters of the last twenty years, and if you disagree then YOU HAVE NO SOUL. Go eat some babies or something.

In further fence-sitting news, I had an eleventh hour change of heart and went to see Macha and Mahjongg after all – though the offer of 1/2 price admission for 20Hz-ers certainly made it an easier decision. $5 and nothing else to do on a Monday night? Sure. Mahjongg were already onstage when I got to Lee’s, and it took me a few songs to get a handle on what they were doing. What started out sounding just like chaos eventually revealed itself to be something considerably cooler – it was all very dancey/arty with Krautrock rhythms, deep heavy grooves and scratchy/skronky guitars but with definite melodic underpinnings that kept it listenable. Not normally my thing but by the end I was getting into it. Bonus points for decorating the stage with camoflauge netting.

Athens, Georgia’s Macha have some of the most unusual instrumentation you’re going to find in indie rock circles. Xylophones (or are they glockenspiels?), dulcimers, zithers, crazy old synths – hell, I won’t try to identify anything else – Sufficed to say they’ve got some really unusual sounds at their disposal. I’d heard they made some changes to their overall sound in the years between 1999s See It Another Way and this year’s Forget Tomorrow, and indeed they have. It was easy to tell the older material from the newer – their new stuff no longer centers around the unusual instruments, now they act more as accents to the more conventional guitar-based songs with de rigeur disco-beat drums. I definitely preferred their older stuff, with the intricate instrumentation, complex rhythms and mysterious sonic textures. The set was a decent mix of old and new stuff though, so I was satisfied. And if they were put off by the low turnout, they didn’t let it show – they were gracious to the 30 or so people in attendance. A shame, that – more people should have been there. I’m glad I was.

It was also an opportunity to try my camera out yet again, and this time I think I’ve got it. Much much better results this time, though you’ll have to wait a day or two to see – it’s far too late for me to be processing all the pics and getting them online. I know I’ve set a precedent thus far by having my concert pics up within hours of the show ending, but come on – even I need to sleep. Or get my amphetamine prescription refilled.

Badly Drawn Boy teaches bad math at the Phoenix November 26 to promote One Plus One Is One. It’s not, Damon. It’s two. TWO.

The Shortlist short list is out. Of my picks, only Wilco and Nellie McKay made the cut. I guess I’d like Wilco to win (duh) but if I were a betting man, I’d have to put cash on Franz Ferdinand.

The Black Table reviews Art Spiegelman’s In The Shadow Of No Towers, his comic-book meditation on September 11 and life afterwards. I want to read this. Considering how short (and big) it is, I could probably just head over to Chapters and finish it in one loiter session.

Happy 70th, Leonard Cohen.

np – Paul Westerberg / Folker

By : Frank Yang at 9:27 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Gary Campbell says:

    In the 4 or 5 times I’ve been there, I’ve always found Chicago a bit hard to figure out/navigate. For one, it’s a doughnut: the downtown core is only where people work, so nothing much else actually goes on there (no cool shops etc). The happening places are in the outlying areas of the city — essentially imagine the opposite of Toronto — so you go out to the suburbs to find cool music and used book shops and places where people are doing stuff. I’ll send you a more lengthy email with an annotated map.

  2. horace says:

    i wouldn’t call the north side "the suburbs." it’s just that the city is pretty big.

    indie shops aside, downtown shouldn’t be missed. if you have time, the modern art museum, the field museum, the grant park area, the lincoln park zoo and conservatory (free!), the chicago river/magnificent mile area are all very lovely.

    but yeah, i would also go to the north side around wrigleyville and lincoln park for the shops. take the elevated trains.

  3. Steve says:

    Hey, Chromewaves reader from the windy city here. There’s some cool stuff going on here that weekend. Check out the Humanities Festival which has some excellent events on that weekend.

    Also, it’s a bit out of the way, but the Mexican Fine Arts Center’s excellent annual Day of the Dead exhibit will be going on, and I highly recommend it, if you have time. Very cool. And you can get some authentic Mexican chow in the area.

    Best museum is the Art Institute of Chicago, which is downtown. Many world-famous paintings that you’ll recognize right away. Huge place. I’d do that before doing the Field Museum, the overpriced Shedd Aquarium, or the lame Adler planetarium. If you’re looking for a second museum, do the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is near the posh Mag Mile shopping district.

    Skip Navy Pier, which is a tourist trap.

    Most of the musicians you write about play in theaters on the north side (like The Metro). You should visit those areas of the city, esp. Lakeview/Wrigleyville (the area near the Red line Belmon and Addison stops) and Wicker Park (that hipster heaven near the Damen stop on the Blue line). Get yourself a 2- or 3-day CTA visitor pass, which is good for unlimited rides on the city’s buses and trains. (It’s perfectly safe.) You can buy one online or at the airport when you arrive. A few highlights in those neighborhoods are Reckless Records (Lakeview and Wicker Park), Quimby’s books and comic (Wicker Park) and Chicago Comics (Lakeview). Coolest movie theaters are The Music Box (Lakeview) and the Gene Siskel Film Center (downtown, on state street).

    I’d be happy to help if you have questions. Least I can do after all the songs I’ve downloaded off you!

  4. Frank says:

    Steve – thanks kindly for the tips. I was hoping that I would get some feedback from a local. I’m still a ways off from actually planning out the specifics of the trip but when I do, I may be in touch.