The good news is that I've seen some lovely shows lately, the bad news is I've seen so many of them, I haven't had time to write about any of them. Here's a woefully quick rundown:
Notes & Scratches is a five-piece from Chicago. It's been around for a few years, sat virtually dormant for a bit, but are now back and preparing for the release of its new CD. When vocalist/guitarist Joshua Dumas speaks, his voice is a scratchy whisper. When he sings, it smoothes out a bit, and at high volumes the scratch is replaced by a pleasant warble. Viola player Whitney Johnson has a lovely voice that complements the band's bending of quirky indie pop and Americana. The quintet's sound is appropriately full and rich, with smooth textures coming from Johnson's viola and Anika Balaconis' trumpet. The band's half hour set left me wanting to hear more.
Sadly, the perplexing trio of Black Apple soon obliterated the warm glow provided by Notes & Scratches. Throughout the set I kept wondering if this was some inside joke that I just wasn't a part of. Other people seemed to enjoy the band, but I found so little to cheer for. Sure, the band's songs occasionally had memorable refrains, but the arrangements were all wrong, and the playing only approached mediocre. There were times when I caught bits of Zappa in the band's goofy songs and goofier stage show, but since Black Apple doesn't have a bizarre technical proficiency in jazz, I'm just not compelled to dig through the muck to see if there is hidden meaning.
The Blue Ribbon Glee Club joined Black Apple for it's final song, and then retreated back into the audience while gear was cleared away. Once the stage was empty, a few milk-crates were placed near the back to act as risers, and then the choir returned. BRGC is, as the name suggests, a choir – albeit a choir without a director, formal arrangements, or even adult supervision. The ensemble performs mostly a cappella (save an occasional drum or tambourine) versions of punk, post-punk, and indie rock songs. Some members are more energetic than others, some smile more broadly, some sing better than others, but all contribute to the boisterous din of giggle and cheer inducing music. The choir's set list didn't differ greatly from the first time I had seen the group perform, and its triumphant version of The Clash's "Spanish Bombs" remains my favourite.
While Springfield Missouri's Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin feared the large audience was only in attendance for the opening acts, the truth is that many audience members had travelled great distances to see the band perform its playful indie pop. I've been a fan of the band's breezy songcraft and superb arrangements since I heard them nearly two years ago, and in fact the Too Much Rock Podcast was started to highlight SSLYBY and a few other (then) unsigned bands.
SSLYBY divided its set into two halves: the first led by vocalist/guitarist John Robert Cardwell, with Philip Dickey on drums, Will Knauer on guitar, and Jonathan James on bass, and the second with Cardwell moving to bass, James moving to drums, Knauer staying put, and Dickey on vocals and guitar. The first incarnation was more direct, owing its focus to the assured swagger of Cardwell, while the second showed more whimsy due to the presence of the terribly excitable Dickey.
The band closed with "Modern Mystery" from its forthcoming album Pershing (due April 8th on Polyvinyl Records). Catch the band on its next tour this spring, so you can say you saw them "back when…"