When I heard that one of Scotland Yard Gospel Choir’s two main songwriters, Matt Kerstein, had left the group to form Brighton MA, I was worried about the SYGC’s fate. As it turns out, as a result of that split, we now have two good bands. The Choir has continued on, with Elia Einhorn taking firmer control of the enterprise. And, yet, it still has the same communal spirit it used to have, with alternating male and female vocals and plenty of musical guests floating in and out. I feel a little guilty about being a lazy music critic and mentioning the similarities to Belle & Sebastian, but they are sort of hard to miss. (Hey, I once walked into Laurie’s Planet of Sound to do a little record shopping, and there was Elia in the store – gushing about a new book on Belle & Sebastian.)
On its new self-titled album (its first for Bloodshot Records), the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir presents nine superb songs, with excellent melodies and lyrics. The Belle vibe is still there, though the Choir explores other variations of Brit pop, too. They may be a Chicago band, but they use phrases like “in hospital” and sing about apsidistras, for crying out loud. (Elia’s a native of Wales, so I guess he’s got an excuse.)
The group took the idea of a CD release party quite literally on Friday night (Oct. 26) at the Empty Bottle, festooning the stage with colored balloons and putting out dishes of candy for audience members. The main opening act was Mr. Ash, an older magician with plenty of Borscht Belt shtick and some still impressive prestidigitation moves. Kelly Hogan emceed, and Jon Langford (whose art studio is near Ash’s magic shop) also took part in the magic tricks. One trick involved two handkerchiefs being placed in Hogan’s bodice, and when Ash and Langford pulled them out, a bra was attached. Mr. Ash told the audience to remember the magic word for the night, which was “Scotland Yard!” Langford played a few songs, too, and then a couple of young women calling themselves “The Edge” dueled with light sabers in front of the stage. Finally, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir took the stage for a pretty good run-through of its new songs (with one even newer song). All in all, twas a fun time.