Thursday, May 15, 2008

For the eighth year in a row, Collaboration's annual festival will deliver a fusion of arts

by Diana Bae

Sketchbook Festival is "boredom-proof," says Anthony Moseley. So for those of you who don't normally like the traditional stuffy theater you might be used to, this show could be the one for you, according to the executive artistic director and festival director of Chicago-based arts organization Collaboraction.

Starting with the opening night performance Sunday and a UR Chicago co-sponsored afterparty at Motel Bar, Collaboraction's Sketchbook Festival returns to the Steppenwolf Theatre for its eighth year in production with a collection of 14 short plays. Over the years, the festival has "evolved into a full sensory experience," Moseley says. "It's a fusion of theater, music and Web 2.0."

The Web component refers to the unique brand of audience participation that Sketchbook will employ for the first time this year. By going online to the group's website (, audience members can submit original videos, audios, sketches, writings and photographs to the festival. During performances, the submissions will be projected on floor-to-ceiling screens, making it seem "like you're immersed," Moseley says. The setup of the performances will also further encourage audience integration, as they will be seated around an octagonal setup, with performances in the middle.

The concept behind Sketchbook started "with the idea of how to make theater and the consumption of art as accessible as possible," Moseley says. Collaboraction decided to get rid of any divisions between the various branches of art and eventually merged together theater, music and the visual into one show. They started taking submissions from aspiring playwrights to get the best of the bunch and made the performances less than seven minutes to keep up the accessibility of the festival.

For people coming to see Sketchbook for the first time, Moseley says that they will find it feels like an event rather than a show. "It's built for audience enjoyment and sharing what it means to be alive," he says. The performances in their entirety are made for those who "like to consume art and has a slight touch of ADD," he says.

The shows will not be sacrificing quality for quantity, though. This year, there were 400 play submissions, 600 actor hopefuls and 100 director applicants -- which were cut down to 150 artists total, according to Mosely. The plays are all "on the highest caliber. They're top-notch," he says. In addition, because they were all written in the past few months, you get a "great feel of now," he says. "It's totally invigorating, inspiring and fun."

Sketchbook Festival opens this weekend at the Steppenwolf Merie Reskin Garage Theatre (1624 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650) and runs every Sunday through June 15;
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Monday, May 12, 2008

The Kills take on Chicago with harder beats and a creeping singer

Never in my life have I seen two people work a stage the way The Kills did at the Metro on Friday night. Having seen them years ago in Brooklyn when they opened for Sleater Kinney, I had high expectations as they’d been the highlight of a show that they weren't even headlining.

As soon as they stepped onstage, vocalist VV (aka Alison Mosshart) intimidated the crowd as she paced the stage in circles while guitarist Hotel (aka Jamie Hince) started the opening sample for “U.R.A. Fever,” the infectious first single from their new album, Midnight Boom. The vocal tradeoff between the two of them was so hypnotic and gushed with so much sexuality and downright ‘cool’ that not one body in the crowd remained still. Immediately after this song, not even stopping to talk to the audience, the boot stomping beat to the bluesy “Pull A U” started and really got the show started. It was impossible to ignore the feeling of a room full of feet stomping to the beat along with VV.

It wasn’t until they performed “No Wow,” the title track from their second album, that I really realized how far they’d come since I’d seen them last. No Wow was an album that was a hard pill to swallow—it was good in all the right places, but it was a bit of a departure from the groundwork that was laid out on The Kills’ first album. So when “No Wow” sounded as spectacular as it did, along with the other songs they’d performed from that album throughout the night, it was clear that they’d come a long way in a short time with their sound. The beats hit harder, courtesy of their drum machine, and the guitar riffs were raunchier. The songs had taken on a new life and were far better than the album ever could have been.

The visual aspect of the show was equally as intense as the music. The Kills performed in front of a massive screen, which displayed random visuals that usually had nothing to do with the music (most of the time, it was just people dancing), but still managed to make some sense in a very fickle and abstract way. But the really visually stunning part of The Kills raucous show was the way VV crept around the stage and teased the crowd. At any given time, she’d go right up to someone’s face and sing her lyrics. While this might sound exciting to be a part of, it’s actually quite creepy because of The Kills’ sort of ‘heroin chic meets British punk meets Velvet Underground’ image.

Whether if you like your music dirty and sexy or if you just like to see a visually stunning live show, catching The Kills should be at the top of your list of bands to see . . . they’ll just keep getting better and better. - Neil Miller, Jr.
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M.I.A. got the crowd involved and turned the Aragon into a Carnivale-worthy event

Saturday night, a decidedly younger crowd gathered for M.I.A.’s concert at the Aragon Ballroom. A mother passed off tickets to her son and his friends in the lobby, their embarrassment palpable. “Mom,” you could almost hear him whine through his braces as she waved her goodbyes. “We got this, ok? Gawd!”

People streamed past security and the merchandise booths, eager to find a spot close to the stage or form chatting and dance circles with friends. This being my first time at Aragon, I wasn’t prepared for the wildly spacious venue, accented with fairy tale castle architecture and turrets acting as balcony seating, a cosmic mural on the ceiling, and a very large stage.

Exactly at 7:30, the opening act walked on stage, their heads down and trained on the instruments in front of them. The four-piece group immediately launched into their 40-minute set, crowding around each other. Their instruments combined to form an experimental-electronica sound you wouldn’t feel silly dancing to. Save for the “wah wah wahs” produced from a tube placed in the keyboardist’s mouth, there was no singing, only the crash of drums, synths, and other electronica staples mixed with more mundane sounds—at one point the sound deck produced a sound similar to a stalled engine being turned over. After a two second pause a member tells us the band is called Holy Fuck and that they hail from Toronto. And then back to work. Aragon’s PA system hindered Holy Fuck at times, causing high pitched screeches we weren’t sure were feedback or part of their master plan, but overall the music was enjoyable and set the dance party tone for the evening.

After their set, Chicago’s own Million $ Mano got behind a DJ deck decked out with miniature flags bearing M.I.A.’s iconic face from her latest album, Kala. He hyped up the crowd, starting off with 80’s electro-pop staples like “Tainted Love” before moving on to the golden days of R&B with Bel Biv Devoe’s “Poison.” We all sang along—most of the people in the audience born well after the New Edition offshoot made the hit. Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E” and Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” (sampled on Kanye West’s “Stronger”) brought the crowd to a fever pitch. Then Mano created a tribute to Chicago’s finest in hip-hop, bringing in the juke beats the city is so well known for mixed with Kanye West and Kid Sister.

Ending his set with the Cool Kids’ “Black Mags,” Mano retreated backstage; the crowd grew anxious for M.I.A. to end the night. Twenty minutes passed and we grew antsy, agitated. “I don’t get it,” an annoyed blonde next to me seethed to her boyfriend. “Is she just like, sitting around back there?” Thirty minutes went by before we saw life on the stage, in the form of three projected images. A balding, pissed off looking Asian man was addressing us via subtitles. He says we must destroy this country; that elections don’t mean anything; that the majority wants to keep things as they are: very, very shitty. He speaks to the minority, the people who realize that change comes from destruction of the majority’s regime. His voice grows angrier and his expression all the more dour before flipping us the bird. I don’t know who the speaker’s original audience was, but his message is applicable to today’s state of affairs, no doubt. Whether my fellow audience members see this and approve, or are just excited the concert is finally starting, I don’t know.

M.I.A. finally galloped onto stage with her two cohorts: a muscular woman in a red wig and psychedelic print tights and a man who I mistake for Mikey of the Cool Kids with his lanky body, skinny jeans, and old school baseball cap. Dressed in a red sequined tank dress over black lame leggings and a t-shirt, M.I.A. and her crew danced, sang, and threw plastic horns into the frenzied crowd. With the flashing lights and M.I.A.’s world music infused tracks, Aragon was transformed into a market place during Carnivale. The highlight of the evening came when M.I.A. performed “Boyz” from Kala, asking “all the ladies in the house” to get on the stage. The audience surged forward as girls clamored to get on stage. What transpired can only be described as a dance orgy, women of all shapes, colors, and sizes grinding away to the horns blaring. M.I.A. got in the groove as well, bending over and shaking for all to see. At one point, with arguably over 75 women on the stage, someone tripped a wire and left M.I.A. barely audible. But it was all in good fun as tech brought back the music and security spent 5 minutes ushering people off stage. -Anthonia Akitunde
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Friday, May 9, 2008

Cut Copy came to Chicago and put on a larger than life show

Seriously, the Aussies know how to get a party started. While Black Kids delivered a deliciously fun set, after which I heard someone in the crowd yell “as far as I’m concerned, that was the show,” Cut Copy took the stage for the first of two shows at the Abbey Pub and started off with “Out There On The Ice” from their newest album, In Ghost Colours. It was a perfect way to start the set, and when the crescendo hit its peak midway through the song, the crowd went crazy. Within minutes of the band even being onstage, the Abbey was transformed into a full on dance party.

After a run through the first song from their first album, Cut Copy dove into their masterpiece of shoegaze goodness, “So Haunted.” Even in the smaller capacity room of the Abbey, this song sounded larger than life, almost as if it was made for an arena. Next came “Nobody Lost, Nobody Found,” which was clearly a crowd favorite from the bouncing and gyrating bodies across the floor. It was clear that a lot of people in attendance for this show were longtime fans of Cut Copy – a lot of people sang back the lyrics to “Saturdays,” the lead single from their first album.

The last three songs of Cut Copy’s set happened to be the best. I thought I’d really seen the full extent of the crowd’s energy before this point, but it was obvious there was a lot of fun left to be had. Once the band had announced they were about to perform one of their newest singles, “Lights and Music,” they were met with a roar of cheers and applause. The extremely danceable beat and cutting-edge synths got the crowd moving as if they hadn’t been dancing all night.

After performing “Future” from their first album, Cut Copy delivered their coup de grace in the form of “Hearts on Fire,” the other single from In Ghost Colours. This electric disco-house gem even had me moving with the crowd, and I’m the guy you usually see just tapping his foot and nodding his head to the beat. When they left the stage, all they did was leave us wanting more. At one point in the night, guitarist/bassist Tim Hoey exclaimed, “Chicago, it’s been too long – about 2 years. Sorry about that . . .” I agree, shame on you for making Chicago wait so long for you, Cut Copy. - Neil Miller, Jr.
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Megadeth and a killer lineup of bands brought the metal to Chicago and thrilled

One would think age might catch up to Dave Mustaine. At age 46, Mustaine put his first record out under the Megadeth moniker way back in 1985. 23 years later, he’s still going strong – he’s battled addiction on multiple occasions and also dealt with the skyrocketing success of his former band, Metallica. With a new album released last year, which many were calling their best, Megadeth stopped in Chicago tonight in support of said album as a part of Gigantour, the metal festival Mustaine started back in 2005.

On the bill this year were High On Fire, Job For A Cowboy, Children of Bodom, and In Flames. Of course, many were there for Megadeth; but Mustaine built a killer lineup this year which drew many non-Megadeth fans as well. While High on Fire kicked off the night with their thunderous stoner metal, Job For a Cowboy was about the equivalent of turgid crap being forced through the speakers at the crowd. Not only were some people sitting down through their set, but there were some few choice obscenities being hurled at the band, the nicest of which being “Go home, no one here likes you!”

After the suckfest that was Job For a Cowboy, Finland’s Children of Bodom took the stage. These guys were extremely unique among not only the bands they were performing with, but in the metal genre as well. They bridged the gaps between all the subgenres of metal – thrash, power metal, melodic metal, death metal – it was all there. It didn’t take a genius to see why a lot of people in the crowd went absolutely apeshit over these guys; they were talented and had some catchy choruses to boot.

Not too long after Children of Bodom finished their set, In Flames’ crew members started rolling out their gear – which included their own lighting rig made up of some killer strobes and some retina-searing LED lights. But truth be told, In Flames is more than a pretty light show. They blew me away in the first few songs. Throughout their whole set of melodic death metal, I kept thinking how hard it would be for Megadeth to up the ante after this band. They were definitely one of those bands that has to be seen to be believed. They interacted with the crowd, they were completely on point with everything, and they had some damn good songs, too! So could Megadeth really outshine this band of Swedes?

Opening with ‘Sleepwalker’ from their United Abominations album, Megadeth wasted no time getting things started. There was no long and dramatic intro, which ironically enough, the aforementioned asshats of Job For a Cowboy had used. The most interesting thing about Megadeth’s method of performing is the fact that they don’t talk to the audience a whole lot, but in turn, they squeeze nearly every song into a veritable medley to give the crowd what they really want – the classics. Sure, they played around five songs from their newest album, but they gave their bloodthirsty fans what they wanted and that’s a bulk of material from their Rust In Peace and Countdown to Extinction albums. They raced through their set of 20 plus songs with precision and blasts of energy you wouldn’t expect from some metalheads pushing 50 years of age. If there had to be a highlight of this show (and it’s hard to find one as the whole show was consistently great) it would be Megadeth performing “Mechanix,” which hardcore fans will recognize as the song Metallica borrowed and rearranged to turn into their fan favorite, “The Four Horsemen.” Even at 46, it’s obvious that Mustaine has reclaimed his metal and has found the drive to keep going on with the Megadeth label, perhaps through his fans or maybe through sobriety – but at the end of the day, who cares? He still rocks our faces off. -Neil Miller, Jr.
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Dolly Parton Shines at the Chicago Theatre, May 8, 2008

photographs by Daniel Peter

"There ain't nothin' real about me but my heart," Dolly Parton told the sold-out crowd at the Chicago Theatre Thursday night, May 8. From the bleach blond wig (that she said came from a real nice Korean girl) to the voluptuous breasts (yes, they are even bigger up close -- and no, they ain't real), Dolly Parton brought her "Backwoods Barbie" tour to the Windy City -- and the crowd couldn't have been happier. The singer who has sold more than 100 million albums, has written hundreds of songs and has touched more hearts than you can shake a stick at was nothing but joyful and full of fun lovin' that night.

But one thing you notice when you're sitting up close (we lucked out and got fourth row center) is that Ms. Dolly, for all her talent and gumption, unfortunately lip synched a lot of her songs -- apparently the "ain't nothin' real" line wasn't just about her looks. This was a big surprise, and disappointment, because when you knew she was actually singing, she sounded great. But it almost didn't matter because she put on such a great show regardless. She played a bit of the banjo, harpsichord, violin, piano, recorder, a rhinestone-studded dulcimer and a worn-out, old acoustic guitar that was strapped on with nothing but a piece of rope -- apparently you can take the girl out of the Smoky Mountains but she's bringin' 'em with her wherever she goes. And thank god for that.

It was that poor upbringing that made Dolly the icon she is today. It was in that house in the backwoods where she lived with her parents and 11 siblings that Dolly first realized her talent. They'd all sing, dance and play instruments together. Her mother encouraged her and would bring the whole family down to church where her granddaddy was a Pentecostal preacher (oy, I can only imagine!) and they'd all sing and dance. She said they called them the Holy Rollers. Despite her family being dirt poor, Dolly learned that it isn't money and material possessions that make one happy, rather the love of friends and family. And a lot of that comes out in her music.

It didn't take long for her to get to a classic -- "Jolene," a song about a woman who tried to steal Dolly's husband a long time ago. She said she saw her recently and that "she doesn't look so good now," and added her trademark giggle. She introduced a number of tracks from her new album, Backwoods Barbie, including the title song, "Only Dreamin'," "Jesus and Gravity," "Better Get to Livin'," and "The Lonesomes," a surprise blues track on an otherwise mostly mainstream country album -- her first in years.

But it was her hits like the heartbreaking and autobiographical "Coat of Many Colors," "Here You Come Again" (one of my personal favorites), "Islands in the Stream" and "9 to 5" that really got the crowd up on its feet. She played two sets -- that each had a costume change (she wore a skin tight sequined white jumpsuit with a sheer coat in the first set and a red rhinestoned and fringed outfit that really put her, um, girls front and center during the second set). She also let her band -- about eight or nine players and singers -- have their moment in the second set when they ran through a medley of hits from the '50s and '60s showcasing classic songs like "Great Balls of Fire," "Johnny B. Goode" and "My Girl." Dolly encored with her biggest song, which was made even bigger by Whitney Houston, "I Will Always Love You."

Throughout it all, however, Dolly treated her fans to what they really came for -- a taste of Dolly. Even though she did lip sync some, it didn't matter. Many consider dolly an icon and a national treasure and they came to see her in all her good ole Southern glory. She told stories, cracked jokes and interacted with a number of fans. She's honest, self-deprecating and full of life. There's a reason she's one of the most successful singers -- country or mainstream -- of all time. She has a personality larger than life -- but not quite as big as her boobs. And she wouldn't have it any other way. As she says, "It costs a lot to look this cheap." Amen, sister.

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Interviews with Darryl Roberts, Gerren Taylor and Chris Keefe

Chicago filmmaker Darryl Roberts' documentary America the Beautiful opens Friday at Landmark Century Centre Cinema. UR Chicago talked with Roberts, Gerren Taylor, the teenage model whose career Roberts follows, and Chris Keefe, who has a lot to say about women.
--Mark Dujsik

Darryl Roberts

What was your inspiration to tackle the subject of body image in the United States?
A friend of mine and I were in a McDonald's, and we were talking about women and beauty -- typical guy conversation. When I get home, I was on the Internet, and I was just doing some more research. When I was doing that research, I found on the Internet these two guys -- one was in California, one was in Pennsylvania -- and both of them had murdered these women. The guy in Pennsylvania, he said he did it because the woman was really gorgeous, and he wanted to date her, and she wouldn't date him, and he said, if he couldn't have her, nobody would. I was sitting there, and I was like, wow, that was really stupid to throw your life away over a beautiful woman. It started making me think, have I done anything stupid over a beautiful woman? As soon as I asked myself that question, I remember this time I was about to go out on a first date with this woman. Every time I would look at her, I would get discombobulated, because she was so beautiful. I knew her favorite colors were red and black and her favorite car was a Jaguar. So for our first date, I bought a used red and a black Jaguar, just so I could walk up to the cars and say, "Take your pick." When I thought about that, I remember thinking that was really stupid, but then I started asking myself, Why'd I do that? I was honest with myself. I knew that if she wasn't as beautiful as she was, I wouldn't have done that. I heightened my stupidity. I thought this would be a great documentary to find out why we're so obsessed with beauty, and that's what set me on the journey.

The film turns out being not why are we so obsessed with beauty but what is that obsession doing to us. You have a lot of different angles to cover, so when you were editing it together, how did you keep a through line?
It started out, Why are we so obsessed with beauty. So we went through this whole scientific thing about why we're so obsessed with beauty, but what happened, I brought on Kurt Engfehr, who was co-producer of Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine. While we were going along this path of the why, he said what's really more interesting is how this affects pop culture. We did this shift. He said that, and we did this whole what-is-it kind of thing. We stopped thinking why, and we started thinking of the fallout. Everyone knows what happens, but what is it doing to us. We figured that's what people hadn't covered yet. They tell you it's happening, but what's the fallout?

What was the most worrisome thing you discovered while going through this?
There's a girl in the film. She's a 12-year-old model [Gerren Taylor], and along the way -- this is my opinion, I'm sure she looks at it differently -- she's been sexualized. She's on the runway, her body is hanging out, and the fashion industry sexualizing her. Now, this is me in hindsight looking back on it, when you watch the film you think, Wow, she went from nobody to a supermodel really fast. This is what I really think happened, doing some critical analysis of it. She started getting that press. In New York, you have to be 14 [to model there]; it's a state law. There's no way New York would have had her come doing a fashion week, but she got on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She's on Entertainment Tonight. She brought so much heat and press that the whole industry just dropped their -- I don't want to say "morals," but for lack of a better word -- dropped their morals and just threw her on the runway at 13 at that point. When the press was gone, they didn't have any more use for her. They just threw her away. One other thing that was worrisome was the industry itself. When I interviewed those magazine editors, I was pouring my heart out to them about what these images are doing to young girls, and they just didn't care. Those two things bothered me. What else really bothered me is that the industry is not going to change. This won't stop happening.

Is there anything you wish you could have included, either while you were making the film or now in retrospect?
Everywhere I go, women keep saying I left out the most important ingredient in this whole thing: the dieting industry. That really affects women big time. The dieting industry preys upon women to buy all that stuff -- pills, Jenny Craig. Not that I wish I had covered it, but I hear from so many women that I'm cognizant of the fact that maybe it should have been in there.

Being a man talking about women's issues, were you conscious of the fact that it might not come across as sincere, or has anyone come up to you and said, What are you doing talking about these things?
While I was doing it, I never gave it a second thought, but after the fact, when women see it, they say that's what makes the film interesting to them. They said if it was a woman, it would come across as this bitter, angry thing, and they wouldn't even be interested in seeing it. Second of all, if a woman was doing it, for sure men wouldn't go see it, because, you know, men are kind of insensitive in the first place, and they'd be like, Oh, it's women whining again, I'm not going to see that. So they said the fact that a guy was doing it makes it really accessible to both sexes. While I was doing it, I never really thought about it.

When I first saw the film at the Chicago Film Festival, you mentioned that you thought it would get an R rating and were worried about how you weren't going to be able to get to younger audiences. Now it has an R rating.
It got the R for the exact reason I thought it would get it. One of the things [two assistants and I] did six weeks ago, we found every high school near the three theaters we were supposed to open. We had a list of like 52 high schools, and we started calling them. We had these high schools that were going to have America the Beautiful days this week while Gerren's here. Gerren would go into the high schools and speak to the kids. Once we got the R, that entire component was gone. It's a little restrictive, but after it plays, I'm going to do an educational version and take out the 52 seconds that got me the R and put it in schools.

You are very much an open book in this movie. You talk about a girlfriend you had, and you thought you could do better. You go on and get a lot of "No he doesn't belong here" responses to your profile. Are you ever afraid of putting yourself out there?
That scene right after, looking in that mirror, it's humiliating. It's brutal. It's really embarrassing. I didn't want to do it. There was never any intention of me being in the film. I think it's the way Kurt is comfortable -- Fahrenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine. That's what he does with Michael Moore. He kept saying we need the personal why. I tried for a year to cut this film without me in it in one frame, and it wouldn't cut. Then once we started putting in the personal stuff, it started coming together. I saw it editorially as a necessary component, so then I just submitted, surrendered and just did it.

Gerren Taylor

How did you become involved in the movie?
When I was 12, Darryl came to one of my fashion shows, and [one of the designers] told him, you have to see this 12-year-old girl. She has an amazing walk. It just started off as an interview, and he wanted to follow my career in depth because I started so young. And it ended up, my story fit in to what he was trying to capture for his documentary. The roller coaster I had, the ups and downs, it fit everything he was trying to do.

The film leaves you on a cliffhanger. You're just starting to get comfortable with yourself. You went through all those moments of insecurity. What are you up to now?
I'm better. I'm 100 percent on my self-esteem. Now I'm focused on other girls who have gone through the same things I went through. I went to South Africa to do a seminar for about 100, 200 girls, and we got into a circle and had a little talk with them. I just wanted to hear them out, like, how they feel about themselves in South Africa, and I just realized it's the same thing. It's the same American teens are going through. I realized it's not just America's obsession; it's the world's obsession. I tell them my story to know that the modeling world isn't all beautiful, glamorous. These girls have the problems just like you guys.

How do you feel about the modeling industry now?
I still work, and I still get jobs. I feel like you have to be in it in order to talk about it. It wasn't the whole industry being catty. it was a portion of the industry. I'll keep those people in the back of my mind for when I become famous-famous, so I won't do their jobs or I'll do their jobs for one mil or something.

At the Chicago Film Festival when you and Darryl talked afterwards, someone in the audience really went off on your mom and her involvement in your career. Do you feel like your mother was portrayed accurately?
She's my mom. She's going to be stern about certain things. I don't feel people got the right perception of her. My mom's my mom. And slash manager. To tell you truth, in the beginning she didn't want me to model. I kept pushing. She kind of stopped her life and focused on me. When people say certain things like, "Are you mad that your mom pushed you," I just have to explain to them, it's not really like that. I want to do what I want to do, and she's my mom and she's supposed to support me and that's what she was doing. The decisions we made were mutual. We wanted to move for a whole lot of reasons that, half of them, weren't in the movie. She wasn't portrayed how she really is, but a movie needs controversy.

Do you get uncomfortable watching any parts of the movie you're in?
When I first saw the movie, I got kind of uncomfortable. It was like, that's really me; I went through all that in this amount of time. I get kind of uncomfortable, especially when my friends come to screenings in my hometown. I have a beach time. It's like 30 of us, and we all go to the beach every weekend. They were inside the screening, and the part about me with the bra came on. I was just like, All right, guys, we have to go. I just took all 30 of my friends, and we just left and walked down Hollywood Boulevard. I wouldn't even let them see the rest of the movie, because I was really embarrassed. When it's teens I don't know, I want them to see it, because I want them to understand the message.

Chris Keefe

How did you become involved with the movie?
I answered a Craigslist ad for an editor to edit the movie. I started putting pieces together of the film, and one day, Darryl suggested that we get myself and some of my guy friends together because he heard me talk, working with him. He was like, Yeah, I think you're the point of view for guys. How did he put it? I think he was like, "You're a real ass. You're a real asshole. You'd be perfect for this." We went to the house. We shot the interviews. There were four guys on the couch [when we] originally shot this, and only two of us got on. We apparently said the wackiest, wildest or dumbest crap you could say. Chauvinistic. Stuff guys say when guys are around guys. That usually doesn't make it into general publication or print or video, because we don't want to let our secrets out.

Was there beer involved?
I was drinking Coronas and chewing tobacco. So by the time they got it done, I must have been about 12 in. I didn't think this thing would ever make it to the big screen. So four and half years later when I got an e-mail from Darryl, I about fell off my damn chair when he said, "Hey, Chris we've been looking for you. Check out the website." I clicked on it, and I almost fell off my seat. I was like, Holy crap, because I'm the picture right below Paris Hilton on the front of the website.

I have this image of a little, old lady coming up to you after a screening and saying, "You are a naughty, naughty man." Has anything like that happened?
Women seem more intrigued and attracted to guys that are bad boys or assholes. Nice guys don't win, or never win, whatever the proverb is. It's totally true. Since being in this movie, Darryl has reported to me that when I'm not there people are like, "Who's that guy," and women are like, "Yeah, I've got to meet him." The first one we did here in Chicago, there was this woman from some women's group, and she was like, "Chris, I'd like to ask you a question." I was like, Oh shit. Here it comes. I said, I was recently in a bad relationship, so I was a little more bitter. After the movie broke and we all had cocktails, there were women coming up, and they were taking pictures with me. It was really bizarre. Still true to form, being an asshole and a bad boy, and the women respond.

Even in this context?
I didn't think it would translate, but I guess it's because I'm on stage, so to speak. I don't think it matters even if I'm in a social group. Women are like, "I can change him. I can tame him." No, you ain't taming anything. There's only one thing you're going to be taming. That's terrible. My girlfriend will kill me.

So you do have a girlfriend?
My girlfriend went to the Hollywood screening. I went with my girlfriend and my mom. My mom flew out. In my head, I'm like, The other women didn't freak out, but this is my mom. I was coming up with every instance to try and not have them go. Mom's like, "I'm didn't come to Hollywood with something like this going on to miss it." And Donna's like, "I'm not staying at home." We watched the movie. Almost like your report card showed up, and you know it's bad news and there's nothing you can do about it. Done with the movie, they were like, "That was awesome." You're not mad? "I hear that shit every day." They know it's what guys say, but if you truly believe some the stuff, "Fat people suck," that makes you a full-on asshole. It's one thing to like Playmates, but to categorize anyone who's not that as not worthy of any consideration would make you an asshole. I don't think I am, and I don't come off as that -- I hope -- in the movie. That's why I haven't been beaten to death out in the shadows after the movie.
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Thursday, May 8, 2008

English quintet the Heavy attract howls with their signature “stinky” sound this Friday

by Diana Bae

“Pack your best wolf howl.” That’s what Kelvin Swaby suggests fans should do at his band’s shows. This big bad wolf persona that was proclaimed by the Heavy a couple years ago -- inspired when people expressed disbelief that so much noise could come from so few people -- fits. With the American release of their debut album Great Vengeance and Furious Fire, the Heavy is finally bringing their robust horns and soulful beats across the pond from the U.K. and playing shows Stateside in May before taking the funk international.

One of those Stateside shows is this Friday: The Heavy will be headlining this week’s Chicago edition of Playboy’s Rock the Rabbit. They’ll be joined by Life During Wartime DJs Mother Hubbard and Bald Eagle -- and new DJ duo Rocktapussy will be making their Chicago debut. (And, of course, there’ll be plenty of bunnies milling about.)

The Heavy is the result of a collaboration between lead singer Swaby and his longtime friend and the band’s guitarist, Dan Taylor. “It was born out of the two of us having the idea that rhythm and blues should be rhythm and blues -- only heavier,” Swaby says. Along the way, they picked up other bandmates to round out their creation: bassist Spencer Page, drummer Chris Ellul and singer Hannah Collins.

Considering their long list of inspirations includes everything from the Sonics to Led Zeppelin to old-school hip-hop -- all of which can be heard in the songs -- the album is surprisingly and fantastically cohesive. Swaby describes the band’s sound as “dirty, stinky, the kind of stuff you wouldn’t take home to your mother, but she’d love it anyway.” The band is big, bold and unafraid to be unique and raw. With Great Vengeance, they have created a “very tongue-in-cheek” album that deals mainly with relationships without losing its edge, he says. In “Doing Fine,” his personal favorite on the record, they get the chance to showcase their songwriting talents in a “testament to things that have gone on, and pain. It’s so gentle but the beats are big,” he says. On the first single, “That Kind of Man,” Swaby’s falsetto smoothly falls in with the fearless and loud horns blaring behind the lyrics, creating a gritty sound that can only properly be listened to at the highest volumes.

As far as the band name goes, Swaby says that he and Taylor considered making it plural like “The Hives.” Being horror and disaster film fans, though, they ultimately decided that simply “the Heavy” sounded more sinister. They liked how abrupt the name sounded, the frontman says, pushing the band’s musical offerings even more in your face: “heavy beats, heavy riffs, heavy lyrical content, heavy tunes in general.”

Playboy’s Rock the Rabbit takes over Darkroom (2210 W. Chicago, 773-276-1411) May 9 with the Heavy, LDW DJs and Rocktapussy;

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Evanston's Whole Foods indulges our breakfast meat cravings

photos by Laura Gray

I'd seriously consider being a vegetarian if not for a single solitary carnivorous indulgence: bacon. Is there another natural food product that so clearly defines the infinite joy of our existence? No, not really. It's the aroma that can drag the most hungover heap of humanity out of bed, the thoughtful addition that makes otherwise healthy food crave-worthy, and the secret ingredient that galvanizes the flavor and appeal of everything from salad to chocolate bars. So strong is the devotion to bacon for myself and three friends that we actually took days off from work to attend a bacon tasting class at Whole Foods in Evanston, and let me tell you—it beat a regular old "sick day" on the couch into oblivion.

We arrived a few minutes before the noon start time of the class and were ushered into the super secret Bacon Scent Containment Module, better known as the test kitchen upstairs from the main grocery floor. To tantalize our taste buds, class instructor Jean Hougard and her assistant, Buffy Feinstein, served a light lunch—you guessed it—a BLT accented by a creamy goat cheese. Tasty, to be sure, but no match for the parade of crunchy, smoky, salty, melt-in-your-mouth goodness that followed.

The depth and breadth of the bacon world is far more dramatic than what one finds in the refrigerator section of your garden-variety chain grocery stores, and we spared no caloric expense to explore bacons of every make and model. Whole Foods astutely had members of its meat department on hand to share some of the nitty gritty details about how our favorite salty snack comes to be. All bacon meat comes from the belly of the pig and takes its flavor from the process that comes between porker tummy and plastic package. Most bacon available in America is uncured, meaning that it is smoked prior to cooking over a specific wood like applewood or hickory. Cured bacon is prepared dry, in a sugar and salt mixture, or wet, in a brine solution. All of this talk of methodology and technique only served to heighten our anticipation, and Hougard and her staff didn’t disappoint when it was time to sample the delicacies.

There was pancetta, the tightly wound, thin and crispy Italian interpretation of our beloved pork product. There was the “Muslim special,” beef bacon that tastes much like warmed and softened beef jerky. Let’s not forget an organic bacon and a maple cured variety, all of which served to expand our knowledge (and deepen our love) of the little breakfast wonder that could. It’s an indulgence, to be sure, but one we’ll hold close as long as there are cured, smoked and seasoned meat products to enjoy. – Elizabeth Drew

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Eisley delivers with a tight and impressive performance

It’s always a nice surprise when opening bands perform in order of greatness. Such was the case at Park West on Friday night for Eisley’s headlining show. Before the show, I was unsure of what to expect from the opening bands as I’d never experienced either one of them before. Within the first few songs of Vedera’s set, I saw promising talent that complimented some strong songwriting and vibrant personalities. Yet once they started playing songs that they claimed are from their new EP, I felt like I was witnessing a knock-off of Sixpence None The Richer . . . and believe me, that is not a good thing.

Shortly after that was over, The Myriad took the stage. Once again, I had no idea what to expect, and since Vedera sounded somewhat similar to Eisley, albeit in a very muddled down and distilled manner, it was easy to imagine this band being more of the same. That was quite an unfair assumption on my part as The Myriad was truly a spectacle all in their own right. It’d be easy to say that The Myriad embodied the theatric delivery of a band like Ours and the undeniable talent of Muse, but in their defense, they were very much their own band and their own style. Their entire set was very entertaining and at times, hypnotizing, as the songs played out like stories, complete with big dramatic endings. It was a tough act to follow, but if anyone could pull it off, Eisley could.

Opening with “Go Away,” a song from their newest album, Eisley sounded even tighter than when I’d seen them last year. It seemed that all the touring they had done had turned them into a well-oiled machine. Throughout the set, they didn’t focus on any one album to cull material from, which seemed like a good move since most of the crowd cheered for classics from their old days like “Lady of the Woods” and “Mr. Pine.” They also played a few songs from their Like The Actors EP (“Sun Feet” and the title track), which was released in December. The only letdown came in the middle of “I Could Be There For You.” On the record, the song crescendos to otherworldly heights with the vocals layered so intensely that you’d swear the whole band was singing. Performed live, only guitarist/vocalist Sherri DuPree sang that section and it was a bit of a disappointment.

Between a few songs, Sherri felt the urge to tell the crowd that Chicago really is their favorite city to play in – and while a lot of bands say that, it sounded genuine coming from them. It was truly evident in their impressive performance and desire to please the crowd with a well balanced setlist. Even if Chicago isn’t Eisley’s actual favorite city to play in, I think it’d be safe to say that Chicago would still welcome them back with open arms in the future. - Neil Miller, Jr.
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Nine Inch Nails
The Slip
Rating: 4/5 stars

Mr. Reznor has gotten mighty ambitious since his departure from Interscope Records. For a man who used to put an album out every five years or so, to have four new albums (five, if you count the Year Zero Remixed album) in only three years is just unheard of. So when does he start to sound monotonous? When will his new material begin to sound bloated? Not just yet. Just released on NIN’s official website at 2 this morning, The Slip is a fitting album with the rest of Reznor’s oeuvre. Equipped with even heavier guitar distortion (most likely owed to the return of former guitarist, Robin Finck) and more computerized beats than before, this record is a heady step forward from the entirely instrumental Ghosts I-IV. While Ghosts was a veritable eye of the storm after the chaos of Year Zero, The Slip throws you right back into the destruction and calamity we’re used to hearing from Reznor. And what would a Nine Inch Nails album be without hooks? Never fear, pop fanatics, TR has retained his catchiness in songs like the lead single “Discipline,” and “Head Down,” which is easily the highlight of the album with its complex drum loop and beautifully frail vocal delivery. A strange serenity occurs towards the end of the album in the form of “Lights In The Sky” and “Corona Radiata,” which, with their piano-based sound (and lack of vocals in the case of the latter track), seem like outtakes from The Fragile. But when an album as texturally layered and complex as this comes along as a free gift from a musical madman like Reznor, it makes more sense to embrace it than to question it . . . and when it’s this good, that won’t be too difficult to do. - Neil Miller, Jr.

Nine Inch Nails will be performing at Lollapalooza.
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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Looptopia comes back for a second year of late-night art celebrations

by Diana Bae

The Loop will shed its business-only attitude this weekend to show off its more artsy, fun, party-till-the-break-of-dawn side -- literally. The second annual, 14 hour-long Looptopia will start at 5 p.m. Friday and last until past the first light of the next day, finishing at 7 a.m. Saturday.

This year, the event will feature about 150 programs at around 40 different venues from the Chicago River to Congress Parkway and Clark Street to Columbus Drive. Festivities will include art, architecture, theater and dance performances. “It’s an arts and cultural celebration of today’s Loop,” says Ty Tabing, executive director of the Chicago Loop Alliance, which is organizing the event.

According to Tabing, today’s Loop is a different Loop than of the past generations. “It’s more vibrant after work now,” he says. “It’s a dynamic area and it will continue to be.” Due to the new nature of the area, Looptopia has been able to find a welcome place among Chicagoans. “We’ve been fortunate enough that the art community has embraced us,” Tabing says.

Highlights to expect this year include a new venue at the riverfront, where there will be a performance from the New Millennium Orchestra. Tourist favorite “Cloud Gate” (the Bean) will get company in Millennium Park, where the 2016 Olympic Committee will sponsor a sporting-event exhibition. The Chicago Cultural Center will house a large chunk of the festivities as well.

As the 12th hour rolls around, a giant game of hide-and-seek will be played at Millennium Park. At the same time, the Sunrise Breakfast Retrospective will welcome the new morning with breakfast and an unveiling of works created over the course of the night.

The creation of Looptopia started in 2005 with the formation of the CLA. Looking for “new signature events to promote the Loop,” Tabing says he found inspiration abroad. After learning about “White Night” events (all-night cultural festivals) in major cities like Paris and Rome, the group started Chicago’s own version of the international sensation and came up with Looptopia. “It puts us in a good league with international cities,” he says. “It speaks to how international we’ve become.” Last year’s debut attracted more than 200,000 people and Tabing expects that this year, they will meet if not surpass last year’s numbers. In order to perform better crowd control this year, participants will need to get free wristbands at booths during the events to get into venues after midnight.

For more information, visit

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Evanston eatery Union Pizzeria combines food and live music

A new restaurant barely three months old is shaking up the white-bread culinary scene in Evanston. Union Pizzeria is the innovative brainchild of a partnership between real estate developer Craig Golden, former music producer Stuart Rosenberg, musician Dave Spector and Steve Schwartz, owner of Campagnola restaurant located down the street. The unique venture is part dining establishment, part musical venue—ultimately creating a haven for foodies and musicians alike.

Although it's called a pizzeria, Union Pizzeria is far from the old-school idea of a pizza-only, red-and-white checkered tablecloth joint. From the huge full-length windows facing the street and the high, exposed wooden ceilings to the visible brick and plaster purposely left over from the location’s previous incarnation and the colorful, modern lounging area and chic bar, Union is hip and trendy without being inaccessible. “The original vision was a place for coming together—a place where anyone can feel comfortable,” says Heather Behm, manager of operations. “The energy here is infectious and contagious. There’s a great vibe.” Tunes from the Fray and Damien Rice as well as '90s pop classics loudly blare in every direction while patrons enjoy a huge selection of alcoholic beverages, including 50 wines under $50.

In the kitchen is Chef Vince DiBattista, who was brought over from Campagnola. “It’s simple, not fussy food with great ingredients,” Behm says. The quality shows in Union’s surprisingly affordable pizzas and small plates. Standouts include the eggplant caponata, a hearty relish that includes capers and olives, and the meatballs with veal, pork and ricotta that come topped with a tasty tomato jam containing orange flavors, giving the dish a delectable citrusy punch. “It almost tastes homemade—it seems like it was made with love,” says Molly Raisch, a first-time customer.

The atmosphere at Union is sure to get only hipper once the music portion of the place really gets kicked into gear. After a short walk down a hallway, patrons enter a beautiful performance area, on this day set up with elegant black tables and chairs. A brand new recording studio follows, which leads into an exclusive members-only club for musicians. For an annual fee, they have access to the space as well as priority rights to the stage. It's a place for artists that “don’t want to sell their souls to a record label. They can come and practice their passions,” Behm says. She says that although Union takes a very small portion of the artists’ profits, it is quite minimal in comparison to cuts that labels might take.

Performances started in the beginning of April, and those behind the project hope to strengthen the sense of community of the establishment and the surrounding area—as well as inject some energy into Evanston. “It was a needed place for Evanstonians,” Behm says. “It’s a place everyone can come and have fun.” - Diana Bae

Union Pizzeria is located at 1245 Chicago (847-475-2400) in Evanston
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U.K. quintet Foals take us on a rockin' nostalgia trip

Foals singer and guitarist Yannis Philippakis has a soft spot for ’90s Chicago technical rock music. With a side nod to Don Caballero, he’s quick to identify local favorites Sweep the Leg Johnny as his favorite band. “I have everything they’ve ever done,” he brags, even tracking down a rare demo that was released in tandem with a zine. “Finally!” I think to myself. It’s refreshing that we at last have evidence that arguably the hardest-working band in Chicago from 1995-2000 has made a positive impact on a younger generation of musicians. Just like Sweep, Foals are quick to be labeled “math rock,” which Philippakis finds “totally bizarre.” He adds, “the British press call [math rock] a new thing because in England, [bands like Sweep] never really integrated.”

Their debut album, Antidotes, is a whirligig of a ride incorporating indie rock, dance punk and impressive technical proficiency to boot. While previous reports have the band shunning the final mix of TV On the Radio’s David Sitek as “too spacey,” Philippakis has nothing but high praise for his work—if not for his production work, then for his personal impact. “I think [TVOTR album] Cookie Mountain is without a doubt one of the best records put out in the last 15 years,” he proudly states. But when it came to the actual recording, Philippakis adds, “it wasn’t about sounds. He challenged our ideas of why we made music. He had a very special and profound effect on our band. We got shook up by him.”

It was Foals that did the shaking at Subterranean last Saturday, April 26. Taking the stage and getting into their preferred horseshoe formation (Philippakis faces stage left instead of the crowd), I immediately thought of that old early ’90s dare-I-say-sure-why-not-dare-say “emo” trick of facing backwards during the set, the practice of shunning stages, the tortured soul who can’t bear to see people’s faces. Hell, we’ve all been there, or maybe most of us have. I didn’t find it offensive one bit, as Foals did an excellent job of engaging those in attendance. I instead found it completely nostalgic. In a good way. I was standing next to Chris Daly of Sweep the Leg Johnny, and he felt it too.

They cruised through new single “Red Sox Pugie,” and just killed it during “Cassius” and my favorite track on Antidotes, opener “The French Open.” Songs like “Electric Bloom” actually sounded better live, as Philippakis played extra percussion and sang the hooky chorus, “It’s just another hospital” along with the sweating, adoring front row. “We try and set off reciprocal energy from the crowd,” he explained earlier, and when I asked if they improvised at all on stage, he replied, “depends how well it’s going.”

Things are going really well for Foals: They're on the last leg of their first U.S. tour, heading to Japan, doing the European festival circuit, and then back to Chicago for Lollapalooza. Get ready for an explosive live show and if you’re old enough (har har) and maybe a nice dose of that good, ol' time “remember when"? - Bob Nanna
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Monday, April 28, 2008

It’s Not Easy Being Green: Green Apple Festival Celebrates Earth Day

photos by Cindy Barrymore

In the clear spring sky, the sun shone brightly on the majestic lion. As he stretched and sunned himself on the perfectly placed boulder, lazily glancing at his surroundings, I found myself wondering if this king had any awareness of what had become of his kingdom. I’m often conflicted at zoos. On the one hand is the feeling of pity for the displaced animals relegated to their makeshift habitats, and mild indignation at humanity for creating such a fa├žade. On the other is the knowledge that this lion could instead be starving to death in its natural setting, or facing death at the hands of a poacher, so perhaps the zoo may very well be the ideal kingdom after all.

This particular dichotomy is not all that uncommon, to be sure, but it was likely overlooked on Sunday, April 20 th, at Lincoln Park Zoo. Though the lions were relegated to the background, the zoo was an appropriate setting for the third annual Green Apple Festival. Together with the Earth Day Network they presented a free day of music and eco-awareness exhibits as part of a national, eight-city push to draw attention to climate change and the human impact on the environment. Speakers included freshly-shaven Bears QB; Kyle Orton, a few corporate sponsors; and Senator Dick Durbin, a staunch environmental activist who gave a rousing speech displaying his passion for the topic. Musicians included Meshell Ndegeocello, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and headliners Three (comprised of Grateful Dead drummer, Bill Kreutzmann; Allman Brothers bassist, Oteil Burbridge; and Max Creek guitarist, Scott Murawski).

Given the combination of an outdoor Earth Day festival and live performances from jam bands (not to mention the date conveniently being 4/20), the crowd was comprised primarily of…hmmm…what’s the word? Oh, right: hippies. Our friend the lion had a clear view of tie-dyed tees, white kids with dreadlocks, and hacky-sackers, all noodling for the Earth, and a whiff of the crisp, late-April air was filled with patchouli, body odor, and other recognizable scents associated with hippies and the aforementioned date. Unsuspecting zoo-goers gingerly steered their strollers through the crowd, and headed to less perilous territories such as the Lion House or the Bear Habitat.

Wandering among the festival’s exhibits I was incessantly handed flyers promoting products or events designed to fight climate change. Wisely, most were made from recycled paper. Chase Bank definitely won the award for greenest flyer, as the entire thing was manufactured from seeds – in fact, it came with instructions to plant the card in soil and watch its wildflowers bloom. Unfortunately, despite the sponsors being clever enough to at least display the “printed-on-recycled-paper” logos on their flyers, many ended up strewn along the ground. And the zoo itself continued to sell water in plastic bottles, and trashcans were far more accessible than recycling containers.

This new paradox sits rather nicely next to my earlier dichotomy. As I cynically sift through my collection of business cards and flyers (not to mention my 14 laser-printed pages of press material), I have hope that the other attendees will also recycle or reuse. I have hope that zoo groundskeepers sorted the litter that remained, rather than dumping it all into the same trashcan. I have hope that the call for change not only rang true, but also inspired people to action. I have hope that my skepticism for the corporate sponsors is unfounded. And I have hope that the lion’s kingdom can be saved by the same human hands that have been pushing it towards extinction. -Jason Horine

The trio of Bill Kreutzmann (Grateful Dead), Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers), Scott Murawski (Max Creek) topped the bill.

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