Last year The Shams Band celebrated the release of their album Cold City with a month-long residency at Schubas. Over the weekend they returned to play their first Friday and Saturday shows at the venue rated in the top 10 of United States concert venues. The fact that Saturday was Donnie Biggins’ birthday set the dial all the way up to 11, and the show that I got to see was one of the best shows I’ve seen in Chicago this year.
This lineup was identical to one of the residency shows I saw last year, featuring Derek Nelson & The Musicians and Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes. I had to work, so I missed Nelson’s set. I really liked them last time I saw them, so I wasn’t happy about not seeing it, but Derek did make an appearance later on. Ellsworth’s set, which was fantastic, was marred a bit by a lot of loud talkers around me. The band performs with such an energy that they were able to attract all of my ear’s attention.
I got to meet Ellsworth and co. last year when they stopped by Handwritten and did a version of their song “Follow Me Home” for us. They’re all really sweet dudes, and guitarist/cat lover Timon Lance had a whole gaggle of girls cheering for him near the front of the stage. They played some new songs (3 I think) that will be featured on the album they’re currently working on that’s due out next year. My favorite of these was “Phantoms,” which presented some really great keys and vocals from Ellsworth.
I’ve seen The Shams Band four times before last night. It’s always a lot of fun, and they play their butts off. Their blend of country/folk/rock&roll is done so well it’s almost impossible to discern one genre from another. One second they’re singing CSN-style harmonies, the next they’re launching into a bluesy barnburner. Saturday was no different. In fact, it was easily the best show I’ve seen The Shams put on so far.
It may have been Donnie’s birthday, but Paul Gulyas stole the thunder out from under him. Gulyas, always a firecracker on stage, was even more animated than usual. If he wasn’t screaming lyrics he was blazing through a balls-to-the-wall guitar solo. Even between songs his hands were flying everywhere and he was talking excitedly to the crowd. Maybe it was the jubilation of sharing in his friend’s special day. Regardless, if I could bottle his enthusiasm I could make millions.
One of the best things about The Shams is how collaborative they are. They struck up a friendship with Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes last year, and by the second song of the set Ellsworth and gang were up front right next to me dancing and singing along to every song. Eventually they were called up to share the stage on a few songs. The Shams had joined during the earlier set to do “Shoe Fits,” which sounded amazing with everyone on stage. Together at the end they did “Rocks Off” by The Rolling Stones and “Outtasite” by Wilco, plus The Shams Band original “Roll That Whiskey.”
As always, I highly recommend checking out The Shams as soon as you can. They have great players on every instrument, and they’ve figured out exactly how to get you on your feet and clapping along. I would also recommend gathering all the music you can from Daniel Ellsworth & the Great Lakes as well as Derek Nelson & The Musicians. The Great Lakes will be at Space in Evanston sometime in November ahead of their 2014 record release.