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Music year in review | 2012

Along with the new, 2012 brought a few good-byes.
Photograph: Jim Newberry Von Freeman
By Areif Sless-Kitain |

Chicago’s live music scene is constantly in flux, and this past year was no exception. Logan Square is a prime example. Following the tide of restaurants and bars streaming in, the area has quickly grown its own network of venues, including the city’s most intimate concert space, Comfort Station. Once a respite from the elements, it now functions as a cozy spot to breathe in everything from stripped-down folk to free-jazz. For more of the latter there’s Elastic, which recently received a face-lift in the form of a new stage, something the Burlington can also lay claim to. Once defined by its DJ lineup, the bar has quickly grown into a home for underground enthusiasts, hosting a robust slate of both local and touring acts that echoes the aesthetic set by the Empty Bottle.

Speaking of the Bottle, after 14 years talent buyer Pete Toalson bid adieu to the Ukrainian Village club that he helped build into a bastion of the local scene. Toalson was the guy behind forward-looking programming like the annual Adventures in Modern Music fest and his eclectic taste will be missed. His next venture, the Land and Sea Dept., recently hosted members of OM at another burgeoning spot, Drag City’s Soccer Club Club, which has blossomed into a charming space for art and music to mingle.

It’s a far cry from City Winery, the glossy Randolph Street destination built from the ground up. With an upscale dinner-theater vibe and bookings that prize up-close encounters with the sort of earthy talent often found at the Old Town School of Folk Music, the Winery, was wise to poach former OTS talent buyer Colleen Miller. But if that was a setback for the Old Town School, the local institution didn’t show it, celebrating a new building and its dance-friendly Szold Hall, which allows the OTS to open its programming up to more local artists, in addition to world-class talent like Malian singer Khaira Arby.

Arby’s first pass through town was two years ago under the banner of the World Music Festival, which was downscaled this year following the departure of Michael Orlove, the gifted curator and founder of both the WMF and SummerDance, since poached by the National Endowment for the Arts and deployed to D.C. That well-received series like Downtown Sound and Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz survived intact is largely due to Mike Reed, the man behind the Pitchfork Music Festival and a formidable jazz presence.

The proliferation of festivals continues, most visibly with Soldier Field’s monument to EDM, Spring Awakening, plus Montrose Beach’s YOLO moment, the Wavefront Music Festival. We were more impressed with Riot Fest, the perennial punk summit that broadened its agenda this year and invaded Humboldt Park. It was successful enough that they’ve already put tickets on sale for next year’s event, and seeing how these things are starting to go (see Glastonbury), it could sell out before a single act is announced.

While the past year saw smaller rooms like the darkroom and Kinetic Playground shuttered, a more devastating blow came from the death of tenor sax legend Von Freeman, whose legendary Tuesday night jams at the New Apartment Lounge are now a thing of the past. Vonski’s passing marked another loss for the local jazz scene, still smarting from the closing of the Velvet Lounge, which has since been reimagined as a run-of-the-mill DJ hole.

The new (old) Sonic Youth live album Smart Bar Chicago 1985 reminds us that Joe Shanahan has been making things happen for three decades, and the Metro’s done its best not to let us forget with a robust anniversary slate that’s brought back vets like Bob Mould and the Afghan Whigs. Now if only Shanahan could reunite Sonic Youth.

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