Jon Drake and the Shakes at Double Door | Review
I’m surprised Jon Drake & the Shakes aren’t more popular. For a band of their size and caliber, the Shakes put on a more fun live show than most bands in Chicago, blazing through dangerously danceable tunes with equal parts energy and technical proficiency.
Drake is a beastly frontman, sweating out beer and staring intensely into the crowd like a plaid-clad Keith Morris. His band is almost too much talent for one stage, utilizing strings and horns in a way that never seems excessive or pretentious. It helps that they’re all dancing, too. I hate to classify a band when its music is this fun, so let’s call it celebratory. The compositions are brilliantly intricate, but once your feet start to move, all the parts meld into one ecstatic blend of peer pressure: Drink, dance, and be merry. Jon Drake & the Shakes want nothing more from its audience.
The night's opening band, Frontier Ruckus, suffers from an overdoes of affectation. A skillful bunch of musicians, drawing noticeable influence from the whole canon of American roots rock (the Band and the Decemberists both echoed loud and clear), these guys don’t need to be lacing their quality act with shtick. Singer Matthew Milia is a great songwriter, but the quality of his work is smothered by forced vibrato and cringe-inducing banter. “This next song is about a fictitious love triangle I was once in,” he said. “It’s about young, sweaty, sorrowful lustfulness.” Ironic? I wish. Banjo player David W. Jones appears to operate as the bandleader, carefully conducting a dynamite bunch of musicians with poise and delicacy. Frontier Ruckus, it seems to me, is a band on the cusp. The songs are there and the musicianship is there, but the band doesn’t quite seem to have enough faith in either yet. Whenever Milia decides to loosen up and let the songs speak for themselves, you’ll wonder where these guys have been hiding.