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When I saw Beulah last fall, word had already spread that the band was dissolving, that their record Yoko was a parting shot across the bow. Back then, Chicago’s Abbey Pub was cramped, bursting at capacity with folks reveling in Beulah’s swan song and hoping just maybe that the boys would soldier on carrying the indie rock flag for all of us starry-eyed music lovers. Like Yoko, a record bathed in the imagery, lyric, metaphor and ache of break-up, that October performance screamed and shouted so long and farewell.
11 Jun 2004: Abbey Pub Chicago
So to my surprise, I received another last chance to bid adieu to my beloved Beulah. Though this time around the Abbey was a tad less crowded, those folks along for the ride were zealots, full-on believers that, as the bumper sticker reads, “Beulah Saves!” This review could easily read like an obituary. Rarely does one get the chance to go into a concert knowing that never again will he or she see the band on stage. Well here it was, last call for sweetness and light. From the start, as the band toyed with the slap and tickle of their introductory coda “Hello Resolven” then launched full steam into the breezy bouncy pop gem “Gene Autry”, Beulah’s acolytes were screaming and howling with a fevered passion. No one wanted to believe in the end. How could a band this good, this talented at crafting dreamy, memorably contagious pop melodies, be calling it quits?
Yet Beulah was going to say goodbye with a bang, a night of spirited rock cloaked in shimmering grandeur. Over the course of four records, the band had developed a sound that was part moody Bacharach-David-style lounge pop, part driving fuzzy rock, part ‘70s AM radio gold, and part sugary sing along bop-bop-bobba da choruses. Live the Beulah boys would showcase these varied sounds in the wistful yet buoyant “Hovering”, a ballad of love lost, or in the raucous ringing blasts of guitar and surging piano of “Silver Lining”, Miles Kurosky’s love letter penned to “punk rock who was my first girl,” and even the dark, brooding rocker “Wipe Those Prints and Run”.
Long a convert to the Beulah flock, I know I could barely pick a favorite for the night. Likewise the crowd rallied around song after song. A song like “Emma Blowgun’s Last Stand” did stand out, though, with its tribal tom-tom beat, swirling rhythms, Ultravox synthesizer, and Bill Swan’s sweet soulful trumpet blasts. As singer Miles Kurosky sadly and poignantly crooned, “goodness knows it’s been a wonderful run,” Danny Sullivan absolutely beamed like a school boy while thunding his drums and adding back-up ooh-ooohs. Equally memorable was the anthemic gem, lengthily titled but supremely hummable “If We Can Land a Man on the Moon, Surely I Can Win your Heart”. This ditty starts slowly with a trumpet fill, then a piano flourish, and Kurosky’s honeyed confessions and professions that “all we need is a pretty song.” Here indeed was a pretty song—bold, bouncy and sassy with driving guitars, percolating beats and sing along choruses and whispery melodic interludes where Kurosky and company declare, “yeah we’ll play / anything that you want / all we want from you is a word or two.” The whole crowd joined in Beulah’s yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah chorus. The Abbey had become one giant, giddy dance palace.
As usual, when it came time for the encores Kurosky began calling up audience members to shake and shimmy on stage while banging tambourines and sleigh bells. Though normally fond of the comely lasses, the first choice was the oddest yet most appropriately bedecked fan, a tall, lanky lad dressed like Jesus with flowing garb and a crown not of thorns but Christmas lights. With the savior now on stage, Beulah was able to lash into the rousing stomp of “Me and Jesus Don’t Talk Anymore” that was the bitterest and sweetest song of the night as Kurosky pleaded, “Don’t be sad that I’m going…but maybe we’ll be just fine.” Yes I guess we will be fine. Here come the drums, bass and piano pumping out an infectious can-can beat to move the feet. Bill Swan’s slide guitar crying a lonesome wail to punctuate the sad but joyous jolt of bubbly pop.
I’m sorry Beulah, but I am sad that you’re going even if you send me off to that long goodnight with the fevered frenzied buzz saw rocker “Score from Augusta”. So the story closed with angelic trumpet fanfares, howling bobba-dobba-da vocals, and a whirling dervish dance beat. Though Beulah’s name was once written in the sand, it will now be washed like a memory into the salty waves of the ocean. But like Miles said, “it was a beautiful run.”
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