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Review Fri Jul 24 2015

Kansas Bible Company Totally Fills The Abbey

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The biggest question on my mind as I walked into Irving Park's The Abbey last night was how Kansas Bible Company's twelve members would fit on the stage. The band functions as one big happy family--they drive a school bus-sized van to their shows and at one point they all lived in the same house in Nashville, their adopted hometown--so it went without saying that they would figure out a way to scrunch together for their hour-long set. Not only did they succeed in cramming five horn players, three guitarists, two drummers, a bassist and a keyboard player onto the same smallish square platform, but they also managed to meld these instruments together seamlessly into what can only be described as Phil Spector's fantasy: the perfect wall of sound.

I arrived just before nine to a sparsely populated room with late '70s Steely Dan blaring over the PA system, which made me very happy. Within fifteen minutes Hawley, a solo singer-songwriter and the evening's first act, had taken the stage and begun her set of jazzy-folky songs gently strummed on an electric guitar. She had one of the more interesting voices I've heard, ranging from a sultry burlesque croon up to a yodel-y wail and down into her chest to produce a hearty, almost yawning tone. While her vocal talent was undeniable and her guitar playing was more than satisfactory, though, The Abbey wasn't the proper venue for her music to shine at its maximum brightness. Her intimate songs seemed to get lost in the vast open floor of the pub--she would have been better served playing them on acoustic guitar in a coffeehouse or on piano in a jazz club, where she could have interacted more comfortably with her audience.

IMG_5516.jpgOnce Hawley finished her set, local four-piece Divino Niño trooped onstage determined to turn up the energy level in the building. Their dress alone probably did the job. Lead singer Camilo Medina wore what looked like Daisy Dukes and a tiny white tank, which set the bar high for his frontmanning over the following forty-five minutes. Fortunately, he was up to the task, joking around with the audience between songs, drinking liberal amounts of beer while coaxing feedback out of his guitar, and asking for his steak sandwich to be returned to him before launching into a screaming slide guitar solo. His voice gave off an Edward Sharpe vibe with a touch of Latino accent, tinging his vocal melodies with the Tex-Mex tone found in some 1950s popular music and at the Grand Ole Opry. When he was joined by bassist Javier Forero and guitarist Guillermo Rodriguez in two or three-part harmonies, this effect became more reminiscent of an early Beach Boys-type surf rock, still evoking a lack of worry but ditching a bit of the cheesiness. In either situation, though, the dominant feature was the ocean of reverb in which the vocals were drowning, which lent a pleasant psychedelic, strung-out feel to Divino Niño's music that was emphasized in the Floyd-esque jam that began the set and the hypnotic drums and thudding bass that underlaid the noodling guitars. Uma Thurman's character in Pulp Fiction would have had a field day getting stoned to these songs; I was not on drugs, and I enjoyed them perfectly well.

Finally, just after eleven, Kansas Bible Company arranged itself in an irregular clump with its horn section at the front. They looked more like a grungy fraternity than a band, with several of the members dressed in t-shirts, shorts, and sandals--the most standout outfit was trumpeter James Green's denim vest with a huge Chicago Bulls logo sewn onto the back. Once they began to play, though, they made their musical expertise clear. When a college basketball pep band marries an early '70s surf-prog rock group, you'd expect to hear some clash of instruments or at least see a conductor keeping the pieces together, but Kansas Bible Company kept its music tight with obviously excellent chemistry and a practiced hand at managing a crowded stage. Goofy choreography from the horn players added an element of childlike playfulness--at one point, they sprinted in place as the guitarists built up into a swell--and some of the band members were even able to pull off mid-song instrument switches, with Charlie Frederick variously taking guitar, bass, trumpet, and lead vocals over the course of the set.

IMG_5513.jpgNo matter who was playing what, though, Kansas Bible Company's wall of sound remained perfectly crafted, with each instrument finding a way to add to the mix without becoming overwhelming. Some songs, like "Jesus the Horse Thief," sounded like they were written for the spaghetti westerns of young Clint Eastwood's heyday--bombastic, slightly hallucinatory, but unabashedly heroic--while "Stone in the Water" and other selections from the band's 2014 EP Dad's Day incorporated more bluesiness and soul, fronted by lead singer Jake Miller's smooth Greg Lake-ian vocals and backed up by shimmering organ and soaring harmonies. The music wasn't made for dancing so much as mesmerizing an audience and transplanting their minds into a mythical dreamscape. I remained glued to my chair for most of the set, my eyes fixed on the spectacle before me, and if I closed them I would have sworn I was listening to the score of Tarantino's latest film. The final song, a cover of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," put the finishing touch on the movie playing in my head, bringing it to a thrilling close with a cliffhanger leaving me wanting to see Kansas Bible Company return to Chicago.

Even though The Abbey never got packed with people, it didn't matter to those of us who were there; the music managed to fill the space just fine.

 
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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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