Review: Only a Single Raincloud in Sight for Burr Oak’s Release Show at Schubas

I’ve been a big fan of Burr Oak and their debut album Late Bloomer since I saw them perform at the Metro with a slew of other local bands celebrating the 40th anniversary of the iconic venue. Late Bloomer is an embarrassment of modern-day indie rock riches held up by the sound of many legendary '90s artists that came before them like Natalie Merchant and The Breeders. Even though I’ve been a fan for a relatively short time, I’ve been anxiously awaiting their follow-up since I first heard the album; what can I say, I’m impatient. Lo and behold, 2024 arrives with the wonderful news of a new Burr Oak concept EP and to build anticipation for its release, the band recently did a single and music video release show at Schubas and there was no other option for me than to be there with bells on. Their newly released single “Rainclouds” is the first taste of new music from their upcoming concept EP Annabelle to be released later this year, shedding light on the controversial and abhorrent overruling of Roe v. Wade that happened in the summer of 2022.

Local experimental three-piece indie rock heathens Pete Willson & The Rooks opened the show and were chaotic and messy in all the best ways. At times, their slacker energy reminded me of bands like Pavement when it was at its most rambunctious and Yo La Tengo when it was at its gentlest all nestled together with a healthy injection of the post-punk revivalist idiosyncrasies present in bands like Parquet Courts. What was quite fun about watching the band was how lead singer Pete Willson played with their vocals going from a slacker-esque mumble to vocal inflections that mirrored that of a cartoon villain crafting their plan for world domination. They brought a unique flair to a sound that was otherwise deeply nostalgic of a sound cultivated by bands of 20 to 30 years ago. I don’t mean for that to sound like a bad thing because where would we be as a society if it wasn’t for the music that the '90s spawned? However, I do think Pete Willson’s eccentric vocals are what will take this band to the next level and set them apart in years to come.

Next up was Morpho, another local three-piece outfit featuring not one but two members of Burr Oak! I’m not sure if they were just filling out the stage for lead singer/guitarist Kristyn (last name unknown) or if everyone is a part of the creative process of crafting these wonderful songs—but either way, their performance was terrific. Lead singer/guitarist Kristyn (last name still unknown) is an absolute virtuoso on guitar and played every note with a level of confidence and respect that not many guitarists have in their back pockets. I can not confirm exactly what a majority of the songs performed were about lyrically but I heard many lyrics about plants, bugs, and nature and that coupled with the overall instrumentation reminded me a lot of Black Belt Eagle Scout, although I may be completely out of my mind with that comparison.

What was really incredible and memorable about their performance last Friday night was when bassist Meredith Nesbitt, for a song or two, brought out their cello and ran the sound through this effects pedal that made it sound like a Phoebe Bridgers song off her debut album. I don’t hear that sound very often in other similar music because it feels so hard to reproduce with the same amount of emotion, dread, and nostalgia that Bridgers and her band inject into their songwriting and performances but somewhat Morpho cracked the code and it sounded so painfully beautiful and so full of soul.

Moving on to the real bread and butter of the show, Burr Oak prefaced their performance with a screening of the music video for their brand new single “Rainclouds” directed by Ricardo Bouyett and starring Hayley Carbonaro as the titular “Annabelle” and Alexander Stuart as “Adam”. The video centers around two partnered characters going through a difficult time in their relationship when Annabelle has to come to grips with being a pregnant person in a world where Roe v. Wade has been overruled and abortion care is damn near impossible to come by without traveling thousands of miles for some people. For starters, I’m not much of a music video guy. I have my favorites and occasionally seek out new videos from artists I love but it’s kind of rare for me as of late. All of that to say, I liked parts of the video but I don’t typically enjoy music videos that include many minutes of film not accompanied by the song the video is for. The actual song doesn’t start until around three minutes into the nearly eight-minute-long music video and although I did enjoy Hayley Carbonaro’s acting, I wasn’t as thrilled with Alexander Stuart who played Annabelle’s partner. When the song started, I began enjoying the music video much more and it gave me early 2000-2010 vibes with how lead singer Savanna Dickhurt was filmed. No matter what I think of music videos with healthy dosages of story and scenes not paired up with music, the message behind this song, music video, and EP as a whole is incredibly important and deserves as many eyes and ears as possible.

After the music video, the band played a couple of songs that I had never heard before which I thought was strange seeing as I thought I was familiar with all their work before the show, even including their unreleased EP (review of that to come in a few months!) I eventually found myself on solid ground with “FOMO”, one of my favorites from Late Bloomer. Like many of the songs of their debut, “FOMO” oozes with the influence of such artists as Julia Jacklin and Hand Habits that I hear in lead singer/songwriter Savanna Dickhut’s deeply personal, emotive voice. Her voice coupled with Burr Oak’s simple yet deadly guitar work and rounded out with their deceptively simple drumming that services each song to the perfect degree, the influence of artists like Julia Jacklin isn’t so inescapable. Getting into the tracks not yet released from the EP, “Like A Dream” drips with dreamy pop goodness, a fantastic chorus, and a finale that envelops and locks you in until it’s safe to leave. “Fine, Fine”, another cut from their upcoming EP, calls back to some of my favorite songs from Late Bloomer like “Trying” and “Southsider” with its undisputed nostalgic sound, rose-tinted with a melancholy that rarely sounds as beautiful as when done by Burr Oak.

Cherry-picking some more songs from Late Bloomer, the band brought out the rarely performed “I Never Ate With You” but turned up the energy levels from three to a light seven. The original song is a gorgeous twangy acoustic indie folk exploration into the murky waters of a relationship that was destined to fail from the start. Adding drums live and boosting up the tempo gave the song a new shimmer that was all too addictive; I’d love to see a rock version re-recording of the song on Bandcamp for Christmas this year so I hope someone from Burr Oak eventually reads this show review before December. Keeping the energy alive, the band followed up with another Late Bloomer banger called “Around You”, a song with a gruff, bluesy, rock-inspired riff that flows throughout the verses leading into one of the best and most emotional choruses on the album. The song is even more powerful live and was my favorite performance of the night.

The band closed the show playing the remaining three songs from their upcoming five-song EP Annabelle and if you didn’t know they were all songs from an upcoming release, you would have thought they’d been playing them for years. It was nice to hear the sonic differences between hearing “Rainclouds” played via YouTube over Schubas’ speakers versus hearing and seeing the song performed live in front of you; the latter definitely sounded the best. Not to get too into the weeds of the EP since I’ll have a review up for all you lovely Burr Oak fanatics when it finally comes out in several months but “No Time To Dream” might be my favorite song off the new EP and is, without a doubt, their most punky and energetic song to date. This leaves only one song left on the setlist and therefore one song left on the EP that has yet to be accounted for and that is the title track, “Annabelle”. The song, musically, is a pleasant driving summer number detailing Annabelle’s mental and emotional struggle coming to terms with the fact that she is pregnant at an age where she did not want to be entering motherhood. The song, much like the EP itself, is as fun to listen to as its existence is necessary.

It was nothing short of an honor to be at their single release show for “Rainclouds” and I’m hoping it won’t be too long before I’m at the EP release show. After all, Burr Oak owes me a performance of “Trying” and “Southsider” and it was nothing short of a ticketable offense when drummer Anthony Mest announced to the audience they were skipping “Trying”. Why Anthony, why?!

All photos by Annie Keller.

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Lorenzo Zenitsky

Lorenzo Zenitsky is a Chicago-based software engineer, amateur bedroom metal musician, and a semi-frequent drinker of coffee but only if it's iced. If he's not admiring his terrible Simpsons tattoos in a gently cracked mirror, he's usually at a local show vibing to great tunes and abhorrently priced beer. $15?! Get outta here...