Martin Van Ruin at Empty Bottle 1/10/2013

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In a move perhaps made trying to gain the respect of Beyonce, Martin Van Ruin released their debut album surreptitiously at the very end of 2013. I haven’t officially reviewed it, but I have it a few spins and it’s a strong beginning for the new band fronted by Derek Nelson. Friday night at the Empty Bottle was their second show as a band and they’re already sounding like they’ve been together for years.

I caught one of the opening bands before Martin Van Ruin played called Farewell Milwaukee. I’d never heard of them before, but count me as a fan after their performance. It’s a nice blend of country and pop, not unlike Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (and they covered the song “Helpless” which only strengthens my argument). They seemed to be having a lot of fun and the crowd was really into it from beginning to end.

A small number of the audience took off after Farewell Milwaukee finished up. Too bad for them because Martin Van Ruin was a far more interesting set. With the main lights dark the only way to see the band a lot of the time was with funky bright lights that were flashing in weird patterns. For some reason the combination of light and music reminded me of the movie Drive. And the ebb and flow of energy was compelling to witness.

I’ve always liked watching Derek Nelson perform. He’s such an intense guy up there. I heard him joking around before they started playing and thought “Surely that can’t be Derek Nelson. Derek Nelson has no time for jokes!” But throughout the show I caught a smile here and there, so maybe in this band it’s ok to have a good time.

I was standing near the far side speaker and it didn’t take long fore to get annoyed with the people around me. My own fault for standing near the bar, but come on! At least pay a little attention to the band you paid to see. 90 percent of the show I felt bad that all these people were gabbing away. Then a funny thing happened…

When Martin Van Ruin started playing “Someone Tried To Warn Me” everyone rushed to the front and started dancing. It was the craziest thing. People came from the back to boogie down and it was nice to see a big gathering right up front where before there was only open space.

I think that for the most part the talkers just didn’t know how to react to the music being played. It isn’t straight rock or folk or anything. They play with dynamics a lot and the quiet parts are not made for shows at a bar, even of that bar is as awesome as Empty Bottle. You can hear the music for yourself as Every Man A King is streaming on Spotify right now. If you dig it and you’re in Chicago, they’ll be playing at The Hideout February 21st as part of Dunn Dunn Fest.

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