By Selena Fragassi | For the Sun-Times
Chicago in the middle of January is not exactly a destination for many on-the-road bands. Yet, northside rock club Schubas decided to do something about the touring lull 12 years ago with Tomorrow Never Knows, the city’s premier winter music festival.
TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS
When: January 13-17
Where: Various venues
Tickets: $15-20 for individual shows (5-day passes sold out)
Expanded over the years to become a five-day affair (this year it runs Jan. 13-17) that now includes comedy acts and additional venues including Lincoln Hall, Metro, Hideout, Athenaeum Theatre and Smart Bar, the idea is “to give people something to do during the downtime,” says Dan Apodaca, current talent buyer for Schubas, as well as provide “a place for up-and-coming artists to gain exposure.”
Past performers have shown the fest’s forethought, including Jessie Ware (2013), Grouplove (2012), Twin Shadow and Freddie Gibbs (2011) and Neon Indian and Sharon Van Etten (2010).
Lincoln Hall talent buyer Patrick Van Wagoner adds that this year’s booking continues to balance the amount of national and local talent including a good number of “artists who we’ve seen really good stuff from recently and are on the brink of breaking through to the next level.”
Here are your best shots for 2016:
Though it may be too soon to mention Smith Westerns around these parts, the members who ghosted a year ago have started to resurface, including guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer Julien Ehrlich. They are two-sixths of Whitney, a kindred revivalist tribe that dabbles in marbled Americana and daydream pop — and yes, still calls Chicago home. Jan. 13 at 9 p.m., Schubas, 3159 N. Southport
All Them Witches
Anyone that still says “rock is dead” has failed in the hunt to discover these Witches taking over Nashville’s underground. A heavy mix of neo psych, blues-rock and Southern charm erupts on stage where the shameless quartet displays bootleg fury. Go early for Old Baby, featuring members of Young Widow and Slint. Jan. 14 at 9 p.m., Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln.
Following the hallmarks of contemporaries My Brightest Diamond, Devotchka and Sufjan Stevens, this eight-piece from Brooklyn mixes orchestral tradition with pop curveballs ensuring the song never remains the same — especially when joined by Chicago’s Fifth House Ensemble. Jan. 14 at 9 p.m., Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport
The twisted tongue known for his work in “Police Academy,” “Bob’s Burgers,” “The Jimmy Kimmel Show” and that time he set Jay Leno’s couch on fire is one of the OGs of comedy. He’ll be right at home on this concert stage — he also once opened for Nirvana. Jan. 15 at 7 & 10 p.m., Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia
The 2013 debut of Chicago siblings Natalie and Elliot Bergman was a direct connection to the “Isles” with a pungent mix of rock steady, reggae, tropicalia and bossa nova. A recent move to California and working with producers from The Black Keys and TV On The Radio gives their long-awaited follow-up even more mileage. Jan. 15 at 8 p.m., Metro, 3730 N. Clark
The only act to play both Pitchfork and Lollapalooza last summer, rock squad Bully is the band everyone is watching. Singer Alicia Bognanno’s unapologetic howls call to mind riot grrrls Kathleen Hanna and Corin Tucker and Courtney and Kurt. Yet, though Bully is ’90s-inspired, they are anything but frozen in time. They open for Metz. Jan. 16 at 9 p.m., Metro, 3730 N. Clark
As a full-time member of Old Crow Medicine Show and founder of the jug band The Kitchen Syncopators, you might assume Landry is stuck in a plucky sepia soundstage. Yet, one listen to any of his heartwrenching three solo albums and you soon realize the former street busker is a well-oiled bluegrass/roots/folk-rock machine. Jan. 16 at 9 p.m., Schubas, 3159 N. Southport
The Go! Team
The British troupe is a melting pot of quirky styles, from Bollywood shtick and cheerleader chants to hip-hop rhymes, street funk, electroclash and disco camp. Hints of The Avalanches, MGMT, Grouplove and CSS abound on earlier releases but new album “The Scene Between” is their defining moment. Jan. 16 at 9 p.m., Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln.
The lo-fi hero might as well have a record store shrine at this point. While he’s helped steer a dizzying amount of releases from Dinosaur Jr., Folk Implosion and Sebadoh, Barlow has also consistently focused on crafting masterful solo work. His latest, 2015’s “Brace the Wave,” comes after a six-year wait amidst all those reunions. Jan. 17 at 9 p.m., Schubas, 3159 N. Southport
Growing up in the burbs of Detroit, it was inescapable that the soul of Motown would become ingrained in producer/crooner Christian Berishaj. His R&B fusion hints at the oldies and ‘90s love jockeys like R. Kelly while also picking up the pace of The Weeknd. Chicago electro pop act Kinky Love sets the mood.
Jan. 17 at 9 p.m., Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln.
Selena is a local freelance writer.