Local Concert Preview for Chicago & Milwaukee:
December 23, 2009 - January 6, 2010

First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2009, Volume 16, #12

Written by John Metzger

Sat December 19, 2009, 01:30 PM CST

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Waco Brothers - Waco World

12/26 - Waco Brothers - Schuba's - Chicago - 10:00 p
12/27 - Waco Brothers - Schuba's - Chicago - 7:00 p

Like clockwork, the Waco Brothers reconvenes every year for a pair of concerts at Schuba’s during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It matters little whether there’s anything new to promote. The outfit just seems to enjoy hosting a huge party for its local fans. Merging the raw, political fury of punk with the cry-in-your-beer heartache of Hank Williams — while also adding a hefty dose of the Rolling Stones’ rock ’n‘ roll swagger for good measure — the Waco Brothers never fails to provide a thrilling backdrop for a night of compulsive drinking. Since its debut in 1995, the group has assembled a solid string of studio recordings. Its most recent offering Waco Express: Live & Kickin’ at Schuba’s Tavern, Chicago provides a neat and tidy approximation of its concert performances. Still, there is nothing like seeing the Waco Brothers in person. Perhaps the best thing about its annual extended engagements at Schuba’s — the next one will be held on December 26 and 27 — is that the hangover from the first evening can be washed away by the second night’s festivities. Just be prepared to call in sick on Monday morning.

Rusted Root - Stereo Rodeo

12/28 - Rusted Root - House of Blues - Chicago - 8:00 p
12/29 - Rusted Root - The Rave - Milwaukee - 8:00 p

Rusted Root also regularly marks the end of the year by traipsing through the Midwest. When it visited town last December, the group was preparing to issue Stereo Rodeo, its first album of new material since 2002. By now, these songs ought to be fully assimilated into Rusted Root’s repertoire. Fans never seem to grow tired of the band’s early material, though, and thankfully, Rusted Root rarely falters in its ability to keep tunes like Ecstasy and Laugh as the Sun sounding fresh. Considering that it once again is emphasizing vibrant, groove-centered explorations, the ensemble’s shows at House of Blues in Chicago on December 28 and The Rave in Milwaukee on December 29 ought to be hypnotic, rhythm-soaked extravaganzas.

Umphrey's McGee - Mantis

12/29 - Umphrey's McGee - Vic Theatre - Chicago - 8:00 p
12/30 - Umphrey's McGee - Aragon Ballroom - Chicago - 8:00 p
12/31 - Umphrey's McGee - Aragon Ballroom - Chicago - 7:30 p

No band did a better job of taking advantage of Phish’s second hiatus than Umphrey’s McGee. Over the past few years, the group’s focus and drive have combined to keep the outfit at the forefront of the jam band scene. In the wake of Phish’s recent return, the members of Umphrey’s McGee have shown little interest in relinquishing the spotlight. Conventional wisdom accurately states that Umphrey’s McGee fares best in a concert setting, and naturally this notion is further emboldened by its forceful 2007 endeavor Live at the Murat. Even so, the collective ought to be commended for continuing to pursue its artful outlook in the recording studio. Mantis, the Chicago-based sextet’s latest outing, might have its flaws, but via its spirited instrumental interplay, the band reaches for the prog-rock heaven of Yes without sounding dated. When Umphrey’s McGee settled into the Auditorium Theatre to celebrate New Year’s Eve 12 months ago, it not only sprinkled its set with songs by Michael Jackson, The Beatles, and U2, but it also was joined by blues legend Koko Taylor. Fans should expect a similar array of surprises when the outfit performs at the Vic Theatre on December 29 and the Aragon Ballroom on December 30 and 31.

Fiery Furnaces - I'm Going Away

12/30 - The Fiery Furnaces - Schuba's - Chicago - 9:00 p
12/31 - The Fiery Furnaces - Lincoln Hall - Chicago - 9:00 p

The Fiery Furnaces has issued seven studio albums in the past six years. Yet, instead of becoming easier to pin down, the group has defied expectations and left countless fans scratching their heads. For those who remain perplexed, the relatively straightforward nature of I’m Going Away, The Fiery Furnaces' latest set, might offer some respite. In fact, the outing could be viewed as an attempt to rally the troops that had begun to grown disinterested with the ensemble’s endless sonic experiments. Throughout the endeavor, pop melodies and arrangements, specifically those from the 1970s, reign supreme. Still, The Fiery Furnaces’ penchant for shaking up its material doesn’t guarantee that this return-to-basics approach will translate to a concert setting. So, everyone will just have to hope for the best when The Fiery Furnaces performs in the intimate confines of Schuba’s on December 30 before moving to the somewhat larger space of Chicago’s newest venue Lincoln Hall for an engagement on New Year’s Eve.

Chris Isaak - Mr. Lucky

1/1 - Chris Isaak - House of Blues - Chicago - 9:00 p

By now, fans know exactly what they’re going to get from Chris Isaak. In this regard, his latest set Mr. Lucky won’t disappoint them. The album is his first collection of new material in seven years, and although it contains a few production flourishes that are designed to make the effort fit within the current music scene, its songs remain firmly rooted in the aching romanticism of Roy Orbison’s recordings from the 1960s. Regardless of his lack of output of late, Isaak has remained a regular fixture on the concert scene, and he frequently pays Chicago a visit over the holidays. This year, instead of his regular New Year’s Eve performance, Chicagoans will have to settle for a show at House of Blues on the following night. Still, it shouldn’t be missed. Not only is Mr. Lucky his most consistent effort in quite some time, but backed by a stellar supporting cast, Isaak also never fails to put a charge into his delivery.

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Of Further Interest...

Local Concert Preview for Chicago: December 11-22, 2009

Local Concert Preview for Chicago / Milwaukee: December 1-10, 2009

Local Concert Preview for Chicago / Milwaukee: November 25-30, 2009

Local Concert Preview for Chicago / Milwaukee: November 17-24, 2009

Local Concert Preview for Chicago / Milwaukee: November 10-16, 2009

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