As much as I love big spectacular arena-sized concerts, it was a relief to catch a batch of low-key shows in intimate venues last month. The last two weeks of October offered maybe too many options of those who may not have the marquee value of a Madonna ( who played the Chicago Theater for almost a week last month ) or Barbra Steisand ( who filled The United Center recently )but they were satisfying entertainment, nonetheless.
First up was one of Taylor Swift's favorites, Yoke Lore, who hit The Bottom Lounge for an energetic sold out show on Oct. 19. Although the "group" is actually Adrian Gavin's solo project, he was wise enough to bring along drummer Garren Orr to play with him. In support of his new EP, Bravado, and Body Parts ( on B3Sci Records ), Gavin sang songs of emotional turmoil and misery ( "Dead Ringer," "Hold Me Down," "Ride," "Body Parts" ) while bouncing about like a puppet on a string and showing no mercy toward what looked like a custom crafted banjo. The twentysomething crowd ate it up although, oddly, Gavin's tortured songs were betrayed by his jolly demeanor.
Matt and Kim, who played The Riviera Theater on Oct. 22, clearly were not having any sad or miserable thoughts as they celebrated the 10th anniversary of their second album, Grand ( on Fader Records ). Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino had a high old time plowing through the bouncy dance music on the album ( and then some ), cracking naughty jokes, flashing boobs ( Schifino's contribution ) and presenting an instructive guide to how Grand was madewhich included a slide show. It was obvious this show was meant as a musical extravaganza as well as a comic one and the only thing I could say at the finish is that Matt and Kim make heterosexuality look like fun.
Not nearly as raucous but just as engaging was noted producer ( Quinn XCII, Wingtip, Chelsea Cutler ) and sweet-natured Michigan hunk ayokay ( one Alex O'Neill ), who made the move from his studio console to the concert stage as a real live breathing rock star. He played Lincoln Hall on Oct. 23 andwith the help of Wingtip ( who opened ), a furry friend and a crack bandserved chunks of his recently released full0length debut, In the Shape of A Dream ( on Columbia Records ). The sold-out, frenzied crowd ate up most all of his blue-eyed soul that included "Don't Wanna be Your Friend," " You're Not Here" and "Stay with Me."
On a comparatively subdued note, San Fermin played Thalia Hall on Oct. 25, and I have to say it was nice to sit in an audience that listened quietly to the music verses. The seven-member collective was supporting its new The Cormorant I ( Better Company Records/Sony Music )which, with Allen Tate's smooth vocals, Claire Wellin's astute violin playing, and Stephan Chen and John Brandon's punchy horn work, veered elegantly between big-band soul and pop jazz for a heady mix.
As fun and grand as all these shows were, New Zealander Jonathon Bree's engagement at The Sleeping Village was far more than a concert and more like an aural performance piece. Local vocalist Andrew Sa opened the show, and though I only got to hear three songs it was evident that he had a surreal and bracingly elegant impact on the packed room. The man has the voice of a fallen angel and his heaven-bound tone betrayed a wounded melancholy that was downright eerie. ( The audience listened in stunned silence. ) His reading of two Patsy Cline classics was particularly affecting and he later quipped "Now you can go home and tell your grandparents you saw a queer boy sing 'Crazy.'" Vocalist/pianist Shilpa Ray came on next and, with the help of sound artist Cameron Kapoor, upended all that melancholy with her whiskey raw voice and a batch of songs about romantic vengeance and betrayal.
Then Bree, his band and two synchronized dancers came onstage dressed in white and black with identical face coverings and wigsand proceeded to deliver a set of slightly arch deadpan love songs that came off as both witty and absurd. With the dancers moving around him, Bree stood stock still and crooned "Say You Love Me," "Weird Hardcore" and the irresistibly catchy "You're So Cool," from his recently released full length, Sleepwalking ( on Lil Chief Records ). It was all rather tongue-and-cheek and funny, and I could not take my eyes away from the stage. Without a doubt, this performance was the best show I had seen all year.
Heads up: Out soul man JC Brooks hits The Sleeping Village for a show on Dec. 6. Out rapper Roy Kinsey and Eli Major take over Schuba's on Dec. 17 while the giddiest band in all of Scotland, The Joy Formidable, play The Bottom Lounge on Dec. 12. DIY darlings Melk Belly join The Hecks for a show at The Hideout on Dec. 28 while rockabilly fiend The Rev. Horton Heat hits The Chicago House of Blues on Dec. 29. You may want to hurry if you plan to catch Angel Olsen at The Riviera Theater on Nov. 14, tickets are going fast.