Editor’s note: Having accidentally promised to be in two places at once, I was forced to outsource this review to Miles, bassist and executive chef of Chaperone. His thoughts below are better organized and written than what you may usually find here on the site. Don’t get used to it. I’ll be back next week with more rambling.
The first thing I saw upon entering the main room of The Beat Kitchen was a camera crane. It stood like a monolith in the left hand section of the floor, all cumbersome metal and vaguely threatening dullness. It felt out of place in the environment, something miniaturized and drop shipped from a U2 concert. It was an odd distraction for the whole night and I was worried, albeit irrationally, that it would probably result in my death.
The truth is, the crane was representative of the entire night. A precise metaphor for a group of bands trying to break from of the intimacy of the room with technical prowess and professional sheen, all aiming for the arena and losing a little connection as a result of their aspirations.
Headshadow opened things up, with a pleasant thirty-minute set. I’ve noticed a recent trend attempting to shift the music world’s retro obsession from the 80s to the 90s, and Headshadow could be a vanguard of this new nostalgia. A little bit Nada Surf, a little bit ThirdEyeBlind. Their sound was a skeletal at times, with the songs calling out for keyboards or a second guitar to flesh them to fullness. The band has been together for less than a year, and it’ll be nice to see how their sound evolves; whether they lean closer toward the plasticine nature of their pop instincts or cultivate something rougher. Regardless, I’d like to call a moratorium on any song that uses counting as a lyrical conceit. It was impossible to listen to “Rule #1” without thinking of Brian McKnight’s “Back At One” or, far more depressingly, Plain White Tee’s horrendous “1,2,3,4”.
San Diego’s Hotel St. George took the stage next. If you were wondering whether an amped-up National fronted by Jonathan Richman would sound ridiculously awesome, let me assure you, it didn’t tonight. The atmospherics present on the band’s recorded material were sadly missed and the enthusiasm of the band couldn’t save a disappointing set.
Chicago’s Secret Colours proved a nice remedy. A dusty bit of psychodelia that fit nicely in the confines of the space, the band was a southern-fried acid trip. Confident and personable, they played their set with a charming nonchalance. After a few missteps, they abandoned a song halfway through, claiming that it “fucking sucks anyways”. In the wrong mouth, those words could come off as cynical and pandering, but the band had won the almost capacity crowd over and the song’s dismissal seemed instead like a sweet, slightly dispirited bit of self-deprecation.
Soft Speaker closed the night on a high note, keeping the psychedelics and abandoning the country-tinge for something crunchier. They packed the Beat Kitchen in celebration of the release of their second(!) full-length of 2011, Votrobos, and did an amazing job showcasing their unique brand of riff-heavy, solo-stuffed rock. Dueling guitars jabbed each other at right angles, anchored by solid bass work. The band was tight and professional, without a note out of place, despite the teeming energy on and off the stage. It’s clear that Soft Speaker has work ethic in droves, not just from their seemingly endless supply of material, but their ability to reproduce that material on stage. They are destined, I’m sure, for more great shows in support of the 15 other albums they’re going to write before January rolls along.
And that brings us back to the crane. Back to the fact that, despite a generally solid show, with impressive craft and musicianship all around, I still left feeling that I had missed something. The truth is, it was all too perfect. Part of the thrill of live music is teetering on the knife-edge of disaster, thriving on the feeling that, hell, these are people playing different things at once, trying to mash them together into something whole. Something could go wrong at any minute. It all serves to remind you that music is a living, breathing thing, capable of surprising you, of terrifying you. It’s telling that the most memorable and endearing part of the show for me was Secret Colours’ mid-song slip-up, the strange mix of resignation and nervous, tangled joy on their faces as they felt their song tear itself away from them. It was a moment that felt fresh and unplanned and true. And that, to me, is what going to a show is all about.
It was only a few months ago that I was writing about Soft Speaker‘s first full-length album, I’ll Tend Your Garden. Now, a scant six months later, they’re back with a new collection of tunes that are quite different from their last release, while staying true to the sound they created for themselves. Vortrobos is eight tracks of jam-heavy rock that improves in some areas that I’ll Tend Your Garden was lacking in, but mostly feels like the next logical step for the band.
The biggest issue for me the last time was that the vocals were buried underneath layers upon layers of sound. So when I clicked on play and heard Paul Foreman’s voice coming through crystal clear on “Fiend,” I knew that this would be more enjoyable. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the aesthetic of having his voice buried, it added a nice bit of mystery, but he has such a nice voice. Why hide it?
The guitars on this record are even louder and crazier than they were before. Nick Rocchio takes shredding to another level on the Cream-like “Jeju Island.” There are great transitions from his crazy swirling solos to a spring reverb that seem effortless and sound amazing. If the whole album were just Foreman playing instrumentals, it would be worth the price.
On the title track, “Vortrobos,” the band head to familiar territory. This track reminds me a lot of “Pagan Pastimes,” and that’s not bad. I really dig that tune. This is a pure instrumental, and it gets a bit spooky and I like that. The band does a good job of mixing the musical compositions together. If the music doesn’t call for words, don’t try to force them in. A interesting instrumental number is way better than a boring song about a cat or something.
The vocals on “Ask The Guild” make me think of Matt Bellamy of Muse when he’s reaching up for those high notes. There’s still a lot of high-octane shredding going on here, but the way it ends and the band moves into the soft and sweet opening of “Breathless (In The Rain)” is perfect. The harmonies are fantastic, and I love the lyrics:
We could die, breathless in the rain Light the trash on fire, cross it off the list of things to burn. I know what you’re thinking now. Sharpening your knives I can stop anytime I want.
You’d never guess the two songs were by the same band, but they go together sublimely.
Soft Speaker display a amazing work ethic dropping two full-length records in a calendar year, and I applaud them for that. As a young band, the need is greater to strike while the iron is hot, and strike they have. Vortrobos is a very strong second effort that builds on all the things the band does well and corrects some of the things they don’t. This new album is better than I’ll Tend Your Garden in most imagineable ways, and the band’s growth in both ability and confidence is a delight to hear.
The release show for this album is coming up on November 19th at Beat Kitchen. Headshadow, another good Chicago band, will also be playing. I’ll be interested to find out if I like this show better than the set I heard Soft Speaker play at Empty Bottle for the Deli’s Best of Chicago showcase. They sounded good, but at a certain point it all started to feel repetitive. Find out for yourself and pick up Vortrobos at the merch table.
This weekend is going to be a busy one for us here at Music.Defined. We have shows lined up for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night at three of our favorite locations in Chicago, and I wanted to give you a little preview of what we’ll be up to:
Friday 8/18/11 at Schubas Tavern, Republic of Lights
I saw these guys back in May opening for Seafarer. I thought they were amazing, but I couldn’t dedicate too much real estate to their performance becuase I wasn’t there to cover them. After seeing them live, I went and downloaded their record, Go Rococo. It’s good. Lots of Spoon-y rock riffs. However, it fails to capture the charisma that the band exudes on stage (in particular lead singer Andy Snider). I’m really looking forward to this show. I referrred to their last set as the best of the year in terms of energy. Also appearing: Audiences, Hawley Shoffner, and a reunion of Hotel Ahead.
Saturday 8/19/11 at Beat Kitchen, Molehill
If you’re a regular reader here, you’ll remember that Molehill was my very first post. I had agreed to go see them when I was still writing for Chicago Tunes, and when the transition happened, I didn’t even consider that the band may not want to work with me. Well, they were very nice about it, and were still happy to have me come. That was a really solid show, and I’ve been looking forward to seeing them again. If you like rock and/or roll, I recommend checking them out. A little Muse-ish, Molehill know how to power through a rock show with facemelters and power slides (not really power slides). It’s gonna be a great time and you should come out for it. Also appearing: The Wet Darlings and Amrita.
Sunday 8/20/11 at Lincoln Hall, Dance Floor Plans
This Chicago group is the newest of the three we’re checking out this weekend, so I only have a couple tracks to go by. The first one, “Already Mine,” reminds me a lot of that time in my life (way back in 1996) when the movie Swingers came out. The only thing I wanted to listen to for a week was Average White Band’s “Pick Up The Pieces.” That same mix of funk and soul is here. No surprise coming from a band that was put together by Bumpus founder James Johnston.
The second song, “Keep Standing,” doesn’t hit as hard, but it definitely has some soul goin’ on. It reminded me quite a bit of the old Lauryn Hill songs from Miseducation, so if you dig that, you’ll probably get down with this.
The vocals and instrumentation sound really good on both songs, so I can’t wait to get on the floor and boogie! Come on out. Tickets are $17 online (20 at the door) . Also appearing: DJRC and R&B songstress Nikka Costa of “Like A Feather” fame.
We hope to see you out and about at these shows. I think they’ll all be a wonderful time. Just please don’t talk to me.
Over the last eight months, there is one band that I’ve talked about more than any other-Chicago’s very own Chaperone.
From the first time I heard their song “Thomas” on The Deli‘s website, I’ve been hooked on their joyous rock ‘n’ roll. Sometimes it leans a bit country, sometimes a bit punk, but always compelling and sounding good.
Now, for some reason, all you people out there have ignored my cries of reason, attempts to show you that the music you’re listening to is terrible and Chaperone will show you why. So instead of wasting more of my words, I’ll just put up some videos and you can decide for yourself.
But first, a word on my videos: Sometimes they look bad. Other times they’re great. My main thing when I’m shooting a video of a song is that, I am no better than anyone else in this bar or club, so it isn’t my right to walk around in front of them and block the show. So, most of the time my videos are shot from the side and there isn’t much movement. If you don’t find them satisfactory, I’m sorry. Feel free to go to all these shows and record your own videos. Send me the link and maybe I’ll use it. Otherwise, shut the hell up and enjoy what I’m providing.
Now back to the videos. This first one, “Witches and Sailors,” is from the very first time I saw the band at their record release show in October of 2010.
Now here’s another one from Subterranean, but taken four months later. “Fed On Coal.”
This song, “Son of Love Control,” was written by Mark Sheridan, and this recording was the first time they ever played it live.
Continuing with new songs and appearances at Beat Kitchen, where the above song was taped, here’s another new one-”Wasserkinder”
And finally, here’s the single they’ll be releasing soon, “Raised By Wolves.” The sound quality on this one may be a bit poor because I was pretty close to the speakers, but you’ll get an idea of the energy behind the song.
If you enjoyed these videos, you can check out the first two songs on the EP Cripple King (which I voted the best Chicago release of last year). If you liked the last three songs, come to the next Chaperone show and see it done live. The sepia-toned beings in the videos look like real people when you view it with your own eyes!