It is hard to believe that Aaron Fox had to initially talk his band mates into demonstrating their bright backing harmonies, because when you see this quartet onstage it sounds as if they’d been vocalizing together since they were school boys.
After tonight’s forty five minute set, bassist Bob Vodick quipped that he might have felt intimidated performing in front of Aaron, who he claims has “perfect pitch.”
That said, Bob Vodick, Mike Burns, and Rick Zygowicz are all great instrumentalists in their own right, so you can’t blame the guys if they just wanted to concentrate on their fundamental skill sets, but ironically their willingness to shed some of their initial reluctance and shyness speaks to the professional sound of the group.
Vodick grew up, the son of a suburban cop, and he looks as commanding - when he plucks those bass strings - as his dad probably looked chasing criminals down a dark alley way. In fact, Aaron Fox & the Reliables' stage presence has greatly intensified since their debut days.
Front man and singer-songwriter, Aaron, beams with confidence as he glances over at the slender, engaging Mike Burns, who plays lead guitar.
But there is nothing pretentious about the sound or look of this quartet, and that is what also makes them special. They wear simple work shirts and rely on no outlandish gimmicks, but what they do possess is a great aptitude for showcasing Aaron Fox’s originals.
I first heard the band about two years ago when they released their CD, 'Late Too Soon'. On that night they played many of the songs from their debut in a local Chicago tavern. The second time I saw the band, they played an outdoor, neighborhood fest in the northern suburbs. And, tonight, they played a set in a popular, eco-friendly coffee house.
Vodick explains that “they’ll play for anyone who will listen” and that they’re always willing to play someplace new.
Uncommon Ground is a large North side venue, which is known for its organic, rooftop garden and steaming drinks. Further back in the facility is the performance space; a warmly lit room enhanced by brick and wood, which was packed by 11 p.m.
Except for one onlooker, seated unfortunately in front of the stage, who insisted on doing the watusi during a touching ballad, the audience was captivated. In fact, several of them came up to the band afterward, to find out where they could hear them play next time around, or to purchase a CD.
The set pulled from their greatest hits. The opener, 'Coming In', starts with sombre, but stunning strumming. Those heartfelt harmonies, of course, provided a dash of melancholia.
'False Alarm' showed off Aaron’s superb range. Mid-song, the band stopped to allow him to offer an acappella stanza, which brought out the frankness of the theme;
“Take me back, she said…”
Aaron exposed his vulnerability to the crowd in his next introduction: “We are so stupid when it comes to falling in love.”
“She moved in; she moved on…,” he sings, letting the plaintive lyrics take over. They are further underscored by Vodick’s throbbing bass and Aaron’s high-octane, power chords.
Tonight Aaron plays an acoustic guitar, which sounds great against the other electric instruments.
The next song 'Nothing Has Changed'is introduced as a typical Irish drinking song. For those of you who don’t know, Chicago has a huge Irish population and the comment was well received.
“Do you remember the days when the most important thing was a pocketful of change?”
“I wish I was young…” AFR is a fresh, exciting Chicago band with an old soul. Somehow, even though these men are certainly anything but old, they can make one feel nostalgic.
'Get Down' is an all-around uplifting and innocent ballad. But, again, there is that wistful nature that threads through so many of their tunes.
“You’re my friend. I hope you find your happiness.”
'Better Days' is their all-purpose country song. It boasts a spectacular backbeat. Aaron, in his contemplative way, poses this question, “Is it possible that someone else knows you better than yourself?” before launching into 'No One Knows Me'.
It’s got a great hook; the songs diminuendos with a sharp, minor chord.
The travails of love is a common theme this evening. “This one’s about braving the course,” Aaron says. Burns plays a clean, passionate solo in this song that very much recalls the early Kinks.
Aaron wryly commented that everyone should get on their website for exciting news; such as the fact that “Mike’s redoing his basement.” After a laugh, the audience grew more attentive as 'Neverending' began to cook. Like so many of AFR’s tunes, the warm familiarity of stellar 1960s groups, such as the Byrds, seeps through
The infectious clang and haunting melody of 'Over and Over' even tranquilized the brash dancer. 'Too Tired' reminds us of the weariness of failed love; “I’m tired of making promises that I don’t want to keep.”
The final song – and one of their most recent downloads, 'Promised Land' is sure to become another Aaron Fox & the Reliables' favourite. It starts out with an exotic/hypnotic, Mideastern-style intro that bleeds into a truculent, industrial riff. Zygowicz’s raw tom toms and Vodick’s brooding, descending bass line add fantastic detail.
2012 means that the band will accompany singer-songwriter, Garland Jeffreys – several band members have performed with him on local radio recently – in Wisconsin. Rumour has it that the quartet will also be back in the studio and performing at a number of other upscale clubs.
And something tells me that, while this is great news for Chicago, many more coast-to-coast and international fans will discover Aaron Fox and the Reliables' exceptional talents next year as well.