For some peculiar reason it was quite vacant when The Willowz took to the stage this past Thursday evening. Playing at the Double Door, a renowned place to nightly catch good music in Chicago, this seemed an odd occurrence. The weather wasn’t to blame, so it must have been that two other very popular indie-rock bands were playing in Chicago that same night, an unfortunate circumstance for this Californian band just stopping in for the night.
The Willowz are a four-piece band that play what could be considered an contemporary indie version of quasi-southern, blues-based classic rock, although one can also sense a slight punk influence at times. One of the first things this author noticed was their drummer (Loren Humphrey), both because he employed two floor toms – giving their sound extra ‘pounding potential’ – and because with his long hair coupled with an energetic style of play one couldn’t help but be reminded of Animal from the Muppets (who, as we all remember, also played drums).
After taking in the manner in which they played their first few songs it seems that this band has an almost Lynard Skynard feel to their sound, yet with an avid focus on each musician being in perfect emotional time with each other. This means they would add emphasis, deduct energy, or even pause momentarily in perfect syncopation. Also, they use dynamic progression within the course of many of their songs, all the while seemingly staying rooted in the fundamentals of rock n’ roll. This author thought this made them come off as a band with an almost British rock-song sensibility when it comes the writing, which was then coupled with a purely American sound once played.
Richie Follin is the lead singer and he furnishes his band with a very distinct sound. His voice is withdrawn and narrow but full of vigor. It’s almost like a young, excited and more punk’ish version of Neil Young’s voice. It’s one thing that helps to make them distinctly indie. However, it would have helped on this night had the vocals been louder and one been able to discern the words being sung. This is a lesser point with this band than others though, because The Willowz seem to use their vocals more as an instrumental/emotional addition as opposed to a storytelling/explanatory tool within their music.
The Willowz were at their best on such songs as Repetition, Making Certain and Evil Son when they incorporate a good amount of dynamisms within their song progression. Furthermore, they seem to have a superior control over the ability to musically start-and-stop in unison, using momentary silence or a quick reversion to a minimalist sound as a powerful musical tool. Like few other bands I have seen, they have mastered the art of using abruptness to their musical advantage.
Another manner of rock-song The Willowz seem to have a grasp of is that of concise blues-rock songs. Their opener I Know off their most recent album, and the two subsequent songs were great examples of this. In these songs progressive modification wasn’t employed as much, instead they delivered solid blues-rock songs in which this band sat perfectly in the proverbial “pocket”. And best of all they knew when to end these songs, keeping them under 3 min, leaving the audience wanting more before the sound became repetitive.
Where The Willowz were less successful was in a few songs in the middle of their set that didn’t have enough transition within them and then just ran a little long – becoming slightly tiresome to the ears. When they kept to a consistent sound throughout an entire, longer song, it felt like they were getting away from what they do best and their sound was endowed with less of a true rock feel. This author also felt they should have played more than just one song off their album Chautaqua, which might be their best release to date. In addition, using their great lady-bassist (Jessica Reynoza) as a back-up vocalist is something that should be added to more songs, especially when playing live.
Nevertheless, The Willowz overall played a great show with much more energy and gusto than paltry crowds usually receive. It is not easy to get excited and play almost the same music nightly, let alone when you don’t have any audience energy to feed off of. Kudos to them for still providing for a rockin’ good time to the handful of fans in attendance. So if you are a fan of good ole’ rock n’ roll, then please join this author the next time The Willowz grace a Chicago stage – because they deserve your attention and maybe the next time we can earn an encore out of them!