Eleven years ago, Karl Wallinger — the man who is the band called World Party — suffered an aneurysm, which left him unable to speak for a time. On Thursday night (Aug. 30), he was back onstage and in fine spirits at that, frequently grinning widely and making self-deprecating jokes as he performed at Chicago’s Cubby Bear.
It’s been 12 years since World Party released a proper album of new material, but Wallinger recently released Arkeology, a five-CD collection of B-sides, live recordings, outtakes and even some new songs. When Wallinger played Thursday night, the focus was squarely on the music he recorded under his World Party moniker from 1986 to 2000. Many of those studio recordings featured elaborate, intricately layered confections reminiscent of the Beatles in psychedelic mode.
But for this tour, Wallinger is doing those songs essentially unplugged, playing acoustic guitar or piano, with accompaniment from just one other musician, violinist-singer David Duffy. Wallinger’s best songs are sturdy enough (with a touch of Bob Dylan folkiness at times) that they sounded quite good, even without all of those production frills. Still, it was hard not to imagine all of those lovely studio touches in your head as you heard Wallinger strumming an acoustic version of “Put the Message in the Box.”
The audience sang the choruses of beloved songs like “Ship of Fools” without any prompting, and Wallinger seemed almost ecstatic to be performing in front of his fans again.