the loud bassoon concert scene

Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, & Walker Kong @ Empty Bottle, Chicago, USA
21 July 2004

I'm not sure what weird concert karma I've brought on myself, but the most totally uncomfortable shows I've seen have been ones of the sissiest bands imaginable. Though I've proudly stood my ground, fist in the air, for stuff like Monsters of Rock and countless dirty drum 'n' bass shows, the shows that have left me breathless, wheezing, about-to-pass-out, have been from artists like Belly, Robert Cray, and now Camera Obscura.

This has nothing to do with the aforementioned bands, of course. In the case of Belly, it was simply too-small-a-venue coupled with a band at their tree-feedin' peak. Sissy-ass music, sure, but people were getting crushed to death. With Robert Cray, it wasn't so much his blisterin' guitar solos as the blisterin' heat, as I caught him at a summer festival that left me so badly sunburned I had farmer-tan for two years afterwards. And the bookish Camera Obscura hardly left me weak-in-the-knees through the sheer force of their stage presence; rather, it was a miserably humid Chicago summer night and apparently no A/C in the Empty Bottle that had me sweating like a pig (admittedly, my insistence on "cooling off" with Stella Artois instead of water probably didn't help matters).

The show itself was enjoyable in all its shy grandeur. Walker Kong started things off with a set of dancey pop reminiscent of '81 Talking Heads … they may have been my favorites of the night, though they lost me with a reverby sermon about "loving myself" or something like that. I've heard that these guys get compared to Prefab Sprout, but I don't hear that so much as a more willfully poppy variation on Franz Ferdinand … pretty refreshing, actually.

Scotland Yard Gospel Choir followed up, and while the stuff I'd heard by them sounded reminiscent of If You're Feeling Sinister-era Belle & Sebastian, what I heard was far more in the vein of Rustëd Root or mid-90s Poi Dog Pondering. Though they had a couple of songs clearly patterned after B&S's early delights, the overall set screamed "Chicago summer festival jam band" … and given my sunburned memories of that genre, I was none too impressed. It was interesting watching a packed house at the Empty Bottle cheer these guys, seemingly oblivious to the jam-bandiness of SYGC … but then, Chicago hipsters are not known for their hipness.

Camera Obscura was delicious, though they were exactly what I expected: an on-stage recreation of their records. Nothing rockin' about these guys at all … rather, it was like being at a recital, with everything played straight out of the fakebook, note-perfect, nothing left to chance. I imagined (about five Stellas in) that the lead singer was totally checking me out, and that the secondary male singer was very jealous about the situation. This led to fantasies about being invited back to CA's hotel room, but inevitably that wouldn't be for sex, but more probably to talk about John Keats.

Though extremely cute and proficient, Camera Obscura didn't play enough of my favorites from their record Underachievers Please Try Harder, favoring instead a slew of samey-sounding songs that may have been newer or older, leaving me wishing, wiping the sweat from my face, that I'd stayed home listening to the LP. I have to hand it to them, though, for not being as ramshackle as Belle & Sebastian were their first time through the US.

Review by The Twee Tween