Fresh off my trip to Chicago, here are a few highlights:

The Autumn Defense had their record-release party at sold-out Schubas on Saturday night. While the most widely known member of the band is Wilco’s John Stiratt, it was another member of the band who stepped up to the mike and just sent us reeling. Pat Sansone (guitar, keyboards) has got to be one of the biggest talents I’ve seen live in a long, long time. His voice is pure heaven – somewhere between the higher pitches of Neil Young and the sweet sadness of Alex Chilton. The guy is just amazing. They performed most of thier terrific new album, Circles, then added a couple other great nuggets: Stiratt’s “It’s Just That Simple” from Wilco’s first album and then a rousing cover of Big Star’s “You Can’t Have Me,” with Sansone singing lead, administering high leg kicks and windmilling on guitar. The Autumn Defense boast super, syrupy-sweet melodies, soaring harmonies and a distinct crispness that is rarely seen in a live enviroment. They reminded me of Big Star and Bread all playing on stage at the same time. When I am 75 years old and sitting in a rocking chair, ruminating my favorite live shows, this one might end up in my Top 5 of all time.

– On Monday night, we were back at Schubas for the pure American rock and roll display which we were treated to by a band called The Yayhoos. The Yayhoos are the probably the world’s finest, completely unrecognizable supergroup, made up of Dan Baird (Georgia Satellites), Eric Ambel (Steve Earle) and backed up on drums and bass by Terry Anderson and Keith Christopher, respectively, both of whom have plenty of material on their own to brag about. I must tell you that Dan Baird has still got it and then some. He might have it more now than he did back in the ’80s, in fact. The guy is a never-ending fountain of energy, talent, humor and fine personality rolled into one. You just can’t help but smile when you see the genuine fun he’s having and the band is just an unstoppable force of great riffs and delicious choices of cover songs. Their originals are also tremendous. Catch them if you can.

– I also got to see my friend Dave and his family, which was a hell of a treat. Other than our two forays into Chicago, we pretty much kept ourselves sequestered out in St. Charles, Illinois at his house for most of the weekend, telling old war stories from our days as record label owners and laughing a hell of a lot at some of the things we did and some of the things our bands did. We also saw two reindeer humping, as my latest slideshow will attest to.

FYI, the first band picture is The Autumn Defense (Sansone is on the far right) and the other band pics are The Yayhoos. The Chicago “night and day” shots were taken from the same spot of the 39th floor of my hotel room.

Song now playing: Ed Harcourt – “God Protect Your Soul”