To say that I was a little unfamiliar with ZZ Ward would be an understatement. Before last week I had heard one or two songs, but never made a point to check out the rest of her debut album. When I finally heard the whole thing, I was impressed with how well-crafted the songs were. It’s a mixture of live music, loops, and effects that sounds like Emily Wells and KT Tunstall in a mashup. I was curious to see how the show would play out-would it be ZZ and a laptop creating the music, or live players? All my questions were answered soon enough, as this was a very early show.
I got to Lincoln Hall at 7:05 and the opener was already on stage playing. Martin Harley is a blues slide guitar player from the UK that has some great licks. He was slapping and grooving his six-string with authority and delighting the audience. When he wasn’t impressing with his skills, he was telling stories of violent men brought to tears by his songs. He closed his set with a great cover of the Tom Waits song “Chocolate Jesus.” I really liked this guy, and I hope he comes back to Chicago for a longer set.
By 7:40 ZZ Ward’s band was on stage hyping up the crowd. This show has been sold out for a while, and the crowd was hungry and waiting for some soul/blues to be delivered. They erupted when ZZ finally came to the stage and launched into a raucous rendition of “Til The Casket Drops.” When the song ended she announced that they didn’t have a setlist before making their way into “Home.”
Feeding off the energy from the crowd, Ward and her band seemed to be having a ball on stage. It was obvious that these musicians love to play live-especially the guitarist whose name I did not catch. He had some great blues riffs and his solos were incendiary. Ward was mostly smiles and fist pumping while dazzling the crowd with hits like “Criminal” and “Put The Gun Down.”
The show reached it’s pinnacle with “Charlie Ain’t Home,” which required a lot of audience interaction. On the record it’s a laid back lamentation of one of blues music’s biggest tropes, cheating lovers , but live it takes on a completely different feel. All the guys and girls in the audience were dancin’, clappin’, and singin’ along while Ward howled and cooed.
I was surprised by the diversity in the audience at Lincoln Hall. All ages and ethnicities turned out to hear some blues/soul music played very well. I hope that for the younger people it turns them all toward some of the greats that Ward has been influenced by in her career. As someone who went in not knowing what to expect, I walked away with great appreciation for Ward and her band’s talent. They’ve taken a genre that has been around for a hundred years and made it feel fresh again, which is no simple task.
You can check out some more pics from the show in the album on our Facebook page.
There are certain kinds of concerts I enjoy more than others. It’s great to go see a band that’s headlining do their thing and you leave satisfied with what you’ve seen. It’s quite another when both openers and headliner impress. I knew going into Thursday night’s show that I would be entertained, but I had no idea I would be so happy with the show as a whole. I think a good deal of the credit goes to the fact that all three of these bands have been playing together, with Brendan producing the openers albums for his own record label, Readymade Records. In fact, one of my favorite moments of the whole set was when Brendan came out from backstage and just sat next to a speaker and looked on for the majority of Young Hines’ set. All three bands working toward a common goal, trying to give us the best show possible. And they exceeded the bar that I’m sure they set very high for themselves.
Earlier in the day I had interviewed The Howling Brothers at AudioTree Studios. I’d seen some of their YouTube videos, and was curious to see if they’d give off the same kind of fun energy in person. They didn’t disappoint, whipping through a thirty minute set of honky tonk bluegrass that kept my body moving from the first note. In most of the clips I had seen, Ian did almost all the singing, with Ben and Jared supporting with backup vocals. But here they all sang at least one song, with Ian still taking on the majority. A trio of great instrumentalists who can all also sing? That’s a dangerous mix, and I think Mr. Benson was wise to snatch these guys up. My favorite tune by them remains “Illinois River,” but I think the best performance they played was when Jared got on top of the speakers at Lincoln Hall and did some dancing, even hopping up in the air and clicking his heels together. It was quite the agile feat, and one I’ve never seen before.
After they finished up it wasn’t long before Young Hines came out. The time in between acts was just long enough for a guy to start chatting up Kari and I about looking for apartments in the city. He mentioned that his brother owns The Vinyl Countdownrecord shop in Tulsa, Oklahoma and I think I may have weeped a bit with joy over the name of his store. The lights went down and our conversation ended as Young came out solo for the first two songs. Read more…
This past Saturday night we headed out to see Bhi Bhiman for the third time in five months. Though he makes his home in San Francisco, he’s been steadily touring in support of his most recent album, Bhiman. In January we caught him playing Park West, and in March we saw him at Schubas. At this rate I assume he’ll be back in June playing at Metro and then again in August to headline Lollapalooza (taking over the Black Sabbath spot). My point is, the guy is here a lot.
That seems to be helping get the word out about his record. The crowd at Lincoln Hall seemed to be aware of his work, singing along with a lot of the songs and applauding loudly after most. He was opening for Carolina Chocolate Drops, an americana/roots trio from North Carolina, so it was definitely an audience that would be into his brand of sweetly sung folk. This was definitely the most receptive group of people I’ve seen at one of his shows, and something about that puts a big smile on my face.
If there’s one thing I took away from Friday nights First Aid Kit show, it’s that I need to educate myself on their first record. Granted they played all ten songs off The Lion’s Roar, and they were all great, but they also selected a few numbers from their older album and I felt left out of the group. This especially rang true toward the end of the night when the Soderberg sisters stepped away from the mics for a sing-a-long version of their 2010 single “Ghost Town.” I felt like one of the few people in the sold out crowd who didn’t know the words. So I did what any good concertgoer would do: I moved my mouth like I was singing along, but really it was jibberish.
I was really impressed with their ability to harmonize live as well as they do on record. Every song on The Lion’s Roar has some point where both Klara and Johanna are singing and it’s magnificent. To be able to pull that off on stage shows me that they’re talent isn’t a product of the recording studio. You wouldn’t think that two girls playing folk music would utterly engross an audience, but there we were. No one talked. Eyes were constantly forward. It was an impressive display of restraint from a Chicago crowd that generally leaves me infuriated.
They kicked it off with “This Old Routine.” At first I thought it was an odd choice. Generally bands lead with the first track off their latest record or a single. After the first verse I realized that the song really does set the tone of their show, bittersweet and optimistic. It helps that Klara nails every emotion and thought with her voice.
The single “Emmylou” popped up much earlier than I thought it would. Somewhere near the middle of the show they announced that the next tune was about some of their heroes-singers and singing duos like Johnny Cash, June Carter, Graham Parsons and Emmylou Harris. If you’ve read my review of The Lion’s Roar, you know that I said “Emmylou” would probably be the song of the year (even though it came out in January). After hearing it live, played perfectly, and seeing the crowd reaction, I’m comfortable with that assertion.
Surprisingly I found that “Emmylou” wasn’t the highlight of the night for me. That came when the band played “New Year’s Eve.” Johanna stepped away from the keys and picked up the harp. Klara gave her guitar a rest and just let loose with her voice. It was easily the strongest vocal performance of the night, and that’s saying something.
I liked that they ended their set with two songs that make perfect sense together: “I Met Up With The King” off The Big Black And The Blue and “King Of The World,” the final track on The Lion’s Roar. Earlier in the show they’d announced that Mike Mogis, producer of their album and Bright Eyes/Saddle Creek member, was in attendance. With that knowledge I was holding out hope that Conor Oberst would show up and play the last song with them like he does on the album. Alas, that did not happen. Johanna sang Conor’s part, and it sounded great. But if I were seeing the band in Omaha I would have been severely let down.
Here is the set list, as I remember it:
This Old Routine
In The Hearts Of Men
New Year’s Eve
To A Poet
Ghost Town (at front of stage)
When I Grow Up (Fever Ray cover)
Dance To Another Tune
The Lion’s Roar
Dancing Barefoot (Patti Smith cover)
I Met Up With The King
King Of The World (sans Oberst)
In the past thirty or so days I’ve had the opportunity to catch two shows that I thought would never happen. Last month Jeff Mangum came into town and played two amazing shows after almost fifteen years of laying low. Last night Fiona Apple emerged from hiding to play one of a few shows outside of LA in about six years (I want to say her last major tour was opening for Coldplay, but I could be wrong). With both concerts I had my doubts about the greatness they could reach, and I was proven wrong on both counts.
The show was billed as “An Evening With Fiona Apple”. Generally labeling something in such a way means there is no opener, but there was. Blake Mills is his name, and as it turns out he’s one hell of a guitar player. He came to the stage late, at about ten or fifteen after eight, and announced that he was feeling sick and would only be playing a couple songs. From what I could tell through these songs, I like him. He has a sly wit about him, and he can really get some good sounds out of that guitar. He apologized profusely, and then left the stage a little before twenty to nine.
Surprisingly the wait for the main show was short. Ten or fifteen minutes max. Then Fiona’s band came out, and whaddya know, there’s Blake Mills back playing guitar. Also joining Fiona on stage was Sebastian on upright bass, a female drummer and a guy sitting in the very back creating soundscapes with synths that normal instruments can’t make.
The opening song was “Fast As You Can” off the When The Pawn album, and any trepidations I had about the quality of the show went out the window. At first I was kinda pissed that there was a band behind her because I just wanted Fiona and her piano. After about thirty seconds I knew that a show like that would be boring as hell in comparison. This version of “Fast As You Can” really breathed new life into a song that I didn’t like initially but have grown to love. We captured the song, and you can hear it by giving us a “Like” on Facebook.
After that song Fiona made her way behind the keys for a version of “On The Bound” that I thought was one of the highlights of the night. Her voice was as good as ever, and hearing it live I actually liked it better than I do on record. This song is another off When The Pawn, which got the heaviest play of the night. The first four songs came from the album, the next two being “Paper Bag” and “A Mistake.”
The next couple songs were new ones that you may have heard if you watched videos of her performance at SxSw. “Anything We Want” is my favorite of the new songs, but “Valentine” has my favorite new line: “You never got my valentine, I sent it by pantomime.”
The rest of the set included tracks from Extraordinary Machine and three from Tidal. Going in I thought the show would be more Machine-heavy, and I was glad it wasn’t. I do wish she had played a couple more from it, but when the set is only 50 minutes long it doesn’t leave much time for fan requests.
There has always been something about seeing Fiona Apple perform that has fascinated me. From the first time I saw her on SNL and doing crazy twitches and odd spastic movements, I was sure it was a shtick. Now a dozen years later or so, I can say that it is one hundred percent genuine. Her performance is possessed, as of there’s a demon inside her that can only escape through the music. I was hoping to see that, and she delivered in spades.
Set list: # denotes new song
01: Fast As You Can
02: On the Bound
03: Paper Bag
04: A Mistake
05: Anything We Want #
06: Valentine #
07: Sleep To Dream
08: Extraordinary Machine
09: Every Single Night #