(Review) James Tillman, Pearl and the Beard, Wild Child @ Lincoln Hall, Chicago IL

Think about folk music. The typical stereotypes might be “old-timey,” “hillbillies,” or maybe even… “boring?” Take everything you think you might know about folk music, and throw it out the window. That’s pretty much what two “folk” bands did in Chicago at Lincoln hall on the blustery, blizzarding, January 31st. Wild Child, (six-piece band from Austin, Texas,) and Pearl and the Beard (New York City trio) put on two strong, loud, and entertaining acts. But the first performer, James Tillman, (Los Angeles soul singer) did not match their success.

Tillman, accompanied only by guitar, started the evening off with banter as smooth as the repetitive chords over the course of his 45 minutes. The audience seemed somewhat familiar with his music, and would occasionally respond with sassy remarks to his questions. That little audience involvement is probably attributed to his recent performance at the Vic with tUnE-yArDs (October 22nd, 2014.) His performance that Saturday night didn’t seem worthy of that much audience enthusiasm. In fact, it reflected the blizzard-like conditions: repetitive and annoying after about two minutes. If Tillman could have brought more of his recorded sound to the stage, such as more instrumentation, it might have made the performance a little more bearable.

James Tillman [Photo Credit: Erika Kooda]
James Tillman [Photo Credit: Erika Kooda]

Thankfully, the vibe of Lincoln Hall did a 180 as Pearl and the Beard took the stage. The band consists of Jocelyn Mackenzie (percussion, kazoo, vocals,) Emily Hope Prince (cello, ukulele, vocals,) and Jeremy Styles (acoustic guitar, vocals, also beard.) As they opened with some wonderfully awkward banter before beginning “Make Me Born Again” (a new song for them,) the crowd settled into a folk-y grove that would stay for the rest of the show. Between the playful banter, such as calling the audience out for being just a hair too quiet, (Prince: “Do you know these songs?” [crowd cheers] “Then you should sing them. We know what we sound like. We wanna know what you sound like!”) the catchy songs that quickly can become top-played in almost any playlist, (check out “Sweetness,” “You,” or “Voice In My Throat,”) and the pure musicianship that Pearl and the Beard showed the audience that night at Lincoln Hall, (They have some amazing crescendos/decrescendos, very interesting cello technique, and all three have some amazing pipes,) the trio provided the perfect warm-up for the wildly wonderful experience that is Wild Child.

Pearl and the Beard [Photo Credit: Erika Kooda]
Pearl and the Beard [Photo Credit: Erika Kooda]

They say “everything is bigger in Texas,” and Wild Child brought that to their indie-folk music that snowy night in Chicago. It makes sense, since they’re based in Austin. The band consists of Kelsey Wilson (vocals, violin,) Alexander Beggins (vocals, ukulele,) Sadie Wolfe (cello,) Evan Magers (keyboards,) Chris D’Annuzio (brass,) and James Bookert (banjo.) Their set started out with “The Escape,” as Beggins picked out the first notes, the crowd went nuts, and it really hit not only how much more they’ve improved (after previously seeing them in March 2014, also at Lincoln Hall) but also how much more popular they’re getting. Their sound is starting to evolve a bit, as it should for a band that’s been playing together for about a decade, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the look of pure joy on their faces as they perform. Even on the more mellow songs, like “Silly Things.” The band members who don’t have as demanding roles in those songs (such as D’Annuzio,) are still maintaining a natural stage presence by singing along and moving with the crowd. Most important part of the night? Not only the addition of a trumpet player, and how much it added to their sound, but also how often they played new material off of their upcoming album (about seven songs in total,) which they promised to be released “soon.”

Wild Child [Photo Credit: Erika Kooda]
Wild Child [Photo Credit: Erika Kooda]

Wild Child wrapped the show up with Tillman and Pearl and the Beard joining them onstage for “The Tale of You and Me,” and proved not only that they can (and have) lived up to the hype, but that they certainly know how to throw a party-slash-spectacular performance. 

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Author: erikabunk

Raised in Northern Minnesota, Interdisciplinary major in Radio and Business & Entrepreneurship at Columbia College Chicago. Enjoys long runs on the lakefront path at dawn, public radio, and lefse covered in butter w/ cinnamon sugar. Spends too much time on Spotify, in search of the best record store in the world, and dreams of returning to Reykjavík.

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