Monday, January 31, 2005

John Wesley Harding @ Schubas (1/29/2005)

Everyone has a certain artist they wished was more appreciated by the masses just as much as by themselves. For me, John Wesley Harding would be considered, in my eyes, as one of those artists I wish had a fan base that was greater than someone like Ashlee Simpson.

Already, I've shown were I stand on the Ashlee front.

But the native from Hastings, East Sussex (England) has been quite the trooper over the nearly twenty years he made music. Harding--better known by family and friends as Wesley Stace--continues to evolve as a singer/songwriter while evading the trends that would make him accessible to a larger audience. He is a student of the traditions that influences such as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen came from and over the years learned to find his own voice. When listening to a John Wesley Harding song you hear a short narrative dressed as a pop song, and to Harding, he would not see much of a separation between a songwriter and a storyteller.

Returning to Chicago after last July's "All Male Threesome" show with Scott McCaughey of the Minus 5 and local artist Dag Juhlin of the Slugs and Poi Dog Pondering, Harding took up residence at the Hideout on Friday night and Schubas the next night for some weekend performances away from the slightly less frigid temperatures of his hometown of Brooklyn, NY. With his latest album Adam's Apple (2004) already out, Harding is looking forward to the release of his novel Misfortune, a six-year project in the making, and an album with Chicago gems Kelly Hogan and Nora O'Connor in the works for a July release. So far 2005 is looking to be a productive year for Harding.

Being welcomed with two sold-out sets at Schubas on Saturday night, Harding proved to be in good form for not having performed often since the end of the "All Male Threesome" tour. At the start of his performances, the ever chatty and witty Harding made a point to say how he arrived early for the upcoming auditions at Schubas for the lead singer role for INXS but unfortunately had none prepared to perform. Adding to the humor Harding opened both sets with "Snow," a song written by Jesse Winchester and Robbie Robertson of the Band that seemed to fit perfectly with the current season. The shows covered a lot of Harding's catalog along with a few cover songs to boot. In the spirit of Ashlee Simpson's recent miscommunication on Saturday Night Live with her band and the person pressing PLAY on the backing track, Harding experimented with "Sussex Ghost Story" by using the gorgeous instrumental string track arranged by composer Gavin Bryars to perform along with. To the audience, the experiment worked wonderfully as Harding delivered a terrific rendition both times.

Never without a story to tell, Harding interacts a lot with the audience, a trademark of any of his shows. In recalling a radio interview, Harding described how the DJ was almost certain Harding had written a song called "Golf Girl" which the DJ had been giving airplay to. With a solid knowledge of his own catalog, Harding assured the DJ he had never written a song about golf. The DJ made the mistake of mixing up Harding's "Goth Girl" from 2000's The Confessions of St. Ace with a song by Caravan called "Golf Girl" from their 1971 album In The Land Of Grey And Pink. A simple mistake. This story set up the audience for performances of both songs with opener Dag Juhlin joining Harding on "Golf Girl."

As a preview to his novel, "Do Not Fear The Dark" gave the audience a glimpse of Harding's Misfortune.

Truly the pinnacle moment of Harding's show came in the second set when Nora O'Connor, Juhlin and fellow Poi Dog Pondering member, violinist Susan Voelz came together with Harding for what was an inspired performance of "Our Lady Of The Highway." The combined vocal trio of Harding, O'Connor, and Juhlin added a whole new dimension to an already lovely song which originally featured Steve Earle on the album version.

During the course of four hours total, Harding captivated his audiences with romantically touching songs like "Negative Love" and "It Stays" while using his satirical charm to lighten the mood and create some laughs with songs like "July 13th 1985 (The Live Aid Song)" and "Hamlet," the musical cliffnotes take on Shakespeare's play. Seeing Harding live is an experience that covers a lot of ground. The attention to detail for which he gives his songs is made evident when there's a unified hush among the crowd during a few delicately finger picked notes on the acoustic guitar or shared laughs to a lyric; it is the full package that Harding delivers that keeps the people coming back.

Dag Juhlin reunited with Harding, this time as Harding's opener. Featuring songs from his debut solo album Into The Woods, Juhlin was impressive with solid songs like "The Man In The Movie" and the gentle "Lindy Brown" as well as commanding on guitar with a style of play reminiscent of the Who's Pete Townshend. Possibly even more of a human songbook than Harding, Juhlin teased Harding's joke about the INXS auditions by giving a small taste of "Need You Tonight." Juhlin was a complimentary musician to Harding's show and sometimes comedic partner.

Together, with appearances made by Nora O'Connor and Susan Voelz, audiences were swept away by music naked, stripped down in its form but thrilling in its presentation; less was more, simplistic was beautiful.

* John Wesley Harding
* Dag Juhlin is Poet Laureate of "Sound Opinions," heard Tuesday nights from 10 p.m. to Midnight on WXRT (93.1) &
* Chris Castaneda is Production Associate for "Sound Opinions."

Welcome Readers

As I begin my venture into the Blog world, let me first offer my thanks to the readers of Getting In Tune.

Inspired by the Who's song "Getting In Tune," it seems fitting to quote something from the man who wrote the song that best describes what I shall try to accomplish with this site:

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Regarding concerts in and around Chicago, IL, the albums that enter and exit the stereo system--whether life changing or an absolute waste of time--and events in the music world, you'll read about it all here.