In the music spotlight: The Flat Five
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With origins in 2006, the Flat Five was a longtime best-kept secret among fans of homegrown music and close-harmony pop in Chicago. Although listenership for the group’s “twisted sunshine pop” expanded with the release of 2016’s “It’s a World of Love and Hope,” the quintet’s collected presence has remained constrained by outside responsibilities.
Bassist Scott Ligon and guitarist Casey McDonough keep busy with key roles in NRBQ. Drummer Alex Hall frequents Uptown’s venerable Green Mill with the Fat Babies. Nora O’Connor and Kelly Hogan are in-demand singers with marquee acts including Andrew Bird, the Decemberists, and Neko Case.
“I think Kelly and Nora might be on the road right now with Iron & Wine,” says Ligon on a rare day at home. “We’re all bouncing back and forth between several different groups.”
The principals’ scattered activities make Flat Five commitments a great way for old friends to keep in touch. “That’s almost the main thing about this band,” says Ligon. “It always feels like a reunion. We have a lot of fun. It’s such a wonderful thing to be able to sing in harmony with other human beings.”
Ligon describes the roots of the Flat Five’s sound in classic acts that informed his earliest collaboration with Hogan. “Everything went directly toward brother- and family-style harmony singing,” he says. “Acts like the Everly Brothers, Louvin Brothers, Davis Sisters, and old country and western duets like George Jones and Melville Montgomery, or George Jones and Tammy Wynette.”
The band’s harmony sounds effortless, and Ligon confirms that assessment. “Each person knows where to go. We all spent our youths singing harmony to records or to the radio in the car. It was always a fun thing to do when you’re alone, adding harmony to a song that you know.
Hall’s vocal floats lowest. “He’s our natural bass singer,” says Ligon, citing the song “Buglight” as an example. “That was recorded with all of us gathered around two microphones singing the parts like the Mills Brothers. There’s no bass player. Alex is singing that part.”
Work has begun on a second album, again featuring songs written by Ligon’s brother Chris. “He’s a very unique and unusual songwriter with a great sense of humor,” says Ligon. “There’s always a surprise in there somewhere.”
This weekend’s shows may feature newer fare like “The World Missed Out,” sung by Hogan.
“This record will be very different,” says Ligon. “It might not be as harmony-heavy as the first one, with stacked and overdubbed vocals. I think it’ll lean more on live performance, with some great vocal spotlights.”
Favorite local haunts like The Hideout and FitzGerald’s are quick sellouts, but Ligon resists the temptation to scale up. “To be totally honest, I like the intimate places,” says Ligon, singling out the venue in his backyard.
“FitzGerald’s is my favorite place to play in the world. The very first time I played there, it was opening for the band that I’m currently in, NRBQ. I got married there. They treat me like family.”
* The Flat Five, 7:30 p.m. April 12, Hey Nonny, 10 S. Vail, Arlington Heights. $25-$40 (all ages), heynonny.com; and 9 p.m., April 13, FitzGerald’s, 6615 W. Roosevelt, Berwyn. $20 (ages21+); ticketweb.com.