I unashamedly love country music. As I stated in my review of their new, self-released full-length album, country is something I grew up with. Yes, from the familiar, down home sounds of John Denver to the dark, plaintive voice of Johnny Cash and even the southern-fried sounds of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours (though it isn't a country album), I find comfort and solace in this normally doubted genre. For those of you who don't know, Mount Moriah is centered around vocalist Heather McEntire, formerly of noise rock trio Bellafea, and, of course, guitarist Mr. Jenks Miller of Relapse doom sensation Horseback. Yeah, I'm sure quite a few Horseback fans are looking at this post and thinking "Well that's dumb, I like to think I'm eclectic but I can't bring myself to listen to country." Well, maybe you should reconsider. Seriously.
Chicago venue The Whistler quietly lives in a normally avoided part of town, sandwiched between a dive bar known as Two and graffiti-covered auto-body shops. This derelict part of town, though a mere few miles from the affluent Bucktown and Wicker Park, has seen the raw end of too many blunts and syringes. Naturally, show companion E. and I weren't really expecting much from The Whistler; maybe a busted up bar with your choice of Old Style and Miller Light on tap and windows browned from the inside with murk. That is we would have confirmed our suspicions if we could find the place. Yes, 2421 Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago is hidden behind washed-out windows in a little alcove, tucked away from the street. The door reads "The Whistler." Obviously the place.
A really, really nice place. Horrendously nice. Exposed, faux-faded brick walls, a thick, finished mahogany bar and top-shelf liquor that lined the walls with a sort of menacing glare that could only make my wallet wince. Yeah, this was a hipster bar. Gentrification in process, only for the small population to harness what apparently is "real," at least, if you consider the edge of poverty to be real. I didn't belong in this zoo filled with awkwardly-groomed facial hair and men holding both a high ball in one hand and a Pabst Blue Ribbon in the next, and neither did E.
Continue reading for a lengthy live video (over 50 minutes!) and a live review.
Video shot by E.
A/V editing done by EEE Productions.
After a much-too-long set by forgettable local act Judson Claiborne, it was rather disheartening to see much of the crowd leave, obviously having their fill of ironic, bored-sounding folk music to really last any longer at this bar. It's a shame, but nothing made me happier to see that the room quickly refilled for Mount Moriah; people would poke their heads in from outside and patrons would leave their precious seats on the back patio to come see the wondrous music being performed in this tiny piece of white suburbia, transplanted in the heart of the city.
Taking into consideration this Chicago show is their only date without the infamous Indigo Girls (bet you'd never see that name grace this blog), it was surprising how the enthusiasm that one would see at an Indigo Girls concert was eventually met in such a small bar. Song announcements, recognized or not, were met with hoots and hollers from all angles of the, now packed, room.
Garnering all the attention, of course, was the charming frontwoman Heather McEntire, whose gorgeous voice soared over the rest of the band, sounding exactly like their wonderful recordings. For that matter, the entire band sounded just like their recordings. It's absolutely wonderful to hear a band who don't depend on a studio to sound good; this is just raw talent. But I digress, McEntire's modest, gracious personality shone through between songs, divulging personal stories or making sure to thank everyone. While introducing everyone in the band, being sure to skip herself, she turned to Miller, who was already lost in the music and smiled, saying "I don't even know this guy."
My only complaint? The lighting! Soft mood lighting offstage and dim red light bulbs onstage don't make for a good filming experience; all the pictures I took turned out awful and, even with some tampering, the video still ended up murky. Oh well, hopefully next time Mount Moriah will be on a larger stage. A magnificent live show performed by magnificently gracious and kind people.
-Jon and E.