Xoe Wise Credit: Maggie Bell

Since this spring Chicago singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Xoe Wise has been parking her scooter at intersections around town for small, outdoor pop-up performances—a series she calls “Curbside Live,” where she collects tips via Venmo to donate to local venues and businesses. Wise plays magisterial indie folk that retains its grandeur even when she pares her instrumentation down to just acoustic guitar, so the al fresco format of Curbside Live doesn’t handicap her at all. While she was working on her new third album, Air (Xoechan), she couldn’t have predicted the pandemic or the resulting societal upheavals, but its music nonetheless hinges on the feeling that she could pick up everything and go at a moment’s notice—just as she’s been doing with her scooter. The nuanced drama in Wise’s commanding performances practically begs for a live big-band treatment—and the symphonic highlights in “Late Parade” demonstrate how resplendent her vision can get when she articulates it fully. But you can really tell she’s a force to be reckoned with when she relies on little more than strumming a guitar. She opens “Cross Eyed Rose” with a lonesome acoustic melody and gentle, lilting, nearly whispered vocals that make her sound like she’s entrusting us with something dear to her heart—a simulacrum of closeness that’s especially welcome now that physical intimacy of any kind has potentially lethal consequences.   v