Thursday, September 22, 2011

Show review: Freelance Whales at the Empty Bottle, 9/17

By Gene Wagendorf III 

Freelance Whales jam for Rock For Kids
Last Saturday night Eventbrite's Concert Confidential series brought Freelance Whales to The Empty Bottle for one of several simultaneous free shows around the country. Each event raised money for a local charity, the Chicago beneficiaries being Rock For Kids, a great local not-for-profit organization focused on addressing the lack of music programs in Chicago schools.

Freelance Whales eased the crowd into their set with "Generator ^ First Floor," an idyllic song that evokes images of waking up in a quiet country farmhouse. Possibly the group's most uplifting song, it was strengthened live by the addition of a final verse that doesn't show up on Weathervanes,  their beautifully crafted debut album. Striking harmonies and dreamy twinkles populated the entire set, but few times were they as well positioned as in the opening song. The first giggles of the night came courtesy of band-member Doris Cellar, who managed to knock over a harmonium with her bass (apparently a regular occurrence) while trying to navigate the cramped stage. Drummer Jacob Hyman got a chance to show off some thump on "Enzymes," the only track played not from the aforementioned record. The number's deliberate, climbing synth-line segued nicely into the squeaky dolphin bop of "Kilojoules," whose catchyness elegantly faded into a washy cloud of chimes about two minutes in.

Dadone on banjo
For a band that had driven straight from NYC to The Bottle for the show, fatigue didn't seem to be an issue. The whole crew looked genuinely thrilled to be playing the set, cracking jokes and talking up Rock For Kids between songs. "Starring" had more verve live than on record and I couldn't help but smile and shake my head as singer Judah Dadone delivered the line shut me up with your long tube socks/ they don't scream 'hey, let's just be friends.' It's that kind of almost kitschy humor that makes Freelance Whales truly endearing- for all the delicacy in the music they just don't take themselves too seriously. Even the somewhat eerie "Broken Horse" was given a tongue-in-cheek dedication to the various spirit animals of audience members. The tune itself was a breezy ballad punctuated by plucky banjo work and lyrics that stood alone as poetry. 

"Hannah" was by far the most anticipated song of the show, daring people to sing along with Dadone's hipster rap and offering up a few Leonard Bernstein/"It's The End Of The World As We Know It" moments. Watching the singer swap instruments between songs with Cellar and multi-instrumentalists Kevin Read and Chuck Criss only punctuated the fact that this was the perfect band to be shilling for a charity that works in musical education. All of the pieces came together perfectly for "Location," which stood out as Freelance Whales' strongest song. Its slow-build and desperate delivery were genuinely affecting and stood as proof that there's real substance beneath their playfulness.

The evening was by all accounts a success, everyone leaving with freshly painted grins and the warm tingle that otherwise comes from a deep kiss or a hit of Maker's Mark. It'd be an even bigger success if people continue to support and spread to word about Rock For Kids. Feel free to donate here and help keep Chicago's incredible musical community growing.


Check out more show reviews:
Braids at the Empty Bottle
Peter Bjorn & John at Empty Bottle
Paper Mice at Treasure Town
Close Hits at Weeds

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