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John Vanderslice live

| April 18, 2007 | 0 Comments

John Vanderslice
Lakeshore Theater, Chicago
Friday, April 13, 2007


To some, the idea of a stripped-down John Vanderslice concert would defeat the purpose. Vanderslice made his name as indie rock’s consummate studio maestro, churning out sonic adventures like a raconteur strings a yarn. While his deft songwriting and humanistic insights do tend to get underrated, his technical magic is what has pulled him away from the crowded singer-songwriter field.

That he has been on the road behind 2005’s Pixel Revolt (Barsuk) for so long has some fans alarmed. Why is someone so adept at twiddling studio knobs and riding the faders so reluctant to head back into the office? Traversing the countryside with just a drummer suggests real writer’s block — in rock ‘n’ roll, it doesn’t get more back-to-basics than the power duo.

If the walls are coming down on him, however, Vanderslice wasn’t showing it on Friday. In a celebratory, anything-goes atmosphere he inserted a handful of new tracks into a revised, greatest-hits set, still aided by some backing tracks but mostly laying out the bare essentials of previously complicated songs.

The man actually seemed refreshed working out of the confines of a promotional tour. Vanderslice shows have bordered on laborious in the past; the confluence of new sounds banging against older material often became dissonant and uneven, especially when what pours through the home stereo speakers couldn’t be replicated adequately in a space as small as, say, Schubas.

He opened with a new song that told, “I’ve never been lonelier,” a fitting testament to the endless travels of the past two years. Before long, however, he was into a bubbling “Underneath The Leaves,” which showed he did have the power to reproduce some of his studio concoctions in this context, and mostly get away with it. Even though he has been on tour for two-and-a-half years, there was a decidedly unrehearsed (in a good way) feel, even when Moog problems surfaced for “Angela” and a handful of songs needed restarts.

Among the new songs “White Dove” was the best, though of the re-imaginings, “Trance Manual” relied almost solely on electric guitar and drums, its shimmering acoustic guitar and wind chimes put to pasture. While the show did unravel into a party by the end — inviting people to play bass and storm the stage — the everybody-on-board mentality did serve up a rarity.

Having contacted Vanderslice before the show, a woman named Sarah Shu, with ID, performed a duet of Vanderslice’s “Dear Sarah Shu.” While the guest lost some of the words and wasn’t quite as compelling a partner as opener St. Vincent (a.k.a. Annie Clark) was at the end of the night, it brought home something about the headliner: Vanderslice might be better suited in the studio than onstage, but he’s more at home among the rest of us.

Steve Forstneger

Category: Live Reviews, Weekly

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