The Sea and Cake are currently on tour in support of their newest album, Any Day, released on May 11 on Thrill Jockey Records. The Chicago music veterans invited the wonderful James Elkington to celebrate at their back-to-back album release shows at the Empty Bottle on Wednesday, which was an absolute delight for fans of both artists.
Elkington got the evening started along with Nick Macri on double bass. Although Elkington is originally a London native, it wasn’t long before he was enamored with local musicians and labels such as Thrill Jockey and Drag City. He eventually moved to Chicago in 1998 and during his time here, he’s collaborated with Jeff Tweedy and Tortoise, among other prominent Chicago artists. Although his music can be best described as traditional folk, his collaborations have added an amazing amount of diversity, incorporating bits of country, classical and even psychedelic elements.
Rather than choosing to follow a setlist, the pair decided to wing it and play songs off the cuff, creating a lively and adventurous feeling in the room. A decent-sized crowd of people hung out in the back–but an equal number of intensely devoted folks were packed right at the stage, taking in the atmosphere despite the very audible chatter from the bar. The very charming and collected Elkington had a good sense of humor about it though and made a joke about the noise level; ironically, I couldn’t make out his exact words.
Nevertheless, Elkington has an incredible voice that cut through the crowd during “Sister of Mine,” a gorgeous track from his latest album, Wintres Woma. The duo also played the fantastic “Grief Is Not Coming,” a toe-tapping and deceptively chipper sounding tune before wrapping up their set.
The Sea and Cake promptly took the stage featuring a slightly new lineup. Sam Prekop, Archer Prewitt and John McEntire were joined by their new touring bassist, Douglas McCombs. Seeing them all on stage together was a real treat. Although I had the pleasure of seeing Sam and Archer play their respective solo shows at Logan Square Auditorium in 2005, there is an undeniable chemistry that the main group shares that was really special.
Although they were focused and cohesive as a group, each of them brought their own unique style that was rather fascinating to watch. Sam was quiet and polite, thanking the audience between almost every song. John McEntire brought controlled energy and intensity, occasionally sticking out his tongue (ala Michael Jordan) during particularly intricate parts. Archer was on the other side of the spectrum, playing mostly with a calm, cool demeanor. And McCombs swayed hypnotically with his eyes closed, visibly feeling the groove of every note.
The quartet came out strong with an energetic rendition of “Cover the Mountain” from their new record, Any Day. They did play a fair number of newer songs like, “Starling” and “Into Rain” but also indulged long-time fans with favorites such as “An Echo In.”
The main set concluded with the closing track on the album, “These Falling Arms” before taking their leave. The audience clapped and cheered until the group resurfaced for an encore. “Here’s a song called…I forgot,” Prekop teased. The crowd chuckled and turned to one another to share the moment. “The Argument,” he declared, which ushered a second wave of excitement.
For the final song of the encore, they brought Elkington back on stage to end the night with the most anticipated and requested song–”Parasol”–which was a perfect and classy way to end the evening.