You don’t build a church for Easter Sunday, and you can’t unbreak an Easter egg either. The Cave Singers weren’t out to hew a new tomb from the ashes of Pretty Girls Make Graves tonight either, and neither band on this solid double bill carved off a pound of flesh, word or grail of blood that amounted to anything new, but both bands “entertained” in their own and distinct fashions this night at Chicago’s Empty Bottle, recently named by Rolling Stone as one of the best rock clubs in America.
The Cave Singers ambled onto the stage clad in plaid, trucker caps and stocking caps and started out with “a few new songs” as lead singer Pete Quirk said as their set began. They began on a somber and quiet note with a flute solo from their new bassist, Morgan Henderson (newly joined for Naomi, and formerly of Blood Brothers), but built into a dynamic, pulsing number. The next song followed a brief instrumental interlude. Quirk’s husky, earthy tenor was in sound and delivery a tad Joe Cocker-ish, but a bit more intelligible, despite the Bottle’s inability to mic lead singers loudly enough.
The crowd clearly got into their rootsy folksy schtick, but one had to occasionally wonder if the second coming of Lynyrd Skynyrd was worth all of the effort, and justified their inclusion on the rightly (or wrongly) perceived ultra-hipness of the Jagjaguwar label (sister to pretty darn hip Secretly Canadian and the even hipper Dead Oceans labels, all calling the maybe-not-that-hip Bloomington, Ind., home). Aside from a few upper energy high points and the “should be single if it isn’t yet” cut “Week To Week” from the new record, their whole main set was like a low-key hootenany, if such a thing is possible, and The Cave Singers are living proof that it is possible.
Highlights included of their main set with the jazzy bass heavy “Canopy,” the meditative flute-accented “Northern Lights” and the rollicking “Karen’s Car.” At least that’s what they seemed to be—it wasn’t always easy to discern Quirk’s vocals above the dominant drums and bass in the mix, and the songs tend to get very samey after five or more.
Whether it was the long trip from Denver that day or the maddening habit of March Madness teams to save too much to the end, when it was too little, too late, it seemed that the band didn’t really “kick out the jams” until the encore, starting off with a song that aped the Rolling Stones a tad too much. However, the harmonica solos and the repeated arpeggios and changes of pace integrated into “Shine” were worth seeing until the end.
Despite his charming and easy-going demeanor, there’s not much that makes Quirk’s vocals distinguishable from others in the folksy-rootsy-singer-songwriter genre already well-populated by similar sounding acts like Mumford & Sons, Avett Brothers, Fleet Foxes, Kings of Leon (shudder) and their ancestors Pete Yorn, Ryan Adams and Grant Lee Phillips. Fans of any or all (unlikely, but possible) of the aforementioned, including The Cave Singers, are sure to take umbrage at these comparisons, and to be sure there are distinctions, but it just doesn’t seem like anything new was being brought to the table.
That said, the crowd seemed to love the music nonetheless, so the resounding thud their music left in this critic’s mind and heart may have just been a matter of personal preference.
The criticism of unoriginality could be similar levied towards Philadelphia’s Bleeding Rainbow, who on this Easter Sunday night seemed to be positioning themselves as The Second Coming of Sonic Youth, or at least that’s the sound that emanated from their distortion-drenched, feedback-laden amplifiers. Formerly a duo called Reading Rainbow, the group expanded to a four-piece and changed their name to Bleeding Rainbow for their latest record, the excellent Yeah Right, out now on Kanine Records.
Led by the original duo Sarah Everton (vocals/bass) and Rob Garcia (vocals/guitar), their new guitarist Al Creedon (their longtime engineer) on atmospheric guitar shredding and touring drummer Dominique Montgomery (of The Two Funerals), the group that used to be about reading are now about bleeding, and they may have caused some ears to bleed, as their sonic attack overwhelmed many members of the crowd who were obviously there to see a low-key rootsy-folksy foursome instead.
Given that former Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore’s new band Chelsea Light Moving had just been through The Empty Bottle on Good Friday night, perhaps this was really the second-Second Coming. Distinct from those NYC nowavesters, though, they brought the vocal harmonies of X and a lot of the shimmering shoegazery depth of Smashing Pumpkins, if depth is in fact the right word to use.
Distinct from those groups of course, Bleeding Rainbow, now on their first record in this incarnation and their third as a recording project, are anything but veterans. Thankfully, this lent Everton and Garcia’s interplay some amateurish charm and never veered into outright skilllessness, notwithstanding her new conversion from drums to bass and with her even spending a few songs shredding on an electric guitar. Highlights included Everton writhing on the floor with her guitar during one number, and Creedon almost destroying his guitar during their final song. They didn’t have to lead with their loudest, most sonically confrontational numbers, and maybe they’ll change up the running order a bit as the tour goes on through trial and error—three and four songs in, with “Drift Away” and “Waking Dream” they found hit their more melodic (not to say listener-friendly) stride. “Inside My Head” and “Losing Touch” both not only echoed the NYC ghosts of the Youth, but also the three-guitar attack of Band Of Susans and Brad Laner’s Albert Ayler-inspired electric guitar leads from LA’s Medicine. Throughout their 45 minute set, they successfully conjured these ghosts and at the same time proved themselves to be new maestros of sonic flaming wrecking ball creation Needless to say, much of the crowd cowered in the back until their set was over, and there are other groups doing this nineties-inspired guitar-rock, which they freely admit is their jumping off point, but Bleeding Rainbow do bring engaging hooks and vigorous energy to their entrancing sounds and melodies. But don’t forget your earplugs.