AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Live Music in Chicago / June 16th-18th

On Friday, June 17th, I saw the Olivia Block (ensemble) with Jon Mueller (percussion) and Adam Sonderberg (tabletop modular synth doo hickeys) at Constellation in Chicago. This was an outstanding show, and music I’ve been craving to see in a live setting since Covid began.

Olivia played an electric keyboard with some strong, intense Church organ sounds and also an acoustic grand piano which blended in really well with all the electronics.  I was told that there will be an album coming soon with this lineup which was great news as this was one of the best LAMPO shows that LAMPO did not put on!

The grand piano really added a dimension I don’t think I’ve heard before in electro/acoustic music.  The chording was majestic and mysterious at the same time and the overall textures created by the synthetics, rather driving percussion and piano…all taken in holistically was compelling to say the least. Her last album, “Innocent Passage on the Territorial Sea” reached best of status for me among recent releases. I did a write up about it here.

The night before (also at the Constellation space) I saw Jon Mueller do a solo percussion set that was excellent as well. This was NOT a 30-minute drum solo but much MUCH more. The drums were tuned in such a way that his very systematic and machine-like playing created bizarre overtones that sounded like other instruments. At one point, I could swear I heard Frippian fast picking (ala the middle part of Fracture) and at other times the (imaginary) “fullness” got to a point reminiscent of a full-on Gamelan Orchestra. In a way, it reminded me of a solo Chris Abraham (The Necks) show who accomplishes a similar sensation with piano.

The headliner for both of these shows was Circuit Des Yeux (Haley Fohr). I was only very casually familiar with her music by sampling various things on Bandcamp but there were enough appealing attributes for me to want to check her out.

By analogy, think Kate Bush / (early) David Sylvian / Diamanda Galas / Legendary Pink Dots and you are almost there. The first night was Haley (12-string acoustic and occasional keyboard) and a violist with taped orchestrations and percussion. On the second night, add a very unobtrusive drummer to the mix. Even though her voice was ABSOLUTELY DRENCHED with reverb she has an amazing range, but most of the time that range was limited to a low, breathy, husky contralto.

The taped orchestrations were lush and detailed which gave me the desire to see her in a bigger budget production with more players reproducing this sound live. Additionally, she had some interesting visuals that leaned towards the deep reds, purples, and blacks augmented by a single pink floor spot.  A gothic, Tanith Lee vibe if you will. If you dig the Projekt label, you will most certainly dig Circuit. I’ll be exploring more of her music on Bandcamp shortly.

On Saturday, June 18th (at the Hideout in Chicago) I saw Cheer Accident and had a great time! It’s been quite a while since I’ve been to a C-A show so I was really glad I got to see this 90-minute concert.

C-A brought out a huge band, (not everyone playing at once but different subsets for different songs) with lots of brass, that great (patented) crunchy guitar sound, many singers, and that hilarious burlesque vibe (through the C-A filter…you had to have been there) running through the whole thing. Nils Frykdahl (from Faun Fables who opened the show) sat in on a massively energetic and very amusingly affected version of “House of Dowse”.

Thymme Jones and his ensemble were all over the musical map.  From heavy, Crimson-infused math-rock-like instrumentals and some spikey avant-jazz brass workouts to ear-worm worthy pop songs sung by Thymme and a cornucopia of ladies moving on and off the stage…if you didn’t like the vibe, wait 2 minutes and you’d get something else.  Personally, I was having such a great time that I could have easily listened to another 90 minutes.  Bravo!!

Finally, the opener…Faun Fables (Dawn McCarthy and Nils Frykdahl) transformed their pagan(ish) folk sound into a family affair with Nils’ and Dawn’s three daughters adding harmony vocals and percussion.

This energetic set succeeded in drawing down the moon and sending us all to the pastoral fields of a 16th-century Puritanical village. 

Dawn handled most of the vocals and acoustic guitar playing with the girls and Nils harmonizing and adding background call and response.  Nils also played some bass, electric guitar, and an assortment of flutes (which was the icing on the cake for this pagan ceremony).  I was half waiting for a multi-colored maypole to descend from the rafters of the Hideout so all could cavort in their own Rite of Spring.

So, there you have it, my 3-day weekend of gigs.  It was wonderful to get out there again and I could tell by the energy…from the musicians and audiences alike, that the feeling was mutual.  Thanks to Larry Blatecky for the photo assistance, apparently, I was inept at taking photos this weekend.

Mike Eisenberg
Twitter: @bigaudio999

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