My handpicks for February were put on hold Saturday night when I neglected to go to a Lincoln Hall show I’d advised was worth your time and money. Instead, my attention shifted southwest, in favor of a party at Subterranean curated by a handmade website doing wonderful things for the city’s music scene.
The site, as you might subscribe to already, is Chicago Mixtape, and for one night only it lassoed the likes of Elephant Gun, The Damn Choir and two others to honor its one-year anniversary as a webpage.
A friend and I arrived fashionably late, we’ll say, due to an extended stay at Dunlay’s for its burgers, sweet potato fries, ground beef and sausage chili and extensive list of craft beers. And then, having gotten our fill from the two bands I’m about ready to write about, we missed out on the evening’s headliner, The Shams Band, too.
Despite catching about a song and a half of the opener, Architecture, I don’t know that my impressions, based on such brevity, would ring true. So I’m skipping ahead to The Damn Choir.
The Damn Choir. I enjoyed these guys. Like Elephant Gun with its violin, The Damn Choir uses a notable member of the string family — a cello — to compliment and round out its roaring rock. Should it have been turned up some? I’m sure of it. But that’s the fault of the guys working sound.
I’m re-listening to a handful of tunes I can access of theirs online, and I don’t know that they soar nearly as high as they do live. On the stage, the music of The Damn Choir pulsates with such great energy. Wielding thick drum pounds and cello swings and so on, the band carefully layers its sounds one on top of the other. By tune’s end, I, at least, was ineffably absorbed.
On record, it seems, the same doesn’t happen. Keep in mind, though, that I’m responding to just a sample of what they offer online.
A distraction for me about the live show, however, was the lead vocals. Gordon Robertson, in my opinion, sounds like a compound of popular ’90s front men. Maybe The Verve Pipe’s Brian Vander Ark with a touch of The Calling’s Alex Band. However genuine he and The Damn Choir may be — again, I like these guys — the group happens to be fronted by a voice that seems unnatural and of another decade.
I last want to say, though, that he seemed well suited for The Damn Choir’s cover of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Their take on it, really, was awesome, and probably the highlight of the evening for me. The familiar “do dah dah do dah dah do” hook was handled by their cellist. It worked and it made sense. Bravo.
Following The Damn Choir was Elephant Gun, an indie orchestra of nine that’s gotten a few mentions here in only the past couple months. They released a full length in November called Kid Scissors that I thought was one of the best local releases of 2011, and I’ve seen them once before, at a Santah-headlined show at Lincoln Hall a few days before Christmas.
That show, which I enjoyed, got better for me as it went on. Elephant Gun seemed to settle into a comfortable groove after lifting off with, I think, a mess of chaos from their early catalog.
Though we heard some of those same all-hands-on-deck songs Saturday night, they were played only after the band established a rapport with the Subterranean crowd. Leading off with “Coolest Dudes,” for instance, made all the difference for me, because a song like “Coolest Dudes” says, “Hey, we’re Elephant Gun. We’re sweet and civil [winky emoticon].”
That subtle set list change allowed them to get away with whatever they wanted to play later, and I applaud these guys for figuring that out.
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