Marlee MacLeod – Abbey Pub (Chicago, IL)
When No Depression last visited with Marlee MacLeod back in the second issue, she spoke of “playing for six to 10 people a night” and “converting the nation three people at a time.” She was still at it on this Saturday night gig at the Abbey Pub, a neighborhood tavern in a very untrendy neighborhood on the Northwest side of Chicago. While the majority of the city’s alt-country crowd was out enjoying high-profile acts shows Steve Earle, Freakwater and John Doe at competing venues on this December evening, patrons of the Abbey Pub were enjoying — well, actually, most folks were there to watch neighborhood hero Andrew Golota fight Riddick Bowe on the big-screen TV. So on this night, MacLeod was off in a corner of the restaurant/bar area playing to a few devoted fans and some late-night diners.
MacLeod focused her attentions on two couples seated at the table right in front of the small makeshift stage. Their moment of conversion seemed to come as she sang the opening line from “In Trouble Again” from her album Favorite Ball & Chain: “You’re not stupid but you’re crazy/I’m not bad but I am lazy.” It evoked the kind of knowing laughs that said the song had made a connection with their life. Four new fans and a couple of CDs to be sold at the end of the set.
Playing without any backing except her guitar and having to overcome a variety of strange disruptions seemed to force MacLeod into connecting on the strength of her songs alone. At one point, some women came into the bar during a break in the fight chanting, “Rocky, Rocky.” Later, when the fight ended and the crowd had filtered into the bar, the jukebox came up and an Irish tenor began crooning through MacLeod’s speakers. Each disruption became an opportunity for shared laughter and jokes, and a further deepening of the bond between singer and audience.
The set featured songs from both of her Medium Cool releases, Drive Too Fast and Favorite Ball & Chain, as well as her upcoming spring release, Vertigo. MacLeod said the new release features even more of a “band sound” than Favorite Ball And Chain, which featured the backing of labelmates Dashboard Saviors. Still, the ability of her songs to connect with the listener in a solo acoustic format is important to MacLeod. And on this night, she was connecting with her fans, old and new, in a very special way.