Aliens, Augie March and Brunettes

Well, dear reader (assuming anyone is reading – in spite of all the hits I receive and the occasional comment, sometimes I wonder…) Where was I? Oh, yes: Dear reader, sometimes you must wonder if I’m an ignormaus, since I continually admit to being unfamiliar with the music of bands that I see in concert. Here am I again, reporting on a couple of shows the past two nights by bands on whom I lack much expertise. Well, I cannot always claim to be an expert, and I often find that experiencing an artist’s music for the first time in concert is not a bad way to see if you like it.

Anyway, on Tuesday night (Sept. 25) I went to Schubas to see the Aliens, a band from England (CORRECTION: Scotland. Thanks, “Anonymous,” for spotting this error and letting me know. – Ed.) featuring some guys who used to be in the Beta Band. Hey, I can say I’m familiar with the Beta Band, and I had watched a few of the Aliens’ videos on youtube. So I guess I wasn’t totally unaware of what I would be seeing. The Aliens put on a darn good show, with lots of loopy charm that reminded me of the old Beta Band records. Classic rock, a little dash of electronica and dance, cheesy pop sounds and other weirdness all melded together, with lots of jumping up and down. The stage banter seemed to indicate lots of drug use. Or maybe just a peculiar English (CORRECTION: Scottish!) sense of humor. See my photos of The Aliens.

(Photographic note: Man, it’s hard to photograph musicians jumping into the air when you’re in an indoor venue. I swear, I missed about 30 potentially great “jump shots.” Either the jump went way out of my camera’s frame, or my camera did not auto focus fast enough, or it did focus but on the wrong thing. Ugh. I eventually got a few shots, all of them imperfect, but at least they give you some idea of the action that was going on.)

The first act of the night was Kate Johnson, who did a decent, short set of acoustic songs, joined by a couple of the Aliens on harmonies. There were about six people in the room when she started playing, but it filled up pretty well by the end of the night. The second act was a band I’m somewhat familiar with, an Australian outfit called Augie March. Interesting to see a band from Australian named after the title character of a book set in Chicago … coming to play a concert in Chicago. I have the Augie March album from a few years ago, and I liked it, but I have to say it’s one of those zillions records that got stored away and never listened to again. They put on a pretty good concert of tuneful rock/pop songs, though I am not sure if I’ve yet grasped the essence of Augie March. See my photos of Augie March and Kate Johnson.

I was a little amused to watch the roadies for Aliens and Augie March at work at Schubas. Most bands on the Schubas level, including local groups as well as touring artists, are not big enough to have their own roadies. Or if they do have roadies, it’s a pretty low-budget affair. But it seems like groups from England, Australia and some other overseas lands come to the United States with a very special breed of highly professional roadies. The Aliens’ roadie very meticulously made sure every guitar pick was in its right place before the big show began.

Last night (Sept. 27), I was back at Schubas to see the Brunettes. I arrived too late for opening act the Lucksmiths (good, from what I hear) and heard just a little bit of the second performer, Ferraby Lionheart (I like the piano ballad I heard). Earlier in the evening, I was at the world premiere of Evan Smith’s play The Savannah Disputation at Writers’ Theatre way up on the North Shore, so I wasn’t sure how much entertainment I would be able to squeeze into one night. (I’ll have more to blog later about the play and other recent theater I’ve seen.) It worked out pretty well, as I got to see the Brunettes, a nice and quirky pop band from New Zealand. Again, I have to plead a certain amount of ignorance. I had listened to the Brunettes’ latest album just once on Rhapsody, and friends told me they’re a good band, so that was enough motivation for me to attend, but I can’t say I know a whole lot about their music. I liked the unusual use of horns, including clarinet, and vibraphone (or whatever those mallet-tapped percussion instruments were). The Brunettes also had a good sense of humor, with some stage banter that was endearingly awkward. And they closed with an unexpected cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” See my photos of the Brunettes.

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