Knitting together different brands of jam strands, the Park West Chicago housed an evening of fine music with Chicago Farmer, Greensky Bluegrass and Strange Arrangement on 1/27/2012. The Midwest monsters knotted up the mass of fans with this highly anticipated show. Strange Arrangement described the energy as “palpable.” That’s right, palpable. When a venue without a bad seat hosts all star jams with some perfectly placed covers, the never again repeated vibe is certainly palpable.
I relished what the opinions would be of the numerous first time Strangers at the show. One said they are the perfect blend of Widespread and Phish. One gal said, “The only other time I caught them was when I was just getting to Summer Camp a couple years ago. You know, you hafta drag all your stuff in there… It was so hot and it was like, there’s this band singing exactly what I’m feeling, ‘sweat sweat sweat sweat sweat” (Highway) Or how about literally the perfect storm at their repeat Summer Camp performance? They played until the rain and winds were at their door knocking loudly. Lead guitarist Jim Conry’s hair was blowing in the wind defiant of the oncoming onslaught of torrential weather.
This Park West show was the full length feature film to give us back that lost Summer Camp set. Thursday night previously they had played the Canopy Club in Champaign-Urbana, with Chicago Farmer opening and Strange Arrangement supporting Greensky. This Friday night was a chance to shine as they flipped the script and Strange closed out the show.
Chicago Farmer is an amazing show. To catch him closely and intimately is even better cuz his story telling really draws listeners in. The Park West has tiers of seating with big old booths but set back away from the stage. A few stood in the floor area, but to me it felt a little awkward to be blocking the seated viewers. I settled in the second floor balcony with a few bar tables and a rail side seat.
Along with the palpable energy there were balloons. I fancy myself a balloon twister of sorts, and the sight of balloons excites me. We were on the second floor and before ya know it, asked to get every balloon off the balcony. Volley and serve became the game of the evening. During Greensky’s set balloons were making their way to stage in the funniest way. The crowd sensed it and responded. It was a rilly fun show. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. The interaction of crowd, balloons, and band was a spin cycle on high.
Greensky sped up the traditional bluegrass tempo and jazzed out their set complete with one of my favorite bluegrass tunes, Little Maggie and one of my favorite Greensky tunes, I’d Probably Kill You. They also rocked out a stellar version of Deal that featured Joe Hettinga on keys as well as How Far I’d Fall for You and then the arm in arm dancing special of Second that Emotion.
After that spectacular warm up, Strange took the stage opening with Destinations, then into a rather rushed and excited Bed Bugs, then the perfectly placed a cover tune Golden years cover that was Ziggy Stardusted. The crowd got to shaking their tail feathers fancier than a peacock. They played great solid versions of their originals off the album Polygraph. I must say that was the tightest and best version of Siete I’ve heard and they threw in a new tune called Offer. Strangers were stopping Strangers, just to shake their hand – Everybody was playing in the heart of gold band.
They had Paul Hoffman of Greensky come join them for vocals on Strange Overtones. I began to think, Strange Arrangement is the Forrest Gump of jam bands. They are simple guys and they are loyal to their very good best friends. I was chatting with Michael Boyt, Greensky banjoist, and asked him the age old, if you could play with anyone, who would it be question. That’s really not a great question to ask musicians. Then you get into the whole living or dead, and the possibilities are endless. So, I narrowed it down. Would you like to have keys play with you guys at any point? He shied away. Then I asked what keyboardist he would like to play with if he could play with anyone. He said Joe Hettinga. What a warm and fuzzy feeling.
My Poppa Gerry was a retired railroad man and passed away back in 2008. One of my fondest memories of sharing music with Poppa Gerry, who was into Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, was talking about David Byrne. I remember when he approached me about that Like Humans Do song. It revived my interest in the odd ball Talking Heads front man. It was then that I learned of his passion for bicycle riding and the weekly column he writes about his bike riding adventures thru New York. If you want to explore more David Byrne, check out True Stories, his early 80’s flick starring John Goodman about corporate takeovers. He narrates the entire movie, frequently on his bike. How did Strange Arrangement know? They play my heart strings and vibrate my passion for life. What a warm and fuzzy feeling on this Chicago winter evening.
Hope springs eternal, just like the versions of Polygraph that Strange has been ripping out repeatedly and constantly changing up for a fresh delivery. This show’s first encore of Polygraph pounded the bass to the back of the room and dipped along the 90 degree angle vibrating a bottle of Coors light off the display shelf, breaking the fizzy beverage everywhere and sending the dancing balcony fans into even more frenzy.
From small college town parties to backyards thru the burbs, Strange Arrangement has made their mark moving on up to the Park West. I foresee 2012 being the tipping point when we can all say we knew them way back when. The all star encore including Dave Bruzza, Paul Hoffman, and Anders Beck was reminiscent of The Last Waltz, covering The Band’s Shape I’m In. Oh but this is far from the last waltz for these musical acts. Their dancing days are just beginning.