Camera Obscura | 02.03.07

cameraTheir music wavers between '60s pop, waltz, and the Sundays-drenched melodies. Their influences are as diverse as the alt-country proclivities of M Ward to '50s icons Connie Francis and Elvis.


Logan Square Auditorium, Chicago

Camera Obscura formed back in 1996 in Glasgow, Scotland. Since the release of their third and finest album, last year's Let's Get Out of This Country, the six-piece has been carving out a larger fan base, separating themselves from the previous Belle and Sebastian comparisons.

Cute-as-a-button lead singer Tracyanne Campbell and band hit the stage dressed in their sartorial best. It seems that, in Scotland, musicians dress up for shows, with the females wearing tweed skirts and men wearing vests. They kick off with the title track, the 1960s-inspired "Let's Get Out of This Country," a respectable opener but sounding a bit off key. Campbell extends the song adding in a few lines from Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al." Campbell states being in Chicago is the coldest weather she's ever experienced, entertaining the crowd with an anecdote about how she almost threw up moving the equipment upstairs.

The set list mainly extracts from Country, but the band throws in some songs from its second album, Underachievers Please Try Harder. Their music wavers between '60s pop, waltz, and the Sundays-drenched melodies. Their influences are as diverse as the alt-country proclivities of M Ward to '50s icons Connie Francis and Elvis.

"False Contender" draws waltz comparisons, with the snare drum particularly reverberating in the venue. Camera Obscura adds unique sounds to the live show with castanets and organ noises not quite as familiar on their recordings. One of the distractions of Logan Square is one can hear the banging and clanging of bottles and the audience talking during the performance. Campbell has such a thick accent, most of the time it's incomprehensible what she's saying between songs. She's the least illuminated of the band members, but the occasional purple spotlight beaming down gives her a certain glow. The band segues into "Dory Previn," shifting into the slow part of their set.

The song swings in tempo throughout, her honey-dripping voice sounding much stronger. "Books Written for Girls" is next, a languid, alt country track. Heading back to their latest work, "Country Mile" becomes a sort of overlooked song. It is definitely a standout from the record. These two songs demonstrate why Camera Obscura is so good. "Come Back Margaret" livens up the room with the ricocheting snare drum. "Lemon Juice and Paper Cuts," a B-side single, is played next, followed by the lone song from their first album Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi, "Eighties Fan."

The slow set diminishes with their breakout song, "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken." The crowd instantly recognizes it and dances along. The last song, "If Looks Could Kill," rocks the most, as bodies and heads begin moving along to the beat. Campbell and band come back for an encore with opening act, New Yorkers the Essex Green. Campbell states it's their last night touring with them as few strangers emerge on stage to sing "I Need All the Friends I Can Get." Thundering hand-clapping and fun onstage antics ensue. Campbell remarks how surprised she is so many people turned out on such a cold night. She sends a shout out to "the V.I.Ps writing notes on paper," aka, we journalists in the crowd.

They end the night with a more rocking and less orchestral rendition of "Razzle Dazzle Rose." It doesn't quite translate but is still impressive, especially at the very end when the band violently strum their guitars. All of Camera Obscura's songs sound more polished on their albums, but they get kudos for introducing a few extra instrumental elements to the live show. Campbell and Co. is not anything too spectacular live, but they are what a fan expects as they deliver an efficient, classy, and sometimes awe-filled show lasting exactly an hour. | Garin Pirnia

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