The Flat Five
Who’s up for a free show? Not just that, but a free show by a pop brigade that, while boasting a perhaps more modest national fan base than the one it commands back home in Chicago, released one of the most charming indie records of 2016?
There’s one catch, though. It involves a road trip. But if you’re up for kicking off the weekend with a journey to Butchertown Grocery in Louisville, you will be rewarded by a performance from The Flat Five, the Chicago quintet behind the masterful album “It’s a World of Love and Hope.”
In Chicago, the group’s members — Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough and Alex Hall — are viewed as artistic celebrities. That might not be the case for a Lexington audience, although they aren’t strangers here, either. Hogan, in particular, has played Lexington venues for more than a decade as a performance cohort of Neko Case, Andrew Bird, Jakob Dylan and Alejandro Escovedo, and McDonough and Ligon have played locally as part of the current NRBQ lineup.
As a band, The Flat Five favors a sense of pop that embraces tradition through its buoyant harmonies and melodies. Underneath the surface glow, though — which in the case of “It’s a World of Love and Hope” means 12 tunes by Chris Ligon, Chicago songsmith and elder brother of Fiver Scott — is a narrative quirkiness that is positively subversive.
“Almond Grove,” for instance, breezes in with an unforced and instantly infectious melodic stride that would make Crowded House proud. It’s a sad song at its lyrical core, an unsettling ode to a love that isn’t so much unrequited as unrealized. There are the odd references to selling dope and women’s soap (hey, they rhyme) and “hanging from a rope, swinging through the air just like a bird.” But you never sense any despondency because the music overflows with such immediate, summery pop bliss.
Also on the initially disturbing side is “Blue Kazoo,” a song that follows a wide-eyed innocent to Peru only to watch her romance tank. But the music zig-zags into a bongo-savvy, harmony-rich refrain that defuses the doom.
“It’s a World of Love and Hope” often sheds the dark casts while maintaining its quirky stance during the songs “Florida” and the predominantly instrumental “She’s Only Five.” Both possess a melodic stride sunny enough to place The Flat Five in the company of such vintage pop stylists as The Beach Boys. Best of all of is “Buglight,” which makes a romantic metaphor out of insects soaring kamikaze-like into backyard bug zappers, complete with a jazzy, Manhattan Transfer-like vocal exchange detonating the fun.
Up to the album’s release, The Flat Five had played primarily in Chicago, with yearly holiday programs being their primary performance exposure outside of the members’ individual activities. Friday night will mark one of its first visits to the region, making the prospect of a January road trip to Louisville seem less of a hardship. One thing’s for sure, though: Regardless of the chilly weather, The Flat Five’s tales of Peruvian hustles and “early-morning walks around your daddy’s farm” will likely seem oddly but decisively warming.
Jason Isbell coming to EKU Center
Need another reason to think spring during the dead of winter? How about the announcement of a concert by Jason Isbell? The Grammy-winning Americana celeb will perform April 21 at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond.
Isbell’s profile as a songwriter, guitarist, vocalist and bandleader has grown steadily over the past decade. It began after the release of 2006’s “A Blessing and a Curse,” his final recording as a member of the celebrated Georgia rock troupe Drive-By Truckers. Isbell’s solo career has largely been played out in front of Lexington audiences since then.
After the release of his 2007 debut album, “Sirens of the Ditch,” Isbell played an in-store set at CD Central followed by a headlining show at the now-demolished The Dame on Main. That and the now-defunct Buster’s on Manchester would remain near-annual touring stops for Isbell through the release of 2014’s “Southeastern.”
From my review of Isbell’s September 2016 Rupp Arena concert with the Avett Brothers: “As his set headed for home, Isbell stepped out on guitar for extended solos during ‘Never Gonna Change’ and the uproarious snapshot of past-life decadence, ‘Super 8.’ The resulting music possessed the swagger and electricity of vintage Tom Petty but ultimately rocked with a confidence that Isbell could clearly call his own.”