all words and photos: Julian Vu
If you’ve ever been to Chicago, there’s a strong chance that you love it. The Midwestern town offers such gems as Hot Doug‘s, Anish Kapoor’s Cloudgate, WBEZ’s WWDTM and TAL, the base of many of Hughes’ films, and of course a storied tradition of producing great music. Most of the good music that comes out of Chicago tends to have a sound that is distinctly Chicago, and by that I do not mean cheesy horn sections and singing about a particular day (after Friday and before Sunday) in a park. Chicago itself has a tradition of jazz and even an enjoyment of art near that of east or west coast counterparts, which is definitely present in many of the Thrill Jockey players. Last Thursday at the Black Cat, the four Chicagoans known as the Sea and Cake brought their iconic feel-good, minimalist art-pop to the stage.
The set was opened by Brokeback, a band lead by Tortoise bassist Doug McCombs. While Brokeback does not attempt to sound like Tortoise, it’s clear that McCombs’ musical writing adheres to a certain style, which explains a portion of Tortoise’s sound. The twangy guitar, the buildup of sound without actually being overpowering, and weirdly mathematical guitar licks were all present only this time without badass drumming, cool vibes, nor McEntire’s awesome synths. That’s okay though, once I got past the fact that this was not supposed to sound like Tortoise, I actually started to get into it.
There was a strange moment where Brokeback played an almost Santana-ish song reminiscent of “Black Magic Woman”. It left a bad taste in my mouth, but the song that followed, the epic 14-minute western post-rock opus of a piece solidified the fact that Brokeback was in fact, whether they liked it or not, a cinematic band. Their music best used for setting a scene or tone, and ultimately painting a picture a desolate southwestern desert or town. It might not have been what Sea and Cake fans were hoping for, but if you understand that integral to the Sea and Cake is John McEntire, who is also in Tortoise, which relies heavily on Doug McCombs’ bass and guitar work, then maybe you might’ve been intrigued–I know I was.
When Sam, Archer, John and Eric took the stage, the crowd was ready to be rocked in the softest way ever. For the next hour and a half, the Sea and Cake brought just the right amount of life to their usually hushed jams. These same songs, heard in a live context, provide a more upbeat and downright danceable feel. Bassist Eric Claridge provided a justifiably minimal, but effective foundation to Archer Prewitt and Sam Prekop’s call and response dual guitar work, all the while general badass John McEntire showcased some of the best hat work I’ve ever seen on a drumset. This time was much better than the last time they played in town, where they opened for Broken Social Scene to legions of ungrateful BSS fans who couldn’t care less about, or come to appreciate the Sea and Cake’s “dad rock”.
The set pulled heavily from more recent albums Everybody, Car Alarm and the just-released Moonlight Butterfly EP the name of which even Prekop couldn’t even remember. Interestingly enough, Prekop kept “cue cards” of his lyrics, but only for newer songs as he clearly knew “Jacking the Ball”, “Afternoon Speaker” and “Midtown” by heart. Most songs retained a similar feel to the album, particularly “Exact to Me”, which takes the Sea and Cake away from pop and on an afrobeat journey. During this song, Archer employs a catchy slap-delayed lick while John McEntire plays a polyrhythm that I’m convinced you need eight pairs of hands to do as good as he does. Oui-track “Midtown” had a faster feel, conjuring up samba rhythms and of course head swaying from audience members. A look around, and I could tell that everyone was having a moment to themselves to enjoy what I would say was one of the better shows I’d seen this year.
On a Letter
Up on the Northshore
Exact to Me
Jacking the Ball
An Echo In