When you think of nightlife in Chicago’s Gold Coast, what comes to mind may be shot-and-beer places like Shenannigan’s and Mother’s, orÂ Viagra TriangleÂ upscale spots like Tavern On Rush, or possibly Jilly’s Piano Bar.
Hopefully Underground Wonder Bar also makes an appearance in your thought process. Since 1989 owner Lonie Walker’s clubÂ has been hosting musicians every single night, and she even performs three days a week. It’s a veritable breeding ground for local talent, and she continues to foster that with her annual Wonder Talent Search.
I went this past Monday. Besides the fact that I love live music, I wanted to support David Kav. He was recently featured on TLT and he’s an energetic, charismatic, and passionate performer. His original pieces are diverse and emotional. One of the things I truly enjoy about David’s performance is the contrast between his stature and his projection. He’s of slight build, so you expect him to have a softer sound. Until he belts out his first lyrics and you just think “Wow! That came out of him?” He’s not all bombastic powerhouse vocals, though. “Yesteray’s News” is a haunting, melancholy song that gives me goosebumbs. Combine thatÂ with his Bare Naked Ladies-like sound and hisÂ considerable talent on the guitarÂ and there’s an artist I want to see again and again.
Since Monday was a talent search, each artist could only perform for twenty minutes. As much as I love to see David, I was also quite impressed with a few of the other contestants.
When Keoki performed, he alsoÂ contradictedÂ myÂ initial impression. With curly black hair and an orange County Jail t-shirt, he looked like a tough guy until heÂ got to the mic. He’s got a raspy and sensual voice that sounds more like a balladeer’s.
Even though the slots for the talent search are booked, UWB’s website invites hopefulls to show up because there might be no-shows. Joanna Wood was able to perform because of that. Although obviously nervous at suddenly being thrust on-stage, her Celtic-like quick vibrato and mournful melodies brought out the maudlin Irish in me.
One of my favorite aspects of the evening was that people actually listened to the artists. The audience showed respect and realized that it takes guts to get up on stage and perform in front of a bunch of strangers. Even people at the bar, which is at the entrance opposite from the stage, turned to face the musicians and conversations stopped. Well, most conversations. There was one lovely lady who decided that she needed to gossip on her cell phone (“but he’s married!”). She was talking so loudly she could be heard all through the bar. Granted, it’s a small place, but her attitude was so oblivious she seemed to be offended that she couldn’t be heard over the musicians.
What happened next is why Underground Wonder Bar is now my favorite spot to see live music. She was asked to keep her conversation down or leave.
There was another no-show at the end, so Jen Porter finished up. Jen won the search five years ago and now hosts it. (She’s also the featured artist this week on The Local Tourist.) When she sat down at the piano David Kav was so excited he was literally bouncing in his chair. I quickly understood why.
You can tell she’s been doing this for awhile. She has sheer power and confidence. As an emcee she was OK. She encouraged the other artists, made quick work of the introductions, and kept them within their time slots. But as soon as she started singing I thought of one word –
Jen Porter sings like a woman who was born to it, and you can’t imagine her doing anything else.
After her performance she and David chatted. They’re going to be working together on an uncoming project. I can’t wait to hear that collaboration!
The talent search continues through July. Each night two artists are chosen to go to the finals (David wasn’t chosen that night, and personally I feel he got robbed) on July 30.
Underground Wonder Bar
10 E Walton