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Friday, Oct 17, 2008
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

Ray LaMontagne is that unassuming success story of awe-shucks charm and high-end luck. He worked a dead-end shoe-factory job in Lewiston, Maine after barely graduating from high school in Utah until one morning he heard Stephen Stills’ song “Treetop Flyer” playing on the radio. After purchasing Stills Alone he made the decision to follow in his absent father’s footsteps and pursue music. 


Demo tapes followed as did local club appearances and sooner than later his tape found its way to a publisher at Chrysalis Music, who recorded his first album and then sold it to RCA records. That album, Trouble—full of melancholy acoustic ballads, echoey melodies, and serenading fiddles—was his launching pad into the folk-rock realm. Since then he has steadfastly, but timidly, held his own, refining his sentimental songwriting and soaring arrangements with producer Ethan Johns, who helped merge LaMontagne’s intertwining folk, rock, and funk sounds.


His current tour, in support of his third release Gossip in the Grain, features LaMontagne with the new album’s musical personnel and a gracefully mature, sensitive sound. He also brought his notorious reclusion, gently leading off each song with a whispered, “One, two, three, four…”



The evening’s setlist heavily favored tracks from Gossip in the Grain, which was understandable as the instrumentation on stage suited the album’s rich arrangements. Beginning with the blues-trodden opening track “You Are the Best Thing”, LaMontagne’s adaptable brass section punched lively despair into it. “Hey Me, Hey Mama” and the crowd pleaser “Three More Days” also received the full funk brass treatment, while others evoked a more traditional Preservation Hall jazz sound.


Most remarkable was the touch and dynamics applied by LaMontagne and his ensemble—which included Wurlitzer, pedal steel guitar, drums, and bass. Known for his devastatingly evanescent Van Morrison-style voice, (on “Roses and Cigarettes” his voice even seemed to sublimate, one moment solid, the next vaporous) the ability of the band to match his hazy vocal idiosyncrasies gave shape and emotional weight to each of the songs.


This was most effective in gorgeously slow pastoral ballads like “Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s a Shame)”, “Sarah”, the ambiguously ironic but still playful “Meg White”, and the evening’s denouement, “Trouble”. Later solo, LaMontagne reverberated off of Radio City’s stellar acoustics.


Though LaMontagne maintained his shy persona, he could not hide from the crowd’s roaring response. It necessitated playing two encores (six songs total) to complete his own pinch-me, “Are you kidding me?” Radio City return—something the folk singer does not succumb to that easily.



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Monday, Oct 6, 2008
Words and Pictures by Rory O'Connor.

Leaning heavily on their most recent record—Made in the Dark provided the bulk of the evening’s material save for about four or five songs—Hot Chip wasted little time getting the audience moving on the first date of its two night stand at Chicago’s Metro.


On record, Hot Chip can be a little elusive to pin down, bouncing around from quirky electro to a more serious pop friendly sound. Tracing their development in the studio finds a band perpetually evolving and polishing their sound, but it offers little in the way of clues pointing towards a particular musical direction. The latest album is, of course, no exception. Made in the Dark transitions from a front end filled with electro and—at times almost bombastic—dance music only to give way to a few ballads that close out the album. While this can leave some listeners a little bit confused, the objective at a Hot Chip live show is much more direct and primitive – they are here to entertain. 


Hot Chip’s live show is high energy and almost aggressive in its approach. On stage the band’s instrumentation becomes more pronounced and takes a front seat, both figuratively and literally, as it is guitarist Al Doyle standing stage front for most of the set. Tracks like “Over and Over” and “Ready for the Floor” (during the latter some oversized balloons were released from the ceiling) are already a perfect fit to the flow of the evening, while a slower, more melodic track like “And I was a Boy from School” gets an up-tempo makeover that allows it to blend in seamlessly. As with their latest album, the band did put their foot on the brakes, though, rolling out “In the Privacy of Your Love” towards the latter part of the show. And while it didn’t quite fit in with the up-tempo tracks that preceded it, the meditative track added a little depth to this dance-saturated evening.



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Tuesday, Sep 30, 2008
Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley.

My Bloody Valentine—a legendary band who epitomized the shoegaze genre, if not actually defined it in some sense—brought their own sound system to Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom, filling the space with raging cascades of sound. Channeling an ethereal sort of madness, the Irish four-piece played with a transcendent force that tore through the enraptured crowd.


As one might expect, a band like My Bloody Valentine does not conform to a typical stage presence. There is very little in the way of words or even spaces between songs. The stage was filled with drastic periods of alternating darkness and blinding light. Shielded from the front section of the stage with plexiglass sound barriers, bassist Debbie Googe stayed in the back next to drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig. Despite this obvious distancing, they worked effectively together to provide a building tension and edgy rhythm. Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher stayed in front but apart, visible at times only between shadows and strobes. The intensity of their impact lay not within any facial expressions but within the massive sound they created. 


Through all the grinding and swirling guitars provided by Shields and Butcher, the sweetness of Butcher’s vocals drifted across the audience throughout most of the night, helping to lessen the harshness with a strong feminine presence. The band, back after a prolonged hiatus (their last album was released in 1991), played many key favorites from Isn’t Anything and Loveless with a focus on the latter of the two. The audience stood transfixed as the band powered through “Feed Me with Your Kiss”, “I Only Said”, Only Shallow”, “When You Sleep”, and “To Here Knows When”. And while there were times when the noise climbed to such a height that it became impossible to distinguish a song’s separate element, these decibel-destroying occasions allowed the tunes to take on a new shape.


The pivotal moment of the set came during “You Made Me Realize”, which broke off into over twenty minutes of evolving noise that locked into a strange infinity. It was impossible not to feel like you were surviving something outside this world that was as heavenly as it was traumatic. In many ways, it felt like punishment served at the same time as salvation. Halfway through the sonic assault, audience members reached up in the air, grabbing the dissolving molecules of sound as if they were pieces of chocolate. This was the sort of pounding that might lead to blistering, but it was a welcome assault, and left the impression that, oddly enough, it was the silence that was too loud.



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Sunday, Sep 28, 2008
Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley.

Between bursts of spontaneous dancing and iconic poses, James’ frontman Tim Booth has the charisma and charm to make any set enjoyable. (He’s also the only lead singer I know that can pull off an outfit consisting of a suit jacket and pajama bottoms.) Along with his soaring vocals and spirited camaraderie, Booth is also able to inspire a fully adoring audience.


Playing a sold out show in support of their new album, Hey Ma, James could have very easily crafted a setlist from recent material. Instead, the band chose a well-rounded set of songs with a handful of favorites that only served to increase the audience fervor. Coming to the foot of the stage during “Out to Get You”, Booth let the many hands hold his legs and feet while he sang as if only to a few of us.


The band, which first formed in Manchester, England, in the early ‘80s, received standing ovations for many of their hits including, “Say Something”, “Sit Down”, “Top of the World”, and “Sometimes”. The only missing songs were the stellar tracks found on the brilliant Brian Eno produced Millioniares, which may have been left out due to the album’s unavailability in the States when it was released in 1999.


While James, as a band, deserves all the acclaim it gets, it’s clear that Tim Booth, who has an innate ability to balance pop songs with soft intimate lullabies, is the star of the show. Adept at creating choruses that people appear to instantly remember, he’s also a master at touching the very heart of the matters he speaks of. The audience members made this show a shared experience, singing along to many of the songs without any prompting. It was as if it was impossible not to sing along, even when the lyrics might sound sappy to an outsider as with fan favorite “Sometimes”. As Tim Booth sings, “Sometimes, when I look deep in your eyes, I swear I can see your soul,” you can’t help but feel the sense of how heartfelt his words are. It seems that when Tim Booth sings something, it just ends up feeling right.


 


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Friday, Sep 26, 2008

Beginning appropriately with “The Night Starts Here”, Stars commenced to play their hearts out for ninety minutes. Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan filled the air with their usual lush male/female vocals, which alternate and culminate in swoons, creating a lullaby effect that’s filled with a soothing kind of chemistry.


Amy Millan of Stars

Amy Millan of Stars


This time around, Stars dropped their usual angst for a much more hopeful vibe. Missing from the setlist were politically-fueled songs such as, “Set Yourself on Fire”, “He Lied About Death”, and “In Our Bedroom After the War”. “Take me to the Riot” was the closest the band came to touching on this element. Even “Going, Going, Gone”, a song previously filled with personal vs. political anger, was reworked and slowed down and replaced with a much more melancholic feeling.


Torquil Campbell of Stars

Torquil Campbell of Stars


Though the five-piece hails from Montreal, they had much to say about how “happening” Chicago is as a city. Appearing humble, Campbell thanked the audience for coming out during hard times, saying how much the band appreciated it. He appeared just as moved by the experience as the starlit set of young eyes gazing from the front row, staring in awe at their favorite band playing on a stage adorned with roses.


Amy Millan of Stars

Amy Millan of Stars


Lyrically, the songs often come across as very intense and personal stories. Yet, they manage to transcend the inner personal domain and venture into the world of shared anthemic experience. Mainly, they accomplish this task by addressing issues that many can relate to. Such is the case for “What I’m Trying to Say”, which was a clear highlight of the set along with “One More Night”. Though at times the songs can take on an edgy tone, they are often sentimental and romantic, especially when the vocals shine strongly via dynamic duets.


Torquil Campbell of Stars

Torquil Campbell of Stars


Amy Millan of Stars

Amy Millan of Stars


It should also be mentioned how well rounded the band’s setlists are. Stars have been releasing music since 2001 with three full lengths and two EPs, and yet they always revisit that first release even while seeming eager to debut new songs. There’s an energy to them that is searching for progress but at the same time understands that it’s futile to ignore the past.


Amy Millan of Stars

Amy Millan of Stars



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