Cracklin Moth and Kunek
Chicago, IL • Nov 20th
“You guys are so attentive… you’re spoiling us.” said Cracklin Moth beat-keeper Shawn Rios in a stunned mic-aided whisper, after a few songs. It was a humble comment but the fact is, as the crowd reaction demonstrated, Cracklin Moth’s music has that effect on you. The honest and sincere alt-country redo and evolution catches you completely off guard.
A set full of well-crafted songs that weaved their way into your heart, sometimes covertly, but always invited. You always go to a show to experience some type of emotion, whatever it may be. And the usual suspects were there but those often hidden and less popular mid-song thoughts and emotions of sadness, guilt and despair bubbled up, too. But what I also found and experienced– almost simultaneously in the same song– were joy, redemption and hope. (Whew!) Not a common situation or songwriting ability you usually find or expect at a Monday night concert or in the local Chicago scene at the moment.
The seasoned quintet– all experienced players in the Chicago music scene– make it almost impossible not to be drawn in– which would explain why after the first few numbers the hush ensued, not out of boredom but out of respect and curiosity.
Leading the way was guitarist/singer/songwriter Matt Ammerman. He cites his childhood nighttime radio listening of Stevie Wonder and a boys choir background as vocal influences. Combine that with a love for vintage bluegrass and out comes a unique voice that surprises the second it meets the microphone; a soulful delivery that somehow conjures all the bits of Wonder, Jeff Tweedy and Johnny Cash.
Ego was upstaged by community when Ammerman welcomed the spunky Darren Spitzer– member of another Chicago band, The Changes– onstage to sing along. Ammerman and Spitzer traded smiles and harmonized as Drew Lindsay (keyboards) added soulful organ, Rocco Labriola laid some pedal steel and electric guitar underneath and around the crisp and meaty rhythm section of John Hasbrouck (bass)and Shawn Rios (drums.)
Their set was a mix of songs from their 2005 Redbird EP and a forthcoming EP due early 2007. The hopeful and empathic ballad “My Suicide” came first, followed by the good ole’ time bar anthem “Special,” a Brian Wilson-inspired “Carweck,” the soul bleeder “My Heat Is Leaking” and eternal homage “Forever Song,” a song Ammerman dedicated to his wife and June and Johnny Cash.
Oklahoma six-piece Kunek crammed onstage and then unraveled sonic tapestries as expansive as their hometown landscape and conjured up opportunities to get lost somewhere in Freud’s unseen stratosphere, while riding on sky-soaring tracks from the aptly titled debut 2006 Flight of Flynns. Kunek was a continuation, not in genre, but in the listener’s mental aesthetic, of Cracklin Moth’s performance. Jesse Tabish (guitar/piano) piloted the ship into the subconscious-rising mix of haunting pianos, chilling cellos and dreamy drippy guitar.
Boston-bred crafty pop purveyors Bon Savants (French for “Good scientists”) were the anti-stage presence of Cracklin Moth. The quartet was led by the flamboyantly charismatic and entertaining frontman Thom Moran– a part-time MIT student who is “taking aim at discrediting thermodynamics.” His WMDs, “Between the Moon and the Ocean” and “I am the Atom Bomb,” from debut album Post-Rock Defends the Nation, are a dangerously enjoyable threat and certainly worth invading.
Earlier in the night Matt Ammerman, during “Special,” suggested in the song’s final lines to “set a bomb off/ in the heart of/ everybody in the room tonight/ set bomb off in the heart of /every fella, in the room tonight!” Moran completed the explosive construction and then detonated with a triumphant leap offstage into the crowd, unplugged his guitar, disappeared into the frenzy he created and headed for the back exit of Schubas saloon.
It was a show that featured three bands worthy of their own headlining bill, bit of buzz and further listening.