Marissa Nadler at Ronny’s

Half of the reason I went to this show last night (Sept. 5) was the venue, a bar in Logan Square called Ronny’s. Until reading the blurbs about this concert, I hadn’t even heard of the place, though apparently it has been hosting live music (mostly punk shows, from what I hear) for at least a little while. The mpshows booking service is putting some interesting concerts into Ronny’s now, and I was simply curious to see a concert at a different place from all of my usual haunts. I listened on Rhapsody to the Marissa Nadler record earlier yesterday, and it seemed pleasant enough to tip the balance in favor of attendance.

What a dive this place is – not that that’s necessarily bad. First, there’s the bar, which is clearly an old neighborhood tap. And then there’s the concert room, which seems to be an addition or separate building that went up at some later point after the bar. It’s not much more than a garage or freight delivery room of some sort, made out of cinder blocks. These odd garage-door-like entrances (they don’t extend all the way to the floor) are still on the walls behind the “stage,” a remnant of the room’s previous use. Stage? Did I say stage? No, that was just a spot on the floor where the musicians played. It had some of the makeshift vibe of Cal’s or Fireside Bowl. Definitely DIY.

This was a triple bill of three female singer-songwriters on the quiet, pensive side. Angel Olsen opened with a nice set of her mournful folk songs. Cool downtrodden strumming, piercing pretty vocals.

And then came Picastro, a Toronto trio led by Liz Hysen, playing even more mourful stuff. I’ve seen Picastro once before, and I like the discordant atmosphere of its songs, but I do wish the band (and Hysen) weren’t so relentlessly dour. Despite the fact that Hysen looks down and never even cracks a smile while she’s performing, I managed to capture her in a few lighter moments in some of my photographs. Really — she doesn’t smile that much.

Nadler was the headliner and the most impressive performer of the night. After one listen, I’d say her record, Songs III: Bird on the Water, is a nice collection of spooky, spare songs, and they came across even better performed live, with the striking lyrics and her lovely voice all the more noticeable. She thanked the audience for being attentively quiet (which was true during all three sets), unlike some cowboys who’d heckled her during rough shows earlier on the tour. See? Chicago knows how to treat musicians.

See my photos of Marissa Nadler, Angel Olsen and Picastro.

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