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Allá And Others Kick-Start The Summer

By Jon Graef in Arts & Entertainment on May 24, 2010 8:20PM

Photo of Allá by Jim Newberry

If this past weekend could be considered a summer kick-off for live local music, then Chicagoans couldn’t have asked for a better start. In addition to Gapers Block's 7th anniversary show on Friday at the Metro, Saturday evening saw another line-up jammed pack with great homegrown talent. Serene psych-rockers Miracle Condition, art-folk oddballs Bird Names, and rising experimental pop act Allá all took the stage at Schubas in a concert sponsored by Coach House Sounds, a site dedicated to recording groups on analog equipment, then uploading the sessions on their website. All three groups played for modest, but appreciative, audiences.

Starting off the night was Miracle Condition, a quartet featuring former members of U.S. Maple. By focusing mostly on material from their self-titled debut LP, plus debuting a new song for the very first time, Miracle Condition put on a master class in musical economy. Both in terms of their subdued, though not unenthusiastic, stage presence, and in deploying their musical weaponry sparingly, the quartet effectively ensnared the Schuba’s crowd in its spacey, echo-laden dream rock. Through effects-drenched guitar lines, free jazz digressions and textural white noise, the group’s songs didn’t so much build to a profound crescendo so much as weaved and winded. Progressive pop numbers in alternate time signatures gave way to heavy sludge-metal that, finally, coalesced into transcendently spare ambience. Closing number “Anthem” showed a band milking every instrument’s textural capability for all its worth, with simple snare hits and ringing chords filling up every corner of the venue and, in the process, showing an audience how less can be truly, profoundly more.

But even at the band's most stripped-down, Miracle Condition relied on a full-band setup. For Bird Names’ set, core duo David Linneal and Phelan La Velle used nothing but a beat-up drum kit and a uniquely tuned guitar to play their brief 25-minute set. As far as the contents of their set, prepare to have your mind blown: Bird Names played songs of strange, peculiar but nonetheless charming anti-folk. Shocking, right? Running through tracks like “Production” and “People Should Be More Aware” from their latest album, Sings The Browns, Bird Names were successful in creating sing-songy melodicism from oddball vocal work and booming, tom-tom heavy drums. Between stage banter about naming dogs after Supreme Court nominees and asking the audience to remind them to purchase weed, Bird Names confounded in the only way they know how. It seems reductive to call a Bird Names set odd, but that’s kind of their M.O., isn’t it?

Closing out the night with a successful, expansive set of music that touched on many different types of psychedelia, Allá demonstrated a gleeful willingness to tear apart and expand upon their studio material. Playing only a handful of songs over the course of 45 minutes, Allá inserted Krautrock-indebted jams and jazz-fusion into pop songs like “Sigue Tu Corazon” and “Un Pedazo” from their 2008 masterwork Es Tiempo. Though invoking Spinal Tap might not be the best way to describe their experimentalism, Allá did, in fact, take much of the audience on a jazz odyssey (we mean that in the best way possible) with fluid basslines and funky, Meters-like drumming. Allá created a glorious cacophony of sound, with new material invoking Kid A-era Radiohead. While Allá’s set was incredibly impressive, an unusual complaint arose in that the band seemed uninterested in playing straightforward pop songs. That shouldn’t be taken as an insult to their jamming, which is taut and engaging when as opposed self-indulgent, but a compliment to the pop confections that comprise their studio material. Allá’s set giddily induced our excitement for their appearance at the Pitchfork Music Festival. We just hope that they can bring their pop sensibilities along with their experimental ones for their introduction to the hipster masses.