Concert Review: John Mark Nelson, February 6, Schubas Tavern

I like to think of the Midwest as the hidden jewel of the states (don’t be swayed by those coasters who make fun of our rectangular states). Being from the coast originally, I couldn’t have even told you what city Chicago was in before I moved here – the Midwest was simply not even on the map for me. But over the past five years, I’ve come to appreciate the quiet and understated delights that the heart of America holds, and at this point I couldn’t imagine my life without the likes of Lake Michigan, Wisconsin cheese curds, Lollapalooza and Minnesotan niceness. The Midwest produces an array of lovely surprises for anyone on the lookout, and John Mark Nelson is definitely one.

The twenty year old out of Minneapolis, MN headlined Schubas Tavern on Friday night. Although the crowd was a little unruly to start (which is to say that they were being rude and talking too loudly) Nelson soon had them transfixed with his infectiously sweet, thoughtful and upbeat form of folk. I had thought of Nelson as a singer-songwriter when I listened to his recorded material before seeing him at Schubas, but backed by his friends on bass, drum, electric guitar and keyboard, and switching between acoustic and electric guitar himself, his songs gained a fullness and energy in the live setting that was a pleasure to experience. Sporting skinny jeans, a button-up, a ski cap and a bright white smile, Nelson played mostly from his 2012 album Waiting and Waiting and his 2014 release Sings the Moon moving through tracks “Boy”, “Sings the Moon, “Reminisce” and my personal favorite “Rain Comes Down”. The best part of the night was simple watching the audience clearly enjoying Nelson, who was clearly enjoying himself on stage – often scrunching up his nose in an adorable grin as he sang.

Giving his heartfelt appreciation to the crowd multiple times throughout the night (and speaking of understated and quietly awesome things in the Midwest) he told the audience that Schubas was one of his favorite “rooms” to play in, and that we should all be grateful it was in Chicago (he’s absolutely right – Schubas is much more a room that happens to have a stage than it is a concert venue, and we are all incredibly lucky that it’s there.)

Ending the night with a sweet and soft duet with his keyboard player, Nelson flashed the crowd a smile and told us that he’d be back – we can only hope so.

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Posted on by Celeste in Concerts

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