Saturday, April 9, 2011

In the wee hours of the morning

In the not-so-distant past, I drove to Chicago to see weeknight concerts at the drop of a hat. These days, I find myself reluctant to tack five-plus hours of driving onto my typical workday. I've become more selective. I could probably count the number of performers for whom I'm willing to make the effort on both hands ... and most of those are unlikely to present me with the opportunity. One of them, though, happens to be Liam Finn. So when Liam announced a show with the Luyas at the Hideout, I was in. Even if it meant four hours of sleep.

I love the Hideout. After all, it's the only venue whose stage has hosted performances by Jon Brion, Andrew Bird, Thurston Moore, Califone, and me. When I arrived shortly before 9 on Tuesday night, the doors to the music room weren't yet open, but the Luyas were still on before 9:15. Impressive! I enjoyed the Luyas' set, despite the vocals being the slightest bit twee for my taste. They made excellent use of lighting, and I liked the instrumental barrages. Until she mentioned it on stage, I didn't make the connection that lead singer Jessie Stein was the "female Bob Dylan" who appeared for a couple of songs last time I saw Liam at Lincoln Hall. (A concert about which I wrote the most half-assed blog entry in history.)

After a short break, Liam Finn and his band (!) took the stage. This was the first time I'd seen Liam with a band - his band, that is - although he and Eliza-Jane were certainly joined by various guests in 2009. Chicago was the first show that the band played as a three-piece instead of a four-piece: Liam on guitar and drums, brother Elroy on drums, and Jol Mulholland newly transplanted from guitar to bass. I enjoy Liam's instrumental looping techniques, and I was glad to see that they weren't completely absent, but I think the band gave him a bit more freedom and allowed for a quicker pace. Plus, it allowed for double drumming on a handful of songs. In general, the more people who are drumming on stage, the happier I get.

Liam and the band played a longer show than I'd expected. One of the night's highlights was "Lead Balloon" - the screaming chorus and theremin-stick solo never fail to deliver. We also got three new songs from the upcoming FOMO, due in June. I'm officially excited! One of those songs, "Roll of the Eye," was dedicated to the people of New Zealand. "Some people still have to shit in their backyards," Liam added, referring to the major earthquake that hit Christchurch in February. "Alabama!" yelled one audience member, prompting a ripple of laughter from the crowd. "Is that what it's called?" Liam cracked. Liam and Elroy were chatty throughout the night. "You did good, boy," Liam said late in the show, prompting a tongue-in-cheek reply from Elroy about big-brotherly approval. At one point the whole band took experimental puffs from a fan's e-cigarette, much to the delight of the guy's female companions. The band's finale was a song I've wanted to see live since the run of shows I saw in 2009, "This Place is Killing Me." At last! No covers this time, but hearing so many tracks from I'll Be Lightning was great.

The show didn't go as late as I'd feared, and even allowing for half an hour or so of post-concert socializing, I was back on the road by midnight. As I said before, this drive isn't one I'm eager to make on workdays. But I'm glad I can still tell when it will be worth it.

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