Brokeback with Fell Runner

June 8, 2017 - 9:00pm

On Thursday, June 8, the Community Center for the Performing Arts and KRVM proudly welcome Brokeback to the WOW Hall along with special guests Fell Runner.

A sense of place has been essential to the music of Brokeback since guitarist/bassist Douglas McCombs first launched the project in 1995. Initially conceived as a solo outlet, the Chicago group has taken on new dimensions over the past two decades, morphing from the lean, pastoral ambience of the first album, Field Recordings from the Cook County Water Table, to the more muscular, taut arrangements and dynamic swells of the last release, Brokeback and the Black Rock, for which McCombs assembled a new quartet lineup.

Each album develops with exacting detail, revealing McCombs’s gift for dialing in the essence of a mood, feeling or distant locale with a handful of reverb-laden guitar tones, elegant and sustained, strategically placed and sparingly deployed. The instrumental landscapes he creates on Illinois River Valley Blues are utterly transportive, evoking familiar open-frontier soundtracks and charting out new sonic territory.

Thematically this is McCombs’s most personal offering yet, reflecting on his early years growing up along the Illinois River corridor between Peoria and Chicago. The sepia-toned opener “Ride Ahead and Light the Way for Me” is drawn from memories of evening rides on the river with his father, while the noir album bookend “Night Falls on Chillicothe” is named for a river town north of Peoria near where McCombs’s grandparents lived.

Though the inspiration is McCombs’s, the execution is wholly a group effort. With the same instrumentation and mostly the same lineup as the previous album, the band stretches its leader’s eternal fascination with the roots of American guitar music in bold new directions. A serpentine mystique runs through “Rise, Fernanda, Rise!,” and “Cairo Levee” conjures a desert atmosphere closer to the Sahara than the American southwest. Side one of the album closes with a moody, meditative take on “Spanish Venus,” a ballad written by cornetist and sometime Brokeback collaborator Rob Mazurek. 

“I could hear Brokeback doing the tune from the moment I heard him workshopping it with Pulsar Quartet at a little cocktail bar in Logan Square,” says McCombs.

Several songs feature lush, multi-layered vocals by Amalea Tshilds (the Paulina Hollers), who made a deep impression on McCombs with a spellbinding a cappella performance a couple years ago.

“I often imagine female vocals on Brokeback records, but I wanted it to be someone that I have personal history with, someone who can nail it, not to mention someone who I know digs the music,” he says. “That's why Mary Hansen sang on all those earlier records and why I wanted Lea for this.”


McCombs’s singular approach to guitar and bass, characteristic of his work with Tortoise, is expertly enhanced here by James Elkington (Tweedy, Steve Gunn) on second guitar (moving over from drums on the last record). The two salute one of McCombs’s favorite bands, Television, with latticed dual leads on the stately yet aggressive “On the Move and Vanishing”, while Elkington’s subtle layers of pedal steel and organ burnish more ruminative forays like “Andalusia, IL” and “Ursula”.  Their intertwining flights are anchored by the sturdy yet versatile rhythm team of bassist Pete Croke (Exit Verse, Tight Phantomz) and drummer Areif Sless-Kitain (the Eternals), the newest member of Brokeback.

Illinois River Valley Blues is a winding, wistful travelogue that not only captures darker textures but mines their depths. That’s been part of McCombs’s vision for Brokeback from the start: “To me a song is not worth writing if it doesn't have a strong sense of melancholy,” he says.




Los Angeles’ band Fell Runner is comprised of Timmy Carr (drums/voice), Marcus Högsta (bass), Steven van Betten (guitar/voice) and Gregory Uhlmann (guitar/voice).

At once understated and astonishing, Fell Runner's blend of a garage-cool attitude and complex virtuosity is declarative of a unique voice on the L.A. rock scene. The four-piece take guitar rock and infuse it with literary sensibility, vibrant vocal harmonies, and expressive rhythms borrowed from West African studies. Fell Runner executes these without ever breaking the uninhibited drive that serves as the band's foundation, keeping their sound edged and urgent.

Centered around the collaborative relationship between singer-guitarists Steven van Betten and Gregory Uhlmann as well as close friendships to bassist Marcus Hogsta and drummer Tim Carr (The Americans, HAIM), Fell Runner formed in 2012.  The band's self-titled debut was released on Orenda Records in 2015 and it showed them crafting an exciting meeting point between bands like Dirty Projectors and TuneYards, tinged however with the dark moodiness of Deerhunter or Xiu Xiu. Of it, Record Rewind Play states, "what they've produced comes across as spontaneous and living, growing and evolving as the songs progress, with melodies and the rhythms that underpin them crisscrossing in a constant search for a stable center.”

Lyrically, the album delivers cautionary musings and vivid Southern Californian landscapes which are bound up into introspective experiential snapshots. Fell Runner presents a picture of Los Angeles that minds the smog and clutter, maintaining an affinity for the organic.

"Their music is unique,” states Jeff Parker (Tortoise, AACM, Brian Blade Fellowship, etc.).  “Jagged, but also soulful and melodic. A noted West African influence surfaces in many of the guitar constructions, but I also hear fragments of sound reminiscent of Ian Williams and co. via Pittsburgh through Don Caballero, Chicago thru Storm and Stress and finally Brooklyn thru Battles. There are moments of abstract harmonic complexity (“Cobwebs”) and beauty (“Fall Back”) that are unmatched, to my ears, by any bands around today."

Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 day of show.  Doors open at 8:00 pm and showtime is 9:00.



Door Time: 
June 8, 2017 - 8:00pm
$8 Advance, $10 Day of Show