Words By Shelton Hull
Live music has been a big part of the Intuition Ale Works brand from their very beginning, over a decade ago. I remember watching Robin Rutenberg and Friends (later known as Four Families) playing at their original location on King Street, not long after their opening. Their move to Bay Street made them an anchor of the entertainment district, and they’re poised to benefit directly from the continued growth in that area. They’re basically the last venue you’ll see, when walking eastward down Bay, before getting to the arena, ballpark, stadium, Metro Park, etc. It bookends The Elbow, and much of downtown’s nightlife occurs within that roughly .75 miles.
The move to Bay Street gave Intuition much more space for food, beers and brewery operations, allowing one of the city’s original craft breweries to really anchor itself within local culture, cultivating a huge new fanbase in the process. Again, live music has been crucial to that with a number of excellent shows there in recent years. A lot of this is local activity, with LPT holding down the block for years, and Crescendo Amelia Big Band doing the same in recent months.
The space has also brought a variety of national acts (like Guided By Voices and The Mountain Goats), presented in almost bespoke fashion, often by the late Tib Miller and his group, Flying Saucer Presents. One such act is Fruit Bats, who made their Duval debut at Intuition’s Bier Hall in late April, right after some big shows in Nashville and Atlanta that weekend. From there, it was straight out to San Diego.
The project represents the sole vision of one Eric D. Johnson, a voraciously productive teacher and multi-instrumentalist who’s been involved in a number of bands in and around the Chicago scene since the early 1990s. He’s also been part of Bonny Light Horseman, Califone and The Shins. Fruit Bats is his main gig, though, actively so since 1997, save for a brief hiatus, 2013-2015. Flying Saucer Presents’ website describes them quite well: “From the project’s origins in the late ’90s as a vehicle for Johnson’s lo-fi tinkering to the more sonically ambitious work of recent years, Fruit Bats has often showcased love songs where people and locations meld into one.”
Fruit Bats’10th album, “A River Running to Your Heart,” is brand new, and local audiences were among the very first to hear this new material in a live setting. The album was released April 14, their fourth for the legendary Merge Records. They had previously released four albums on Sub Pop Records, thus giving Fruit Bats the rub from two of the most important rock labels of the last 40 years. (They also recorded for Perishable Records, Turntable Kitchen, Spacebomb and Easy Sound Recording Company.) It’s a fine album, and a good introduction to Johnson’s sound, especially since he co-produced it. Hardcore fans will also enjoy “Sometimes A Cloud Is Just a Cloud: Slow Growers, Sleeper Hits and Lost Songs,” a collection of Fruit Bats’ most beloved songs, packaged with a plethora of b-sides, demos and other rarities. You can’t go wrong.