You've played at pretty much every major venue in town - from small clubs to big theaters. Do any of them stand out to you, whether you performed there or were an audience member?
The Auditorium Theatre, where we've played a bunch of times now, is such an unbelievably gorgeous building to get to see a show in. I would highly recommend that to anyone if they have a chance to see something they like there. It's a pretty historic concert venue for Chicago as well. The Who played there, as did Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Frank Zappa played there a lot - I think he played every Halloween for a number of years. When it first opened [in 1889], I think it was one of the tallest buildings in Chicago. [Architect] Louis Sullivan built his offices in a sky cottage above the dome of the building to prove that it could withstand being that high. I guess people doubted him at the time. So there's a real cool history that goes with the place.

Our essential spots in Chicago

Days Inn Lincoln Park - North, inexpensive, (773) 525-7010,
We don't often recommend specific locations of major chains, but this budget-friendly Days Inn branch is just too conveniently located to pass up. Smack in the middle of Lincoln Park, it's within walking distance of great restaurants, Wrigley Field, the zoo, and more. Plus, guests get free passes to the Bally's health club next door.

Spacca Napoli Pizzeria, moderate, (773) 878-2420,
Jonathan Goldsmith, a former social worker and real estate developer, is the artist behind the apron at this increasingly popular pizzeria. His authentic Neapolitan pies are cooked in a 13,000-pound oven that he carted home from Naples.

Green Dolphin Street, (773) 395-0066.
The upscale eats at this pleasant supper club on the banks of the Chicago River are noteworthy, but we go specifically for the jazz jams by red-hot artists like Lynn Jordan and Reuben Wilson.

Schaller's Pump, (773) 376-6332.
This popular pub is not only a hangout for high-powered politicos with offices nearby - its adjacency to U.S. Cellular Field makes it a stomping ground for rabid White Sox fans. Talk about strange bedfellows.

Kayak Chicago, (630) 336-7245,
A lot of nature lovers get a feel for the city by jogging or walking around the 18-mile lakefront path, but another way to go is to rent a sea or surf kayak and paddle your way past the stunning sights and scenery.


Another favorite, as far as a smaller venue goes, is the Hideout. It's an old bar and club in this kind of industrial part of town. It's a great, friendly place for people to see music in a more intimate room.

In the past few years, Chicago seems to have exploded as a place for summer music festivals.
I think Chicago is the best city in the world for festivals now. All summer long, there is a constant stream of really exciting music events happening here. You have the Pitchfork Music Festival and Lollapalooza, and last year, there was the Touch and Go festival. Wilco's not actually doing Lollapalooza this year, but my son's band, the Blisters, is playing two days of the festival, so hopefully I'll be there just to roadie.

That's not even mentioning all the local neighborhood street festivals in the summer. I don't have any idea why it happens so much here culturally, but it is a fact of life in Chicago that every weekend someone's going to think of some excuse to blockade the streets, serve beer, and have bands play. [Laughs]

You play a really nice selection of guitars onstage. Do you have a particular place where you find instruments?
One place I've shopped at a lot over the years is Midwest Buy and Sell, which is a pawnshop that specializes in musical equipment. I think their philosophy is to stock really great instruments, but ones that aren't "perfect" in a collector's sense. They want to put them in the hands of people who are going to play them and use them.

What about record stores?
Well, unfortunately, I don't find music shopping environments to be very comfortable. I do way more shopping online than going to record stores. If I'm on the road and it's a day off, I can do it sometimes. In general, it can be a little tough here.

I suppose you at a record shop in Chicago must be a little like the pope in Rome.
I wouldn't go that far. [Laughs] Even if it's only one time in 10, it's those few encounters I've had where people have wanted to talk to me - and they're nice people - but it changes the experience. At one point in time, going to a record store was like going to church for me. So it's something that I've always associated with a certain amount of introspection and solitude, ironically.

Are you less recognized in bookstores?
I think I am. Well, people tend to have their heads down a little bit more in bookstores. [Laughs]

Are there any that stand out for you?
I love going to Quimby's Bookstore in Wicker Park. I can't ever get enough stuff to read. So I go in there, maybe once a month, and spend way too much money. I don't buy super-esoteric stuff like obscure xeroxed fanzines, but I do like thumbing through them, and there's definitely more of a chance of finding something like that at Quimby's than anywhere else. Plus, the other stuff they keep in stock is much more to my taste.