Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Middle Brother - The Metro (Chicago)

by Jon Stone@jwstone -- photo: Kyle Matteson | @solace - March 17, 2011

It’s hard to think of the Middle Brother show in Chicago last Saturday night as just a “show.” It was more than a show. It was a spectacle, a barn-burner -- an extravaganza. This is not hyperbole, folks. The Metro hosted an honest-to-goodness, four-hour Concert Spectacular. The three bands, Deer Tick, Dawes, and Middle Brother, also seem like mere place-holders on a bill that instead featured an explosion of musical collaboration far exceeding the boundaries of what we imagine the word “band” to entail. Rarely was a band on stage without an extra member here or a special cover there. The show was, in a word, epic. Oh, and two more words: Jonny Corndawg.

Rather than diminishing the evening with lack-luster play-by-play, let me instead offer a more-or-less chronological highlights reel:
  • Forget the “folk-rock” label, Deer Tick is a heavy, if extremely versatile, band. Their set was LOUD… and then soft. Apply this same genre-busting observation to all three bands and their sets. Each move from folk to soul to country and back to rock, and in the case of Deer Tick, far into heavy territory.
  • After hearing about Deer Tick’s upcoming SXSW Nirvana set, it was hard not to see McCauley as a kind of  re-embodiment of Kurt. His hair – his voice – his Fender Jag. If you're in Austin on Saturday, don't miss that. Report back, please.
  • Along those lines, Matt Vasquez joined Deer Tick mid-set and played a perfect cover of In Utero’s “Scentless Apprentice.”
  • They also covered Springsteen’s “Racing in the Streets,” Vasquez at the helm.
  • Deer Tick has a secret weapon in keyboard/sax man Rob Crowell. The dude can wail.
  • Dawes is clearly the next big thing. This is a palpable reality now instead of just a likely prediction. They killed with songs off both North Hills and new songs off of a yet-unnamed forthcoming record.
  • Near the end of their set, Dawes introduced Jonny Corndawg who proceeded to dance (or, more aptly, boot-scoot) his way into the pockets of the whole crowd. You kind of have to see this guy to believe him. As my buddy said, “Corndawg brought the heart and Goldsmith brought the heartbreak” – a perfect foil, it turned out.
  • If Corndawg brought heart, and Goldsmith brought heartbreak, McCauley brought the booze.
  • Dawes closed with “When My Time Comes” with Vasquez, McCauley and Corndawg helping out each taking verses. We could have all gone home happy after a set closer like that – the entire room was singing along at the top of their lungs – but alas, at nearly midnight, we still had yet to experience Middle Brother as Middle Brother.
  • By the time the headliners officially hit the stage, the night had already been ridiculous – but things then shifted into a full-on hootenanny mode. Instruments were passed around, band members came and went, “Me, Me, Me” and “Middle Brother” became anthems to the chaos and friendship of the moment.
  • Middle Brother, if I’m not mistaken, played every song on their record.
  • After heavy doses of McCauley and Goldsmith, Vasquez’s songs were visceral.  The smooth-on-the-record waltz “Theater” became this huge, haunted thing on stage. Matt screamed and then screamed some more and oh how we swooned. Same thing on “Someday.”
  • Goldsmith continued to bring it with “Thanks for Nothing” and the solo “Wilderness” but my favorite song on the record “Blood and Guts” became something entirely different.  The song started softly and built in crescendo until the bridge came and left me emotionally devastated: “I just wanna get my fist through some glass! I just wanna get your arm in a cast!” Man. I’m still reeling more than 48 hours later.
  • Soon after, the heavy mood was displaced when someone dropped a fart bomb. Jonny Corndawg happily claimed it.
  • The show closed at nearly 1am with a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home to Me.” I know this song has been played frequently during Deer Tick’s set, but bringing it to Middle Brother gave everyone in all three bands one more excuse to come on stage and sing a verse/play a solo. It couldn’t have been a better song to go out on. Yeah? Yeah.
A night like Saturday seems a rare privilege. Seeing musicians in this context clearly reveling in the opportunity to let loose a bit and share a musical moment with friends was something not soon to be forgotten. Goldsmith, Vasquez and McCauley are on the verge of something big and I think the Middle Brother album and tour will be remembered by them in the same way it will be by us: A galvanizing moment among friends before the floodgates of life and fame sweep everyone in disparate directions toward the blessings and curses of success.

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