Brendan Benson At Lincoln Hall, 6/28/12

There are certain kinds of concerts I enjoy more than others. It’s great to go see a band that’s headlining do their thing and you leave satisfied with what you’ve seen. It’s quite another when both openers and headliner impress. I knew going into Thursday night’s show that I would be entertained, but I had no idea I would be so happy with the show as a whole. I think a good deal of the credit goes to the fact that all three of these bands have been playing together, with Brendan producing the openers albums for his own record label, Readymade Records. In fact, one of my favorite moments of the whole set was when Brendan came out from backstage and just sat next to a speaker and looked on for the majority of Young Hines’ set. All three bands working toward a common goal, trying to give us the best show possible. And they exceeded the bar that I’m sure they set very high for themselves.

Earlier in the day I had interviewed The Howling Brothers at AudioTree Studios. I’d seen some of their YouTube videos, and was curious to see if they’d give off the same kind of fun energy in person. They didn’t disappoint, whipping through a thirty minute set of honky tonk bluegrass that kept my body moving from the first note. In most of the clips I had seen, Ian did almost all the singing, with Ben and Jared supporting with backup vocals. But here they all sang at least one song, with Ian still taking on the majority. A trio of great instrumentalists who can all also sing? That’s a dangerous mix, and I think Mr. Benson was wise to snatch these guys up. My favorite tune by them remains “Illinois River,” but I think the best performance they played was when Jared got on top of the speakers at Lincoln Hall and did some dancing, even hopping up in the air and clicking his heels together. It was quite the agile feat, and one I’ve never seen before.

After they finished up it wasn’t long before Young Hines came out. The time in between acts was just long enough for a guy to start chatting up Kari and I about looking for apartments in the city. He mentioned that his brother owns The Vinyl Countdownrecord shop in Tulsa, Oklahoma and I think I may have weeped a bit with joy over the name of his store. The lights went down and our conversation ended as Young came out solo for the first two songs.

I’m not really familiar with his work, though a couple of the songs did sound familiar. He apparently has a huge following in Chicago after spending quite a few years here. The crowd went wild for him, but I didn’t start to get into it until the band came out and they started rocking a little harder. They had a great freneticism about them. It seemed like every song got louder and faster, with shredding guitar riffs and pummeling drum lines. The bigger they went, the more I wondered why Young bothered coming out alone. He’s much better with a band. He played a few songs off his new album, Give Me My Change, and my favorite was “Don’t Break My Fall.” It’s a little more singer/songwriter style than the more raucous tunes, but it’s really well written.

After a set that I thought ran just a little long, Young Hines left and not much time passed before Brendan Benson took to the stage, using the same musicians as Hines. Working together as touring artists is such a beautiful thing. If you read my review of Benson’s newest record, What Kind Of World, you’ll know that before a couple months ago I hadn’t really paid much attention to him. Of course I loved his work in The Raconteurs, and there were a few songs I had heard that I thought were pretty solid. The new album caught me by surprise, and it currently sits in my top ten for the year so far.

I assumed that the setlist would lean heavily on the new record, and I was mostly correct. I’d say about half the songs were new ones, with the rest made up of songs covering the last fifteen years of his solo career and one song from Raconteurs (“Hands”). I was surprised that I enjoyed a lot of the quieter, more intimate songs than I did some of the bigger, noisier ones. “Bad For Me” was one of many highlights through the night. Benson’s voice seems to have stopped aging around 2001, so he still sounds great. The band was tight as could be, and they all seemed to be having a blast up on stage.

I was a little disappointed that of all the songs from the new album they chose not to play, two of my favorites “Here In The Deadlights” and “No One Else But You” went unheard. One of those needs a horn section, so I wasn’t too broken up about it. He did play some of his classics that got the crowd going. Songs like “Garbage Day,” “Metarie,” and “Good To Me,” as well as the more mainstream “Cold Hands Warm Heart.”

For the encore Brendan brought out Young Hines as well as Ian and Jared from The Howling Brothers to close the show with “On The Fence.” This was the first time that they had played it with everyone on stage together, and it went off without a hitch (other than Benson forgetting that he starts the song with his guitar intro). I didnt even miss Ashley Monroe’s vocal part. Overall, I thought it was a well-balanced set of old and new, introspective and crowd-pleasing numbers. I can’t believe I waited this long to make his music a part of my life, and I urge you to give him a try if you haven’t.

One final note: The real star of the show, in my mind, was this handsome bastard playing in front of me all night:

Mark Watrous was a touring member of The Raconteurs band, and has continued working with Benson, even releasing a 7″ single together as the duo Well & Goode. Prior to this, Watrous was a member of Gosling (aka Loudermilk) for about ten years. He’s a proficient keyboardist and a great guitar player. I’d never heard of him before Thursday, but I was really impressed with his work. He has some of his own songs posted on Reverb Nation, and I think you should go have a listen.

For more photos from the evening, check out our album on Facebook!

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