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Nicolay and Shields stun the Grindhouse

By Jessica Gerlich
On November 20, 2012

  • Franz Nicolay plays The Hearts of Boston on his accordion at the Grindhouse Cafe on Nov. 17. Photo

Franz Nicolay and Lou Shields brought eclectic instruments and eager patrons to Grindhouse Cafe in Griffith on Nov. 17.

Franz Nicolay

The stage was set in the first phrases with Nicolay's alliterated a cappella bellow of "Betty Botter bought a bottle of bitters from the bar/ Major Matt, he mixed his mild martinis in a jar/ This doggerel is my private hell, these words whose meanings never gel/ I'm gonna find you, wherever you are," after which he added accordion playing to the mix, as the audience's jaws dropped.

Dressed in a suit complete with a red pocket square, Nicolay made it look easy as he belted his full-throated melodies and witty banter while playing banjo, acoustic guitar and accordion. Heavy and light emotions were evoked together with every note and felt throughout the small, crowded coffee shop. His charisma was astounding.

Between each song was a perfectly-executed story. New Hampshire-turned-Brooklyn native Nicolay is a storyteller as much as he is a brilliant musician. His sentimental lyrics and stories about travels, struggle, living free, sometimes made-up people and the planned-but-never-executed Berlin-to-Baghdad railroad are catching. In the middle of "The Migration of the Cuckoo," he compared the feelings of love and revenge.

"There's a certain overlap in the experience. You go to bed every night thinking of that one person. You wake up in the morning thinking of that one person - and what you're going to do to them the next time you see them," Nicolay said, while plucking the banjo lightly.

Nicolay has taken his turn in the world of musicians, and it shows. After working with dozens of artists, including stints in The World/Inferno Friendship Society and The Hold Steady, the sounds of his solo work are in a completely different place. And listening is worth every second.

Franz Nicolay's newest album, "Do the Struggle" can be purchased at

Lou Shields

Chicagoan musician, artist and skateboarder Shields opened the show with a heartfelt set of bluesy, Americana tunes. As he played through short songs with a country feel, he told stories of his travels, his life as a musician and his instruments.

The most notable thing about Shields is his use of homemade instruments, from bottle caps and an Illinois license plate nailed to broken skateboard decks as "stompers" for percussion, to each of his guitars having a specific story. One guitar is beautifully crafted out of a skateboard ramp. He found another hand-carved archtop guitar in Idaho during his travels.

As he is from the Chicagoland area, Shields has played many times at Paul Henry's Art Gallery in Hammond, though not as much recently as he has been busy playing music in other places.

He told the story of his song "Hobo Tired," about his great grandfather and uncle who lived through the Great Depression and were forced to travel to find work. Another tune lent the story of the Charro, a dark spirit in the night rumored to steal souls.

Perhaps the best song of the set was the intense "Lonesome Road," where Shields tuned his archtop guitar to an open G chord, turned it on its side and sang about "travelling so my mind don't come undone."

Lou Shields is playing at Reggie's Music Joint in Chicago on Nov. 30 and Zombie Club in Crown Point on Dec. 1. For more information or to purchase an album, visit

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