Saturday, July 26, 2008

My peepz have skillz

As Bruce Springsteen shot to national prominence in October 1975, he appeared simultaneously on the covers of Time and Newsweek.

On a local level, my buds in the orchestral-pop band Canasta pulled off a reminiscent feat yesterday, earning nice articles in both the Chicago Tribune (here) and Chicago Sun-Times (here).

Vocalist-bassist Matt Priest is one of those dynamic people who seems to be everywhere at once. (It's entirely possible that the Flaming Lips' In A Priest-Driven Ambulance is about the night Matt ferried Wayne Coyne to the emergency room.) He's a born leader whose energy and enthusiasm are contagious. People follow happily along.

For example, Matt and some college classmates started a Friday evening restaurant club after they moved to Chicago. It soon became Priest's baby, a labor of love designed to keep a circle of friends together.

These things tend to fade out over time, but under Priest's charismatic stewardship, the club has convened at a different restaurant every Friday night for over eight years. It's not only persisted but expanded, bringing new friends into the fold. (As a member for only seven years, I'm one of the newbies.)

It's a drop-in deal; I make it out several times a year. Last night at I Monelli, already a contender for worst restaurant of 2008, I congratulated Priest on the nice newspaper article. He thanked me, mentioning the Sun-Times. I had no idea they'd been written up there, nor did Priest know about the Tribune article I was referring to.

Back to Canasta. Despite several lineup changes since they started in 2002, the chamber popsmiths have been consistently tuneful and engaging throughout their run. Their hard work has won them glowing press and some glamor gigs.

For example, Canasta was handpicked to open for Wilco at a fundraising concert for Barack Obama (see photo) and their signature song "Slow Down Chicago" appears in the movie trailer for Terry Kinney's upcoming comedy Diminished Capacity with Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick and Louis C.K.

Props are also due to fellow Canasta founder and FOBB&B Elizabeth "EL" Lindau, a good violin player and a good person. She's the one who brought me into the restaurant club.

We met as Bucktown neighbors on a sunny summer day neither of us is likely to forget. Some misguided soul had broken into a home, stolen a car and led police on a high-speed chase. The joyride ended when the offender smashed the car into a tree across the street from my house and fled on foot.

As the crime unfolded, a friend and I were walking back to my place and EL was out for a jog. We were all puzzled by the sirens piercing the air of our normally quiet neighborhood until we simultaneously happened upon the bizarre crime scene.

The stolen car was a crumpled wreck on the parkway and broken glass was everywhere. Dozens of neighbors were outside surveying the damage and sharing their versions of events. It was one of those weird moments in life.

It all ended well as the cops caught the bad guy and EL and I became friends. The Canasta kids and EL's eventual boyfriend (and now husband) Jeff Dunlap would later enrich the circle.

Neither of us lives in Bucktown anymore, but some traditions carry on; the restaurant club is going strong and so is Canasta. They're playing tonight at Schubas, a great band in a great room. Come on out.


Anonymous said...


Do you have any more details about the Wayne Coyne story? If so, I've love to hear more.

Ben said...

No story, just another example of the wordplay lite that has attracted literally tens of readers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ben. This is exactly the kind of thing that keeps me coming back for more.

Mick Jammer said...

Is this photo with Obama doctored?



Ben said...

No, I don't think so. Canasta played at the Obama fundraiser I mentioned; I assume the photo was taken backstage.