Schubas is such a great place to see a show. The intimate venue is definitely one of Chicago's best, and last night, it provided the backdrop for one of the best nights of music I've seen this year. Some pre-show pitchers and pizza (on special for $5 each) at a nearby sports bar helped to take the edge off, but were also responsible for me missing The People's first two songs. Not to fear though, the four or five songs I did hear made me an instant believer. A bit of buzz has been surrounding these guys as of late, so I made a point to see what all fuss was about, even though that meant leaving my Chicago Bulls in the middle of a tough game, but they ended up doing just fine without me.
If you're not hip to The People, they're a four-piece from Kansas City with a taste for R&B-infused indie rock. Their lead guitarist looks like Ben Kweller's long lost twin brother, and the singer's falsetto vocals conjure up memories of Beck's Midnight Vultures. I'm not sure how many people in the small room were there for The People, but the band had no trouble gaining converts. In fact, the book that holds the band's recent mailing list signees was so full that people had started writing their email addys down in the margins, back cover, and just about anywhere else possible. Frontman Ben Grimes was nice enough to fill me in on some band details - like the fact that they've got two independently released albums, really like touring with Sondre Lerche, and have been fielding offers from a few different labels, but have yet to decide who to team with. Did someone say bidding war?
20-year-old Norwegian sensation Sondre Lerche was next. I got an advance copy of his fantastic debut album, Faces Down, months ago and I was so in love with it that I actually burnt myself out on the thing ñ and that was easily four months ago. So, needless to say, I know all the words and remember just about every little nuance of each song, including the string arrangements, ambient sounds, etc. The starry-eyed Sondre, on his first US tour, walked onstage armed only with an acoustic guitar and without a word, softly started "You Know So Well." The crowd, which at the time was loudly chatting away, barely noticed him take the stage. However, by the end of the second verse, all eyes were on Sondre and it stayed that way until he left the stage to erupting applause. This kid is an amazing talent. He's a sophisticated songwriter and a flawless guitar player. I honestly don't think he hit a wrong note the entire evening, and he was rocking some pretty "out there" jazz chords. Having him play solo acoustic on his first US trek was a great idea. It really gives his fans a chance to see just how talented he really is without getting drowned out by a backing band. No smoke and mirrors. Next time he should tour with the Polyphonic Spree and have them act as his backing symphony orchestra, as Faces Down is filled with swirling string arrangements and a bombastic rhythm section. (Thanks for the beers Mr. Connelly. You can go ahead and take my great tour idea as a token of my appreciation.) As the evening progressed, Sondre ran through the majority of Faces Down, occasionally getting some assistance from the crowd. We got to sing "na, na na na na naÖ" during "All Luck Ran Out" and a group of girls in the front row sang the female duet during "Modern Nature." I am officially no longer burnt out on Sondre Lerche's Faces Down. In fact, it's going to be my chill out soundtrack for the drive home tonight. (I've got to do something to prevent myself from road rage inspired bird-flipping, right?)
On to Nada Surf, and NO, they didn't play "Popular." Now is it possible - three highly anticipated performances in one night and all exceeded my high expectations? Quite simply, yes! With a fresh batch of songs from their new album, Let Go (my favorite of the year so far), Nada Surf wowed me. A lot of the album is played with acoustic guitar, but the Surf were all electrified last night, and they even recruited The People's Ken Jankowski to fill out their sound with some ivory tickling. The set culled tunes past and present and ran almost two hours, with the band seemingly getting tighter and tighter with every song. At times, slow, sweet, mellowed out vocals resonated from shaggy-haired frontman Matt Caws' vocal chords. More often however, Nada Surf were more aggressive with their playing than the album tracks. "Killians Red," "Inside Of Love," "Fruit Flies," and my personal fav "The Way You Wear Your Head," all stood out, as did the double encore with "Blizzard Of 77" and "Blonde On Blonde."
To reiterate, this was on of the best nights of music I've had the pleasure of hearing this year. Everyone exceeded my expectations. Now someone go give The People a big fat recording contract!