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Rob Dickinson (of Catherine Wheel) 21 June 2009: Schubas Tavern, Chicago

Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley

There are many frontmen of once awe inspiring bands that are now defunct who could learn quite a bit from Rob Dickinson. Though he has released a solo album -- 2005’s Fresh Wine for the Horses -- he’s well aware that most people want to hear songs from his Catherine Wheel days. This fact means his fans are hopelessly devoted to seeing him live (he was even given flowers at this show!), and though it may not be the same as seeing an actual Catherine Wheel reunion, it’s the closest most of us will get to this perfection.

It’s important to note that although Dickinson tours solo with no backup accompaniment, his presence alone is enough to carry the show. It’s not completely acoustic, either. He uses a couple of different pedals to emphasize certain choruses and guitar riffs. He also brings a great deal of personality to the stage in between the songs, introducing tunes like “Future Boy” as a song about a girl who he later denied writing it for when she questioned him. Seeing Dickinson in the live environment gives us the chance to get to know both him and the songs a little better.

Dickinson wasted no time delving into some of his best Catherine Wheel material. His second song was “Heal”, one of the best from 1995’s Happy Days, which was followed by a fantastic version of “Phantom of the American Mother” from 1997’s brilliant album Adam and Eve. He even delved as far back as 1992’s Ferment for “Black Metallic” and 1993’s Chrome with the past single “Crank”. Throughout his approximately hour long set, Dickinson’s vocals hit the notes just as well as on the original recordings. For anyone that felt some of the original gusto would be missing because of the lack of a backup band, what was gained instead was a fuller sense of the lyrics and Dickinson’s adept ability to write songs that contain themes that are still engaging and relevant today.

Dickinson also treated the audience to a few covers throughout the set. Beginning the night, he played “30 Century Man” by Scott Walker. Midway through his set found him playing a pleading version of the Smiths’ song “Please Please Please, Let Me Get What I Want” and a melancholy cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Mercy Street” that he explained was about the poet Anne Sexton. Regardless of whether he was taking on a cover or one of his own songs, it was fully realized that the main inspiration behind the greatness of Catherine Wheel was present on stage and that, in all those years, he hasn’t lost any of his magnitude.

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