“Folk rock” often conjures ideas of bearded men in cabins playing electric banjos and sounding pretty cool. But that isn’t always (or at all, necessarily) the case. It does, however, always sound pretty cool even if a lot of it has the same kind of easy-whim thread throughout it. But isn’t that the thing about genres we love? And it’s what makes a tour any good, if the openers can complement the headliners. Last night, Lincoln Hall housed a two-part amplified jam that prompted many a vinyl sales. Just one other thing we all love.
The show starts promptly at 9. That’s a little unfortunate – hardly anyone is here by starting time, an embarrassingly large gap space throughout the entire floor. Is really everyone at the Cults show at the Empty Bottle? Lia Ices’ New York band jumps right in, as if oblivious to the low turn-out. This is an intimate show that would still feel that way even if everyone who didn’t show was fortunate enough to be here now.
The crowd is all in jeans and leather jackets (or jean jackets, now that “it’s spring”), while Ices is a casual vision of flowing peach fabric, like a giant apron dress. She is small, but can seem a lot bigger in her heels. She doesn’t really look like she can deliver much of a show to hold the attention of the small crowd. But she opens her mouth to sing and it’s incredible. Sure, she has some echo effects courtesy of a distorter hooked up to her mic and keyboard, but she may not even need them as she croons. She has a lot of vocal up-and-downs, like practicing customized scales. Ices is a surprising oddity, a dainty one. “I really like her,” says some guy in the crowd behind me, just as the music cuts. Some people turn around to look at him.
By 9:25 the place has filled out some – it’s still not “packed” and there is certainly no one upstairs. Plenty of beers in plastic cups are around. “I’ve watched the most sports and drank the most whiskey of my life on this tour. Boy’s party,” Ices says. She gives a short laugh and everyone kind of silently laughs too. Politely. She introduces the next song, “Ice Wine,” which requires backing string tracks. Power track.
During set changes, the venue becomes crowded. There are even people lining the walkway from the entrance, on the sides. “I feel like this is a beard-type thing,” says a girl next to me.
The Cave Singers trio from Seattle comes on at 10, and lead singer Pete Quirk immediately grabs my attention – he’s wearing the most amazing green, Germanic, Peter Pan felt hat. The drummer [Marty Lund] and guitarist [Derek Fudesco] have the same uniform (sans hat) of a buttoned down shirt, dark jeans, boots, and facial hair. I feel like I’m at a house show in the woods.
Quirk lives up to his name for sure, using a lot of expression, shrugs, eyebrow manipulations, and hand gestures to get across his unintelligible words. He sounds like an animated version of The Tallest Man on Earth. Fifteen minutes in and we already have a steady hand-clap round going. It’s not until 10:30 that Quirk pulls out the set list, a folded and worn-looking piece of paper, from his pocket. He glances at it and drops it on the floor.
The band is resourceful – Quirk not only sings and plays a small guitar, but also a mini keyboard (the kind you have to blow into to make sound), harmonica, tambourine, shaker… Fudesco plays a couple guitars as he rocks dangerously on his chair, and Lund multi-tasks impressively between the drum set he sits at and a washboard, shaker, and bongo drums.
The asides between songs (“We had a Snickers eating contest… I won” and “This is kind of unorthodox but we kind of do five minutes of silence”) are humorous and light-hearted, but the music is anything but. It’s got its own sort of folk whim, and Quirk stomps his legs like a child having a tantrum.
Any band that can induce folk moshing (dare I even call it that) is one to consider seeing. After this tour, you can catch Cave Singers around with Fleet Foxes – not that they’re coming back to Chicago. For that, you had better have purchased a vinyl.