Canasta at the 400 Bar

Canasta at the 400 Bar - Photo by David de Young

Chicago’s Canasta played an inspired middle-slot set Friday at the 400 Bar sandwiched between dependable local rock band openers Seymore Saves the World and headliners Cowboy Curtis.

Canasta opened with “Microphone Song,” the first track off of We Were Set Up, which is the group’s first full-length album from November 2005. As the cheerful rhythms fired up, the six members of Canasta bounced around nervously at varying degrees, some jolting at sharp angles and others shooting each other reassuring grins. Lead singer and bassist Matt Priest harmonized with frantic violinist and vocalist Elizabeth Lindau to sing a staccato, stuttered chorus that was immediately lodged in my memory.

Priest’s lyrics are slyly smart, focusing primarily on life in the Windy City and living a creative life. Though he often slips away into the background to give way to the other five musicians in his ensemble, Priest is hard to ignore, especially on the chorus of the aforementioned tune:

So please do-do-don’t pay attention to me
`Cause I’m go-go-goin’ broke lyrically
And if a po-po-poet’s what I wanted to be
A micropho-pho-phone’s not something I’d need

As the group blazed forward into another track, they continued to pass the focus on from one member to the next. In the near-hymnal “Slow Down Chicago,” keyboardists Megan O’Connor and John Cunningham really stretched their fingers, with O’Connor favoring synthesized organ and Cunningham on piano. “An Apology,” though beginning with a riff eerily similar to the Jets’ “Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” transformed into a churning, lilting tune driven by the guitar work of Ben Imdieke. All in all, Canasta made impressive work of combining their talents to create one full sound. Putting all the Belle and Sebastian comparisons aside, the group maintained symphonic balance to an impressive degree while cycling through many different nuances and styles.

Lindau stepped forward to sing lead vocals on “Sympathetic Vibrations,” adding even more contrast to the set by trading off call-and-response verses with Priest in a charming, brother-and-sister fashion. Though Canasta has been around for a few years, their stage presence made them appear slightly novice, with a hint of anxious excitement. Even drummer Colin Sheaff’s set looked brand new; as it gleamed white and caused the room to reek like a freshly uncapped Sharpie marker.

Though the music didn’t necessarily provoke dancing, they definitely captured the attention of the audience members that occupied the mostly-full dance floor. A common curse at the 400 Bar, I got the impression that those further back or in the bar area were not as rapt with the performance, though the background chatter was a less noticeable than at other shows I have attended there recently.

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