Thanks to a kind friend and the convenient proximity of my birthday, I got to see Ben Gibbard, the creative force behind Death Cab for Cutie, play a nearly sold-out solo acoustic show at The Athenaeum on Friday night. The Athenaeum is quickly turning into yet another great place to see live music in this city, and if you get a chance to see a show there, don’t hesitate — do it. While they may have some negligible production issues to work out, it has an incredibly intimate feeling despite its size that is hard to put into words. WXRT presented this particular night, and the Schubas/Lincoln Hall team has been booking shows here as well.
Opening the show was Advance Base, the new project from Chicago transplant Owen Ashworth. Although his music has been recommended to me countless times by friends going back to his work as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, I never took enough time to really sit down and give his music the attention it deserves. Now I’ll have to. His hypnotic keyboard tapestries were layered beneath a doleful baritone that boomed throughout the hall. He reminded me a bit of Bill Callahan of Smog, another under appreciated singer-songwriter, at least on a surface level. I look forward to digging deeper into his music.
Ben Gibbard stayed away from the obvious selections and played a handful of songs from his fantastic new solo record. I love hearing a writer I admire step out of the band setting and present their songs at their most basic level. It often brings out another side of an artist, giving you new avenues to connect with them and forcing you to notice something new. I saw Ben Gibbard’s inner Nick Lowe, even his inner Harry Nilsson; The latter of which was reinforced when he covered the classic “Don’t Forget Me” on piano.
Funny crowd interaction highlights include: Ben’s comments on the unusually loud noise from the back bar, in which he imagined that the Slayer fans who worked there were sick of his sensitive songs and decided to have a glass-shattering contest to drown him out. He also got a “THIS IS MY WEDDING SONG!” shout-out after strumming one chord of what that person must have assumed was “Such Great Heights.” He was so taken aback that he stopped himself to ask the woman if she was sure before beginning it again. As it turned out, he was playing “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” a Postal Service song. Lyrics like “Smeared black ink/Your palms are sweaty” and “I am finally seeing/Why I was the one worth leaving” elicited laughs from the audience, which I imagine was a first.
Some Advance Base:
- The Chicago-based Advance Base is Owen Ashworth, Jody Weinmann and Nick Ammerman. | Facebook
- They’re supporting Ben Gibbard through November 11 and then play a few more dates in November and early December. Back in Chicago for a December 6 show at The Burlington. Seven bucks.
You know, there are plenty more Show Reviews on Chicago Tunes.
Hey: Like Chicago Tunes on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.
Stream all the music you’ve heard here in one convenient place on Hype Machine.