Don’t seem fair to keep you hangin’ ’round.

September 25, 2009

Last week when I was in Chicago for the Proclaimers show, I spent the day with one of my oldest friends, who got around to lamenting the fact that the only major Chicago representation in the music scene right now comes from bands like the Plain White T’s. He noted the Smashing Pumpkins time has passed and Billy Corgan is thought of with too much indifference (or resentment) these days and it’s a sad state of affairs since there are good bands to be found in the city streets.

I fully agree with him that the good bands are there, but I still feel compelled to ask that when the standard of popularity now is a song like “Hey There Delilah,” does anyone even want to share the stage? I went to the same high school the Plain White T’s did and I remember not liking them back then. I suppose part of me thinks it’s somewhat nice that they found their way out of the suburbs, but every time I start to feel momentarily good about it, I think about their music.

The fact of the matter is the Chicago music scene has a ton of good stuff to its name, and while it may not have the national renown right now that Austin or Portland does, it deserves a fair shake. For this month’s Friday Five, we take a look at five of the best Chicago offerings you don’t know about. And given my general reluctance to go deep into any city’s local scene, you know these songs have to be really good. So listen up and go dig for more stuff from these bands. There’s more out there.


The Friday Five
“Hi-de-hey — baby, don’t you wanna go?”

Company of Theives – Oscar Wilde
I was just made hip to this band, and quite glad my friend was kind enough to bestow the knowledge upon me. This cut, from 2007’s Ordinary Riches, is all sorts of wonderfully angular Spoon-esque brilliance and was a nice soundtrack from a drive back to Madison from Chicago in the wee small hours of a Wednesday morning. I think I played this song about 18 times over during the drive. Unbelievably hypnotic. The fact that they did a brilliant “Rushmore”-inspired video only endears me that much further.

The Differents – Dawn
OK, this song is about 10 years old and I posted it a few months ago, but it’s fantasticity is still blowing my mind. Differents mainman Lou Hallwas is off with Penthouse Sweets for the most part (who are also pretty damn good mind you), but the Differents were nice enough to reunite earlier this year for the fans that are still around the city and also put out the album they recorded but never released 10 years ago, Fate’s Goin’ On. It’s f*cking hard to make good use of a banjo in any song, alright? And not only do these guys pull it off here, but they give you a chorus that you’ll be singing along to before the song ends.

Hollus – Miss Daisy
Yeah, yeah, this band is full of some of my best friends so there’s personal bias here, but the yardstick by which to measure this band is the fact that anytime this song shuffles up on my iPod at a party, there are a lot of inquisitions. And it’s without me going, “Oh, listen to THIS ONE!” mind you. They’ve got heaps of great rock tunes, but this track is the centerpiece of their Joker and the Queen album that’s up on iTunes and more than worth tracking down. Listen to that chorus. Listen to that electric piano. Listen to this whole thing. Again and again.

The Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra – Invisible Woman Standing on a Bridge
I first got hip to Nick about four years ago when he opened with a solo set for his pal Alejandro Escovedo. Given that it was my first time seeing Alejandro, I went into the show thinking I’d have little patience for whoever opened that night, but Tremulis immediately blew me away with his songs and personality. I subsequently found out he’s got a rock-solid rock and roll outfit when he’s not moonlighting by his lonesome, and if you get the chance to see them, give it a crack — they put on a hell of a show. This cut kicks off last year’s Pinky, one of the best rock ‘n’ roll albums that nobody knows about. If you’re not around Chicago or prone to checking out CDBaby, get your fingers to take you to iTunes and download the beast. It’s quite fabulous.

The Steepwater Band – Lord Knows
I’ve been fortunate to catch the Steepwater boys live a few times and can personally attest to them putting on a good show, full of ’70s-styled rock and roll goodness (they also stop by Madison with some frequency, so you locals would do well to keep your eyes peeled for upcoming show announcements), but I will also say that despite an arsenal of solid songs, I wasn’t ever floored until I heard this song from last year’s Grace and Melody. This thing is perfect driving music, perfect morning music, perfect end of the night music and a perfect microcosm of what “American rock and roll” should be defined by. And at 2:49, it’s short enough to leave you pining for more. Also sports a spiffy video.

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