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Camera Obscura + Princeton

(4 Apr 2010: Lincoln Hall — Chicago)

Let me start by saying that I would be very okay with more present day recording artists adding horn sections. If you would like to see how to properly integrate trumpets into your single, Camera Obscura’s My Maudling Career would be an ideal place to start. It’s the fourth studio album from the band and while it’s nearing a year since initial release, the praise for this album still keeps pouring over.  In a day and age when so much of the music produced is synthesized beyond recognition, it’s refreshing to see a band like Camera Obscura demonstrate what it means to be serious musicians: to actually play instruments and layer sounds, while relying on sheer musical talent. Proving that success in 2010 isn’t contingent on using sequencers and groove boxes, Camera Obscura gets it done using violins and solid vocals, all the while sounding as genuine live as on record.


Opening for Camera Obscura was the California based Princeton. The quartet, led by Jesse and Matt Kivel, each with the boyish face of Haley Joel Osment and the hair of a Jonas brother, front the breezy band donning boat shoes and plaid shirts.  Princeton was relatively sophomoric in sound. The band is roughly five years old, yet they had an on-stage bravado that usually comes from years of experience. They had a good rapport with the audience, laughing and chatting in-between songs.  They joked that a crowd this quiet should be found in a coffee shop, not a concert venue.  Taking it further, Kivel even whispered into the mic: “Let’s give that song the snaps it deserves,” snapping his fingers and winning the crowd over.


Though Princeton was evidently not well known with the crowd, they were extremely easy to listen to. Without a doubt, the four band members were having a really good time, their smiles and energy overflowing onto the audience. With each song they played, you could see more bodies swaying and more heads bobbing. Princeton definitely earned their keep for an opening band.


The six-member Camera Obscura took the stage, which was pretty ill-fitting for such a large band. Lincoln Hall is a new venue, not even a year old, and it isn’t very spacious. It’s a very intimate setting, with the audience able to belly up to the stage and the housing limited to fewer than 450 people. Lead vocalist Tracyanne Campbell and guitarist Kenny McKeeve seemed to have about two square feet of foot room.  Regardless of the cramped conditions, the band came on stage to a warm welcome, the men in collared shirts, Tracyanne and keyboardist Carey Lander in dresses and heels. Their well-styled wardrobe clearly mirroring their sound: classy, and well- executed.


The band didn’t open with a showstopper, instead opting for the title track from their newest album My Maudlin Career, sounding smooth, rehearsed and unified. Two songs later, the Scots went into “French Navy”, the first single off the newest album. It was a great live song, seemingly played at a faster, very danceable tempo.  The light technicians took the queue, dropping down a disco ball and filling the room with the proper atmosphere.


Additional highlights included the popular “Honey in the Sun”, and while the theme of their newest album is heartbreak and failing relationships, “Honey in the Sun” sticks with the same theme, but in an upbeat, horns blaring sort of way. However, with only one trumpeter on stage, the song didn’t carry quite as well live from record.  While the single trumpet seemed to be satisfactory for the majority of the songs, the lack of additional horns was really evident in this song, due to the fact it’s easily the most prominent instrument.


“The Sweetest Thing”, was probably my favorite song of the night. Even though Campbell noted that “This is much quieter than a normal Chicago crowd,” the Monday night audience did muster up some cheers for the city’s shout out in the lyrics, “You pull my heart out and then you run away / From Chicago to Cleveland you leave me pain.” This is the epitomical Camera Obscura live song: McKeeve and Campbell’s voices meshing together perfectly, fronting very simple chords and simple drumming. One real treat for the crowd was the tune “The World is Full of Strangers”, a song that didn’t quite make the Maudlincut. As McKeeve put it, “This would be a B-Side track… if they still existed.” About halfway through the song, I was really wishing they did.


Late into the set came “Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken” off their third album, Let’s Get Out of this Country.  In addition to being one of their staple songs, it also has gained notoriety as being part of the PS, I Love You soundtrack. The song is organ laden, detailed with McKeeve’s guitar riffs and perfectly accompanying Campbell’s voice. It made me wish she would have sung me my bedtime lullabies.  Though her thick Scottish brogue makes some lyrics lost to the American ear, her distinct, wistful voice makes up for it tenfold.


Closing the show was “Razzle Dazzle Rose”, a great song with a great ending; an epic, drawn-out crescendo of guitars, bass and trumpets. Camera Obscura made for a great evening, the new venue absorbing their lingering notes.

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