See It, Hear It, Buy It
Local Venues, record stores, and radio
The crowd for King Khan & BBQ Show at the Empty Bottle;
By Peter Margasak
September 22, 2006
A GLANCE AT the Reader’s live music listings makes it plain
that navigating the scene
here can be tough. Rock, jazz, blues,
hip-hop, international, folk,
country, and experimental music
are all well represented here year-round,
and up-and-coming and veteran
locals can be seen in bars
across the city on any given night.
Touring national acts play a smaller
selection of venues.
The grande dame is Wrigleyville’s Metro (3730 N.
Clark, 773-545-0203), where fairly
established alt-rock, hip-hop,
punk, and pop acts stop on
national tours, often for all-ages
shows. The smaller Double Door (1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160) in Wicker Park focuses more
on local acts and lesser-known
touring bands. The Empty Bottle (1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600)
in Ukrainian Village delivers an
eclectic and cutting-edge mix of
indie rock, electronica, hip-hop,
jazz, experimental, and alt-country;
the club is also one of several
promoters booking shows at
the Logan Square Auditorium (2539 N. Kedzie, 773-252-6179),
where you can find Brazilian
samba one night, punk rock the
next. A similar diversity can be
found at the Abbey Pub (3420 W.
Grace, 773-478-4408), with an
Irish pub on one side and an
eclectic room offering rock, hiphop,
and punk in a theater-shaped
space. Downtown, House of Blues (329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000)
occasionally represents its namesake’s
genre, but more often than
not it delivers an eclectic variety of
rock and pop with occasional
forays into international music,
country, reggae, and hip-hop.
Martyrs’ (3855 N. Lincoln, 773-
404-9494) books lots of local acts,
with an accent on jam bands, but
once in a while an indie rock
touring band turns up.
Schubas (3159 N. Southport, 773-
525-2508) in Lakeview offers an
intimate setting for a mixture of
indie-pop outfits, singer-songwriters,
alt-country, and indie rock.
About a mile west is the Beat Kitchen (2100 W. Belmont, 773-281-4444), one of the main outlets
for the bookings of MP
Productions, the operation run by
Brian Peterson, who used to book
the punk rock shows at the legendary Fireside Bowl, which still
hosts the occasional gig. He favors
a hard-hitting mix of punk, metal,
and indie rock upstarts, but there
are occasional flashes of the club’s
past with rootsier performers.
Peterson also programs some shows
at the Subterranean (2011 W.
North, 773-278-6600), which
emphasizes indie pop acts.
The pricey Jazz Showcase (59 W.
Grand, 312-670-2473) is the city’s
mainstream acoustic jazz haven,
where some of the biggest names
in the biz take up six-night residencies;
the club recently lost its
lease, though it’s bound to resurface
somewhere next year. The gorgeous
Green Mill (4802 N.
famously a hang of Al Capone’s,
features top local jazz talent weeknights
and brings in national acts
on the weekends with affordable
covers. For more avant-garde jazz
there’s the Velvet Lounge (67 E.
Cermak, 312-791-9050), the longstanding
club owned by Chicago
tenor sax great Fred Anderson,
which just opened at a new location
and features some of the finest
players affiliated with the
Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. The city’s
thriving and acclaimed local free jazz scene can be heard thanks to
the co-op Umbrella Music
(umbrellamusic.org), which programs
shows at a constellation of
venues including Elastic (2830 N.
Milwaukee, 773-772-3616), the
Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia, 773-
227-4433), and the Hungry Brain (2319 W. Belmont, 773-935-2118).
The Old Town School of Folk Music (4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-
6000) has the best small theater in
the city, with excellent sound and
sight lines; this Chicago institution
(in Lincoln Square, not Old Town)
offers a nice mix of country, folk,
singer-songwriters, jazz, and international
music. In some ways the
tiny Hideout mirrors the Old
Town’s eclectic spirit, with a good
mix of alt-country, indie rock, and
jazz, administered by one of
Chicago’s friendliest staffs. Out
west in Berwyn, FitzGerald’s (6615
Roosevelt, Berwyn, 708-788-2118)
is a haven for American roots music
of all stripes, but it focuses on
country, blues, and the music of
New Orleans. Perhaps the most
eclectic club in Chicago is the
HotHouse (31 E. Balbo, 312-362-9707), a consistent presenter of
international music, as well as
jazz, neosoul, spoken word, folk,
and some rock.
Chicago is called the home of the
blues, and there are plenty of clubs
serving it up all week long, but the
steady tourist business means the
clubs don’t offer many surprises.
The most established places include
Blue Chicago (536 N. Clark, 312-661-0100, and 736 N. Clark, 312-642-6261), B.L.U.E.S. (2519 N. Halsted, 773-528-1012), the
Kingston Mines (2548 N. Halsted,
773-477-4646), Rosa’s Lounge (3420 W. Armitage, 773-342-0452),
and the recently cleaned-up and
relocated Checkerboard Lounge (5201 S. Harper, 773-684-1472).
For something more authentic
and gritty try Lee’s Unleaded Blues(7401 S. South Chicago, 773-493-3477) or Artis’s (1249 E. 87th,
Other, more erratic spaces
present terrific fringy stuff. Elastic
offers jazz, experimental, and
electronic, while 6Odum (2116 W.
Chicago, 773-227-3617) is where
Lampo, the city’s premier experimental
music presenter, puts on
shows seasonally. South Union Arts (1352 S. Union, 312-850-1049)
and Heaven Gallery (1550 N.
Milwaukee, 773-342-4597) are two
underground multiarts venues.
Despite the richness of our music
scene, the record-store business is in
dire straits. There are two Tower
Records locations, but after the company’s
recent Chapter 11 filing, it’s
anyone’s guess how long they’ll be
around. Virgin Megastore (540 N.
Michigan, 312-645-9300) is a decent chain store, but over the last
few years DVDs have been steadily
crowding out the CDs. The way
things are going with digital downloads
and mail order, the key to survival
for brick-and-mortar shops
may be finding a niche. The best
stores in Chicago are specialists: for
jazz and blues there’s the massive
Jazz Record Mart (25 E. Illinois, 312-222-1467), for rare groove, Brazilian,
hip-hop, soul, and jazz there’s Dusty Groove (1120 N. Ashland, 773-342-5800), and for dance music there’s
Gramophone (2843 N. Clark, 773-472-3683). Wax Addict (1014 N.
Ashland, 773-772-9930) also specializes
in dance music, and
Evanston’s venerable (and pricey)
Vintage Vinyl (925 Davis, 847-328-2899) maintains an astonishing
selection of rare classics and obscure
60s and 70s rock and pop.
There’s a handful of decent neighborhood
stores, most carrying a mix
of new and used records and CDs.
In Roscoe Village there’s Hard Boiled (2010 W. Roscoe, 773-755-2619), which also stocks an interesting
selection of contemporary
Asian cinema on DVD. In Lincoln
Square there’s Laurie’s Planet of Sound (4639 N. Lincoln, 773-271-3569) and in North Center Evil Clown (4314 N. Lincoln, 773-509-0708). In Lakeview there’s the
Record Emporium (3346 N. Paulina,
773-248-1821). There are also shops
that focus mostly on used records
and CDs, with a limited selection of
new product: Reckless Records has
two locations (3161 N. Broadway,
773-404-5080, and 1532 N.
Milwaukee, 773-235-3727), as does
Dr. Wax Records (1121 W. Berwyn,
773-784-3333, and 5225 S. Harper,
773-493-8696). Hyde Park Records(1377 E. 53rd, 773-288-6588) features
a similar mix, and in North
Center Deadwax (3819 N. Lincoln,
773-529-1932) sticks exclusively to
used goods. The long-lived George’s Music Room (3915 W. Roosevelt,
773-762-8910) is a veteran
tastemaker when it comes to
hip-hop and R & B, while
Hot Jams (4814 S.
serves the south side
with dance records.
Mr. Peabody Records( 11832 S. Western,
in jazz, R & B, funk,
hip-hop, and soul.
It’s a wonder so many Chicagoans
go out for live music, since local
radio certainly doesn’t do much to
help listeners discover what’s new.
Except for college radio, most of it is
a wasteland of overresearched, overmarketed
predictability. There are
powerful FM stations representing
the standard formats—classic rock
(WLUP, 97.9), alternative rock
(Q101, 101.1), hip-hop (WPWX,
92.3), classical (WFMT, 98.7),
Spanish language (WLEY, 107.9;
WOJO, 105.1), Top 40 (WKSC,
103.5), popular hip-hop and contemporary
R & B (WBBM, 96.3)
country (WUSN, 99.5), smooth jazz
(WNUA, 95.5), contemporary soul
(WSRB, 106.3), and various styles
for boomers (WRZA, 99.9; WJMK,
104.3; WLIT, 93.9). WXRT (93.1)
stands out, playing a slightly
broader range of rock than most
commercial stations, and it’s
responsible for the Eclectic Company, a show on Tuesdays
at 10 PM, with Jon Langford of
the Mekons and Nicholas Tremulis hosting on alternate weeks, that
looks at the local scene and features
a nice mix of styles and eras.
The public station WBEZ (91.5)
features mainstream jazz programming
as well as some decent
specialty shows on the
weekends, but at the
end of the year they’re
ditching all that. They
promise music will be
a big part of future programming; they just
won’t say how.
That leaves us with college
radio to fill the void. North-siders
get Northwestern’s WNUR (89.3,
wnur.org), with its excellent mix
of underground rock, jazz, international
music, and countless specialty
shows. Loyola’s WLUW (88.7,
wluw.org) is actually a community
radio station hosted by the school
that sticks mostly to more middle-of-the-road indie rock with a raft
of weekend specialty shows and
community programs (including
Mosaic, the international music
show I host on Saturdays from
2 to 4 PM). There’s also
Northeastern’s WZRD (88.3,
wzrdchicago.com), whose signal
only reaches the extreme north
side. The University of Chicago’s
WHPK (88.5, whpk.uchicago.edu)
reaches the south side with
a mix similar to WNUR. WDCB(90.9), the College of DuPage’s
station, has become the premier
source for mainstream jazz in
the area. Fortunately, WNUR,
WLUW, and WDCB can all
be heard online.
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