I don’t have a ton to add about Fort Frances’ live show. After last night’s performance, I believe the seventh time I’ve seen them live, I’m convinced they are one of the best live acts around. Pretty much every show has given a preview of at least one new song that hasn’t been released. They also do a great job of rearranging their material, so it never feels like you’re seeing the same show again. Fresh off the early success of their latest EP, Harbour, the band played like they were happy to be in front of the hometown crowd again, and the audience-most of them three sheets to the wind due to celebrating the Mexican holiday in the traditional way-were in a frenzy for most of the evening.
The music started with The Great American Canyon Band, a fantastic duo who currently reside in Baltimore. I only caught the tail end of their set as I was at work when they went on. I’ve seen them here in Chicago before, though, and they do a great job. You can check out their new EP, Lost At Sea, in all the usual places. I recommend Bandcamp. I had a good talk with Paul Masson after the show, and it sounds like they may be back later this year so keep your eyes peeled.
David McMillin hit the stage with Aaron Kiser and Jeff Piper for what I assumed would be a barrage of songs from the new record and some older stuff sprinkled in. Quite the opposite, Fort Frances opened with a couple songs off their debut LP, The Atlas, before hitting us with “Truths I Used To Know” and my favorite song from Harbour, “Please Don’t Wait Up.” Surprisingly, they didn’t play the single that preceded the record, “City By The Sea.” I respect the decision though.
Since this was a Cinco de Mayo show, the crowd was a mix of folks there to hear some great music and some looking to party (and by party I mean talk about things that happened earlier in the day while sloppily “dancing”). There were two points where everyone in the crowd shut up and focused completely on what was going on in front of them. One was during “Please Don’t Wait Up,” thank goodness. The next was during the band’s famous cover of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s “Summertime.” The third occurred at the very end of the show, when the three gentlemen made their way to the middle of the floor to play the acoustic tune “The Wetlands.”
Fort Frances are easily one of the best Chicago bands working today, and I think before too long they’ll be known nationally as a critically praised fan favorite headlining festivals. For now, I’m happy to have them here playing at venues like Schubas where I can enjoy their music without having to battle my way through a thousand people. There will be tears when that day comes, but they will be tears of joy. There is no band more deserving of success than these guys. If you haven’t taken the time to listen, you better do it now before they start getting fun.-type radio play and you can’t stand them anymore.
For a folk singer, Josh Ritter puts on one helluva rock and roll show. Actually, that statement doesn’t need a qualifier-he puts on a great show regardless of genre. Last night at The Vic was no different than the previous five times I’ve seen him. His show is around 90 minutes of unadulterated good times. Even when he’s singing a sad, slow ballad you feel so connected to him that it’s fun just to be in the same room. After a two year break from Chicago, the local fans were in a frenzy before the show.
Josh took the stage solo for the first song, thanking the sold out crowd for coming out before launching into a beautiful rendition of “Idaho.” We got an early look at one of his favorite show moves, which is to point the mic down and sing from his knees up toward the heavens. He pulled it out again later, but it wasn’t as effective as this moment.
After that he started playing “Southern Pacifica” acoustically. He was slowly joined by the rest of the band-first Sam Kassirer, then Austin Nevins, Zachariah Hickman, and Liam Hurley. The first three minutes of the song were a pretty faithful version of the album track, but toward the end it exploded into a trippy jam led by Nevins’ guitar solo. I don’t remember this one getting a big arrangement last time I saw the band, but it was a cool change that made the song about two minutes longer.
Next we got “Hopeful,” the first of eight songs in the set from the new album The Beast In Its Tracks. This is my favorite of the new songs, and the live version was perfectly executed. The crowd seemed to really respond to the latest tunes. Most of the people around me seemed to know all the words and wanted to belt them out.
There were a couple long talking periods where Josh would talk about the city of Chicago and its past (leading up to “Lillian, Egypt” and “The Curse”). Later he talked about the background of TBIIT and how angry he was at marriage for a while. He came to realize that it wasn’t marriage that was bad, it’s wonderful. And anyone who wants to get married should be able to. Well, if you know Chicago you know that those words went over very, very well.
This show was the band’s 14th in 15 days, but there were no signs of wearing down. They all looked like they were having a blast up there, and probably could have played all night if they were allowed. The set went back and forth between new and old. Four songs came from The Animal Years and three from Historical Conquests. “Harrisburg” was not played, which is a huge disappointment because that song is amazing live (if you haven’t seen it, they always segue in and out of a cover in the middle-”Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes” by Modest Mouse was a great one).
Josh Ritter might be the best performer in the world right now. His energy is so infectious he can make even the most stoic audience groove. The band, together now for close to a decade, is as tight as they come. And more importantly they are having fun. I can’t recommend catching a show enough. This was my sixth, and I already can’t wait for the seventh!
Joy To You
Apple Blossom Rag (Ritter & Hickman)
Temptation Of Adam (solo)
In The Dark (solo-no lights)
Snow Is Gone
In Your Arms Again
To The Dogs Or Whoever
For more pics from the show, including a few of the opener (Sea Wolf’s Alex Brown Church), head over to our Facebook page and check out the album.
Saturday night I took to my first trip to the Tonic Room. I was long overdue to hit this venue, but for whatever reason I’ve never made it. As usual there was a strong lineup for the evening, which definitely brought out a crowd. Tonic Room doesn’t have the greatest layout in the world, but the sound is really good and people tend to stick to their own business and get along cordially.
I got there a little late, so Mike Mangione and The Union were already playing. Upon entrance I ran into my first and only real problem with the bar-the door opens right in front of the stage. Great for bands loading in and out, not so much for latecomers who don’t want to walk in everyone’s way to get to the bar.
The show was running about thirty minutes behind schedule, which is fairly typical for a Chicago show. Nobody seemed to mind as Mangione led the band in a raucous set that I thought might literally bring the building down. Luckily the integrity of the building stayed in tact and the other two acts were allowed to play.
I was really impressed by Alexis And The Samurai. They’re natives of New Orleans, and like Todd Kessler, Alexis Marceaux was a contestant on The Voice season 3. The duo managed to create an extraordinary sound using dynamic shifts and arrangements-if you were listening with your eyes closed you would’ve thought it was a full band.
They played some songs off their 2011 album Orange Moon, and I was shocked that they hadn’t found more success so far. They harmonize brilliantly together, and both Alexis and Sam Craft are multi-instrumentalists who can achieve any sonic trick they can think up. My favorite song they did was actually an old Cajun standard about drinking called “Parlez-nous a boire.” It’s a Mardi Gras-worthy party song that really gets the crowd moving.
Todd Kessler’s band started to set up, and here’s where I thought there would be a problem. In The New Folk there are two guitars not counting Todd, bass, drums, and a keyboard. The stage at Tonic Room is about as long as a Honda Accord and as deep as a Vespa. Somehow they managed to get everyone up there and my concerns were for naught.
I saw Todd play a solo show at Uncommon Ground not too long ago, but this was a better show for me. He seems to be a more confident singer when he has a band behind him and some of the pressure is off. And I’m sure he writes most of his songs on acoustic guitar, but they’re meant to be played bigger.
Highlights for me included “First Sip,” which features Todd and backup vocalist Molly Kirk singing beautifully together, “Oh Brother,” (the lead track on the band’s 2012 release Sea Fever), and the sweet album closer “Put You In My Pocket.”
On top of being featured on a nationally televised singing competition, Kessler and Marceaux have something else in common: they care more about making music than being famous. So many people out there just want to hit the big time no matter the cost to their artistic ideals, but not these two. If you haven’t yet, give them both a shot.
Chicago’s favorite sons came out of hiding last night to play an early show at Schubas. Tickets went on sale April Fool’s Day, and the five dollar ticket price surely made everyone think it was a joke. Those of us lucky enough to score tickets before they sold out were treated to a set made up mostly of songs from their first two records. However, we did get to hear two songs off the new album, Soft Will (June 11th).
“Varsity” kicked off the show. This one came out as a single last month, but I hadn’t heard it because I try to wait until the full album is available. It’s different enough from Dye It Blonde to be interesting and not so far away that it’s a sonic shock. There’s more soul to it, but the production is fairly similar. Sounded great live.
The other new song was “3am Spiritual.” This is a bit more ambitious. At the beginning Cullen said that its a slow one, but it picks up. And boy does it ever! I love that break where the keyboards take off. Don’t take my word for it, though. Check out this video from the front row:
Smith Westerns only played about forty-five minutes; but for five dollars who could complain? All the touring they’ve done has paid off because they were even tighter last night than the last time I saw them at Schubas in 2011.
If you bought tickets to Lollapalooza, you’ll be seeing the band in August. If not, they’re sure to be touring behind the new record this summer.