The Flat Five- Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon. Casey McDonough, Alex Hall- put on one of last year’s best shows in the basement. So when McDonough e-mailed me about a date for his other band the Western Elstons, which includes the boys from the Flat Five and guitar whiz Joel Paterson, I agreed immediately. Since he had only experienced sold out shows in the basement, I had to warn him that not every show sells out and that it’s surprisingly hard to get people to come see a band they haven’t heard of. In the end it was a decent crowd, about 80% sold, a mix of Flat Five fans and Paterson fans.
Paterson grew up in Madison and played frequently in the clubs around town before moving to Chicago a few years after I got here. He still plays with local band the Cash Box Kings, and was sitting in with them the next night at the Crystal Corner. After I sent the announcement, one of my regulars responded immediately and excitedly, “You mean I get to see my favorite guitar player in your basement?!” Paterson is deserving of such status, he is definitely a guitar whiz and he makes it look effortless. No scrunched up grimace guitar face here, no, he has a laid back calm that makes him even cooler. In a band full of truly terrific musicians, he still stands out. There were several chances for him to really show off his skills, instrumentals that gave him a chance to stretch on both electric guitar and lap steel. During those moments, all eyes were on him.
The rest of the time it was hard to know who to watch. They gave drummer Alex Hall a microphone for the first time, apparently he doesn’t get one for their regular gigs at Simon’s in Chicago. Which is hard to believe, because not only can he sing as he proves in the Flat Five, he’s also got some stuff to say. In this band though, all the vocals are handled by Ligon and McDonough, who sound amazing together. The set list ranged from originals to the Everly Brothers to the Davis Sisters. “One thing I learned from Kelly Hogan (who’s not here tonight),” Ligon explained, “is that it’s OK to sing a gender specific song the way it was written, whether it applies to you or not.” They did a beautiful job on the heartbreaking Johnny Cash song “I Still Miss Someone,” and “(Set ‘Em Up) Let’s Toast that Lie Again“ written by Ligon’s brother Chris (who apparently has a trippy catalog all his own) was a gem. Perhaps the best song of the night was “In Dreams,” where once again McDonough pulled off a stunning Roy Orbison impersonation. In fact, the next night he was playing a show of all Orbison covers in Chicago.
Where the Flat Five specializes in sunny West Coast pop, the Western Elstons call classic country and early rock and roll home, which just goes to prove those guys can play anything. I’m glad they are finally getting out of Chicago once in awhile.