Tommy Keene | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Tommy Keene


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Before they began experimenting with LSD and Yoko Ono but after they'd abandoned the singsong style of their early hits, the Beatles were writing elaborate pop songs that employed sophisticated (by early rock standards) chord sequences and long, lilting melody lines ("We Can Work It Out," "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away"). Like a mutant virus, that style spread wildly through England (the Zombies, the Kinks, the Hollies) and then to America, where it infected bands as diverse as the Byrds, the Left Banke, and the Beach Boys. Rendered irrelevant in the late 60s by psychedelia and political posturing, Beatlesque pop was resuscitated in the 70s by the likes of Badfinger, Big Star, and Todd Rundgren, only to be pushed aside again by punk. Alas, psychedelia, art rock, punk, and grunge come and go, but that mid-60s pop sound refuses to die. Its most recent proponents include the dBs, Loud Family, Teenage Fanclub, Matthew Sweet, and Tommy Keene. During the 80s Keene recorded a series of records, including two for then-floundering Geffen, that were obsessive and occasionally masterful in their approach to that classic pop sound; and although Keene never made the oft-anticipated "masterpiece" LP, he did create an enviable catalog of tunes saturated with energy, melody, and hooks. Recently Alias Records issued The Real Underground, a compilation of Keene's work covering nearly a decade of songwriting. At 70-plus minutes, it's an astounding stockpile of three-minute gems with a tunefulness that seldom falters, and it confirms Keene as yet another incarnation of a musical style that appears to have the half-life of nuclear waste. Friday, 9 PM, Cubby Bear, 1059 W. Addison; 327-1662 or 477-7469.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mike Lundsgaard.

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