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Review Mon Sep 27 2010

Review: Van Dyke Parks, Clare and the Reasons @ Schubas, 9/26

Throughout his esteemed career, Van Dyke Parks has been known more as a collaborator and accompanist than a star. A handful of solo records, most notably the lauded Song Cycle, have reached a cult-like status, but the bulk of his work has been behind the scenes as an orchestral arranger and producer. This tour with Clare and the Reasons is his first ever, and Sunday's stop at Schubas was his only performance in Chicago since 1964.

With that in mind, it wasn't terribly surprising to see the 67-year old pianist a bit off as the main attraction. He (along with Clare's Reasons) began the set with tracks from the Uncle Remus and Br'er Rabbit-inspired Jump album. Before continuing, he rambled about the demise of popular culture and not wanting his photograph taken. (When was the last time you went to a show where nobody took a picture?) From there he wove through folk (tipping his cap to Phil Ochs after a tirade on oil spills for "Black Gold"), bluegrass (with a brief story about the fiddler John Hartford), romantic piano composition (along with a history lesson about Louis Moreau Gottschalk), chamber music and pop. The biggest applauses of the evening were reserved for the Song Cycle tunes ("The Attic" and "The All Golden") and three that'll forever link him with Brian Wilson ("Heroes & Villains" and the first two tracks from their 1995 collaboration Orange Crate Art).

The knock against Van Dyke Parks is that his music is too complex only for the sake of being so, but on Sunday the simple setup (he on piano, the Reasons on strings) kept songs from becoming too heavy. Even with tweaked arrangements throughout the night, nothing was so far from its original version that it was unrecognizable. As a display in songcraft, it was masterful.

Clare and the Reasons opened with a full musical cabinet - bass, cello, clarinet, French horn, guitar, kazoos, keyboard, recorder, trombone, violin and washboard. (And I may have missed something.) They ran through a 40-minute set covering both of their albums evenly and included covers of Genesis' "That's All" (with that earworm hook played on trombone) and Harry Nilsson's "He Needs Me." For only seven people onstage, they sounded much bigger; as if a symphony were crammed in a back corner.

 
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