What a busy weekend it was for us. There was so much great music happening in Chicago this weekend, it almost felt like we were back in Texas for another round of SxSw fun.
We started on Friday night at Schuba’s for David McMillin of Fort Frances. He was opening for Ben Ottewell of Gomez, and anyone who was smart enough to get there early witnessed a great show.
I was a big fan of Fort Frances’ album, The Atlas, and it was nice to hear the songs stripped down to their bare bones. David’s voice shown through a little easier in this live setting, but the lack of accompaniment didn’t really change the way I heard the music. Most of Fort Frances’ songs rely heavily on the lyrics, so this solo effort was perfect.
David played a new song that I think is gonna really hit big when it comes out. I think he said it was due this summer, but don’t quote me on that. It’s called “I Had Love,” and if I were forced to compare it to something, I would say Joe Pug’s “Speak Plainly Diana.” They aren’t necessarily exact replicas, but the style that I assume will be on display for the track might fit in well with Pug’s relatively rocking song.
I didn’t get that one on video, but I did get a great version of “Ghosts of California.” I really like this song, so here’s a look at the solo version:
As if that wasn’t good enough to call it a weekend, on Saturday I hit two free shows.
Holdfast impressed me for one big reason-it was unpolished. On the record they put out, which you can stream for free, everything comes off a little bit produced. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but when I hear a band, especially a young up and coming band, I don’t wanna hear a U2 record. Maybe you understand where I’m coming from, maybe not. Either way, I was happy to hear a couple mistakes and some great once-in-a-lifetime takes by everyone in the band.
The person who impressed me the most was guitarist (Brandon Hunt?). He had a slew of pedals he was working with, and they weren’t always cooperating. All the while he remained completely compelling to watch, and had a couple solos that sounded awesome.
I was a bit concerned when i realized how small the stage area was, but it actually worked to the bands advantage, I think. Due to the small space, I was able to get a pretty good video of the band before the keyboard player from Island of Misfit Toys demanded everyone scoot up close.
I stayed in back for a couple of reasons: One, I had a big heavy coat on and it was already warm enough in there. Two, someone-and I don’t know who-reeked of marijuana and I had to stand far away from them. I don’t wanna sound like a Debbie Downer, but there’s a time and place for it, and it’s not when you’re gonna be squeezed into a studio apartment-sized area with a bunch of people you don’t know.
They’re set finished up and Island of Misfit Toys started setting up. I knew that they had a large band, but I didn’t realize it was Jon Drake and The Shakes-like. I was wondering if they would be able to fit everyone up there, and they did. Just barely though.
Anthony Sanders opened up with a number that was about even between yelling and singing. He had gum in his mouth, and I was almost positive it was going to fly out of his mouth. Then he sang a line about how the front row at his shows always get spit on, so I relaxed a bit after realizing that this was a common occurence-also I wasn’t in the front row.
I kind of imagine that this show was like the early Commander Venus shows must have been. One guy who writes good songs, and a backup band that does whatever is needed to keep the spotlight on the man in the middle (apologies to Tim Kasher fans). I wasn’t overly impressed with any of it, but I didn’t hate it either. It was just a bit so-so for me.
The rest of the crowd seemed to dig it, though. It seemed that everyone around me was friends with someone in the band, so it may have just been they wanted to show their support, but they were dancing and everything. Maybe I just don’t get the appeal. That’s very possible. I’ve also never liked Andrew Bird all that much, but he’s pretty well-liked (especially here), so it happens.
I split about halfway through Island of Misfit Toys so that I could get home and eat before we headed out to the third show of the weekend, a Songwriter’s Showcase curated by Gabe Liebowitz of Dastardly, at Cafe Ballou just down the road from Empty Bottle.
It’s a nice little cafe that is just the right size for such an event. More a workshop than a show, really. Most of the people in attendance were other artists. Here is a list of the people playing:
Maren Celest of Photographers, William James of Teenage Rage, Gabe Liebowitz, Ryan Suzuka, Brendan Losch, and Julie Meckler. I believe Stan from Santah was also playing, but we had to catch our bus before the last act.
This was the 8th get together that Gabe has put together, and I think it’s great for the Chicago songwriting community to have a place where you can try out new stuff and get an honest response from peers. It seemed that pretty much everything was well-received.
My favorite song of the night was by Gabe, naturally. His ode to the state of Missouri was beautiful and true. I don’t know how many times I’ve thought of Missouri as a cold and miserable fucker, but it’s too many to count. I thought Julie Meckler was really good, too. I didn’t see the end of her set, but I caught two and a half songs, and I really enjoyed them. Ryan Suzuka’s ukulele and harmonica was also a pleasant change from the guitar strumming that accompanied most talent.
If you get a chance to check out the next Songwriter’s Showcase, get there. It’s a great way to see some fantastic Chicago artist’s playing stripped down songs, demos basically. I was certainly glad we made it out. Also, the pastries at Cafe Ballou are delicious.
With the weekend now behind me, I’m glad I can’t say things are slowing down at all. Tomorrow I’m going to check out the Intonation Music Workshop show at Whole Foods in Lincoln Park (1550 N Kingsbury). It starts at 5:30 and it’s free! Then Tuesday we have an interview with singer-songwiter Aryk Crowder, and then Thursday we’re checking out his show at Double Door. Should be a good time.
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