Howe Gelb, John Parish | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Howe Gelb, John Parish

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For years John Parish was content to work behind the scenes, building an impressive resume as a producer on albums by Goldfrapp, Eels, Sparklehorse, and Polly Jean Harvey (who played in his first band, Automatic Dlamini, back in the late 80s). His first solo album, 2002's How Animals Move (Thrill Jockey), was assembled from five years of intermittent recording with a variety of players, but it was a good sort of hodgepodge--the mostly instrumental songs functioned as a gorgeous imaginary sound track. After touring behind the album Parish ended up in Italy, where he fell in with the musicians who play on his new record, Once Upon a Little Time (Thrill Jockey). This time he ditches the heavy atmospherics in favor of more conventional rock songs, but despite cameos by a variety of players, including Portishead's Adrian Utley and the Bad Seeds' Hugo Race, the album has a stripped-down, low-key sound. Parish himself steps up to the mike for the first time in more than 15 years, and though his conversational singing style sounds a bit tentative it contributes to the record's elegant, intimate feel. The unembellished melodies tend to be slight, but they gain a familiar, folklike resonance with repeat listens; it'll be interesting to hear how the band reshapes the tunes onstage.

"This band has no members," HOWE GELB writes in the liner notes to the eponymous debut of his new project, Arizona Amp and Alternator, but there are other players, including M. Ward, Scout Niblett, and members of the Arcade Fire and Grandaddy. Gelb's disinterested singing undersells his songs, as usual, but the backup actually adds a ragged snap that was missing on the final Giant Sand albums he made with John Convertino and Joey Burns. The tunes are all over the place: a straight cover of Traffic's "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys," atmospheric rambling ballads and cranky roots-rock deconstructions, and a nice take on "Baby It's Cold Outside" that rewrites the lyrics for Arizona weather. Gelb will perform solo here, and that's always a crapshoot--he can be great or numbingly self-indulgent.

Gelb headlines and Parish plays second; Douglas McCombs opens the show as Brokeback, returning to the solo format he started with years ago. Tue 11/1, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10 in advance, $12 at the door.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bill Carter.

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