Last night started at O’Leaver’s, where a revolving cast of performers took the stage, almost all connected in some way to Saddle Creek Records. The exception was Nik Fackler, who though not directly connected to Creek has done a lot of videos for Creek bands. He also was an exception in that his was the only inspired music of the bunch. First up was The Dead Bird, featuring Tilly and the Wall’s Derek Pressnall on acoustic guitar and vocals and Nick White on keyboards. The duo did a couple mid-tempo singer-songwriter ditties, before being joined by Neely Jenkins for a song. After that Clark Baechle of The Faint took up a stool and an acoustic guitar and sang a couple numbers, one of them with lyrics involving gas pains. Somewhere in there Joe Knapp joined in (or at least was on the stage) as did another women who I didn’t recognize. None of the music sounded terribly inspired or memorable.
It’s become something of a necessity for Creek performers to put together solo side projects. They obviously want to explore something creative outside of their usual schtick along with new frontiers involving publishing rights, and you can’t blame them for that. But the effort has to be inspired or else it’s just another side project that borders on a hobby. Had this music been performed by a cast of no-name local musicians it would never be heard (or at least not in front of a crowd like last night’s).
After the Creek acoustic parade ended, Nik Fackler took the stage backed by Dereck Higgins and White again on keyboards. Fackler was clearly nervous, and why not? I think this was one of his first gigs, and it just happened to be in front of a jam-packed crowd that consisted of the entire Saddle Creek Records staff as well as members of The Faint, Cursive, Neva Dinova and a variety of scenesters. Anyone would be nervous. Fackler pulled it off, however. In his soft voice he sung four songs that sported intricate acoustic guitar lines reminiscent of Kings of Convenience or early Simon and Garfunkel. Higgins, the consummate pro and artist, provided the perfect accompaniment (as always), adjusting his style and tone throughout Fackler’s uncertain set. What made the performance stand out was Fackler’s enthusiasm and youthful intensity. You’d think with his film aspirations that music would only be a novelty, but that clearly isn’t the case after what I heard last night. He’s talented and knows how to write a good ballad. Obviously his vocals were somewhat subdued, but that’ll come with time, if he continues to pursue it.
After Fackler, I drove downtown to Sokol Underground, missing both Cocoon (The Faint’s Todd Fink and Jake Bellows from Neva Dinova, apparently dressed in Zorro costumes) and Dave Dondero. I got there just in time to see The Stnnng, and believe me, after an hour of acoustic love ballads it was just what I needed. The Stnnng is one of those bands that you can’t enjoy from the back of the room. You have to get right up there near the stage and just soak in the madness and naked aggression. They are brutal and angry. Frontman Chris Besinger doesn’t sing, he exorcises by yelling into a leather-grasped microphone like an unholy reincarnation of David Yow. The fist-poundingly quick music bludgeons you… in a good way. It’s an amazing band sporting one of the most muscular rhythm sections I’ve heard in a long while, balanced by two blazing guitars and the crazy man on the microphone. This must be seen and heard live and loud. A studio recording will pale in comparison.
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