Ken Stringfellow Live At Schubas
Schubas was another first for me, being new to Chicago and all. It’s not your cheap-beer-on-the-floor kind of venue (though there’s plenty of call for those in the diverse world of music); it’s very much an out-of-the-way nook suited for appreciating a good drink and a good band. The front room was warm, cozy, and decked out in lights, while the back room was dark except for the stage lights and the flickering candles on the tables against the walls.
The venue had chairs. I am throwing this out quickly as I find it divides people: some are content to sit back and enjoy the music, while others find them restrictive. My friend I brought along is not a fan of chairs. I am fine with them. Take it or leave it.
To be frank, I have almost nothing negative to say about Ken Stringfellow. He started off quietly, sans microphone, picking up momentum and volume to a bursting chorus line. Stringfellow was flying solo, splitting his time fairly evenly between guitar and piano, and any time he had a guitar in his hands he was as close to the edge of the stage as possible. Had the set up allowed for it, he would have been wandering through the crowd while playing, no question.
Most of the set list was from Stringfellow’s most recent album, Danzig In The Moonlight, and it’s interesting how different his stage versions of his songs are from their album recordings. He played one instrument at a time, paired with his vocals and an occasional dash of harmonica, so of course the songs were pared down substantially and their arrangements at least somewhat altered, but they lost none of their charm or power, from their soaring vocals to their intricate rhythms to their When he belted out an absolutely heartbreaking rendition of ‘Shittalkers’, my favorite track off his latest album, it was nothing short of jaw dropping.
On the subject of music, it would be remiss of me not to address the fact that Stringfellow is clearly more at home on the keyboards than the guitar, so it was almost a shame that the time he spent on the latter diminished the time he spent on the former. He’s certainly no hack; it’s just that his keyboard talent is that good.
I’d also like to add that Stringfellow did a lovely duet called ‘Doesn’t It Remind You Of Something’, which he tends to do with a different local female vocalist while on tour; often, he’s never met them. This week it was Christa Meyer of Man Is Man, and they were utterly wonderful together.
Stringfellow’s stage presence is magnetic. He drew his crowd in with jokes, anecdotes, and the occasional filthy (and self-authored) limerick. It’s one of the few shows I’ve been to where the audience stayed almost perfectly silent between songs so as not to miss anything the artist says. Not to mention, he’d lost his voice two days prior to the show and soldiered on beautifully, sipping on chamomile tea with lemon between songs and then absolutely letting it rip.
Frankly, I went to the show having heard an album or two of Ken Stringfellow’s music and enjoying it and left the show feeling even more impressed. Stringfellow played a wonderfully intimate show, engaged his audience directly and belted out some incredible vocals. Fortunately for Chicagoans, he says he enjoys playing the city, so hopefully he’ll be back in the area soon.