Thursday, June 24, 2010

Austin Lucas and The Wooden Sky @ Ronny's

Chicago is in the middle of monsoon season. I spent most of this evening huddling in a co-worker's house, playing Left 4 Dead 2 and listening to tornado sirens. Luckily, by 8 pm the storm had passed, leaving curiously empty streets. I made my way to Ronny's(a small dive venue on N. California) and after a slight mis-communication with the door-person, settled in for a night of country-tinged goodness.

The first two bands were solid, but entirely unremarkable. The first seemed to be made of high-schoolers entirely inspired by their dad's record collection. They were much more talented than I expected, but often suffered from wildly conflicting dynamics. Their drummer drowned out the rest of the band far too often for me to bother remembering their name. With practice though, they could definitely make something of themselves. (Oh! They were called Pilcher's List. Internet detective work ahoy!)

The second act was (I think) one of the singers of local Chicago group, The House Gloria Vanderbilt, and she played a charming, but lyrically clunky set of singer-songwritery stuff. I didn't catch her name.

I wasn't expecting a thing from the Wooden Sky, and they blew me away. They opened with a stripped down version of "North Dakota" off their album "When Lost at Sea", and I was hooked from then on. The Wooden Sky plays that sort of hyper-literate country-tinged indie rock that Canada seems to have an almost monopoly on. Their songs are short stories of desperation, of trying to make good, of failures, of successes born of failure. In their music I hear traces of The Band, Bruce Springsteen, the sort of dark country the Handsome Family has mastered, and the indie brightness of fellow Canadian Rock Plaza Central. They were entrancing, melodies shimmering over gorgeous guitar work. Later, I chatted with the lead singer briefly, and he told me they're normally a much louder band, and they adapted for the space. It was a gorgeously intimate set, and perhaps that was part of it, and perhaps it was partly the amount of people, but I honestly believe they'd manage the same sort of trick in a bigger room. They were just a great surprise, and I urge you to check them out.

Austin Lucas bullied everyone into gathering almost awkwardly close to him before he would begin his set. He was joined by a banjo/violin player, and Christina Wagner. Christina and Austin have a tour split out, which I believe you can only pick up at these shows. They played without the aid of amplification, and as a result the set was tenderly beautiful. Austin has one of the most expressive and emotive voices going these days, and seeing him utilize it so effectively in such a small space was tremendous. It's amazing to me that he hasn't been more of a crossover hit, as he essentially plays country music with a bit of a bluegrass twang. It's unfortunate that his audience is mostly punk kids, as I think he'd do great with the type of crowd that adores Bloodshot Records. I should clarify, unfortunate only in the sense that more people should appreciate his talent, not unfortunate that he appeals to punk folks. "Go West" was the highlight of the set, as everyone in attendance sang along with the chorus, creating the sort of show where everyone forgets the line between performer and audience. We're all just people, connected by this one song, and it was a really magical moment.

Do your best to catch the Wooden Sky and Austin Lucas on tour. They're really wonderful artists, and deserve your time.

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