From Eric: We’ve got a new contributor to Chicago Tunes who goes by the name Danny Cohen. You’ll be reading more by him as he gets cozier in how I do things around here. Everybody welcome Danny!
When one hears the term “jam session,” positive thoughts do not necessarily come to mind. I imagine a disorganized mess of musicians fighting to show one another up and, if there is a crowd, making sure everyone knows that they are clearly the most talented one there — an unrestrained pissing contest that is simply no fun to watch or listen to.
Thankfully, the same could not be said of the M. Ward jam session (which is essentially what this tour has been). Ward was joined by Mike Coykendall, his long-time multi-instrumentalist friend who has played both in this band and She & Him, and Carlos Forster, a college buddy whose new record Ward and Coykendall contributed to.
The opening set consisted of spurts of Coykendall followed by spurts of Forster, a wise choice considering the different sides of the emotional spectrum the two of them inhabit. As the set went on, the two switched singing duties more rapidly, and Ward jumped in on bass and piano for a few songs. The band was rounded out nicely by the immensely talented Chris Scruggs, who spent most of the night playing pedal steel.
Coykendall was conversational and pretty damn funny at times. Both his songs and his onstage presence were very relaxed, whereas Forster wriggled around like a nervous five-year-old uncomfortable in his own skin and told non-stories about the kind of shirts he had worn to previous shows on the tour. (These non-stories turned out to be a lead-up to his punch-line: Wearing a Randy Newman Trouble in Paradise-era Hawaiian shirt at the end of M. Ward’s set.)
The ramshackle feel of the opening set bled over a little bit into M. Ward’s. He played a fair amount of material from his masterpiece Post-War, and a surprisingly small amount from his more recent Hold Time. The band commented a few times on how quiet the audience was, and I think it’s because we felt as though we were peeking in on a private get together (jam session, if you will) between these old friends. They tore through blues medleys, joked about how every song would deteriorate into aimless noodling before ending on a final chord, and kept up the instrument swapping throughout.
Despite the quiet, it was clear that the audience had a hell of a time. It is always great to see an artist play a set like this, one that doesn’t feel a part of the regular album release cycle (after all, Hold Time came out nearly two years ago). The band played whatever they felt like playing, and it was a joy to watch them having so much fun. M. Ward himself was in particularly good voice, and his guitar playing felt a bit more unhinged than other times I have seen him. Some of the solos he took were absolutely stunning, and when he traded with Chris Scruggs on a song the crowd could hardly contain themselves.
While it felt like the opening set was a bit too long, the second set more than made up for it, and by and large the evening was absolutely unforgettable. I’d welcome this jam session back to the city any time. In fact, next weekend would be good.
Note: Danny is an intern at Schubas.
- M. Ward is based in Portland.
- His latest, Hold Time, can be bought over at his online store for $12.99 (CD) or $14.99 (vinyl).
- M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel are the duo behind She & Him. Their new holiday album, A Very She & Him Christmas, is yours for $13.99 (CD) or $17.99 (vinyl).