One of the best things about the Chicago music scene is it isn’t dominated by a single genre. On any given night one can hear the soulful groan of a blues band, the twang of an Americana banjo or the pulse of a hi-hat in a modern jazz tune. And sometimes, one can even hear all those things on the same stage. This was the case (though a different representation of genres) on Friday, February 12th at Martyrs’; a night featuring three local bands with three different sounds.
The night started with some progressive folk rock provided by Doug Shotwell & The Right Hand Band. While Shotwell is a Virginia native his “right hand” men are mainly made up of Chicago jazz, blues and rock musicians. Together the group crafted a sound rooted in soul with smooth slide guitar lines and a constant steady push from the rhythm section. On the surface, the songs felt simple, giving them a laid back, easy-to-listen-to vibe. But underneath there were layers of complexity which helped differentiate the songs from one another. It also helped keep the music from sounding too run-of-the-mill or twangy.
One day short of being a year after the release of her debut album, My Road, Mary Porzelt, better known by her stage name Sweet Mary, met the night’s expectations with a superb performance that sat somewhere between jazz, blues and R&B. Listening to her throughout the night, there was something classic to her songs, as if they could have been popular hits in the heyday of jazz. At the same time, there was also something quite modern and poppy, making it enjoyable for younger audiences who may not have the taste for traditional jazz, blues and funk.
Audience members familiar with the funk/jam band scene may have noticed two familiar faces on stage with Sweet Mary as she was joined by drummer Collin O’Brien and guitarist Justin Canavan of the band Low Spark. Being slightly basis toward Low Spark (the LLL staff spends way too much time at aliveOne), there was hope that Canavan would pull out one of his wicked guitar solos. However the night was a time for Sweet Mary to shine, which she did; especially with her rendition of Frank Ocean’s “Thinking About You”. While her jazzy soulful tones were beautifully delivered, her R&B vocals sounded much more natural and effortless.
And what better way to end out the night than with a funky performance from the band Walsher Clemons? A lot can be said about the great techniques and musicianship of this band. Their fundamentals are true to the heart of funk, but their blending and interpretation of instrumental lines adds a little modern twist. The bottom line is: they’re fun. Fun to listen to, fun to watch, fun to just be in the presence of.
As much as I hate to compare artists to each other, it’s hard not to describe vocalist Riley Pettrone as a funk/fusion-induced Michael Jackson. From the vocal similarities to the usual yet oddly talented dance moves, Pettrone’s energy (really each band member’s for that matter) was infectious.
Thankfully the rest of the band was just at talented. Each musician was given the chance to showcase their abilities with solos throughout the night. The band even allowed for members from the night’s bill to funk out being joined by guitarist Ian Engels of Dough Shotwell & The Right Hand Band and Sweet Mary for two separate songs.
Unfortunately, like all great things, the show had to come to an end, but not without an encore!
Walsher Clemons’ next performances will be at Buckle Down Brewery on March 18th and the Cubby Bear on March 25. Stay up-to-date with all the bands from this review by following them on social media, or by checking out our Upcoming Shows page every Monday!