Music » Music Sidebar

Our ten top music picks for fall

Hideout Block Party, Riot Fest, Umbrella Music Festival, and more

1 comment

Hideout Block Party

The Hideout opened legally as a bar in 1934, and for 15 years now it's been a music venue whose cozy rooms sometimes have trouble containing its giant heart and equally outsize ambitions—hence this block party, which the club has thrown every year since 1997 (at least if you count 2010's Mad Decent Block Party, which the Hideout hosted). The lineup for the 2011 bash is smaller than many from years past—it's just one day, not two—but the Hideout is still living large, partying in the street in front of the venue and in the parking lot of the nearby Streets & San truck hangars. The music kicks off at 12:30 PM with the mind-melting drones of the Vision Celestial Guitarkestra (which has included as many as 70 guitarists in past incarnations) and continues with an eclectic mix of must-sees—including, in no particular order, old-school R&B hit maker Booker T. Jones; Big Freedia, a diva of the queer-friendly New Orleans hip-hop style called "sissy bounce"; gospel legend Mavis Staples, who recorded a live album at the Hideout in 2008; pop polymath Andrew Bird, who likewise has a fond history with the club, with Mark Messing's Opera-Matic warming up the audience; hard-rocking sibling duo White Mystery; and future-dub eccentrics the Eternals. Jon Langford of the Mekons and the Waco Brothers prides himself on having performed at the Block Party with more bands than anyone else, and this time he'll reprise his collaboration with Ontario's Burlington Welsh Male Chorus—their traditional singing makes Langford's very Welsh Skull Orchard songs a whole lot more Welsh. —Monica Kendrick Sat 9/24, noon, Hideout, $35, $25 in advance. A

Adventures in Modern Music

This annual collaboration between the Empty Bottle and British music magazine the Wire, which runs from Wed 9/28 to Sun 10/2, leans hard on synthesizer explorations this year: the post-Tangerine Dream workouts of Oneohtrix Point Never, the dark synth-pop of John Maus, the ambient drones of Nicholas Szczepanik, the glitchy software-driven constellations of Oval. But as always, most of the fest's individual shows collide all sorts of different styles, and the opening-night bill in particular—transcendental tremolo picking from black-metal band du jour Liturgy, ghostly retro-pop from the collaboration of Dirty Beaches and Frankie Rose, electro-funk from Chicago's own Chandeliers, and the aforementioned synth-pop from John Maus—should be a synapse-shorting hoot. Other highlights include Portland ambient experimentalist Grouper and New Orleans sissy bounce outfit Vockah Redu & the Cru (both on Thursday) and psych-drone drifter Sun Araw (on Saturday). Following a precedent set last year, the five-day event takes place at a variety of venues to accommodate different audiences and atmospheres: the Empty Bottle, Heaven Gallery, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. —Peter Margasak Wed-Sun 9/28-10/2, various times, venues, and acts,, $15 per show except $20 for Fri 9/30 at the MCA ($16 members, $10 students).

Enslaved, Alcest

Chicago hasn't always been a great place to see touring metal bands, but that's changed dramatically in the past decade. Good heavy shows aren't hard to come by anymore, and this is one of the best examples coming up this fall. Norway's Enslaved began 20 years ago as one of the most cerebral acts in black metal, and as they move in ever more progressive directions, still know how to work a long track. And Alcest is an oddly beautiful black-metal/shoegaze/ambient project by a Frenchman calling himself Neige, who says it was inspired by the fantasy land he lived in as a child—in that way it's rather like Emily Bronte's Gondal poems, which I've always liked best of all her work. —Monica Kendrick Enslaved headlines; Alcest, Junius, Black September, and DJ Scary Lady Sarah open. Sun 10/2, 7 PM, Bottom Lounge, $16. A

Riot Fest

I grew up in the 'burbs, dyed my hair all sorts of Manic Panic colors, wore rows of studs and spikes, sewed on a back patch or seven, owned an extensive catalog of Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords cassettes, and said "up the punx" one too many times for my own good. But I'm not ashamed of my teens—damn it if I don't still get psyched about reunions of bands I haven't listened to or heard from in more than a decade. This year's Riot Fest spreads its massive lineup of punk, rock 'n' roll, pop punk, hardcore, and metal across five days (Wed-Sun 10/5-10/9) and five venues (Congress Theater, Bottom Lounge, Double Door, Cobra Lounge, and AAA Warehouse, which is hosting a "secret show" or two), making it the quintessential nostalgic stroll down a memory lane that's littered with back issues of Maximum Rocknroll and old-school distro inserts—you won't find a better excuse to crack a few eggs and use the whites to give yourself a crop of liberty spikes. Now in its fifth year, Riot Fest is at its absolute best, with four mega all-ages concerts at the Congress: the Descendents, Social Distortion, Weezer, and all things Glenn Danzig (aka the Danzig Legacy show, where he'll play Misfits and Samhain material as well as his solo stuff). The three Bottom Lounge shows are all very much worth your attention too: X playing Los Angeles in its entirety (that one's already sold out), Descendents spin-off All (with vocalist Chad Price), and hardcore-punk heroes 7 Seconds. Other seasoned (and probably endearingly haggard) veterans taking the stage during the fest include Helmet, the Business, Suicide Machines, Leftover Crack, Down by Law, and Youth of Today. —Kevin Warwick Wed-Sun 10/5-10/9, various times, venues, and acts,, $10-$40, four-show "Congress Pass" $125 (10/6-10/9), three-show "Punk Pass" $85 (10/6-10/8 at Congress Theater), five-day passes sold out.

Das Racist, Danny Brown

Brooklyn's Das Racist and Detroit's Danny Brown don't sound very much alike—the former prefers stoner-friendly rhyme schemes and owes a spiritual debt to hip-hop's golden age, while the latter raps like the Adderall fiend he is and goes for abstract, techno-influenced beats—but they have a lot in common. One thing is that they can both be drop-dead hilarious. For example, Das Racist's growing discography (including their recent Relax, released on Greedhead, the label run by member Himashu Suri) includes the infamously meme-worthy "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" as well as a beat that flips a sample of Billy Joel's "Movin' Out"; Brown's recent XXX (Fools Gold) includes a remake of Young Jeezy's coke-dealer anthem "Trap or Die" that pays tribute to Detroiters living off of stolen copper scrap. They also both like to use the laughs they get as a way of softening up an audience, so that their lyrics—some of the most formidable being written in the rap world these days—hit extra hard. —Miles Raymer Das Racist headlines; Danny Brown and Despot open. Thu 10/20, 8 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, $15. 17+

Umbrella Music Festival

This annual blowout of cutting-edge jazz and improvised music returns with another packed five-day extravaganza—no longer just "impressive for a little festival," it's become one of the premier new-music events in the country, big or small. Once again the Chicago Cultural Center hosts the first two evenings' programming, a free fest within a fest called European Jazz Meets Chicago that features artists from ten European nations, usually in collaboration with locals—Swedish pianist Sten Sandell, Dutch reedist Ab Baars, and Austrian trumpeter Franz Hautzinger, and players from Spain, France, Italy, Lithuania, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland. For its last three nights the festival moves in turn to each of the three venues where the Umbrella collective presents its weekly music series—the Hideout, Elastic, and the Hungry Brain. As usual these ticketed concerts showcase a strong mix of local ensembles (the Nick Mazzarella Trio, Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore) and high-profile visitors; this year the latter include a trio led by saxophonist Tim Berne, guitarist Mary Halvorson with her superb quintet, a solo set by British reedist John Butcher, and a quartet fronted by veteran saxophonists Odean Pope (a longtime associate of Max Roach) and Marshall Allen (leader of the Sun Ra Arkestra). —Peter Margasak Wed-Sun 11/2-11/6, various times and venues,, Wed-Thu free, Fri-Sun $15 per show.

Diego el Cigala

Since launching a solo career in 1997, Diego el Cigala (aka Ramon Jimenez Salazar) has risen to the top of the international flamenco scene. A fiery-throated singer of dazzling agility, soul, and precision, he's been tapped to contribute to records by heavyweights like Vicente Amigo, Camaron, Tomatito, and Gerardo Nuñez, but he sounds best on his own albums. Ever since his 1998 debut, Undebel, he's maintained a fierce control of the tradition while undertaking thoughtful collaborations with envelope pushers. In particular he's worked extensively with jazz musicians, among them Latin-jazz trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez, expansive flamenco/jazz guitarist Niño Josele, and brilliant Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes. Rather than creating an antiseptic fusion a la Al DiMeola, El Cigala holds fast to flamenco's bedrock fundamentals, finding common threads with jazz but never sacrificing the gruff rawness of his style to drive the music into the future. Lately he's been turning his attention to tango, and the results have been equally impressive. This is his long-overdue Chicago debut. —Peter Margasak Sun 11/6, 7 PM, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, $45-$60. A

Har Mar Superstar

Har Mar Superstar's early-aughts grab for mainstream American success failed less because of any weakness in his brand of pop R&B—he gooses up a catchy millennial style with a thick streak from the 80s—and more because most people couldn't tell whether the balding, chubby white guy making it was being serious or wildly ironic. Actually he was doing both at once. Though Har Mar, aka Sean Tillman, is a devoted practitioner of the form (he's written for the likes of Jennifer Lopez and the Cheetah Girls), he can at the same time acknowledge (and exploit for laughs) the dissonance of seeing it performed by a dude who looks like a young Ron Jeremy. While his whole thing has gone over well in Britain—he's popular enough there to have built a side career as a commercial spokesperson for vodka and spray deodorant—in the States his appeal seems limited to people in bands and general weirdos, which has led to recent collaborations with avant-comedy guru Eric Wareheim and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon. —Miles Raymer Thu 11/10, 9 PM, Double Door, $10.

WU LYF, Crystal Antlers

They're simultaneously enigmatic and astronomically hyped, but WU LYF (it stands for "World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation") have compelled the critics to shelve the chicken-or-the-egg argument—are they hyped because they're enigmatic, or did they use the hype to create the enigma?—with the release of Go Tell Fire to the Mountain (LYF Recordings). Recorded in a disused church, their debut album has a surreal amount of guts, dirt, and soul, especially considering that this foursome from Manchester are still such young 'uns. It feels ornately massive yet DIY to the bone, a freakishly impassioned sermon meant for a crowd of themselves—and I expect to see it on top-ten lists all over the place at the end of the year. WU LYF seem to be working in an infinite space, complementing sparse, delay-heavy guitar work that's not unlike Explosions in the Sky with church organs and raspy, anthemic choruses with monster hooks. From the first repeated group shout of "I love you forever" on album opener "L Y F," Go Tell Fire's "heavy pop" bursts with a frenetic energy that you just know will translate flat-out fucking great onstage.


Crystal Antlers' previous album, Tentacles, may have become unfortunately famous as Touch and Go's final new release, but their new one, Two-Way Mirror (Recreation Ltd.), is a reminder of how jammy-explosive and psych-weird (in the best sense) they can be. On the first two songs, "Jules' Story" and "Seance," Crystal Antlers show off their finely honed talent for scoring freakish, rolling punk-carnival soundtracks. And even when they reel it in a bit on songs like "Summer Solstice," the album's magnetic urgency still comes through. —Kevin Warwick Mon 11/14, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, $12.

Amber Wagner in Ariadne auf Naxos

In 2004, London's Royal Opera House infamously dumped celebrated soprano (and Wheeling native) Deborah Voigt from the title role in Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos because she was too big to fit into the costume they'd chosen for her: a slinky little black dress. Voigt subsequently underwent gastric bypass surgery and revisited the role at Covent Garden in 2008, a svelte shadow of her former self. That run was a victory for her, and Lyric Opera of Chicago tapped Voigt to sing Ariadne in its 2011 production. But not all of her recent reviews, including those for a couple other roles at Lyric, have been so positive. A week after Voigt's rocky Ravinia date with the CSO in July—apparently not helped by conductor Christoph Eschenbach—Lyric announced that she had withdrawn from Ariadne and was dropping it from her repertoire. Her replacement? Recent Lyric Opera training-center graduate and rising international phenom Amber Wagner, herself a woman of considerable substance—and possessed of a voice that will leave any little black dress in the dust. Strauss wrote Ariadne with librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and it's an opera within an opera that mashes up high art and low comedy; this version was first produced in Vienna in 1916. Lyric's star-studded revival also features soprano Anna Christy, mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, and tenor Brandon Jovanovich; Andrew Davis conducts. —Deanna Isaacs Sat 11/19, Tue 11/22, Mon 11/28, Fri 12/2, and Wed 12/7, 7:30 PM; Sun 12/11, 2 PM, Civic Opera House, $34-$224. A

For more shows coming up this fall, visit Early Warnings . And read our profile of Outer Minds or check out the rest of our Fall Arts coverage


Showing 1-1 of 1


Add a comment