When I first heard Natalia Lafourcade’s sweet, melancholic Spanish sound I knew I had found a new favorite rainy-day artist. Yet, after attending the Mexico native’s performance at Concord Music Hall, filled with a vigorous Latinx fan base and groovy guitar and trumpet solos, I realized her sound is much more dynamic than I had originally thought.
The show began with just Natalia and her lead trumpetist beside her. He let out a long minor note that reverberated throughout the venue, and immediately, everyone recognized the song: “La Llorona” (which translates to “The Weeping Woman”). Written about a figure from Mexican folklore, Lafourcade’s “La Llorona” hit home for many folks in the crowd; as she sang, many others joined in with her, while others shouted “¡Viva Mexico!” and “¡Viva La Llorona!”. A turquoise mist flowed between the two on stage, a subtle reference to one of Mexico’s most prized stones. The song culminated in the trumpet’s crescendo, with Lafourcade’s wail lingering throughout the crowd.
The theme of Mexican pride continued onto the next song, “Mexicana Hermosa,” which translates to “beautiful Mexico”. This time, Lafourcade was solo on stage, with just a dark red light beaming over her tightly-braided, traditionally styled hair. Within her first three words, the crowd joined in, swaying with the slow tempo. Lafourcade beautifully ended the song with a series of “la-la-las”, and as the crowd sang along, I closed my eyes and felt like I was sailing through water. No wonder “Soledad y el Mar”, or “Solitude and the Sea,” came next.
I absolutely loved the jazzy rendition on the originally acoustic song, a cool transition into the more upbeat portion of the show. As the trumpetist, guitarist, pianist, and drummer joined her on stage, Lafourcade picked up the microphone and danced around them. Naturally, the crowd followed, including a little girl dressed in a traditional Mexicana outfit with a red rose in her hair, twirling and smiling about the dance floor.
The rest of the night was phenomenal. Most songs came from Lafourcade newest album, Musas, but she also added crowd favorites from Hasta la raíz, including “Nunca es Suficiente,” “Lo Que Construimos,” and “Mi Lugar Favorito.” The crowd, myself included, savored every part of the performance, and you could tell Lafourcade was pleased from the huge smile beaming on her face. The combination of Lafourcade and her bands’ incredible musical talents as well as messages of Mexican pride made for a lively night of singing, dancing, and genuine enjoyment. I definitely know now that Lafourcade is not just a rainy-day artist; she has a multifaceted sound that can be enjoyed, no matter the setting.
Geologist opened, injecting the crowd with all the slack-jawed energy of an
intravenous muscle relaxant. But not the fun kind that reaches up to your skull,
something more like Benadryl, just fuzzy dissociation accompanied by a mild headache.
Stooped dutifully before his computer-pad, head bobbing passive to metronomically
pounding bass-vibrations of his own creation, he seemed less an object of audience
attention than a static fixture of the room, music commanding all the attention that I
imagine a pair of actual rocks might. Fittingly, nobody but the Geologist gave it much
interest. Every now and then, the endlessly repetitive thumps and screeches of his
ambient “experiment” would shift at the level of a single voice, changing rhythm or
character – these occasional breaks of dynamicism elicited polite murmuring and
whooping from the crowd, stood on idle and compulsively shifting feet. Eventually, his
song (or perhaps songs, I’m really not sure) dwindled to an anticlimactic finish, and he
shuffled off the stage, the only real movement he’d made since coming out in the first
At this point, I’d love to tell you that Panda Bear came out and floored me with his
raw musical prowess, scorching the audience with the ruthless acidity of his
computerized sonic mastery. Maybe I’d have been thrown back to my first moments of
transfixion with AnCo’s frenetic and childlike musical energy – teenage summer,
Merriweather Post Pavilion lodging itself in the CD drive of my van for the month of July,
hot summer nights backed by bouncing psychedelic jubilance floating some freak
removed cousin of Brian Wilson’s vocal harmonies. That’d make me happy. But I can’t
lie to you. In reality, Panda Bear was fine. Or maybe OK. I’ve heard much worse things.
Geologist, for example. While Panda Bear’s ascent to the stage did fill Thalia Hall with
something it’d been thus far lacking that evening – actual, recognizable, and potentially
even enjoyable, music – the comatose blandness of his stage presence did hard work
to negate any effort I might have otherwise made to groove with it. In retrospect, it was
almost poetic when they took Geologist’s computer-stand off the stage, only to replace it
with a larger, more complexly wired variation of the same thing, this time a tool for
Panda Bear. Panda’s set was exactly that – a more complicated, well-organized, and
colorfully lit adaptation of the same drowsy white-bread essence which plagued
Geologist. Maybe I’m just an asshole. But I really couldn’t tell what he was doing up
there on stage – the general impression was of listening to a very poorly-mixed version
of PBVTGR (his most recent album, which is terrific and worth listening to), muddied by
the acoustics and human ambience of a ¾ full concert hall. Like his boulder-loving
counterpart, he remained firmly planted behind the shield of his DJ gear for the entire
set, exuding exclusively molasses-like energies.
There’s no question Animal Collective is past its early 2000s glory days of
creative brilliance, but I’m left wondering a few things. How can someone who’s music is
saturated with freewheeling, caustic energy, be so oppressively dull on stage? Does
Panda Bear realize how bad Geologist is, and let him open out of kindness anyhow?
Would doing so be crueler than facing him with the truth? Did I truly hate the show this
much, or am I just enjoying being a critic? Heavy questions of morality weigh upon
Panda Bear’s visit to Chicago. All in all, I recommend Panda Bear’s music without
hesitation, but recommend his live act only to those who consent to set their
expectations to the music of a literal Panda, growling irritably between bites of bamboo
stalk, perhaps with a live-reading of a NSF grant proposal written by an actual geologist
as the opener. Only then might you find yourself pleasantly surprised.
To escape via daydreams from the Week Seven blues, Chicago’s North Coast Music Festival announced today the full lineup for the 2018 festival. Taking place in Union Park from August 31-September 2, “summer’s last stand” will be one to remember, with international headliners and a deep lineup that will keep you at the park all day long.
Starting out the weekend will be a pair of headlining names that made my jaw drop: Miguel and Axwell ^ Ingrosso. The former, Miguel, is well known for his hip-hop jam “Sky Walker” with Travis Scott, and his most recent album includes collaborations with Rick Ross, Kali Uchis and J. Cole, among others. One of my personal favorites is “waves – Tame Impala Remix” from his 2016 EP. The latter, Axwell ^ Ingrosso, is one of the biggest teams in electronic music today. Formerly members of the eternally important Swedish House Mafia, the duo has, both independently and together, played a huge role in shaping the genre for the up and coming producers of today.
Saturday brings DJ Snake in from France to headline. DJ Snake is a music festival favorite who has played Lollapalooza, Coachella, Ultra and the like. You’ll know him for both major throwbacks — “Turn Down for What” with Lil Jon (can you believe this came out in 2013??) — and slightly more recent throwbacks from his 2016 album “Encore” — “The Middle” with Bipolar Sunshine; “The Half” with Jeremih, Young Thug and Swizz Beatz; and “Let Me Love You” with Justin Bieber. DJ Snake will be joined Saturday by Vulfpeck, The Revivalists and RL Grime.
Finally, Sunday will close out the festival with U.K. legends Jamiroquai, a band that has been around since before I was born. They had a huge hand in the creation and exploration of the “future funk” genre, and will be returning to the United States for the first time in over a decade for a small grouping of tour dates, including North Coast. With a huge discography grown through decades of performing, be sure to check out Jamiroquai to get ready to get down on Sunday.
In addition, a heavy hitting group of four supporting headliners will help Jamiroquai finish the weekend on a high note. Yellow Claw and Gramatik are strong on the trap electronic music front, although Gramatik often brings out live musicians and has jazz roots in many of his tracks, while Mura Masa blends EDM with instrumentals and R&B influences. Finally, the band Moon Taxi will round out the group with upbeat hooks and a poppy, alternative rock sound.
Other artists I’m personally excited for include Snails, Two Friends and Bryce Vine on Friday; The Strumbellas, Robert DeLong, Cashmere Cat and Tauk on Saturday; and Jacob Banks, NoMBe, Maddy O’Neal and Cofresi on Sunday. The lineup also features Chicago-grown EDM favorites Porn and Chicken, 2FAC3D, Bentley Dean, Diz and more in a “Chicago’s Most Wanted” series of B2Bs. Tickets for the ninth-edition of the festival are on sale now, so proceed to checkout so you can check out this lineup of incredible artists with me this summer.
As I rode the L to my first-ever House of Blues concert, I listened through my well-loved digital copy of Turnover’s Peripheral Vision. Known for being both nostalgic and emotionally turbulent in their lyrics, the Virginia Beach band stole my heart as an emo-but-not-emo kid looking to transition from pop-punk to a more dreamy sound. Their lovelorn, exasperated lyrics and atmospheric guitar rhythms in their older work leave me with an aching chest after a long listen.
Turnover smoothed out their vulnerability on their newest record, Good Nature. With sunny and coastal imagery, I’m transported back home to Northern California when I put on the first track, “Supernatural.” It’s thematically more positive than their earlier releases, so I was eager to hear how they would balance their more volatile songs with this happier, more hopeful tone.
The first opener was Summer Salt, a band I had only flirted with in my Spotify recommended before this show. A “rock’n’roll band” from Austin, they were true to their name. Their chill, bossa nova inspired electric guitar and relaxed lyrics gave the oldie sound a new edge. They embodied a fun summer. Everything about their act was endearing and quirky, but frontman Matt Terry’s purple socks and beautiful soprano really sealed it for me. That, and bassist Phil Baier needing to sit through the set because of his “broken baby” (sprained ankle) was not only a practice in adorable phrasing, but a testament to the band’s dedication.
A lot of the crowd seemed to know who they were, and sang along as they played “Driving to Hawaii,” one of their more well-known songs. After all, who doesn’t want to surf down the street, drink all day and sing under the stars? Their easygoing tone also reminded me of Turnover’s newest record. The songs seemed to have correlating themes: dreaming of warmer weather, wanting to run away and a longing for love.
If Summer Salt had similar vibes to their new record, Mannequin Pussy created a wave of emotion reminiscent of Turnover’s stormier cuts, yet very, very different. Hailing from Philadelphia, they were punk incarnate. As they stepped on stage, the mood of the room darkened. Some were excited for this change, like me, but I also saw boredom emanating from people around me who just wanted to hear Turnover. I was confused; how can you not be excited when such a cool lead like Marisa Dabice steps on stage?
As Mannequin Pussy balanced tenderness and hardness in their set, I was being hurt and then healed over and over again. The only song of theirs I knew well was “Romantic,” a track that perfectly illustrates Dabice’s range and power as an artist. From singing sweetly into the mic to screaming, “I’m in hell,” backed by loud metal guitar, she never let up on us for even a second. They were so eclectic that it rattled my brain, and so lively that I couldn’t take my eyes off of them for even a second.
Regardless of whether they liked Mannequin Pussy or not, everyone was ready for Turnover to take the stage. As the curtains opened, we were greeted by a set of glowing, ever-changing T.V.s entangled in ivy while the main act played “Supernatural.” If their goal was to make me cry, they succeeded. Austin Getz’s vocals sounded exactly like they do on their studio albums, and I was overcome by how tight they were as a band while they alluded to escaping to the place I call home.
After overcoming some technical difficulties, they played “Humming” from Peripheral Vision, a tune that sparked crowd-surfing that reminded me of the band’s pop-punk roots. I heard a roar of people screaming along as Getz sang, “I want to run and hide with you tonight,” and felt like we were all going somewhere far away, together. Another electric moment in the set was “Take My Head,” an anthem for those summers when you just spiral out of control. The chaos of this track was infectious; I was reminded of all of the things I’ve said but never done, and it made me want to “cut my brain into hemispheres” too.
They balanced these painful tracks with what were almost like peaceful interludes from their new album. “Bonnie” encompassed the bittersweet feelings that comes with a new relationship, while explaining that it’s worth it, since “you and me being each other feels like all I ever needed.” Their mixture of old and new tracks felt natural, despite the clear differences between the two. They closed the set with the unstable “Dizzy On the Comedown,” and I felt emotionally raw yet new again, despite the ups and downs.
Saturday’s Rainbow Kitten Surprise show at Metro Chicago had a nostalgic start for me. The opening band, Caamp, actually came to fruition at my alma mater: Upper Arlington High School in Columbus, Ohio. Founded by Taylor Meier and Evan Westfall, the band first dominated the Columbus and Athens music scenes before touring with RKS. They were seniors when I was in eighth grade, so I don’t exactly have any personal experiences with them, but their new-folk sound definitely harkens me back to home – especially their most popular song, “Ohio.”
Along with bassist Matt Vinson, Meier and Westfall were met with incredible enthusiasm from the crowd, who clapped along to almost every song and shouted the lyrics. I was surprised at the number of people who knew their stuff, but also extremely proud. Although they sadly did not play “Ohio,” “Iffy” from their self-titled 2016 release proved to be a stand-out, with the audience’s echo of the lyrics, “You’ve stolen and wasted all my time” resounding through the venue.
Having seen Rainbow Kitten Surprise twice before, I came into the show with a sense of familiarity, although I was anxious to hear songs from their new album, How To: Friend, Love, Freefall, released April 6. From experience, I already knew about RKS’s insane energy – in particular that of lead singer Samuel Melo. I was not disappointed. His stage presence was undeniable as ever as he jumped and pirouetted across the stage, often gyrating his hips much to the crowd’s amusement. However, I realized that it is the small interactions between the band and the beautiful harmonies sung by almost all five members that make RKS a true must-see.
They played a pretty evenly mixed set of their new songs and old classics, with highlights including Melo’s rap verse in “Fever Pitch,” the sensual vibe set by the glorious harmonies on “Lady Lie,” and Melo’s speech about not hiding who you are or who you love before they played “Hide,” a song that Melo admitted is about his own struggles with his sexuality. Ending with “Freefall” off of the new album, the audience roared until RKS came back on, playing “Painkillers,” “Devil Like Me” (during which Melo ripped his shirt open) and ending perfectly with “Goodnight Chicago.”
In a nutshell, RKS delivered an exciting, feel-good performance that left the audience wanting more. Evidently giving their all in order to share the experience of live music with their fans, RKS is without a doubt one of the most thrilling and satisfying live acts on the scene right now.
It seemed that all of Chicago’s hippest teens gathered in Subterranean on Monday, April 17 to hear Triathalon’s bedroom-pop sound performed live. Although the band had already been touring with former singer of The Walters, L. Martin, they were joined by local Chicago acts Uma Bloo and Morgan Powers.
Morgan Powers started off the show with just her guitar and a stool, complementing simple chords with delicate strumming. She played the role of singer-songwriter perfectly and delivered her music in an extremely mature way, although she appeared to still be in high school. Powers was completely humble and adorable, and when she smiled to introduce her next song, the crowd did too. Although they all carried a similar chord progression and theme, the five songs she played were reminiscent of Jack Johnson or Colbie Caillat.
The vibe of the night then did a complete 180 with Uma Bloo. Looking like a sparkly fairy godmother in her pink vintage dress and white kitten heels, lead singer Molly Madden delivered low vocals and heavy chords from a guitar covered in silver glitter. Backed up by only a bassist and drummer, the trio delivered hard-hitting blues rock a la Courtney Barnett and Lucy Dacus. Toward the end of their set, Madden played two stripped-down songs by herself, and then called her band back on to finish it off, playing a song with an immense build that clearly showed off their talent. After playing the last notes, Madden and her bassist finished with a high five, which was oh-so-cute.
Next up was L.Martin, Luke Olson of The Walters’ new solo project. Having followed The Walters since their conception and being able to get to know Luke over the years, I was eager to see him interact with his new band and hear his music live. This was also Luke’s first solo show in Chicago, where The Walters spent most of their time, and Luke was quick to point out on social media that his parents and other family and friends would be in attendance. In short: it was a big night for him. It was immediately apparent the love and support that Luke has from his fans – which he paid back by shaking their hands and chatting with them as he was setting up. From the get-go, it was obvious that Luke’s dynamic with his band was impeccable. Comprised of friends and his little brother Anthony, Luke seemed extremely comfortable on stage and had no hesitations doing wild dance moves and interacting with the band while performing. Overall, the instrumentals were great, including a trombonist and two different keyboards as well as bass and drums. The audience danced all through the set to his latest releases, “Skipping Rocks” and “Flowers,” and swayed to softer ballad “Blue Skies.” During an instrumental break, Luke took time to introduce his fellow band members and relay the meaning of the night’s show. He shouted out his parents, saying that he had waited for this moment all tour: “I know they’re so fucking proud. And because of them, man, I believed in myself. And Anthony started to believe in himself and we said WE CAN DO THIS TOGETHER! WE CAN DO THIS TOGETHER! And I said to my mom and dad, that the smile on their faces is just gonna grow bigger when they watch Luke [Henry] play guitar because he loves to play guitar! Because he really loves to play! And then they’ll watch Chris play – play that trombone, Chris! You freaking love it!” Luke then ran over to his brother, hugged him and hung onto his back and then broke out into a fit of dance moves, ending it all by taking off his shirt. You kind of had to be there, but it was so wholesome – only to be topped by Luke running off stage to hug his mom after playing their last song, “Dirty Sheets.” Considering Luke a friend, I was incredibly proud to see him flourish in this way, and couldn’t help myself from tearing up a little.
Finally, it was time for Triathalon to take the stage. Upon stepping on stage, it was clear that they had taken the idea of a band having a certain “look” to a whole new level. All four male members of the group sported mustaches, and three of them were wearing the band’s merch. Standing out was Kristina Moore, who played keyboard and sung in harmony with lead singer Adam Intrator, creating their dreamy sound. From the beginning, Triathalon radiated good vibes, mostly playing songs from their latest album Online, released Feb. 16. However, they did pay homage to their earlier work with a fantastic performance of “Take It Easy,” off of 2015’s Nothing Bothers Me. Intrator’s performance style consisted of periodic posing while staring into the audience’s soul, which got some giggles from the crowd at first, but was honestly very entertaining and fit with the rhythms of their music. Said rhythms were provided by drummer Chad Chilton, whose performance was especially impressive, leaning over his set laboriously in order to keep up with the staccato beats.
Intrator’s falsetto and Moore’s head voice mixed together beautifully through the set, most notably in “True” and “Couch.” Being from Georgia, the band brought with them a bit of southern charm, with Intrator thanking the audience after almost every song and even giving the crowd a one-song warning before he stage dove. To top it all off, Intrator donned a pair of sport sunglasses during one of their last songs and stood completely still while shaking a spherical maraca, which was hilarious. In short, there is no doubt that the hipster teens in attendance left Subterranean feeling loose and a little dazed – albeit in the best way.
I also got the chance to interview lead vocalist Adam Intrator about Triathalon’s changing sound, the meaning behind their name and weed. Read on…
This interview has been edited and condensed.
ES: You guys released your first album, Lo-Tide, in 2014. How did the band get together and what was making that record like?
AI: We all met in college. Things just happened naturally from there… more shows, less college.
Making Lo-Tide was pretty chill actually. We all moved in together after school ended and ended up recording the whole album in our house. We would just hang out all day and take turns tracking our parts in the living room.
ES: How has your sound changed from then to now with Online? What have been your major influences throughout the process?
AI: It’s a lot less guitar and we’ve managed to simplify our band dynamics. Honestly just getting older and moving out of Georgia really helped shift our sound naturally.
ES: In its original sense, the word “triathlon” has no “a.” What’s the story behind adding that “a” in your name/ the story behind your name in general? Does it have any special significance?
AI: It was really just an accident. I just thought that’s how it was spelled. The name was actually from a screenplay I was working on at the time. I just thought it was cool.
ES: You’ve just finished the first leg of your tour with Inner Wave and L.Martin. How were those shows? What’s the dynamic like between all of you?
AI: Every show was amazing. This has been the best tour yet. And everyone in all the bands are really chill. A lot of weed and a lot of jokes. Mostly weed.
ES: What’s the craziest thing that has happened to you on tour so far? On stage or off, perhaps an odd fan gift or encounter?
AI: Probably a group of kids who followed us from Atlanta to Austin who just discovered our music like that month.
ES: Just from looking at your Twitter, you get a lot of mentions about people smoking weed while listening to your music/at your shows. Did you set out to make music that would be good to smoke to or did it just kind of end up that way? How do you feel about this?
AI: Not really. I feel like people just like being vocal about getting high to our music. It’s chill. Weed is chill. Music is chill. They go together.
ES: What’s your take on the current influx of “bedroom pop”/ “dream pop” that we’re seeing right now? Do you consider yourselves pioneers in this arena or did you take influence from other current artists?
AI: It’s been a long time coming I think. We saw it begin with Beach Fossils’ first record and then it really opened up opportunities for other artists with limited resources to gain the confidence and momentum to release garage band styled recordings. In my opinion it’s more about everyone’s strong melodies and less about how it sounds. And “poor quality music” has its own charming aesthetic and it’s really working for everyone. But I don’t see us as pioneers in that area. I just like writing in my bedroom and still love recording on my 2009 Macbook.
Ty Segall and the Freedom Band played a sold out show at Vic Theater on April 8th. Opening the ticket were two relatively unknown groups: Axis: Sova, and the Bed Band. Axis: Sova, a unique solo act, took the stage first. He performed his entire set only accompanied by a backing track, and with his face hidden behind a scarf and sunglasses. From song to song he meandered around the stage, singing in falsetto, picking up odd cardboard shapes which he brought with him, dancing with them, and throwing them back onto the stage. His music was catchy enough, but it was the absurdist nature of his performance that really caught the eye. It was a fitting opening to a strange night.
Next up was the Bed Band, another group lacking the instrumentation you’d expect for garage rock. They did feature two guitarists and a bass player but played their entire set using minimal beats from an antique drum machine. Their performance was much more engaging than Axis: Sova’s, as layered blues riffs howled from either side of the stage, accompanied by the thud of a metronome-like beat. They were no doubt talented, but really lacking the onstage energy and dynamic that a real drummer provides.
As interesting and eclectic as these openers were, nothing could prepare the crowd for the sheer wall of sound that Ty Segall and the Freedom Band would bring. The crowd seemed restless and waited impatiently for the fuzzed out garage psych that has brought him so much acclaim. Ty and the Freedom Band took the stage to a huge roar from the crowd and almost immediately we were shoved uncomfortably close to the concert-goers in front of us. The band paced in anticipation, just waiting for a cue to send the crowd into a frenzy. When the first distorted chord finally rang out, I was thrown into a spin cycle of people that enveloped the entire standing area. It was so physically disorienting that I couldn’t figure out what song he was playing until after he finished.
The opening track turned out to be “Alta,” from Ty’s new release, Freedom’s Goblin. It retains many of the same themes as his prior projects, but is slightly more adventurous in its sound, with a lot of the songs featuring full horn sections. There are also a number of softer, more intimate tracks on the album: a detour from his normal in-the-red style of recording. However, almost every song at the concert was played at deafening volume, instruments distorted until you could barely hear the actual notes through the fuzz. This was not some delicately arranged, orchestral show where the audience was allowed to appreciate each instrument’s melodic lines, but rather a thunderous combination of sounds fighting for attention. Only every once and a while would you be able to distinguish the blare of a trombone or wayward wail of guitar from it all. This sounds like a critique, but it was incredible and without a doubt, one of the best shows I have ever seen.
About halfway through the show, the Vic security guards decided it was too rowdy and began to enter the crowd and forcibly remove people. For almost an hour they stood at attention, flashlights flickering around the crowd for any sign of movement. Several protesting people were dragged out for making any sort of contact with the person next to them. The band unsuccessfully tried to wave them off several times. Finally, after several songs of silent, sardonically polite head-nodding and foot-tapping the security team decided we had all behaved well enough to be left alone again. As soon as they left, the crowd exploded in celebration. Somehow, the end to Ty’s set was even louder and more hectic than the opening. Upon finally leaving the Vic, I felt like I had run a marathon. My ears rang for several days afte
Some groups get feel the need to radically change their sound after several albums either out of boredom or concerted effort to appeal to more fans. On Freedom’s Goblin, and at this concert Ty Segall stuck to the same beautifully simple brand of garage psych that makes you wanna break stuff. I hope he never changes.
Going to shows in Chicago is great and all, but can prove to be a burden when it comes to navigating the L and the city itself. Luckily, there is an intimate venue in Northwestern’s backyard: Evanston SPACE on Chicago Ave. Located in the back room of Union Pizzeria, SPACE’s list of artists they have hosted continues to grow more and more impressive. Earlier this year I was able to swing by Frankie Cosmos’ show and fell in love with the venue, so I was psyched to be there for one night of his two-performance stay.
Declan McKenna and I have a history. I actually saw his first ever show in the United States back in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio (shout out to CD 102.5 FM!) in 2016. I even got to meet him after and took a picture, which I would attach if it weren’t completely embarrassing. He was the first act in a four-band show, and his set-up involved himself, his guitar, and a loop machine. He was insanely nervous and messed up several times throughout the set, but even then the crowd went crazy for his smash hit “Brazil,” probably because my local radio station played it incessantly.
The next time I saw him was this past August, a few days after the release of his debut album What Do You Think About the Car?. I remember it being absolutely crazy to me how much he had grown in just a year and a half. He had a full band and dedicated fans who showed up wearing glitter, holding posters, and screaming his lyrics. Let’s just say that his show at SPACE was like when I saw him in August, times 100.
First was his opener, Chappell Roan, who he is touring with. Roan is 19 (as is McKenna) and was clearly a raw talent. Her voice was angelic and breathy as well as rich and rugged, and she combined it with a killer stage presence. She played a few songs off of her recent EP School Nights, which was released by Atlantic Records, along with a cover of The Cranberries’ “Dreams,” which matched almost too perfectly to her voice. By the bridge of the song, she had the entire crowd yodeling along with her. What was most notable about Roan was her incredible control of her voice at such a young age. She truly made it look easy and sung about topics that were relatable to the teen-filled audience.
Speaking of a teen-filled audience – that’s exactly what it was. Although there were definitely older folks there, they stuck toward the back of the venue. The middle of the crowd was basically a sea of jean jackets who were obviously superfans, screaming in delight at any sign that McKenna was coming onstage. This speaks a lot to the relatability of his lyrics to this demographic, proving that he has obviously formed a strong bond with his fan base. Until McKenna came on, they enjoyed singing along to the throwback songs that were played over the sound system beforehand, such as “Take on Me,” “Toxic,” and “Hey Ya!”. When he finally came onstage, girls screamed and everyone pushed forward, whipping out their phones in hopes of catching the first moments of McKenna’s performance on their Snapchat stories.
McKenna opened with the first single off of his latest album, “The Kids Don’t Wanna Go Home,” and immediately I noticed his lovably ridiculous outfit: A Ghostbusters jumpsuit, complimented by a gold glitter guitar. After playing the first few songs, he stopped to talk about the instrument, explaining that he had just purchased it today and referring to it as a “shiny boy.” The audience laughed adoringly at all of his comments, eager for what was to come next, which happened to be “Basic,” one of McKenna’s first singles released in 2015. The crowd soon became his back up singers, filling in spaces he left empty and yelling the chorus with all of their hearts: “Cause you’re basic/And you’re basically on your own.”
McKenna played banger after banger, continuing the set with “Bethlehem,” “Listen to Your Friends”, and “Humongous.” The crowd went especially crazy for the latter song, which was justified as it involves some of McKenna’s more emotional lyrics: “Do you care?/I’m big, humongous, enormous and small/And it’s not fair, that I am nothing and nobody’s there.” The band ended the song with a great build and solid jam sesh, encouraging moshing amongst the crowd.
McKenna finished the show with a solid trio of his more popular songs: “Why Do You Feel So Down,” “Paracetamol,” and, of course, “Brazil.” It was a somewhat predictable set, but McKenna definitely gave the crowd what they wanted with an energy that was hard to beat. During “Brazil,” he encouraged everyone to jump and they abided without hesitation, which led to McKenna himself jumping into the crowd as balloons fell from the ceiling. To me, the show ended just as it should: with McKenna literally being lifted up by adoring fans.
Ezra Furman played a packed show at Thalia Hall on Monday, February 26th. The show was part of his tour of the US and Canada hot off the release of his sonically adventurous LP entitled “Transangelic Exodus.” Furman has been touring backed by Tim Sandusky on saxophone, Jorgen Jorgenson on bass and cello, Ben Joseph on keys and guitar, and Sam Durkes on percussion. Furman’s previous solo albums “Perpetual Motion People,” “Day of The Dog,” and “The Year of No Returning” were all recorded with the same lineup, and produced by Sandusky at his Chicago studio “Studio Ballistico.”
Saint Pe and Anna Burch set the tone with brief but captivating opening sets that contrasted each other well. Burch’s pleasant, guitar-driven tunes and earnest songwriting opened the night. Her new release “Quit the Curse,” captures the same vibe that artists like Frankie Cosmos, Angel Olson, and Kevin Morby have popularized. Saint Pe followed with energetic and upbeat Southern rock and blues. Formed by a departing member of acclaimed Atlanta group Black Lips who wanted a change in environment, Saint Pe were very laid back. No longer seeking recognition or trying to establish themselves as a group, their set felt like a slightly more formal jam sesh with some really great tunes.
As the lights finally dimmed around 10:30, after two opening bands, an impatient and restless crowd sat hushed as each member of the band walked out matching white suits. A pleasant piano track played in the background. Entering the stage last, Ezra skipped and spun to the mic, dancing along to the background music and mumbled a few inaudible words. Then, without warning, the peaceful piano cut off and the band ripped into “Suck the Blood from My Wound,” the title track from their new release. The sheer energetic force of the music and Furman’s stage presence was electrifying. In between thrashing out chords on his guitar, and howling into the microphone in his trembling tenor, he stumbled around the stage holding his head, throwing himself onto the ground, completely immersed in the frantic emotion of the music. When the final chord rang out there was a moment of dead silence. The crowd stood in complete awe.
I’ve been to lots of concerts where the band opens up with immense energy like this, and as the show goes on things get a lot slower, save for a hectic encore or two. It’s really difficult to maintain that much energy for an entire set, or at least so I thought. Ezra Furman put almost every other frontman I’ve seen to shame with his uncompromising stage presence. For nearly two hours he bared his soul to the crowd, stumbling around the stage and tearing at his hair, all while belting out song after song filled with deeply personal material. A few times he lurched towards the edge of the stage with such fervor that I thought he might dive headfirst into the audience. Each song was a cathartic story and where words failed to express emotion, his contorting, anguished movements told the rest.
Underneath this impassioned energy, Furman’s backing band did not miss a beat. They seemed to take cues from his every jolting movement. No riff or rhythm felt rushed, and they played even the slowest, most intricate tracks off “Transangeleic Exodus” to perfection. Who would’ve thought a saxophone/cello harmony could stand in for an entire string section? The show ended on the rejoiceful “Tell em’ All to Go to Hell,” after Furman thanked the crowd for their support. No encore. It wouldn’t have felt right anyway.
I returned to Beat Kitchen on Friday night for The Academic’s first show in Chicago, and knew just from the look of the audience that it was going to be a lot different of a night than Panda Riot the previous weekend. Beat Kitchen’s small concert space was packed to its brim with young adults. Some were couples, and others in groups. It was equally male and female, but you could tell everyone was there for The Academic and that they had been waiting a long time for this night.
The 1 Class was the first opening band, hailing from Chicago and consisting of only two people: Chris Holben, vocalist and guitarist, and drummer Jacob Dollaske. Right off the bat Dollaske’s skill was clear – he played complicated rhythms, appearing to nearly work his body to death by the end of their set. They were very much your typical indie-pop pretty boys, reminiscent of the likes of Two Door Cinema Club. Their lyrical content was a tad cliché and Holben had a tendency to slip a little out of key in his belting range, but overall they showed good potential and had the crowd bopping along.
Next up was August Hotel, another local band who seemed to have a larger fanbase in the crowd than The 1 Class. Before they even stepped on stage, their setup made me very curious about their sound – they had four mics, a keytar, two keyboards, a bass guitar, guitar, and drums. However, it started making a little more sense when five men stepped on stage and assumed their positions. Lead singer Joe Padilla looked very Judd Nelson à la The Breakfast Club in a long black trench coat and black eyeliner, while the rest of the band fit the artsy-college-kid stereotype. Their sound was poppy with much inspiration taken from the 80s: think an odd mashup of Hippo Campus and Depeche Mode. As Padilla said during the set, “The 80s are back and it’s cool again.” Padilla’s voice was one that could only come from a background in theatre, which didn’t mesh the best with the instrumental aspect but definitely worked for the band as a whole. All in all, they were great performers, and when they told the crowd to “go f***cking mental” during the last song, they did.
The Academic’s entrance was greeted by a roar of applause. Vocalist and guitarist Craig Ferguson greeted the audience with a smile and his thick Irish accent: “Hello, Chicago! We’re The Academic and we’re here all the way from Ireland!” They then launched into the first song on their debut full-length album Tales From the Backseat, “Permanent Vacation.” Immediately similarities could be drawn to fellow British bands Kaiser Chiefs, The Wombats, and Catfish & The Bottlemen, mainly due to their indie rock melodies, lyric repetition and shoutable choruses. Ferguson’s sugary sweet voice was complemented nicely by skillful guitar riffs and head nod-inducing drum lines, coming together to produce a very well-rounded sound that was great to dance to. Toward the middle of their set, they began to play tracks from their 2015 EP Loose Friends, and even an unpublished song called “Small Town Lovers” that Ferguson explained the man standing to the right of me had requested on Twitter before the show. Their older work has guitar lines more reminiscent of The Strokes, a quality that I found myself enjoying, particularly on the slow-building track “Thought I Told You.” Before getting into the last three songs, Ferguson broke up the set with a story from their stay in Chicago. He explained that often, his small stature and baby face get him mistaken for a child, which is something that inspired their song “Fake ID.” While staying in their hotel in Chicago, Ferguson went for a swim in the pool, only to be asked by the lifeguard if he was over 17 and therefore allowed to be there without an adult. This anecdote had the crowd smiling from ear to ear and boosted the already intimate stage presence of the band. Ending with their most popular track “Bear Claws,” which had the whole crowd singing along to its catchy chorus: “Ay, oh, I’ll never let you go.”
With an already strong fanbase in Chicago and the rest of their first U.S. headlining tour, there is no doubt that The Academic will continue to grow in popularity in the states. Their personality, talent, and solid delivery definitely deserves to be rewarded, and I walked away from the show excited to listen to more of their album – which is what it’s all about, right?