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

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John Parish, Howe Gelb


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Guitarist and hands-on producer John Parish has exerted his influence quietly over the years, helping P.J. Harvey (To Bring You My Love), Sparklehorse (It's a Wonderful Life), Eels (Souljacker), and Goldfrapp (Felt Mountain) whittle their music down to its core, allowing no wasted gestures or extraneous notes. In 1996 he played all the instruments and wrote almost all the music on Dance Hall at Louse Point (Island), a superb set of moody tunes sung by Harvey; a few years later he scored the film Rosie. But it wasn't until last year that he released his first proper solo album, How Animals Move (Thrill Jockey), a relaxed collection of mostly instrumental material recorded in fits and starts between August 1997 and early last year. The songs are homey patchworks--a little of this recorded in Tucson, a little of that laid down in Bath--that flow like sound tracks to films the listener can't see. There's a stately grace to the ascent of "Westward Airways," as if it's tracing the takeoff of a plane; the trumpet and violin in "Without Warning His Heart Stopped Beating" could be two pensive characters having a sad conversation in some smoky cafe; and the harmonica part on "El Merreon" is an obvious Ennio Morricone homage. Harvey also puts in an appearance, heating up the double entendres of "Airplane Blues" with a torchy vocal. On each song elegant but simple riffs roll by at a leisurely pace, and the arrangements Parish writes for his 11-member chamber-rock group provide color, density, and tension. He's touring with a seven-piece band that includes Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley. The middle act on this bill, Howe Gelb, is another satisfied client of Parish's--the producer lent a hand on Giant Sand's Chore of Enchantment (Thrill Jockey, 2000). Gelb, a notorious rambler, seems to have found focus and restraint on his fine new solo outing, The Listener (also on Thrill Jockey). He favors piano over guitar on most of the ballad-heavy album (recorded in Denmark and Tucson), but his rootsy touches and parched, slightly bored delivery make the music of a piece with his previous stuff. He plays solo tonight. Sue Garner also performs. Friday, March 14, 10 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace; 773-478-4408,

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

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