OK yes, even for my normal level of crazy this was pretty crazy. I had taken the eleven pm bus back from Chicago and the Sausage Fest last night, worked today, and then found myself back on a bus to Chicago to see Zeus at Schubas. They’re from Toronto and don’t tour the US often, in fact, their merch guy told me this was their first time headlining in Chicago. Their CD release shows zigged back and forth across Canada, with only a short dip down the East coast. They were my must-see at SXSW this year, and that thirty minute set only made me want more. I was pretty sure it would be worth it, and it certainly was.
In one of those rare instances of good timing, before I even got to Schubas I got to see Jonathan Richman play a free show at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. It had been a couple years since I had seen him last, but he is still the same old Jonathan, if maybe a little grayer, and those dance moves are still there. If you haven’t seen him, shame on you, you need to just for those moments when he sets down his guitar and does his thing. Surprisingly, I didn’t know most of the songs, the exceptions being “Let Her Go Into Darkness” and “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar” (of course). He did more songs in Italian than usual, but as usual drummer Tommy Larkins watched him intently following him perfectly. They never fail to make me smile.
By the time I got to Schubas the second band had just a few songs left. They were loud, but enjoyable, and had the look of a Battle of the Bands winner, and the fans to go with it. It was a surprising crowd for a Monday night and I worried that everyone was there for them and would leave before Zeus started. A few folks may have drifted out, but there was still a very respectable crowd. And they were fans- the guys next to me sang along to every word. What makes Zeus so interesting is that three of their four members take lead on their songs, giving their sound a wide and very Beatle-esque range. And all of it is awesome. I knew almost every song in the set which drew equally from the new Busting Visions and 2010’s Say Us. Every song was amazing, I felt like I barely moved a muscle the whole set, only to clap wildly at the end of every song.
Only the drummer kept his spot as the other three moved from guitar to bass to keyboard and each of them are incredibly skilled musicians. While it’s hard to pick a favorite, standouts from the new record included the infectious “Are You Gonna Waste My Time?” and the melancholy “With Eyes Closed.” “Marching through Your Head” and “How Does It Feel” were highlights from Say Us. Their perfect, un-ironic cover of Genesis’s “That’s All” is genius. Like the band before them, it was louder than was comfortable without earplugs and my cousin and his girlfriend moved back after only a couple songs. I meant to do the same after I took a few pictures, but found I couldn’t leave, I was too entranced. Besides, I didn’t want them to think I didn’t like them. Because nothing could be further from the truth. It’s always a little nerve wracking introducing people to see your favorite things, whether it’s a restaurant, a book or a band, but I didn’t need to worry about Johnny and Megan. “That was amazing,” Megan gushed after the show, Johnny concurred, and they talked about them all the way home.
If I hadn’t already dubbed Jeff Mangum show of the year, this would be it. Maybe it will be a tie.
Jonathan Richman at Pritzker Pavilion