Back in July of last year, I had the chance to see The Great American Canyon Band play a great set at SubT here in Chicago. Their music is haunting, but it lures you in with a strange familiarity. I talked to Paul Masson after they played, super nice guy, and he told me they had a full album recorded and were just waiting for the right time to release it. He sent it to me and it was just unbelievably good. I was asked not to write about it due to the uncertainty surrounding the album. It killed me, but I never spoke about the amazing songs sitting in my iPod waiting to make days and nights better for every boy and girl.
Flash forward nine months, and the band has finally given birth to a four-song EP called Lost At Sea. Three of the four songs on this EP come from the earlier recordings. The band also preceded the release of the EP with the single “Young Lady” in March, which was also part of that album. “Tumbleweed” is the best song on the EP, and maybe the best song I’ve heard by the band so far. Hearing it live is a real treat, so if you have the opportunity to check them out make sure you do so. They recently put out a video for the song, using footage from Jared Varava’s short film TUMBLEWEED!
Paul and his wife Krystal Jean make amazing music together, and I hope the rest of the songs I’ve been loving for almost a year get to see the light of day soon. The lone new song is the title track, and it differs from the rest of the album in almost every way. While the older songs have a feeling of darkness surrounded by beauty, “Lost At Sea” is a little more upbeat. The beginning almost feels like a Hawaiian luau song you might enjoy late at night on the beach after too much poi. It does feature a great guitar solo. If this is indicative of the direction The Great American Canyon Band is headed, I’m all for it.
They’re currently on tour, hitting Chicago on 5/5 for a show at Schubas with Fort Frances. That’s gonna be a great one. For more tour dates and info, check out the band’s tumblr page. You can purchase Lost At Sea from Bandcamp for $5.
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.
I left last night’s RAA show a bit underwhelmed. I saw the band play an inspired set in the same venue back in 2010, and another great set at SXSW last year. This time everything felt a bit chaotic and messy. There were two brutal moments when Nils made mistakes that couldn’t be overlooked-one when he tried to play a solo song and couldn’t make it through it, and later toward the end when he missed a note so badly he looked out at the audience with a look of shock and embarrassment. If they were a punk band this probably would have gone unnoticed, but so much of their sound is built on hitting things just right. I’m still a huge fan and hope that this was just a fluke. They’ve been writing a new record, and I understand that often the older songs get neglected during these times.
(sidenote about the above video: I’m not sure if the dominant crowd voice you hear is mine or the guy next to me-we seemed to have pretty similar voices and I can’t tell)
Actually, the two new songs that they played were quite good. Definitely a different sound, but still in their comfort zone. The biggest difference on these was Paul Watt’s drumming, which didn’t feel so frantic. They really played more as pop songs than I’d expected. They didn’t give away titles of either, but I recorded one for you to hear.
Later in the set they played a ill-advised version of David Bowie’s “Starman” that almost turned me off to the song completely. I’m not sure what it was, but something about the way they reworked the material to accommodate their three-piece felt wrong. This was pretty much the point where I decided that instead of trying to enjoy the performance so much, I should just focus on how much I love the songs that RAA has written. Once I did this the show got much better.
Other than one rather rambunctious fan who couldn’t seem to hold it together for the duration of the show, the crowd was really good. I assume many of those in the audience were also there at the last RAA show. The band does have a way of getting people going, and everyone around me was singing/screaming as loud or louder than I was.
My favorite moment of the show actually came during opener Dan Mangan’s set. They were getting ready to play a song that required a little audience participation and he talked a bit about it. The song was “Robots,” and the line the crowd sings is “Robots need love too, they want to be loved by you. They want to be loved by you.” He eluded to the fact that this song could be about Mitt Romney, but to please not give him your love. I thought it was hilarious, and everyone around me seemed to as well.
Mangan’s set was good. I missed the first song, but what I saw made me take note of the band’s talent. Dan reminds me a lot of a hybrid between Glen Hansard and Scott Hutchison. He’s got that gravelly voice that can become a roar, but he can also be sweet and vulnerable. I haven’t spent any time with his music, but if you like The Swell Season, The Frames, or Frightened Rabbit, I’d give it a go.
Overall I’m not thrilled with what I heard last night, but I’ll continue to believe that The RAA is a band of great talent and potential. These new songs seem to be headed in a new direction, and maybe that’s what they need right now. I could see how playing the same songs night in and night out could become tiresome and just wanting to move on. Hopefully the next time they come through town they’ll have a whole new record to play and we can get back to the high-octane good times that I’ve come to expect from them.
It’s been a long time since I’ve done an interview that was just one-on-one, so I wanted to try some different things. When I met Matt at Schubas, we started talking and we got a few minutes in so I just decided to turn the camera on and let it roll without doing any introductions or anything, just two guys talking. We covered some really good ground about the nature of being in a group with five other people and how that can be a great thing sometimes, and a very difficult thing at others. And then, unfortunately, during a very emphatic point Matt hit the table with his hand, sending the camera to the floor; somehow erasing everything up until that point.
So we started over. We had gone about fifteen minutes already, and the resulting product of take two ends up right around 27 minutes. We discuss a lot of different topics. Luckily Matt is a pretty engaging and smart guy, so I could just ask a question and then he could go off for a few minutes. I found it all very interesting, especially because he didn’t shy away from speaking candidly about a possible end to Canasta. I know this interview is long, but I think you’ll find it enjoyable.
A couple weeks ago I reviewed Cold City, the new record by The Shams Band. The following week the band started their month long residency at Schubas, one of Chicago’s finest music venues. I wasn’t able to catch the first night, but I was able to make it to the second, and I’ll be there for the third. Since I’ll be reviewing next week’s show as well, I’ll be brief.
In my review I stated that this group reminds me of Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers with a full-time banjo player. Nothing that I heard on Monday night changed that. In fact it was heightened by hearing some of their bluesier numbers live. Paul Gulyas’s guitar just screamed across the room, and the vocal harmonies between he and Donnie Biggins were sublime. Some of the songs I didn’t recognize because I haven’t been a fan long enough to have memorized every song, but all the stuff off Cold City that they played sounded great.
They also played a cover of The Traveling Wilbury’s “Handle Me With Care” that I wish I had recorded, because Biggins singing like Roy Orbison was so spot on it was scary. The Shams Band is certainly tight enough to sound like a supergroup, even if they haven’t hit that level yet. It isn’t for lack of talent.