Cairo Gang bandleader Emmett Kelly
Cairo Gang bandleader Emmett Kelly Credit: Jim Newberry

Guitarist Emmett Kelly was recognized as a wunderkind not long after moving to Chicago in 2004, but until recently the best showcase for his talents was his role as crucial creative foil for Will Oldham (aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy); his own work, under the Cairo Gang name, often felt malnourished and tentative. That’s all changed. Kelly now has a solid, reliable backing group (bassist Ryan Weinstein, guitarist Sam Wagster, and drummer Ben Babbitt), and the Cairo Gang has emerged as my favorite Chicago rock band. Onstage they crank up the energy and intensity of the gentle, soulful folk-rock from last year’s knockout The Corner Man (Empty Cellar) while preserving the album’s gorgeous group harmony singing. Kelly has also performed and recorded with Norwegian singer Susanna Wallumrød, who in February reissued the obscure 2007 Cairo Gang record Twyxt Wyrd as a digital download; on July 23 the band will release a six-track EP called Tiny Rebels, with several catchy Byrds-ian originals and a powerful cover of “Shivers,” written by Rowland S. Howard and sung by Nick Cave in their old band the Boys Next Door. The Cairo Gang plays Pritzker Pavilion on Mon 7/8.