Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Portrait Of A Drummer: A Conversation With Glenn Kotche Of Wilco

The grey skies blanketed Chicago on a Wednesday morning, the New Year just a little over a week old. For Glenn Kotche, it's merely another day filled with various errands barking at his brain and a cup of coffee to provide a kick start. "You’re going to edit this down, right?" asks the Wilco drummer with a laugh. "I can be a little long winded after I get some coffee." It's a considerate warning minutes into the conversation.

Kotche is relaxed on a couch inside a neighborhood cafe on the north side of the city. Occasionally a customer will enter for a drink to go and the train track guards will sound off every so often with the arrival of a CTA Brown Line train. Other than the young woman working behind the counter in the cafe, Kotche and I viturally have the whole place to ourselves. The day marks three years since he and I sat down for an interview, hours before Jeff Tweedy took the stage for the first of three nights at the Vic Theatre; it also marks Kotche's sixth year with Wilco.

No one, from the band to its fans, could have imagined how the past six years would have turned out. The band that was once given the cold shoulder by their record label became a Grammy award-winning band behind their 2004 album A Ghost Is Born. The album that almost didn't see the light of day in 2001, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, was released in 2002 and went on to become Wilco's first gold album of their career. But the road towards the rewards was, at best, rocky. Original members Ken Coomer and Jay Bennett were voted out of the band. At the start of 2004, Leroy Bach departed on good terms with Wilco to pursue other interests. Although disappointed with Bach's decision, Kotche maintains he has nothing but respect for his former band mate. "I still think the world of him. It was great playing music with him. He just felt he was done; he needed to try some new things," says Kotche. "There was no animosity, no weirdness. It’s better he did that instead of staying around for a paycheck and be a disgruntled band member. I think he’s a tremendous musician, and I really respect him, personally. I love his personality and the way he goes about things. I miss that."

Three months after Bach's exit, Tweedy entered a Chicago rehab center to seek treatment for a condition known as dual diagnosis, brought on by years of self-medicating for migraines and panic attacks. Having stepped into Wilco at a tumultuous time in their career, Kotche can sympathize how newest members Pat Sansone, Stirratt's partner in Autumn Defense, and Nels Cline must have felt. "For Pat and Nels, it must have been a little unnerving for them to come to Chicago to rehearse and then Jeff went in," says Kotche. "But they were both lifetime musicians who have seen it and done it all; they played big gigs, they’ve done the horrible van tours. Most musicians with their experience can be pretty resilient. So, I think they just took it in stride. They were just happy to be a part of it and hoped for the best. Right when Jeff went in we still rehearsed without him. It was great. Every one of those guys came to the table completely prepared. We had great rehearsals without Jeff, and I think it also sent a good message to Jeff not to worry."

With Bach gone, Kotche and John Stirratt were the seasoned and now senior members of the band. The thought to try and hold the band together in Tweedy's absence was the last thing on their list of concerns. "I don’t think it was tense at all," recalls Kotche. "For John and myself, it was more of a relief to not even think, 'What if Jeff comes out of this (rehab) and doesn’t want to come back?' That’s besides the fact. Who cares? He’s getting better. That’s what we cared about at that point, as his friends. Bands are bands in the big scheme of things. You can always start a new band, but you can’t get a life back."

Life since then as been calm for Wilco. Tweedy is in better health and the band concluded their second session of work in December for a new album. Kicking Television - Live In Chicago, a double album of performances at the Vic Theatre last May, was released in November and as been hailed as "the 21st century's first truly great live rock album" (Austin American Statesman). Kotche takes it all one day at a time.

He's a soft-spoken man and will apologize often if his train of thought isn't coming out the way he would like. A native of Roselle, Illinois, Kotche is an accomplished musician, schooled at the University of Kentucky, who is as much a thinker as he is a rocker behind the drums. He remains humble about the success amassed since joining Wilco, but underneath that meek casualness is a little voice saying, "Cool!" I remember talking to Kotche after the band's final night at the Auditorium Theatre in 2003 about Wilco joining R.E.M. the previous week at the famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. Wilco served as an opening act during the fall leg of R.E.M.'s tour. The grand finale was both bands performing "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)". I asked what it was like to play with R.E.M. He gave this sly smile and said, "R.E.M. played with us!"

Kotche doesn't try to hide the excitement behind a similar story. This time the story involves The Rolling Stones. At the close of the 2004-2005 tour behind A Ghost Is Born, Wilco was chosen to open for the Stones in Atlanta. "We were in the audience watching the show, and they played two of the songs that my high school band would perform," proudly says Kotche. "During my freshmen of high school we knew fives songs at that point, two of them by The Rolling Stones (“Honky Tonk Women” and “Get Off My Cloud”). They played both of those songs back to back. I was just looking at my wife, Miiri, and was on the verge of tears saying, 'This is so great!'" But Kotche remains level-headed. "To be perfectly honest, I try not to let myself gloat about that stuff," admits Kotche. "It is pretty cool, and it’s stuff that I always had hoped would happen even though I never expected it."

"I’m the same dude I was five years ago," says Kotche.

Wilco plan to use much of the year to work on the follow-up to A Ghost Is Born. Sorry, Wilco fans, keep your fingers crossed for a new album in 2007. Already, the first sessions have produced some interesting new labels such as "swamp rockers" and "butt rockers", which is humorous coming from a band that has had its share of labels. It's only rock and roll, or, as Kotche puts it, "good, old funky rock tunes." After a holiday break, the band and its various members will begin to hit the road again. Beginning this weekend, Jeff Tweedy and Kotche will tour together along the West Coast with appearances by Nels Cline; John Stirratt and Pat Sansone will take Autumn Defense out for a drive; a spring tour for Wilco is currently unfolding. "The audience can tell immediately if we’re going through the motions," says Kotche about Wilco in concert. "Sometimes it gets a little challenging as far as how to keep presenting the material in a fresh way, not go through the motions, not try and rely on stuff we’ve done. I don’t think that sits well with any of us." The stage is where Wilco has made its name as a fantastic live act, and on the stage is where Wilco has been documented the most. It's no surprise that Wilco is a highly bootlegged band, which it encourages. Somewhere on the internet you will find a community of fans that serve as archivist of the band's life in concert. Kicking Television - Live In Chicago captures Wilco during a four night run at the Vic Theatre.

The live album project was in conjunction with filming for a concert DVD, directed by Sam Jones, the same director of the Wilco documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (2002). Unfortunately for all parties involved, the concert DVD fell through the cracks and was rejected by the band. "I’m sure there’s Wilco fans that would have appreciated it," says Kotche, "and I’m sure it will come out at some point in some form for people to see. I think none of us wanted to watch this, so, why should we put it out just to put it out? We’d rather take the hit and lose the money than put something out that we don’t want to watch or listen to." It appears the only shining light to the failed project was filming at Tweedy's cabin, along the Michigan/Indiana border, which Kotche describes as the "best performances" of a selection of songs. "I hope that comes out," says Kotche. "I think it should come out on our site at some point because I really liked those performances."

There are also mixed feelings within the band regarding the double live album. Positive reviews have showered the album, saying it presents the band in its finest form. The idea to record a live album has often floated around in the band." According to John Stirratt, the lone member who has been with Jeff Tweedy since Uncle Tupelo, "We had talked about it over the years quite a bit. This was the first time we were satisfied with a lineup, from top to bottom, that we wouldn’t mind documenting in a major way." But then there's another side to things.

"Out of a whole three-month period of touring, they were a down point for us," confesses Kotche. "We were really riding high; things were going great. Because of the cameras, it was a different thing than we were used to; I was really sick that whole time. They weren’t our best shows. I would have taken anything in the previous two months or the month after that over those nights." Kotche had the task of picking the best of those four nights. Technical issues hampered the first night and completely plauged the fourth night, forcing Tweedy to improvise the show with acoustic performances and a stage dive. The songs that did make the final cut were compiled from the second and third nights.

Stirratt would have to agree with Kotche's assessment of the band's performance and have a laugh over the fact that Wilco got away with one. "It’s hilarious. I’m glad it’s been received really well, but that is a C grade show," says Stirratt. "It was interesting to be kind of snakebitten because the two years of touring were so effortless."

Performance aside, Kotche stands by the album as an honest representation of Wilco and boldly defends its audio quality against some of the great live albums of rock music's past. "I’m very happy with it. It’s probably one of the only live records, period, where there’s not one overdub," says Kotche. "The Last Waltz [by The Band] is notorious for all the overdubs."

In March, Kotche will release his third solo album, Mobile. The album takes a more compositional approach than its experimental predecessors, Introducing Glenn Kotche (2002) and Next (2002). "It was basically written in hotel rooms, on the road, in the tour bus with Wilco, written down on paper and then flushed out in the studio," says Kotche about the development of Mobile. By no means is this an everyday rock drummer making a drum album drenched in thirty-five minute drum solos. What attracted Tweedy to Kotche's skills as a musician can be heard on any of Kotche's solo work, be it solo or with his side group, a duo called On Fillmore. Kotche seeks to go past the concept of a drummer as just someone who holds down the beat. His imagination and thrist for sounds allows him to paint pictures much in the same way Tweedy's lyrics open new worlds.

One piece in particular, "The Monkey Chant," gathers its inspiration from the ketjak, a Balinese form of performance art, also known as the Ramayana, which tells the tale of good versus evil. Kotche came across this music through David Lewiston's Nonesuch Explorer Series. The series, issused between 1967 and 1984, would be considered by today's standards as a collection of "world" music. It was even chosen by NASA to be included in a 1977 Voyager mission, preserving the album for an expected billion years. Kotche researched as much material he could get his hands on about the Ramayana. "The rhythms are fascinating even though it’s all vocal," says Kotche. "I was immediately thinking in my head that I had to try it on my drum set and see if something comes up."Kotche goes on to chart out the evolution of his interpretation. "I had this prepared snare drum and I assigned specific sounds on the snare drum to represent the main characters. There’s four or five main characters, and each one is represented by a sound on that snare. I’m playing the parts and telling the story through the interactions of the different sounds on the drum set. Instead of making up a cool groove, I like having something to work off of that gives it a deeper meaning for me."

The album put Kotche to the test but the final result is something he is proud of. The album may not be something the average Wilco fan will clamor to get a hold of, but that doesn't bother Kotche one bit. "It’s still pretty eclectic, stylistically, but not conceptually," says Kotche. "It’s still rooted in rhythmic explorations, which, as a drummer, is what I use composition for, and that’s what I use solo records for, to explore rhythm outside of what I’m able to do on a drum set. At the end of the day, it has to be something I'll be happy to put on in ten years."

Never looking back and always looking forward Glenn Kotche keeps his eyes toward what lies over each horizon. If meeting The Rolling Stones before walking onto their very stage hasn't led this former high school drum teacher and self-proclaimed drum dork into believing he's been given the license to act out the part of a stereotypical rock star, then Kotche isn't doing a bad job of keeping the picture in focus. It's all just one day and one beat at a time.

Live Photo By: Chris Castaneda (Taken At Otto's, 4/21/2003)

Friday, January 27, 2006

All Access: A Chat With Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune

Greg Kot knows a thing or two about music. As rock critic for the Chicago Tribune, Kot has made a good living writing about music. In 2004, Broadway Books published Kot's first book, Wilco - Learning How To Die, a biography about the Chicago-based rock band Wilco, whose own story placed the problems of the music industry front and center. With his counterpart at the Chicago Sun-Times, Kot and Jim DeRogatis have traveled into the realm of television and made their place on radio with "Sound Opinions." Recognized locally and nationally for his work in journalism, Kot remains the dedicated music fan you might find at a bar or club standing next to the jukebox.

On a quiet afternoon in December, with just two weeks left in 2005, Greg Kot shared his thoughts on music, journalism, and the new venture at Chicago Public Radio.

Chris Castaneda: 2005 is just a few days away from being wrapped up. Was there any particular artist that surprised you the most in the past year?

Greg Kot: Well, I’m a big fan of Tom Brousseau. I don’t know of too many people putting him on their Top 10 list, I’ll tell ya that. I think people kind of listen to it once and they dismiss it a little bit too easily, I suppose, if they listen to it at all. I think the guy’s kind of got something; a great voice, a voice unlike any I’ve heard in recent times, and just a really great knack for writing these beautiful, understated kind of songs—there’s actually one song on there that’s about silence, basically, having a quiet drink with somebody and having that silent moment with somebody. You don’t hear about stuff like that in pop songs anymore.

I’ve seen him perform a bunch of times. I really think every time I see him it feels like he’s a terrific songwriter whether anyone appreciates him or not. He’s writing great songs and he’s a terrific singer. And I’m not a huge fan of folky kind of singer/songwriter types; I think it can get kind of dull and predictable, but I really think he’s a cut above in terms of just the way he approaches the music.

CC: Who really made you simply cry or scratch your head in confusion?

GK: Boy, let me count the ways. The record that kind of surprised me that was a little overrated was the Sufjan Stevens record. I just thought that was a very underwhelming record. I’ve heard a lot of good orchestral-pop kind of indie rock records. To my mind, a guy like Sufjan doesn’t hold a candle to some of the best Elephant Six that came out a couple of years ago. Stuff like that just doesn’t impress me as much as it should because I’ve heard enough of it that I know when that stuff is really done well. I didn’t think it was a terrible record by any stretch, but I just thought it was incredibly overrated for what he bit off there—there were some really nice moments on that record.

CC: Was it almost like a novelty record to you?

GK: I wouldn’t even say a novelty. I just think it was a blah record. I’ve got tons of records in my collection that are in the same pocket that are way better. I was kind of mystified by the attention that was given to that record.

CC: Who would you like to have put out an album in 2005 but didn't?

GK: That's a good question. I was just thinking about Mudhoney the other day and how much I liked their last record. It's been a while. I guess they have a new one in the pipeline. So, I think a new record is going to come out. I was really glad to see Mudhoney come back a few years ago. They played a great show at the Abbey Pub. They sounded really rejuvenated in their second incarnation.

I'm waiting for Wilco to knock out some new studio stuff. I think they're overdue for a new studio record. I’m still waiting for My Bloody Valentine’s next record. I’ll probably wait until I’m dead.

CC: I’m still sitting with Loveless after owning it for over a year. It just hasn’t hit me yet.

GK: Wow. That’s amazing, Chris. Maybe you need to take more drugs.

CC: I've got enough (laughs). But's let's talk about our very field of music journalism. You try and listen to all the music you can. You also try and read as much as you can in order to keep up with what's happening in music. How would you describe the current state of music journalism, both print and online?

GK: I’m a big fan of writing, just good writing. We’re living in a time when there’s more writing than ever about music. I think I’ve seen less good writing than ever about music at the same time. More people are practicing it but fewer people have anything really original to say about it or can say it in a way that makes me want to read about something I may only have passing interest in. I find that most of the reviews that I read are so poorly written that it’s not even worth it to me to investigate further. One of the things that I most enjoy about music criticism was the excitement it gave me about wanting to hear something; the writing was so good that in some ways the record had a hard time living up to the writing.

While I enjoy a lot of what’s in Pitchfork, I think those guys do a great job of building their empire from basically the grassroots into something that’s really a taste maker, I found most of the writing on that website very difficult to read and not very good. They’ve got so much stuff to write about and so many writers. In some ways, they might be better served by sort of narrowing their focus a little bit and focusing on a few writers that are really talented rather than spreading themselves so thin. I’m singling out Pitchfork only because they’ve done better than most.

There’s a lack of really strong critical perspective. There’s a lot of consumer guides out there, but the deeper, explanatory pieces—the stuff that sort of gets under the skin of a record or a movement in music—I’m not finding out there. Maybe it’s either a lack of time or money or space, but the analytical chops just don’t seem to be there. I’m kind of disappointed that there aren’t more young writers out there who are developing those kinds of chops and making me really sit up and take notice of what they’re doing and the kind of perspective they’re bringing to music, in turn, really opening new worlds for listeners.

I really think music writing should be a process of educating yourself about music and in turn educating the listener on how to listen to music. That’s not an academic exercise by any stretch. I’m making it sound a lot less fun then it should be, but it should be fun. It’s like unlocking a door for a listener and saying, “Here’s this really cool piece of music, and here’s how I listened to it and why I got excited about it.” I’m not really seeing that as much, especially with the Internet where you would think the amount of space is unlimited; you could really go into depth on some things. I’m not really seeing it exploited that way. Maybe in a sort of back handed way it’s questioning the intelligence of the audience saying the audience doesn’t want to read a 5,000 word pieces on why the M.I.A. album is important or why it isn’t important. I would be equally interested in reading both of those pieces. I want to see more stuff along those lines.

CC: File sharing has been a thorn in the music industry's side for years. They just seem to be now coming to terms that consumers like having options when it comes to buying their music. But what about file sharing and music journalism? Through file sharing, people can basically eliminate the critic and album review. Do rock critics lose their audience because of file sharing?

GK: With bloggers and mp3 blogs, it’s a lot easier to access music and for consumers to make up their own minds about what they like or don’t like. I think that’s fantastic. The whole idea of democratizing the process is a real plus; the idea that there’s more music and more writing about music are all good trends. But I think things will eventually shake down a little bit, too. We’ve got all these amazing new tools, and we’re still figuring out to use them, how to effectively use them in a way where it’s more than just this piling on of information. It’s almost like we’re overwhelmed by this stuff; there’s so much of it out there, and whose voice do you really trust?

At the end of the day, there’s going to be taste makers and there’s going to be people who want to hear what the taste makers have to say about it. I think we’re still figuring out how that new process is going to work. The distribution model has changed radically, not just for music itself but also for how we talk about music, how we discuss it as an art form, and how we critique it. All of that stuff is in flux right now.

People who provide the best content and are the most insightful about that content are going to be the ones people keep gravitating towards. Right now it’s unclear as to how that will shake out. So, it’s an exciting time from that standpoint. I think it’s a time where young, ambitious people—both music makers and music writers—can make a mark because the ground rules are still being established.

CC: Before teaming up with Jim DeRogatis (Chicago Sun-Times) on "Sound Opinions," you had "Rock Tonight" on WLUP-FM (The Loop) in the mid-90's with Michael Harris, former editor of the Illinois Entertainer. Though you would never consider yourself a radio DJ, what types of DJs would you say have been inspirations to you in the radio world?

GK: The DJs that I admired are people like Johnny Mars and Marty Lennartz who played really cool music late night on WXRT. The most important thing for me was I wanted a DJ to surprise me; play me something I don’t know yet and turn me on to something really cool.

We try to play stuff that isn’t going to be as predictable or stuff that people maybe haven’t heard. I still remember playing Black Sabbath on the second or third “Sound Opinions.” I don’t think Black Sabbath had ever been played on XRT. It was a really proud moment for us.

CC: After seven years, "Sound Opinions" parted ways with WXRT (93.1 FM) in November to make a new home at Chicago Public Radio-WBEZ (91.5 FM). How's life under the new roof at Navy Pier?

GK: Well, I think the facility is amazing. It’s going to allow us to do some things with bands and musicians that we weren’t able to do at XRT. Being able to record John Cale properly and have him psyched about doing it was great...the ability to reach an audience by different means, not a traditional radio show playing at one time a week at a certain time slot, you’ve got the streaming, you’ve got the podcasting, and you’ve got the archiving. So, people can access the show in many different ways, at many different times. I think that’s the way you have to treat all media these days. You have to serve the audience in a way they want to be served. You can’t say, “Well, this is the only way you can have this thing.” Similar to the music industry trying to sell consumers only the $15 version of the CD instead of realizing they may want the single or the mp3 download.

The fact that WBEZ believed in the show enough that they want to syndicate it, they want to take it to other markets around the country…the fact that they’ve been successful with other shows like “This American Life” and “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” kind of indicated to me that Torey Malatia is the guy to do that. When he says he wants to do that you tend to give him a little bit more credibility than maybe with any other programmer in town because he’s one of the few, maybe the only guy, that’s really succeeded in doing that on a nationwide level, taking Chicago based shows and turning them into nationwide phenomena. The fact that there aren’t more “Sound Opinions” out there is really surprising to me. I’m glad we have the opportunity to do this show and maybe take it to a national level. That’s a real possibility at WBEZ whereas I don’t think it was at WXRT.

CC: You've been doing radio now for close to ten years. Are there still challenges you face with "Sound Opinions" even after all the experienced you've logged over those years?

GK: It still feels new, and it still feels like you’re learning things. It’s the same way I feel about my writing. If I felt like I knew it all and I was done learning, then I would feel like I would need to move on and do something else. I certainly don’t feel that way about radio. The more I do it the more I realize how much I don’t know. The learning process is fun.

I’ve got a guy (DeRogatis) across from me that in so many ways we’re such complete opposites in terms of temperament and taste. Yet, we’re still able to get along outside the studio. It’s a pretty rare thing. The essence of the show is you’ve got two guys butting heads about things a lot and having different viewpoints. Even when we agree we agree in different ways about something.

Why aren’t there more shows like this around the country? Part of the problem is that you need to find two individuals who sort of complement each other and have a chemistry. The more I work with Jim the more I realize that’s a rare thing. You can never take that for granted. As long as that’s there, the possibilities for the show are pretty limitless.

CC: What will you miss about being at WXRT?

GK: XRT gave us a shot. They were our first choice when we started looking for a radio station in 1998 to actually do this show after Jim got back in town from Minneapolis. He called me and said, “Let’s do this radio show, and let’s do it right.” We both sort of hit on XRT as the right place for this show even though XRT had never done talk radio before. They didn’t even have a phone line to take a phone call from a listener. We just felt that their sensibility and their sense of openness to something like this would be much greater than some of the other stations in town, and it would be the best home because of the audience—the intelligence of the audience and the wide variety of music that the audience had been exposed to. It wasn’t like we would be talking to a crowd that only listened to alternative rock, only listened to hip hop.

I have to give Norm (Winer) a lot of credit. He took a huge risk in putting us on the air; it wasn’t like this was a standard fare for him, giving us two hours of basically unsupervised airtime every week for seven years since January ’99. That’s an amazing thing! I have to tip my hat to the guy and say thanks for the opportunity. The only reason we left was we thought there was an even greater opportunity in moving to WBEZ and the exposure that the show would be given.

I give XRT a lot of credit for giving us the forum and for helping us develop the show. I don’t think we would have gotten the WBEZ deal if we hadn’t developed the show to the point where it was and what it was--XRT was a great home for it.

CC: The new format for the show is now just an hour. Is there still as much freedom as there was when the show was two hours on WXRT? How do you feel about the hour show?

GK: I like it because it’s faster paced. At the same time, we want to give it some more breathing room so that the exchanges, which are the essence of the show, can have some of that breathing room; we can go off on a tangent occasionally, which some people really loved about the XRT show. We still want to have those exchanges and those frivolous moments where it was about the personalities and the chemistry as much as it was about the content.

On one hand, I liked what we had. I liked the two hours of sort of freewheelin’ discussion on XRT. It’s now one hour, and it’s going to be less freewheelin'. I love the idea of figuring out how to make that great. It’s an exciting challenge, and I’m excited about the challenge. I really think we needed the challenge because we’ve been doing for seven years. We needed a fresh goal, a fresh sense of purpose about the show, and this is really giving it to us. In some ways, with the XRT show, we could have almost rolled out of bed and done that show. We just felt so comfortable in that format, but there’s sort of a mistake in being too comfortable. It’s good to feel a little bit weird and out of sorts.

*Chris Castaneda was a research assistant for Greg Kot’s Wilco: Learning How To Die and Jim DeRogatis’ upcoming book Starring At Sound: The True Story Of Oklahoma’s Fabulous Flaming Lips. He is also a moderator for the "Sound Opinions" message board*

All Photos By: Chris Castaneda (Taken At The Hideout, 6-17-2004)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Greenwoods @ The Hideout (1/13/2006)

Somewhere around 2004, Dag Juhlin must have gone for a walk in his suburb of Woodstock, IL and landed in a nearby forest. When he emerged he brought with him not only the title for his first solo album, Into The Woods, but the name of his eventual new band...The Greenwoods.

Now in 2006, Juhlin, with his older brother Gregg (bass) and Jim Bashaw (drums), The Greenwoods have become a reality. Already a respected musician in the Chicago music community through his continuing work with Poi Dog Pondering and twenty years with The Slugs, Dag Juhlin is keeping himself occupied with a new outlet for his pop power, Townshend-influenced ideas. The Greenwoods have remained closer to their turf, playing the odd show here and there, developing the band's identity. Their show Friday night at the Hideout marked their first time in Chicago in front of an audience. Opening for local band Ness, The Greenwoods worked their hour set to their advantage, showcasing their blend of '60s rock a la The Who with a swagger harking back to the late '70s Mod revival fueled by The Jam.

The Brothers Juhlin have forged a musical bond that goes back to the days of The Slugs and even before that. If there were ever two musicians that mirrored Pete Townshend and John Entwistle on stage, it would have to be Dag and Gregg Juhlin. Before The Greenwoods even took the stage, I couldn't help but notice the bass guitar as the exact same model Entwistle played throughout the '70s with The Who (watch Entwistle during "Baba O'Riley" in the 1979 movie The Kids Are Alright). Then there's Dag with his gold top Les Paul that was also a favorite of Townshend's during the 1975-1976 touring era of The Who. The sixth sense connection that the Townshend/Entwistle team possessed is something the Juhlins also share.

The trio dove into their set as if to avoid any nervousness with their Chicago debut, but the supply of friendly drinks brought up to the stage certainly didn't hurt with calming the nerves.

A song that jumped out right away was a nicely structured gem called "How We Get There." The jingle-jangle of Juhlin's guitar and the added harmonies by his brother created this breezy, warm tune filled with little moments of perfection. Gregg Juhlin had Entwistle's style of play burned on the tips of his fingers. His busy fingers would race up and down the fret board of his bass with ease. Though he produced a sound that was as meaty, beaty, big and bouncy as Entwistle, The Ox, was known for, Gregg Juhlin was more aimed to beef up the harmonies to the songs.

For the most part, The Greenwoods held their own on the small Hideout stage. At times bumpy, the band would land on that one note which happened to not be the same note they all had in mind. Drummer Jim Bashaw kept things simple rather than trying to keep pace with Gregg Juhlin's thunder fingers on the bass. It was almost a reversal of roles; Juhlin's bass playing often spurred the band forward while Bashaw steadied a foundation. Not to be left out was Dag Juhlin.

Juhlin pulled double duty as singer and guitarist. As sharp and swift as his rhythm guitar work, Juhlin fired off a couple of heavily charged guitar solos that showed he wasn't shy about taking a lead on guitar. During another highlight, a song called "Pulling Change", The Greenwoods became this entirely different band; suddenly they sounded like a veteran band of ten years. They had become fearless. It was a moment when The Greenwoods were at their tightest musically, and loudest, topped off with a leaping Dag Juhlin.

There's plenty of potential with The Greenwoods. They are a band in the making, and like any newly formed band, they are filled with excitement and curiousity, eager to see what corners they can turn. But you can bet The Greenwoods will show you a good time.

All Photos By: Chris Castaneda

Friday, January 13, 2006

James Brown @ House Of Blues (1/12/2006)

"This is the man who took the wet out of sweat," preached Danny Ray, MC of the night, to a packed House of Blues audience. All eyes focused on the man in question; the man spinning and sliding with the dance moves of a 20-year-old. The man was James Brown.

The Godfather of Soul (now 72 years old) strutted his way across the cluttered stage towards his microphone and pulled off his classic dip with the stand, topped with a partial split. What could have been more amazing to the audience? Watching Brown get behind a Korg keyboard to join in with his band? Or the fact that at his age he's doing splits? Whatever the case may be, James Brown certainly hasn't lost his touch as one of the most pioneering entertainers of the past 40 years. "A man's gotta do his best when he comes to Chicago," said Brown as he flashed his classic smile. That same smile has logged many, many miles. From commercial highs to legal lows, James Brown has somehow managed to remain James Brown. His music continues to be celebrated by all genres of music and his reputation as "The Hardest Working Man In Show Biz" still carries meaning to his fans.

With Brown and his backing band decked out in suits style points
had to be awarded. The team of four female vocalists (one solo) and two female dancers provided reason enough why Brown was a happy 72-year-old on stage. It was Las Vegas and the Big Band all wrapped up into one. Brown served as conductor for most of the night, piloting his band through some funk and soul. The audience--ranging from early 20's to 50's--hung on every note. They came for the hits and that's what Brown gave them; "Living In America" and "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag, Pt.1" shook up the House of Blues.

Tipping his hat to another legend of R&B and soul, Brown paid tribute to Ray Charles by going a cappella with Charles' 1955 hit single "I Got A Woman" before having the band join him on a swaying version of "Night Time Is The Right Time".

It's difficult to demand Brown to be the artist he once was in his youth. It probably wasn't important to the audience that Brown often left it to his band and female dancers take on much of the show's load. At times, the music became background to the flash, but Brown seemed to know just when to grab the microphone. The sexuality of his music hasn't faltered or aged. Brown engaged in a steamy call-and-response with his female singers during "It's A Man's Man's Man's World". It was almost voyeuristic as the audience watched Brown slip off each singers' little black dress with his words.

By the end of the night, Brown gave nearly 2 hours of showmanship. "I Got You (I Feel Good)" sent the audience home with what they came for in the first place--a good time. In recent times, the likes of Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, and even Neil Diamond have undergone artistic rebirths in the mainstream. Both bio-films for Cash and Charles re-introduced the artists to a music world more interested in packaged TV artists. James Brown may never become the latest fad again or capture the attention of this generation's of teenagers. For right now, there is only one James Brown, and for a Thursday night in Chicago, James Brown showed up to entertain.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Poi Dog Pondering @ Vic Theatre (12/31/2005)

It was the end of one year and the start of a new one all under the same roof. Poi Dog Pondering rang in the new year at the Vic Theatre with the same sort of energy and enthusiasm they have brought to the stage for over 13 years. The capacity crowd filled the balcony and the dance floor for a night of smooth, sexy grooves and all-out-ass-shaking beats.

From the outset, Poi Dog Pondering recognized the importance of the night and flexed their muscle early with "Be The One" and "Get Me On". The 14-piece band (including members of local band Head Of Femur) were interlocked the second the first note was played; much credit should be paid to the stability the band's lineup has maintained over the past few years. As the only original members, singer Frank Orrall and violinist Susan Voelz couldn't have looked happier on stage as the orchestra of musicians around them brought the songs to new heights. Whereas, in the past, new faces in the band introduced different interpretations to the Poi Dog catalog, the long list of musicians, from guitarist Dag Juhlin to bassist Ron Hall, who have been mainstays in the band helped bring Poi Dog Pondering to a point where now the songs lead the band to new avenues.

Although the band can never really be pigeonholed into one category, one aspect that has always been consistent was the band's skill with mixing colors; the electronica drive of "Natural Thing" and the melodic pop quality of "Jeremy Brett"--a new song--are two worlds coexisting as one.

When the countdown to midnight was over Poi Dog Pondering launched into probably its most popular single, "Complicated". It was the perfect soundtrack while making New Year's resolutions under a cloud of balloons and confetti. "I'm not afraid of death/I'm afraid of going through this thing twice," became the crowd's mantra. Suddenly, it was a new show for the band. The already high octane show went up a few more notches as the band branched out into more jam sessions. More new material appeared in the set; "Fact Of Life", "Sticky", and "Maybe We Could Make A Baby Together" packed the pop and funk of early Poi Dog Pondering with a more focused, straightforward approach. The crowd openly welcomed the band's latest material in the works. And why not? It has been two years since the band's last studio album In Seed Comes Fruit.

A true highlight of the show came near the close of the night. Reaching back to 1990's Wishing Like A Mountain And Thinking Like The Sea, the band delivered a powerful and moving rendition of "Bury Me Deep". Each member appeared caught up in the song's magic and hung onto its wings as it soared higher and higher. Orrall would step back from his microphone, eyes closed, and soak up the band. It was as if Orrall was acknowledging the fact that when the band is on fire you don't stand in its way.

As the night entered 1:00am, Poi Dog Pondering took one final lap on the stage of the Vic Theatre with the phasing pulse of "God's Gallipoli". Backup singer Charlette Wortham sliced through the air with her inspired vocals; Hall and drummer Earl Talbott--a dynamic rhythm section--never missed a beat. The band could have gone on to play another hour if it was okay under city ordinances.

Poi Dog Pondering rushed into 2006 ready to take on all new challenges. The fire and swagger in the band's step remains vibrant. The show put on at the Vic Theatre was the band's first major statement of the new year: Poi Dog Pondering is nowhere near drying up creatively.

All Photos By: Chris Castaneda

Extra! Extra!

The January issue of Chicago Innerview is now available on-line. A special "Best Of" section can be found in the print edition of the magazine. If interested in obtaining a copy of the magazine, please check out the distribution listing on the magazine's website for further information.

The magazine has also expanded into the world of MySpace. The new site will be an extention of the magazine's e-mail newsletter. It will include announcements about magazine sponsored events, concert listings, and the latest news about Chicago Innerview. MySpace is a free service.



Welcome to 2006!