Concert Review: Rocky Votolato at Schubas, 2/26/10

Rocky VotolatoI’ve been a fan in passing of Rocky Votolato’s music for a few years now. I’d listened to and enjoyed his songs but never quite spent enough time focusing on what I was hearing. So what I missed out on was just how powerful his music could be. Votolato’s latest album, True Devotion, strips away much of what serves to distract from that, and his live show takes his music down to the bare minimum.  With just a guitar and his raw voice, Rocky Votolato puts forth a show that runs the gamut of emotion.  His songs don’t beat around the bush in any way; it’s not so much that the songs are strictly literal, it’s more the fact that they’re honest.

That honesty was on full display during Friday night’s show at Schuba’s.  While the sold out show didn’t quite feel like a sold out show (I had plenty of room to move around, though that may be attributed to a pair of incredibly drunk guys near me whom it seemed that no one wanted to stand by), the crowd certainly welcomed Votolato back to Chicago with open arms.  The singer-songwriter, who speaks openly about his experiences with depression and anxiety, found himself taking a break from music following the success of his 2007 release, The Brag & Cuss, so it’s been several years since he’s been in our fair city.  And after all that time, he barely made it to Chicago, due to the weather out on the east coast.  He made it, though, and we’re all better off for it.  With his very aw shucks down-south sort of attitude, you felt like he really was gladdened and humbled by the support the crowd showed him.  Votolato gave everything he had to the show, returning to the stage for an extended five-song encore.

Even though the show was in support of his new album, he didn’t stay away from his old material, even playing several songs from 2002’s Burning My Travels Clean.  For me, one of the most poignant and, indeed, powerful moments of the show was “Suicide Medicine”.   On the album (of the same name), it’s a fairly average guy-with-guitar rock song.  Live, however, and it turns into both a straight-forward look at mental illness as well as a raucous indictment of the pharmaceutical industry (“If this medication upsets your stomach, take it with crackers, bread, or a small meal.  We understand it won’t do shit towards the cure, but if you buy this I promise you’re gonna like the way it makes you feel.”)

Other song selections included “The Light and the Sound”, “Portland is Leaving”, “Tinfoil Hats”, a cover of Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son”, “Mix Tapes – Cellmates”, “White Daisy Passing”. “Lucky Clover Coin”, “Red River”, “What Waited For Me” and “Sun Devil”.  Votolato’s newest album is out now, and he’s donating 10% of the proceeds from his current tour to One Day’s Wages, an organization dedicated to fighting global poverty.  He’ll be back in Chicago on April 16 with a show at Lincoln Hall.  If you didn’t catch him this time, you should make the effort to get to that one.  Tale a look at my photos of the show on Flickr.

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