Dots & High Dials

Friday night in Chicago offered a number of interesting choices for live music, and I wasn’t certain where to go and what to see until pretty late. It turned out to be a superb double bill of two different concerts.

First, I caught the Legendary Pink Dots at the Empty Bottle. I’ll admit up-front that I’m fairly ignorant about this band’s huge discography. I’ve heard their music a few times over the decades and I’ve always been intrigued, but when I list that long list of records they’ve put out, I don’t even know where to start. Seeing them in concert was as good a place to start as any, even if the songs didn’t mean as much to me as they did to the fans in attendance. It was a solid set of strange songs with touches of electronica, art rock and, heck I don’t know, post-rock? However you categorize the music that Legendary Pink Dots leader Edward Ka-Spel creates, it seems unique to his personality… with some striking lyrics and good melodies amid the weird musical textures.

Photos of the Legendary Pink Dots.

I thought the Dots show would be it for me last night, but a friend texted me that the High Dials were still getting ready for their very-much-under-the-radar gig at Sterephonic Sound, an old warehouse now used as a recording studio near Belmont and Western. It took me a little while to find the place… until I noticed the handwritten sign posted on a gate directing concertgoers to rear door. The High Dials are a cool Montreal band playing the sort of jangly psychedelic guitar rock that ’80s and ’90s indie-rock groups emulating ’60s “Nuggets” records used to play, and I first became familiar with them a few years back, when they put out War of the Wakening Phantoms and I heard some of their songs on a sampler from that excellent label Rainbow Quartz. I’d lost track of the band recently, yet here they were, playing a lively gig in front of 25 or so fans in a warehouse. They complained that it’s tough to book a show in Chicago unless you do it half a year in advance. The High Dials were selling copies of their new double CD, Moon Country, which is out in Canada but not the U.S. Seems like they need better representation on this side of the border. Whatever… It was an all-out performance despite its low profile, and the High Dials sounded even better live than they do on record.

Photos of the High Dials.

Both of these shows were challenging photo shoots. The Empty Bottle provided a few bursts of yellow lighting that were better than the typical camera-unfriendly red lights, and once I made my way closer to the stage during the encore, I snapped a few OK shots. The High Dials played in near darkness, with little more than a desk lamp providing illumination. My photos are pretty grainy as a result, but I felt like leaving the images the way they were instead of trying to use Photoshop functions like “reduce noise,” which is often a futile effort with photos like these. Sometimes, I feel like it’s better just to leave it grainy.

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