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BENT NIGHTS Eli 'Paperboy' Reed; Chairlift
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Vern Hester

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BWhat has defined and separated Eli "Paperboy" Reed from the growing pack of soul revivalists is his lack of pretension. Where critics and fans stumble over themselves blessing Leon Bridges and Adele for resurrecting icons of yore ( Sam Cooke and Dusty Springfield, respectively ), Reed loves to get down and dirty from the word "go." His music and vocals are so brazen that it is no wonder he has found himself pegged as "alternative rock" rather then "soul."

As demonstrated by his nearly sold-out blow-out at The Empty Bottle on March 26—in support of his upcoming full-length CD My Way Home ( Yep Roc Records )—Reed still cares little for flash while favoring a vocal attack closer to gutbucket blues. Fortunately, the new release is more of what has made him a slightly underground sensation ( the audience at this Empty Bottle show was a good 20 years older then the usual crowd ) while the production and his singing are as unfussy as possible. In short, My Way Home is the "good stuff."

The title song—a measured, almost mid-tempo blues strut—has the intensity of naked gospel, and the tremble in Reed's voice is not only heartbreaking but gives the recording a dramatic suspense. "Hold Out" rumbles and rattles with near violence and exposes Reed as having just a little too much fun singing his heart out ( its hard to fault him on that ).

If the new CD has meat and muscle on the grooves, it says nothing for what Reed did with his band ( Michael Montgomery, J.B. Flatt, and Noah Rubin ) onstage. Eschewing charming chit-chat between songs, Reed plunged the room into an emotionally turbulent barrage of hard edged unadorned soul. Mixing large chunks of My Way Home with classics from his previous three full-length CDs ( "Come and Get It," "Shock to the System" ), Reed and his crew seemed to delight in topping each song constantly

There were so many show-stoppers and they came with such a breathless velocity that it was hard to find a climax, but two of the new songs left me in a daze. "Your Sins Will Find You" was so brutal, searing and compelling that it nearly upended everything that came before it. An unplugged reading of "Lord Can We be Saved?"—with Reed and his band singing in perfect harmony—had the bare, exhausted, remorseful tone of a chain-gang lament. The song is the kind of intensely deep spiritual workout that nobody dares to record anymore and left me wondering if Reed is a mere mortal or comes from the heavens.

If Reed sounds like an angelic original, electro-pop duo Chairlift always felt like ABBA for the new century to my ears. Yes, Caroline Polachek has a voice of arresting purity and partner Patrick Wemberly has a deft hand at production, but there was always a lack of gravity in the music which made them sound too decorative for my taste. Chairlift broke out with the wordy, ironic, delightful love song "Bruises" ( "I'm pink and black and blue for you..." ), but the duo's synth-pop lacked engagement ( unlike The Human League ), bite ( Pet Shop Boys ) or weight.

Clearly I am not an ABBA fan, but like vocalist Frida Lyngstad—who found her inner bitch once Phil Collins got his mitts on her ( "I Know there's Something Going On" )—Chairlift has not only found that sonic substance but a new soul as well. On the new Moth ( Columbia Records ) and a sold-out show at The Double Door on April 2, they made it a point to show off a big fat throbbing heartbeat under the gloss.

For starters, "Unfinished Business" is a careful, even cautious meditative ballad with Polachek displaying a crack in the veneer of her glacial voice, giving the throbbing production a touch of dangerous drama. "Ch-Ching," with its hip-hop-influenced percussion, is bouncy arrhythmical ear candy but the real fun is on "Crying in Public" and "Romeo." The former is the sound of luxurious despair: precise, subtle, crystalline, and unnervingly beautiful. "Romeo" on the other hand is the Chairlift corker I've been waiting for, melding pop, funk, and disco into an intoxicating brew, it brings back the notion of delirious dance floor abandon that we rarely get anymore.

If I had a doubt that Polachek and Wemberly could ignite the dance floor, that notion went to rest at The Double Door as the duo careened through much of Moth ( "Show U Off," "Ottawa to Osaka" ) and old favorites ( "I Belong in Your Arms," "Sidewalk Safari" ). Polachek wafted and twirled onstage like a music-box ballerina and sang like a quaint seductress putting Chairlift in a proper perspective. Clearly Polachek and Wemberly have a brand-new bag that should take them to a new height.

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