Concert Review: Rusty Gates, Banda Magda

On free nights I’m going to do something that I wish more people would do. See music in Chicago (and everywhere in the world). Bands I know, bands I don’t, I’m going to step out of my house a few nights a week, see music, and then write about it. Not just headliners, not just the band I’m going to see, but all bands on the bill for a night. A big pet peeve of mine in this town is that so few people come for opening bands, or bands other than those that their friends are in. I aim to review all bands on the bill for the night while writing these reviews.

Last night I set out to see a band I knew nothing about until a mass email from Martyrs appeared in my inbox (sometimes those email lists are good things!). Banda Magda had a name that caught my ear, and a few youtube videos later, I knew where I was headed on a Thursday night.

I arrived at the venue to catch the opening band, Rusty Gates, a blues/rock/jam/funk quintet from Chicago. This is a band with no shortage of talent, from the chunky keys, a deep pocket, and tasteful guitar solos there is a solid foundation to groove. Rusty Gates thrives on the intellectual side of their music, playing in odd meters (everyone loves a 4/4 to 5/4 transition), and with interesting chord changes.

Rusty Gates

Rusty Gates

When Rusty Gates started the set I was skeptical that it was going to be anything more than a typical college jam band. Sure, these guys know some more complex chord progressions, but they didn’t sell me on being a band worth watching or listening to for more than a song. Bland blues were the first words I wrote in my notes, however, as the set progressed (aside from their singing, of which I was not a fan) the instrumentals gained steam, and the band settled down from early rhythmic hiccups. Overall, great intricate harmonized guitar lines, solos that were complicated but not over the heads of the audience, and stage energy that was lacking (seriously guys, give me some personality!) lead to a good opening performance. Give them a chance if you see them on a bill.

Banda Magda

The vehicle of Magda Giannikou, Banda Magda uses various world music styles (largely Brazilian and other latin influences at this concert) and languages to infuse an infectious groove of life into the audience. In contrast to Rusty Gates, the presence of personality with Banda Magda drew eyes to the stage. Although Magda herself sat on a stool playing accordion for most of the performance, there was no lack of energy.

Banda Magda

It’s a rare thing to attend a concert where the frontman/woman can talk, tell stories, and have the attention of most of the audience. Most songs were preceded with anecdotes and stories about how the songs were written. The pure musicianship of everyone on stage made the band click like a seasoned touring band that you could see playing the bigger festival stages soon. Each musician was highlighted, able to show their virtuosity, which complimented Magda, showing a band, and not a personality.

Rhythmic complexity, Brazilian influenced chord changes, and not a single song sung in English kept people swaying. At one point each member in the band held up a Spanish word or phrase on a sheet of paper to encourage audience participation and a singalong. I believe what made this such a successful show for Banda Magda was the involvement of the crowd in almost every song. Whether clapping along (dividing the audience to produce more complicated polyrhythms), or singing in a different language, it seemed like everyone in the room was hanging on every note.

Whether you’re a wold music fan or not, this band should be on your short list of must see when they come to your town. An affiliation with Snarky Puppy means they have a supply of amazing musicians to do amazing things. However, this music stands on it’s own, and is something truly unique, different, and great. It’s impossible to see this band without wanting to smile and dance.

Son Lux – Schubas 3/26/14

With one of the rare nights I’m not rehearsing, writing, performing, or slogging through the mundane paperwork of life, I headed to Schubas to see Son Lux live.

With all honesty and discretion, I’ve been a Son Lux fan since “At War With Walls and Mazes” came out in 2008. The most recent release by Ryan Lott (Son Lux), “Lanterns”, takes what I loved about “At War…” and polishes it a bit more to create a unique, smart electro-popish sound.

Since Son Lux relies heavily on sampling a large palette of instruments from strings to saxophones on “Lanterns” I was extremely curious about how he would pull this off live. I’m not a big fan of seeing shows that consist mostly of backing tracks or samples. This show did not let me down.

The lineup consisted of Ryan Lott on Keys, and a guitar player and drummer whose names I do not remember, nor am having success finding at the moment.

From the opening notes of the first song – Pyre – it was obvious that this live lineup was both well rehearsed, and ready to provide some major creativity and energy to the live show. Starting Lott singing the first lines, to the first drum hits and crecendo’s from the guitar, to the nasty synth bass (doubled by effected guitar) this was a show unlike any other I had seen.

Playing a mixture of samples, and live synth Lott conducted his way through songs old and new with precision and charisma. This was the first “rock” concert I’ve been to where the audience was silent between songs, not as a cause of awkwardness from the performance, but due to reverence of the music and artist.

Favorites Easy, Lost it To Trying and Betray (off of “At War…” were played masterfully.

Lott’s songwriting and talent for creating unique sound profiles were on display, however, the most impressive element of the show, for me, was the seamless integration of the live guitar and drums with all of the above. The drummer and guitar player not only played the role of “colorists” to Lott’s compositions, but added a dynamic rhythmic interplay to challenge the listeners perception of the original recordings.

After driving the crowd with a huge, but somehow reserved sound Lott came back on stage to perform a song I had previously not paid much attention to (but now a favorite), “Lanterns Lit”. Solo piano and voice, Lott demonstrated his classical training and background, and showcased the strange beauty of his voice uncharacteristically un-effected.

The only thing that could have made this concert much better for me would have been more crowd energy. The quite exuded as reverence before seemed to transcend into active listening for the whole show. Even the biggest bass and drums couldn’t get people moving (which I find weird).

I’m not sure how many of the sold out fans were in attendance because they were true Son Lux fans, or were there because of the recent press from Lorde’s version of “Easy”, but I think all walked away thoroughly impressed.

Time for me to get back to the drawing board, write some new music, create some new sounds, and take the inspiration from last night somewhere new.