Friday, July 18, 2014

The Valley Downs - Power Pop’s Brigadoon

When The Valley Downs perform this Saturday night at SPACE in Evanston, it will be the second time the band, led by married couple singer-guitarist Marianne Shimkus and bassist-vocalist Mike Galassini, has had the honor of opening for power pop legends Shoes.

“We were so excited to open for Shoes last year,” Shimkus recalled during a recent email exchange with BHT. “We had already bought our tickets when they invited us to open. So that was a a honor, really, to be asked. We’re excited to be asked back. They’re great songwriters and musicians and Space is a great venue. It’s pretty darn cool to be a part of this.”

It will be a rare opportunity to see both acts on the bill. The Valley Downs have been long-time participants at International Pop Overthrow - Chicago, but they missed this year’s event. That was unfortunate for their fans because other than their annual IPO shows, The Valley Downs appear in public about as often as Brigadoon arises from the mist of Ireland’s countryside.

“I think we’d all like to play more often,” Shimkus said. “We have a great time when we do. It’s not been a conscious decision. We all have crazy schedules. Sometimes things align and we get to do something cool like open up for Shoes!”

The Chicago-based quartet’s catchy power pop is certainly worthy of wider exposure. Their debut, the Behemoth EP,  included  “Better,” an optimistic mid-tempo number that sounded remarkably like The Bangles, as well as the social satire of the rougher-edged “Drama Queen.” Shimkus channeled Deborah Harry on the hard-edged and sexy “Twister.” Galassini, who got his start with the power pop trio 92 Degrees and still performs with them, brought his bass playing to the forefront throughout the EP, and joined Shimkus on harmonies. A later, less distributed self-titled EP continued to craft melodic songs that evoked The Bangles, while also showing a definite touch of Lennon and McCartney.

“For me, [it’s] The Beatles,” Shimkus said when asked about musical influences. “The first adolescent drive to sing, play guitar, write songs; all that can be traced back to The Beatles. Though people and circumstances around me influence my songwriting.”

Despite having a female lead vocalist, The Valley Downs’ songs rarely have a gender-specific point of view. Shimkus brings the cryptic lyrics to life, whether it’s on the sunny “Play For You” or the ironically titled “Lucky Day,” a Country & Western flavored tune with disturbing imagery like, “You leave me in the dirt, the dirt is where I’ll stay.” Fans of The Valley Downs will be glad to hear the band has new material on the way.

“We are working on a full-length CD now,” Shimkus said. “A number of songs that we do live haven’t been released; like ‘Perfect,’ ‘Good Friend,’ ‘Last Days of Summer.’ We’ll be doing those and a few others that haven’t been recorded or released yet. Mike has a brand new one called “Salem,” that he wrote about a week ago. So we’ll see how that goes in sound check. Plus, a couple off the 4- song CD Behemoth. We do a couple covers, too; Michelle Shocked, The Clash.”

The Valley Downs and Shoes have a connection that stretches back for a couple of decades. Galassini’s power pop trio, 92 Degrees, had their self-titled debut released on Shoes’ Black Vinyl label in 1995. Shoes made an impressive comeback after several tears of not recording with the critically acclaimed Ignition. The album top the BHT list of Favorite Releases of 2012.


Anonymous,  July 19, 2014 at 11:24 AM  

Looking forward to the show!

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