Wade Bowen Live at Joe's, 9/16/11 Chicago Concert Review

Wade Bowen Live at Joe's, 9/16/11 Chicago Concert Review

Waco, Texas born singer-songwriter Wade Bowen rocked a beer fueled Joe's crowd for ninety minutes on Friday night.

Bowen probably had about half the crowd that his hero Robert Earl Keen had at Joe's last week.  But that said (maybe because of that) Bowen seemed to go the extra mile as he played with a passion that was sadly absent at times from Keen's set.  Keen was clearly going through the motions but that cannot be said about Bowen.  Charging $5 a head can't be an easy way for a seven piece band (Wade Bowen - lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Gary Wooten - lead guitar, Matt Miller- electric guitar, Brooks Robinson- drums, Caleb Jones- bass, Ross Smith - keyboards... and I'm fairly certain it was Jessica Murray on backing vocals) to make a living on the road but that's exactly what Bowen did on Friday at Joe's as he continues to build an audience far from his Texas comfort zone.

Outside of Texas, Bowen is generally pigeonholed as a country artist.  But that's not an accurate label.  While the band is clearly influenced by country music, there's equal parts Americana and roots rock in the live show (reminiscent of The Bottle Rockets and vintage Mellencamp). 

"Drink up... I promise you, we'll sound better!" advised Bowen early on.  And while that's certainly an easy thing to do at Joe's (pitchers of Texas favorite Shiner Bock were on special), it was entirely unecessary because the band sounded just fine.

"You Had Me at My Best" was a great example of exactly how Bowen can operate outside of the contemporary country music stereotypes.  This is a rock and roll song that happens to have a country backbone and it was the fastest song of the night.  While that was the fastest song, the hardest rocking was "Noboby's Fool" which featured the seering guitar solos of Gary Wooten early and often.  "If We Ever Make It Home" features a driving beat amidst a song about redemption.  "Red Headed Woman" and Bowen's new single "Saturday Night" showed what can be good about new country music when it's done right as both are well written songs... with a twang.

Bowen did indulge the crowd in a few covers, choosing  Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" and ultimately closing out the show with  The Beatles' "Hey Jude."  But it was his performance of "Resurrection" to end the main set that takes best in show.  Every member of the band took a moment to stretch out during the elongated performance which is when it became clear that on this night, the band's secret weapon was backup singer Jessica Murray (I really hope I'm getting that name right because I had a hard time hearing Wade as he introduced the band).  The fact that Murray can't dance at all (her caucasian moves would make Elaine Benes jealous) matters not... because that girl can flat out sing and she improved every song with her vocals throughout Friday's set.  Bowen introd the song "About heartbreak and revenge... But mostly revenge!" like a preacher from a pulpit and the band's performance of it was nothing short of triumphant.

I remain impressed that a venue with such a low ceiling can sound so good.  It just feels like the sound in there should be terrible but it's far from that.  Catch Joe Nichols tonight and Josh Kelley on September 29th at Joe's Bar on Weed Street.

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