Five Picks: Notes from the indispensable Chicago music scene

At one time, Chicago was one of the premier manufacturing hubs in the Midwest. For this reason, it simply makes sense that, when it comes to musical distinction, our town is nothing short of an expansive band-making factory. The Windy City churns out great artists at an almost unparalleled rate, ranging from the groups that bash-out gritty guitar chords in the romantically-lit venues like The Hungry Brain to those that sell-out the Vic Theatre with more refined timbres. Whatever your musical preference, there exists a homegrown Chicago group to play it for you.

While there is literally too much talent to sort through in six-hundred words, below is a preliminary briefing from the music scene, honing in on five Chicago music staples you should definitely check out the next time you get the chance. If you don’t see something you like, not to worry. There will be more where this came from in the coming months on UPchicago.

The Icy Demons

chicago music scene

Flickr Credit: Icy Demons

The Icy Demons produce a brand of rhythmic trickery on stage that has the power to coerce a familiar sort of involuntary, yet well-received, chuckle out of the listener. Thoroughbred Chicagoans double as swinging experimental rockers possessing Jimi Hendrix’s re-incarnated psychedelic soul and the groove of a hyped-up, 21st century version of Winwood’s band, Traffic. The ‘Demons will be around the Midwest in the coming months, touring to promote their upcoming album. And although the band confirms they will soon be relocating to L.A. to give the West Coast a chance, they will undoubtedly be back to the Second City for some hometown affection.


Flickr Credit: Bouche

Jeff Tweedy

In a review a few years back, The Onion AV Club wrote, “Chicago is Wilco’s town. Neither Kanye nor FOB mascot Pete Wentz lives here anymore, and no one else has the same potent combination of critical adulation and popularity.” The maxim can be extended to include Wilco’s virtuosic frontman and chief songsmith: Chicago is Jeff Tweedy’s town. The vaunted songwriter has been known to pick up his acoustic guitar and harmonica and book appearances at the well-loved Vic on Sheffield. If you’re endowed with a fair shake of luck, you may be in town the next time he strikes. We suggest you get in to see him.

PS – Wilco’s bassist, John Stirratt, makes clandestine appearances around town as well. Keep your eyes open for him or his great side project, The Autumn Defense.


This Chicago band produces a righteous combination of indie rock and reverb-laden hippie folk groove. Mazes, which is an offshoot of the Chicago band “1900s,” released a stellar debut self-titled album last year on the Illinois-based label Parasol Records. You’ll be able to find the group playing at a wide swath of well-regarded venues this summer, including The Empty Bottle on June 11, 2010, Millennium Park on June 24, and The Hideout on July 2. Take your pick or simply flip a coin. Either way, get out and see Mazes.


The Loyal Divide

This is the most blatantly biased entry in our notes since the Loyal Divide hails from Columbus, Ohio, my hometown, and the city from whence the band relocated to Chicago a few years back. But biases aside, following these guys has been deeply satisfying in large part because of the group’s constant musical transformations and experimentation. Deeply layered recordings and highly entertaining live shows rank The Loyal Divide up there with some of the more storied musical acts in Chicago. If you’re a fan of anything from Depeche Mode to Radiohead to Muse to (ahem?) Timbaland, you’ll most likely find a similar satisfaction in their fearless endeavoring.

Upcoming shows TBA. Check the band’s website for updates.

The Cool Kids

Flickr Credit: Getinet

Covered extensively by the notable Chicago hip-hop blog, Fake Shore Drive, The Cool Kids are a local alternative rap phenomenon that began in 2005 as a collaboration between Chicagoan Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish. The two found each other online and, after producing beats and tracks for show on their Myspace page, they performed at the Pitchfork Festival in 2007. A year later, The Cool Kids released a full album called “Bake Sale”, and toured nationally as well as appearing around the city to air their tight and sophisticated beats.

Upcoming shows TBA.

Check back for more musical surveys on, as we help you sift through the ever-expanding world of music in Chicago. For now, remember that if you ever happen to see one of these groups on a marquee while driving down Clark or North, immediately pull over and pay whatever the box office attendant is asking. UPChicago guaranteed.

Jason Shough

About Jason Shough

In June of ‘09, Jason moved from Columbus, Ohio to Chicago and burrowed into the Lakeview neighborhood on the North Side of the city. He writes about arts and culture for UPchicago and contributes to a local music website. Additionally, Jason is currently earning his Master’s degree at the Medill School of Journalism where he .

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