Some concerts are designed to pump you up: an emcee yells into the audience, asking them if they’re ready for the main event, drums pound, andÂ the artist interjects things like, “What’s up Chicago?!?!” between each song. Thursday, October 30th at Double Door, surfer-turned-musician Donavon Frankenreiter gave the antithesis of such a performance, strolling onto stage nonchalantlyÂ and letting his mellow Jack Johnson-ish tunes roll out onto an equally mellowed crowd.
Opener Sara Watkins was playing when I walked in, though most of the audience seemed unaware of this fact, as her tiny voice was struggling to overpower the constant chatter and action from her viewers. It didn’t help that it seemed like her speakers were turned down a bit. Watkins wrapped up her set withÂ a cover of The Cars’ “Just What I Need” that got some attention from the audience, and almost immediatelyÂ FrankenreiterÂ walked onto the stage in a plain brown shirt and jeans, his signature mustacheÂ clearly visible even from the balcony. After a brief warmup, Frankenreiter’s five-piece band launched into the opening track of his new album Pass It Around: “Life, Love and Laughter.” In between this and the second song (“Your Heart” – another track from the new album), he paused briefly to remark quietly into the mike, “Thank you so much. How’s everybody feeling? Everybody alright?” with just enough sincerity to make you feel like he’s really asking.
For the next hour and a half, Frankenreiter and his band played more songs from the new album, plenty ofÂ songs from their previous albums, as well as a stirring cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “FortunateÂ Son” to an eager (but subdued) crowd. Much of the performance was spentÂ with the band jamming, often for three or four minutes at a time without a single word being sung – while the red/pink/purple lights on stage slowly faded in and out. It was the kind of concert that you wish you could have in your garage while sitting in a giant beanbag and possibly experimenting with mind-altering drugs of some kind.Â There were no theatrics or flashy gimmicks (unless you count the aforementioned mustache) and no attempts to get the audience to show their enthusiasm through some type of yelling. There was a slightly successful attempt to get audeince participation in the form of clapping during a particularly long jam session.
The longer jam sessions were entertaining and it was good to hear a solid mixture of old and new music, but his lyrics tended to be muffled and sometimes his laid-back demeanor can be contagious, which is a tough sell on a standing crowd at Double Door. Overall, Frankenreiter performs like a guy who has it made and knows it. He doesn’t seem to be trying to prove anything, but he’s also not slouching around putting on a shoddy show. Frankenreiter has saidÂ in an interview that he “didn’t want to spendÂ [his] whole career living under the shadows of Jack [Johnson].” but after listening to his new album and seeing him in concert, it’s hard not to make the comparison. Even though Frankenreiter has left Johnson’s Brushfire Records for the equally prestigious (to indie music fans) Lost Highway Records, he still sounds like a surfer-turned-musician mellowing out on stage and asking his audience to do the same. But from the size of the crowd at Double Door and the smooth flow of Frankenreiter’s tunes, it seems like the old adage rings true: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Donavon Frankenreiter might not be the most original act you’ll ever see, but he’s definitely entertaining.