Thursday, March 26, 2009

If I was in Chicago tonight, this is where I'd be going

photo via Subinev

Indianapolis natives Margot and the Nuclear So and So's are giving back to their new home city by playing some old and and new songs FOR FREE tonight. Hopefully this stripped down version just includes Richard, the violinist, the percussionist, and the pianist. I imagine it might end up sounding like a Daytrotter session, which is never a bad thing. I've heard Neva Dinova is pretty good too, but haven't listened yet.

From Margot's myspace:
Tonight, Wednesday March 25th, Richard and some fellow margot's will be getting together at the inconvenience art space/venue to play some old songs, as well as some songs from the new record. They will be joined on this special day by their friends, "the whispertown 2000" and Jake Bellows (of Neva Dinova). You may remember that Margot toured with Whispertown long ago during the elected tour. Wanna re-live those memories? Of course you do. And we want to see you there. It's a small intimate space and it should make for a very special, one of a kind evening. The show is free (although a donation to help the touring band is appreciated), and it is open to all ages.

3036 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL
Doors at 6 Pm
Music at 7 pm!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bonnie "Prince" Billy @ Turner Hall 3/18/09

photostream via: madison music review

Walking on stage with an uncharacteristic gong in hand, Bonnie "Prince" Billy filled the crowded first floor of Turner Hall with a quizzical anticipation. He didn't get to the gong until much later, but no question of Billy's ability was left in the audience's mind by that time anyway.

For the two-hour-plus performance
, Billy played as tightly as his pants seemed to fit, and he awkwardly tugged at them throughout. The tautness gave the impression of a band that had been performing this material for years, but Billy's latest album, Beware!, dropped only the day before and by Wednesday, Billy and crew were on tour for less than a week.

Appeasing his older fans, of whom seemed to comprise most of the audience, Billy played "A Minor Place" early on, and closed out his four-song encore with "I See A Darkness," also the title from his most critically acclaimed album. His voice switched from yearning to mournful to loving quite well.

In Turner Hall, where the sound is prone to a distancing vastness - like talking on speakerphone in a bathroom,
Billy's sound reverberated warmly off the charred walls. This was also perhaps due to the balance of his talented backing band.

Violinist and vocalist Cheyenne Mize seemed to grasp the essence of every arrangement, highlighting the crescendos with her quickened violin playing, and providing a strong, yet soft, voice that set the live show apart from recordings.

If Mize was the most standout backing band member, then drummer Jim White was happily doing his job right. He specializes in drumming for singer/songwriters such as Cat Power, PJ Harvey, and Smog (Bill Callahan) and seems to subscribe to the notion that drummers should be seen not heard. He highlighted the music without overpowering it, and was an enthusiastically- dressed drummer with similar drumming flourishes- often raising his rakes high above his head
. Josh Abrams on the double bass was also a welcome addition, as double bass players often are.

However, with all of the positive things I mentioned above, I didn't enjoy the show. Unlike most critics, I don't try to point out the negative for a futile stab at objectivity, or to be snarky, or even to make my own taste appear superior. If I see something negative, I point it out; if something is positive, I acknowledge it. This being said, I usually trust my instincts with knowing whether or not I like something. Ordinarily I don't think this is a good method to arrive at a higher taste, but I try to surround myself with artistically relevant songs/books/insert whatever media here so I can try to trust my judgment.

So what follows must be a matter of taste- not artistic ability. Three friends and
I attended the show: two were fans and very familiar with Billy's material, and another friend and me were only casual listeners. While I mentioned Billy and company played competently and made it look effortless, they also didn't move and weren't very moving to me from where i was standing, about halfway back in the room. I would have been a lot more comfortable seated at the Pabst Theater.

While no complaints lay with the musicianship, sound, or song selection, the show part seemed to be lacking.
I'm completely willing to say that maybe if I was more familiar with his material, maybe I would have enjoyed the show more for the music. My familiarity with Billy as a solo artist led me to believe that I would see him play a few acoustic songs, and draw the audience into the sparse melodies that make his recordings enjoyable. But he clung to the same guitar the whole time, and all of the musicians box stepped around their respective parts of the stage as if restrained to an invisible 3x3 foot square.

Billy didn't acknowledge the audience until at least four songs in, and when he did, he insulted one of his fans in the front, asking her if she attended college. Hesitant applause from the audience suggested either an unfamiliarity with the music, rapt attention to every note, or a defense mechanism.

For a different perspective, go here to read a review where the former editor of the now defunct Vital Source magazine puts the show in her top five Milwaukee shows of all time.