Jamaican-born singer Masego is an innovator. He coined the term “TrapHouseJazz” to describe his sound and he flexed his versatility on his viral collaboration with French producer FKJ on “Tadow”. Recorded in futuristic Red Bull Studios in Paris, the eight-minute experimental piece features the two on just about every instrument you could imagine. I was intrigued to see how Masego’s upbeat energy in the studio would translate to a live performance.
As I entered the main floor of the Metro, I was greeted with billows of fog-machine smoke. The intimate venue featured an overwhelmingly millennial crowd, but its racially diverse makeup indicates that Masego’s sound appeals to more than just one demographic.
R&B duo VanJess kicked things off. I had not previously heard of them, but the soulful siblings certainly made their mark on the Metro. What VanJess lacked in name recognition, they made up for with powerful stage presences and upper-echelon vocal performances. It was clear that the duo felt comfortable with each other; they seemed in sync with their movements throughout, whether it was a staccato shake of the hips or a synchronized toe-tap.
Several songs fit into the “low-key banger” category, reminiscent of Syd’s “Body”. However, they offered some deviation with the vulnerable “Honeywheat” and the up-tempo, KAYTRANADA-produced “Another Lover,” which got the crowd dancing after a powerful bass drop.
VanJess heated things up, but Masego had the audience going wild from the moment he hit his first saxophone note. Rocking a bright red Hawaiian shirt, acid wash jeans and sunglasses, he lived up to his early declaration: “Y’all give me the energy, I’ll give it right back!” Whether it was moonwalking during “Lady Lady,” conducting drum rolls with shouts like “Give it to me four times!” or a personal favorite, engaging in a saxophone battle with his keyboardist on “You Gon’ Learn Some Jazz Today”, he never let the energy sag.
Throughout the set, I saw the full spectrum of cramped concert dancing. Masego’s performance featured as many jumping-with-hands-in-the-air songs as it did casually-swaying-side-to-side songs. He lulled the crowd into a relaxed happiness on “Black Love”, then had them cheering their loudest when he punctuated each high note in “Shawty Fishin’” with a deep knee bend. To maintain the energy, he relied heavily on simple call and response, specifically with an “ee-ee-eee” on the bouncy “Prone”. The crowd engagement didn’t end there, though. I saw just how devoted Masego’s fans were when they screamed out the chorus of “Old Age”, which details a man’s affinity for older women: “I need me a sugar momma, old lady, foxy mama, sophisticated,” without the slightest hesitation. By the end of his set, he had the crowd begging for an encore and he obliged, playing three more songs before closing with a particularly electric performance of “Navajo.”
For fans of up-and-coming artists, I would advise keeping an eye on Masego and VanJess in the future because I have confidence that their talent will continue to develop over their next few projects. They may never sell out arena shows, but both did a damn good job of filling the Metro with good vibes tonight.
VANJESS SONG YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO: “Honeywheat”
MASEGO SONG YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO: “Prone”
VanJess’s debut studio album Silk Canvas available on streaming services now!
Masego’s second studio album Lady Lady available on streaming services now!
On a cold and relatively quiet Saturday night in Logan Sqaure, Chicago’s first Windy Popfest opened at the Burlington Bar. The bar provided a small and intimate setting you wouldn’t often associate with the words “music festival” but it was the perfect backdrop for the performances of the evening. In between sets, various DJs filled the space with melancholy yet upbeat tunes, which seemed to be a theme.
Chicago is home to a massive independent music community, encompassing pretty much any niche genre you could think of. Windy Popfest itself was a collection of independent artists across the US centered around dreampop, a genre that has gotten really popular in recent years. Dreampop is loosely derivative of shoegaze, but rather than muddy, distorted guitar tones creating a monotonous dirge, it opts for simple melodic lines in reverb soaked sound, or floating synth arpeggios weaving in and out of the mix. The sound has been popularized by bands like Beach House, Alvvays, Wild Nothing, and M83.
Girl Valley opened the night with some simple yet heartfelt and catchy singer-songerwriter ballads. Her new EP Eternal Picnic reflects her very stripped down sound, but has some subtly catchy choruses and clever lyricisms. Following her brief set, Avishay, a singer-songwriter from Brooklyn brought a little more energy to the space with his earnest power-pop. The next set also featured solo artist Kevin Hairs but had a little more punch thanks to some interesting, improvised beat loops off an iPad. His new release Freak in the Streets, available on Bandcamp or via cassette, features a full band, has some memorable songwriting.
A local band, Star Tropics, played the first full set of the night and their jangle-pop sound was infectiously happy. Having a full band in the space immediately changed the energy, and the crowd seemed to grow quickly. Their bouncy guitar riffs and sunny sound were simple and fun, a reminder that music does not have to be complex or overly intricate to be good.Everyone seemed to take notice of the stage setup in preparation for the following artist, Gloom Balloon. A blowup bottle of Miller Lite and an RV shaped tent sat in the corner as found footage from commercials played on a loop through the projector. After a couple minutes of this, the artist finally arrived, hopped on stage, and pressed play on his laptop. We were immediately transported into the absurdist world of Gloom Balloon, backed by choir of found sound samples and his own recordings. He spent most of the set sprinting around the audience and half-singing, half-imploring them to appreciate his stream-of-consciousness ramblings. It toed a line between unbearable gimmick and captivating performance art, and it was unsure which he truly intended but it was FUN.Panda Riot, another Chicago band rounded out the night with some cuts off their new, fantastic album Infinity Maps. Their performance almost felt choreographed but captured the exact same sound as their studio recordings, something I thought would be impossible. Definitely check them out if you are into dreampop, and keep an eye out for Windy Popfest in the future!