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  WINDY CITY TIMES

BENT NIGHTS Velcro Lewis, Amnesia Haze; Lucinda Williams
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Vern Hester
2017-12-26

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Local supergroup Velcro Lewis have made a career out of serving a particularly volatile mix of gutbucket soul and searing acid rock while putting on some of the wildest shows in the city.

It's a little unsettling to realize that these guys ( Andy Slater on vocals and keyboards, Hawk Coleman on vocals, Lawrence Peters on bass, Travers Gauntt on guitar, Alison Hunger on Theremin, Izzy Price on drums, and Haden Spoonwood on bass ) have been around for over fifteen years, especially after hearing the recently released Amnesia Haze ( on Safety Meeting Records ). On first listen you could mistake them for youngsters who refuse to restrain themselves, but its obvious band leader Andy Slater and co-vocalist Hawk Coleman knew exactly what they were doing from the get go.

The opener "Castles will Fall" starts at a roiling clip with Coleman shrieking like a man possessed at a revival tent show with the band boiling beside him. With all that breathless fury the song takes an unexpected turn as the playing unexpectedly hooks itself to a beautiful melody then bolts at full throttle. "Free," a song Slater has fiddled with for some time, speaks to the current times and comes across as a coiled slow rocker stoked with irony and unease. With Slater tackling the vocals there's a touch of rage underneath the music and it gives the song an unexpected edge. The odd ball cut here is "Patriarchal Reptile," a psychedelic smack down aimed at a noxious misogynist ( "It's not a pleasure to meet you...," croons the discombobulated female voice with all the cheery spender of a janitor swabbing out an airport urinal ) and it comes off as droll, engaging, and the best low key put down since The Pretenders' "Private Life."

Early in November I caught Velcro Lewis at a preview show for Amnesia Haze at The Empty Bottle and, as expected, the show was close to a Pentecostal exorcism—complete with feverish performances and the appearance of one re-animated celebrity. Hearing Coleman's five-octave voice unleashed in front of a crowd at high pitch is a brisk experience in itself ( he is clearly not your mama's soul singer ), but with Slater at his side giving as good as he got and the band playing with fury and precision, the show felt like a knockdown free-for-all. It may have been pushing it but a gap-toothed Elvis closed out the show with a sloppy rip through "Burning Love" that left the packed room speechless.

Lucinda Williams, who knows a thing or two about subtly and restraint, played The Park West recently for a two-night, sold-out celebration of her 1992 breakthrough album Sad Old World ( on Chameleon Records ). Getting the chance to see her up close and personal in itself was a major treat, but the fact that she offered re-readings of these particular songs was a rarity. Williams is the owner of a deep, rich voice that features a lovely raggedness with a wisp of melancholy and her style is distinctive, fragile and unadorned. How she applies that voice to her high-quality songs ( Time Magazine called her "America's best songwriter" and she has the Grammys to prove it ) makes each of her 14 releases in the last 37 years something of an event.

The show got off to a quiet start with gentle readings of "Six Blocks Away" and "Sweet Old World." Williams spoke about her brilliant but troubled little brother as an introduction to "Little Angel, Little Brother," which was both lovely and tragic. "Lies Around Your Eyes" raised the energy in the room with a bouncy honkytonk vibe while" Prove My Love," "Sidewalks of the City," and "Pineola" found new shadings in this live setting.

Then the show got fun as Williams left Sad Old World to dart around her deep discography for a bushel of surprises and gems. "Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings" and "Drunken Angel" were lovely and scrappy, but "Those Three Days" and "I Changed the Locks" bolted with a surprising urgency. As a tribute to old friend Tom Petty, who passed away in 2017 ( Williams opened for Petty on his final shows at the Hollywood Bowl last year ), she offered a careful, elegant and altogether sincere reading of "Southern Accents," a song that made it clear that not all southerners are Bible-pounding rednecks. ( Williams was born in Louisiana. ) The kicker for the night had Williams announcing the recent Democratic victories in the nationwide elections amidst cheers before she barreled into brutal retakes of "Foolishness" and "You Took My Joy."

Heads up: Genderfluid hometown rocker Ezra Furman and his Boyfriends play Thalia Hall on Feb. 26; tickets are already on sale.


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