Eli is glaring at some younger guys leaning against the wall adjacent to the Double Door where his favorite band plays tonight: “You mean you don’t know—you mean you don’t know who Liquid Soul is?” Later, he confides, “this bugs the shit out of me because this is where they (the band) started the magic.” But, finally, he concedes, “This is a different time—it’s expected that they don’t know what’s going on.” What the young guys just don’t get about Liquid Soul, according to Eli, is “they’re so together, so much soul. You have to understand—they were nominated for a Grammy. They are a band I do respect and love.”
Eli can’t seem to get the words out fast enough and in between puffs of his cigarette he sputters, “I love the energy, I love the funk, I love the rock fusion—the major groove that they have. They have a lot of substance. I just love ‘em, that’s why I’m here.” he says. Eli grew up in this neighborhood and the last six years has trailed Liquid Soul both locally and nationally. “Minnesota was incredible, Pittsburgh incredible, St. Louis, incredible. You fly. The whole band knows me,” he smiled.
But, something ticked him off. “Last year I went to the Back of the Yards Festival. The band was good, but they had someone trying to be ‘Mars’—but he wasn’t ‘Mars.’” Eli is referring to the colorful saxophone player Mars Williams. Mars has played with the Psychedelic Furs. If Mattel came up with the prototype of a musician, it would be Mars Williams. He has it all: Blonde sideburns, a sharply delineated goatee, dark shades, wears black well, a smile equal in length to an American Eagle’s wing-span, and a precise energizing lilt to his gait. He swoons into his sax, swaddles it like a newborn, counting off the final measures to the other band members all while you blink. I agree with Eli; once you’ve seen him seduce his sax, no amount of idle foreplay by an imposter will satisfy.
I met Mars at my local coffee shop. He was a booth away talking animatedly to several other men. I couldn’t hear a thing, but was captivated by the intense listening skills each one demonstrated during the discourse. As much as I tried not to violate the personal space of the comrades across from me, I couldn’t take it anymore. Finally, I walk over. “Excuse me? Are you a musician?” I ask hesitantly. Mars is friendly. He tells me he just returned from touring with the Psychedelic Furs. The waitress calls me “honey” and refills my coffee cup.
It’s the evening before Independence Day and most Chicagoans have flocked to Grant Park to witness the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the annual fireworks display. According to Allie, the Double Door’s bartender, the crowd is thinner than normal, but lots of people are out of town or downtown to see that show. She reminds me that Liquid Soul generally plays to a “sold out” crowd. But, as Eli would probably argue—the “real fireworks” are inside the club. Eli seems proud to show me the ropes tonight. He gives me the thumbs up when the band goes on and whispers, “just wait.”
Mars positions himself next to trumpet/keys player, Doug Corcoran. At times, Mars’ sax shrieks like a woolly mammoth. There’s a push me/pull you quality to the mix. Some traditional, some avant-garde, some be-bop and the textures and styles fuse and whirr like an ambitious, hand-held lawn mover gliding over fresh green grass. Percussionist Jonathan Marks has played the drums for 21 years and has been with Liquid Soul for two and a half. He’s a younger version of actor Andy Garcia—flashing eyes, beguiling smile, and thick, wavy hair. Marks first heard them in seventh grade. He explains that the three rappers here tonight know all the songs and “it’s great when they show up at Chicago gigs.”
Tommy Klein—on the electric guitar—completes the ensemble, which fittingly, the day before Independence Day, put forth a lesson in democracy, each player brandishing his machete through the rain forest, pulling back the branches for the next. MCB, a friendly white rapper resembling Elvis Costello, sports a grey fedora and black leather. He walks on stage and asks that we, “make some noise.”
Eli waves at me. He’s cleverly moved up to the front of the stage, leaving me behind, but shouts above the din, “you’re gonna love this band.” MCB spews out some patter and Mars punctuates each rhythmic cadence. He lights into a dissonant hook—his solo is like a biblical slithery serpent—his baby finger pressing on the valves so passionately you expect liquid ooze. “There goes the missing piece,” mouths Eli the deserter. I spend the next hour trying to figure out what that means…
MCB is clapping enthusiastically. “It’s an honor to be with them,” he later tells me. “First met the band when they were doing improv at the Elbo Room. It was a really cool scene. They didn’t yet have a vocalist. I was one of the first to record,” he says. In the early ‘90s they toured a lot. “I was on the record Here’s the Deal—nominated for a Grammy.” Corcoran and Williams upchuck an homage to Herb Alpert before the next luxurious hook dissipates. What happens now is a complex meter change, a Middle Eastern riff leads to celestial bombast, which sprawls into some retro Super Fly style funk. As “Resolution” commences, D.J. Elroy “mugs” at the turntable. Marks whips the high-hat like a merciless schoolmarm. Klein’s lead-guitar fuzz ruminates and screeches, turning sexy melodic drizzle into a potent, acid-drenched solo.
“Everybody take two steps towards the stage,” the rappers demand. DJ Elroy imitates the kick and snare of the drum kit. The next song comes forth. The trumpet and sax sound so polished and so omnipresent of each other’s contortions, like an elderly, silver-haired married couple. Eli is moving his body in front of the stage. Another deep down gut-wrenching horn-of-plenty extravaganza—Mars owns this stage and they play, “Show Me”.
Mars loves his saxophone. If every man loved his woman the way Mars loves his sax, divorce attorneys would be sleeping under viaducts. MCB comes to the stage. “Clap your hands everybody. Say all right.” It’s an ensemble blazed with incendiary fervor. I look for Eli on the way out and figure he’ll be out there with the band, but he’s gone and with him the “missing piece.” That’s okay. I think I’ve had enough thrills for one night. That “piece” might have totally put me over the edge.