There’s a much longer version of what I’m about to tell you in my head, but I’ve decided to give you the abridged version. It won’t affect you all that much. The details that I was going to include were all about me and I know you aren’t coming here to read about me, friends. You’re here to read about Remaindermen’s gig Thursday night at The Empty Bottle. So here it is.
The night started with Angel Olsen. She performed alone to a small-ish crowd. Her style and voice lend themselves to comparisons of Connie Francis and Joanna Newsom in equal measure. She’s a strong lyricist working in a form that requires at least that.
Her performance was good, and I think she’ll continue to get better. She seemed a bit timid with the crowd, which will go away with time. (Unless she’s like Meg White, in which case she needs to get married, get divorced, start a two-person minimalist blues-rock outfit and claim her ex is her brother — red white and black optional).
And the banter she did share with the crowd was nice. Charming, but not too charming. Self-deprecating, but not defeatist. She mentioned that she has cassette tapes for sale, which I thought may have been the funniest thing I’d heard all day.
The best tune, in my opinion, was “Barrier of Bodies,” which you can stream on her MySpace page, as well as a bunch of other good tunes. Take a look; I’m sure you’ll find something you like.
Up next was a real treat: Neutral Uke Hotel. Their mission statement is so simple it hurts: “To unite obsessed fans of Neutral Milk Hotel for a live performance of their critically acclaimed album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, played in its entirety on ukulele by Shawn Fogel, with accompaniment from members of Golden Bloom and Motion Sick.
And if you read that correctly, you know exactly how exciting it was to be in the audience.
If you’re my age — and I won’t divulge that info here, but it’s over 25 — you probably have realized that if you didn’t see Neutral Milk Hotel when they were around in the early ’00s, you’re not going to see them. It’s a thought that haunts me every day.
So imagine my excitement when I heard about this crazy cover band! The audience immediately fell in love with them during their opening rendition of “King of Carrot Flowers, pt. 1.” How could you not? I would have been perfectly happy spending an entire evening listening to Neutral Uke Hotel cover all kinds of albums. They’re a fun group, and they were very excited to share their love of a great album with an audience willing to participate.
There was a third band — True Womanhood — that played next, but to be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to them. Between coming down from the euphoric high one gets when he hears one of their favorite albums played in its entirety and running into Dave from Nowhere Records and talking ukulele Kiss covers and the Tamale Guy, I felt like my interest was better served near the bar then next to the stage.
That isn’t to say True Womanhood isn’t worthy of a listen. What I heard was VERY loud, and for the most part, decent. But, they’re from Washington, D.C. — not Chicago — so I didn’t feel too bad about leaving them in the cold for this specific review.
OK, now that you’re caught up, let’s get back to business.
The set was pretty great. There was a lot of energy onstage and off. Most of it was coursing through the body of lead singer PJ McMahon, who looked at times to be equal parts Mick Jagger and Jack Black. If you think that’s a bit much, check out our YouTube channel and tell me I’m crazy. Between dancing and drinking, PJ served up some great vocals to compliment the band rockin’ away the night.
The guys sounded good. Too good, almost. At one point an audience member accused PJ of lip-synching the words. Not the case, sir. These guys have been together for a while now, and they really gel on stage. If you’ve heard their record, then you know how well it flows together.
The show was exactly the same. They kept things tight and didn’t let themselves get lost in the music, which I think would be hard for a band that started out as an instrumental group.
All in all, another great night of music in Chicago. Many thanks to the bands that gave us all such wonderful music to hang out and rock with. Many more thanks to Nowhere’s Dave from and the gentlemen of Remaindermen, who have been so kind to me and everyone here at Chicago Tunes.
- Check out my review of Remaindermen’s Border States here on Chicago Tunes.
- Remaindermen will play at Cal’s Bar on September 3 and Schubas on October 30.
- Neutral Uke Hotel is comprised of Shawn Fogel of Golden Bloom (ukulele and vocals), Josh Cohen of Golden Bloom (melodica), and Mike Epstein of Motion Sick (bass ukulele and percussion)
Neutral Uke Hotel performing “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”
Remaindermen performing “Tides In”