Over the 4th of July weekend I was afforded the opportunity to check out a show by a talented songwriter that I’ve been following for almost a decade. Blake Sennett has been performing since a very young age, so I expected a very professional show. There weren’t a ton of surprises, but the ones that popped up were pleasant. Mike Bloom, a multi-instrumentalist who has played with local favorites Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s as well as Rilo Kiley, was the opener as a solo act, and Tristen finished out the bill.
Now, I showed up just after the Mike Bloom set, and there was a pretty good crowd already assembled. I’m aware of his work with various groups, so I regret not seeing his solo act, but he came back with The Elected, so all was not lost. Tristen set up, and I was fairly interested in hearing them. I had tried to set up a meeting a while back with their PR guy when we were all in Austin for SxSw, but we never got our schedules to work out.
For the most part, I enjoyed Tristen’s set. There’s a wistful combination of country and surf-pop that is completely different than anything else, and yet it totally fits as an opener to The Elected’s style. The vocals coming from Tristen Gaspadarek ranged from quiet contemplation to violent rage in equal measure. Guitarist Buddy played some tasty licks, but mostly stood still and tried to remain unnoticed. It was an enjoyable set, but there was one thing I did not like at all. The drum machine that they used instead of a live drummer. It was a bit much at times. Maybe the volume was turned up too loud, but I found it distracting from the rest of the music.
Because I’m not terribly knowledgeable about Tristen’s music, I didn’t think any of the songs they played stood out as being much better than the rest. I did like the Dolly Parton song they played, the name of which I do not know. Tristen completely changed her voice, and did a pretty good job of matching Dolly’s style.
The Elected started off as a side-project for Blake Sennett during short breaks while in the band Rilo Kiley. Over the last seven years, The Elected have put out three records and toured plenty. After taking some time off over the past couple of years, Blake started recording again last year, and put out Bury Me In My Ringsin May. As a fan of the majority of Blake’s work, I was totally psyched to see him live for the first time at my favorite venue in Chicago.
Many of you unfamiliar with The Elected may recall this song Blake wrote for Rilo Kiley, which I think is his most recognizeable:
The show was really good, with a great mix of songs from the first two Elected albums and the newer stuff. I spoke to Blake before the show on the sidewalk outside and told him I’d be recording somehting for the site. I said I’d probably try to get the song “Go For The Throat,” and he told me they weren’t playing that song. That caused some alarm, because it made me think that maybe the band was going to abandon playing songs from the new album and only play tracks off of Sun, Sun, Sun and Me First.
Any worry was laid to rest as the first song of the set was “Babyface,” the second track off of Bury Me In My Rings. Everyone in the band was in top form, including the violinist/keyboardist/steel drummer Dre. I’ve never seen steel drums used in a show that wasn’t in a tunnel while I was waiting for the red line, so I didn’t know if I’d even be able to hear them with everything else going on. Luckily, Schubas has a great soundmixer that pulled every instrument to exactly the right level.
As I said, there weren’t many surprises in the show. Getting to hear “Ripchord” was a nice treat, but other than that it was pretty straightforward. The songs that played best in the crowd were songs from Sun, Sun, Sun. “Not Going Home” and “The Bank and Trust” seemed to be the best known. I was happy to see that so many people were there to see Blake playing his songs, and not a bunch of hipsters hoping to hear a Rilo-heavy set. Anyone looking for that is going to be sorely disappointed.
The big surprise, the final song of the main set before the encore, came as quite a shock to me. “You Got Lucky” by Tom Petty was not, in any way, the song I would imagine The Elected would cover. And to do it as fantastically as they did was amazing. Especially Blake’s guitar work, which to this point in the show was nothing extravagant, exploded with arena-rock luster. Other than the Neutral Uke Hotel show earlier this year (which is all covers, obviously) this was the best cover I’ve heard all year.
I had a really good time at The Elected’s show. There were some people in the audience who seemed confused about who they were seeing, and I’m not sure what that was about. For the most part, though, the kids knew the songs and were there to witness someone they admired perform for them.
If you’re a fan of The Elected, I can tell you that disappointment won’t be in your vocabulary after a live show. If you’ve never heard of them and this is your first exposure to the band, I recommend you go check them out. Blake is a pro, and knows how to find the balance between fun banter with the audience and selling a sad ballad. As a preview, you can check out Bury Me In My Rings, a great record that showcases a some of the best melodies and hooks The Elected have put out to date.