Jimmy Gnecco (of Ours) at Schubas

May 18th, 2011: As seen on Archive (PDF)

Jimmy Gnecco of Ours at Chicago’s Schubas Tavern; Photo: Gavin Paul

Jimmy Gnecco (of Ours fame) has fought the good fight for years even as he’s endured many of the tragedies the music business regularly bestows upon those in the singer/songwriter realm. He’s seen Rick Rubin-produced records shelved, his bank account emptied and more than a few wretched deaths of loved ones. But before you rub a little violin between your fingers, know this dear unfamiliar reader—the dude’s one of the most underrated talents in the biz. Quieting a bar room is no easy task. Gnecco turned Schubas into a church Monday night with a single scream.

Granted, the artist likely had something to do with the rows of chairs positioned in sermon fashion, a notorious hater of inattentivemess.  And at this point in his career, he doesn’t have any on-the-fence fans.  Everyone at the show last night was diehard Gnecco, a meditatively hush part of a small set of believers in the “Ours” philosophy, rationalized later in the evening by Gnecco’s question to the audience, “What’s more loving and welcoming than ‘ours’?”

Hence the intimacy of the tour-stop, showcasing his first solo effort The Heart in its entirety in a guitar-mic-and-monologue setting. Whereas members of Ours filled drum and other electric instrumental duties on the initial journey, Gnecco’s only weapons this time out were a big black acoustic and his Robert Plant-meets-Jeff Buckley set of pipes. Well those and the demons that successively lurk about the 15-song epic he dropped last summer.

“I cry every time I play this song,” he preceded “It’s Only Love” with, one of many tracks dedicated to his late mother.  “You put yourself where you were,” he existentially confided on “These are My Hands,” the tatters of his long-sleeve shaking with each chorus heel-stomp.  At one point an inquisitive woman in the front row broke the silence to ask him if he really wrote “I Heard You singing” after the death of the aforementioned Buckley, who he was good friends with, to which he rattled off a sobering “way to bring down the mood” quip. Catharsis gives The Heart its beat.

Meanwhile Gnecco was surprisingly conservative with his infamous howls, revealing his neck muscles only a handful of times, appropriately in the front end of the record’s “stay with me tonight” plead within the final moments of “Light on the Grave,” and most memorably on the title track’s banshee knee-buckling end-cap, heaving in the aftermath to a standing ovation.  “I really wanted to make a record without all that screaming stuff,” he would say after “Mystery,” the first major-chord sunshine in the black cloud of a record.

As a “gift” for looming about in the candlelit darkness for the effort in full, Gnecco dug into an encore rendition of an old Ours tune, “Sometimes,” lofting at the arches of the stage with a doubled-up acoustic crunch, “I give up on it all,” dragging his feet a few steps to finish out the lyric, “I give up on the ones/who give up on me.”