Wednesday night at Schubas featured three bands, in ascending career steps, working to stand out in the crowded Indie rock scene. A crowd of about forty-five people milled about before the nine p.m. start time, munching on brownies brought in celebration of a 40th birthday. The brownies were fantastic--boding well for the evening ahead.
Clip Art, the moniker used by Chicagoan Andy Rosenstein, played hand-clap, hook-heavy pop. The songs sounded surprisingly polished, considering the newness of Clip Art. According to the obligatory MySpace bio, as of early 2009, Mr. Rosenstein was out in L.A. considering a career in film editing. Besides the hummable (but ultimately forgettable) tunes, he shows a savvy for marketing. Mr. Rosenstein had a friend giving away his EP 'Broken Down by Design' in exchange for a sign-up to the Clip Art email list. The band sounded fine, and the songs were well crafted, but at some point something has to stand out. Bland in a 'Scrub's Soundtrack' kind of way.
Second on the bill, Modern Skirts are touring in support of the full-length, 'all of us in our night'. Their opener was definitely a take-notice moment, full of energy and massive percussion. The crowd reaction was immediate, as a room full of people stood transfixed by the tribal beat. After such an arresting opener, the energy dwindled as the songs became slower...and slower. The set gained momentum towards the end, and there were a few Brian Wilson inspired harmonies, but it was a let down after the first song. Perhaps a re-arranged set list could have made a difference? Modern Skirts' upside showed during 'Like Lunatics', --a song begging to be remixed for the dance floor. Then they hit a speed bump with the more traditional (bass, guitar, drums) songs. The tunes were pretty and safe and nice and dull when compared to the stand-outs. With the new album featuring a track produced by Mike Mills (REM), Modern Skirts are getting noticed. Hopefully, the attention will inspire the band to loosen up creatively and experiment more.
"Yeah, we're wearing make-up. So are you." --Tim Ellis
Skybox, led by Chicagoans Tim Ellis and Christian Fields, might be feeling a touch of pressure in following up the buzz generated by 2006's song, 'various kitchen utensils.' In keeping with Utensils, the set had a cabaret-lite feel in both songs and presentation. The four band members were wearing make-up with their t-shirts and jeans. Thankfully, they aren't full-on rock cabaret like Dresden Dolls, but there are a few comparisons. If Ben Folds was a theater geek, he might sound like Skybox.
The band was loose and relaxed on stage, seeming to enjoy the hometown crowd at Schubas. Still, is the pressure showing? At one point Mr. Ellis said, "It feels good. Does it feel good to you guys?" It didn't seem like the normal stage banter, instead coming off a bit insecure. Also, there was an awkward Q & A session, when the band asked audience members what they had been doing during the last two years. Were they alluding to the time between records? It was a strange part of the show, rescued immediately when the band launched into 'Various Kitchen utensils.' That single, and the dance number that closed the show, elicited an encore from the audience. Skybox have no cause to worry. Sure, it's taken a few years to get the new album out, but creating a style and sound all your own takes time.