As the summer starts winding down, it also brings the festival season to an end. Here in Chicago we have a lot of BIG festivals like Lolla and Pitchfork, as well as Ribfest and The World’s Biggest Block Party. Each neighborhood puts on their own festivals throughout the summer, and it seems like every day from May-September I hear about some new street festival that I need to check out. Sadly, I can’t make it to all of them. I generally stick to the ones that have some kind of pork food product in the title.
This weekend one of the final festivals of the year is being held just north of us, in the town of Woodstock, IL. I’ve never been there, but with the lineup they’ve secured it must be a pretty cool town. I agreed to go to a work function with Kari on the 25th, so I won’t be able to attend. If you haven’t secured your plans for Saturday, I would definitely recommend checking this out. Not only are the bands great, but there will be all sorts of food and fun to be had. And, it’s only $15. Music starts at 5 and ends at 2am.
I’m just gonna run down a list of some of the bands playing and insert audio or video clips where I can to give you an idea of the bands sound.
First and foremost, Ezra Furman is playing. This is worth the price of the ticket AND gas to get there if you need to drive. His newest record, The Year Of No Returning, has been number one on my list since it came out in February. He’s a unique songwriter and, even moreso, a unique performer. If you’ve never seen him before, $15 is probably the cheapest it will be for a while.
Cousin Dud is still relatively unknown band, but it won’t be for long. They just released their new full-length, Workinggirl’s Dud, a couple weeks ago. I saw them perform a little over a year ago and thought they did a really good job in a venue that didn’t deserve it.
One of my favorite surprises of the year has been Jon Drake & The Shakes album Dear Ulysses. The octet does a great job of blending different styles together to make indie rock not completely unlike Arcade Fire, but more fun. I’ve seen them live a couple of times, and Drake really pours himself into the performance. He’s a charismatic cat up there on stage, and he’s got a super talented band behind him.
That’s just three of the 20 bands Chrome Attic has put together for your listening enjoyment. On top of that there will be a pig roast, comedy shows, and a beer garden. All in all it should be a damn fine way to spend a Saturday.
For full details, check out the festivals website here.
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.
I haven’t always been the kindest person to Jon Drake And The Shakes. In the past I’ve had some disparaging words for them. Over the past week or two I’ve been listening to their new album, Dear Ulysses, and dreading the moment when I have to eat crow and admit that I was wrong about them. Not only do I like this new release, due out in a few weeks, but I find myself humming a couple of the songs without any outside solicitation. Am I dead? Is this purgatory?
My biggest issue with the band, and I still think this is a valid point, is that there are too many members. When you see them live in a small venue like Subterranean or The Burlington, there’s barely enough room for all of them. It takes them longer than most bands to set up due to their size, and once the show starts it’s hard to pay attention to what’s going on. Maybe that’s just me, but it really bothers me. I will admit that the last time I saw them perform with Chaperone opening, I liked it quite a bit more (the other time I had seen them was also opened by Chaperone with the two dates almost a year apart). On Dear Ulysses everything is hidden. If you’d never seen them live you would have no idea how many people are working to get the sound of this record complete.
There’s a horn section. There’s a string section. Keyboards, upright bass, probably an accordion and xylophone as well. They’re listed as a octet, but I swear every time I look at them there are more people in the band. Oddly, Drake writes music that really does require all of these layers to sound the way he wants it to. It’s a larger task than I would ever want, but he seems to do it with ease. For me, the coordination of getting everyone together for practice would be too daunting. It’s a testament to their loyalty to the band and to Drake that this is a priority.
Dear Ulysses has a lot of bright spots included among one of the most listenable records I’ve heard all year. You know that feeling when you’re watching a movie and you realize it’s been on for an hour and a half but it feels like it just started? That’s how this album plays. There’s never a dull moment, and it just flies by. The music is alt-country/folk, but with so much going on in the background it’s hard to classify it as just that. It’s almost more like a travelling variety show put into digital form.
There are three or four tracks that stand out above the rest, and I’d like to highlight them here. The first is “The Fourth Of July.” I’ve seen this one performed both times I saw the band, and it was my favorite each time. The lyrics start off a little comical, and then take a turn to the darker side quickly.
I saw you at the restaurant with your hair all up
Your white streaks going back your face
You were waiting tables and taking shit
fixing drinks and yelling out the top of your lungs don’t fuck with me
I ain’t that easy won’t you lay off and go home on your own
But that kid just won’t listen
Somehow the song turns into a story about class warfare in Chicago (and I imagine it could be placed in other big cities). It’s a well put-together tune that is one of those songs that’s really fun to sing along with and also one that makes you think a bit about what they’re really saying.
The next one I want to hit is “Rattles And Snakes.” If you’re a fan of Jon Drake And The Shakes, you probably already have this one on your iPod. It was released on the EP Side A, along with three other songs also included on Dear Ulysses. It opens with a mandolin that sounds a lot like R.E.M.’s classic “Losing My Religion.” The part that gets me, though, it Drake’s “Wooo-ooooo” over the first minute that leads into some “Da-da-da”s. I find myself singing it in my head over and over. At the drop of a hat someone will be talking to me, and all I can think is “Woooo-ooooo.” After those opening two minutes the song loses some steam for me. There’s a sting arrangement that’s slow and brooding, which is the complete opposite of the opening. There aren’t many lyrics here, so it just kind of meanders to its inevitable end. Totally worth it for the first couple minutes though!
“Mary” kicks off with driving percussion by The Shakes fantastic drummer Daniel Villareal-Carrillo. This one has a bit more of a bluesy feel than anything else on the record, and I’m a sucker for songs with these 60′s-style guitar riffs (see: Rilo Kiley’s “Teenage Love Song”). Like “The Fourth Of July,” this is a very well-written song. I don’t believe they played this when I saw them before, but I definitely look forward to hearing it at their record release show at Double Door on May 11th. At this point we’re about eight or nine tracks deep into Dear Ulysses, and one thing the band has proven is that they’re not afraid to mix things up stylistically.
I’m a bit taken aback by how much I like this record. My expectations were that it would be decent, but nothing special. Some of my favorite bands in Chicago-Chaperone, Dastardly, The Future Laureates-have told me how great Jon Drake And The Shakes are, and I’ve always dismissed them based on the little interaction I’ve had with the band. After hearing Dear Ulysses I wish I could go back in time and watch those live shows again with more focus. But I don’t have a DeLorean with a flux capacitor (nor the plutonium needed to run such an automobile), so I’ll just be more attentive going forward.
Jon Drake And The Shakes is made up by Jon Drake, Nora Barton, Evan Porter, Joe Mietus, Ellis Seiberling, Daniel Villarreal-Carrillo, Drew Westergreen, and Matt Wilson. Dear Ulysses will be officially released on Grapejuice Reocrds May 29th, but you can pre-order it today and stream four tracks on their website.