Friday, April 04, 2008

Concert Review: Vandaveer, These United States, Rachel Ries

The beauty of The Hideout (other than two-dollar cans of Old Style - though, we preferred the PBR, but it seems a touchy subject 'round the bar, so we'll leave that alone) is that the intimate space and low ceiling make it feel as though you're watching your friends jam in their basement. Well last night we had some remarkably talented friends.

Opening the night was DC collective The Federal Reserve member, Vandaveer: the moniker singer/songwriter, Mark Charles, goes under. His album, Grace & Speed, came out last year to much critical acclaim, and is well worth the purchase price. With a velvety voice and storytelling lyrics, Vandaveer commanded the attention of the full (albeit lethargic) audience, the room falling silent to hear every bit of his performance. Imagine Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits or Bob Dylan, even, with just a microphone and acoustic guitar telling their tales; now imagine if they had a spectacular singing voice and it's a fair comparison to Vandaveer.

Don't take our word for it - here's an example: on a train somewhere in Europe, like it's just that simple...

After a few songs performed solo, Vandaveer became a trio, with two fellow Federal Reserve members joining Charles on stage. On percussion was These United States drummer, Robbie Cosenza, and singing backup vocals was the pitch-perfect Rose. With a voice like Stevie Nicks or Neko Case, Rose turned Vandaveer into a whole other beast, and the emotion and drama created between the two singers' vocal interplay was no less than moving.

The middleCoast has been raving about These United States for some time now, and last night they finally made their stop in Chicago. If The Hideout is somebody's basement, it likely belonged to Jesse Elliott's mom. Truly a family affair for the These US lead singer, having grown up in Elgin, friends from high school dotted the crowd, and at one point Mrs. Elliott brought her son a beer while he was on stage. Elliott announced the band members to the audience toward the end of their set - Cosenza on drums, Tom Hnatow on slide/guitars/piano - and finished with "And I'm Jesse and I know half of you, so stop clapping".

The band deftly worked through organic versions of tracks from their recent release, A Picture of the Three of Us At the Gate to the Garden of Eden. Joining These US on stage midway through their set, Vandaveer's Mark Charles added electric bass and backup vocals to the mix, and the folk-rock leaned much further toward the rock. When Hnatow took a seat at the ancient piano (a Hideout permanent fixture), their brand of Americana emitted a definite Springsteen influence. Closing their set with anthemic sing-along, "Burn This Bridge", did nothing to squelch that association, and finally the somnolent audience found their spirit belting out the chorus, at one with the performers.

Headlining the evening was Chicago-based songstress, Rachel Ries, and her band, The Brawny Angels. Ries and company produce a throwback sound mingling jazz standards of the 20s and 30s with a rootsy version of folk-rockabilly that is nothing short of impressive. Classically trained, Ries' vocals manage a variety and range of melodies as precise and exacting as any of the other instruments at play. After the humor and tomfoolery of the previous two acts, however, Ries appeared a bit too self-serious for our taste.

(Disclosure: Unfortunately, this less-than-professional reviewer decided to drink beer at the bar with members of These United States and Vandaveer after hearing only a handful of Ries' songs, and has little more to add here in regards to her performance. Apologies. For what it's worth, Jesse, Tom, Robbie, Mark, and Rose are all fantastic drinking mates.)


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