Walking into the ornately decorated House of Blues in downtown Chicago, opening band Lifeline’s final song, “Not For Nothing”, shaking the place with terrific violin riffs and barely comprehensible pop-rock vocals, I gave the place a good once over, grabbed a spot in the back, and mentally kicked myself for not arriving sooner. Though only one of the numerous bars in the joint was open (creating an interestingly packed stage left thinning quickly by center stage and petering off into a sparsely populated stage right) everyone passing by seemed to come fully equipped with that helpful music-appreciating beverage: beer.

As the lights went down and the magic that takes place behind the curtains began, I questioned a few people around me about the next act: AbsentStar. “Dunno”, “Not sure man”, “Was that AbsentStar just now?”. Clearly most of the crowd was here to see headliner The Year After. Unbeknownst to those audience members, and this reviewer – who had just heard of AbsentStar a little over 48 hours previous to the concert - we were about to see the true headliners of the night.

From the moment the curtain was drawn up, lights and smoke filled the stage, and AbsentStar took off, lead singer Derek Ingersoll playing to the audience with his eerie, melodic, alt-rock vocals (harmonizing nicely with guitarist Andy Dixon and bassist Noel Arnim) while drummer Heath Hamilton smoothly knocked out the beat. Rocking out equally hard on both keyboard and guitar, Marshall Hanbury was in a show of his own – clutching his guitar so tightly at times it appeared to almost be attached to his abdomen. Breaking out with nonstop music, it wasn’t until three songs in that I realized something: not only had no one announced the name of their band yet, or given a song title, but I had yet to understand a single lyric besides the vaguely catchy “If you like it, it will like you back.” Oddly enough, I did like it.

Waving his arms for the crowd to come closer to the stage, jumping down to the floor in the middle of a song to run about, and starting some clapping by informing us “I need some help”, Ingersoll constantly worked the room. Speaking to him afterwards I found out why: preparing for the release of their 2008 album with Columbia Records (produced by Dan Wilson, Grammy winning co-writer of the Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice”, formerly of the band Semisonic), AbsentStar has been touring all summer, working hard at building “pockets of fanbases” and getting their 4-song EP into as many hands as possible. Though the band’s only been together for three years, things are happening fast. And after over a decade in the industry, these guys are ready for it.

Ingersoll, Hamilton, and Dixon have been in the same band for 10 years, adding Arnim and Hanbury in order to form AbsentStar and “get back to writing stuff we like.” According to Ingersoll, tired of just trying to book gigs and make music pay the bills, the guys were ready to “get back to the basics of just writing good music and remind ourselves why we started doing this in the first place; why we’ve been doing this for so long. We started losing track of what we initially liked about each other and about the music and now we’re able to get that back.” And for thirty minutes or so at The House of Blues Thursday night, amidst the flashing pink and blue lights, they got it back.

Wrapping the show up with the haunting, slower song “Everyone You Know”, Ingersoll urged everyone to hurry to the back of the venue and pick up a free copy of their EP and get ready for the new cd in 2008. Though things are going smoothly for them now, Ingersoll isn’t ready to claim victory prematurely, or to flaunt the success they’ve already achieved. “If we fall flat on our faces on this one, it has nothing to do with the allstar cast we’ve been fortunate enough to work with.” If the Thursday night show is any indication, falling flat on their face seems extremely unlikely.

To learn more about AbsentStar, visit their homepage
To listen to the song’s on their EP, visit their Myspace page


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