I came to Schubas on a blizzardy Tuesday evening, one of those nights with an eerie peace and quiet to it. I thought most people would be hibernating from the elements but the show had quite the turnout. I walked out of this Chicago winter and into sunny Tampa-inspired synth pop of the band Computer Magic emanating from the back room.
Danielle Johnson fronts this duo with an intense gaze and a larger-than-life vocal styling. The set was quite dancey but at times would fade into an ’80s prom feel and even felt at times like a show at the Roadhouse from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. The entire set was bathed in delay from the intricate keyboard patches to the vocals. Danielle only had to ask the audience once to move closer and everyone heard it twice. I came away from this set wanting more and think the outfit would benefit from more band mates and the interplay that would ensue. Danielle told me that in New York she has friends come on stage to play guitar which I’m sure adds a lot to the live show, both in terms of energy and the interplay of parts. Here’s a clip of the closing tune from the Computer Magic set:
(Editor’s Note: The video cuts short the song “Running” by about two minutes.)
Although Computer Magic was entertaining, the band I originally sought to see live and review was Caveman. I was prompted to pick up Caveman’s CoCo Beware after hearing their Tiny Desk concert on NPR. I was floored, not only by the band’s vocal harmonies, but the tone that encompassed their tunes. I knew the band was holding back at this Tiny Desk Concert — you kind of have to when you’re playing in an office — so I was extra excited to see the band with full amps and a bit more energy. Caveman started their set at Schubas with the tune, “My Time,” a jangly call and response song which lured the audience closer and set the stage for their set.
It’s hard to pinpoint what I love about this band but it’s clear to me that it starts with the drums amidst a swirl of delayed-out guitars dancing circles around the stage. It seems at times the songs have the chance to run off the cliff but just as you look away they hook back into a chorus. What puts this band over the top for me is the fact that there are well-crafted harmonies among four singers on stage that layer perfectly over the top of the cyclone of delayed guitar and drums. The lead singer switched to the floor tom for a few tunes and kept the harmonizing in key in between headshots. The harmonies almost seemed effortless for these guys. I later found out that they had been playing together since they were 13.
But getting back to why I liked this band so much: their tone. Good tone isn’t something you can just walk into a store and ask the guy at the counter for. It’s something that is developed over time and involves multiple elements including pedals, amps, guitars, etc. I caught up with Caveman guitarist Jimmy Carbonetti after the show and he took me on a tour of the band’s setup. First of all, Jimmy built all the guitars on stage and wound all the pickups used. For pedals, Jimmy uses a Vemuram Jan Ray overdrive and an Earthquaker disaster transport delay. What was so unique was he had additional modulator pedal that he controlled with his foot that increased or decreased the repeat of the delay based on if he pressed down or up on the pedal. There is a reason why I never heard a tone like this before. It’s because the band built it from scratch.
Here’s a clip from the show:
Caveman’s new record comes out April 2 and I for one am excited to take it for a spin.
- The New York-based Caveman is Matthew Iwanusa, Jimmy Carbonetti, Stefan Marolachakis, Sam Hopkins and Jeff Berrall. | Facebook
- Caveman’s new album is available on preorder and ships March 29. Twelve bucks (cd) or fourteen bucks (vinyl). | Caveman Store
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