Saturday, October 28, 2017

On the Town (Peter Case)

Two nights after I caught the Vulgar Boatmen show at Martyrs' I headed out to Berwyn, Illinois, on the western outskirts of Chicago, because Peter Case also coincidentally happened to be playing in the area during my whirlwind business trip to the city. I'd seen Peter live three times before, but not for a span of several years, because the club where I used to see him has gone under. I hopped on the CTA's Red Line, switched to the Blue, and rode it in the company of a dwindling number of passengers to the largely deserted station at Oak Park overlooking I-290, then walked in the dark along the few blocks of South Oak Park Avenue that brought me to West Roosevelt Road and Fitzgerald's, where Peter was playing.

Fitzgerald's is a long-established venue in Berwyn. It has two performance spaces: a larger one (which I didn't enter) and the more intimate SideBar, which has the congenial atmosphere of the kind of neighborhood tavern or beer hall you don't see much anymore, at least where I live. I sat at a table on the forward end of a long bench, and more or less randomly ordered a Guinness draft, which arrived cold and dark and with a head as rich as whipped cream. The room gradually filled up, the opening act played a few tunes (including a version of "Spanish is the Loving Tongue," a great song I hadn't heard in many years), and then Peter came on. Working solo, he played a generous set of material from various phases of his career (including his Plimsouls hit "A Million Miles Away"), drew from his grab-bag of hilarious stories, and even revisited, briefly, some of the first songs he composed as an adolescent. The room has excellent acoustics and Peter was as in fine form as ever. I ordered a second Guinness. After the show I went over to say hello and buy a copy of his newest release, On My Way Downtown, which is just out from Omnivore Recordings, then headed back to downtown Chicago on a Blue Line train that was now vacant except for a few lost souls who appeared to be more or less domiciled on it. I made it to my hotel room around midnight.

The new record presents previously unreleased archival recordings of 18 songs that Peter and accompanying musicians performed in the studios of KPFK radio in Los Angeles in 1998 and 2000. The first nine tracks recapitulate the bulk of Full Service No Waiting (only two songs are missing), largely with the same band as the studio version; the others correspond either to tracks on his next record, Flying Saucer Blues, or to songs from earlier records. Since Full Service No Waiting is a particular favorite of mine (those with time on their hands can read my long post on it here) I was especially interested to hear how these KPFK recordings would sound. The answer is that they come across as both comfortingly familiar and refreshingly different, opening up a whole new angle of approach to the songs. The vocals have a more relaxed feel, the instrumentation is a bit more improvised (Greg Leisz is particularly good), and the whole thing conveys a pleasurable, informal sense of being in a room with good music and among old friends. It'll be essential for Case fans, but it's also not a bad place to start for those who don't know his songs at all.

1 comment:

Joel Bennett said...

Good Guiness, Peter Case, and an effortless commute.
Damn fine evening.