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Review Sat Oct 18 2014

Owl John Tugged The Bottom Lounge's Heartstrings

Years ago I was given a copy of Frightened Rabbit's first album Sing the Greys and instantly knew that Scott Hutchison's songs would be something I would want to seek out. When The Midnight Organ Fight was released, it cemented Frightened Rabbit and Hutchison in my mind as one of the best modern bands. Every song simply grabbed me, leaving me aching for the same reason they ached. Hutchison's ability to capture little idiosyncratic moments into a universal understanding is uncanny. This past Wednesday Hutchison performed a lengthy set under his solo moniker Owl John at the Bottom Lounge, further showing his ability to captivate with his songs.

wedding dress.jpgChicago's Wedding Dress opened the night up quite well. The group is a nice collection of other Chicago area band including Maps & Atlases, Joan of Arc, and Suns. Together they create a dreamy indie rock sound that is accented with some interesting features. The slow and atmospheric build up to "Dangerous Living" had an almost post-rock quality to it before it submerged itself into the band's more identifiable sound. That's not to say that their music isn't filled with surprises, though. There is a bit of experimentation happening throughout their songs, particularly in when group blends in some interesting drums and keys into their work. The cover of Wild Beast's "The Devil's Crayon" fit the band quite well, really making it their own especially through Erin Elders vocals. They ended their set with "Simple Cords," which has the band at their most entertainingly folky.

owljohn.jpg
Scott "Owl John" Hutchison came to the stage with just his guitar at his side. There was no backing band or anything else to distract from Hutchison, who took a hold of the audience's attention with supernatural ease. It was more than just charisma and his ardent skill coming from him as he played "Hate Music" with his acoustic guitar, but to place exactly what it was that made him seem like a giant amongst the crowd would be impossible. It's difficult to attain such a command of an audience as he had, even if the crowd is as enamored with the performer as this one was. He continued playing with the opening chords of "The Modern Leper," the opening track of The Midnight Organ Fight. The crowd cheered loudly and brought a smile to Hutchison's face. "You thought it was going to be all new shit," he said with a bright grin and his soft Scottish accent, "I'm not that stupid."

Hutchison's set combined songs of his solo debut Owl John and requests from the crowd. He announced he didn't have a set list, just a couple lyric sheets for the newer songs he hadn't plated as much. He would choose a song and then pass it off to the crowd to set a decent flow, letting them know if they didn't enjoy the show it was mostly there fault. He, of course, admitted the slight fallacy in the plan, noting he sometimes had a song in mind but was waiting for someone to shout it out to him. But with so many songs being cried out for by devoted fans and the lax curfew he was informed of, Hutchison assured them he'd tried getting to them all.

Hutchison fueled the moments between singing and strumming with a mix of storytelling and straight up conversations with the crowd. He finished every song with a thank you and a cheers before introducing the next one with a story, usually talking of encounters from touring experiences with other audiences, like once having "The Twist" requested by guys wearing their hats on backwards who crashed their boat to the song. He talked about falling in love with a Los Angelean after "Be Kind Los Angeles" and recalled the sadness of not including the untitled Owl John song featuring Ed Harcourt on the album. Like much of his oeuvre, that unreleased song captured a tortured love that spoke to me without hesitation, the words "all I really want for me is you" still circling around my head well past the show's end.

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Hutchison easily related with his fans, even those he had issues with. During "A Good Reason To Grow Old," a few more talkative audience members were shushed by a quieter and more enthralled one, which caused Hutchison to call them out. He asked if there was any song they really wanted to hear, so he could play it and they could leave. It was a calm declaration that was backed by the attendees of the Bottom Lounge, cheering him on for standing up for those serenely listing and singing along to show. This was as ornery has he got during the night, which led way to his fun jests with certain members. Throughout the latter half of the show, Hutchison quipped with charming rapport over a woman's dislike of red light cameras. It became a running joke as he imagined joyrides of listening to Frightened Rabbit while blowing reds up and down Chicago streets. The joke came to a climax during "The Loneliness and the Scream" where he shouted out "Keep running those red lights!", making sure that everyone knew he was being lighthearted, before heading off stage.

The encore consisted of what Hutchison described as the two saddest songs he had ever written. "Floating In The Forth" flowed wonderfully into "Poke," which was met with a misstep that surprised Hutchison, who said he had never messed the song up before. The crowd couldn't care less, taking his place singing through the error and acting as the backing ohhs during the chorus. "Fucking nailed it," he whispered as the crowd gracefully hummed. It was joint performance, embracing the loving crowd one final time before leaving everyone slightly heartbroken but happier to have seen Hutchison's compassionate performance.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »

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Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
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