Eleventh Dream Day at Lincoln Hall

The Chicago rock band Eleventh Dream Day has been together for a quarter of a century, but their recordings and live performances are still fresh and exciting. Celebrating the release of its latest record, the Thrill Jockey release Riot Now!, the group played Friday night (April 22) at Lincoln Hall, sounding as energetic and alive as ever. What’s the secret of these guys? Maybe it has something to do with the way they carry on as a sort of occasional endeavor, playing a few gigs a year rather than touring incessantly; recording a new album every few years instead of constantly going at it.

The new record is a keeper, with a bunch of songs that rank alongside the best Eleventh Dream Day has done. I won’t call it a comeback or a return to form, however, since I’ve never been disappointed with this outfit’s previous recordings or concerts. The band has been remarkably consistent over the years. In any case, Riot Now! is a document of Eleventh Dream Day in fine form. The band honed these songs in a series of gigs last year at the Hideout (I saw two of the four shows), then recorded them quickly in just a couple of days, without doing a lot of takes or overdubs. Not a bad way to capture a rock band’s live energy.

Friday night, Eleventh Dream Day launched into its show with several of the new songs, before going back to some of its oldest records, Prairie School Freakout and Beet. The new record features some terrific backup vocals from drummer Janet Beveridge Bean. That’s nothing new, but these songs blend Bean’s voice into the mix just about perfectly, adding an essential melodic layer. That same exciting blend of voices and noise came through in concert.

As always, Doug McCombs played some exceptional bass lines, both melodic and rhythmic, matching Bean’s driving percussion. And Rick Rizzo let loose with the sort of Crazy Horse guitar soloing we’ve come to expect from him. Rizzo pushed and pulled at its guitar as if it were a living animal he was struggling to control. Mark Greenberg played keyboards for most of the show, his chords thickening Eleventh Dream Day’s sound, but on the older songs — ones originally recorded with two guitarists — he switched to bass and McCombs added a second guitar. In both configurations, Eleventh Dream Day lived up to the title of that new album — Riot Now!.

Eleventh Dream Day on the Thrill Jockey site
Eleventh Dream Day live performance and interview with Alison Cuddy on WBEZ’s Eight Forty-Eight show — plus video
Greg Kot’s Chicago Tribune article
Matt Arado’s Daily Herald article
My 2006 Pioneer Press article about Eleventh Dream Day

Another one of my favorite local bands, the 1900s, opened the show, playing a nice set of their sparkling ’60s-style pop music, and a cool guitar rave out by Edward Anderson on “Two Ways.” The 1900s aren’t exactly in the same genre as Eleventh Dream Day, but the contrasting styles of these two Chicago bands complemented each other well.

The Vaselines and the 1900s at Metro

The odds are, if you’ve heard of the Vaselines, it’s because Nirvana covered a few of their songs. This Scottish band recorded just one LP and some singles in the late ’80s, broke up, then briefly reformed to open for their fans in Nirvana. They haven’t played together since the early ’90s, and they’d never played a concert in Chicago (for the Midwest, for that matter) until last night (May 16) at Metro. The occasion for their current tour is an excellent new collection of their old songs, Enter the Vaselines, issued this year by Sub Pop. As one of the band’s two singer-guitarists, Frances McKee, noted, it’s an “old-new CD.”

The group is essentially the duo of McKee and Eugene Kelly, though for this show they were backed up by three musicians on loan from other Scottish groups: guitarist Stevie Jackson and bassist Bob Kildea (both from Belle and Sebastian) and drummer Michael McGaughrin (from the 1990s). They were, as McKee joked, “the professionals in this outfit.”

Despite being away for so many years, the Vaselines sounded so fresh. Their songs have some of that Velvet Underground and post-punk feel, but there’s also a sweet pop side to what they do. That attitude also came through in their hilarious stage banter. Well, McKee was hilarious in any case, making bitterly funny remarks about her erstwhile romantic partner, Kelly, who played the part of the straight man in this routine. When Kelly introduced one song by saying, “This is a love song,” she interjected with a smile, “Not any more.” She also accused him of wearing “grumpy pants,” and when audience members called out that they loved Kelly, she tartly noted, “You obviously don’t know him.” After another song, she said, “There’s a message in that song: If you take too many drugs, you’ll end up like Eugene.” She delivered all this verbal abuse with a wry sense of humor (maybe that Scottish accent helps), and he stood there and took it with a slightly chagrined look.

If they still had any actual bitter feelings between them, it didn’t stop them from performing top-notch versions of their old songs, including of course highlights like “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” which Nirvana fans know so well from the MTV Unplugged album. And the Vaselines even played a couple of new songs (one of which was identified simply as “new new song” on the set list), which sounded almost as good as the oldies. Let’s hope we hear more from the Vaselines soon.

To read more about the Vaselines, see the Sub Pop site.
Photos of the Vaselines.

The opening act was one of my local favorites, the 1900s (not to be confused with the aforementioned Scottish group, the 1990s). They’ve had a couple of members leave the band over the last year, but they had a new drummer and keyboard player in place for last night’s gig, and they also played a few new songs, which sounded promising. I eagerly await their next record.

Photos of the 1900s.

The 1900s and Devin Davis at Schubas

My main reason for going to Schubas tonight was the chance to see Devin Davis with a full band. As I’ve mentioned before, Davis’ record, Lonely People of the World, Unite!, was one of my favorites in 2005. I saw him at the Hideout in February, but I missed the shows he did with his band and caught a solo night — which was interesting, but not quite the same thing as hearing the songs in the full-band glory.

Davis sounded good tonight, backed by pedal steel guitar, drums, bass and keyboard/sax. The songs were a little less polished sounding than the studio versions, but they still sounded pretty darn strong — and I like the new songs he played. He closed with “Born to Run,” which was shown on the set list simply as “THE BOSS.” After the show, Devin told me he’d started working at 8:30 that morning on writing lyrics for one of the new songs. SEE PHOTOS OF DEVIN DAVIS.

Davis wasn’t actually the headlining act — that honor belonged to the 1900s. I’d read some of the local articles about this band and heard one or two of their songs online, but I didn’t know too much about them. They were quite impressive, doing delightfully, well, “twee” music… and I don’t mean that as an insult. I like twee. At least, when it’s done well. I’ve always liked Belle and Sebastian, the band shown in the dictionary next to the word twee, and the 1900s play music in a similar vein. Not that you’d mistake it for Belle and Sebastian, but it’s another big ensemble (seven musicians and singers, including violin) with guy and girl singers, doing pretty pop ditties. I liked what I heard — and saw. One of the singers, Jeanine O’Toole, was clearly the focus of much of the audience’s eyes as she accented the music with her flirtatious moves. The crowd right in front of the stage was almost all women, obviously big fans of the 1900s, cheering wildly throughout the show. After the show, I picked up a copy of the 1900s’ six-song EP, Plume Delivery, and I’m already enjoying it quite a bit.SEE PHOTOS OF THE 1900s.

I missed most of the opening set by the first band of the night, Gentleman Caller of Bloomington, Ind., but I liked what I heard. Will definitely check them out. SEE PHOTOS OF GENTLEMAN CALLER.