Pelican have entered the red-giant phase of their life cycle as a band. They’re as big as they’ve ever been, and they’re still active creatively, but on the surface things seem to have cooled down. Hell, I’ve been a fan for 13 years, and I haven’t found an excuse to write about them since 2013, when I went to Indiana to try their second Three Floyds collaboration beer, a beautiful black IPA called Immutable Dusk. (My buddy Kevin Warwick took care of reviewing Forever Becoming, the album they released that year.)
It’s been five years since the members of Pelican made a collective decision to throttle back on touring and focus on their lives off the road. Drummer Larry Herweg and guitarist Trevor de Brauw have kids, as does former guitarist Laurent Schroeder-Lebec. (He left the band in 2012 and was replaced by Dallas Thomas of the Swan King, who was already filling in for him on tour.) Pelican’s set at the Goose Island Urban Block Party on Friday is their first show of 2015, not least because Larry lives in Los Angeles. They’ve got a few more scheduled for the rest of the year, including a December headlining gig at the Scorched Tundra festival in Gothenburg, Sweden, which is improbably enough booked by my friend Alexi Front of Chicago beer bar the Local Option.
One advantage of playing fewer shows, though, is that it gets easier to make the sets you do play something special. Pelican are an instrumental band, of course, but they’ve released two songs with vocals, both sung by Allen Epley of the Life and Times: “Final Breath,” from the 2009 album What We All Come to Need, and a version of the Forever Becoming track “The Cliff” released on an EP of the same name in February 2015. On Friday, Epley will join Pelican onstage to sing “The Cliff” live.
This is, to put it mildly, a rare opportunity for Pelican fans. “He sang with us once at our ten-year anniversary show in 2010, and once this past New Year’s Eve,” says de Brauw. “And maybe never again.”
You can listen to the vocal version of “The Cliff” below. Epley’s relaxed but powerful singing complements the song’s range of guitar tones—its growling, distorted riffs are shot through with clean notes like sunbeams.
Pelican play from 7:30 till 9 on the “local” stage, so to see them you won’t have to miss Eleventh Dream Day, who start at 5:30 on the main stage and wrap up at 6:30. You might even have time between sets to get your hands on one of the rare beers the Goose Island folks have promised to tap at this two-day party.