Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Show review: New York Songwriters Circle at Schubas, 7/5

Posted by Bobby

I think we've well established here at Windy City Rock that not only does said Windy City rock, but it does so over the summer in such a feverish, frequent fashion that it can be hard to even decide what to check out. I received an invite from a friend to check out the Chicago branch of the NY Songwriters Circle at Schubas Sunday night and decided to head over and see what was cooking. I had previously been intrigued by the title of the series and was eager to experience the roundtable live set. One of the artists, Chicago's Starina Catchatoorian, had described the evening as an opportunity to see songwriters performing their craft in a cool wooden room with beautiful sound and people actually listening. After recently seeing a young fella at an open mic who was performing a beautiful acoustic cover of "Modern Love" have to move three times, mid song, so the pool players could position their shots correctly, the idea of an environment ideal for songwriters really appealed to me.

Throughout the night, the various songwriters sat across the front of the stage, performing one by one.

The first artist, Brendan Losch, immediately appealed to my deep sonic respect for Jim James and his ethereal vocals floating over a steady rhythmic acoustic guitar rocking back and forth like a horse and cart, or maybe a small fishing boat. With his third song Brendan looped his vocals and began sow pedal trickery that took his music on an interesting road out of Midwestern earnestness and into more coastal synthetic territory.

Second in line was Dan Price. He referenced international travel as an immediate influence, which I thought was cool, and his songs very much reflected that. They ran the gamut from modern to ancient, much in the way that Andrew Bird is known to do (he can really whistle as well). His melodies were at once enchanting and surprising - a nice mix.

Starina Catchatoorian

Third to perform was the aforementioned Starina Catchatoorian, whom I had seen perform with her full band recently here in the city (kickass). Starina was accompanied on ukulele by Chicago actor/musician Matt Holzfiend. The first time I saw her, Starina was taming a particularly gritty electric guitar, but here she held a more gentle acoustic one, and her performance with it brought a great crowd response. Matt's accompaniment, vocal and rhythmic, threw the rock songs through pleasant loop, grounding them in the wood and earth of the night's sentiment. Starina managed to keep the dirty rock 'n' roll aesthetic while moving through chord progressions both gentle and aggressive. It kept me on my toes.

Next up was Cyndy Fike, who teaches music here in the city and performs with the outfit Nelken, who are set to play July 8 at Beat Kitchen. Her songs were enhanced by her killer voice and occasional surprising changes in vocal hooks. She also leaned more country folk than any of the other performers in a delightful way.

Zach Blew (rebeccadangelophotography.com)

At the farthest end of the stage was Zach Blew. When Zach stood to perform for the first time, he didn't have a guitar. Just the mic, and at his feet a vocal looping pedal, over which he displayed an admirable bit of mastery. Zach's three song choices were diverse and yet equally appealing, and he also joined Cyndy on the most haunting number of the evening. The first song, a neo soul acapella tune was badass. The second, which the crowd got to sing along with, was another soulful hook filled song about looking at an object of desire like you're shooting a film. It made me really look forward to the collaboration he spoke of with an R&B producer here in Chicago. Lastly, he slowed things down with an older tune in which Dan Price graciously agreed to lend his aforementioned whistling skills. Zach is relatively new to Chicago, but keep an eye out, you'll here more from him.

Julia Klee and her band closed out the very enjoyable evening with showstopping vocals and songs that were at once unique and accessible, in the vein of Neko Case. Keep your eyes open for her, as well.

Be sure to check out one of these showcases when you can. It was very much the way songwriters such as these should be seen, and I was very glad I went.


  1. Love me some Dan Price. Best songwriter in the city!

  2. I love the songwriters circle at Schuba's. Every time I go I find new favorite artists.