One of the latest and greatest trends with punk musicians is to return to their roots by going acoustic. For many, this is a welcome change. It attracts a whole new breed of fans while allowing for long-time followers to get a new taste of what they are capable of. With this tour, we are privy to Avail's singer Tim Barry and his particular blend of acoustic/alternative/folk/punk songs. I'll admit that I was never the biggest fan of Avail, but I love Tim's solo material. Accompanying him on this tour were friends and labelmates Austin Lucas and Josh Small as well as Lawrence Arms guitarist Chris McCaughan.
The trouble with doing an acoustic act is finding a way to sound original in an ever-growing sea of people doing the same thing. However, if what I saw that night was what everyone else is doing, then I need to go to more shows like this. The whole show can be summed up as one big .org stereotype: There were beards, flannel, PBRs and short, cute girls everywhere -- not that there's anything wrong with that.
One thing that really separates this from a traditional plugged-in show is the level of audience interaction. Throughout the night, people were shouting out requests (oftentimes getting their wish), or cracking jokes or just making comments. While most bands would either ignore these or simply not be able to hear them, the stripped-down environment of the night allowed for the performers to acknowledge and talk back. Normally, this would irritate me as senseless heckling, but it really seemed to fit the mood for the night.
The whole ordeal brings up memories of the Revival Tour of last year and for good reason. This was clearly a close-knit group of musicians who were good friends. Oftentimes they would join each other on stage to provide backing vocals/harmonies or additional instrumentation. Josh Small proved that his music isn't boring and that he is a force to be reckoned with in this field. His range of instrumentation was a welcome addition to the night. He would often be found later providing most-welcomed backup vocals and slide guitar. Austin Lucas really shined with his beautiful bluegrass voice. To hear it, you would never know he was in a metal band. His songwriting is stellar and his performance that night was absolutely moving.
The only one who played all on his own and never took the stage again was Chris McCaughan. He just didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the bill that night. Maybe it's just because of my own prejudice that it seemed that way. Based on the audience's reception, he was just where he needed to be. I may be the only punk type person in Chicago who doesn't really care for the Lawrence Arms and I feel the same way about Sundowner. His solo material just doesn't stand out and is boring at times. However, I did enjoy his presence on stage and his songs weren't bad; he just seemed out of place. I really think it had a lot to do with the fact that the only time we saw him was during his set. I will say this: it was probably the most sober I have ever seen Chris.
Tim really carried the evening with his intensity for doing what he loves. He started the show by jumping down into the crowd and bringing Josh Small and his chair with him. This really enforced the unity that was felt that night between the performers and the audience. He ran around doing his first couple songs as the audience sang along. The crowd really seemed to come alive for this and fully embraced his presence. This was probably the high point of the evening and it just carried on from there the remainder of his set.
This was easily one of the most fun shows I have ever been to. It was everything a musician trying to get back to the heart of music should hope to accomplish. This night really was all about the music. Everyone was drunk and singing along and listening to long stories (I thought Fat Mike had some drunken banter; he's got nothing on Tim Barry); it was great. I truly felt a high sense of connection with the people on stage and in the audience and it was evident that they all felt the same way.