Monday, April 30, 2012

Show review: JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, Gold Motel, Blah Blah Blah at Metro, 4/27

By Gene Wagendorf III
Gold Motel (Photos: Caitlin Stich)
If ever you need a reminder of just how blessed Chicago is with amazing music (and seriously, why would you?) just grab yourself a time machine and set coordinates for last Friday night at Metro. Three local favorites shared the bill on what proved to be a night of consistently catchy hooks, booty shaking grooves and smile-inducing pop. A testament to the transformative powers of great tunes, the mood inside the club couldn't have been farther from the grey, wet malaise of the weather outside.

First up was Blah Blah Blah, who did a superb job of easing the crowd into the evening with their unique blend of sad-prom rock and subdued buoyancy. Beryl melodies backlit Solomon David's wistful vocals, creating delicate sonic swoons that nearly begged to be slow danced to. The band's mostly delicate, Smiths-y lean really made their louder, looser moments pop. At one point Byron Harden stretched out a chubby little bass-line that swapped most of the audience's knees with tightly-coiled springs. One of the more affecting numbers Blah Blah Blah laid out called back to The Beatles "This Boy," or maybe more accurately to the scene in A Hard Day's Night where Ringo embarks on his famous lonely stroll. That isn't to say that the set was filled with downer songs- quite the opposite. At its best their music created the same kind of tender atmosphere as a crackling fireplace. If you weren't going to hold someone close and dance in front of it then, at the very least, you wanted to cuddle to it.

Blah Blah Blah
Less cuddling and more dancing was in order once Gold Motel took the stage. "We're On The Run," the opening track of their 2010 release Summer House, kicked off a string of bright, '60s-tinged pop. Guitarists Eric Hehr and Dan Duzsynzski added a bit of thrash and clamor to the end of the song; a neat cloud of racket that the bass trampolined through with reckless abandon. A new song, "Brand New Kind of Blue," opened with a warm gallop before shifting to a danceable staccato. Greta Morgan worked her lyrics with a falling-in-love magnetism that moved in perfect harmony with glistening riffs and twinkling melodies. "Slow Emergency" showed off a bit of Gold Motel's range and proved to be the highlight of their set. Unusually somber, the song dripped with lamented self-awareness. A brooding keyboard and steady drumbeat backed Morgan as she sang there's a slow emergency/I can hear the alarm bell ringing. After easing into a lilting crescendo the song shifted pace and Duzsynzski came in with I can make it out/Things are going ok/I'm brushing off my doubts/But they ain't goin' away. Eric Hehr added some subtle glimmering as the two vocalists harmonized I don't wanna know what happens next/ ...I don't. If you'd never experienced the sad delusion of trying to trick yourself into being irrationally positive then the moment might not have been as dramatic, but lucky for me, in this case, I've made a lot of mistakes.

Greta Morgan of Gold Motel
The mood picked back up with the flamboyant romp that is "Safe In L.A.," and the crowd responded by shimmying and shaking. Lasery lead guitar wound itself around tight percussion, eventually bursting into the band's most infectious chorus. This is the song that's blaring from the radio as you drive down the California coast, top down with sand between your toes. That Gold Motel succeeded in bringing an audience of 1,000 people on that ride on a shitty April Chicago night is a public service and they ought to be rewarded accordingly. The looping, bubbly bass and fuzzy guitar of "Leave You In Love," another new song, kept the car winding along the coastal highway. Like the other new ones played, it cemented my hunch that Gold Motel's forthcoming self-titled record will be the soundtrack to my summer.

The night concluded with a blistering, life-affirming set from soul-showstoppers JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound. The band, which seemed to be charged by playing in front of its hometown crowd, touched on all the staples of classic soul without ever slipping into caricature. Brooks opened the set with "River," a slow jam that is probably as close as I'll ever come to seeing Baby Huey & The Babysitters. The singer crooned with his whole body, bending each note at the hips and yowling from heart to pompadour. Eventually The Uptown Sound broke into a kind of Motown power funk with "Want More," the title track from their sophomore release. Mixing a Commodores-esque rhythm section with grimey guitars, the song continually built itself up before bursting in fits of exclamation. Like many of the great soul frontmen, JC Brooks used his over-sized personality to keep the crowd hooked while segueing from song to song. He introduced the band's cover of Wilco's "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" with a bit of a wink, thanking WXRT for the almost excessive airplay.

JC Brooks
After a wardrobe change (Brooks would later admit that it wasn't a show without one), The Uptown Sound whipped out "Sister Ray Charles." Another song that seemed to climb higher with each second, it was also clear evidence that this band had the chops to keep up with its boisterous frontman. Were Ben Taylor's bass lines to put out a personal ad they'd have to tag themselves BBW. Andy Rosenstein's rolling electric keys plounced around Billy Bungeroth's prickly guitar, a giddy storm propped up most of the night by furious drumming. JC Brooks and co. growled through a filthy cover of The Clash's "A Brand New Cadillac" before ending the night with "Don't Lock The Door," a slow burn that ended like a runaway train.

My lasting impression from the night, aside from the fantastic music, was how thankful these three local acts were for the support of their fans. Each group seemed genuinely touched by the response of the crowd, and the crowd was certainly into each band. Blah Blah Blah, Gold Motel and JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound will all be gigging around this summer. Do yourself a favor and catch a show. 

Check out more of Caitlin Stich's photos from the show below:



  1. Great review, it pained me to have to miss this outing but this was certainly the next best thing.

    As with so many Clash songs, "Brand New Cadillac was actually a cover though -

  2. Amazing show and a great review!