Local Concert Preview for Chicago / Milwaukee:
September 24-30, 2009
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2009, Volume 16, #9
Written by John Metzger
Wed September 23, 2009, 06:10 AM CDT
9/25 - Mike Gordon - Park West - Chicago - 7:30 p
While Phish was on its extended hiatus, bass player Mike Gordon kept quite busy by working on a variety of projects. He seemed to devote the most time and attention, however, to the recording of The Green Sparrow. Although the effort retained the same playful spirit that has always marked his output, it also was less whimsical than its predecessors. From The Green Sparrow’s eclectic nature to its melodic focus to the arduous assembly of his touring band, it was clear that Gordon had something to prove. Sure enough, once Phish’s reunion trek was in the books, Gordon announced that he was reassembling his outfit for another sojourn. Last year, the ensemble mixed Gordon’s solo songs with several selections from Phish’s repertoire (Makisupa Policeman and Meat) as well as a few well-chosen cover tunes (Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City; The Beatles’ She Said, She Said; and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Born on the Bayou). Gordon doesn’t tend to make dramatic alterations to his set lists from night to night. Nevertheless, he’s likely to have a few surprises to reveal when he visits Park West on September 25.
9/25 - Son Volt - Vic Theatre - Chicago - 8:00 p
9/26 - Son Volt - Pabst Theater - Milwaukee - 8:00 p
Fifteen years after the members of Uncle Tupelo went their separate ways, Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar continue to revolve around each other in orbital paths that frequently seem to bring them close to a collision. In 2007, two months after Son Volt issued The Search, Wilco responded with Sky Blue Sky. This year, Wilco’s Wilco (The Album) preceded Son Volt’s American Central Dust by merely a week. Based upon critical reception as well as the venues in which these bands are playing of late — Wilco will hold court at UIC Pavilion next month, while Son Volt will perform for considerably smaller crowds at Chicago’s Vic Theatre and Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater on September 25 and 26, respectively — one could be forgiven for thinking that Wilco is winning the battle. One thing is certain, however: Never consider Farrar to be down for the count. Since resurrecting Son Volt, he has produced some of the best music of his career. While it’s true that American Central Dust isn’t quite on par with his other recent excursions — because he essentially uses it to retrace his footsteps — the effort ought not be dismissed so quickly. With time, Farrar’s compositions, which collectively survey the current American landscape, ultimately prove themselves to be as strong as ever.
9/25-26 - Brandi Carlile - House of Blues - Chicago - 7:30 p
Four years ago, Brandi Carlile issued her self-titled debut. Despite the fact that the affair was solidly constructed, it also ultimately was deemed by many to be too safe to matter. With her sophomore set The Story, Carlile managed to build upon her initial success. At the same time, though, she has yet to become the commercial juggernaut for which her label had hoped. Therefore, the release of Give Up the Ghost on October 6 may prove to be the make-or-break moment of her career. One gets the sense that Carlile knows it, too. The Seattle-based singer/songwriter spent the spring and summer months trying to build excitement for the endeavor by previewing her new material via a series of concerts around the country, including stops in Chicago and Milwaukee. She’ll be back in the area again on September 25 and 26 for a pair of shows at House of Blues.
9/26 - Allen Toussaint - Old Town School - Chicago - 7:00 p & 10:00 p
Allen Toussaint undeniably is a living legend. Yet, although he has been at the center of the R&B scene for decades, he also is one of those poor souls who suffers from poor name recognition. Toussaint may be a pioneer, one whose services as a producer, arranger, composer, and pianist have always been in high demand, but the roles he has played largely have kept him behind the scenes, allowing everyone else to take most of the glory. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, however, Toussaint has been working rather hard to elevate his profile. In 2006, he collaborated with Elvis Costello on The River in Reverse before the duo embarked upon a collaborative tour. Earlier this year, he issued The Bright Mississippi, his first solo set in a decade. In crafting the endeavor, Toussaint rekindled his partnership with Joe Henry, and paying tribute to the rich tradition of New Orleans’ jazz and blues, he offers his interpretations of songs by Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. Toussaint likely will emphasize material from the album during each of his performances at the Old Town School on September 26. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine that he also won’t dip into his vast catalogue of well-known compositions — I’ll Take a Melody, Fortune Teller, Working in the Coal Mine, and Mother-in-Law, among them.
9/29 - Van Morrison - Chicago Theatre - Chicago - 8:00 p
Van Morrison is notorious for his hit-and-miss performances, the success of which largely has hinged upon his mood when he takes the stage. At his worst, Morrison is prone to dashing through his repertoire with an air of detached disinterest; at his best, he makes each of his guttural growls feel like some kind of holy proclamation. Last year, Morrison began performing his seminal 1968 endeavor Astral Weeks in its entirety, albeit with a slightly modified running order. Initially, these shows fell into the latter camp. Because he rarely had tackled any of its material in concert, Morrison was fully engaged in the delivery of Astral Weeks. The problem, however, is that the outing must follow a tight script. Consequently, several months after he debuted the reconfigured song cycle, Morrison seemed to grow bored with the routine. These days, his free-form opening set — which typically samples from his vast catalogue and boasts a handful of cover tunes — is where he most frequently comes alive. Nevertheless, Astral Weeks is such a unique and compelling endeavor that Morrison’s fans can’t afford to miss him when he stops at the Chicago Theatre on September 29.
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