How Shows SHOULD Be: Chicago Roots Collective @ Double Door

The most striking thing about tonight’s show at Chicago’s Double Door was the continuity.  Not just between the bands, but with the audience over the course of the night. The same girls up front dancing wildly to the endearingly energetic folk-pop of The Future Laureates were still there 3 hours later getting down to the massive-acoustic Giving Tree Band.  THIS is how you know the whole night is a big success, and the fact that it happens so rarely is kind of absurd.

The night was presented by the Chicago Roots Collective (CRC) and the annual Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival – two young Chicago entities that have quickly become synonymous with “great live music.”  The first three bands – The Future Laureates, Todd Kessler & the New Folk, and The Shams Band – are part of the CRC itself, and special guest The Giving Tree Band headlined the night.  It was a great bill overall – lots of overlap of Americana and folk genres but each band interpreting those influences is very different ways.  This idea of similar-but-unique is a musical foundation of the CRC’s ten-band roster (which includes my soon-to-be-former band Cobalt & the Hired Guns), and the results are extremely entertaining and successful shows when these bands get together.

As a musician and as a concertgoer, I can’t even express how amazing it is to actually like an entire lineup on a Friday night.  Even great clubs like Double Door end up with bizarre and mostly incompatible genre combinations on a given night, resulting in lots of people taking refuge in the secluded downstairs bar until their friend’s band goes on.  None of that tonight.  The room was pretty much full by showtime at 9pm and packed through close, with the basement deserted throughout the evening.

Here’s how it went down – and keep in mind I’ve seen all four of these bands play before, and shared the stage with them, so you can call me biased, but I prefer “educated” or “anthropologically valid”:

The Future Laureates kicked things off, and I arrived just at the beginning of my favorite song “FYI.”  They just released a charmingly quirky video for that tune you should definitely check out.  These guys are at their best when they embrace this endearing quirkyness in songwriting and arrangement, as their instrumentation (acoustic guitar, acoustic ukulele, bass, drums) lends itself to that. Their energy is infectious, and very familiar, so I can’t help but relate.

Next, Todd Kessler & the New Folk’s big 9-piece, mostly acoustic ensemble tested the limits of the Double Door’s sound system.  After seeing Todd play solo over the years, the whole band blew me away at a show in January and knocked it out again tonight.  My current favorite, “Dear Lover,” and the unreleased closer, “We Will be Lions,” showcased the band’s wonderful sense of dynamics, beautifully supporting Todd’s sweet yet powerful voice.  They also aren’t afraid to get down, and I was pleased to have ended up on house-right with the trumpet, trombone, and a funkier-than-you-would-think bass holding it down.

The thing that I like most about The Shams Band is that the music is both  complex and multi-genre, and as the same time extremely simple, straightforward, and rocking.  It’s like dirty-bluesy-Americana-folk-pop-drinking-rock… They are one of the tighter bands you’ll see, especially impressive as they haven’t been around all that long, and they just lunge in this musical direction and play it right.  Rhythm section locked in, GREAT electric guitar tone, harmonica or banjo in the right places…  Like I said, when you try to explain it it sounds complicated, but when you see it its just simple and makes you want to have a good time.  Good set by The Shams tonight, thought I was bummed they didn’t play my favorite “Des Plaines River.”

photo by Joanna Goss

The Giving Tree Band closed out the night.  This big acoustic string band has been making a big name for itself not only with great, old-timey-but-relevant songwriting and arrangements, but by a shockingly comprehensive commitment to environmentalism and green communities.  I met them a couple years ago in a smaller incarnation of the band at Green Fest Chicago at Navy Pier and immediately saw they were a great band and fine gentlemen.  Tonight I especially appreciated the showmanship – its great to see a ton of guys crammed on stage with big acoustic instruments not afraid to jump around and get rowdy!  I picked up the latest album and look forward to taking a listen.

Overall, another great night of live music put on by the Chicago Roots Collective and Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Festival.  It’s a pleasure and a privilege to know the folks involved with both of these organizations, and I hope to see them continue to foster great community around Chicago music.

Be sure to take a listen to the Mid-By-Northwest radio to hear all the songs I mentioned, and check out all these great bands on your internet tool of choice!