The sound

December 16, 2010


By Michael Swanger


Live album captures Steepwater Band’s raunchy rock sound and feel


Live albums rarely are an unadulterated, accurate representation of a band’s stage show. Often times, additional instrumental and vocal tracks are overdubbed and other studio gadgetry is used to enhance the music, sometimes to the point of detriment. Yet in other instances, bands sift through several recordings of concerts to assemble a live album, leading the listener to believe that the band was on top of its game during one show.

No such trickery, less than the usual mixing, was employed to make The Steepwater Band’s newest live album, “Live at the Double Door.” Recorded during one night at the Chicago band’s favorite local club, it not only captures the band sonically, but it makes the listener feel as though they have a front row ticket to the band’s energetic, blues-infused rock ‘n’ roll show.

“The Double Door is our favorite place to play in Chicago as far as acoustics and working with sound people,” said singer-guitarist Jeff Massey. “We played our last studio albums, ‘Revelation Sunday’ and ‘Grace & Melody,’ in their entirety and picked the best songs from that night; no second takes. That’s a lot of pressure to pull it all off in one night.”

Then again, Massey, drummer Joe Winters and bassist Tod Bowers have been playing together since 1998 and their sound is rooted in the blues, a form of music that is dependent upon musical honesty and authenticity.

“There’s a few warts on the album, but we left them in there because we are a rock ‘n’ roll band,” said Massey.

Like their heroes before them — The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Humble Pie and Led Zeppelin — The Steepwater Band plays blues-influenced rock music. The power trio got its start in the Windy City covering songs by Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker before writing its own tunes. Their sound, incidentally, is at once familiar and refreshing on “Live at the Double Door” and should resonate with anyone who likes a thread of blues in their rock ‘n’ roll.

“If rock doesn’t have some sense of what’s gone before it, there’s like a hollowness to it,” Massey said. “There needs to be a root to it.”

Over the years, The Steepwater Band has played blues and rock clubs, though Massey admits it is more of a rock band today.

“When we play a blues club we go over well, but we’re not the kind of band that plays ‘Sweet Home Chicago.’ In Chicago, the tourists at some of the blues clubs want to hear that, but we’re definitely not that kind of band,” he said.

One listen to amped up versions of raunchy rock songs like “Indiana Line,” “Roadblock” and “Dance Me A Number” and that much is evident. Still, what makes The Steepwater Band’s music so appealing is that it has a sense of history without being retro or imitative, and it has a raw sexuality that is missing in some forms of modern rock music.

“The goal of any band should be to take your influences but sound like yourselves. I don’t know what the formula is, but there’s something about when the three of us play together that its sounds like us,” Massey said. “We’re not trying to sound like Humble Pie. As much as we like the music of the ’60s and ’70s, we like to maintain a freshness to the music.”

Freshness can be hard to come by in rock circles, considering all that has happened in the genre’s past. But “Live at the Double Door” proves that rock certainly isn’t dead.

“If you turn on the Video Music Awards, then you would think it’s dead,” said Massey with a laugh. “But it’s not. Rock never really dies. It’s always recycled in some formula and there’s always going to be some band you don’t expect to get popular that carries the torch.” CV


caption: The Steepwater Band performs an all-ages show on Saturday, Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the Vaudeville Mews. The Monday Mourners open. Admission is $5.


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