Willis Earl Beal returns to his hometown to show off his latest twists and turns | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Willis Earl Beal returns to his hometown to show off his latest twists and turns 

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click to enlarge Willis Earl Beal

Willis Earl Beal

Larry Busacca

Indefinable musician Willis Earl Beal hasn’t made much of an appearance in his hometown of Chicago since January 2015, when he performed a synth-heavy set that coincided with the debut screening of the restless 2014 indie flick he starred in called Memphis. Since then Beal has dropped three releases through Tender Loving Empire, an arts shop/record label based in Portland, where he now lives. The imprint first rereleased his 2015 EP Noctunes, then came an EP called Through the Dark last April, and in July there was A Chaos Paradigm, which Beal made under the name Nobody. A Chaos Paradigm is the latest in a string of new beginnings for Beal since my 2011 Reader feature on him, which caught the eye of XL Recordings and led to the release of two albums through its Hot Charity subsidiary. In the six years since his discovery, Beal has toured Europe, opened for his musical hero Cat Power, reunited with an old girlfriend, moved to New York, gotten married, moved to Washington State, broken things off with XL, and gotten divorced. I can’t blame him for starting anew with a different stage name as he seeks out new musical directions—especially since his old catalog still burbles along the edges of pop culture. Recently some of his old XL songs were used to soundtrack the boxing biopic Bleed for This, and though I haven’t seen the film, the bluesy, stomping “Too Dry to Cry” is so expertly placed in the trailer that I just might care about it. These days Beal zigs and zags from the ethereal to the experimental to both at once, while his powerhouse voice and unpredictable songwriting continue to mesmerize—off A Chaos Paradigm, “Monuments Fall.” pitter-patters with the grace of a sweet, easygoing 70s soul hit. And I still never know what to expect from Beal’s performances—when he appeared at the Hideout in 2014 for CIMMFest he shut off the lights and asked the audience to sit in silence while he played recordings of his material. Whatever he ends up doing, it promises to be memorable.   v

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