Reviews

The Dead Weather: 28 July 2009 - Chicago

Photos: Rory O'Connor

This show managed to dwarf the entire theatre and on occasion felt too large to have any business trying to fit inside.

The Dead Weather

The Dead Weather

City: Chicago
Venue: The Vic Theatre
Date: 2009-07-28

It would have been damned near impossible to walk into the Dead Weather’s concert at Chicago’s Vic Theatre without some form of heightened expectation. Even though the band is out on the road in support of their very first full length, officially released just two weeks before the show, this performance marked the first of two sold out concerts. The reason? The Dead Weather is the current project from the seemingly restless White Stripe turned Raconteur, Jack White. Curiosity was bound to get the better of us; the man has practically single-handedly ensured that blues-tinged rock had a respectable home for the better part of the current decade. His newest band is by no means an all Jack White vehicle though, as the lineup employs several accomplished musicians including Alison Mosshart of the Kills, Jack Lawrence from White’s other band the Raconteurs, and Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age.

The band started things off with “60 Feet Tall”, the opening track from their freshly released Horehound album. Midway into the opener it became apparent that this live performance was going to outdo the album in just about every way, although no remarkable feats were required for that. In many ways the new album sounds like a record you would expect from a Jack White band -- it’s full of thick, bluesy, ‘70s rock style rhythms with patches of garage rock abrasiveness. The “less is more” recording style sounds a bit closer to his earlier days with the White Stripes, though the comparison stops there. The tone of the album is darker than any of his band’s previous albums. Of course, the most glaring difference with this band is that White sits behind the drum kit and Alison Mosshart largely handles the lead vocals. While this sounds like it would be a recipe for a success, there is something very uninspiring about the album as a whole. The songs are inconsistent and at times downright uninteresting. The album attempts to traverse some very swampy territory but at moments it feels like it is wallowing knee deep in the mud.

Fortunately the live performance boldly sidesteps this mire completely. The show managed to dwarf the entire theatre and on occasion felt too large to have any business trying to fit inside. The huge rock show presentation, with its bright pulsing light show, helped to inject life into some of the weaker tracks. The song “I Cut Like a Buffalo”, which is an achievement to get through from start to finish on record, was more groove than grating on stage and actually stood out as one of the better songs from the night.

Naturally, the hour long set consisted mainly of the band’s entire first album, but they did include a couple of cover songs for good measure, including an excellent rendition of “You Just Can’t Win” by Them, whose dirty blues played right into the hands of the Dead Weather. The highlight of the night came via the last track on the band’s album, “Will There Be Enough Water”. The song brought White out from behind his kit for the second and last time, and found him slipping on his guitar for the only time in the performance, which garnered applause before he could even get out a single note. This extended live version seemed to better articulate everything they had hoped to say with their album. It began with some dense, bluesy, organ work by Fertita, while White slowly riffed alongside on guitar, before stepping up to the mic with Mosshart for the duet. White then broke the foggy vibe wide open in the middle of the song with some of his trademark screeching guitar work, which also found him screaming some of his vocals without a mic.

Somewhat surprisingly, little was lost with Dean Fertita on guitar instead of White. His slightly more subdued style is a better fit for the band’s approach. As for White, even when seated behind the drums he still manages to make his presence known. While he doesn’t quite have the same proficiency with the sticks as he does the guitar, he approaches it with the same raw energy, which accentuates the drumming and makes it more of a prominent part of the overall picture. And even though he has more of a “supporting” role within the band, one can sense his firm hand infused within the music at every turn.

This band is, however, largely centered on Mosshart and unfortunately that may be where the album and show falters. It was surprising to see her break out from the more detached role she presents with her other band, the Kills. While she played the part on stage, writhing and thrashing about, there was something that didn’t ring entirely true about her performance. It may have been that she didn’t quite have the pipes to match her aggressive performance. Visually, her sweat-filled performance was fairly magnetic, cutting a larger than life presence as she hopped upon the monitors to look defiantly out into the crowd, but she wasn’t quite able to find this vocal equivalent, which seemed to flatten things a little.

There is nothing in the Dead Weather’s music that suggests that this is some passing side project, which is a feat in itself, but there is still a sense that whatever they were searching for on their first album was not entirely realized. Supposedly, the entire album was written and recorded in a few weeks, which might explain why it missed the mark. It might also explain why the live show is far superior. What the songs lack in strength is more than made up for on stage.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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