Live Review: Midwest Dilemma, Paper Owls, Winter Blanket, Hot Sick; Joyner/Hoovers, tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 5:50 pm April 20, 2007

I’ll be blunt. I wasn’t looking forward to Midwest Dilemma’s set last night at The Saddle Creek Bar. The last time I saw Justin Lamoureux perform was a couple years ago at either The 49’r or O’Leaver’s. It was just him, his guitar, and a set of slow, mournful folk ballads that put me to sleep. So when I showed up at SCB at 9:15 — the only one there other than the bands and the bar staff — and found out Justin was first up I thought “Jeeze, I just hope it doesn’t drag on forever.” To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. Lamoureux has retooled his sound since that sleepy night at the Niner, with an up-tempo style and a solid supporting cast featuring Elizabeth Web on clarinet and vocals and David Downing on cello. I’ve seen clarinets used in folk/rock bands before, always with embarrassing, toot-toot-tooting bar-mitzvah-flavored results. Web is the first to really pull it off, aware that she’s supporting Lamoureux and not the center of attention. Downing’s cello work is subtle and engaging and fits seamlessly within the constructs of Lamoureux’s earthy, up-tempo folk ballads. Together, the cello and clarinet are in perfect balance, and Web’s vocal harmonies are gorgeous. Lamoureux’s vocals have become more straightforward, almost aggressive, with a slight Oberst overtone at times that I hope he isn’t doing on purpose (what causes that quiver?). He’s got a good voice that’s well-showcased on new material that bounces between rural 4/4 folkies and laid-back waltz-time ballads. Lamoureux says he’s in the studio working on a new record.

I thought Paper Owls was a duo — April Twist on vocals, keyboards and guitar and Cricket Kirk on drums. Nope. The band now includes a six-string bass player, which, because of the poor mix, was all I could hear last night. Twist’s slight voice, which kind of resembles Natalie Merchant’s, was lost in the throbbing din, as was her guitar on the first few songs. She switched to a Korg halfway through the set. I think their songs — indie rock bordering on FM alternative — are probably pretty good, if I could only hear them. At the very least, they need to ratchet down their rhythm section (Kirk plays on a massive Gretsch kit) and find the right balance with Twist’s vocals and guitar.

Headliners The Winter Blanket is a Minneapolis 4-piece who records for Chairkickers, a label owned and operated by the fine folks in Low. Stephanie Davila’s vocals were in line with Hope Sandoval’s on a couple moody numbers that resembled Mazzy Star songs. It was guitarist Doug Miller, however, who handled most of the leads on the heavier indie rock songs, which also featured Dave Campbell on bass and keyboards/effects (that were ear-shattering at times). I liked them best on the more restrained material vs. their over-the-top rockers.

Finally, at around 12:30, there was Hot Sick a.k.a. Sarah Xiong along with a friend of hers on a second guitar. If Davila’s voice resembled Sandoval’s, Xiong’s is a dead-on match, especially on her moody, simple acoustic numbers that dripped with a broken-hearted loneliness. Xiong has a sweet, indie-acoustic style that’s a throwback to women I loved back in the day (Joni, Suzanne Vega) and would be interesting to hear backed by a full band. Could she pull it off with that delicate voice of hers? She’s probably better off with just her talented sideman.

The weekend is upon us.

Tonight at The 49’r, the debut of The Coffin Killers featuring Lee Meyerpeter and the soon-to-be-gone Jeff Heater on drums — along with School of Arms and The Danger. It’s a preview of the band’s farewell gig next Saturday at The Waiting Room. Tonight it’s $5, 9:30 p.m.

And speaking of The Waiting Room, tonight its stage hosts Simon Joyner, Bill and Renee Hoover and Tim Perkins. $7, 9 p.m.

Saturday night it’s Elf Power with Tomato a Day at The Waiting Room. $8, 9 p.m., while over at The Niner it’s old-school punk re-engineered for the ’00s with Speed! Nebraska bands The Monroes and Domestica (ex-Mercy Rule). $5, 9:30 p.m.

Speaking of Lee Meyerpeter, one of his other bands, The Filter Kings, is playing at Mick’s Saturday night with The Mercury’s. $5, 9 p.m.

If you’re out and about Saturday afternoon, swing over to Elmwood Park for the annual Earth Day concert, this year (like last year) featuring Anonymous America (2 p.m.) and Sarah Benck (3:50 p.m.) and the Robbers. Jazzwholes close it out at 5.

Then, Sunday, two huge shows: Brooklyn-based afrobeat band Antibalas is at The Waiting Room with Krudas Cubensi, $15, 9 p.m., while down at Sokol Underground it’s Aqueduct with What Made Milwaukee Famous and Canasta. $7, 9 p.m.

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