Joel Berk

Phish UIC Pavilion: Photos

They always say if you set your expectations low, you won’t get let down. Phish fans generally ignore that credo and hyped up the three-show run at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago, IL that started last night. Yet low and behold the quartet threw down a smoker to kick things off in The Windy City.

[Photos by Joel Berk]

While Hidden Track EiC Scott Bernstein recapped the performance last night, we did promise photos from Joel Berk of our site’s Chicago office. Joel delivered a fantastic set of snaps which we’re happy to share with you.

READ ON for a full gallery of Joel’s Phish photos…

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Review: Trey Anastasio @ Riviera Theatre

Trey Anastasio Band @ Riviera Theatre, February 27

On Sunday night, Trey Anastasio and his Trey Anastasio Band rolled through Chicago for a sold out show at the legendary Riviera Theatre. The site of TAB’s Chicago debut in 1999, the Riv was an ideal setting to catch the band’s 2011 return to form. The first set was mostly Trey solo acoustic, and began with the 3.0 staple Backwards Down the Number Line before settling into a great acoustic arrangement of Theme from the Bottom. While surprisingly heavy on new Phish material, the acoustic segment also featured great takes on classics Gumbo, Halley’s Comet, Dirt and The Wedge.

[All photos by Joel Berk]

Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman came out to sing backup on a breathtaking Let Me Lie, an interesting slow arrangement of Water in the Sky and Wading in the Velvet Sea before the rest of the band came out and launched into Heavy Things. The tune, also slightly rearranged, gave keyboard player Ray Paczkowski his first moment to shine of what would be many. Liquid Time and Hey Ya! closed the full-band acoustic portion of the show, but the group wasn’t done yet and launched into a ripping electric Push On ‘Til the Day to close the opening stanza.

The electric set began with the TAB-turned-Phish tune Gotta Jibboo, which got the crowd going right off the bat before launching into a horn-driven version of Ocelot. Ocelot, with its horn parts sounding reminiscent of Allen Toussaint’s arrangements on The Band’s The Last Waltz, worked way better for me than it ever has as a Phish song.

READ ON for more from Joel on TAB in Chicago…

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Picture Show: Yo La Tengo’s Seinfeld Show

On February 4th, Yo La Tengo brought their Wheel of Fate? tour to Chicago’s legendary Metro for a night of genre-spanning rock and other surprises. On this tour, YLT has been selecting an audience member to spin a wheel set up on stage, and whatever the wheel landed on would be the first 45 minute set. Options included a set by the band’s garage rock alter-ego Condo Fucks, an audience Q&A known as ‘The Freewheeling Yo La Tengo’, ‘Sitcom Theater’ where YLT and crew would perform a classic sitcom and plenty of other goofy ideas.

On this night, the wheel landed on ‘Spinner’s Choice’, and the audience member chose Sitcom Theater. Shortly after, the famous bassline from Seinfeld pumped through the PA, and YLT’s Ira Kaplan came out and began reading the script for the classic The Chinese Restaurant episode. The band then read through the whole episode, even though a sizable portion of the audience had grown audibly restless. It was hilarious.

The set proper opened up with the mellow classics The Room Got Heavy and Autumn Sweater before getting into some of the feedback-drenched introspective noiserock that YLT is so great at. The evening was an excellent snapshot of the incredibly wide breadth of Yo La Tengo’s sound. From acoustic-based love songs through loud thrashing rock, YLT played every song to perfection. Opener Willian Tyler joined the band for Don’t Have to be So Sad, and lent a hand again later on a brilliant reworking of Neil Young’s classic For The Turnstiles.

Sitcom Theater: Seinfeld – The Chinese Restaurant

Set: The Room Got Heavy, Autumn Sweater, Flying Lesson (Hot Chicken #1), Stockholm Syndrome, The Weakest Part, Gentle Hour (Snapper cover), Don’t Have To Be So Sad (with William Tyler), Periodically Double Or Triple, Nothing To Hide, Sugarcube, Blue Line Swinger

Encore: Come On Up (Condo Fucks, The Rascals), For the Turnstiles (Neil Young cover) (with William Tyler), Griselda (The Holy Modal Rounders cover), Did I Tell You

Encore 2: Somebody’s In Love (Sun Ra cover)

READ ON for more of Joel’s photos from a unique YLT show…

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Picture Show: Joe Satriani in Chicago

Joe Satriani @ Chicago Theater, December 19

On Sunday, Joe Satriani and his band rolled through the pristine Chicago Theatre on their 2010 Wormhole tour. Treating the attentive audience to nearly two hours of practically uninterrupted shredding, Joe and the band powered through material spanning the legendary guitarist’s whole career.

From the ’80s classics like Ice 9 and Always with Me, Always with You (the latter of which could have been on the Top Gun soundtrack) through material off his latest album Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards, the band was tight and well-rehearsed, flawlessly executing Satriani’s (mostly) instrumental arena-shred stylings.

Joining Joe on keyboards on the new record as well as this tour was the incomparable Mike Keneally. One of the best contemporary guitarists on the planet in his own right, you would have never known it by the apparent ease with which Keneally moved around the ivories. Mike added deep textures, as well as furious synth and Rhodes lines – perfectly both complementing and going toe-to-toe with Satriani’s explosive, arpeggio-laden melodies.

READ ON for more photos and thoughts from Joel…

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Review: Tortoise @ Lincoln Hall

Tortoise brought a rare two-week tour to a close last Saturday in front of a sold-out hometown crowd in Chicago. Often just gigging sparingly, the time on the road had the band sounding as tight and cohesive as I’ve ever seen them, playing a masterful set that spanned their entire career.

Since entering my musical world a few years ago, I can’t think of another band more consistently in my listening rotation. Each record has carved its own place, being called on at specific times to serve their purpose. Intensely structured yet free flowing, Tortoise builds sonic soundscapes that are as dynamic or passive as you – the listener – choose to hear them. Genre-busting and wholly unique, Tortoise have been semi-quietly making some of the best and most influential records of the last 15 years.

As impressive as the records are, Tortoise is a band that needs to be seen live to fully grasp. It’s easy to get lost in their world of shape-shifting studio madness, but to see the same material performed by five dudes in front of your face is truly a whole other experience. The songs come alive, each section grabbing you and dragging you along as it twists and turns before seamlessly flows into whatever is next.

READ ON for more of Joel’s thoughts and pictures…

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Picture Show: Gener @ Lincoln Hall

Ween is not for everyone. It seems that a lot of people can’t get past the silliness, raunchiness, and perceived-offensiveness to grasp the deranged beauty that is Ween. For those of us privy to the Brownness however, the band holds a special place that could not be filled by anything else. There is a delicate balance that is always at play when it comes to Ween. They can make you laugh, want to cry, question everything you know about life and then laugh again – often within the same song.


Often lost in a sea of ridiculousness and loud noises, it was impossible not to notice just how wonderful the songs themselves are seeing them stripped down by Gener with only his own acoustic strumming accompanying. It was also hard to ignore how fantastic a singer Gener is. The man has an incredible range and a full palate of tones that are freakishly similar to the effects-drenched vocals on Ween studio records.

The magnificence and absurdity housed in the Ween catalogue was impeccably on display last weekend as Gener brought his solo tour to Chicago’s new, fantastic Lincoln Hall for a sold out show. From the opening notes of Now I’m Freaking Out through the rousing ending of Buenos Tardes Amigos, Mr. Freeman was all smiles and treated the attentive audience to nearly an hour and a half of Ween classics and rarities.


Now I’m Freaking Out, Tried and True, Stallion Pt. 3, Golden Eel, Flutes of the Chi, Spiritwalker, Don’t Get 2 Close 2 My Fantasy, Ooh va lah, She’s Your Baby, I Don’t Want to Leave You on the Farm, You Were the Fool, The Argus, Boy’s Club, The Grobe, What Deaner was Talking About, The Mollusk, Mutilated Lips, Tender Situation, Oh My Dear (I must be falling in love), Baby Bitch, Oh Yoko, Buenos Tardes Amigos

READ ON for a gallery of Joel’s Gene Ween photos…

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Picture Show: Jay Farrar / Ben Gibbard

One Fast Move Or I’m Gone is a wonderful collection of songs from Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard and Son Volt/Uncle Tupelo’s Jay Farrar. The material, crafted together using words from Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur novel, invokes the same optimism, longing, and playfully deep introspection that has made millions of readers identify with Kerouac’s work.


Last monday, Gibard and Farrar brought these songs to life with a rocking three-piece rhythm section at the brand new Lincoln Hall in Chicago. First, let me quickly say congrats to the fine folks at Schubas for bringing a such a top-notch 500-person room into the mix here. Great sight lines, great sound, friendly staff and an impressive beer selection will definitely bring me back for more shows.

Gibbard and Farrar’s hour-plus set pulled mostly from the record and also included an inspired cover of Dylan’s Absolutely Sweet Marie. The songs had a warmth and subtlety that perfectly brought Kerouac’s words to life. If you’re a fan of Jack Kerouac, Ben Gibbard, Jay Farrar or any combination of the three, you will find something that grabs you in this material.


READ ON for more of Joel’s Farrar/Gibbard photos…

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Review: Phish @ Chicago’s Toyota Park

It was a middle-of-the-workweek-good-for-nothing Tuesday when The Phish (from Vermont) brought their recently resurrected traveling circus to Chicago’s south side. That’s right…a Tuesday. Once reserved for routed dates in non-major markets, the weekday shows used to prove fertile for the widely-chased “sleeper show.” The show where you knew the band would bring the fire, given the randomness of the location and date.


It was a Monday in Utah in 1998 that saw a full performance of Dark Side of the Moon. A Tuesday in Boise in 1999 saw the bust-out of Peaches en Regalia. A Tuesday in Burgettstown in 2003 was packed with rarities, bust-outs and other heady goodness. Could a weekday show in a major market pack the same wallop? Apparently not. While far from terrible and not particularly-flub heavy (though there were some), Tuesday’s rock show at Toyota Park was representative of Phish, the band, but far from the transcendental heights sought out by the show-chasers.

The first set started rather predictably with Kill Devil Falls, Sample In A Jar and Ocelot, early-show staples of 3.0. The first Paul and Silas since 1998 seemed to get lost on the younger crowd but was eaten up by some of the old faithful. Everything thus far was well-played, but seemed to be lacking any sort of edge or meatiness. This continued through the debut of Windy City – a new Page number that stays true to his early-Elton roots. I’m interested to see how this one matures, but wasn’t floored by it.

READ ON for more of Joel’s thoughts on Phish in Chicago…

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Review: The 2009 Pitchfork Music Festival

From its humble beginnings as a monthly online newsletter in 1995 through its current reign as internet hub for indie culture, Pitchfork Media has always championed the under-heard, eclectic and sometimes downright weird. Whether you agree with their (most-likely unfavorable) review of your favorite record or not, it’s hard to deny their reach and influence on independent music and how it intertwines with the modern social web.


As their presence continued to grow it came as no surprise when Pitchfork decided to bring their niche to life, curating the 2005 Intonation Music Festival. It was even less surprising when the fest re-branded itself under the Pitchfork name the following year.

For one reason or another, I had never been able to attend any of Pitchfork’s festivals. The bills always had bands that didn’t come through Chicago often that I wanted to see, but the timing didn’t work out for me until this year. This year, I found myself with a rare weekend both at home and sans work for most of the July 17 – 19 weekend and could finally attend the Pitchfork Music Festival (well…2/3 of it at least).

READ ON for more from Joel on the Pitchfork Music Festival…

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