As I’ve said in previous blog posts, the Welsh-born singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon has developed into one of today’s most exciting musicians. Since her previous concert at Schubas, in January 2014, she has played in Chicago a couple of times as a touring guitarist with the West Coast psychedelic band White Fence, as well as a member of Drinks — a duo she formed with White Fence’s Tim Presley.
Now, she has an excellent new solo album called Crab Day, which finds her exploring deeper into her beguilingly strange blend of influences — British folk, European cabaret music, psychedelic flourishes, lurching rhythms with moments of Krautrock repetition and searing, jagged electric guitar riffs and solos. All of these elements were vividly on display when Le Bon and her top-notch band played on Monday, May 9, at Schubas. She played nearly every song from Crab Day, plus several from her previous album, 2013’s Mug Museum. (Nothing from her earlier recordings, however.)
The stage was dark, and she was dressed in black, with her hair frequently hanging over her face — until she shook it around during a guitar solo. That prompted one of her few onstage comments during the set: “Are there any hairdressers in the house? Well, then, see me immediately after the show.”
Le Bon’s vocals sometimes reminded me of Nico’s singing with the Velvet Underground, but Le Bon would rise above that chilly chanting style for emotional passages, revealing a wider range and more colorful palette. As with so many musicians, she also shows some Velvet Underground influence in the way she plays guitar, but that’s just one aspect of Le Bon’s wonderfully singular style.
I was unfamiliar with the opening act, Mega Bog, a Seattle group led by Erin Birgy, but I quickly found myself enchanted by the band’s jazzy folk rock. The vibe of these songs reminded me of Joni Mitchell, Bill Callahan and the Sea and Cake, and I’m eager to hear more.