Personally, I'm on the side of the former and a pretty big sucker for floodlights, strobe lights, candles, Christmas lights, film screening backdrops, etc. Basically, if you're inventive enough to pair a lighting and/or video mix with your live set—a craft that often results in more engaging onstage presence—I'm probably paying attention. And I know that one of the four Soundboard bands below at least used to incorporate floodlights into its live set (hint: it's KEN Mode), but who knows about the others. Maybe pay the cover charge and find out.
Described by Peter Margasak as "one of Chicago's best jazz bands," Engines "never settles predictably into any one mode: an episodic composition might change course suddenly several times, or erupt into an extended passage of wide-open group improv." And Margasak strongly believes in Engines' collaborative prowess, writing that the band has "developed and refined a technique for allowing any member to introduce a tune from their repertoire at the drop of a hat, so that a set can feature a spontaneously organized suite or two."
Though the Flatlanders only existed for a fleeting moment in the early 70s, the band grew into a legend, likely helped by each member's successful solo career. They've been reunited for a while now, making albums and touring, and Peter Margasak writes that the legend "got another boost last year when a collection of long-lost prealbum demos from '72 was released as The Odessa Tapes (New West)." He goes on: "[Jimmie Dale] Gilmore's translucent warble sounds even better here than on the debut album—the demo version of his song 'Dallas' is a real goose-bump moment."
Monica Kendrick fell for David Eugene Edwards during his work in the mid-90s with 16 Horsepower, and though he's six albums in with Wovenhand, the love hasn't waned. She writes, "Edwards often delivers his lyrics like he's a prophet chanting from deep in a trance, and the music's rugged metallic vitality seems to drive him into a Pentecostal frenzy." She goes on to compare the guitar lines from the newest album, The Laughing Stalk, to those of 16 Horsepower, asserting that "they're writ large against the sky, rather than painted on the walls of a dark juke joint."
Sun 4/7: KEN Mode at the Empty Bottle
Maybe KEN Mode could've suffocated under the weight of 2011's Venerable, for which they won a Juno Award for "Metal/Hard Music Album of the Year," but they decided to write an even better album instead. Entrench is the trio's fifth and most cohesive to date and proof that the dudes still have plenty more to show off. Here's me quoting myself: "Right from the eerie, furious string crescendo that begins the opening track, 'Counter Culture Complex,' the album piles on the tension, primarily via Jesse's berserk, maniacal screaming and pinpoint execution on guitar, always in perfect sync with his brother's flailing rhythms—the devastating riff-heavy interlude on 'Why Don't You Just Quit' struts with rock 'n' roll bravado."