Billie Joe Armstrong once sang, "Wake me up when September ends." Thanks, but we'd rather be lucid this month—our favorite outdoor restaurants are still open and it's still acceptable to drink a mint julep. The summer music festival season is not over yet, as Riot Fest and North Coast Music Festival take advantage of the last gasps of warm weather. Plus, Andrew Bird plays Millennium Park, Sigur Rós comes to the Chicago Theatre and Glen Hansard turns in two nights at the Vic. Explore our picks of the top September concerts in Chicago.
RECOMMENDED: Our complete calendar for concerts in Chicago
Concerts in Chicago in September 2016
Chicago is known for its blues musicians, but these days it's more of a jazz city. The annual Chicago Jazz Festival celebrates contemporary improvisers and legendary players with four days of concerts at the Chicago Cultural Center and Millennium Park. Highlights of the 2016 lineup include the avant-garde leaning Liberation Music Orchestra and modern jazz combo the Bad Plus, playing Ornette Coleman's Science Fiction.
Founded in Gothenburg, Sweden, the Scorched Tundra music festival comes to the Empty Bottle, assembling some of the heaviest metal acts on the planet for two nights of ear-splitting concerts. The fest kicks off on Friday with sets from local thrash metal trio Oozing Wound, Minneapolis black metal outfit False and hometown doom band Bongripper. Saturday night brings more out-of-towners to the stage, headlined by Swedish metalheads Monolord, with sets from The Atlas Moth, Beastmaker and Sweat Lodge. To top it all off, Chicago brewery Local Option is also bringing some special beers for the festival—which is organized by one of its employees, Alexi Front.
Ah, Labor Day weekend, the end of summer. Curated and run by local club promoters React Presents, North Coast arguably delivers the most diverse bill of any Chicago music festival. This year, EDM acts such as Bassnectar, Odesza and Zedd top the bill, which also includes artists like Action Bronson and Sleigh Bells. Later, the party spills over into several afterparties at local dance clubs. It all goes down September 2-4.
Founded in 1983, Dayton rockers Guided By Voices is essentially the power pop vehicle of prolific singer-songwriter Robert Pollard. The group recently staged its second reunion, assembling an all-new lineup and touring behind its latest record, Please Be Honest. While Pollard can still write a snappy, lyrically obtuse rock song, the band's classic material—culled from albums like Bee Thousand and Do the Collapse—is still the main reason to catch the latest iteration of GBV. The club is open... again.
Brooklyn singer-songwriter Xenia Rubinos flirts with R&B, jazz and pop on her latest release, Black Terry Cat, but her brutally direct lyricism is what sticks out. Rubinos taps into her identity as a person of color, grappling with weighty societal issues amid buoyant beats and funky melodies. It's at once exhilarating and sobering, but it's the kind of revelatory music that seems more necessary than ever before. Local trip-hop duo Dia.L and Slo 'Mo DJ Audio Jack open the show.
After a few years spent dabbling in folk music, layered instrumentals and covers of Handsome Family songs, Andrew Bird makes a return to violin-driven rock on Are You Serious. Filled with clever wordplay and jaunty whistled melodies, the album signals a return to the experimental pop songcraft of 2007's Armchair Apocrypha without sacrificing Bird's artistic growth in the subsequent years. Expect a career-spanning set (and his signature spinning speakers) that takes advantage of the finely-tuned acoustics of Pritzker Pavilion.
Former Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis celebrates the 10th anniversary of her solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat, with help from the Watson Twins. A departure from the indie pop that launched Lewis' career, the record blended country-influenced arrangements with soulful vocal harmonies, showcasing a different side of the former child star (and a great cover of the Traveling Wilburys' "Handle With Care"). Expect to hear the record in its entirety, as well as some cuts from Lewis' more recent solo records.
After more than three decades together, indie-rock cornerstone Yo La Tengo is still a band that is full of surprises. That includes its most recent album Stuff Like That There, which reimagines tracks from its deep catalog and throws in covers of tunes by Hank Williams and the Cure for good measure. A country-tinged revamp of classic track "Deeper Into the Movies" shows that the veteran act still enjoys shaking up the formula, refusing to coast on what it already has figured out.
Each fall, musicians from around the globe come to Chicago for the annual World Music Festival, a free concert series that takes place at music venues all over the city. This year's lineup is packed with globally recognized names, including Ethiopian jazz legend Mulatu Astatke, Afrobeat drummer Pat Thomas and 77-year-old Brazilian singer Dona Onete. Other highlights include a 15-hour marathon of classical Indian music at the Chicago Cultural Center on September 9 and the 606 Polyrhythmic Procession and Global Peace Picnic, which will bring music and a parade to Humboldt Park on September 18. Take a look at the full World Music Festival lineup and start planning your musical globetrotting.
If you've ever watched an episode of Friday Night Lights, you've probably heard the triumphant, guitar-driven strains of Explosions in the Sky. The Texas post-rock outfit has been mining melancholic, soundtrack-worthy melodies and slowly building arrangements for more than a decade, building on the template of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The group's most recent album, The Wilderness, reveals a more reserved, inward-looking sound—the overarching drama is still there, but it's a bit more restrained. Glam-influenced pop-rockers Lower Dens open the show.
Instead of hosting its annual block party, the Hideout is celebrating two decades in business with an old-fashioned reunion. The all-day event will take place on the venue's tiny indoor stage and its front porch, boasting performances from 20 years worth of friends and supporters. The initial lineup include Jon Langford and the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus, Mr. Rudy Day, Robbie Fulks, White Mystery, Eleventh Dream Day and The Lawrence Peters Outfit. More acts will be announced closer to the show, so get those tickets (and don't worry about renting an expensive suit).
Known as the "father of Ethio-jazz," Ethiopian musician, composer and arranger Mulatu Astatke combined Western structures with the instrumentation of his native country. Bristling with conga drum rhythms and vibraphone melodies, Astatke created a distinctive sound that inspired hordes of imitators. At this free Chicago World Music Festival concert, Puerto Rican producer ÌFÉ and Cuban DJ AfroQbano support.
Nashville guitarist William Tyler gets lumped in with American Primitive finger pickers, but his latest album, Modern Country, is an adventurous, genre-blending affair, filled with sprawling instrumentals that draw upon psychedelic krautrock rhythms and the contemporary arrangements of Steve Reich.
Brooklyn Afrobeat band Antibalas headlines a night of African music at Metro, presented as part of the Chicago World Music Festival. Modeled after Fela Kuti's Africa 70 band, the group mashes up jazz, funk and dub influences with sinuous guitar lines, vigorous brass blasts and groovy organ riffs. Ghanaian reggae singer-songwriter Rocky Dawuni and German Afrobeat selectors ANALOG AFRICA Soundsystem open the free show.
British producer Derwin Schlecker strings together hazy samples to create low-key electronic music informed by his travels in Japan, where the beat-maker drew inspiration from the country's crowded urban centers and rural vistas. Alt-rapper Open Mike Eagle opens the show, with a set of his darkly comedic hip-hop.
Riot Fest returns to Douglas Park on September 16–18 after a successful first year in the new location. Headliners include a reunited lineup of the Misfits, Morrissey, Ween, Death Cab For Cutie and Rob Zombie. Whether you prefer punk rock, indie bands or hip-hop, you'll probably find something worth checking out on the extensive lineup.
11-piece Afro-Colombian ensemble Herencia de Timbiqu headline Pritzker Pavilion at this free Chicago World Music Festival concert, showcasing its traditional percussion and huge, brassy melodies. Local Afropop devotees Occidental Brothers Dance Band International open the show.
Under his Of Montreal moniker, Kevin Barnes has explored glam, psych, new wave and prog rock, but his 14th album, Innocence Reaches, fully embraces electronic influences. While there are a few EDM flourishes, for the most part, Barnes' latest effort sounds indebted to early electro rockers like ELO and '80s funk acts that integrated synths and drum machines—the kind of music that promises to really come alive in a concert setting. Athens, Georgia electropop singer-songwriter Ruby the Rabbitfoot supports.
Piecing together ’70s folk rock and ’60s psychedelic guitar riffs, Quilt brings a patchwork of influences to the table. The Boston trio comes to Chicago behind its latest LP, Plaza, a cozy collection of songs that draw on influences like Jefferson Airplane, the Byrds and other acts with a taste for the psychedelic. Dreamy indie rockers Mutual Benefit open the show.
Everyone's favorite snot-nosed punks come to the Aragon Ballroom behind their upcoming album, Revolution Radio, which features more of the power chord anthems and snarling lyricism you've become accustomed to. One lead single, "Bang Bang," Billie Joe Armstrong reflcts on America's culture of violence, examining how a mass shooter can quickly achieve infamy via social media. it might not have the political heft of American Idiot, but Green Day's latest record seems hellbent on delivering a message.
Danny Brown brings his rapid-fire wordplay and adaptable flow to Warp Records for his latest release, Atrocity Exhibition—named after a New Order track. Filled with sparse, foreboding trap beats and Brown's usual array of X-rated musings, it's a slight (but welcome) evolution from the EDM-tinged production that populated Old. Nigerian American rapper Maxo Kream and energetic Detroit emcee Zelooperz open the show.
Former Chicagoan Tim Rutili returns to Schubas to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Roomsound, the first full-length album from his long-running band Califone. Heavily influenced by American folk music, Roomsound melded banjos, fiddles and guitars with experimental production, as Rutlli and his band began recording digitally for the very first time. The result is a record that makes a statement, both in its ties to tradition and it adventurous sound. Montreal chamber-pop outfit the Luyas open the show.
After self-releasing 11 records via Bandcamp, 23-year-old Will Toledo's rough-hewn melodies and earnest lyricism caught the attention of Matador Records, who released his indie label debut, Teens of Style. More than a year later, Toldeo is learning how fickle the music industry can be—Cars frontman Ric Ocasek rejected the use of a sample of "Just What I Needed" on Car Seat Headrest's latest album, Teens of Denial, just before its release, forcing Matador to destroy all physical copies and repress the LP. Don't expect to hear any Cars covers (ironic or otherwise) when Toledo comes to Thalia Hall, with support from fellow singer-songwriter wunderkind Lucy Dacus.
Goose Island throws its annual street bash outside its West Town production facility, welcoming a stacked lineup of bands and plenty of thirsty attendees. On Friday, punk act Against Me! headlines the party, accompanied by sets from the Aggrolites, Beach Slang, Low Cut Connie, Akasha, Clearance and Robert Rolfe Feddersen. On Saturday afternoon, bask in the throwback Americana of Dawes and stick around for White Denim, Jr. Jr., Whitney, Meat Wave, Al Scorch and Swimsuit Addition. All proceeds benefit a local charity, so feel free to drink a few beers—they're all $3.
Instead of simply playing a concert in Chicago, Chance the Rapper is turning the hometown date of his Magnificent Coloring World Tour into a one-day music festival. The Chicago-native emcee will turn in a headlining performance at U.S. Cellular Field, preceded by a host of guests, including EDM heavyweight Skrillex, R&B singer John Legend and Odd Future head honcho Tyler the Creator. Alicia Keys, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Young Thug and Lil Uzi Vert are also scheduled to appear (and we wouldn't rule out additional special guests).
Common's locally-focused hip-hop showcase returns to Union Park after skipping the crowded festival season last summer. This year, the festivities take place over the course of two days, beginning with the free Community Showcase on Saturday, which allows local talent to audition for a spot on stage the following day. On Sunday, it's the Main Stage event, which will feature a (yet-to-be-announced) lineup of hip-hop and R&B performers. Don't expect Kayne West to show up unannounced again this year—he'll be busy with his own tour.
Each fall, Hyde Park comes alive with wailing saxophones and walking bass lines as jazz performers fill the neighborhood's venues at this two-day festival. Highlights of this year's lineup include pianist Randy Weston, rising Chicago trumpeter Marquis Hill and a collaboration between acclaimed saxophonist Miguel Zenón and the Spektral Quartet.
Ever since he shed his Smog alias, Bill Callahan has put out some of his most strikingly beautiful albums to date, including 2014's Have Fun with God. Armed with a warm baritone and wry sense of humor, the songwriter weaves folk ballads that sound like sage advice from a world-weary traveler.
Indie darlings Local Natives return with Sunlit Youth, a new record that loses some of the ornate harmonies and percussive elements that populated its first two releases in favor of layers of synthesziers. The electronic makeover suits the Los Angeles band, with sparse arrangements that accentuate hypnotic melodies and lyricism that deals with reinvention (naturally). Ethereal R&B singer-songwriter Charlotte Day Wilson opens the show.
Acrobatic-voiced singer-songwriter Angel Olsen splits the difference between the energetic rock songs and slow-burning balladry of her previous two releases, grappling with self-identity and unrequited romance on her fiery new album, My Woman. Brazilian singer-songwriter Rodrigo Amarante—who frequently covers Olsen's track "Unfucktheworld"—opens the show.
After years of increasingly grandiose records and tours, ethereal Icelandic post-rock outfit Sigur Rós is pumping the breaks on its latest tour. The group will be touring as a trio— without any opening acts or backing band—to road test a batch of new songs, harkening back to the years it spent developing the songs that eventually comprised () in front of live audiences. While this configuration of Sigur Rós will be smaller than usual, the band promises an even more elaborate stage show, developed by the same team responsible for the complex projections and lights of its previous tours. Taking place in the ornate Chicago Theatre, this is bound to be a special show.
Yusuf Islam, once known as Cat Stevens, return to Chicago for a rare live appearance. Dubbed "A Cat's Attic," the tour coincides with the 50th anniversary of the release of his first single and will include stripped down performances from his catalog. Hopefully he'll include some cuts from Tell Em I'm Gone, his 2014 collaboration with Rick Rubin, Bonnie Prince Billy, Tinariwen and more.