Saturday, May 25, 2013

Eef Barzelay and Chris Otepka

A year ago, I went to a really bizarre concert.  Here's the review I wrote of it, unpublished until now!

Hiding in Riverwest is an intimate unmarked venue known as the Laundry Chute.  There are no signs for this spot, but it is right above the Soapies Laundromat off of Locust and Fratney.  While a secret password wasn’t required, the arrangement and protocol of the Laundry Chute was unclear for Saturday night’s show featuring Eef Barzelay and Chris Otepka.

Eef Barzelay is the lead man for the band Clem Snide but has also released two solo albums.  There’s practically no difference between his solo work and the band’s and in the past some of his solo shows have been billed as Clem Snide.  The biggest crossover into the mainstream Clem Snide had was when their song “Moment in the Sun” replaced the Foo Fighters’ “Next Year” as the theme song to the NBC series Ed.   Chris Otepka was a key part of the great band Troubled Hubble and now operates with his band The Heligoats.  Both men have nasally voices and a quirky songwriting style, so the fact that they now tour together should make their show akin to the Elton John/Billy Joel concerts in their subgenre of indie music.   

Apparently the Laundry Chute’s standard performance space is in an apartment living room, but on Saturday night this area was shifted to the roof of the neighboring Woodland Pattern Book Center.  However, it seemed like both Barzelay and Otepka were under the impression that they’d be performing at a function that was a little more established.  Through his website, Barzelay is a bit of a troubadour for hire, indicating his willingness to play at any venue desired by the booker.  However, that same eagerness was not on display Saturday night.

While their hearts didn’t seem like they were into playing, Barzelay kicked things off with a very brief set which included a cover of Bryan Adams “Summer of 69”.  Most of the songs played by Barzelay were unknown, presumably new songs which will appear on the future Clem Snide album Songs for Mary, which recently was funded on the popular Kickstarter website.  The highlight of Barzelay’s performance was his tongue-in-cheek statement that “this night will come to be known as the East Locust roof sessions in Rock and Roll history.”  He further expanded on this thought, explaining that a whole wing in the Hall of Fame in Cleveland would be dedicated to this performance.  After only five songs, Barzelay gave way to Otepka, making it appear like the two would bounce back and forth throughout the night.

Otepka played a select number of tracks from the Heligoats 2010 album Goodness Gracious, including the song “Heat Waves”, which was preceded by a rambling story about hiding during a party.  Otepka also played the song “Been a Drill” from the 2008 EP The End of All-Purpose, joking afterwards that the five-minute song was actually a rejected jingle he wrote for Benadryl allergy medicine.  After closing out on a high-note with his performance of the song “Fish Sticks”, Otepka deferred back to Barzelay seemingly offering Eef a chance to jump back in.  Instead Barzelay packed up his guitar and the two thanked the small crowd for coming.

Perhaps part of the reason why the two seemed so disinterested was based on fatigue.  They have been touring and in the past two days drove from Chicago to Minneapolis back to Milwaukee.  Still, even if the turnout and venue wasn’t what the two had hoped for, it seemed way too abrupt to have the night end after about forty minutes of music.  Part of the fault also should lie with the Laundry Chute.  In the past, Clem Snide has filled the seats of the Miramar Theater so there is a base of fans in the area.  Without signage even as simple as piece of paper with some marker on it, if fans did venture out to the address listed online, there’s nothing to clue people in that they are in the right place.  To their credit, the Laundry Chute was very welcoming towards those who came but it was still a bit awkward for those who weren’t regulars.

While Barzelay and Otepka’s rooftop performance won’t go down in the pantheon alongside the Beatles performing on top of Apple Studios or U2’s shoot for the “Where the Streets Have No Name” video, it was still an unforgettable evening for those in attendance.  It’s too bad that the actual show itself felt less like a concert and more like an in-store performance…or in the case of Saturday night, an on top of store performance.