Last fall, the members of the Chicago band Scotland Yard Gospel Choir were psyched and ready to play. They'd finished a second album for Bloodshot Records, "... And the Horse You Rode in On," and released it Sept. 15. Early reviews were good -- "a big leap forward with its sophisticated songwriting and production," said the Sun-Times -- and band leader Elia Einhorn said he thought it was the band's best work. He couldn't wait to unveil it live.
A CD release party was booked for Halloween at Subterranean. To warm up, the band planned some out-of-town gigs. On Sept. 24, six members of the band loaded the van and started rolling toward a show in Cincinnati. On Interstate 65 in Indiana, a tire blew out. The van swerved into oncoming traffic, then flipped and rolled over the median.
"It was f---ing horrible," Einhorn told the Sun-Times shortly after the accident. "I seriously thought we were going to lose one or two of the band."
Violinist Ethan Adelsman, singer Alison Hinderliter and drummer Jay Santana were treated at Jasper County Hospital in Rensselaer, Ind., and released, dizzy and shaken. Einhorn was in the hospital for four days with injuries to his neck and head. Guitarist Mary Ralph broke her pelvis and collarbone; after more than week in the hospital, she hobbled out with a cane. Bass player Mark Yoshizumi got the worst of it in the neck, head and back; he was airlifted from the accident to Advocate Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, where he spent about a month.
All the gear was destroyed. The van was a goner. Even with some of the band members covered by health insurance -- a rarity for working musicians -- the financial toll has loomed large. (The original Halloween booking turned into a benefit concert, with the New Duncan Imperials, Canasta and others performing.) But that's not the only reason Einhorn says he's itching to get back to work.
"We never got our CD release show!" he says. "This June 19 show is finally our record release, eight or nine months late. We only really got to introduce the record in a private show. I said in an e-mail and tweet that the first 15 people who got back to us could come to a show at my house, my apartment, along with some critics and friends and family [back in September]. That was our unofficial release show. It was a really special day, and it was the last show we played before the accident."
Recovery at home, after the various hospital stays, has been slow but sure. Physical therapy all around. Ralph (pictured at left in February) was forbidden to touch her guitar until her bones had healed. For a band used to working and performing a lot, it wasn't easy.
When the group finally reconvened three months ago for its first post-wreck practice session, they lasted half an hour. Since then, they've tripled their stamina.
"You know, on our records our songs are usually at a more medium tempo, but our live show is like a punk show -- everything's going 200 miles-per-hour," Einhorn said from home. "We're taking it a lot slower now. We're not at that gallop pace. ... We were worried that with this much time away from the instruments and a lot of physical damage that it would affect the way we sound. But honestly I don't think anyone will be able to tell a difference."
During their recovery, "... And the Horse You Rode in On" has sold more copies than the band's previous records. Not bad for no tour support. They got an assist from the hit TV show "Gossip Girl"; an episode shortly after the crash featured a song from the new album, "One Night Stand." That helped sales and the band's spirits, Einhorn said.
For their return to the concert stage this weekend, expect SYGC to play a lot of the new album, as well as tunes from their first couple of records, plus some special covers.
"We got the rug pulled out from under us, and we've waited a year and a half to play these songs," Einhorn says. "We're just ready to play."