Danny Barnes | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Danny Barnes 

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I passionately loved Danny Barnes's old band the Bad Livers, a trio of punk-ass bluegrass terrors who tipped all the tradition's sacred cows and tweaked every whacked-out cracker stereotype with such vicious irony it'd give you whiplash. Once they'd ridden that shtick as far as it'd go, they blasted it to shreds with a mesmerizingly dark and weird hicktronica record, 2000's Blood and Mood--but though that album should've been for the Bad Livers what Colossal Head was for Los Lobos, it tanked instead and the band broke up. Barnes has since moved to rural Washington, and on his brand-new solo record, Get Myself Together (Terminus), he's still looking both backward and forward. He constantly darts his eyes at the avant-garde, or anyway at what counts as avant-garde in bluegrass: here and there his vocals flare up in an attempt at scat singing; jagged, jumpy improvisation elbows out of the tunes in odd places; and besides the usual banjo and guitar he sometimes plays didgeridoo or tuba (apparently he grew fond of hearing the big horn in the Bad Livers and decided to learn it himself). But what comes through strongest is the bluesman in Barnes--and I'm not just talking about the down-home rendition of "Sympathy for the Devil" or the mountain-gospel take on Blind Willie Johnson's "Let Your Light Shine on Me." I mean the undertow of grief and desperation that tugs at even his snarkiest performances--it's like he's bloodying his fingernails trying to claw his way out through the chinks in the song, even as he keeps cracking jokes. Bill Frisell headlines both shows; Barnes will play an opening set and then perform as part of Frisell's band. Sun 8/7, 4 and 7:30 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000 or 866-468-3401, $22, $18 seniors and kids. All ages.

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