Friday, November 05, 2010
You Missed Out: Horse Feathers
November is a melancholy month. The brown leaves barely clinging to the branches are scarce and those that have fallen to the ground are all shriveled. The wind is quicker and chillier, sunshine has turned from yellow to gray, and Schubas is the most comfortable place in the world.
Portland's Horse Feathers made their Chicago stop for a double-bill at Schubas, the most intimate venue in the city and really the only appropriate place for the band to perform if not in someone's living room. The space is small and welcoming, like a Canadian log cabin waiting for hikers to get out of the snow and in front of its fireplace.
During their first set, Horse Feathers' frontman Justin Ringle reminded us of what we already knew, "It's great to be back here at Schubas. You guys are lucky to have this, it really is one of the best venues we've ever been to."
Suddenly a flash of Scubas memories came back to me. When Sufjan Stevens played there before Illinois was released, it might have been one of my favorite moments at Belmont and Southport. Damien Jurado, Denison Witmer, St. Vincent, Rocky Votolato, and Sleeping at Last all brought their acoustic talents to Schubas for my listening pleasure. But one of my favorite moments at Schubas was actually when Horse Feathers played the venue a couple years prior to tonight's show.
They were touring as the opening act for Blitzen Trapper. Two of the finest Portland bands on the same bill, playing Chicago's folk-friendliest bar. It was the only time I've seen an opening band get called back for an encore. I've never seen this happen again before or after (not counting outdoor festivals of course).
I think the encore happened because Horse Feathers may just be the ideal band to play a venue like Schubas. When they pluck slowly on the banjo and violin, a natural warmth fills the room. With the wall candles dimly lighting the space, it's an atmosphere for falling in love with someone you just made eye contact with for the first time.
That magic of a perfect band playing at the perfect time in the perfect place, that's what happens every time Horse Feathers plays Schubas. It's almost a spiritual experience. After they finish the last note of a song, exhales are audible around the room. The crowd is so in tune with the gentle melodies, soothing strings and somber lyrics, anyone speaking during the set would be rightfully scorned. Even the bartenders seem a little bit quieter with their cash registers during a show like this.
Four players occupied the stage for Horse Feathers. Singer Justin Ringle the only one standing, either with an acoustic guitar or banjo. Sitting to his left is a beautiful, dark-haired young woman playing the cello. Behind her, a fiddle player, who also plays the saw during a couple songs. And the percussionist at Justin's right, with miniature xylophones and mandolins on hand.
Not a single sound is synthetic. The amplification of the house speakers isn't even necessary. This is a concert where we'd rather hear how quietly a performer can play opposed to how hard he can rock out. Singing in a whisper while finger-picking a muted guitar strikes deep into the listener's soul. We're all on a raft drifting down the Mississippi River, listening to this music tell us stories of an American past we can still feel patriotic about. It's the country we still feel good about. The home cookin' we never get sick of. Horse Feathers set the table for Thanksgiving, and I'm so very thankful tonight.