Chicago Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper left last week for spring training in Arizona, but not before he and his band, The 45, performed a gig at Hey Nonny in Arlington Heights.
It was the third of three appearances for the band — and the only one in the suburbs — as they sought feedback before they produce their debut album, expected to come out in late summer. Needless to say, these fans approved and wanted more.
The Sunday night performance drew a packed crowd, who came as much to hear good music as they did to see Kasper outside the broadcasting booth.
“I came to see Len,” said Tom Schwingbeck, an Arlington Heights village trustee. “But I loved the band, and the fact that Len wrote all the music.”
Others in his group agreed that they had no idea that Kasper — entering his 16th season as the Cubs play-by-play announcer — had a passion for music.
Chip Brooks, one of the owners of Hey Nonny, said they booked the band for a couple of reasons, notwithstanding the Cubs connection.
“For anyone who’s been a baseball fan, some of the loveliest words to hear in the dead of winter are ‘pitchers and catchers report to spring training,'” Brooks said. “Having Len at Hey Nonny is a sign that spring is coming.”
Mostly, Brooks said, Kasper’s band fit the type of musical acts they seek, namely ones that are doing something original or creative, and fit into their listening room concept.
“Len is just a great bass player who’s surrounded himself, in The 45, with some of my favorite Chicago musicians,” Brooks said, pointing to Dag Juhlin on guitar, Liam Davis, who plays guitar and serves as producer, Matt Spiegel on vocals and Gerald Dowd on drums.
Astute listeners in the audience recognized the voice of Matt Spiegel, who does lead vocals for The 45. He is a former midday personality on WSCR 670-AM, The Score, who now hosts “Hit & Run” on Sunday mornings. But Kasper says Spiegel’s talent goes beyond sportscasting.
“He’s the best singer I know,” Kasper says. “We are the same age and he really dug the ethos of the band.”
The age factor is important. At the show, Kasper explained that they all were about 45 when they formed the band — he turns 50 next year — and they all saw music as a way to deal with where they fit in with the world.
Consequently, the band’s style can be described as new wave, post-punk, which — like others in that genre — take on more serious and challenging subjects in its lyrics.
Kasper says he hopes fans hear the depth of the lyrics — as they take on aging and midlife crises — and that they relate to their heart and spirit.
“We didn’t want anything candy-coated,” he said. “We wanted it to be novel and just good songs.”
Kasper says his interest goes back to his days at Marquette University, when his roommate got him involved. The friend played guitar, and he encouraged Kasper to play bass. They combined with others to play some local bars.
When he launched his broadcasting career in 1994 — going from the Green Bay Packers to landing with the Milwaukee Brewers and the Florida Marlins before coming to the Cubs in 2005 — he had little time to play music.
Enter Theo Epstein, named president of baseball operations for the Cubs in 2011, who brought with him his Hot Stove Cool Music benefit concert idea. Kasper found his way back to his bass guitar and playing behind some legendary all-stars.
“That rekindled my love of playing music,” Kasper says.
He says it was the winter after the Cubs won the World Series, in 2016 that he had an epiphany — or midlife crisis, he’s not sure which — and set out to write his own songs.
“I never ever considered that we’d play live,” Kasper says. “My entire goal was to write good songs and maybe cut an album. So to see these (songs) being born and live in the world today has been very fulfilling.”
As to when fans can next hear The 45, Kasper says he hopes they play a Chicago gig when their album comes out. But, for now, it’s “play ball.”