Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Concert Review - Jennifer Hall at Metro, August 31st 2012

Used to be that Labor Day celebrated not only the end of summer and the hopes of Chicago's baseball fans but the end of festival season. 2012, however looks to be different. Not only has the outdoor music season firmly implanted itself into at least mid-September with North Coast, the Hideout Block Party/AV Club Fest and an outdoor incarnation of Riot Fest, among others, but this year, local musician/artist/gadabout, Tom Schraeder is putting on a month-long salute to local musicians, comedians and artists at Lilly's, called Chicago, I Love You. With all music swirling around the city, it was fitting with that the newly-thirtysomething Cabaret Metro decided to kick off the holiday weekend with a trio of local acts on Friday night, headlined by songwriter and chanteuse Jennifer Hall.

Go Long Mule
It was a tough draw for the locals, with people heading out of town, to North Coast/Girl Talk or just resting up for the weekend and the first openers, Go Long Mule got the worst of it. The band went on to a crowd of mostly press, other musicians and a few early-arriving fans, which was a shame. Their set was full of southern drawl, crashing riffs and a general air of old-fashioned make-hay rock 'n' roll. It was an ideal set to get the ball rolling on a Friday night, would only that there had been more than a handful of people to push it. Nonetheless, the four piece outfit never once looked like they were phoning it in, with the lead singer's hat flying off midway through their closing number, an absolute, fire-breathing JAM.

My My My
Next up was was My My My, who came on seven strong with women in sparkling dresses a Lucifer-looking bassist and two backup singers - it was an impressive presentation. Their set was energetic from the get-go, with the crowd being slightly larger and notably more enthusiastic with a strong contingent clearly there to do nothing but dance to My My My. And who could blame them? The band churned out danceable pop like it was, well, their job. The songs had keys sparkling, choruses rolling and the male and female singers trading firing lines off at each other with obvious charisma. Midway through the set, they broke into an impressive a capella version of a song that I didn't recognize, but clearly should have (I was later informed that it was a current Nicki Minaj radio hit). The cover drew hoots and cheers of the "oh, my God, are they actually doing this song?"-variety. As they did this, I realized that it was perfect microcosm of my reaction to them - they were really good at playing a style of music that I didn't really like. As I codgered my way on, My My My played a few more songs and then made way for the main attraction.

Jennifer Hall, Immortalized On iPhone
Jennifer Hall may only have one record (2011's In This) to her name so far, but it was clear when she took the stage from the volume of cheering, amount of cell phone pictures taken and immediate surge in the room's energy that she's already got herself a devoted and growing following around town. She started strong with the standout track In This, "Like I Lie To You". It's a strutting, wailing, crashing beast of a song that allowed her to belt high notes to the rafters while the band worked itself into a frenzy. Leading with the best song can be dangerous for a young band, but fortunately, this served as a statement-of-purpose for the rest of the set, establishing both the singer and the band from the get-go.

For Friday's show, the band had a new drummer sitting in, Larry Beers from Chicago's beloved marching band punks, Mucca Pazza (among others) and was also debuting a number of new songs. Both could have been potential danger spots, pushing the band into unfamiliar territory but they made the songs sound, if not road-tested, then at least certainly studio-ready, playing them with conviction and muscle behind Hall. This was a good thing because, aside from a few incendiary guitar solos, the boys behind her had little hope of coming close to matching Hall's bravura vocals, which seemed to get stronger as the night went on. 

Shifting styles easily from jazz standards to rock to soul, the band and singer paced themselves well and, despite playing only three songs from their album, had the crowd into the show from the first notes to the last. Hall gave the band a break midway through the set with a hushed version of Nina Simone's "The Other Woman", backed only by a soft guitar that could send chills up your spine before picking things right back up with yet another throaty wail at the end of "Young Things", the next song. After a little over an hour, the band walked off the stage briefly before returning to send the crowd home dancing with a swinging version of Smokey Robinson's classic "You Really Got A Hold On Me", knowing enough to leave the people wanting more.

After the show Hall was taking pictures, signing autographs and thanking any number of well-wishers and fans still hanging around, rightfully beaming after her triumphant performance and making sure that everyone who was still there left with just as a big a smile. The place didn't sell out, the show didn't go two hours, there wasn't going to be a write-up in the Trib, but that wasn't the point on Friday. The point was that everyone there knew that they'd just seen a singer on her way up who stretched her legs on the stage of the Metro and found the extra space comfortable. Here's hoping that she has a chance to get comfortable there.

As he always does, Matt Conzen took some fan-freaking-tastic pictures, more of which can be seen below, although I'd recommend checking out the whole slideshow.

Ghosts - Go Long Mule  Buy it.
Hard Kisses - My My My  Buy it.
Green and Blue - Jennifer Hall  Buy it.
Like I Lie To You - Jennifer Hall

Like I Lie To You
To Be Close To You
Green and Blue
When I Went Falling
The Other Woman [Nina Simone]
Young Things
Child, Child
Oh Anna
I Want Someone Badly
You Really Got A Hold On Me [Smokey Robinson & The Miracles]

Pictures (All Photos Copyright Matt Conzen, 2012)
Go Long Mule
My My My

Jennifer Hall

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