2009 was a busy concert year for me. I saw 19 concerts and two 3-day festivals for a total of over 70 different artists (a half dozen of which I saw a second or third time before the year’s end). By contrast, I saw one concert in 2008 and a scant few my entire life before that. It is perhaps fitting then that my inaugural 2010 rock outing was to see the first proper rock band I ever saw, the Athens, Ohio indie/folk outlet Southeast Engine which I grew to love during my years at Ohio University. The group led a night of Americana rock at Schubas Tavern with support from Peoria native Jared Bartman and Chicago band Chaperone.
I had never been to Schubas before, but enjoyed it. The stage area is sectioned off from the rest of the bar – which is good if you’ve come for the music and not the drinks – but as is often a problem with these bar shows, there was more talking and less head bobbing/toe tapping than I care for. (A quick rant: Why come to a rock concert if you plan to stand rigidly still and not dance or at least nod your head? Are you really not enjoying it? Save yourself $10 and stay at the bar.) The stage setup was actually pretty nice (intimate I might say) and the sound was great. I slowly migrated forward during the night seeing the end of Bartman’s set from the back bar, standing mid-ground for Chaperone and ending up in the second row for Southeast Engine.
First, the openers. I only caught a song or two from Jared Bartman, one of which was played with an accordion. He seemed OK, giving off the typical singer-songwriter vibe. (Well, plus the accordion, but you get the idea.) Chaperone, however, was actually impressive; it actually seemed that more people were in the crowd for these Chicagoans than for Southeast Engine to follow. The first song was the most country and worried me, but the set got very good as it went on developing a nice balance of indie rock with an almost Appalachian-feeling string and precussion folk accompaniment. It was enough for me to explore their stuff a little bit more this morning and you can do the same by checking out their humorous blog or downloading a couple free tracks.
When Southeast Engine came on, the nostalgia hit. They opened with one of their classics, “Let It Be So,” the closer to their album A Wheel Within a Wheel which follows an arc of regret and guilt filled with biblical stories and allusions. The group then eased into a number of tracks off their newest album From the Forest to the Sea including “Black Gold” (which you may download here along with two other older tracks). Near the middle of the set, the group dropped two brand-new tracks, the second of which was titled “1933: The Great Depression.” While the lyrics seemed quite hokey –it starts with, “It’s 1933, the stock market crash is history” and another line later asks “What’s so Goddamn great about The Great Depression?” – the song is ironically very upbeat and included a pretty rocking keyboard solo that was one of the more rousing moments of the night. Towards the end of the set, the group played “Famous Filmmaker,” a fantastic song off Coming to Terms with Gravity that’s always a crowd pleaser, growing from a few guitar strums over light lyrics to the raucous drum, guitar and keyboard banging finale. Lead singer Adam Remnant then called out, as he caught his breath and brushed a hand through his hair, “That was fun.”
The night’s official closer was “From the Roots of the Mountain to Your Holy Temple,” a beautiful and soft resolution to the story arc of From the Forest to the Sea — literally being the “sea” implied by the title – which fades softly away, rather than clanging out a loud goodbye. But, repenting for the mellow end, the group made penance by choosing for it’s encore a staple that I heard many times at Casa Nueva at the corner of Court and State during my Ohio University years: “Where Are You Now?” Adam again took the mic and asked who in the crowd had spent some time in Athens – a fair number in the shouts were to be believed – and then asked us to help sing along. While I was a bit sad that we didn’t get the truly awesome “One Caught Fire” last night, “Where Are You Now” was a happy replacement and a great song with which to send us back into the cold Chicago winter.