I took a leisurely stroll down Southport Ave. last night for a show at my neighborhood tavern, Schubas. California Wives headlined the night, their first set at the lofty Lakeview establishment since, I think, their EP release party two labor day weekends ago.
Well, I missed them that night but did catch their show (paired with Santah) at Subterranean in January.
Since then, it’s been awhile for me to make it out for California Wives because that Subterranean show left me feeling so underwhelmed and cold. They’d knocked it out of the park with their intricate and finely tuned Affair EP — one of the first albums, actually, that got reviewed in this space — and yet the live show felt poor. It didn’t make sense to me.
What I didn’t account for at the time — not true of Minor Characters’ record release, oddly — is that Subterranean is, for now, my least favorite venue in the city. A band I like gets booked there and my stomach just churns. It’s the sound, sure, but it’s also the type of clientele that roams freely there. Never have I been to shows where audiences are so totally disengaged then when I’m working my way through sets at Subterranean.
There’s also the barmaid I’ve had a few times now who gives you that Wicker Parkian you don’t know? bullshit when you ask simple questions about what’s on tap.
Me: “What’s the Bell’s Winter White?”
Her (with exaggerated eye roll): “It’s a White Ale…”
I still tipped her. What the fuck is wrong with me. But I digress.
Half of California Wives knows this already because I told them sometime after their set, but their Schubas headline totally redeemed them as a band for me. So much so that I selfishly wish they wouldn’t be going out on tour sometime next year so I can catch ‘em a few more times at an intimate space like Schubas or the Hideout.
But that kind of thing is said with a touch of sarcasm. I’m totally for it when Chicago-based acts take it to the road. And now that I know these guys can play a tight show, I’m of the camp that believes, truly, that this venture will bear fruit for the boys — especially when it’s coupled with their debut full length, much of which we heard last night.
I can’t remember as well the new stuff as the music more plastered to memory, but I know I liked it! I described to their drummer, Joe, that I found it “chill,” but I don’t know that that much works without explanation.
What I mean to say is the new stuff, generally, seems to rely less on Jayson and Dan’s vocals. To that end, the music is weightier in its instrumentals, more ornate with buzzes and funky computer tunes, and sounds great strung out together over an extended vocal break.
And when that’s going on, when the voices fade down and the guitars and computers blast off, there’s this chilling wave of sound that feels altogether exciting.
Jayson and Dan, again, worked it at the mic during their between-song banter. They’re genuine, and genuinely funny, and it shows through then.
Minor Characters @ Subterranean
Funnily enough, the other show I want to write about today was just a few nights back at Subterranean. It was Minor Characters’ record release show in support of their debut, self-titled EP, an album I liked quite a bit.
What was strange about the night was that the sound was clear and good, and the Subterraneans standing on the parlor floor seemed like they actually wanted to be there. Perhaps Minor Characters have made a fair amount of friends in the city.
As I’ve said a time or two before, I found out about Minor Characters when I saw them, at Subterranean, opening for Champaign’s Elsinore a few months back. It’s always a delight to discover something new to listen to, and when it’s at a live show that I happen to attend, the event evokes some homegrown feeling within me that an impersonal email addressed to me could never replicate. It’s an experience that’s hard to shake.
I was struck that August night — and in subsequent email exchanges — that these guys are as polite as can be. That sentiment carried over into Thursday, too, when the boys announced, among other things, that they’d handmade a set of prints to be given to the first handful of people who bought a hard copy of their EP at the merch table. From the stage, Adam, as well, thanked the crowd, the space, the other bands, life, the world and so on, and Andrew admitted he’d been working through a cold all week and that night, but came out to play anyway.
Again, it’s that honest sense of truth and transparency that’s really working for Minor Characters.
Between the five tracks from the EP, Minor Characters played a few covers I think were prepped especially for the record release. I didn’t care much for their cover of The Beach Boys’ “California Girls” — it kinda just sat there — but their take on Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” — making a comeback, it seems, thanks to The Hangover — suited them well. It’s got that dramatic finish built into it already, but they seemed to do it with a brush more intensity.
- Minor Characters’ EP is just a buck (or more, if you’re willing) on Bandcamp. Listen to it and then just get it, you silly bastard. It’ll be the best dollar you’ve ever spent on [insert today's date].