Chris Darby & Friends and A Wu Li Conspiracy at Uncommon Ground

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Damn Chris took the stage, but this time it wasn't with Them Damn Kids. Low-frequency fanatics in the audience may have been bitterly disappointed by the absence of regular sideman Roland "El Conejo" Gairroes on bass, but Julio (Them Damn Kids, Sometimes Family) was there on lead guitar. Another front man - Justin Birchard of Facing Winter, and a front woman- Erin FrisbeeTM of In Miniature- were on stage, but they were sitting in back of Chris. This is how actual, factual, derelict folk supergroups are constructed.

Chris gently hushed into Keep Fighting for a minute or so before being joined by the subtle julionations of the lead guitar, along with Justin's gentle smacking of a hickory box (cajon) and Erin's soaring vocal harmonies.

It was then that I realized that Chris was wearing the same sweater he wore at a party two days earlier- but like a tree which continually grows new rings, the sweater was now the inner ring covered by a clean outer ring of flannel. You see, Chris is both a thrifty man and a focused musician. All that time and money you and I spend washing our clothes and saving up for dinner at 4-star restaurants? Chris spends this time polishing his craft.
Damn Chris Supergroup

It should be noted that Chris is a man whose role in the Chicago music scene extends beyond his own work. Aside from hosting local and touring acts at his songwriter showcases, he regularly pays tribute to under-recognized troubadours. Within this short seven song set, he paid tribute to both Arkansas' William Blackart (some song about cigarette smoke) and Facing Winter (Bad Ideas).

Erin Frisbee and Her Harmonium

Some TDK standards were played (Muse, the Day Has Just Begun, Road Song), and well before the set's twilight, Erin had switched to harmonium and the vocalists dueled to work the folk songs to a frenzied pitch. And then the set ghosted out much the same way it came in- Chris' fingers barely touching the guitar strings on the melancholy "Thoughts and Reflections from the Middle of the Night"- "it's not like us to leave/it's just like us to be," he sang.

After Damn Chris Supergroup left the stage, a poet took his place. We need more poets. There are so few poets in this age (and, my memory for details such as names is so weak) that I'll just refer to him as Poet. Poet noted that Chris' Road Song "builds and builds until you can't take it anymore." Poet's poem ended, "...I bite my nails until they bleed."


A Wu Li Conspiracy took the stage, closing out their month-long residency as the regular Tuesday night band at Uncommon Ground. This is one of the most textured bands I've heard, featuring Jeff Breakey on guitar, John Elstad on electric lead, Ryan Suzuka on harp, and Raul Callejero Cotaquispe on percussion. All of these rascals are songwriters in their own right, but Ryan Suzuka left his ukulele at home and Raul sacrificed his fluid guitar playing for the greater good... what we have here is a true collaboration, with each member reserving the extremes of their individual talents to make a coherent whole through tasteful vocal harmonies and melodic textures. Amongst folk percussionists, Raul is certainly one of the most unique and inventive anywhere; his "kit" features a bass drum, a tambourine, and an egg shaker which he employed to a full range of dynamics including what might be a trademark bass drum rim shot. During one song he experimented with circuit bending on an old electronic radio.

Uh Woo Lee Kahn Sphere, Ah See
The band worked through just a fraction of their repertoire, including Looks Like I'm Back, Ocean Song, Green Dress, Bury My Heart, and something about a porn star amongst others, as well as a cover of Daniel Johnson's True Love Will Find You in the End. The band claims to have no albums "that they know of," but it's high time they captured their unique work on record, don't you think?

The Zuke's Box of 'Monicas

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