Pairing Chicago-based Canasta with Champaign’s Elsinore was an inspired match up. Though both are orchestral, Canasta favors an indie-pop sound to Elsinore’s rock ‘n’ roll. And the transition from one to the other was magic. I sincerely hope this isn’t the final time they share the same stage in a single evening.
For Chicagoans, that stage Friday night was the city’s dazzling new venue, Lincoln Hall. This weekend, in fact, marked my first time there, and hot damn is that a great place to hear live music.
The Bears of Blue River kicked things off shortly after 10 p.m. A mix of folk, pop and, I guess, easy listening, they remind me in an odd way of Portland’s Blind Pilot, a band I was fortunate enough to have seen late last year in Los Angeles’ quaint — yet uber famous — Troubadour.
Personally, I’m new to Bears’ tunes, having listened to just a handful of ’em over the past week or so. I’m fortunate, though, to have been familiar to at least a portion of their set list Friday night because it was a real treat to hear the songs I did know live. These included “Crayola” and their final song, “Betty Homemaker.”
Most of the set’s fun derived from one Gavin Wilkinson, Bears’ lead vocalist. Sporting blindingly white — and tight! — pants, the dude chatted away at pretty much anything in between tunes. This included jabs at members of his band (“His name’s not skinhead, it’s Justin!”), confessions to Lincoln Hall’s lighting department (“No no, I can’t really see now”) and lengthy introductions to every song.
Next was Canasta, a band who floored me a few short weeks ago at Simon’s Tavern. A performance, actually, that largely sparked the idea within me to begin this very blog.
For this show, the six-piece hired a sax, trombone and trumpet to follow along with them on a number of songs, from “Reading the Map Upside Down” — a personal favorite of mine — to even their Blackstreet cover, “No Diggity.” The extra help made for a special set at Lincoln Hall since quite a few of their tunes are impossible to perform live (or, at least, “correctly”) without ’em.
Canasta co-founders Matt Priest and Elizabeth Lindau are entitled to well-deserved shout-outs for proving yet again how much they enjoy performing their music live.
Not to be read as a knock on Canasta’s other four, but Matt and Elizabeth seem to be on another level entirely on songs like “Mexico City” and “Microphone Song.”
Both move about with intense, jerky movements, and pound their feet to the beats of their own drums. Half of the fun is watching their antics.
Actually, “Microphone Song” was my favorite of the evening. It was probably the loudest thing they played all night and, among other things, allowed anyone in the band to scream at the top of their lungs to the “I-I-I’ve got nothing to says,” and so on. Fun stuff.
The night ended, of course, with music by Elsinore, a band I hope to see — at minimum — forty more times before I kick the bucket.
Their frontman, Ryan Groff, is a special musical talent. His exaggerated facial expressions, lively eyebrow movements, big hair, love for the rocker’s power stance and general enthusiasm for his band’s music made for a pretty incredible set.
Like Canasta, Elsinore hired on some extra help for a couple of their songs. In some, they borrowed the talents of a string quartet. In others, like in “Yes Yes Yes,” they called upon the woodwind and brass families.
A record release show, Elsinore’s set at Lincoln Hall also featured two new songs — “Ultraviolence” and “New England” — outside of the ones featured on the album they released less than two weeks ago. Kudos to the boys for such a delightful surprise.
After the show, I caught up with Ryan and gosh what a friendly and humble man. I could tell fairly quickly that he and his mates are in music for all the right reasons, and I respect them even more for it.
Funny, albeit true story: Their new album, Yes Yes Yes, is so frickin’ great that I picked up a vinyl copy for the record player I don’t yet own. (But soon — I hope!)
- Check out my review of Elsinore’s Yes Yes Yes here on Chicago Tunes.
- Also, check out my review of Canasta’s The Fakeout, The Tease and The Breather.
- The Bears of Blue River will play The Empty Bottle on September 9, while Canasta will rock Beat Kitchen on October 3 and Schubas on October 21. Unfortunately, Elsinore has no immediate plans to play another gig here in Chicago. Instead, they’re touring far and wide in support of Yes Yes Yes.