Bhi Bhiman at Park West 1/20/12

If you live in Chicago or the surrounding areas, you’ll remember that Friday January 20th was the day that winter finally decided to show up in earnest. We got a pretty decent amount of snow which virtually brought the city to a standstill. For me, that meant very little as I take the train everywhere. For Bhi Bhiman it meant having a three-hour ride from the southside of the city up to Park West. He didn’t seem too bitter about it when he came to the stage to open up for Martin Sexton. In fact, coming from San Francisco, he seemed to relish the sight of snow. I was surprised how big the turnout at the show was, given the weather conditions. It was nice to see so many people out there risking their lives for a evening of great music.

There was one big difference between this set and the one I saw him perform at SxSw last year. That older performance seemed to be more about the written word. His vocals and song selection were pointed more toward his intellectual side. At Park West, the guitar was way out front, and he was showing off some of his skills as an instrumentalist. I’m glad I got to see both performances. Going away from the show in Austin, I never would have guessed he was so talented on guitar.

The setlist featured a nice mix of older songs and new. Bhi opened up with “White Man Burden’s Blues” off of his first record, The Cookbook. It’s a good, snappy jam to get the crowd into the show. Then he slowed it down with the song “Eye On You” from his new album. That song bled into a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” that threw away some of the pop confection in favor of it’s more soulful roots. Bhi also covered “Freedom Highway” by The Staple Singers, and did so very well.

The set was only about 35 minutes long, so a lot of great songs didn’t make the list on this evening (most disappointing: “Crime Of Passion”). He filled the time well, with minimum crowd banter and a collection of songs that showed off everything in his repertoire. I was glad to hear that he got laughs when he should have. The crowd was a bit older, so I didn’t know how they’d respond to a line like, “and this little thing she told she pregnant with my baby and that’s for sure. And I say whatchu gonna do and she say ‘hmm?'” Fortunately for all, everyone in the crowd seemed to find the humor there.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to catch Bhi live yet, I’m sorry. I really am, because you’re missing one of the very best songwriters we have working in America right now. He goes on a lot of mini-tours, so hopefully he will find himself in your town sometime soon. If not, you can find his new record, Bhiman, as well as his older material for sale on his website. I suggest you go and take a listen.

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