Sunday, March 1, 2009

Brett Dennen, The Little Ones--Park West, Chicago, Illinois

The Magic Ticket Fairy sent me some tickets for the Brett Dennen show with The Little Ones at Park West. (Thank you, Ticket Fairy.) First, I must say that Park West is an unbelievable venue. Classy, casual, intimate, good viewing, hardwood floors. If you get there early, you could score a good seat in Vegas style booths set up all around the room. If you get there late, you can stand in the front. It seemed like the type of place VH-1 might tape some sort of Rod Stewart – The Stories of the Music, the Hair, Sexual Escapades, and an Absurdly Unlikely Success special. Like the kind of place that you could put a bunch of candles on the table and have An Evening of Music with Seal with Chuck Mangione.

We (my wife and I) went down and sat on the floor in the front and soon The Little Ones came out and started their set. Everyone on the floor remained seated, because it was not that crowded yet, and I think people liked the summer camp feel of sitting on the floor in front of the stage. After two songs, lead singer Edward Nolan Reyes asked the crowd if we would be so kind as to stand up. It was posed as a favor to him, but I think he knew that this was good advice for us as well as it would better suit the consumption of the music. He was correct. After the request, the crowd immediately went from watching a band to having fun with a band.

Before getting tickets to the show, I had heard of but not yet heard The Little Ones. After listening to their first full length album, Morning Tide, on Heavenly Recordings, I was quite excited to hear the band live. The CD is tightly crafted, with a loose, washed, well produced guitar pop that makes you want to be driving down the road with a blinding sun shining in the distance, a blue sky, reflecting on the goodness of that particular moment. After seeing them live, it is refreshing to see that the happy-vibe which is the backbone of the album is legitimate. It is not a sonic shirt that they put on to look good for a crowd or because it is the sound they seek to put on an album. These guys are smiling, having a good time playing, and I got the sense that the blissful mood they produce is organically created from their experience.

During Brett Dennen’s set, I was coming back from a trip to the men’s room and realized that the door to the greenroom was just off the hallway. I decided to test the age old theory of “If you look like you know what you are doing, people will not question you.” Amazingly, it worked. I walked in the door and directly towards a chair at the table as if it was already mine. The Little Ones were enjoying some beers and the company of friends. While finishing my beer, compliments of being in the greenroom, I mentioned to frontman Edward Reyes that I really enjoyed their set, not really intending to start a conversation, but simply wanting to share this small but genuine sentiment. He was excited to hear so, and we chatted a bit about the tour. Before this tour, they played with The Walkmen, so this has provided a different context for their music, one a little less ready to rock (that’s right, I said “ready to rock”) from the outset. I think you can tell a lot about where a band is and what they are doing by the way in which they respond to the comment, “I really enjoyed your set.” Here it was a conversation starter, because the band is still really connected to the music, the experience, and the opportunity to play live. This came through in their music and performance of it.

I look forward to their next album as the current one is the kind that gets pleasantly lodged in the brain. You find yourself singing one hook here, then another hook there. Then you realize that they are from the same song. Theirs is generous, well done pop that doesn’t rely on one moment in a song to make it special. Definitely the type of music that gets better around the third listen as the textures of production and music come alive after the pleasantness of the vocals reluctantly steps aside to reveal the other things happening. I have no doubts that these guys will continue to enjoy playing every night of the tour and that if the crowd is willing to stand up, they will enjoy it with them.

Brett Dennen is touring in support of his new album Hope for the Hopeless with Dualtone Music Group. It has a much fuller sound and is a departure from the more spacious tracks of his first two albums that relied purely on Dennen’s song craft. But this is they way of the progression of the singer songwriter. Sooner or later, they are gonna get a backing band and gonna get a bigger sound. Dare I say that after many listens, the tail end of the record tapers off into what I can only describe as boring rather than compelling. But it is a high quality boring. And perhaps only is so in comparison to its own highly set bar. But he still has his emotive intimacy that gushes from his tender tenored chords and slyly original writing.

Alongside The Little Ones, Dennen also knows how to have fun on stage and get the crowd going, but his strategy is a little more conventional. Where the Little Ones used their own enthusiasm for the moment and we were excited vicariously, Dennen worked the crowd with cute little dances that make the girls fall in love, synchronized arm waves, and sing-alongs that make the people feel a part of the moment. None of it felt campy. Dennen succeeded in bringing the joyous feeling of his music into the concert experience.

While I was back stage with The Little Ones, apparently Dennen went to great length to reprimand my inattentivness while I took leave of his show for a moment. During my absence, he played the song “The One Who Loves You the Most,” and then asked the crowd if they had ever been in love and asked “who loves you the most?” Dennen and the crowd had a big, fat lovefest and celebration of love. My wife, instead of sharing this nice moment with me, shared it with a room full of strangers. I will get you, Brett Dennen. I can only assume you took my absence as a personal affront to your set. You are a clever and vengeful man.

When I came back though, the crowd was electric. He had moved into a new, loud, light, and happy part of the evening. He is hard not to like. He is honest, his songs have swing, catchiness, and cleverness. Authenticity, relevance, and timelessness. He is obviously doing what he loves and inviting us into it to. He is the kind of guy you root for. I had this feeling when I first heard him on World Café back in 2004. He will be around for awhile and I am anxious to see where his music takes him. His music has stepped more into the sounds of world music and it has served him well, be it teaming up with Femi Kuti, or co-writing a song with The Wailers. While I still enjoy the stripped down Dennen better, he is growing as an artist and pushing into new directions and provided us a great night of music that showcased both his sounds.

--Scott Rudolph

Photos, even the ultra-hip blurry one, by Scott Rudolph

1 comment:

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