Jeff Parker (left) and Steve Gunn at Terminal West. Photo by Chad Radford

Jeff Parker walked onto the stage at Terminal West on Wed., Dec. 8, to polite applause followed by silence — the kind of explosive silence that’s felt just seconds before an orchestra strikes up and fills a symphony hall with its opening salvo.

Parker drew out the silence, and communed with the quiet tension before tangling his fingers around the neck of his guitar and slowly unwinding them along the fretboard. The guitarist and co-founder of Chicago’s post-rock luminaries Tortoise, stands atop a body of solo recordings and collaborations that traverse everything from mutant funk and hip-hop beats to skronking free jazz, minimalism, and drones. 

At first, the sounds he created seemed ill-shaped. But loops were being created, and within moments notes percolated and collided into one another as Parker’s singular musical style revealed itself in tones and textures that were instantly familiar, yet guided by wholly new, next-level composition.

Jeff Parker. Photo by Chad Radford

Much (if not all) of the material he played throughout the night comes from his latest solo guitar album, Forfolks (International Anthem Recording Co.). But this was a solid three days before the album was released. As such, Parker offered a preview into one of the most pleasantly challenging chapters of his career. Smoke machines  hissed quietly somewhere in the darkness. The slow rumble of a train rolling along the tracks behind Terminal West almost felt scripted, as Parker created long, sustained tones that rung out for so long they started rattle, revealing the intricacies inside the sounds of his amplified steel strings. When rhythm and melody are taken away — acoustic feedback is a beautiful thing.

In the midst of his deep dive into the avant-garde, Parker subtly weaved in the melody of “Jetty” from Tortoise’s 1996 masterpiece, TNT. This reimagined take on the song appears on Forfolks under the name “La Jetée.” 

Steve Gunn. Photo By Chad Radford

Steve Gunn joined Parker for a short collaboration before closing out the night with a solo set. Gunn offered a cover of British folk singer and guitarist Michael Chapman’s “Among The Trees” before delving into a stripped down rendition of “Way Out Weather,” the title cut from Gunn’s 2014 album, which set the tone for his performance. Gunn leaned into “Fulton,” “Good Wind,” “Morning River,” and “On the Way” from his 2021 release, Other You (Matador).

On record, these songs are the backbone of Gunn’s most ambitious work to date. On stage, they flowed with the cool quietude of the seemingly effortless Zen-like vibe that has come to define his strongest songwriting. It was also a grounding agent that balanced out an evening of acoustic, psychedelic, and forward-thinking music.

This review was first printed by Record Plug Magazine.

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