Chicago dance-rockers Bring Your Ray Gun seem poised for a remarkable future. The new-ish group took the stage at Pancho's with veteran swagger and a genuine desire to make people move. Heather Perry's catchy bass-lines meshed well with some tight drumming to create grooves that, well typical of the genre, never fell victim to predictability. Every now and then the guitar seemed to want to lead Bring Your Ray Gun into more all-out-rock-attack territory, only to have its leash pulled at the perfect moment. Lead singer Josh Lambert has a bit of Eric Paul in him, 'cept that Lambert looks like he's having the time of his life onstage. It's that sentiment that really carries the band- you get the feeling they'd almost rather be dancing in the crowd than making the music. Almost. The vibe was so contagious that Pancho himself was behind the bar grinning like a fool and jamming on a wood block. With a debut EP slated for August, it'd be a shame if BYRG weren't gigging outside somewhere in the city this summer. They have "street festival show stealer" written all over them.
However, I'd be wrong to suggest that BYRG stole this show. The main course for the evening was dessert, or more specifically, Ortolan. Wine Spectator explains that "for centuries, a rite of passage for French gourmets has been the eating of the Ortolan. These tiny birds—captured alive, force-fed, then drowned in Armagnac—were roasted whole and eaten that way, bones and all, while the diner draped his head with a linen napkin to preserve the precious aromas and, some believe, to hide from God." My experience musically devouring Ortolan was presumably just as sweet, though without the crunchy death or theological shame.
The quartet of sisters grabbed the audience's attention with the urgently flowing intro to "Me N U," the lead track of their eponymous EP. The song's swirling, longing vocals were enhanced by some chocolaty harmonizing that left me wishing my darling wasn't leaving. I don't even have a darling. "Sticky Situation" began with a tip-toe keyboard melody and was ripe with a sing-along-chorus. Jangling guitars and rumbling drums carried another tune to a more desperate plane, again emotionally affecting. It's easy to transport a listener to another place and time on a record- you can listen to music just about anywhere, close your eyes and get lost in the lyrics or melody. Ortolan succeeds in turning even a hole-in-the-wall club into whatever landscape suits the moment. On this night that task was made easier by an audience more than willing to abide the band's request that they clap along to "Insist For Me," a track that reflects Ortolan's love of Kate Nash.
Showing off some more of Ortolan's musical influences was the song "Anything." Penned by the drummer, it felt like Kimya Dawson doing The Dresden Dolls' "Girl Anachronism." Hasty, defiant, and yet still musically playful, the song was just plain catchy. Also striking live was "Swell," a song from a documentary of the same name about those who suffer from HAE. The lyrics, sung with both sadness and conviction, were buoyed by rising guitar chords and steady, almost tribal drumming. The piece ended with a spectral, layered chorus that seemed to hang in the club well after the girls had finished singing. Those songbirds made it through the night without being drowned in brandy, though perhaps I should have placed a napkin over my head to ensure that I absorbed all of the sounds. No use in hiding from heaven though. If it exists I'm sure the angels dig Ortolan.
Check out more show reviews:
The Lopez, Wett Nurse at Memories
Tinsel Teeth, Running at Crown Tap Room
Wildbirds & Peacedrums, Laughing Eye Weeping Eye at the Empty Bottle
Javelin, White Mystery and more at Do-Division Fest
Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Eleventh Dream Day at Pritzker Pavilion