To imagine the sound of Chicago rock quintet Gold Motel, one need only refer to the title of their first record, Summer House. Their pop-rock approach—though not necessarily anything new—encapsulates the sound of summer, or at least a summer vacation. It’s been well documented that the leader of Gold Motel, Greta Morgan (then of The Hush Sound) relocated to L.A. for a year and returned with most of the songs for Summer House. In a way, it’s the opposite of the Best Coast story, with their singer Bethany Cosentino moving east but writing songs about growing up in California (hence her band’s nom de plume).
Cosentino was scheduled to play at Chicago’s Vic Theatre on that Friday, July 27, but that Thursday belonged to Gold Motel. The group packed Schubas for a homecoming of sorts, and what functioned as a record release show for the band, given it was their first Chicago show since their new record dropped on July 3, 2012. Along with Morgan on lead vocals and (pivotal) keyboard parts, the ensemble included Eric Hehr on guitar, Matt Minx on bass, Adam Coldhouse on drums and Dan Duszynski on guitar and tenor vocals (in whose home studio much of the most recent record was recorded. This fabulous fivesome led the crowd through highlights of their first two records, thrilling the throngs of screaming and boisterous fans.
Tonight’s performance started with the first single from their new eponymously titled album, “Brand New Kind of Blue,” and right away it seemed like a brand new kind of Gold Motel as well. Although they followed it up with the title cut to their SoCal-inspired debut, Summer House, sonically it seemed that gone were the days of their subtle and delicate tracks like that album’s “Fireworks After Midnight” and “Stealing The Moonlight.” Indeed although they ran through a baker’s dozen of their compositions from both records, those tracks were not featured tonight, and the song selection focused heavily on their new material.
Having seen Gold Motel on at least two previous occasions, one of which was at Chicago’s Metro, it was surprising (and at times alarming) how much the group rocked with a capital “R.” In fact the first few numbers were marred by just that aspect, as it seemed that Morgan was either over-singing or her vocal mic was cranked up way too loud—her usually beautiful vocals were distorted as though they were emanating from blown speakers. The latter three quarters of the set overcame that irritating glitch, perhaps as Morgan reined back on her volume, for it’s hard to imagine that the usually stellar sound at Schubas could have been to blame.
The set was rich with highlights, but standouts included the torch song single “Slow Emergency,” “Leave You In Love, and the rollicking and ironic “Musicians.”
Although Morgan indicated in the interest of “transparency” that they had not planned their encore, their unrehearsed rendition of their debut’s “Perfect In My Mind” proved a poignant and wonderful way to end the evening.
All in all, of the 13 songs performed, eight were from the new record, and it’s telling that the ones they chose tonight rocked the most on the record as well. It was an engaging, invigorating and powerful performance, but much of the gilding on Gold Motel is Morgan’s gorgeous soprano and the vocal interplay between her and tenor/guitarist Duszynski, and there’s nothing wrong with showcasing that more subtle side of their sound as well, especially in such an intimate space as Schubas.
Before Gold Motel, Jon Walker, who referred to his backing band as many different variations on a “smoking cigars” theme, may have been the best discovery of the evening. The lead guitar wasn’t quite high enough in the mix, and Walker’s high baritone went off pitch once, but those small weaknesses were more than compensated by the inventive but plainspoken wordplay of his lyrics, passionate delivery and engaging, hook-laden songs. Although having his wife Cassie on tambourine and keyboards begs the Paul McCartney comparison, his incisive and insightful lyrics that seemed to be born of experience were more reminiscent of a scruffy John Lennon (or maybe Adam Green). Walker, not to be confused with a similarly named variety of alcohol, seems to have aged well thus far, and his recordings may well be worth a listen—the last number of his set, “Fairytale” even has a new self-directed video up on YouTube that’s equally charming.
The night began with Girls On Bicycles, none of whom were girls and none of whom were riding actual bicycles, but they nonethelss provided a dynamic appetizer of Mission of Burma meets Black Sabbath rock, with a lead singer who alternated screaming with more deadpan delivery and a lead guitar that successfully walked the fine lines between classic rock, punk and post-punk. A promising beginning and definitely a band to watch.
Gold Motel at Schubas Tavern on July 26, 2012 Setlist
- “Brand New Kind Of Blue”
- “Summer House”
- “We’re On The Run”
- “Safe In L.A.”
- “In Broad Daylight”
- “Your Own Ghost”
- “Slow Emergency”
- “At Least We Tried”
- “Leave You In Love”
- “Always One Step Ahead”
- “Cold Shoulders”
- “Perfect In My Mind”