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Music

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BoDeans faithful rock the Barrymore for Boxing Day

The BoDeans skillfully used their audience as a sixth member of the band.
The BoDeans skillfully used their audience as a sixth member of the band.
Credit:Rich Albertoni
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My young friends do my heart good every time I see them, but they don't know the songs. -- Studs Terkel


Twenty years ago the BoDeans created a logo to say something about who they are. It's a circle with a heart in the middle and a cross on top.

Like everything BoDeans, it's a symbol of fidelity. This is a band that named one of their first albums Home and their last album Still.

The BoDeans are all about belonging. They're about relationships that last. Their 25-year career is a testament to that. Their fans may not all be so young anymore, but they know the songs.

They're fans like Chris, who traveled from Milwaukee to see the show. I'd never met Chris before, but we had the BoDeans in common. So he bought me a beer and told me about the first time he ever heard one of Sam and Kurt's songs. He was a junior in high school. The year was 1987.

That was two years after opening act Joe Pug was born. Pug, 23, is a singer-songwriter from Chicago, and he faced a tall task Friday night: Keeping the attention of boisterous BoDeans fans without the aid of a backing band.

Pug's lonesome road songs were laden with coming of age themes. "I'd rather be nobody's man than somebody's child," he sang.

Each of Pug's musical narratives was a journey deep in wistful harmonica and ragged, searching vocals. His wayfaring ended and his harmonica disappeared when Pug closed his set with a love song.

About twenty minutes later, Kurt Neumann and Sam Llanas took the stage like they have many times before at the Barrymore. Their latest touches of gray only served to embellish the aura of fidelity that filled the room.

"Of all the places we play," said Llanas, "this has got to be one of the best."

The BoDeans skillfully used their audience as a sixth member of the band. Neumann prodded the crowd to sing-a-long more than once. The quintet frequently pogo jumped in perfect unison (except for drummer Noah Levy, who sat and persevered through a snare drum malfunction).

The set list evoked the full range of emotion that's at the heart of the BoDeans music.

The band opened with the haunting and mysterious "Pretty Ghost," a song about illusions that can't be resisted.

From there, feelings poured out in four minute intervals. The lost angst of "Fadeaway" grew into a psychedelic storm.

Hard-knocks and bad luck met resigned humor on the country-inflected "Misery." Eroticism flared on "Feed the Fire." And acquiescence reigned supreme on "Naked."

The vocal harmonies of Llanas and Neumann are a staple of the BoDeans sound and were a highlight of this show. Kurt's voice is still smooth as silk. Sam's is still rough with passion.

I brought along a writing pad to take notes for this assignment, but a newfound friend, Sabrina, wasn't content to let it lie dormant while I enjoyed the show.

She had a plan. When she ushered my notebook stage right and left mid-song for autographs, Sam and Kurt played along.

Late that night, after the concert, I opened my notebook to see what message was left behind.

"Peace and love, Kurt BoDean," it read.

Below that was a logo -- a circle with a heart in the middle and a cross on top.

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