The best New Year's Eve rock shows don't just usher you into the new year, they blast you there.
Doing that requires a band that knows how to deliver the goods onstage, and these days, there are few better in that department than JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound.
New Year's Eve Rock 'n' Roll BallWhat: A New Year's Eve party featuring musical performances from JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, Cracker and more
When: Entertainment begins at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 31
Where: The InterContinental Chicago O'Hare hotel, 5300 N. River Road, Rosemont
Tickets: Packages begin at $85; call (847) 544-5300 or go to nye.icohare.com
The Chicago-based rock-and-soul band has earned accolades from coast to coast for its fierce live shows. And on Dec. 31, suburban rock fans will get a chance to see what all the fuss is about. The group is headlining the annual New Year's Eve Rock 'n' Roll Ball in Rosemont.
"We're looking forward to it," Brooks, the group's frontman, said during a recent phone interview. "We've just taken a break from our tour, and the shows have been going really great. The energy just keeps going up. We hope to see that continue on New Year's Eve."
JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound formed in Chicago in 2007 and quickly became known for its soulful sound. The group's 2011 album, "Want More," which featured a blistering cover of Wilco's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," exploded in the indie-rock world and helped the band land a slot at 2012's Lollapalooza music festival.
The sound on "Want More" was aggressive, energetic soul -- both a tribute to, and an updated version of, classic Motown and Stax records. Funky keyboards and horns accented the driving rhythms and Brooks' impassioned wailing. It was a successful mix, but when it came time to do a follow-up, the band was not interested in retracing past steps, Brooks said.
"We didn't feel beholden to the whole 'new urban soul' label we'd been getting," he said. "So we started experimenting with different kinds of sounds."
The group's next and latest album, "Howl," came out earlier this year. (Like its predecessor, "Howl" was released on Chicago's Bloodshot label.) The soul influence is still there, but the record also includes traces of 1980s New Wave and the fuzzed-out indie rock of bands like Pavement, among other sounds. Brooks said it was fun moving into different sonic directions on the album.
"We don't plan stuff like that out, it just happens," Brooks said. "But I have to say I really love the sound on 'Howl.' I think it offers a pretty good sense of where this band comes from and what we're capable of."
The album has kept the band's profile rising and earned it some high-powered support. The video for "Rouse Yourself," the first single off "Howl," stars actors Aubrey Plaza ("Parks and Recreation") and Jake Johnson ("The New Girl"), both fans of the band.
Just as important to the band's success, though, has been its relentless touring. The band has toured "off and on, but mostly on" since the fall of 2011, Brooks said, and its shows have become widely celebrated. Performing comes relatively naturally to Brooks, who studied theater and worked as an actor before turning to music. But he said being successful on a rock stage sometimes means breaking out of "actorly" habits.
"It helps on the one hand, because it makes you comfortable with the idea of performing in front of people," he said. "But if you're not careful, you can fall into the whole thing of just, you know, hitting your marks and going through your lines. I find sometimes that I have to remind myself to get engaged with the people out there."
Brooks said that after a short break, the band will likely hit the road again in the spring. He hopes that a new album will be finished before the end of 2014.
"I'm looking forward to writing again, and seeing whatever new sound we come up with," he said.
JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound will be just one of the bands playing at the New Year's Eve Rock 'n' Roll Ball, which will be held at the InterContinental Chicago O'Hare hotel. Alt-rock band Cracker is on the bill, as are Modern Day Romeos and Rod Tuffcurls and the Benchpress. For details, go to nye.icohare.com.
Other bands playing NYE:
The Smoking Popes at House of Blues: The Smoking Popes emerged from the suburbs of McHenry County (Lake in the Hills, Carpentersville) in the 1990s with a power-pop sound highlighted by melodic hooks and singer Josh Caterer's distinctive vocals. The band has released a number of well-received albums, including the stellar "This is Only a Test," which was released in 2011. The Popes are always a hit in front of hometown crowds, so this promises to be a great way to kick off your New Year's celebration. The Popes are opening for pop-punk band Jimmy Eat World. (10 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 31, at House of Blues Chicago, 329 N. Dearborn St., Chicago; $100; houseofblues.com)
Lucky Boys Confusion at House of Blues: Also at House of Blues, but much different in character, will be a show featuring DuPage County rockers Lucky Boys Confusion. The band will play an intimate show on the club's Back Porch Stage. (Fancy dress required!) LBC hit it big in the 2000s with an energetic, ska-flavored rock sound. The band members have since gone their separate ways, but they get together occasionally for local fans. (11 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 31, at House of Blues Chicago, 329 N. Dearborn St., Chicago; $40; houseofblues.com)
Oozing Wound at the Empty Bottle: It's safe to say that few New Year's Eve shows will be as flat-out ferocious as this one. Oozing Wound is a thrash-metal trio from Chicago that delivers the kind of blistering, relentless rock that Metallica used to make. The band's debut album, "Retrash," out on Chicago's respected Thrill Jockey label, has earned strong reviews, and it's easy to see how its songs could provide a truly cathartic farewell to 2013. Magic Milk and Jimmy Whispers will open, and the tickets cost just $20 at the door. (9 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 31, at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago; $20; emptybottle.com)
Death at Reggie's Rock Club: The band Death is one of those almost-too-good-to-be-true rock stories. A trio of brothers from Detroit, Death recorded an album in the mid-1970s that many say presaged the arrival of punk rock a few years later. But there was a problem: the members of Death were black, and black musicians were not associated with hard rock. Rejected, the band broke up, but then in 2009 the Chicago label Drag City released those 1970s tracks. Death found new life. The band headlines a NYE show that also includes El Mejor, Le Tour and Rabble Rabble. (8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 31, at Reggie's Rock Club, 2105 S. State St., Chicago; tickets start at $25; reggieslive.com)
This Must Be The Band at Durty Nellie's: This Must Be The Band is an acclaimed tribute band that brings the music of the Talking Heads to energetic life. Show up at Durty Nellie's and you're bound to dance your way into 2014! (9 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 31, at Durty Nellie's, 180 N. Smith St., Palatine; tickets start at $20; durtynellies.com)