After eating a good amount of crow writing my review of Jon Drake & The Shakes newest release, Dear Ulysses, I was really looking forward to this show. The stage at Double Door isn’t the biggest in the city, but it’s got the depth to handle this octet. The sound system had a slight issue with the vocals during the opening few moments of the show, but by the end of the first song it was sounding great.
The first thing I noticed as the band was finishing their setup was that Daniel Villarreal-Carrillo wasn’t up there. Dan Dorf, who plays drums on the majority of Dear Ulysses, was behind the set-just in from Cincinatti to play the show. He’s a good drummer. More technical than Villarreal-Carrillo, but not nearly as fun to watch. Later in the set the drummers switched off, and even later they were both on stage to close it out.
I enjoyed this show a lot more than my previous experiences at Shakes shows. I don’t know if it was a better crowd or just the relentless positive energy flowing from the stage, but it was a good time. They burned through most of the songs off Ulysses and played some deep cuts to reward their most loyal fans. My favorites got played, so I was happy.
The guitar solo by Joe Meitus on “Mary” sounded particularly great. Unfortunately, due to a misspelling, I can’t say he has the Midas touch (which will bring great joy to Kari, who almost vomited out of disgust when I made the joke to her later in the evening). The pacing of that song also means some restraint from the bassist and drummer is needed, and they pulled it off with grace.
The opening song of the set, “Margie,” is the albums closer. I think every time I’ve seen the band play they have opened this way. It’s funny that it always ends with Drake kneeling in front of the microphone drinking a beer. Honestly, I don’t know how they can keep up the energy for a full set. Maybe the momentum they build up keeps them going. Look at how quickly Drew Westergreen’s bow is going during this video of “Charlie.” If I were playing I’d need a seat for myself and a second for my hands.
By the end of the night Drake, and everyone else on stage, was dripping with sweat. Still, the smiles never left their faces. Dear Ulysses is their baby, and they were more than happy to celebrate and share it with anyone who would listen. Every time there was a break in music someone up there was thanking the audience or someone in particular for all their support. And everyone in attendance was happy to do their part in supporting them over the past few years in exchange for good music and cathartic live experiences.
Dear Ulysses is still a couple weeks out from its official release, but you can hear a few songs on the bands website.
For the first time in a while, I was able to get to a venue early and check out both opening acts before Ike Reilly and The Assassination played at Double Door. One of the performances reminded me why it’s important to get to shows early because you may discover something that you like. The other was a harsh reminder of why I tend to skip these early sets.
Miles Nielsen and his band, The Gentlemen, put on a fun show filled with melodic pop tinged with country and blues. Nielsen’s onstage banter was so deadpan Bob Newhart did a spit take. At one point somebody in the crowd shouted something out and got put in their place. The band puts on a good show and I really dug them. I haven’t picked up the album, Miles Nielsen Presents The Rusted Hearts, but it’s definitely on my list. Hurray for getting to Double Door early!
Second up was Musikanto. I’ve been hearing good things about them for a while, so I was expecting good things. To my regret, it was basically a snoozefest for me. There were a couple songs that the lead singer played on the piano that I liked, and the guy that played about twelve different instruments (or at least lead guitar, bass, and banjo at different times) was really good. Other people around me seemed to be enjoying the set, I just couldn’t find a way into it. Oh well, that’s why you show up late, right?
After a surprisingly brief intermission, The Assassination made their way onto the stage and started rocking out with some blues riffs. It goes without saying that the band is excellent, but I think they get overlooked sometimes, so I’d like to say it again. There are two awesomely talented guitar players in the group, as well as the fellow who plays keyboards and switches to guitar for some tunes. The drummer and bassist are both phenomenal, and I’m amazed at how Dave Cottini can seem to be so aggressively destroying his kit, but it never overpowers the sound in the venue regardless of size.
This is my second time seeing these guys in the last year. The first time was at Bottom Lounge where Ike was celebrating the tenth anniversary of his Salesmen & Racists album; so the night was split in two, one half just that album from last song to first then a second half filled with songs from his other records. The show at Double Door was wildly different but no less entertaining. There was still a good amount played from his best known release, but a bevy of other songs made the set as well.
The night kicked off with the intro jam, then Ike took the stage and cruised into “Charcoal Days And Sterling Nights” from the 2007 album We Belong To The Staggering Evening. It was evident from the very beginning that the crowd was ready to party. The people in attendance were failry diverse, with young and old white people coming together to share in their joy of rock music.
I have to admit, there were a couple of songs that I didn’t know. I’m a fan of Ike’s, but I haven’t bought every record he’s put out. Most of my knowledge of his work comes from the two albums I’ve mentioned so far, as well as his most recent, Hard Luck Stories. That said, you don’t have to be a Reilly academic to have a good time at one of his shows. There’s an energy that coarses from the stage through the crowd that is quite palpable.
In fact, Reilly is such a great, charismatic frontman that I wish he would do some solo acoustic shows where he could take some time and banter a bit more with the audience. Not that I mind the million miles an hour approach that I’ve seen so far, I just think it would be a fun night of music (like VH1′s Storytellers). Of course, his band is so good that leaving them out in the cold wouldn’t really feel right. Towards the end of the night the band played “It’s All Right To Die,” and maybe if he just played that song solo I would consider it a good compromise.
For me, the highlights of the night were many, but I think I would say that my favorite performance was the song “When Irish Eyes Are Burning.” It’s one of my favorite songs off Staggering, and I think that it was better on this night than it was at Bottom Lounge. Another great performance was of the song “Valentine’s Day In Juarez,” which I’ve learned is a crowd favorite. Rounding out my top three would probably be “I Don’t Want What You Got (Going On),” which may have been the best Ike sounded all night vocally.
There isn’t much downtime during a show with The Assassination. Reilly doesn’t write any really slow ballads, so by the time an hour or so has gone by, your shirt is damp with sweat, your feet hurt from bouncing up and down, and you get the strange sensation that somehow beer has been spilling on your head all night while you unknowingly rocked out. And if you’re a fan, you know that you can’t wait to do it again.
The last time I saw Coley Kennedy was in August of last year. I was at Empty Bottle watching his band Welcome To Ashley perform so I could review the show for my old writing job. I was blown away by the power and magnetism of Kennedy on stage, and I was looking forward to seeing the band over and over. That dream was shattered about six months later when I learned that the band had decided to take a break for a while. Coley continued on with fellow WTA members Jeremy Barrett and Pete Javier (not credited on the record, but performing at Double Door) and hooked up with Nashville band Pale Blue Dot to form The Buddies.
This headlining spot at Double Door acted as the band’s record release show for their debut self-titled album. I’ve had a copy of this for some time now, and I’ve listened to it off and on leading up to a bunch of spins in the days before the show, and the thing that surprised me most is how dissimilar to Welcome To Ashley it sounds. Lyrically Kennedy touches on a lot of the same themes, but musically it’s a complete 180, hitting varied genres like bluegrass, country, glam rock, and punk. Most of that is due to Justin and Scott Collins, the guitar playing brothers from Pale Blue Dot.
Initially when I saw two guitarists plus Pete, I thought it was going to be a bit tough to appease everyone on stage, but they did a really great job of switching off back and forth between rhythm and lead, often each playing multiple parts in the same song. Of the three, I think Justin came out with the best licks (at least I think it’s Justin-the one that looks like a young Eric Roberts UPDATE: This has been confirmed). His straight-ahead, no bullshit approach to guitar playing was refreshing and he was also able to provide some great backing vocals.
Also proving quite good was Kim Collins on drums and also accordion. Her percussion was fantastic all night with a blasting kick drum that kept everyone in step. The only problem I had with her performance was that her vocals were completely drowned out. I could see her mouth moving, but I couldn’t hear her at all. Not her fault, of course. I find the accordion to be a most confusing instrument, and one difficult to learn. She played it very well on the couple songs that needed it, and at the end she did prove that she has a good voice as she took a solo that made the room swoon.
And then there’s Coley…a man who seems to be more comfortable on stage than off. If you read my review of the WTA show that I went to, you know that he’s a bolt of lightning up there. He came out in a fitting Replacements shirt under his blazer, which he somehow managed to wear the whole show even though I’m sure it was soaked with sweat. I like guys like Coley who just go balls out for the entire length of a show. It’s impressive for a couple reasons, the biggest being he’s the lead singer. He’s got to remember all the lyrics to every song while flailing around the stage like a madman. It was nice to see him in his element again.
Highlights from the show for me were the songs “Let’s Get Happy,” “Kathleen, Please Come Home,” and “The Admiral.” This is personal preference, of course, but I thought that of the songs on the record, these were the most representative of the sound during the show. For the final song everyone came up and they sang the song “I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday,” which reminds me of a Irish folk ballad, in perfect harmony. It was a great finale to an awesome set.
After the show I went to say goodbye to Coley and he was telling me how hard it is to describe the sound that The Buddies achieve to people who ask what kind of music they play. That’s true. It’s a difficult thing to put into words. You know how Springsteen manages to bring Woody Guthrie and Sam and Dave together somehow? It isn’t exactly like that, but it’s a hybrid of many things that come together to create a almost southern rock version of The Clash. It really is hard to explain.
Another thing I learned from our brief discussion is that the band doesn’t rehearse. Coley lives up here in Chicago and the Collins’ live in Nashville, so the lyrics are written and then sent to the rest of the band to put music to. It sounds kind of crazy, but Coley told me he feels like this groups chemistry is off the charts. I have to agree with him. I think you’ll agree, too, if you give it a shot. Download the self-titled record here.
Last month I made my list of the best albums of 2011 up to that point. In The Mountain In The Cloud came out just a short time afterward, and everyone on my list should feel lucky they didn’t get it out sooner. I don’t know if it would have knocked any of the top 3 out of their spots, but it’s certainly a contender for one of their places. This album officially ends my skepticism that the second half of the year couldn’t possibly be as good as the first.
Portugal. The Man was here in Chicago over Lollapalooza weekend, but I didn’t get a chance to see them at Double Door (where their van and all their equipment was stolen-assholes) for their aftershow. At that point I had only skimmed over the record, knowing that it sounded good, but not going any further than that. Now, having listened to their record ten or eleven times this week, I can say that missing their show is one of the great disappointments of the year. Luckily they’ll be back in October at Metro, and I fully plan on being in attendance (I’ll be the guy in the yellow Wilco shirt-also known as “the shirt I end up wearing every time I go to Metro”).
My knowledge of Portugal. The Man is shoddy at best. I was recommended their last album by a friend whose musical taste I trust, but for whatever reason it fell from my mind. I’ve heard it in bits and pieces, but I still haven’t heard it in it’s entirety. After listening to this new album, I can’t wait to go back and listen to their catalog since 2006.
When the first song, “So American” came on, I was hit by a couple of thoughts immediately. One, this is exactly what an album of mid-70′s Bowie covers would sound like if Scissor Sisters put one out. Two, I never thought anything so beautiful could come out of Wasila, Alaska. That second thought does highlight the fact that I knew they were from Alaska, so I wasn’t completely in the dark. What I didn’t know was how good these guys are.
A more accurate comparison, if I may be so bold as to think that I’m right about this, would be to call the band a more straight-forward version of Islands. The eleven tracks here are a bit more tightly constructed than anything Islands has done, but I think the instrumentation is similar, and John Gourley’s soaring highs aren’t all that different from Nick Diamonds’. The guitar work by Gourley is also superb. He gets a couple really good solos in here, playing in a genre that sometimes shuns them.
It’s rare to find an album where every song is better than the one before it. Even on really good albums, there’s often one or two tracks that could be eliminated. On In The Mountain In The Cloud, there are no cutouts. Every song is absolutely essential. Forced to pick one that stands out above the rest, I would go with “Sleep Forever,” which may be the best six minutes eighteen seconds you spend all year. Seriously, it’s song of the year for me right now. It’s unbelievably simple, but deep and gorgeous and amazing. I guarantee when they play it live, someone cries. Not me, but someone in the crowd will be in tears. Here are some lyrics, the first part from the opening stanza, and the second from the final:
As I finally meet my end
I won’t be scared, I won’t defend
The things I’ve done
I don’t need him like you do
I don’t fear him like you do
‘Cause we are all children
Yeah, we are all man
It may not be much
But we do what we can
Don’t need no preacher
To make us believe
That everything’s perfectly
Fucked up like me
This record throws cynicism out the window and succeeds despite it’s optimism. There aren’t a lot of bands out there today that can sing about life and death and love with such gumption and sincerity. If you find yourself in need of a lush, lyrically compelling and all-around swell-sounding record, look no further than In The Mountain In The Cloud.
Here is a short list of bands that I think would be comparable to Portugal. The Man. If you like any of these bands, please check out In The Mountain In The Cloud: Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes, Islands, David Bowie, Dr. Dog, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and The Beach Boys.