Review: Chris Forsyth & Solar Motel Band @ Empty Bottle 11/19/14


Brian Eno once famously claimed that the Velvet Underground had originally sold only 30,000 copies of their debut album, but everybody who bought one went out and formed a band.

Only a few dozen souls braved frigid November night to see guitarist Chris Forsyth and his Solar Motel band at the Empty Bottle. Curiously, despite the relatively small gathering, more than a few of the attendees, including myself, my friend Kevin (@WeirScrewed) who occasionally contributes to this site, and Jimmy Coulas (@jimmycoulas), editor of the excellent Scents and Subtle Sounds blog, are denizens of the music “blogosphere”. I learned post facto that Rob Mitchum (@phishcrit) was also in the building. Hell, there were probably a few other writers in attendance that I didn't even know about.

It makes perfect sense. The music of Chris Forsyth is dense, pensive – it lends itself to analysis. In just over hour of music performed, there was enough personal expression for a hundred pages, if only one could locate the words.

Forsyth’s ideas have ideas, his sounds and phrases lurching ever forward to the next measure, building on and completing musical thoughts that are introduced over the course of each lengthy song.

The image of Forsyth whaling on his whammy, coaxing a rush of sound in and out of his more languid leads – evoking monumental levels of concentration and deliberation – was positively arresting.

He paused towards the middle of his set to address the audience. He wanted to do something special for Chicago, and he dived headlong into the only tune of the night with vocals, a cover of Richard & Linda Thompson's "Cavalry Cross", which contained a show stopping guitar solo nevertheless.

His is a singular sound – like nothing else, but carved out of the granite of Crazy Horse Neil and Television’s most bold experiments. I’ve also heard comparisons to another one of my favorite guitarists in the towering buzz that has surrounded him in certain circles.

Breaking through waves of noise and texture, suddenly towards the back end of the show, there it was… Jerry Garcia. That sweet, bright lick, bringing order and cosmic certainty out of chaos.

Most songs clocked in about 10 minutes, but extended solos were lay aside in favor of a full band dynamic. Crafting stories of tone and structure -- a false ending here, a more traditional solo there.

Honestly, most could have gone on longer considering the wellspring of smaller moments each song contains. Rather than a two minute song with an 8 minute solo, these sprung to life as a series of 30 second mini-suites stitched together with a golden thread of lyrical guitar.

It occurs to me as reach to describe this experience. Who am I writing this for?

Is it for the people in attendance, most of whom already realize they were in on something special?

Is it for myself? It must be a little – I think I get off on the challenge it takes to describe something that causes such an intense internal reaction.

But mainly it’s for everybody who didn’t come to see Chris Forsyth at the Empty Bottle on Tuesday. I just want you to know that this music exists. It is psychedelia without pomp or pretense -- workmanlike, unglamorous, but ambitious as hell and once it is in your orbit, impossible to ignore.


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