Before Monday night’s concert she sat down and tried to open a taped white envelope. She struggled with the paper as the old yellow tape would not give. She finally removed a 1933 Chicago World’s Fair bookmark from the envelope.
It was a brass work of modest art, just like the one my father saved when he attended the “Century of Progress” fair as a 13-year-old. A similar bookmark was found in my father’s belongings when we cleaned out my parents house after their deaths. People say there are signals from beyond? Who knows? But her bookmark became a reminder on how to turn the pages.
The Chicago-based jazz-pop-soul outfit the Letter 3 was the opening act. Pianist-vocalist Scott Ligon, guitarist-bassist-vocalist Casey McDonough and drummer Alex Hall are as fine as pop-rock musicians as this city has to offer. They play with discovery and precision.
Their spot-on version of the Everly Brothers “Let It Be Me” hushed the entire room, even the servers. When their Flat Five compatriot Kelly Hogan joined them to sing a soft cover of the Dixie Cups hit “No True Love,” the Letter 3 indeed became L-O-V-E.
M. (Matt) Ward appeared solo with piano, guitar and guitar loops. His warm, forthcoming vibe turned the City Winery into his own studio for 90 minutes. He is a master of identity. Ward’s guitar playing runs from Beatles chords to bluegrass which created the backdrop for a spellbinding performance.
Ward is a big fan of minimalism. In a 2009 New York Times interview he said he was still using the same four-track he bought when he was 15 years old to write songs. A few years back I talked to Ward about late producer Lee Hazlewood’s guitar driven songwriting and how Hazlewood hated stereo recordings because “it took all the guts out of music.” Ward established a similar low-fi atmosphere at City Winery. That is why the show was so accessible. You could touch the material.
In his 2006 ballad “Chinese Translation” Ward asked, “How can a man like me remain in the light/And if life is really as short as they say/Then why is the night so long?” His stark arrangement made sure you got that. And on piano he turned a passionate cover of Daniel Johnstons’ lonely “Story of an Artist” into something completely his own. The relatively peppy “Rollercoaster” brought back yellow and blue memories while “Sad Sad Song” was essential for a misty night in Chicago. Ward’s final song of his encores was his folk-pop take of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On.”
I mentioned that on my drive home from the radio show on Saturday night a young woman going to her own going away party was hit by a car near Bar Deville on North Damen Avenue. The Ukrainian Village Neighborhood blog said the woman was in bad shape because she was sent to Stroger Hospital. Apparently that’s not a good sign.
I dropped off my friend, went home and played M. Ward’s 2008 album “Hold Time” once. And then I played it again. I looked for my father’s bookmark from the 1933 Chicago’s World Fair. I went to the Ukrainian Village Neighborhood blog and I saw that the woman was getting better.
In our short time on this earth, bookmarks are not a bad thing to collect.