Tor Miller and openers The Prams played a great Friday night set at Schubas on November 16. Touring in support of his sophomore album Surviving the Suburbs, Miller was just taking off on a nationwide tour when he hit Chicago. Check out some of the highlights below:
Big Freedia, a New Orleans bounce artist full of high-energy, positive vibes, and Tank and the Bangas, a five-piece group known for channeling the entire scope of the New Orleans music scene, co-headlined Concord Music Hall on Friday night and brought some southern heat up to Chicago. Check out some highlights of the two below:
“Let the rhythm take control! Let the music move you!” Anthony Green, lead singer of rock band Circa Survive, shouts into the writhing crowd. His hair drips sweat onto blushing fangirls as he holds the microphone out to let fans sing along. There is no doubt about it: Green is a crowd favorite. From the moment he takes the stage, the energy in Chicago’s Riviera Theatre reaches even to the white-haired and wrinkled woman singing along from the balcony.
But this blustery November evening begins with a slower and more melodic tune than the headliner’s old school emo jams. Queen of Jeans, an almost entirely female outfit excepting the drummer, starts the night out with a six-song set filled with slow, doleful riffs and the ethereal vocals of lead singer Miriam Devora. Her rich voice is reminiscent of “dream pop” singers such as Lana Del Rey and Florence and the Machine, and as her frizzy, waist length brown hair sways to the vintage-style rhythms of the guitars, it’s hard not to be mesmerized. For their finale, they end with their own eerie but soulful take on R&B singer Aaliyah’s song “Are You That Somebody?” as the low, blue lighting and melodious riffs take the audience through an enchanted forest of harmonies.
“Hey, the guys said to tell you to be careful for the next set since there is supposed to be a lot of activity at the front.” The scruffy security guard leans in to warn me and a fellow photographer about how “heavy” the next set will be. As a frequenter of death metal shows, I find this hard to believe.
“As compared to what?” I ask.
“The last set.” Well, compared to the hippie dream girls of Queen of Jeans, just about anything would be heavier.
Little did I know, fans of the post-hardcore and sometimes spoken word band La Dispute rival even the most devoted of death metal audiences. From the first song to the last, crowd surfers test security’s limits, and I cradle my camera close as lead singer Jordan Dreyer practically flies over my head into the crowd. I have only ever seen a lead singer with that much energy since I attended a While She Sleeps concert, and Dreyer hardly ever stands still. Typical of post-hardcore bands, his vocals are fairly indistinguishable, but La Dispute’s sound can best be described as a very strange bastard child of Twenty-One Pilots (alt-pop) and Counterparts (hardcore punk). However, Dreyer’s energy is a sharp contrast to the rest of the band who stands in the shadows as they play the notes they have to. The bassist even has his back turned to the crowd for most of the show, and the set fizzles out with an incredibly short and unmemorable last song and a rather exhausted looking Dreyer.
Both openers fly by with relatively short sets, and despite some amazing music and incredible energy neither can compare to the sheer presence that Circa Survive brings to the stage. A great concert should leave fans in the pit with sore vocal cords and covered in sweat, and Circa Survive undoubtedly delivers.
Anyone who listens to old school emo bands like The Used and Taking Back Sunday knows that Circa Survive’s first album Blue Sky Noise brings back all of the middle school feels. Even though the band prioritized their newest albums, once the opening riffs of “Strange Terrain” start to play the audience can hardly be contained. This song is my third and last one in the press pit, and I spend most of it protecting my head and face from crowd surfers’ feet and Anthony Green’s deadly microphone, (which he lassoes out into the crowd at least twice). Even as I get uncomfortably too close to Green’s torso as he sprints over to where I’m shooting and leans out into the crowd, I can’t help but sing along with an enormous smile.
For the slower songs, minimalist and vintage-looking lightbulbs illuminate the band, and for the more upbeat rock ballads, trippy lights spiral away on a backdrop. Throughout it all, Green’s unusually high-pitched voice reverberates across the theatre, and for once you can actually distinctly hear the bass player. Most importantly, there is love. The spray painted word adorns one of the amps, Green spends more time in the crowd holding the hands of fans than actually on stage, and the voices of hundreds of black-clothed outcasts sing in unison: “Only light can get through…”
Approximately seven months ago, San Francisco-based garage and psychedelic rocker Ty Segall played a show at the Vic Theater that easily remains a contender for the most chaotic, electrifying show I’ve ever seen. When it was announced that he was playing a Thalia Hall show, I knew I had to relive the experience. In all of my eager anticipation, I glossed over a few key details. First, it was a solo, acoustic show. It was also an “in the round” show, meaning the artist plays on a slightly elevated platform surrounded on all sides by audience. I had no idea when I signed up that Ty Segall–the frantic, cacophonous shredder–would pack up his electric guitar, send home his band, and set up in the middle of the audience while equipped with only a highly decorated acoustic guitar, a mic, and a glass of red wine weighing down his setlist. Has he gone soft?
In truth, no, because he has had a soft, tender side for a while. Segall has an extensive body of mostly acoustic ballads sprinkled into his latest works, alongside his 2013 album, the psychedelic folk, predominantly acoustic Sleeper. These songs, with a couple exceptions, rarely make it into his live shows, which is unfortunate considering they’re some of his most affecting, beautiful songs and a perfect balance to his more raucous numbers. With the chance to hear some of Segall’s less played cuts, I approached this Friday night show with renewed enthusiasm.
But first, William Tyler. Hailing from Nashville, the show’s opener outdid Segall in minimalism—while he occasionally spoke through the mic, all of his songs were instrumentals played on just his acoustic guitar. His songs, each using a different unconventional tuning, were dynamic; continuously meandering and changing form, swelling and diminishing throughout their often six- to eight-minute running times. A fingerpicker in the vein of American primitive guitarists like John Fahey, all ten fingers were at work at most times, composing odd, intriguing chord shapes or dexterously alternating between strings. While many opening acts have a difficult time maintaining their audience’s attention, even with a full band, William Tyler, his head constantly engaged in an impassioned bob, was the center of attention. Conversation occasionally picked up between songs but the crowd, for the most part, remained hushed, apart from a pair of backward-baseball cap-donning Segall bros who never missed an opportunity to bellow their approval at Tyler’s most intimate and emotive moments—“Fuck it up Willy!” I knew there was something missing when I listened to Modern Country, Tyler’s latest album, but these guys showed me what it was.
And then Ty came on, matter-of-factly plopping down his wine glass paperweight and launching into “Crazy,” a song from the aforementioned Sleeper. His set list included a number of rarely played, originally acoustic songs, but also stripped down versions of some of his usually fuzzed out rockers and a series of covers taken from his new covers album Hot Fudge. There are a couple notable differences between electric and acoustic Ty, the most pronounced being the emphasis on his voice in the acoustic setting. At the Vic, his voice at most times was just one contributing factor to the all-consuming wall of noise; here, without all of the instrumental distraction, his dynamic range was on full display. Songs like “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned),” a 10+ minute, proggy epic off of his most recent self-titled album featured a throaty, unhinged growl; his natural, reedy Lennon-esque voice; and a demented yelp peppered in here and there. He also engaged more with the audience, taking full advantage of the “in the round” format and moving his mic to face different parts of the crowd. At one point he dove into an impromptu Q&A with one of the bros about his dog, the subject of his track “Fanny Dog.” Apparently, Fanny is a dachshund.
There is one similarity between the two settings, whether it’s an amplified full band show or a stripped-down acoustic set: a Ty Segall show is neither tame nor predictable. Songs still devolved into spazzy technical freakouts, Ty Segall still battered the strings of his guitar with such ferocity that it’s a surprise they survived the show intact, and bodies still moved, albeit with less intense contact than in his full band shows. Though it was a shame that as a solo performer he wasn’t able to recreate some of the intricate and beautiful full band arrangements of his acoustic songs, he did as much as one can conceivably do with the limiting format, resulting in an entertaining show that rarely felt like a diluted version of his act.
“Incredibly millennial” probably sums up the experience of going to a LANY concert. Unlike most things you read, I mean that in a completely flattering way. Paul Klein and LANY put on a show that really just reveled in that sweet spot of simple frank lyrics and dreamy synth-pop beats.
Despite the Riv being packed to the very back of the balcony, the uproar that occurred as Klein took to the stage and started singing “Thick and Thin” off of the band’s new album Malibu Nights came as a surprise to me. While I didn’t go into the concert expecting their slow reflective tunes to transform into the much more infectious upbeat pop songs, LANY definitely changed my mind. From the Coors sipping dad to my left and the unashamedly loud preteens behind me, everyone seemed to abandon their inhibitions as they sang along to older songs like “yeah, babe, no way” or new singles like “I Don’t Wanna Love You Anymore,” both of which hit that perfect pop-song-kind-of-heartbreak.
But what really made the night stand out was the stage set up. Split into two levels, the band played on the top elevated half as Klein pranced and swooned around on the lower level. He occasionally climbed up on to a clear stand to play the keyboard for a little theatricality – and it worked. Both halves were backlit by huge LCD screens. As the backdrop changed with each song and set the mood, I also felt like I was living through an extension of this unique technological age of relationships that we’ve all become used to – or rather struggle with. Coupled with synth beats and electronic melodies, Klein’s lyrics place you right in the middle of a relatable modern saga.
I’d recommend checking out LANY just because they’re the kind of band where slower, more repetitive songs that seem to lack a certain oomph become so much better after hearing them live. “Hericane” stood out as a favorite and the communal swaying that happened while everyone belted out “our home’s a wreck, look at this mess” was well worth the trip downtown.
What’s evident is that Paul Klein is equally as charismatic as he is heartbroken. An hour before coming on stage he tweeted “I want us” and while I am wondering who hurt him so profoundly, if it’s going to find its way into these honest indie pop songs, I’m here for it. The night ended with a rousing version of “ILYSB” and I couldn’t recommend going to see Paul Klein sing candidly about love and loss more.
In another lifetime, Paul Janeway was probably a nerd. His warm, round face is hidden behind thick glasses and topped with a fluff of orange hair. But he was born in the Deep South, growing up with a rich musical tradition and a slow changing culture that seeps into bloodlines and passes from one generation to the next. Janeway was born with the blues. With a voice that could easily belong to Otis Redding instead, Janeway channels the pure, unrefined passion that elevates music from a sensual to a spiritual level—a truly soulful sound that would not feel out of place at church on a Sunday morning.
The now eight-piece group officially formed in 2012 in Birmingham, Alabama, and consists of guitarist Browan Lollar, bassist Jesse Phillips, Andrew Lee on drums, Al Gamble on piano and organ, Allen Branstetter on trumpet, Amari Ansari on saxophone, and Chad Fisher on trombone. Since their formation, the band has released an album every other year. This year we were blessed with their third release, Young Sick Camellia, which, as its title alludes to, examines Janeway’s complicated relationship with culture and family in the south (hint: the camellia is the state flower of Alabama). A self-proclaimed “blue dot in a sea of red,” according to the band’s website, Janeway has done an excellent job of bringing the South out of the South. By adding dance-worthy elements of funk and R&B into their soul base and questioning tradition with their lyrics, St. Paul and the Broken Bones proves to be more than just a relic and pushes thoughtful and original content out of the confines of the South and into the rest of the world.
If you’re more entranced by Janeway’s booming voice than by the words he’s singing, you need only to see him onstage to realize he’s no fan of tradition. I’m not sure exactly what to call the drapery that adorned his body—a fur coat made of tinsel?—but it was certainly not something you’d find in your papa’s closet. From my low angle as a photographer, I was able to get up close with the finishing touch on his shimmering outfit: a pair of glittery, red, white, and blue Nikes. I regretted that the shoes would go unnoticed by everyone who wasn’t in the front row but it’s not like the rest of the audience had a bad view either. Flanked by an enthusiastic Lollar on guitar and Phillips on bass, Janeway commanded the stage and even broke the dividing plane into the crowd’s space. Hand outstretched like a preacher, he teetered at the edge of the stage and bellowed, “Your love is like a mighty river, baby…” Saint Paul Janeway, the preacher from Alabama, out to spread a new gospel with his broken bones.
When I think of their sound, I think of the word “full.” Full of rhythm, full of different instruments, full of moving parts, full of emotion, full of life and all its complexities. I saw no less than four instrument switches throughout the show between a group of seven active musicians. And yet, even with the combination of seven instruments and Janeway’s booming voice, no one sound was overpowering. Each had its own rhythm, its own part of a harmony, and they complimented each other. St. Paul and the Broken Bones are masters at subtly manipulating the individual voices at play in their music so that their songs don’t blend together under a blanket. Whether the keys and the bass were laying down funk in songs like “GotItBad,” or the guitar hummed a slow melody like “Sanctify,” or the horns took charge in their breakthrough song “Call Me,” the complete sound was undeniably Southern but without methodically copying the classics or pushing one person to carry the weight of the rest of the band.
The multilayered sound of the band was in turn complemented by the Riviera Theatre itself, which plays with dimension through its tiered floor and multiple balconies that accentuate the depth of the space and draw all eyes to a focal point far behind the plane of the stage. The band chose a starry backdrop, giving the illusion of an infinitely receding space behind the band, whereas the lighting penetrated back into the audience. The band itself, at the midpoint between Earth and endless sky, became the sun—the soul—of the shared space. And boy did they have fun with it. They controlled the Riviera with light and energy that affected everyone from the Miller-drinking twenty-somethings clustered by the central bar on the floor to the fifty-something-year-old couples in the balcony. Everyone was engaged and dancing nearly the whole time. The show was way more fun than I expected to have on a Wednesday night and I’m not complaining. A conflicted Southerner myself, I loved the way that St. Paul and the Broken Bones were able to both preserve and transform traditions and create something new out of a collection of old pieces. In two years, when they (hopefully) will repeat their two-year album release pattern, I look forward to seeing what they do next.