Concert Review: Johnny Flynn, Laura Marling, and Mumford & Sons at the Bottom Lounge (Chicago)

Last Friday I had a chance to meet a friend I haven’t seen in years. Last Saturday, I had same opportunity, but with one striking difference. The former wasn’t served eminent domain years ago and forced out to be torn down by the CTA to expand the Belmont L stop. I was able to finally see the new and vastly improved Bottom Lounge in Chicago. Instead of being in the Belmont & Clark area, it is now located in a rather isolated meat-packing area on 1375 W. Lake Street. The Bottom Lounge was hosting a trio of groups that are creating a folk explosion in the United Kingdom; Johnny Flynn, Laura Marling, and Mumsford & Sons (unfortunately I missed the first band).

Before I continue, I have to boast about how fantastic the Bottom Lounge now is. Pre-CTA intervention, the Bottom Lounge was a half bar, half venue that largely replaced the void created by the Fireside Bowl when it rediscovering bowling (the second most depressing event in Chicago history, aside from that big fire). It fit a good number of people and gave me memorable shows from Troubled Hubble, The Lawrence Arms, Ilya, Suburban Legends, and Big D & the Kids Table. Well now, it’s back after a few years and they’ve increased the capacity, added AC/fans, and two other features. First, going to a concert is like surviving in a desert, seeking that oasis of free water that never quite is there-except now with two drinking fountains! Secondly, the bathroom situation-now improved thanks to automation. Simple, yet never implemented steps in all concert venues I’ve been to before. The new Bottom Lounge has unseated The Metro as my favorite venue in Chicago.

Johnny Flynn ended the Chicago stop of the British Folk Reclamation Tour and rather impressed me as a musician on the new, natural-wood stage. My prior experience was limited to only a few songs, though I did recognize Sally from those, which came towards the end of an hour long set. If only he had whistled, he could have been the London version of Andrew Bird. I say this because of his multi-instrumentalist ability at playing violin, acoustic guitar, and trumpet-all quite well, though I feel the violin is his strongest point. Truth be told, he’s a talented musician and songwriter with some more imaginative lyrics than the others. However his stage presence lacked a little energy, compared to the previous two. Don’t let that deter you from seeing him, as he holds his own against any contemporary folk artist.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJwvqZuV4Rs&hl=en&fs=1]
Johnny Flynn – Sally (Bottom Lounge, Chicago via catthebat)

Laura Marling, often described as diminutive, held the audience by her profoundly soulful voice. I have heard that she prefers small venues, and smaller venues are where she should be heard as the intimacy reflected in her music can only be rightfully mirrored in those environments. I held high expectations based upon all I had heard of her in the prior year plus. Her performance of nearly an hour covered Alas I Cannot Swim, as well as others such as Typical off of her My Manic and I EP (Review). Her ability to transcend emotion into her singing was better than expected, as when she sang “I wander the streets, avoiding them eats until the ring on my finger slips to the ground. A gift to the gutter, a gift to the city, the veins of which have broken me down.” Given an opportunity, you must see her as all the premonitions are grounded solidly. She’s not another typical UK import (Adele, Lily Allen, Kate Nash), but has an blossoming talent yet to come into bloom. This was evident in a new song entitled Rambling Man.

The first band I heard took me the most that night, primarily since I had no prior knowledge nor have I ever heard of them. Mumford & Sons out of London play a more bluegrass style of folk music. Marcus Mumford, the singer and lead, has an honest, symphonic voice that blends harmoniously with the other members’. This came to a surprise, as supporting vocals often detract from the lead’s quality-but this rare time each supplemental vocal added a newfound depth to the songs. On stage, I was taken by the multi-instrumentalism of the drummer who, at one point, was singing, playing egg shaker, accordion, and drums at the same time! That is talent! They currently only have a few songs available for purchase via MySpace and RawRip. Below, a wonderful, highly recommended video from Saturday.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMt1Hzye-vk&hl=en&fs=1]
Mumford & Sons – Little Lion Man (Bottom Lounge, Chicago via catthebat)

That night was one of the most satisfying shows I have heard and seen. Not only did an emerging star shine better than the highest expectations, but an opening band successfully matched and even exceeded the other acts…

This is why I love music!

Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling have an exclusive tour-only 7″ single Fee Fie Foe Fum I Smell The Blood… featuring two new songs:

Side A: I’m A Fly – Laura Marling
Side B: The Ghost of O’Donahue – Johnny Flynn

Fee Fie Foe Fum Tour a.k.a. the British Folk Reclamation Tour:

  • 9/26 – Los Angeles at the Hotel Cafe
  • 9/28 – San Francisco at the Cafe du Nord
  • 9/30 – Portland at Lola’s
  • 10/01 – Seattle at Tractor Tavern
  • 10/03 – Montreal at O Patro Vys
  • 10/04 – Toronto at Rivoli

Update (10/10): Rambling Man can be heard around 12 minutes into this Minnesota Public Radio’s interview and in-studio performances with Laura.

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Johnny Flynn | Laura Marling | Mumsford & Sons

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