I recently asked Chris Mills whatever happened to Bishop Allen. I’d first seen them on a bill with him in New York many years ago and was instantly charmed, so charmed that I bought every one of their monthly EPs that year, despite the fact that I despise EPs. He didn’t know, suggesting sometimes music just gets too hard. As someone who always seems one album away from calling it a day, he should know. Luckily that wasn’t the case at all I discovered soon after, they’d been laying low and working on a new record, which I was a lot surprised to stumble across on their website. Lights Out didn’t grab me at first, but I kept listening and it turned out to be a grower. Not as immediately catchy as the perfect Broken String, which had been distilled from those many EPs, the new record pulled me in a bit more with each listen. I was super excited to see them at Schubas tonight, even though it meant getting up at 4:30 to catch a 6 am train to a bus to Green Bay to start our Door County vacation. Yep, totally worth it. This show and the record are destined for my year-end lists.
Bishop Allen has records other than String and Lights (their effervescent debut Charm School and the underrated third record Grrrr), but you wouldn’t have guessed it from this set, which barely acknowledged the latter two while seemingly splitting evenly between the former. I couldn’t have been happier. From the new record we got opening track “Start Again,” appropriate for a band that is essentially doing just that, the ridiculously catchy, stick in your head “Skeleton Key,” and the New Wave channeling “Breadcrumbs.” A good chunk of String was also represented including the sorta title track “Monitor,” about the great Civil War battleship of course, not the on-stage aid, containing the brilliant line, “When I break another string and continue to sing, is that crazy, I don’t know.” The seemingly made-for, and eventually featured in, a Kodak commercial song “Click, Click, Click” was an infectious highlight that had everyone moving.
Which was true of the whole show. I often look around at shows that I am bouncing around at to see an audience full of folks as still as statues. Tonight it seemed like everyone wanted to dance as much as I did. And that palpable joy from the audience had to apparent to lead singer Justin Rice who fed off it and gave it back to us. Before one song from Grrr he claimed, “Whatever city we are in, I want to tell them next song is about their town, but this one isn’t, it’s about “Oklahoma.” When they returned to the stage for an encore, Darbie Rice, keyboard player and the only other returning member, stepped to the microphone as cries of “Butterfly Net” spilled from the audience. Now everyone knows I am not a fan of girl singers, especially the ones with sweet, fragile voices like hers, but I love this song. And I love Bishop Allen, and this was an incredibly welcome comeback.
“We have tomorrow off,” Justin explained toward the end of the night, “so if anyone has any ideas of what we should do, let us know.” “Play another show,” was the immediate response from the crowd. “Sure, if anyone has a basement or a bedroom we can use, we’d be happy to do that.” Dangit, I had to go to Door County the next day but I did post on Twitter that I did in fact have a basement, and that while I couldn’t do the next night, I would love to have them some time in the future. I followed that up with an e-mail the next day, which Justin replied to that they would love to next time they were in the area. Swoon. I hope it’s soon.