January is a fairly slow month for live music in Chicago, so the Tomorrow Never Knows Festival at Schubas is a welcome addition. Last night (Jan. 11) was the second night of the fest – which is basically just a fairly jam-packed series of concerts not that different from what you’d see at Schubas the rest of the year. First up was Brooklyn Bridegrooms, a side project by Robert Hicks of the M’s, accompanied by his wife. The songs were pleasant enough, though they’d benefit by having more than just acoustic guitar and vocals. Next were the Bees (U.S.), a Nashville band not to be confused with the similarly named British group, the Bees or Bees Band. At moments, the ’60s-influenced pop by these Bees was quite good, especially when it got fey and tinkly. At other times, it just seemed a little bland. More variety in the vocals would help.
Dr. Dog was my main reason for attending this night of the fest. I love this band, both on record and in concert. Maybe you need to hear the songs before seeing them live to fully appreciate it, but they really pull off some sophisticated and lovely melodies, harmonies and chord changes (reminiscent of late-period Beatles… think “Don’t Bring Me Down”), while cavorting like fools around the stage. The energy is amazing.
Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos was the headliner. I’ve listened a few times to the band’s album, liking it fairly well but not quite sure what all the fuss is about this band. In concert, the band looked like a high-school band convention on stage, and the songs did come off quite well, a mix of ork pop and some emotional vocals. It reminded me a little of Okkervil River’s big-sounding moments, and, of course, the ubiquitous influence of the moment, the Arcade Fire. The crowd was really into this band, singing along with many of the songs, so it’s clear that they’ve got something good going on.