photo: courtesy of Bridget Montgomery
Mike Reed's People, Places & Things play a recent gig at the Hungry Brain
The Chicago music scene has long been celebrated for its multitude of small bars and intimate performance spaces. Thanks to the popularity of famed indie meccas like Double Door, Schubas, the Hideout and the Empty Bottle, the local scene has grown exponentially over the years and inspired the opening of even more great low-key spots housing cutting-edge bands and artists on a regular basis. Here's a look at a few of the more obscure gems scattered throughout the city.
Trade up to eclectic sounds at The Mansion
After making so many friends over the years, the Empty Bottle just couldn't find the time and space to fit everyone in anymore. So, in the past few years the club has expanded its reach by bringing "Empty Bottle presents…" shows to other venues in the city. The Mansion is the latest offshoot, a former Knights of Templar building near the corner of Fullerton and Kedzie Avenues. Located just down the street from the Logan Square Auditorium, The Mansion has a very similar feel, only smaller. Expect a very hip and diverse line-up of acts; recent shows have included experimental art-rockers Shearwater and local marching band heroes Mucca Pazza.
Dance and do good at AV-aerie
Formerly known as the Open End Gallery, this warehouse space on the Near West Side was one of the first spots implemented to launch the expanded Empty Bottle booking empire. AV-aerie also doubles as a non-profit organization aimed at promoting cultural, social and environmental initiatives and events. As expected, the booking here is very eclectic, though the venue seems to lend itself especially well to dance-friendly DJ and electronic acts.
Explore new heights of creativity at Heaven Gallery
After opening in the late '90s in the Flat Iron Building, Heaven Gallery moved across the street to its current home above Labinski Furniture in 2000. While numerous neighbors have come and gone in that time, Heaven has been a steady pillar in the local arts community and continues to present a wide variety of innovative art installations and progressive music. Its Saturday-night jazz and improvised music series, Protest Heaven, has included appearances from local standouts like Fred Lonberg-Holm and Jeb Bishop as well as Japanese drummer Nori Tanaka.
Feed your ears at Hungry Brain
While not a full-time music venue, the Hungry Brain has become a hot spot in the local underground scene thanks to its "Transmission" series of improvisational jazz on Sunday nights. Numerous local musicians from Chicago's legendary jazz label Delmark gather here, along with many of the bar's talented friends and labelmates pulled in from just about everywhere. Despite the pretentious connotation that the phrase "improvisational jazz night" might conjure, this place is anything but. "The Brain," as the regulars like to call it, is just a friendly neighborhood bar with cheap drinks and a stocked jukebox that brings regulars coming back throughout the week.
Get experimental at Lampo
For truly avant-garde and outsider sounds, Lampo is not just one of the best spots in the city, it's one of the top destinations in the country. Founded by local experimental-music aficionado Andrew Fenchel over 10 years ago, Lampo is an organization dedicated to promoting artists specializing in cutting-edge electronic music, sound art and free improvisation. Last year, after 8 years of presenting shows at the nondescript Ukrainian Village space 6Odum, Lampo moved into a second-floor space of a former post office near the corner of Chicago Avenue and Wells Street. Show occur, on average, about once a month, May features a first-ever U.S. performance from international improv giants Jermoe Noetinger, Jean-Luc Guionnet and Will Guthrie.
Stretch your boundaries at Elastic
This Logan Square space is programmed by the Elastic Arts Foundation (EAF), which has been hosting live music and art events since 1998. The group started out presenting shows at a loft space in Chinatown and then moved to a renovated church in Humboldt Park, dubbed "3030," in 2001. Four years later, after residents' noise complaints forced yet another move, EAF found its current home above a Chinese restaurant on Milwaukee Avenue. In addition to a weekly improvisational jazz feature on Thursdays, Elastic also hosts a series of different music nights promoting hip-hop, experimental and electro/acoustic music.
Carouse by the condos at Cal's Liquors
One of Chicago's grittiest rock bars is located in the most unlikely of areas: the South Loop. The antithesis of its chi-chi surroundings, Cal's is a classic no-frills neighborhood watering hole with cheap drinks and loud music. If you have friends who play in local punk or garage bands, chances are you'll find yourself here on a random night proudly cheering them on while downing numerous cans of PBR.