Beat Kitchen // Chicago, IL // Sept. 11, 2009
Self-amused and endearingly awkward, Go opened the evening at Belmont's murkily lit Beat Kitchen. "We're a concept band without a concept," they quipped. "If you have any ideas, let us know." They kicked off the performance with a hypnotic instrumental opus, layering chords and distortion over simple drum beats. Swapping instruments entirely for each song, Go rounded out their set with fairly standard low-fi fare. One song was purportedly written just before showtime. They finished off the set by covering Neutral Milk Hotel, thankfully avoiding the over-covered “Aeroplane” and playing “Where You're Find Me Now,” off of the under-appreciated On Avery Island.
Songwriter Julia Klee followed with a slow vocal and keyboard intro before being joined by her five-piece outfit, filling out the stage to near maximum capacity. Though the only piano at her disposal was a Yamaha synth, Klee and her bandmates achieved a lovely organic sound, largely thanks to the upright bass played with a near-sexual enthusiasm. I have never seen anyone enjoy an upright bass the way Klee's bassist does – it was perhaps the highlight of their performance. The outfit lingered somewhere between alt-country and folk rock, ranging in mood from melancholia to charming, jambly fun worthy of larger dance halls.
The night's aesthetic turned slightly to the bizarre with Elsinore. Lead singer and guitarist Ryan Groff could be mistaken for an indie rock Weird Al Yankovic. Despite hailing from Champaign, Ill., Groff mysteriously sang with an English, or at least mid-Atlantic accent while the band pounded out tunes reminiscent of early Blur. Midwestern Brit-rock? Sure, why not. The band had the magnificent stage presence to pull it off. Groff displayed perhaps the most impressive set of expressions I have ever seen on a singer – his face performed elastic feats previously unknown to humankind. His mouth might actually be capable of stretching wider than his skull. It was like watching an extremely talented claymation artist animate a human in real life. It was hypnotic. I couldn't look away. Groff's vocal range was nearly as impressive as his emotive range – he swerved in and out of falsetto impeccably, sounding like a happier Matt Bellamy of Muse.
Lastly, a redressed Go (ha! half of REGO! I get it!) reappeared onstage along with Rebecca Rego and the rest of the band, all in black tie. Multi-instrumentalist Mike P. played the role of emcee and introduced everybody, then proceeded to bounce around the stage playing anything that wasn't already being played. Rego's country/folk rock compositions took a harder edge when expanded to the stage. She revealed a vocal range that included rough shouts as well as the capable crooning that appears on the studio album, From the Royal Arcade. In addition to the tracks off the record, REGO debuted several songs too new to have been recorded. They played a prolonged yet thoroughly energetic set, complete with a whistle-off between Mikey B. and Mike P. (capable whistlers both). With her producer and several friends from in and out of town joining her onstage, Rego finished the evening poignantly with abundant thank-yous to her personal and professional support.
-Review and photos by Sasha Geffen