Crooked Fingers | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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If Eric Bachmann's work as lead singer and songwriter of the great 90s band the Archers of Loaf was a way for him to vent at the world, then his present incarnation as front man of Crooked Fingers allows him to step back from that anger and take a more reflective look at his surroundings. These days Bachmann's a crooner of the Tom Waits school; on Crooked Fingers' modest, eponymously titled 2000 album and especially on last year's beautiful Bring On the Snakes, he croaks out songs like "New Drink for the Old Drunk" with a broken-voiced insouciance that infuses his downtrodden characters with heart while sidestepping corniness. The same could be said of the new Reservoir Songs EP (Merge), except that here Bachmann hasn't written any of the material: instead he applies his spare acoustic arrangements (banjo, fiddle, washboard) and gravel-gargling vocals to five covers he's taken to performing in concert over the past couple years. Kris Kristofferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down" and Bruce Springsteen's "The River" are naturals for this type of project, given the songs' folkie leanings, and the lyrics to Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man" dovetail nicely with Bachmann's new "outcast visionary" persona. But the EP's revelations come with the two ringers of the bunch. On "Under Pressure" he brings out the tune's real heart by throwing himself into the bridge ("Why can't we give love"), uncovering a sweetness and vulnerability buried by David Bowie and Queen's melodrama. And while it seems impossible to make a bad version of "When You Were Mine" (ask Mitch Ryder or Cyndi Lauper), Bachmann's overhaul is one of the hands-down greatest Prince covers of all time, turning the petulant, urgent original into a bottomlessly sad lament. Sunday, August 4, 6:30 PM, Schubas (outdoor stage), 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.

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