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The Flat Five @ The Back Room at Colectivo

Jan. 7, 2017

Jan. 9, 2017
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Photo credit: Melissa Miller
A world of love and hope? That’s what Chicago band The Flat Five promise the sphere on which we’re all living in the title of their debut album from last year. Though Earth may often lack a surplus of those great things, it won’t be in want of harmony if this quintet keeps on as they did Saturday at the Back Room of Colectivo Coffee’s Prospect Avenue location.  

Though rooted primarily in the mid-20th-century pop-jazz stylings of acts such The Boswell Sisters and The Mills Brothers and the exquisite singing accompanying the folk rock of The Mamas and Papas and The Association, The Flat Five expand upon that already rich palette. They did that expanding so much as to give the nearly capacity audience a set going about 20 songs past the 12 contained on their sole long-player.       

Their own material, written exclusively so far by quirky Windy City singer-songwriter Chris Ligon (older brother of shaggy Flat Five member Scott Ligon), already runs a crazy wide gamut. The samba lilt of “This Is Your Night” wouldn’t have been out of place on an album by Sérgio Mendes’ Brasil ’66 ensemble—save, perhaps, for the line suggesting that the listener buy a great big bag of dope. The fivesome’s love songs are at least as skewed. Bittersweet “Birmingham,” featuring a sweet solo lead by Nora O’Connor, references an incident where the protagonist’s beau watches out for strangers who might spy on her while relieving her bladder on a roadside.

Their choices of remakes went beyond the ’30s-’60s span of their most evident influences. Hogan gently shook sleigh bells throughout their assaying of the seasonally appropriate “Snow Day” by Minneapolis ’80s collegiate rockers Trip Shakespeare. Conversely in climatic terms, they brought out a couple of Beach Boys numbers from their period between Pet Sounds and “Kokomo.” The only actual hit by another act among the Five’s two sets was “Birds of a Feather,” a Joe South composition that made the top 40 for The Raiders. Probably at least as recognizable for audience members with tastes broad as the group members was a Staple Singers spiritual that made for one of the encores, “Somebody Saved Me.” If the vocals might not make anyone forget the smoldering intensity of the family act they covered, Ligon’s guitar tone came close to replicating Pops Staples’ clipped phrasing and tremulous tone. Also in kind of a Christian vein, an iteration of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross’ “Sermonette” brought the quintet’s jazz vibe to the fore, as did a tender traipse through a number by Dave Brubeck collaborator Ranny Sinclair. 

Since The Flat Five looks to be a side project for all its principals, it may be a cautious wish for them to release a follow-up album any time soon. Here’s hoping they do, but in the meanwhile, It’s A World Of Love And Hope and performances such as last Saturday’s provide at least a smidgen of those titular qualities for appreciative, discerning listeners.  

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