Mikal Cronin’s second album, MCII, was one of 2013’s best albums — and his latest, MCIII, is shaping up to be one of my favorites this year. He played Saturday, June 20, at Subterranean, and Sunday, June 21, at Green Music Fest in Wicker Park, and I could both of these outstanding shows. Cronin’s something of a one-man orchestra and recording genius in the studio, and artists like that sometimes have difficulty translating their recordings into a satisfying live act, but Cronin isn’t having any trouble with that. His terrific tunes come across with just as much vulnerability in the vocals, but with an even more urgent force, thanks to his great live band.
The highly talented Chicago guitarist-singer Emmett Kelly, who fronts his own group, the Cairo Gang, played a key role in Cronin’s band, singing harmony vocals and doubling the guitar sound. When the song “Gold” reached its crescendo and all of the instruments stopped, it was Kelly who played that Middle Eastern-sounding solo, followed by Cronin adding on another guitar line — a moment of beautiful intensity that gave me goosebumps.
But really, these shows were all about Cronin, who sang with clarity and leaned into his guitar solos with a sense of purpose.
Green Music Fest
After seeing Jon Langford at the MCA, I hopped over to Subterranean and caught two bands: Miss Alex White, a Chicago singer-guitarist, who played very impressive and lively rock, and Detroit’s garage-rockers the Paybacks. I liked the Paybacks — and especially enjoyed watching the lead singer, Wendy Case, stretching out her lanky frame on stage — but my first impression of the music was pretty good, not great. (Hey, check out the photos of the band at their Web site… Looks like Wendy Case has been a blond until recently…)
SEE PHOTOS OF MISS ALEX WHITE.
SEE PHOTOS OF THE PAYBACKS.
SEPT. 9, 2005
With a strong influence from the Faces (check out their cover of “Stay With Me” on the new CD), the Sights stand out as a little different from the rest of the current crop of garage bands. Interesting lineup, too: Guitar, organ and drums, with no bass (unless you count the bass keyboard). Guitarist-singer Eddie Baranek also throws an occasional bit of gospel holler into the songs. Well, white-boy imitation of gospel holler, but it’s nice anyway.
The most melodic song on the Sights’ self-titled 2005 album is “Scratch My Name in Sin,” and it sounded just as great in concert tonight as it does on record. The Sights could stand to broaden their style and sound a little, but they’re a very fine band nonetheless.
They were not actually the headliners at this concert. The Makers were the main act, but I can’t say I was too thrilled with what I heard. A couple of decent songs were evident, but the glamminess (and hamminess) of their overall act tended toward the annoying.
The first band to play was Thunderwing. Although the name makes them sound like hockey-playing heavy-metal rockers, they were more in the vein of glam-rock-meets-garage. Not bad, worth another listen.
SEE MORE PHOTOS OF THE SIGHTS.
MAY 28, 2005: The Ponys and the M’s at Subterranean. I’ve seen the M’s a few times now, though I still haven’t heard their studio recordings. I enjoyed this performance more than any of the previous M’s concerts I’d seen. I’ve always liked the idea of what they’re trying to do, but the songs have just sounded a little too thick. Not enough dynamics or variation in the sound. But the melodies and harmonies and the obvious ’60s influences have finally started to sink in for me.
The Ponys have now put out two very good records, so I was excited to see them in concert for the first time. I’m not sure where TimeOut Chicago’s writer came up with the idea that they’re ripping off the Stooges. I hear a lot more Television myself, plus some British punk and glam rock.
Yeah, I guess they are a little retro, but who isn’t these days? As the New York Times pointed out the other day in a piece about the White Stripes (making a point that occurred me back when I was at this year’s SXSW), rock bands today seem to feel a freedom to borrow whatever sounds they want from any part of rock’s history.
Anyway, the Ponys were quite good in concert, performing their catchy riffs and keening vocals with a lot of energy. The place was packed, and the crowd up by the stage included a bride and groom celebrating their wedding day. (Friends of the band?)
SEE MORE PHOTOS OF THE PONYS.
The band name notwithstanding, singer/guitarist Melissa Swingle doesn’t exactly moan. Her singing has a bit of drone in it, though it’s hardly monotone as she leaps fearlessly or maybe a bit lackadaiscally around the melody. It’s one of those dazed, deadpan voices that you’ll either love or hate. Me, I love it.
Last time we heard from Swingle, she was with Trailer Bride, another fine outfit. Now she’s part of Yep Roc’s burgeoning roster of cool bands, and she’s doing the guitar-drums duo thing, with Laura King on drums. So let’s get the obligatory line about the White Stripes out of the way right now: King’s a helluva better drummer than Meg White (though Meg’s primitive percussion does serve its purpose well). Swingle’s no Jack White hot shot on the guitar, but her jagged chords and peeling bottleneck-slide solos have an allure all their own. Combined with that voice of hers, the sound is bluesy Southern Goth swamp rock and stomp, everything sounding just a bit askew … which is why it’s so good.
The Moaners’ debut CD, Dark Snack, is full of good riffs and off-kilter tunes about pooches, overpopulation and roadhouse strippers. It sounds raw and live, so it wasn’t hard for the Moaners to pull it off in concert. King even managed to play guitar and drums simultaneously on one song, an impressive feat (she was just using her feet for the drums). Just one disappointment. I really wanted to see Swingle (who was wearing dark glasses and a Hello Kitty T-shirt) to whip out her saw. And no, that’s not some sort of obscene slang euphamism. She really does play a mean saw, given the chance, but I guess that’s hard to handle onstage when your band is just a guitarist and a drummer.