It's simply complex blues
Chris Whitley performs Monday at Underground City Tavern
If you’re looking for a feel-good time with no-cares dancing and familiar-song audience participation, don’t bother showing up for Chris Whitley’s show on Monday. See, he’s an intense artist, demanding and difficult and worth every ounce of understanding and perseverance you can muster.
With a little help from producer Daniel Lanois, Whitley broke onto the national music scene in 1991 at age 31 after years of busking on the streets of New York City. Living with the Law, his debut album on Columbia Records, made quite a splash, garnering rave reviews in Rolling Stone and other major publications. The acclaim gave him the impetus to build a career in music, and he continues to stretch what he calls the blues into all sorts of configurations.
Whitley’s chosen tool is an acoustic National steel guitar, a resonator instrument designed to project the sound of a slide player through the reverberations of a uniquely designed body and well-placed holes in the face of the guitar. The music content of his recorded output goes from purely acoustic and entirely human instrumentation to tape loops and sounds manufactured by machines. His lyrics are obscure and intimate, erotic and revealing. On his 12th and latest CD, Soft Dangerous Shores, Whitley combines electronic drumbeats and sounds with a bassist and drummer, all guided by his trademark guitar. Understanding the man’s music takes time, interest, and desire, but enjoying the rhythms and intensity is an instantaneous pleasure.
The Texas-born Whitley spends most of his off time in Dresden, Germany. A few songs on the new CD directly relate to the city, which was burned to rubble by the Allies in World War II, then cut off for decades from the West by the Iron Curtain. Whitley’s new CD will have been on the streets less than a week when he hits the Underground City Tavern stage at the beginning of a national tour. In his last Springfield appearance, during the first year of the fabulous House of Blues tent at the Illinois State Fair (too good to last?), Whitley was a whirlwind, nearly overwhelming but entirely consuming. Expect to see more of the same.
Chris Whitley performs at 9 p.m. Monday, Aug. 1, at the Underground City Tavern, Hilton Springfield, 700 East Adams St., 217-789-1530.
Everybody knows Little Feat performs outside on Saturday night, July 30, at SummerFun, the Lincoln Land Community College Foundation fundraiser, right? On Friday, in a less publicized event, the Groove Daddies do their thing at the Beach Bash – another part of SummerFun. When you pay the very reasonable Beach Bash admission price ($8 person; $15 for two), you are automatically entered in a drawing for a backyard barbecue at your place with music supplied by the Groove Daddies and food by Turasky’s Catering. How’s that for a deal?
Former members of the Mudbugs and Picture This have become Greyhounds, a quartet of guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums that plays blues, rock and soul music. See their Springfield debut Saturday, July 30, 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. at Starship Billiards (2301 Stevenson Dr., 585-8888).
Field of Grey, a St. Louis modern rock band, features Springfield native Robert Lloyd on bass. The group has played all over the U.S. and Europe and is now popping into Viele’s Planet (126 E. Jefferson St., 525-9029) on Friday, July 29, playing from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. with Left 4 Dead and maybe some other bands. They play hard and fast, yet melodically and lyrically.
Blues fans have a hoot to holler about this week when Frank Bangs Secret Stash hides out at the Underground City Tavern (700 E. Adams St., 789-1530) on Friday, July 29, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. The former Buddy Guy sideman claims “not to be a jam band, but a band that jams.” How refreshing. Also on the bill: rabblerousing country crooner Charlie King of Old No. 8, a radical, country rock band from Chicago.
On Saturday, July 30, Karma Nightclub (625 N. First St., 522-1907) and Abe magazine combine forces to present the Brick Street Lounge Series. The indoor/outdoor party starts in the commons area east of the Vinegar Hill Mall at 4 p.m. and finishes off by 3 a.m. inside Karma. Included in the price of admission: live music by the Elements, Ugly Stick, Small Change, and Treologic, sightings of six of Springfield’s hottest bachelors, and a surprise guest appearance by a MTV Real World Celebrity. Wow.