June’s 5 Can’t-Miss Shows

By Tom Lynch

1 PJ Harvey and John Parish (Riviera Theatre)
Harvey and Parish collaborate once again following 1996’s “Dance Hall at Louse Point,” to chilling results. With “A Woman A Man Walked By,” the two songwriters find a haunting balance between ghostly folk and ragged rock, as Harvey’s vocals continue to send chills. It’s dark, it’s beautiful and it should produce a fantastic live show. (June 12)

2 The Field (Double Door)
The ambient techno crafted by Swedish musician Axel Willner, aka The Field, could soundtrack your trip to Saturn—the spacious electronics of 2007’s unbelievably great “From Here We Go Sublime” develops a Kompakt world within your head. Willner’s follow-up, titled “Yesterday and Today,” is a worthy progression on which the artist involves more vocals. The Juan Maclean plays as well. (June 16)

3 Nachtmystium (Empty Bottle)

Wheaton’s treacherous metal band has faced some unfortunate adversity as of late, fighting false accusations of being sympathetic to Nazi scenes and even having to cancel some dates because of it. Looking past that nonsense, the band’s 2008 release “Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1” will blow your brain through your ass, as leader Blake Judd’s throat guides you into a hellish abyss. But don’t take my word for it: in May of last year, restaurant Kuma’s Corner named its special after the band. (June 27)

4 Bill Callahan (Bottom Lounge)
Indie-folk troubadour and former Smog man continues to prove himself as an essential figure in underground rock, as his second “solo” record, “Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle,” might be his best work since 1999’s unforgettable “Knock Knock.” Rootsy, lo-fi musical tomes, filled with intimate looks and heart gone dark, creates a sense of privacy and solemnity that perhaps only Callahan can produce. You feels as it it’s just you and him locked in a closet, and you’re prying the ache from him. (June 19)

5 Shellac (Bottom Lounge)
Two dates with Steve Albini, Bob Weston and Todd Trainer. Sheer enflamed zeal, delirious force. One of the best local acts you’ll ever see, making poetry out of noise. Yes, please. Again and again. (June 27-28)

By Dennis Polkow

1 Camelot (Ravinia)
Multi-Tony Award-winning Broadway star George Hearn has played just about every major role in musical theater across his long career, but despite the fact that he played Sir Lionel on the first national tour of “Camelot” back in 1963 and was even the understudy for King Arthur, he never actually performed the role in his own production. That situation will be rectified in the autumn of his career at long last when Hearn will pick up the Sword Excalibur with soprano Sylvia McNair as Guenevere and Rod Gilfry as Lancelot in this semi-staged concert performance of John F. Kennedy’s favorite play complete with a full orchestra. (June 5)

2 Grant Park Orchestra Opening (Millennium Park)
Having been shut out of this year’s Independence Day Eve celebration after providing live music to accompany the city’s massive fireworks display since that tradition began more than thirty years ago, at least the Grant Park Orchestra can take solace in the fact that its seventy-fifth birthday is being celebrated all season long. Longtime artistic and general director James W. Palermo did most of the anniversary programming before he headed west in March to become CEO and president of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, a huge loss for Chicago. Pianist Stephen Hough is the soloist for the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto on opening night; other opening-weekend highlights include Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Suite from “On the Waterfront,” Shostakovich’s “Song of the Forests,” Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Too Hot Toccata” and the Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” (June 10-13)

3 Dvorák Festival Finale (Symphony Center)
For reasons that are not entirely clear, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is devoting the final weeks of its 2008-9 season to mostly already-overheard warhorses of Anton Dvorák. The finale of that festival, however, does offer a rare opportunity to experience Dvorák works less frequently heard, most notably his “Te Deum” for chorus and orchestra and operatic excerpts sung by soprano Patricia Racette as a follow-up to her winter appearances here at Lyric Opera as Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly.” (June 18-19)

4 Dave Brubeck Quartet (Symphony Center)
With Ravinia’s “Jazz in June” a thing of the past, Symphony Center is picking up some of the slack by offering this special appearance of the Dave Brubeck Quartet to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the most popular jazz album of all time, “Time Out” (Columbia). When it was first released in 1959, tracks such as “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo à la Turk” were actually so popular that they were standard on jukeboxes and the single of “Take Five” with its pulsating 5/4 time signature and Paul Desmond saxophone line actually became the first jazz million-seller since the swing era. (June 26)

5 Joe Cocker (Ravinia)
So you thought last year’s Police reunion, or a new U2 album was nostalgic? Get ready for a fortieth-anniversary Woodstock “World’s Largest Lawn Party” at Ravinia with one of the most memorable of that legendary festival’s performers, Joe Cocker, minus the hair. A lawn party in 1969 would have had plenty of fondue and incense but Ravinia is providing more traditional fare such as hot dogs, cheeseburgers and a “selection of salads” from 5pm-7pm included in the admission price and a cash bar from 4pm-8pm. Of course, back in 1969, there were other things going on out on Ravinia’s lawn, but those involved aren’t talking because they can’t remember. (June 28)

July’s 5 Can’t-Miss Shows

By Tom Lynch

1 Pitchfork Music Festival (Union Park)
Friday night’s the most attractive this year, with “Write the Night” appearances by Tortoise, Yo La Tengo, Built to Spill and, most thrillingly, The Jesus Lizard. However, the rest of the weekend ain’t too bad either, with performances by The National, Fucked Up, Lindstrom, The Flaming Lips, Grizzly Bear, M83, The Walkmen, The Thermals, Frightened Rabbit and more. (July 17-19)

2 The Wrens (Schubas)
The indie-rock old-fogies haven’t released a new record since 2003’s “The Meadowlands,” but it says something about the power of that record—plus the band’s energetic live show—that fans keep coming out to witness all the mayhem. (July 24-25)

3 Harvey Milk, Torche (Empty Bottle)
The metal show of the summer for my money, featuring the fanatical doom of Miami-based Torche (whose “Meanderthal” is an ass-kicker) and the stoner-sludge of Athens band Harvey Milk, whose return last year produced “Life… The Best Game in Town,” one of the best records of 2008. (July 18)

4 Explosions in the Sky (Congress Theater)
The instrumental post-rock band continually offers outrageously loud, soul-shakingly beautiful live shows, and was last heard on record with 2007’s “All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone.” Amazing what you can achieve with a couple guitars, delay pedals and whole lot of distortion. (July 2)

5 Green Day (United Center)
If you can tolerate the beer-swiggin’ yuppies (and probably their kids) for which this is as punk as it gets and have never even heard of “Kerplunk,” Green Day is one of the top arena acts out there. (July 13)

By Dennis Polkow

1 Grant Park Gala 75th Season Concert (Millennium Park)
This special gala concert recreates the very first program ever presented by the Grant Park Orchestra back in 1935 showing how much music tastes have changed across three-quarters of a century. Wagner is represented by the “Arrival of the Guests at the Wartburg” from “Tannhäuser,” an excerpt rarely heard today, and there are a couple of pieces still popular, such as Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 and Johann Strauss II’s “On the Beautiful Blue Danube.” But most of this repertoire is long forgotten, including music by Thomas, Alfven, Glazunov, Powell, German and Meacham. (July 1)

2 Susan Graham (Ravinia)
Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham has made some beautiful music here over the years, but none like the recital of rare French songs that she sang a couple of year ago at Mandel Hall. The sheer timbre of Graham’s voice is at its peak, and what a spellbinding sound it is. Although the specifics of this program have yet to be announced, there is likely to be plenty of French fare, Graham’s signature music; no one does it better. Pianist Brian Zeger will provide accompaniment. (July 13)

3 Ravinia Gala Benefit Evening (Ravinia)
Ravinia is celebrating the Lincoln Bicentennial all season long but the climax of that celebration is a James Conlon-led Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance that includes Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” with the legendary CSO brass section and “A Lincoln Portrait” with a still-to-be-determined narrator (no pressure there, as the previous two CSO narrators for the piece have been Barack Obama and James Earl Jones) followed by the Beethoven Ninth Symphony. No one sings the finale of the Ninth like the CSO Chorus, usually shut out of Ravinia performances in favor of volunteer amateur choruses, so their presence for this work indeed gives this gala a rare and true sense of genuine occasion. (July 18)

4 Mahler Ninth Symphony (Ravinia)
James Conlon and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra complete their multi-year Mahler cycle with performances of the song cycle “Das Lied von der Erde” on July 10 and the Mahler Ninth Symphony on July 19. No word yet as to whether or not any of the Mahler Tenth, a work Mahler completed but had not finished orchestrating when he died in 1911, will top off the series at some point, nor if the recession has wreaked havoc on Ravinia’s plans to replicate all of the Mahler Symphonies during the 2011 Mahler anniversary. Carlos Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra will have their turn at the Mahler Ninth in August in rare indoor performances at the Harris Theater. (July 19; also August 7-8 at Harris Theater)

5 Complete Schubert Song Cycles (Ravinia)
Former Ravinia music director Christoph Eschenbach returns as pianist with his protégée German baritone Matthias Goerne for a rare opportunity to hear all three of Franz Schubert’s glorious song cycles—“Die schöne Müllerin,” “Winterreise” and “Schwanengesang”—within a single week. (July 27, 29 & 31)

August’s 5 Can’t-Miss Shows

By Tom Lynch

1 Pearl Jam (United Center)
The best arena act out there, Eddie Vedder and crew announced a one-off at United Center that sold out so quickly the band felt obligated to add another show. Two of only three North American dates scheduled for 2009, these hometown shows—hometown for Vedder, who grew up in Evanston—should be something special, for fans obviously, but also for anyone who’s taken by dudes in their forties who can still bring it. (August 23-24)

2 Lykke Li (Bottom Lounge)

The Swedish songstress is on her way to becoming the next big star, mixing electropop with saccharine melodies and straightforward pop. As soon as mainstream radio notices, playing venues as small as Bottom Lounge will be a thing of the past for her, so take advantage now. (August 7)

3 Lollapalooza (Grant Park)
A weaker lineup than in previous years, this summer’s headliners include Depeche Mode, Tool, The Killers, Jane’s Addiction, Beastie Boys, Andrew Bird and Kings of Leon. However, any show with Lou Reed and Snoop Dogg on the bill is worth checking out. (August 7-9)

4 Exo, Absent Star (Schubas)

A night of rock ‘n’ roll tribute to Doug Meis, the late drummer of The Dials. (August 2)

5 Warped Tour 2009 (First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre)
Not all great, but some respectable: Bad Religion, Bayside, Bouncing Souls, InnerPartySystem, Less Than Jake, Streetlight Manifesto and more. (August 1)

By Dennis Polkow

1 Handel’s “Acis & Galatea” (Chicago Cultural Center & Millennium Park)
The City of Chicago’s eleventh annual Summer Opera commemorates the two-hundred-fiftieth anniversary of the death of George Frediric Handel with a rare area staged performance of a Handel opera so popular it has never left the repertoire: his setting of the Greek myth “Acis and Galatea,” heard in its original English version rather than its more elaborate later Italian version. Francesco Milioto will conduct the New Millennium Orchestra from the harpsichord and Joanie Schultz will direct this fully costumed and staged production. The August 3 performance will be the first live opera presented on the Pritzker Pavilion stage. (July 28-August 3)

2 Kurt Weil: From Berlin to Broadway (Ravinia)
The “Breaking the Silence” series inaugurated by Ravinia music director James Conlon has been hanging on by a thread, which is a shame, because Kurt Weil, this year’s composer in the series, wrote some of the most fascinating music of the twentieth century. Weil’s long career will be recalled in a single Chicago Symphony Orchestra program with guest artist Patti LuPone that will include songs back to Weil’s German cabaret days through his Broadway shows along with “The Lady in the Dark” Symphonic Nocturne and the song cycle “The Seven Deadly Sins.” (August 8)

3 Verdi’s “Rigoletto” (Ravinia)
Here’s something you’re not likely to see at Lyric Opera: Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky as the ugly hunchback dwarf Rigoletto. Hvorostovsky’s matinee idol looks won him a spot as one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” but in a concert version of the opera, he won’t even have to bend over while he is singing. Cuban-American soprano Eglise Gutierrez is Gilda and Italian tenor Stefano Secco is the Duke of Mantua; James Conlon conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Hvorostovsky will also give a rare area recital on August 18. (August 15)

4 Beethoven Ninth Symphony (Millennium Park)
The seventy-fifth anniversary season of the Grant Park Orchestra comes to a close with Carlos Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus and announced soloists Amber Wagner, Kathryn Leemhuis and Jason Grant in the monumental Beethoven Ninth Symphony; those quiet sections will give traffic a chance to compete but by the time of the glorious finale, street noise won’t have a prayer. (August 14-15)

5 Fred Anderson’s 80th Birthday Party (Millennium Park)
Fred Anderson’s actual 80th birthday was back on March 22 and has already been celebrated numerous times even at his own club, the Velvet Underground, but as a co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and godfather of improvised Chicago free jazz, it’s nice to see a legendary figure get a big, outdoor tribute like this while he is not only still with us, but thriving. Participants include George Lewis, Francis Wong, Ed Wilkerson, Tomeka Reid and Greg Ward and AACM Chicago’s Great Black Music Ensemble returning to the Pritzker Pavilion to perform their mentor’s compositions. (August 20)