2018 has arrived and it's time to make good on your New Year's resolution to see more live music at some of Chicago's best music venues. Head for the arenas if large-scale spectacle is your cup of tea, as Lana Del Rey and the Killers roll through town. If music festivals are your thing, there are a couple to choose from, including the city-spanning Tomorrow Never Knows and punk rock celebration Ian's Party. Plus, blues legend Buddy Guy holes up in his cozy South Loop club for a month-long residency. The weather outside may be a little bit frightful, but the tunes inside will be extra delightful—fill out your calendar with our guide to Chicago's best concerts in January.
RECOMMENDED: Our complete calendar of concerts in Chicago
Concerts in Chicago in January
If it's January in Chicago, it's time for Buddy Guy's annual residency at the South Loop blues club that shares his name. Guy will pick up his guitar and sling some licks on every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday in January, with a different supporting act each night, including stalwart local act Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials and CTA bus driver Toronzo Cannon. Ticket prices are a bit steep, but you don't get to see a blues legend play in his hometown every month of the year.
Ring in 2018 with a three-day music festival devoted to showcasing some of Chicago's best local bands. Each day of the fest brings hungover crowds to Wicker Park venues Subterranean and Chop Shop, where they'll be able to sample the propulsive punk rock of Meat Wave, sway to Dehd's droning post-punk and lose (what's left of) their minds to the warped instrumental odes of Space Blood. As always, you can show up for a couple of shows or buy a pass and rock all weekend long.
Industrial icon Chris Connelly leads his band of David Bowie devotees, celebrating the “Berlin Trilogy” with a concert that includes selections from Low, Heroes and Lodger. Kraftwerk cover act Craftwerc and local electronic musician TALsounds support. Proceeds from this concert benefit NorthShore University HealthSystem's Integrative Medicine Program.
An outlaw country singer-songwriter in the tradition of Townes Van Zandt and Waylon Jennings, Steve Earle achieved prominence in the ’80s as a rough-and-tumble troubadour with a knack for vivid storytelling. After tackling the blues, Earle got back to his roots on his most recent release, So You Wanna Be an Outlaw, which is packed with enough twangy riffs and gruff refrains that you'll feel like you've been transported to a Southern honky-tonk.
She may still seem like an Urban Outfitters advertisement come to life, but Lana Del Rey has weathered the critics, the backlash and the disastrous late-night performances, finding her (considerable) audience. While some still decry the pop singer as a “fake” label creation, there's no question that even if Del Rey is just a character, she's a pretty damn compelling one. Yes, her bloated new record Lust for Life contains a groan-worthy track comparing Coachella to Woodstock, but even her missteps feel as calculated as the cinematic melodrama she so easily draws upon. She may not be as flashy as Gaga or as woke as Beyoncé, but Del Rey has a romantic vision of the world that's intoxicating, even if you don't entirely believe in it.
Annie Clark deservingly ascended to rock star status years ago, but the trials and tribulations of that journey are what make her latest St. Vincent album so compelling. Filled with pop production (some of it care of Taylor Swift and Lorde collaborator Jack Antonoff) and plenty of powerful guitar riffs, Masseduction confronts the downfalls of music industry success, and all the drugs, sex and loneliness that come with it. Through it all, Clark shifts from electro-pop anthems to noisy rockers with Bowie-like precision, letting each side of her personality take the microphone and get a few things off its chest.
Husband-and-wife duo Tennis wrote their first record after an eight-month sailing trip, so it’s no surprise that its latest work is also inspired by a nautical voyage. Featuring warm organs, crisp guitars and Alaina Moore's glistening vocals, Yours Conditionally is another slice of sunny, ’60s-influenced pop that grapples with what it means to belong in the modern world. Electro-soul duo Overcoats opens the show.
Metro and Smart Bar pay tribute to legendary DJ and producer Frankie Knuckles, also known as the "Godfather of House Music" at this annual benefit, which benefits the Frankie Knuckles Foundation. Internationally acclaimed house DJ Derrick Carter headlines an evening of music at Metro, which includes appearances from DJ Shaun J. Wright, producer Mike Dunn and Hug Ball co-founder Eris Drew. Downstairs at Smart Bar, the crew behind the weekly Queen party (where Knuckles sometimes got behind the decks) will be spinning records while local personalities Lucy Stoole and Jojo Baby entertain the crowd. It's a fitting tribute to a towering figure in Chicago's house scene who is still dearly missed by friends and fans alike.
Even if the Killers never write a song that approaches the bombastic brilliance of “Mr. Brightside” or “When You Were Young” ever again, the band's placement in end-of-the-evening prom playlists seems secure. On the band's latest album, Wonderful Wonderful, frontman Brandon Flowers swings for the fences with every synth-dappled anthem, but too frequently comes up with glossy tunes that sound like they were plucked from the cutting-room floor of U2's latter-day records. Still, there's no denying that the Killers do their best work from the center of an arena, earnestly posing that age-old question to thousands of onlookers in person: Are we human, or are we dancers?
Michael Angelakos’s latest collection of life-affirming synth-pop, Tremendous Sea of Love, is a self-released gift to his fans (who didn't have to pay a cent for it). Amid the new batch of chirpy anthemic choruses and gentle ballads, there's a sense of joy and freedom that somehow outshines the most upbeat portions of Passion Pit's previous LPs.
Mixing Spanish and English lyrics throughout his experimental electro-pop arrangements, Roberto Carlos Lange (a.k.a. Helado Negro) brings a multicultural approach to a collection of songs that reckon with his identity as a person who was born in America but is the child of Ecuadorian immigrants. Written to accompany a performance by a group of tinsel-clad dancers, his new album Private Energy celebrates the power of self-expression, no matter what shiny costume you decide to wear. L.A. synth-pop artist Cuco and local act Divino Niño make up the remainder of this decidedly bilingual bill during the Tomorrow Never Knows festival.
Fromer Foxygen drummer Shaun Fleming brings the band's retro-inspired energy to his solo project, Diane Coffee. His latest record, Everybody's a Good Dog, is a constantly shifting, Bowie-esque journey through glam, psych and orchestral rock of yore. Armed with a commanding stage presence and capable backing band, Flemming is living proof that a great record collection can yield some heartfelt homages. Nashville garage rocker Ron Gallo and local punks Yoko and Oh Nos open this Tomorrow Never Knows 2018 concert.
If you want to get some bang for your buck during the Tomorrow Never Knows festival, there's no more stacked bill than this one, headlined by teenage indie-rock wunderkind Lindsey Jordan and her band Snail Mail. She'll be joined by Detroit rocker Stef Chura (whose recent album, Messes, evokes a more experimental Liz Phair) and Texas singer-songwriter Lomelda. As if that wasn't enough, rising Chicago acts Bunny and Ratboys will also turn in sets, so get comfortable for a packed evening of music.
Eleven-piece Oregon outfit Typhoon makes the kind of cinematic folk-rock that requires a string section and releases records that are divided into “movements.” The group gets even more dramatic on its new LP, Offerings, as frontman Kyle Morton makes his way through a suite of moody songs that are at least partially inspired by the work of avant-garde novelist Samuel Beckett—fortunately, there's no quiz for comprehension after the show. A pair of Portland indie rock bands, Mimicking Birds and Sunbathe, round out the Pacific Northwestern bill at this Tomorrow Never Knows festival concert.
Singer-songwriter Dan Bejar dives headfirst into ’80s synths and reverberating snare hits on his latest album, Ken. Wisely sidestepping the unbridled romanticism that dominated the decade's pop music, Bejar instead plays up the apprehension and paranoia of the Cold War era, drawing parallels to the upheavals of the modern world without getting bogged down in the politics. Seattle singer and instrumentalist Erin Birgy's jazzy Mega Bog project supports at this Tomorrow Never Knows 2018 show.
Noise rock duo No Age join local record label Drag City's roster and unleash Snares Like a Haircut, a new batch of blistering punk rock tunes that defies the band's paltry headcount. The Angelenos will celebrate the release of their new LP as part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival, with support from Toronto pop-punks Little Junior and local post-hardcore quartet Slow Mass.
Madrid garage-pop quartet Hinds treads well-worn ground but does it with panache, piling on loads of Velvets-esque unpolished charm and summery vibes. The group's 2016 debut, Leave Me Alone, boasts a standoffish title, but the album's fuzzed-out tracks are filled with deeply personal confessions about the search for connections in a world filled with distractions. Norwegian punks Sløtface and local rockers Peel support at this Tomorrow Never Knows festival concert.
It's been a few years since “Trap Queen” became a ubiquitous club anthem, but rapper Fetty Wap has kept the anticipation for his yet-to-be-released sophomore album rolling with mixtapes and guest verses. The New Jersey hip-hop star was recently spotted in the studio with Chance the Rapper, so attendees might get to hear what the duo has been working on.
Melding acoustic melodies and electronic rhythms, German trio Milky Chance makes the kind of pleasant, unassuming songs that provide the perfect soundtrack for breezy car commercials and hip cafés. At least the band's “folktronica” sound has some humble origins—Clemens Rehbein and Philipp Dausch recorded their 2013 breakthrough track “Stolen Dance” in a home studio before it became a smash via YouTube. Milky Chance's latest, Blossom, doesn't mess with its well-established formula, offering up another batch of agreeable tunes that won't set the dancefloor on fire, but should get your head nodding when they come over the speakers in a hotel lobby.
We're prepared to extend the title of "honorary Chicagoans" to Bully—after all, the group's mastermind Alicia Bognanno lived in the city while interning at Steve Albini's recording studio Electrical Audio. The group's recent album, Losing, faithfully channels the ‘90s grunge sound, providing a familiar yet compelling backdrop for Bognanno's deeply personal lyricism. Expect a raucous (and packed) scene at this free Monday night gig at Empty Bottle, with local rockers Melkbelly opening the show.
Celebrate Fat Tuesday a few weeks early as the Godfather of Funk lands his mothership in Pilsen, fronting a modernized lineup of P-Funk that incorporates hip-hop arrangements and dancing contortionists. If you come expecting to hear straight-ahead versions of George Clinton's most notable songs, you may be a bit disappointed, but if you approach the show with an open mind, it's a party that you won't soon forget.