The greatest thing about the Chicago Roots Collective is the diversity of the bands involved. It’s what allows them to hold showcases like this once a year, and not feel like they’re just repeating themselves. A lot of the same bands played this year that also played previous years, but there were also some new ones to mix it up. They moved from Elbo Room over to Beat Kitchen, which itself makes this years fest a step up from last time. The whole thing also felt like it was a much better organized event.
We only went on Friday night, and we caught all or part of five different sets. The main room was used for louder rock sets, and the upstairs room was used for solo acoustic sets. As with last year, we tried to make our way back and forth so we could catch as much music as we could. We arrived a little after 8pm, and Jeff Brown was more than halfway through his opening set by the time we got into the main room. He’s a solo act that had three other guys filling out his live show. There was an odd sense of detachment from this set, as someone was filming the whole thing and everyone in the audience stood way back from the stage. His final song, where the band exited and he played alone, was the best I heard from him. It made the room feel much more intimate than it had up until then.
We moved up close to the stage once Brown was finished. The Future Laureates were the second band playing, and we wanted a good spot for that. If you’ve spent any time listening to their newest record, Fortress Sessions, you know they are a talented group of guys. The problem I have with that album is that it fails to capture the energy of their live performances. It’s an issue that faces a lot of bands, but seeing them live is a much better way to hear their music-in my opinion. By their own admission they are a pop band, and it’s that kind of honesty and sincerity that makes me enjoy their sets.
They also bring a couple extra guys with them to play live, and it makes a world of difference. It frees up the core guys to interact with the audience more. Danny Surico especially gets into the fun of it, leading singalongs and engaging the crowd with handclaps and booty shakin’. In an age where so many bands take themselves so seriously, it’s nice to see a group that just wants to have fun.
After a rollicking forty minutes with The Future Laureates, we headed upstairs to check out a solo set by Andy Metz. I hadn’t seen him since last year’s CRC Fest, but I know through Facebook posts that he’s in a new band called Hero Monster Zero, as well as playing solo shows. His voice sounded good from what I could tell, but there was a problem with having these sets in the upstairs room-it was so packed I could barely hear the music. There were about fifteen people seated around Metz, listening intently, and then about thirty people standing around the bar being loud. A tragic disappointment that I hope was corrected before the fest ended (there’s another-bigger-bar downstairs people).
So, with that idea shot to hell, we went back downstairs and caught the last couple songs of A Band Called Catch‘s set. I’m not terribly familiar with them, but they seemed pretty cool. The lead singer and his female backup vocalist sounded good together. They had a two person horn section that was groovin’ pretty hard. If asked, I would probably recommend checking them out. I don’t think the two songs we heard is a big enough sample to review them, but it sounded good to me.
We once again ran up to the front because Molehill was up next. The last time we saw them was at Hard Rock Cafe where they won the Chicago regional Battle Of The Bands in a contest to play a festival in London. It was a worldwide competition that they ultimately lost, but they made it into the final round of 10, which is nothing to sneeze at. Before their set Kari and I were sitting in a booth talking to their bassist, Trevor Jones. He told us that they had made a couple minor adjustments to their live show that seemed to help.
No kidding they helped. Kari and I agreed afterwards that this was the best Molehill show we’ve seen (and we’ve seen a good number of them). The energy was different-like a regular Molehill set drank five Red Bulls before showing up. Lead singer Pete Manhart was more actively engaging with the audience and seemed to be having a better time than usual. I’ve never really though of Molehill as a FUN band-they’re more technically proficient and hard working. But Friday night I saw the change that could help propel them to the next level.
They played most of the songs off of Equinox, their latest album, and one new one that felt like it fit right in with all the ones that I’ve come to know since March when the album was released. The moment that really set this apart from other Molehill shows was when Pete jumped off the stage and led the crowd in a boogie for the song “I Hope You’re Happy.” He even went so far as to get the crowd to join him in getting as low to the floor as they could before exploding in a huge jump.
After that set we were exhausted, as is always the case after a Molehill show. We decided to leave before the final act took the stage, but I’m sure they were also great. Between upstairs and downstairs sets there were 24 different artists to see at this year’s festival-a steal at ten dollars a night. You can keep tabs on all the bands involved to be sure you aren’t waiting until this time next year to see them live, just check out the Chicago Roots Collective website. There is also a free CRC sampler album you can download for free on their Bandcamp page.