Beautiful Images: Scout Ripley @ Beat Kitchen with Yomí, Mercedes Webb, and Soft Ledges
Pulling triple duty on stage at the Beat Kitchen playing tracks she put together the day before, violin (sometimes with two or three layers of looping), not to mention singing all the songs, Claire Watkins leads a powerful and enchanting set by indie rock band Scout Ripley. Offering loyal and new fans a glimpse of some of the bands yet to be recorded songs, Watkins weaves her live and looped violin around Connor Boyle's steady, often thunderous drum rhythms and Ian Young's atmospheric guitar tones.
The band kicks their set off with several new songs which will most likely show up on their next album, which the band will be recording over the next several months. Following the new songs, the band breaks into the rapid pace beauty off of their debut EP, "Midwestern Image Fiction," which the EP borrows its title from. The background tracks cued by Watkins come in perfectly and the singer allows a smile of relief to wash over her face as the band grabs onto the rhythm and runs with it. The band pulls back briefly, allowing Watkins' lyrics to reach everyone's ears as she asks "Was I in love with you? Was I clear enough? I miss you like I miss the coast to rely on." The words linger long after they are softly spoken, the band jumps back in and brings the piece, one of my favorites of the night and on the EP, to a close.
While the set may lack some of the doubled vocals that help define and place Watkins' voice amongst the band on the EP, Watkins, Boyle and Young have done a terrific job building an orchestral rock act without compromising the centerpiece of Scout Ripley's sound, Watkins' majestic string arrangements behind her catchy pop vocals. The band plays several other songs, ending with another song off their EP "Running From." With two passes at a looped violin and boasting one of Watkins' catchiest violin riffs, the song moves along Boyle's galloping drums, building into an enveloping wall of sound pulling away again for a lyrical reprieve before launching into the song's final chorus.
Follow Scout Ripley on Facebook, Twitter, and listen to their debut EP "Image Fiction" above or purchase it on bandcamp!
Photos by Scout Ripley
Album Artwork by Claire Jarvis
In what is already proving to be a dynamic night regarding the variety of performances, Yomí's largely improvised harp-based, rhythm & blues performance only naturally fit in with the others. Without a doubt it's one of the most uniquely impressive and casual performances I've seen. With no attempt at grandstanding or self-righteousness, Yomí opens by simply jamming on her electric harp, warming the audience up to her impovised style of play. She plays a couple numbers off of her debut EP "33 Strings," including "Promise" and "DMT," but eventually decides on doing numerous improvised pieces, using riffs and progressions she's been playing with over the past couple weeks or making others up on the spot.
Along with the harp, Yomí's stage accompaniment includes a loop pedal which at various times she runs either the harp, vocals, or layers of both, through, and a tom drum, which she records and loops with the same microphone as her vocals. I found the whole performance delightful, Yomí's voice complimenting her mellowed harp patterns and drum rhythms well. While some might be quick to dismiss the looper, Yomí's use of it is sparing, and she constantly stops it to add more parts to what would have been repetitive songs otherwise.
Her presence on stage is like someone who has invited you into the private room where she rehearses, even laughing in between notes to herself as a song comes together, which isn't meant to imply that the songs are unfinished. Rather, they are transitory. Many exist only in the moment when Yomí builds them onstage as she moves the various instruments and voices into more elaborate arrangements on the looper until they are unceremoniously deleted from the looper's memory forever. Most of what I hear will not be heard again. It is both sad and special, offering a one of a kind performance to all those in attendance.
Photos by Yomí
Each artist tonight offers their own take on the indie genre, and Mercedes Webb is no exception. While her focus these days has been preparing for her band Slow Mass' EP release, available the same day as this show, and their upcoming East Coast tour, Webb delivers a standout performance. Her songcraft is simply superb, with lyrical timing and inflections one expects to hear when listening to a Damien Rice or Iron and Wine record. Webb holds her own on stage with little more than a guitar and some fingerpicked riffs on loop while the room looks on in reflective silence.
There's a Margaret Glaspy cover and discussions on pilgrim fashion, no buckles though. Humbly moving from one song to the next, Webb graces the unsuspecting audience with her original, often thought provoking and sometimes cryptic songwriting. She sings of burning "the pages of a book that no one knows" in one song, while another examines a friendship of someone who asks for too much (Tracy). She ends with another cover, preceded by a song she confesses she played and lost an open mic contest with recently (something I'm finding difficult to fathom). It's a lovely, intimate performance that never crosses over into the pretentious trap that can plague singer-songwriters.
Webb is bound for Michigan, Canada, and much of the east coast with Slow Mass, her post-hardcore punk band, before returning to Chicago for their release show at Landland October 8th. While teasing that she hopes to get back in the studio to work on some of her own solo work, nothing is set in stone at this time. One can only hope she is able to find the time, as right now her beautifully written songs are only for those fortunate enough to catch one of her solo performances.
Kicking things off to a room that desperately deserves more people in the audience is Soft Ledges, the dark rock brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Shelley Miller and Chris Geisler, joined on stage tonight by Raul Callejero. The band starts with a broody number "La Niña" with Miller on keyboard, think Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man" with more dissonance and less cryptic lyrics. Following that is the bluesy "Don't Wait" featuring some soulful vocals from Miller and the beginning of the band's more experimental flavors. Things starts to pick up fast with "Tear Me Down," and Geisler movements on stage grow in distance and franticness, though he never forgets himself or his instrument's place.
The fourth piece, "Highlight Reel," is one of the few songs by Soft Ledges that takes most of its lyrical content from life events. More concert goers venture into the venue at this point as the band plays their final two numbers, the rhythmical "7 Stories" and the wild, adventurous "Deer Fly Blues" that the band was unsure if they would be able to pull off or not in this setting. Being able to bring the sounds and noises they've been experimenting and exploring over the past few months during the recording process is a liberating experience the musicians are happy to share with their fans.
Soft Ledges will be releasing their debut self-titled album sometime in November. Stay tuned for an in depth review of it here on Chicago Music Source, and follow Soft Ledges on Facebook now!
Photos by David Sameshima and Soft Ledges