Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Firewater Blows the Roof Off The Empty Bottle

Last Friday night I made it out to see the band Firewater at Chicago’s Empty Bottle. I’ve liked the band on and off for some years now, but, honestly, I wouldn’t have gone had I not won free tickets from Chicago Public Radio (of all places). Before that day I hadn’t even heard their latest album. But after winning the tickets I started reading up on the story behind that album, 2007’s The Golden Hour. I still wasn't sure if I was going to use the tickets. Then I went and got the album. And after getting the album, well, of course I was gonna go see the show.

The story goes a little like this; in 2004 Todd Ashley, the singer and songwriter behind the entire Firewater project, was devastated by the concurrent misfortunes of losing his wife to divorce and the re-election of George Bush. He opted to lick his wounds by doing a great deal of globe trekking. Over the course of his adventures at some point he was drugged and robbed and stuck somewhere in Pakistan. His blog/journal, Postcards from the Other Side of the World, chronicles much of the time after he got out of that particular jam and is an absolutely fascinating read.

What to do when you're destitute musician in a foreign land with no desire to head back home? Well, start writing songs, of course. Ashley supported himself by teaching English and doing odd jobs. All the while he kept working on the material that would ultimately become the current Firewater album. Recruiting musicians from various countries and musical backgrounds to play his songs results in an album that, while having that completely distinctive Firewater sound, also has a richly flavored global vibe to it. There’s plenty of klezmer and banghra alongside eastern European and middle eastern folk. Though, most of the exoticism exists more to set the atmosphere than drive the songs… maybe as a way of illustrating Ashley’s journeys. Sort of mirroring his state of mind in that despite fleeing to all these exotic locales, and despite his soaking-up of all these musical influences, he remains unable to lose himself in any of them fully. That’s a sentiment that’s never too far from the surface in the lyrics. Tales of loss and woe abound. And even when he sings about being lost and robbed in very foreign lands, the things he lost and left back at home continue to haunt him with far more urgency than any fiasco abroad.

So, the show… wow. Firewater absolutely blew the roof off of the Empty Bottle. They had the normally too-cool-for-school, folded-arms Chicago crowd instead jumping, dancing, singing along. It was a big party. Wall to wall, it looked like everyone was having a blast. Myself included. Eventually, I joined forces with a group of Russian girls who had been boogieing down throughout the show. When I asked if they knew who the band was, one replied, “Oh yes! We love these band (sic)!”

And so we kept on dancing.

Check out an interesting 5 minute infomercial-thing on youtube about how the album came to be. A handful of songs from Firewater’s new album, The Golden Hour, can be heard on their myspace page.

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