Schubas Tavern – Chicago, IL
(with special guests;Aleks and the Drummer and Santah)
Attending a show at Schuba’s is always a good time. The room is intimate enough to see the sweat run down the bass player’s arm- yet big enough to let even the worst dancer cut it up a bit.
The sound people are aware of the shifts and the dynamics in the room and adjust as needed making for a well balanced show and the staff is attentive and polite. I am always amazed the place isn’t packed every night.
At precisely 9 p.m. (you gotta love it when they start on time) Santah took the stage. The quintet that hails from Champagne is equal parts scruffy and frumpy, but these kids can rock. Their stripped down hipster vibe somehow allowed for lush harmonies and nicely nuanced little guitar fills that kept things interesting. Stan McConnell evokes a young Springsteen although he is more of a team player than a stand-out marquee guy.
Playing with comfort and precision – they laid down a set that could have been a headliner anywhere else. Santah belongs on stage. They look more at home than many bands twice their age. Catch them next time they swing through town.
Aleks the Drummer (aka Aleks Eva) was another story all together. I don’t think I have ever witnessed a more awkward and uncomfortable band on stage. The music was a lot of predictable techno played by two people with their keyboards set up one on either end of the stage. The drummer worked from the traditional place. Eva kind of gyrated around in her dollar-store-Puck costume.
She never really found the key to the songs the band played. She just kind of breathed out words and hoped they’d have the desired affect on the men in the audience. It did – the applause was polite – the music was not.
Then – like a rock and roll tsunami – Schonen Knife jumped on stage with glittery guitars and stuffed monkeys and I thought I might have stumbled into the wrong venue until they unleashed the power of their music.
The rock and roll angels bring the sexy thunder from the first and don’t stop through the entire set. Lest my review sound like a guy with three crushes, I have to point out that these women are such powerfully talented and focused musicians – what’s not to like.
They sing of unlikely punk topics such as banana chips, barbecue parties and Chinese dumplings, but this is no novelty act. Bassist Ritsuko Taneda works as hard at keeping the bass lines moving as she does at rocking the audience.
Emi Morimoto – relegated to the back of the stage behind the drum kit – brings her own brand of thunder to each song. She is not one to settle into a groove and let the song take her anywhere. She is in control and when she and Taneda lock it down guitarist Naoko Yamano is free to do her thing which is shredding that cute glittery guitar like her life depends on it.
There is nothing deep of thought provoking about the show. It is just pure rock and roll; the way rock and roll was meant to be played. It is primitive and raw and fun and makes you want to get up and jump about.
At one point they launched into a cover of “Boys” by the Beatles (although not entirely the way it was written) and you knew this power popping trio had a solid foundation in their music.
They played for an hour without a break – other than to introduce songs and new album “Free Time” (which is the first album sung entirely in English). They debuted a brand new song “Move On” which they haven’t even recorded yet.
When all was said and done – three very revved up punk princesses cleared the stage, but only for a moment. They were brought back on for the strangest encore I have ever seen. As people began calling out the names of the songs they wanted to hear – the Yamano was a bit flummoxed.
She clearly wanted to play every song that was being requested. She did not want to disappoint anyone. Finally someone called out that they should play what they want to play and Yamano was clearly relieved.
“Sushi Bar” ended the night and the electricity on stage. It was quickly transferred to the back of the house where the band signed t-shirts and posters and other souvenirs for the line of men wanting to get close to the magic – if only for a minute.
Click on thumbnails to enlarge photos: