Exploratory east-coast guitar duo Elkhorn play their first Chicago show | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Exploratory east-coast guitar duo Elkhorn play their first Chicago show 

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click to enlarge Elkhorn


Brennan Cavanaugh

John Fahey first incorporated psychedelia into his American Primitive approach to acoustic guitar in 1966, when he ran the tape backward on “Knott’s Berry Farm Molly.” Cosmic-minded pickers have been combining the two styles ever since, and these days no one does it better than Elkhorn. New Yorker Drew Gardner and Pennsylvanian Jesse Sheppard have been playing together under that name since 2013, but their personal and musical association stretches back to the 1980s—which helps explain the ease and flexibility of their rapport. They achieve an intricate weave of complementary tones on “Sugar Hill Raga,” one of the duets on their vinyl debut, 2017’s The Black River (Debacle). On their new twin LPs, Sun Cycle and Elk Jam (both on Feeding Tube), Sheppard’s acoustic fingerpicking keeps up a steady flow of radiant sonorities and gamboling rhythms, the latter of which are periodically bolstered by the shuffling beats of visiting percussionist Ryan Jewell, while Gardner and guest guitarist Willie Lane swap bright, burning leads that sound like what Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir might’ve produced had they steered “Dark Star” onto unpatrolled country roads before lighting up their afterburners. Local drummer Charles Rumback, who has explored similar territory with guitarist Ryley Walker, will join Elkhorn for their Chicago debut. Also on the bill is a very different but similarly mind-altering electric guitar duo, Mark Shippy and Daniel Wyche, who’ve recorded a pair of cassettes with drummer Ben Billington on which they manipulate feedback to sound like a ray-gun shoot-out. Also performing is saxophonist Molly Jones, who recently moved to Chicago from Detroit.   v

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