Schubas hosted an eclectic night of music Thursday night, with sounds ranging from everyday rock to orchestral pop to, well, whatever which way you’d best like to categorize Black Prairie. Parts bluegrass, folk, Americana and probably many more, their music is literally unlike anything else I listen to, yet I enjoyed their live show immensely.
Kicking off the night shortly after 9 p.m. was Honda Pavarotti, a quartet of Chicago rockers that failed to do much anything that would distinguish them from other bands of jammers.
Partway through the set, a string or two on the lead guitar’s, uh, guitar snapped and flopped lazily around the instrument’s neck. So, he did what any upstanding musician would do and switched out the guitar for another on the next song — only to switch back for the one after that. The supposed problem (and I don’t blame him): The “new” guitar wasn’t the right feel.
I liked ’em enough, and think they only go up from here. Yet I don’t think there’s much in particular — save for the guitar anecdote — that requires discussion in this space. They appeared, they played and that was that.
Thursday’s show marked the third time I’ve experienced Canasta live. And boy, do I seem to like ’em more with each listen.
I don’t think they’ve ever sounded better than at Lincoln Hall in August. The acoustics there are probably the best I’ve heard in the city, so much of it has to do with that. Yet their Schubas set was still very much a Canasta show.
A total surprise was “Appreciation,” which I don’t think Canasta performs live with any regularity. Lead vocal Matt Priest said something to that effect, and Elizabeth Lindau, who used a melodica for the tune, admitted to being out of practice. Always nice to see a band spice things up a bit.
What “rare” song should they do next? Why, “Choosing Sides,” of course! Lindau’s vocals are featured, as is, per usual, her violin. I like the keys on that one, too.
Anyway, Canasta closed in the way they usually do: With their obligatory cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity,” and — my favorite live song of theirs — “Microphone Song.” It’s the lead track off their debut full length, 2005’s We Were Set Up, and is probably the most high energy tune they have on the ready. It’s a lot of fun.
Finally, having first heard Black Prairie’s debut within the week of their show at Schubas, I knew I’d be in for something special. The band, which features three members of The Decemberists, uses things like a Dobro guitar and accordion full time to craft their rich, Americana beats. Seeing it all come together live was a treat indeed.
The nice thing about Black Prairie having one full length in the bank was the expectation of hearing live everything off the album. I can’t say I was keeping score by that point, but I wanna say Black Prairie did most everything from Feast of the Hunters’ Moon.
They started with “Across the Black Prairie” and “Red Rocking Chair” back to back — as if they were one song with a significant tonal shift in the middle — before moving into other favorites of mine like “Back Alley” and “Tango Oscuro.”
And the banter between the band was relentlessly entertaining. Guitarist Chris Funk was more or less the ringleader and kept up the humor with a reoccurring gag involving Jon Neufeld’s Chicago roots.
Actually, there’s something to be said about their chitchat between tunes. I have to say I haven’t come across a band in some time that was as loose and relaxed as Black Prairie was on Thursday. Their friendship with one another was obvious, as was the amount of fun they were having rockin’ out on violin and guitar up on stage. Schubas marked their second performance on a probable lengthy debut tour, but I think that has little to do with the level of amusement they had in performing their music for a crowd.
A disheartening thing, though, was the amount of unnecessary talk coming from our end of the room. I do realize Black Prairie isn’t something to really bounce around to. Yet I pity those who can’t appreciate good music when it’s literally right in front of their faces.
After their set was complete, Black Prairie performed an unplugged encore in the middle of the room. It was spectacular.
A friend of mine said she saw Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros play sometime this summer. And at one point that night the band broke from the stage to play in a circle in the middle of the room. I’d be jealous since.
Black Prairie did a similar thing Thursday, and man does that make things intimate! It was a pretty unique and appropriate way to end the evening.
- Check out my review of Black Prairie’s debut album, Feast of the Hunters’ Moon.
- Check out my review of Canasta’s The Fakeout, the Tease and the Breather.
Canasta performing “Reading the Map Upside Down”
Black Prairie performing “Back Alley”
Black Prairie performing “Tango Oscuro”