World Party knocks it out of the Park (West)

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Karl Wallinger of World Party performed with the group at Chicago’s Park West on Wednesday night. | PHOTO BY JEFF ELBEL

Chicago-based free-lance writer Jeff Elbel reviewed the Wednesday night World Party show at the Park West for the Sun-Times. Here is his review:


Following a lengthy absence, Karl Wallinger of World Party appeared last August at the Cubby Bear in Wrigleyville. Walking onto the stage, he seemed astonished by the packed house and enthusiastic reception. Wallinger’s casual clothes suggested an afternoon in the workshop, and the tools at hand were simple enough – his keyboard, acoustic guitar, a couple of microphones and musical partner David Duffy’s violin. Wallinger’s wide-eyed surprise seemed to reveal the inner question: “What are all these people doing here?”

On Wednesday, the London-based band leveled-up to Park West. Again, the room brimmed with fans. Wallinger and Duffy brought additional firepower in the form of guitarist John Turnbull of Ian Dury and the Blockheads.

The set showcased Wallinger’s knack for exquisite pop, and also paid homage to memorable artists from the classic and alternative rock eras. Echoes of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” rang through “Who Are You,” a cut from World Party’s recent “Arkeology” collection.

Turnbull’s guitar during “Call Me Up” bounced like Paul McCartney’s bassline from the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” while Duffy’s swooning violin evoked “I Am the Walrus.”

Wallinger’s skyward falsetto during the optimistic “Love Street” recalled Prince’s pop-soul flights. Duffy and Turnbull traded solos on the song that wordlessly extolled the glories of true romance. The upbeat “Everybody’s Falling in Love” followed suit.

There were snatches of The Band’s rambling piano and sweet Beach Boys-styled harmony during “God on My Side.” Every voice at Park West joined the “hoo hoo” chorus of “Way Down Now,” shadowing the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” while sounding like a thundering flock of demented owls.

The crowd sang most anything from the band’s first three albums with gusto, especially on radio singles like 1990’s “Put the Message in the Box.” Donna Minkley of Paddock Lake, Wisconsin described a deep personal connection with the music. “My husband and I raised four children with this music,” she said. “I wonder if [Wallinger] knows how it feels to be such a part of people’s everyday lives?”

Starry-eyed odes to togetherness were balanced by songs of dire social and environmental warning. Wallinger noted this batch, including radio hit “Ship of Fools” and the Lennon-esque “Is It Too Late.” “We’re all going to hell in a bucket,” he joked. “It’s going to be one big bucket, I’ll tell you that.”

Piano-driven songs like the majestic “She’s the One” flourished with the slender presentation, but even the band seemed to miss its rhythm section. Tellingly, Turnbull mimed the drum fill kicking off “Way Down Now” in order to mark his own entrance.

Bigger sonic possibilities were on Wallinger’s mind, too. “The last time we played in Chicago we had two people,” he said. “This time, we’ve got three. You never know what might happen next time.”

Jeff Elbel is a local free-lance writer. Email:

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