“I’m Nick Murphy, or at least that’s what my mother named me.”
Murphy, a rebranding of his former persona Chet Faker, graced the stage of Chicago’s Metro on May 29.
His set included cuts from his moody 2014 LP Built On Glass, his collaboration project with British producer Marcus Marr titled Work and his ambitious 2019 release Run Fast Sleep Naked. The multi-instrumentalist bounced around the stage, alternating between piano, guitar and a variety of synths, all while carrying around a string of bells that bridged the songs together.
Murphy opened with the poppy “Hear It Now,” a song better executed live. The audience released their anticipation at the anthemic chorus: “I can hear it now!” He then slid into “Yeah I Care,” a track juxtaposed with sweeping soundscapes and spasmodic glitch guitar. It’s a vague song that evokes imagery of a man escaping something. Murphy sings, “I think I’m running, I don’t wanna leave with nothing” over a thumping bassline. The layering of scattered synth and a relentless rhythm section toward the end of the song creates a combination that strangely works, despite its potential for being one big headache machine.
The crowd sang along to the insanely catchy “Gold,” providing a pulse to the song with steady clapping. Murphy improvised on the piano before building up to “Talk Is Cheap,” the smooth, saxophone-driven hit from Built On Glass.
The peak of the show was undoubtedly the two songs he performed from Work. “The Trouble With Us,” a plunky dance bop, was made complete by Murphy’s dad-esque footwork. The song mixes Ed Sheeran-like verses with an undeniably groovy chorus.
Murphy and the band dragged out the much less accessible “Birthday Card” for at least 10 minutes, but that still felt too short. The song—a sexy, house-influenced club banger—is unlike anything else in Murphy’s repertoire. It’s repetitive and lyrically-simple, constantly pushed forward by a throbbing, strutting bassline. Murphy’s laid-back vocal style underlays popping synth, screeching guitars and tastefully sparse bongos. Throughout the endless disco jam, Murphy crawled on the stage, laying on his stomach and singing into a grounded microphone.
Despite the originality evident in much of Murphy’s music, some of his songs falter due to imitation. “Some People” could be a b-side on Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, and “Believe (Me)” sounds like if Bon Iver covered Kanye West’s “Runaway” (but it’s not nearly that interesting). While both songs are nonetheless enjoyable, it’s hard to listen to them without forming obvious associations.
While some of the mellower songs on the album, like “Harry Takes Drugs On The Weekend” and “Novacaine and Coca Cola,” don’t translate as well live, others, like “Dangerous” and “Sanity,” are made for the stage.
Because of the new sound that comes with his new stage name, Murphy is at the point in his career where his crowds consist of some people who come only for their old favorites—fans of Chet Faker, but not necessarily Nick Murphy. This became evident when midway through the show—when some fans got eager to hear the hits and called out requests—Murphy said, “If I played all the songs you want to hear upfront, you won’t stay until the end of the show.” Despite the comment being in jest, a woman responded, “But that’s why we give you our money!”
This barrier—performing for fans that refuse to evolve with the artist—is something Murphy will have to continually overcome throughout his creative development. He may lose a chunk of his audience along the way, but that’s a common cost of artistic growth. Murphy’s musical range, his intertwinement of older R&B piano ballads with newer funky electro-pop cuts, is ultimately what makes his show interesting and worth seeing.
“If I die on stage don’t put me on Instagram,” Staples told the crowd as he sucked in on his inhaler between songs. Standing in the media pit of House of Van’s first installment of their summer house party series with sweat dripping down my back, I was begging for an inhaler myself.
The show itself was curated by Vince Staples and the energy of the room was electric. Looking around the room, everyone seemed so damn cool. All the influencers were here to party and I felt that Chicago summertime magic that everyone tells you shows its head once the evil of winter finally relents. Ecstatic to be able to stand outside with only one layer on, the crowd was ready to release all the excess energy they had gained from staying inside during our extra-long winter.
The show started off with a set by L.A. artist Vonnie B. If you don’t know her already, you may have seen her in the background of Kenny Beats weekly installment of The Cave featuring Vince Staples. Obviously friends, Vonnie B, like Staples, utilized hard-hitting lyrics in combination with West Coast sonics that immediately sucked the crowd into her presence. Short and sweet, Vonnie D commanded the audience’s attention from the moment she stepped on stage and started the show with a bang.
After Vonnie D was Dreamville’s Bas. While the hype around Revenge of the Dreamers III has been building for a few months now, Bas’ set focussed in on his own artistry and musical identity. Bas lightened the room with his set as his he proclaimed, “Free your mind and everything will follow.” While Vonnie B’s style was hard hitting and in your face, Bas’s music felt joyous and uplifting. Keeping the party going, Bas took crowd participation to another level as he invited a member of the crowd to rap the J. Cole verse from his song “Tribe”.
Capping off the evening, Vince Staples put an exclamation mark on the end of the House of Vans first installment of their 2019 concert series. Singing the lyrics to the Gorillaz “Ascension”, “The sky is falling, drop that ass before it crash!” Staples commanded the stage by himself and without the familiar presence of a DJ. Watching Staples masterful use of movement and wordplay, I was impressed that he continued to maintain the same energy throughout the performance, asthma and all.
Friday was the second night of Local Natives’ two-night stop at Thalia Hall. The weekend energy was mixed with the unique situation of the show: a dollar from every ticket was donated to Between Friends, a non-profit working with survivors of domestic abuse. Their tour promoting their recent LP Spiral Choir involves this dollar-per-ticket donation throughout, and also offers voting registration by the merch table. The thoughtfulness from the band is felt on every level, and it showed in the performance as well.
Middle Kids opened up the show with a strong set. The Sydney band is relatively new, but their solid sound, combined with lead singer Hannah Joy’s light, bright vocal, speak well for the group. Their rock was always full-bodied and punchy, but it ranged from the more soulful and insistent “Your Love” to the angsty, hook-heavy “On My Knees.” Even when they slowed down, for the mellow“Brought It,” the pulsing guitar riff helped them turn the tempo and build to a full-on rage. “Edge of Town” was the climax of their set, a moody, textured jam off of their 2018 debut Lost Friends.
When Local Natives took the stage, it felt like a return. The band and the crowd together seemed to have been building towards the show since Thursday, and the performance that followed capitalized on it. Black covers slipped off of large white set pieces that looked like stacked books on a shelf, covered in lyrics. The set and the lighting throughout the show punched up the songs with strobing sequences and color shifts that moved with the constantly shifting music.
Kelce Ayer and Taylor David Rice switched lead vocal and harmony, which meant that while one rested, the other belted. The vocal energy was sustained throughout their extended set, and this dynamic vocal was mirrored in the changing instrumentation. “I Saw You Close Your Eyes” was a great moment of cowbell and digging guitar, a sharper and tighter song than the funkier “Coins” which had more room for percussionist Matthew Frazier to play. “Ceilings” was a more organic, thoughtful reflection, with a pared-down sparse beginning that built to a more emotional climax.
“Someday Now” showed how well the band can play with a synth, which they tempered with flourishes from Rice. Their melding of electronic and organic instrumentation was part of what made their set so interesting, and their energy only grew. “Fountain of Youth” was a crowd favorite and a deeply topical political meditation, while “World News” brought two Thalia Hall firsts (for this reviewer): the first crowd surfing I’d seen there, and the first shoulder ride. Local Natives brought renewed energy for the end of their two-day stint in Chicago, and the crowd at Thalia Hall clearly met them.
If Josh Ritter smiled any harder, he wouldn’t be able to sing. On May 23, the dimpled singer-songwriter brought his Royal City Band to the Vic Theatre in Chicago, the city where—many years ago—he played his first show away from home.
Ritter opened his set alone with the somber, spooky “Idaho,” named after his home state. The audience watched in admiration, following Ritter’s lead on the chorus and hummed outro. The band, made up of guitarist Josh Kaufman, bassist Zack Hickman, pianist Sam Kassirer and drummer Ray Rizzo, then joined in for the shuffling “Good Man” and twangy “On the Water.”
Spanning his vast discography, Ritter and Co. broke out newer hits like “Getting Ready to Get Down” among aged fan-favorites like “Hotel Song.” Segways between songs were filled with the audience’s supportive heckling (loud “thank you”s) and Ritter’s illustrious storytelling. He interrupted a song to recount the time he left his beloved CD booklet atop a parking garage in Chicago, realized after he had driven to Wisconsin, drove back and found it untouched.
Ritter stunned fans with the brilliant pre-apocalyptic ballad “The Temptation of Adam,” in which the narrator contemplates blowing up the world to preserve an isolated love “in a top-secret location three hundred feet under the ground.” The song’s blooming imagery brings to life an unusual romance: “Pretend this giant missile is an old oak tree instead/And carve our name in hearts into the warhead.”
On songs like “Henrietta, Indiana” and “Thin Blue Flame,” Ritter rapped nearly breathlessly, while on songs like “Thunderbolt’s Goodnight” and “Empty Hearts,” his vocal melodies left space for lush instrumentation.
Kaufman’s guitar playing is a thing of meticulous erraticism, full of careful screeches and bellowing bass notes, adding texture and juxtaposition to Ritter’s clean acoustic sound. Hickman—who was dressed for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Ritter joked—alternated between an upright bowed bass and a sleek electric one.
Midway through their set, The Royal City Band gathered at one microphone at the front of the stage and performed a couple songs acoustically. The crowd yelped in excitement when Ritter sang, “All the other girls here are stars, you are the Northern Lights,” the opening lyric to the ever-charming “Kathleen.” The scaled-back rendition accentuated the song’s gentle side but lacked the electricity of the beloved Live at the Iveagh Gardens version.
The upbeat “Old Black Magic” and “Losing Battles,” both cuts from 2019’s Fever Breaks, showcase the Royal City Band as a tight rock ‘n’ roll quartet. Ritter’s new material also highlights his lyrical range, from romantic (“My heart is a silver fish on the line of your laughter”) to political (“I saw the children in the holding pens/I saw the families ripped apart”).
Before its three-song encore, the band closed with Ritter’s most fun song, the Dylanesque “To The Dogs or Whoever,” which overflows with vibrant one-liners (“Lemonade on your breath, sun in your hair/Did I mention how I love you in your underwear?”) and tongue-twisters (“Do you ever think they ever thought they got what they deserve?”). The entire Vic Theatre sang along on the stomping chorus: “I thought I heard somebody calling/In the dark I thought I heard somebody call.”
During the glistening “The Curse,” not a single smartphone was held in the air. The song is piano-driven and spacious, a baroque ballroom ballad that moves like a waltz. It tells a heartbreakingly beautiful story through a metaphor of a girl falling in love with and devoting her life to a mummy.
Ritter ended the night with “Homecoming,” a soaring, dream-like ode to the town in which he grew up. It’s got an anthemic Springsteen spirit and a Jack Antonoff pop overlay. The entire Vic Theatre held its collective breath during the quiet bridge before the final explosive chorus, filled with dazzling keys and meditative “homecoming”s. The entire balcony rewarded the band with a standing ovation before they took a bow and walked off stage. However, the energy remained high in the venue long after the show had ended.
While his charm is most apparent in his radiant grin, the true magic of Josh Ritter lies in his storytelling—the poetic brilliance of each song’s unique universe revolving around the band’s Americana bliss.
Born Vincent Fenton, French house musician FKJ (French Kiwi Juice) initially made waves with intriguing performances in the now-defunct Red Bull Sessions series, collaborating in the studio with artists such as his wife, who goes by ((( o ))), Tom Misch and Masego in various European major cities. The 8-minute extended cut of “Tadow” with Masego accumulated over 100 million views on YouTube and showed FKJ at his best, running around playing multiple instruments to create a backing track as Masego crooned and played the sax. With so many talents, from saxophone playing to beat making to vocal chops, FKJ jumps right over the “multi-instrumentalist” label into the elusive “goddamn one-man band” tier.
An hour before FKJ took the stage, the packed Concord Hall was buzzing with excitement. From the four bros testing out the gender swap Snapchat filter to the red-faced mustachioed man with a floral polo having a good old time to the two (2) couples having passionate moments with each other in the front row, this crowd had everything.
Credit opener Lou Phelps, the brother of all-star Montreal producer KAYTRANADA, for bringing the energy from the beginning with booty-centric anthems like “Miss Phatty.” With a sizzling snare line and lyrics like: “Thicker than a bowl of oatmeal,” how could the crowd NOT be feeling themselves by the end? When he announced: “Y’all ready for FKJ?” the Concord shifted from talkative to straight-up raucous.
Right before FKJ appeared, a thin black curtain dropped down over the stage. As he launched into his first song of the night, visuals of sunsets and rushing water broadcast onto the curtain. FKJ filled the void of his absent collaborators by projecting their holograms onto the curtain, effectively. “Losing My Way” featured a digital Tom Misch, “Vibin’ Out With (((O)))” had ((( o )))’s likeness and honest to God, FKJ had a hologram of himself on one song. As virtual FKJ played the drums and shook a tambourine, real-life FKJ added even more instruments. A self-hologram may have come off as pompous in another situation but in this moment, no one thought twice of it.
Perhaps no artist creates onstage quite like FKJ. He formed multiple layered tracks on the spot, managing to incorporate each of the four guitars, two pianos and two saxophones on the stage at least once. Composing oneself in front of a sold-out crowd with such an intense creative process must be exhausting. Yet FKJ never missed a beat and even took some time between to sip some red wine.
Each song in FKJ’s set seemed to melt into the next. He put his signature French house twist on everything from new songs to improvisations to covers of his personal favorite songs such as Pharrell’s “Frontin’” As he weaved bone-shaking basslines into chaise lounge rhythms, visuals of jellyfish and doves flying through blackness appeared on the curtain.
The crowd hung on FKJ’s every move the whole night, but he truly commanded respect when he sat down at the piano. He took the audience’s breath away with the way his hands danced over the piano on instrumental tracks like “TUI,” where he samples the call of a New Zealand bird known as the tui. After one particularly stirring solo, he sipped from a glass of red wine. FKJ brought plenty of intensity, but the wine showed the crowd a more carefree side.
FKJ’s surreal performance topped any expectations I could have conjured. He wrapped up his set with these words: “Thank you, Chicago! I’ll see you very soon.” If the French extraordinaire makes good on this promise, put any plans you may have on the back burner to see him live. That history paper or that frat party can wait another day….
I didn’t expect a large crowd on a Wednesday night, so I was surprised to walk into the Metro to an already huge crowd for Joy Again. While the show was sold out, it seemed like everyone showed up early to try to get a good spot. I was late, but I’m sure the line out front before the doors opened was huge. Both the main floor and the balcony were full of people. I couldn’t even weasel my way to the front like I usually do. The crowd was also mainly younger-looking teenage girls. I was surprised by their occasional chorus of shrill screams, which is uncommon for most indie shows.
Then again, I should’ve known — the main actor of the awful show 13 Reasons Why, Dylan Minnette, AKA Clay Jensen, is part of Wallows. I quickly realized what I thought would be an indie show would turn out to be a boy band concert.
The show’s opener was Joy Again, a five-piece indie rock band from Philly. Arthur Shea, Sachi DiSerafino, Blaise O’Brien, Noah Burke, and Saint Sean Henry III make up the band. I’ve loved Joy Again for years, so I was super excited to see their performance. By the time I arrived it was so packed I had to linger on the outskirts of the crowd towards the back. I was fine dancing with more space though. Their set was fun and upbeat, which I wasn’t really expecting from their songs that I was familiar with. Their set was pretty short, only about 30 minutes. I could see them having an amazing house show set, but I didn’t think the medium sized venue full of young teens and a splattering of older men complemented the band’s energy.
Next came Wallows. Wallows is an indie rock band from Los Angeles comprised of Dylan Minnette (Clay), Braeden Lemasters, and Cole Preston. The young band’s first singles were just released in 2017, so it’s obvious their quick rise to sold-out shows in a mere 2 years can be attributed to Dylan’s rise to fame.
When the lights went out and signaled the band’s entrance, the crowd began to chant “Wallows! Wallows!” Everyone proceeded to scream their head off when the band walked on, and I’m not gonna lie — I was pretty excited when I saw Dylan. The crowd knew every word of the first song right off the bat. It felt like a cliché concert scene in a teenage movie. Or a 5 Seconds of Summer show. Heavy boy band vibes.
The band’s energy was electric, and their lights strobed with every beat and changed color every song. I wasn’t super familiar with their discography but knew a fair amount of songs. Their song “Sidelines” has a super dancey vibe and was a lot of fun. The band’s sound is nostalgic, making you rack your brain thinking of what band they remind you of, but you can’t quite pinpoint it.
During “These Days,” Dylan grabbed the mic, walking all over the stage and dancing along with the crowd. I couldn’t imagine how excited the girls who were huge fans of him felt. I yelled, “Okay, do the damn the thing, Clay!” The whole band was pretty talented. While their popularity may have been brought about by the Netflix show, they definitely deserved it.
Wallows ended their main set with an instrumental outro while their lights flashed with every guitar strum. After the encore, Braeden sang “1980s Horror Film” alone until the other members joined to sing together on one mic. They finished with “Pleaser.”
Less than 24 hours had passed since leaving Metro (read my Black Pistol Fire review here) when I found myself back for more. Riot Fest sponsored a nationwide tour of four up-and-comers in what I would call the post-hardcore/post-punk movement. Catch the unofficial tour playlist here.
First to take the stage was Drug Church, at the ripe hour of 6:30 pm. Drug Church is a punk band hailing from Albany, NY with a virile, grunge infused sound. They thanked everyone for coming out early and paid respect to Chicago’s rich musical history before starting their action packed 30-minute set. They weren’t allowing photographers in the pit for this show, so my photos are a bit more distanced than I usually prefer, but oh well.
The show sold out, and nearly everyone was punctual. 1100 warm bodies were crammed into the small venue, not leaving much breathing room, but no one seemed to mind. Drug Church set the pace for the rest of the evening, earning a few crowd surfers and some light moshing. Lead singer Patrick Kindlon fielded a request for a deep-cut, replying “There’s over a thousand people here, but I’m gonna please you, sir, because you seem enthusiastic and I exist for that shit!” The crowd went nuts.
Next up was Trash Boat, a UK based post-hardcore band, who played punky and fast. They too gave a rambunctious performance, making full use of the stage. The pit saw a few more people go up, and the security guards had to rush around to push the crowd surfers back and toss out much-needed water bottles.
Trash Boat’s Tobi Duncan provided some intense power vocals, planting his foot on a monitor and letting her rip. The crowd seemed to know more of Trash Boat’s lyrics than those of Drug Church and seemed happy to wail along.
Boston Manor, the self-proclaimed best UK band on the tour, came out next, and matched and exceeded the previous group’s energy with ease. These guys somehow started a circular, or ovular, rather, most pit. In Metro. Crazy. Definitely not a big enough pit for that shit, but they happened upon a willing crowd and made it happen. It was a thing of beauty.
Boston Manor produced the most surfers of all four bands when the pit finally congealed back into a more static formation. Metro effectively became an emo Santa Cruz, as if Santa Cruz wasn’t emo enough already. These guys were probably my favorite performers of the night. Their show was wild, and I would highly recommend catching them live if the opportunity should ever arise. I saw them at Warped Tour in Nashville a few years back, and my how they’ve grown. They’ve garnered swagger and confidence over the past few years of touring and have really made a name for themselves.
Around 9pm, the headliners finally took the stage. Movements, a California based post-hardcore four-piece, gave the most subdued show of the evening. The crowd went the craziest for Movements, but I felt it was unearned.
Their show was tame compared to each of their openers… But they have the most Spotify hits of all of the groups and are one of the “biggest bands” on the Hot Topic circuit nowadays, so it stands to reason that the pink and green haired crowd would know all the hits.
That being said, each band that played showed up to show out. They left it all on stage and concluded the Riot Fest tour with a bang. If you missed it, I wouldn’t worry too much. Since the tragic demise of Warped Tour and the House of Vans in Chicago being closed for renovations, other powers that be in the subculture umbrella-genre have stepped up to the plate in a big way. They’ll be back around.
As someone who claims to know a lot about music, I’m honestly pretty uninformed. When an artist or band comes up in conversation that I’m vaguely familiar with, I tend to interject with something along the lines of “oh my god I love them so much, what did you think of their last album???” And I, despite only listening to the chorus of their smash hit from 10 years ago, will concoct some deep theory about how their older music is an outstanding metaphor for the creation of space and time and has the answers to the greatest questions surrounding humanity, but their newer stuff sucks.
Passion Pit is one of those bands for me. I’ve never listened to an album from them, and know a grand total of 2 songs, but I jumped at the opportunity to go to a show on the 10th-anniversary tour for their debut album, Manners. I mean why not? Passion Pit is one of my favorite bands of the last decade!
As I walked into the spacious and far-reaching concourse of the hallowed Riviera Theatre, the smoke from the near-capacity crowd’s weed pens filled the air. I knew the type of crowd I would encounter from the moment I saw the Goose Island bar near the entranceway. Dad hats, sleek glasses, and collared shirts were plentiful; it was as if today’s Mac DeMarco fans aged ten years. With IPA’s in hand, they were ready to jam out to the indie-electronic sounds that captured their ears a decade ago. They were not, however, ready for what was to come from the opener.
As drummer Eliza Enman-McDaniel came onstage and started banging on her kit as hard as she could, I knew exactly what we were in for. The Beaches, an all-woman alternative rock band hailing from Toronto, delivered head-banging, hard-hitting rock tunes that shook you right down to your core. They brought back recollections of the big hair, bigger attitudes era of rock, as they jammed out on their guitars and whipped their flowing manes to the tune of the thrashing sounds. However, considering the type of music that this crowd was expecting from the headliner, their aggressive style largely fell on deaf ears.
The band expected the laid-back crowd to match their high energy, an effort that was for the most part unsuccessful. They didn’t seem to care though, as they continued to dominate the stage with a presence ill-fitting of an opener. It felt as if they had been in the game for years, yet their youthful energy definitely shone through. When keyboarder Leandra Earl revealed that they hadn’t slept in two days, it was hard to believe. They showed up ready to dispel the myth that a group of four women from Canada couldn’t rock, and made a fan out of me in the process.
When lead singer Jordan Miller led her band offstage at the end of their set, the crowd knew who was next. They became increasingly anxious over the 30-minute set change, and the anticipation overflowed as each song playing over the speakers came to an end. After what felt like an eternity, the lights dimmed and touring members Chris Hartz, Aaron Folb, and Giuliano Pizzulo took their positions amidst the screams of the yearning fans. Then, on came the reason why hundreds of Chicagoans packed into the pit of the Riv, the brains behind the music: a guy dressed like an accountant who just finished a long day at the office. Michael Angelakos, the founder and sole member of Passion Pit, walked to the front of the stage, dressed in a plain white button down, maroon tie, and dark slacks, and took a second to admire the forest of outstretched arms. It was as if he was absorbing the energy pulsating from the elated spectators. And then it was go-time.
As the band played the opening notes of “Make Light,” Angelakos started running around the stage, looking like a young boy hopped up on Pixie Stix for the first time. The stage was his playground, and he used it as such. He climbed on and stormed off the various platforms littering the stage, almost like he was throwing a temper tantrum. Instead of screaming about a broken Power Ranger, he belted out his lyrics with intense passion. He began the show at a full 10, a level that may have only increased as next was hit song and fan favorite “Little Secrets.” By this point, the crowd that refused to mosh to the head-banging notes of the opener was fully awake and ready to dance as they sang along to every word. It also became apparent to me that the high-pitched crooning which Angelakos was known for was not the work of a studio technician. He opened his mouth wide and serenaded the crowd with such fervor that it is a miracle he didn’t strain his vocal cords. Even for songs such as “Moth’s Wings” or “Eyes as Candles” where he resigned himself to a mic stand or a piano, he still sang with intense emotion, looking at times as if he was going to break down in front of the audience, which was still hooked on every word. He made sure to let us know how appreciative he was of our avidity, ending his fourth track “The Reeling” with an “I love you guys.”
After “To Kingdom Come,” an abrupt record scratch sent the crowd into an absolute frenzy. It was time for “Sleepyhead,” by far the most popular song from Manners, and the volcano of energy and vivacity that had been building up over the past 8 songs completely erupted. Angelakos pranced around the stage and stood atop a platform at its center, microphone in hand, as he screamed the words of the first verse with his fans. As the first “sleepyheeeeeaaaadddd” came to an end and the chorus breakdown began, he leapt off the surface and proceeded to dance along with the crowd. In front of them was the man whose effervescent tunes sparked impromptu dance parties for an entire generation of confused adolescents when they shuffled through their iPods, and now these same souls were mere feet away from that source of exuberance. As a spectator, it was a sight to behold, and easily the highlight of the night.
The show could’ve ended there and everyone would have said they got their money’s worth, as evidenced by the ovation Angelakos received once his breakout track commenced. The audience took the time to show its gratitude to the man who made them feel like carefree teenagers again, and all he could do was bask in the limelight, humbled by the rapturous sound of applause. After playing one more song, he stopped the show and told the audience that this idea was “kind of thrown together at the last minute” and that he didn’t think he would be back on tour, let alone to Chicago. He revealed that the last year and a half or so had been pretty rough for him, but being back on stage, in front of this Riviera crowd, made him the happiest he had been in a while. That night marked 10 years to the day that Manners was released, and he said that this tour was his first time playing some of its content since 2009. It was obvious that standing before us was the Passion Pit before the hassles of fame and the contemptuous music industry wore him down. This was Michael Angelakos, a college student who wrote and recorded songs on his laptop as a Valentine’s Day gift to his girlfriend. This was the guy who self-produced his first EP and handed out copies to strangers on the street. It was on this night that I felt that Passion Pit had been reborn, and an entire world of artistic freedom and discovery awaited.
Kevin Garrett’s production credit on Beyoncé’s 2016 album “Lemonade” cemented him as an artist to watch. It wasn’t until this March, however, when he released his debut album, “Hoax.” The album had been in the works since 2012 but according to Garrett, the process may have started even earlier than that; he wrote one song on the album, “Telescopes,” at the tender age of 14. Considering how personal the record feels, it makes sense that Garrett would take his time trying to get the album just right. Mixing heavenly falsetto riffs with heartbreaking lyrics, the sweet-voiced multi-instrumentalist gave the crowd at Lincoln Hall a Mothers’ Day to remember.
Garrett took the stage to a young audience of just the right size; people filled up the venue, to be sure, but the show never felt cramped. At first, Garrett gave off serious introvert vibes; the brightest thing he wore was his green Lincoln Hall wristband and he played his first few songs obscured by stage fog and a blue backlight. It took three songs before he emerged from “the zone” and greet the crowd. In a strikingly monotone, borderline sarcastic, voice, he said: “My name is Kevin Garrett, thank you so much for being here,” By starting off this way, he risked coming off unenthused, but the gamble paid off, as the crowd found it hilarious. Their overall positive feedback contributed to Garrett’s becoming more comfortable interacting with the audience.
Garrett’s overall confidence increased over time; while his vocals felt obscured by the instrumentation at first, his voice got stronger as the set went on. “Control” featured Garrett going to the upper levels of his range and dazzling with riffs without being obnoxious, a practice that eludes college theatre majors everywhere. “Stranglehold” featured his most masterful production arrangement. The layered production was characterized by a repeated whining fade on the chorus and spacey syncopated snares. He juxtaposed these carefully crafted backing tracks with hard-hitting emotional lyrics that sent the crowd into their feelings. On “Precious,” lines like “We’re too far down for closure / Can’t you hear me now, love, it’s over,” had a palpable impact on the audience. The emotional peak of the set came when Garrett covered “Pray You Catch Me,” the song he produced for Lemonade, accompanying himself on the piano. Perhaps as a function of Garrett’s writing style, the stripped-down song almost felt more natural in his voice than Beyoncé’s. Judging by the tears running down fans’ faces as he delicately sang, I would say that at least some of the crowd agreed.
Despite the early trepidation, the crowd work Garrett engaged in came to define the performance more than I had anticipated it would. As the set went on, he took longer breaks between songs to share anecdotes about the album and touring as he tuned his guitar. He innocently checked in with the audience, saying: “Is it going ok?” He mused on how lucky he was to play at Lincoln Hall: “This room is one of the best places to play in the whole world” and the pride he felt when people sang the “na-na-na” outro for “Love You Less”: “You guys have been singing the whole time. It means a lot to me.” Perhaps the best indication of the show’s intimacy was when toward the end of the set, one fan shouted out “Kevin! It’s your stand partner from orchestra, Hannah West!” He seemed unfazed: “This is the second night in a row someone from my high school was here,” and the two briefly caught up before our eyes.
With talents ranging from a golden voice to mastery of multiple instruments to unique production, Kevin Garrett is a modern-day polymath. His ability to combine all of these in an intimate live performance made for a Sunday night to remember.