Thursday night in Chicago saw the return of Baby Dee, the Drag City artist who sings songs that sound kind of like a combination between sea shanties and fairy tales gone mad. It's an eccentric show to behold as she belts out lyrics involving everything from Jesus to Albinos. With unpredictable flourishes of melodies played alternating between harp and piano, Baby Dee varies her arrangements between the very loud, almost cabaret, style to soft lullabyish intricacies all permeated with a pervasive sense of anguish.
Beginning the night on a boisterous note, Mucca Pazza revved up the crowd to a level of excitement that reached a new height. This was perhaps the fifth time I'd seen the Chicago based marching band and I thought they put on an excellent performance in the small space of the Empty Bottle (and because most of the members could not fit on the stage, half of the band was in the audience at all times). However, unfortunately, this made for a too rowdy crowd following the set and it became more difficult to hear the quieter parts of Baby Dee's playing (especially on harp) later on.
Up front, the audience members were respectfully in awe of Baby Dee and really strained to hear every note played first on piano than on harp. She could be merciless in her musical rampage and at times played the piano as if it had wronged her, simultaneously belting out her words. There was also a thin fragility with some of the music and words, however, when the music was less frantic. At one point in the set, she sang out "Teeth are the only bones that show" in a way that felt both insightful and incredibly vulnerable.
In addition, the support of Paul Oldham (brother of Will Oldam) on bass helped add a fullness to the songs. Beautifully played, the cello accompaniment (I believe by John Contreras) really added an emotional intensity as well that made the five piece (there was also drums and guitar added) interesting on a layered musical level. Baby Dee's live performance comes highly recommended, but please give her the respect the songs deserve when she plays.